Postscripts To History

PrintPrintEmailEmail
S. K. STEVENS

We announce with regret the recent death of Dr. Sylvester K. Stevens, a member of our editorial board since the founding of this company in 1954, an event in which he played an important role. Dr. Stevens had helped to launch one of our sponsoring organizations, the American Association for State and Local History; he had been its president and took part in the negotiations through which the association’s paper-covered quarterly, American Heritage , founded in 1949, became the present hard-covered bimonthly in 1954. He was a champion of local history and had served sixteen years, until his retirement in 1972, as executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Our readers may recall that Dr. Stevens was the center of a cause célèbre in 1967, when Miss Helen Clay Frick sued to force him to alter or suppress his book Pennsylvania: Birthplace of a Nation because she disapproved of its account of her father, the late steelmaster Henry Clay Frick, and his part in the bloody Homestead steel strike of 1892. Historians rallied to his defense, both as to the facts of the case and as to his rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution, and he was at length vindicated. Dr. Stevens was a valued counselor and member of our board of directors and will be greatly missed.

COOL PAPA BELL

We are happy to report that James “Cool Papa” Bell (“How to Score from First on a Sacrifice,” August, 1970) has been announced as a member in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Many consider Bell to be the fastest man ever to play baseball; he could circle the bases in twelve seconds, and one momentous season he stole a hundred and seventy-five bases. The great Satchel Paige said that Bell was “so fast he could turn out the light and jump in bed before the room got dark.”

For all this, Bell, a black man, never played in the major leagues. During his twenty-nine-year career he never earned more than two hundred and twenty dollars a month. “Life was that way then,” he said.

I lived in that time. When we went to major league games, we couldn’t always sit in the stands. We had to sit in the bleachers. But even so, I didn’t feel any difficulty. It was that way when I was born in Starkeville, Mississippi; it was that way when I worked in the packing-house in St. Louis before I played baseball. People lived that life before I did.

When Jackie Robinson broke the major-league color barrier in 1947 Bell was too old to play. Now, at seventy, he has retired from his job as a night watchman in the St. Louis city hall. He took the announcement of his membership in the Hall of Fame with the customary calm that earned him his nickname. When asked if it was his biggest thrill, Bell replied: “No, it’s my biggest honor. My biggest thrill was when they opened the door in the majors for the black players.”

BROADSIDE

Marvin Pave, a reporter for the Boston Globe , has written to tell us of an extra-ordinary document that has turned up in the office of the tax assessor for Templeton, Massachusetts. It is a broadside dated June 17, 1774, calling for the sum of five hundred pounds to send four delegates to the First Continental Congress. In that long-ago summer copies were sent to selectmen in every town in the Massachusetts Bay Colony by the Provincial House of Representatives. They were signed by the House clerk, Sam Adams.

Adams, Robert Treat Paine, and Thomas Gushing were eventually sent to Philadelphia for the opening session in early September despite the opposition of the luckless British military governor, Thomas Gage.

The copy of the broadside dispatched to Templeton was kept among the town records along with some fifty other pre-Civil War documents. Four years ago Wilfred Dennis, the chairman of Templeton’s assessors, came upon the old papers. In the fall of 1972 he lent them to a high-school history teacher who, in turn, mentioned them to the Massachusetts state archivist, Dr. Richard W. Hale. Hale asked to see some of them, and the teacher sent him the 1774 broadside, a 1763 assessment for French and Indian War expenses, a 1787 amnesty proclamation for participants in Shays’s Rebellion, and a 1791 tax bill.

Hale was most impressed by the broadside. “There are only three other 1774 broadsides that we know of,” he said. “One is in Boston Public Library, another belongs to the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, and the third is in the Samuel Adams Collection of the New York Public Library.”

As we go to press the documents are still the property of the assessor’s office, and their fate has not been decided. It is interesting to speculate on how many other important documents lie gathering dust in the archives of the small towns where the first stirrings of our independence took place.

CAROLINE WEIR ELY

We have received the sad news of the death in January, at eighty-nine, of Caroline Weir Ely (Mrs. G. Page Ely), who appeared as a little girl in a painting by her father, J. Alden Weir, on the cover of our December, 1973, issue.

NAT TURNER

Writing in reply to William Styron’s letter in the February, 1974, Postscripts, Stephen B. Oates (“Children of Darkness,” October, 1973) has this to say about his research into Nat Turner’s turbulent career: