Declaration House

Frederick De Bourg, photograph of the “Declaration House” as it looked in 1856. The Free Library of Philadelphia.

The wood for Henry Sheldon’s 24th and final spindle on his relic chair comes from the “Declaration House,” located at 700 Market Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a few blocks away from Independence Hall. The Declaration House, also known as the Graff House, was built by Jacob Graff in 1775 and stood as it was originally constructed for 106 years.[1] In the summer of 1776, Thomas Jefferson moved in to the second floor of the house, and drafted the Declaration of Independence there. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were assigned to draw up the Declaration of Independence and to make it look presentable. This was an intimidating task and took the duo seventeen days to accomplish. The draft was then passed on to the Second Continental Congress, where it was further revised.[2] It was this house in which our nation’s dreams were first put onto paper, and was a monumental step toward initiating our freedom. Sheldon understood this significance and presumably wanted to enshrine a relic piece for his chair.

There is some controversy surrounding the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, specifically as to whether or not the corner of Market Street and 7th Street was the actual location of where it took place. Some speculate that it might actually be 702 Market St, while others say it was on a completely different intersection.[3] Some of the conjecture has died down since letters from Thomas Jefferson were discovered, confirming the Graff House as the location of where the Declaration was drafted. However, this may have affected Sheldon and his quest to procure spindles from across the nation. It is unknown from exactly where inside the house the relic was procured.

Of the 24 spindles on the chair, three come from Philadelphia. With the spindles being collected from all across the nation, Sheldon clearly wanted to show the significance the city of Philadelphia had. While Sheldon purchased the other two Philadelphia relics, from the William Penn House and the Centennial House, the Declaration House relic seems to have been a donation, as it appears in the acquisitions ledger rather than the purchases ledger (see below). Sheldon received all three of these spindles from a man named William McKay Heath.[4]

Entry from the Sheldon Museum Acquisition ledger, 21 January 1884.

Unlike the other spindles on the chair, the relics from Philadelphia don’t seem to have the same personal connection with Sheldon. However, these relics do hold extreme value and give a different viewpoint for Sheldon and the chair. With a majority of the spindles being from Vermont, the Philadelphia spindles give the chair a national perspective. It broadens what the chair has to offer as a piece of national relevance rather than just a piece of Vermont history. Furthermore, it allows for a much broader audience to connect with the chair.

The Declaration House in 2013 (building reconstructed in 1975). Creative Commons photograph.

The Declaration House was razed in 1883, around the time Sheldon purchased his relic. Yet in anticipation of the 1976 Bicentennial, Philadelphia embarked upon programs of preservation, restoration, and rebuilding. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson was appointed Honorary Chairman of the Declaration House and was responsible for its renovations. President Johnson acquired the house and added it to the Independence National Historical Park.[6] The goal of the acquisition was to turn the House into a library of the first of its kind. The library was to be dedicated to freedom and was intended to educate the public about our growth towards this ideal.[7] In 1975, the Declaration House was rebuilt based on historic drawings and photographs, made into a museum for the public. Today, you can visit the 700 Market Street address as the house is now a historical landmark and is part of the National Park Service. Throughout all the renovations and changes that the house underwent, it is still able to evoke the 18th century elegance that Jacob Graff first constructed the house with.

– Ibrahim Nasir ’20

Footnotes:

[1] Thomas Donaldson, The House In Which Thomas Jefferson Wrote the Declaration Of Independence (Philadelphia: Avil Printing Co., 1898); Wayde Brown, Reconstructing Historic Landmarks: Fabrication, Negotiation, and the Past (New York: Routledge, 2018).
[2] John H. Hazelton, The Declaration of Independence, Its History (New York:  Dodd, Mead, and Co., 1906).

[3] Donaldson.

[4]Henry Sheldon, “Acquisition Ledger,” Sheldon Museum Archive

[5] Letter from William McKay Heath to Henry Sheldon, 9 September 1884, Sheldon Museum Archive.

[6] “Independence House Gets Johnson’s Aid,” New York Times 10 Jan. 1965.

[7] Ibid.

Benson Whipping-Post

The eighteenth spindle incorporated into Henry Sheldon’s relic chair is red cedar originating from a public whipping-post in Benson, Vermont.[1] Donated by the Hon. E. L. Barbour, this piece of the Benson Whipping-Post was accepted and later incorporated by Sheldon because of the historical prominence of both the post and Egbert Benson himself.[2]

Prior to the mid-20th century, public whipping-posts were considered to be an essential adjunct of the criminal justice system with the purpose of executing judicial punishment.[3] By contemporary standards, corporal punishments of this kind are deemed to be rather severe. Particularly harsh sentencing was habitually carried out in Rutland County, Vermont, where the town of Benson is located. In 1808, a man was convicted in Rutland of distributing counterfeit money.[4] This crime was nonviolent but nonetheless threatened the sanctity of the working local capitalism; the man received a sentencing of an hour in the pillory, thirty-nine lashes at the whipping-post by a cat-o-nine-tails whip, $500 fine in addition to the prosecution fees, and seven years of hard labor in state prison.[5] The whipping was seen by then Rutland resident Amasa Pooler, who described there to be over a hundred carriages in attendance. Local residents flocked to observe the convicted criminal be stripped, lathered in rum and beaten despite the bitter cold and deep snow.[6] The event went further than a public display of justice. It was entertainment.

Whipping-posts were an essential part of public life in the 19th century. They were not merely a place of restitution, but also a landmark for governmental addresses, administration of warrants and local news.[7] While the Benson Whipping-Post did indeed serve the same purpose as neighboring whipping-posts in fulfilling these societal roles, it was incorporated into Sheldon’s relic chair perhaps also because of its historical connection to founding father Egbert Benson.

H.B. Hall, Portrait of Egbert Benson, from Pictorial Field-Book of the American Revolution, 1872. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library.

Born in New York City on June 21, 1746, renowned patriot Egbert Benson was a decorated Revolutionary War officer and law practitioner who played an instrumental role in the formation of the United States of America.[8] Benson, the third of four sons, grew up in a respected Dutch family.[9] His father, a brewer, and mother, a homemaker, lived respected middle-class lives and provided Benson a foundation for both academic and societal success.[10] Egbert Benson graduated from Kings College, New York, from now known as Columbia University, in 1765 with a law degree.[11] In 1769, he proceeded to pass the bar with relative ease and moved roughly one hundred miles north to find work in Red Hook, New York.[12]

Not long after Benson left New York City, the Revolutionary War broke out, and Benson’s focus shifted from his progression as a lawyer to his advancement as an abolitionist.[13] He led the earliest meetings of organized resistance in Dutchess County and became a figurehead of progressive enlightenment as he rallied citizens to join in the revolutionary movement.[14] As his public notoriety expanded, he cemented his influential role in public office. He was appointed first attorney-general of New York by ordinance of the May 8, 1777 convention and held this position until his resignation in 1787.[15] He drafted the vast majority of bills passed by the assembly during the war and he quickly became considered a man of insurmountable aptitude.[16] Later, he played a vital role in the adoption of the constitution, and in 1789 he was elected as one of the six representatives form New York to the first congress.[17] In 1794, he was appointed as a New York Supreme Court judge where he excelled until his resignation in 1801.[18] At this time he was appointed to chief judge in the second circuit, but he never ended up taking office and subsequently retired. Following his departure from political office, he moved to Jamaica, Queens and resided there until his death on August 24, 1833.[19]

Entry from Sheldon Museum Acquisitions Ledger, September 1884.

The Benson Whipping-Post is a physical manifestation of how the material world reflects the historical past.[20] E.L. Barbour must have recognized this both when he donated the fragment to Henry Sheldon for his museum, and when he exhibited a cane made from the same material at a meeting of the Rutland Historical Society the following summer, in August 1885. Through a piece of red cedar from a seemingly conventional whipping-post, Henry Sheldon accurately conveyed the complicated histories of corporal punishment and law and order, while concurrently illustrating the impact of those associated with the post itself.

-Chris Bradbury ’19

Notes:

[1] Henry Sheldon’s Log Book, (HL Sheldon papers vol. 19), 1884, Sheldon Museum Archive.

[2] John M. Currier, Proceedings of the Rutland County Historical Society. Vol. 2. John M. Currier, 1887, p. 81

[3] Henry P. Smith and William S. Rann, History of Rutland County, Vermont: with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers (Syracuse, NY: D. Mason & Co., 1886), 260. See also George Ryley Scott, Flagellation; a history of corporal punishment in its historical, anthropological and sociological aspects (London: Tallis Press, 1968); Maryland Historical Society Library, “‘Only the Instrument of the Law’: Baltimore’s Whipping Post”: http://www.mdhs.org/underbelly/2013/10/03/only-the-instrument-of-the-law-baltimores-whipping-post/.

[4] Smith and Rann, 260.

[5] Smith and Rann, 261.

[6] Ibid. On histories and theories of crime and punishment (including the roles of public displays of disciplinary measures), see Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (1977), trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage Books, 1995).

[7] Smith and Rann, p. 584

[8] James Kent, “Egbert Benson, Associate Justice of the New York Supreme Court, 1794-1801,” in History of Long Island, ed. Benjamin F. Thompson, 1839: https://www.nycourts.gov/history/legal-history-new-york/luminaries-supreme-court/documents/kent-bio-benson.pdf.

[9] Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America, ed. Charlene Bickford, et al. (Columbia, S.C.: Model Editions Partnership, 2002).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] James Kent, “Egbert Benson, Associate Justice of the New York Supreme Court, 1794-1801.” 1839.

[14] Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

Robert Torrance’s House

In 1883, Henry Sheldon left his home in downtown Middlebury and traveled approximately five miles southeast along Route 7 to retrieve a sample of wood from the first brick house built in Middlebury. (1) The house, built on lot 33 in present-day East Middlebury(2) was constructed by Robert Torrance in 1774 (3). According to Torrance’s daughter, Olive, Robert Torrance emigrated from Ireland to Woodsbury, Connecticut in 1754, at the age of eighteen. He arrived in Middlebury with other original settlers in 1774, descended Otter Creek on a raft, and purchased lot 33 from a man named Joseph Hyde, along with lot 32.(4) Soon thereafter, Torrance built a log cabin on the land, before building the brick house later that year.(5) Torrance served on Middlebury’s grand jury in its early days alongside a fellow resident by the name of Abraham Kirby.(6)

Map drawn by Middlebury College President, Ezra Brainerd in 1886. Red rectangle denotes Robert Torrance’s plots in East Middlebury; blue circle denotes location of Henry Sheldon’s house.

There are several reasons why Henry Sheldon may have regarded a scrap of wood from Robert Torrance’s house as relic-worthy. While Robert Torrance himself was not as significant a figure in early Middlebury as John Chipman, for example, his house was notable for several reasons. First, as mentioned previously, it was the first brick house to be built in Middlebury. Eighteenth-century Vermont was virtually inhospitable for white settlers due to harsh winters and the threat of attacks by the Abenaki Tribe. Most settlers built wood houses, but Robert Torrance’s decision to construct a sturdier brick house would have signified an intention to remain in Middlebury despite the potential complications associated with doing so. Torrance was one of the first permanent residents of Middlebury (others, such as Joseph Hyde had lived in Middlebury temporarily but could not brave the winter in its entirety),(7) and the presence of his brick house would have attracted other settlers to the town. Second, Torrance’s house was one of only four buildings to survive the Revolutionary War after British troops invaded and sacked the town, forcing all residents to flee. The other buildings to survive were Joshua Hyde and Bill Thayer’s houses, which like Torrance’s, were built in East Middlebury, along with a barn built by John Chipman which could not be burnt on account of the wood being wet. (8) Third, the house functioned as one of the first schoolhouses in Middlebury, with Robert Torrance’s daughter, Olive, serving as one of the teachers. (11) It is possible that Henry Sheldon himself was schooled in the house during his early years.

Lot 33 as it appears today

From the significance of Robert Torrance’s house we can deduce that Henry Sheldon’s definition of what constitutes a “relic” encompasses many factors. Included in his chair are relics notable for their national historical significance (USS Constitution, Declaration House, Charter Oak, Andrew Johnson’s Tailor Shop, etc.), or association with a prominent member of the town of Middlebury (Moses Sheldon’s house, Samuel Sheldon’s barn). Robert Torrance’s house seems unique in its “relic-ness” in that its significance isn’t based on its association with a person or event, but rather for its existence: the simple fact that it was the first brick structure to be built in Middlebury, signifying the growth of the town.

Robert Torrance lived on lot 33 in the brick house he had constructed in 1774 until his death in 1816. (10). His family continued to live in the house until its destruction around the time Henry Sheldon procured his wooden specimen in 1883. Although relatively little is known about his life, Robert Torrance almost certainly played an integral role in the early development of the town of Middlebury.

 

-Noah Fine ’20

Footnotes:

1.Henry Sheldon Papers vol. 19, Collections of Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, Middlebury, Vermont
2. Ezra Brainerd, “The Early Settlements of Middlebury, Vermont” [Map], 1886. Collections of Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, Middlebury, Vermont.
3.Samuel Swift, History of the Town of Middlebury in the Town of Addison, Vermont, a Statistical and Historical Account of the County (Rutland, VT: Charles E. Tuttle Company , 1859), 169.
4. Swift, 170; 5. H.P. Smith, ed., History of Addison County, Vermont with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of its Prominent Men and Pioneers (Syracuse, NY: D. Mason & Co. Publishers, 1886), 245.
5. Swift, 182.
6.Smith, 266.
7. Swift, 170.
8. Swift, 186.
9. Frederick Hall’s Statistical Account of the Town of Middlebury, 1821, Collections of Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, Middlebury, Vermont.
10. Smith, 245.

California Redwood

On the far right side of the Henry Sheldon chair, above the middle crest, sits the California Redwood spindle. The California redwood spindle was donated to Henry Sheldon by Rollin Birchard, a distinguished Middlebury resident, who obtained the spindle from the interior of an Episcopal church in Cottage City, Rhode Island.[1] 

Henry Sheldon’s entry for the specimen of California redwood, from his book of woods used in the Memorial Chair (HL Sheldon papers, vol. 19).
Entry from acqusitions ledger, Henry Sheldon Museum, 18 February 1884

Birchard donated several specimens to the Sheldon Museum and was also  cited in multiple newspaper articles. Besides the spindle, on July 1st, 1884, Birchard donated a facsimile of the first manuscript of the Declaration of Independence.[2] This relates directly to the themes of patriotic values expressed through Birchard’s  donations and contributions to the Middlebury community. Birchard donated a relic from a prominent North American landmark and also contributed a copy of one of the most patriotic and distinguished pieces of American history.

        One specific example of his involvement in the Middlebury community is seen in a patent from the United States Patent Office related to the improvement in articles of food from cider, pictured to the right.[3] Birchard was a witness for the patent application and signed off on Schuyler Mahan’s account. It appears that Birchard was involved in all aspects concerning the town of Middlebury and most definitely had the area’s best interests in mind. He has a collection of papers in the Sheldon Museum archives which contain subject fields ranging from business and entrepreneurship all the way to the pharmaceutical industry.[4] Birchard owned a local drugstore and was a well-known man in the community, so it is somewhat surprising to note that his donation comes from a California Redwood tree. Birchard must have been thinking nationally instead of locally like most of the other spindles on the chair when deciding on what to donate to Sheldon.

       The California Redwood is an extremely awe-inspiring natural beauty and the tallest living tree on earth. California Redwoods can live for over a thousand years and can grow upwards of 300 feet, as illustrated by the massive trees in the Redwood forest pictured to the right.[5] Californians take great pride in the California Redwood, which also stands as a pinnacle of American natural beauty. In a book titled Saving California’s Redwoods, a native Californian stated “to us early Californians Redwood has meant a great deal economically and industrially. We have always looked upon our supply as practically inexhaustible, and it is with a start that we have recently realized that the end of this supply is measurably in sight”.[6] Birchard may have had these exact same ideals in mind when selecting a piece to donate to the Sheldon chair. A vast region of American history was slowly being carved away, and Birchard wanted a way to preserve this natural beauty. It is a piece of American identity that has been saved for over a hundred years of a tree that may have been over a thousand years old.

Turner photo, Stumps of redwood forest, Russian River, California, circa 1900. Sonoma County Photograph Collection.

        The meaning of this spindle has changed slightly as time has progressed, but still holds  its great importance as a true piece of American history. The forest has been tainted by human interference such as the construction of roads and logging practices, as seen in the image on the left. The California Redwood forest was celebrated back in 1884 just as it is respected and adored today. One thing that has plagued this natural beauty has been forest fires and disease. Scott Stephens and Danny Fry’s  article titled “Fire History in Coast Redwood Stands in the Northeastern Santa Cruz Mountains, California” details the devastating  effects of forest fires for the California area, but more specifically its effect on destroying hundreds of acres of trees.[7] This vulnerability of the Redwood Forest places greater significance on relics such as the Redwood spindle. As time progresses and forest fires continue to occur, the abundance of trees will diminish, giving greater value to these pieces of natural history restored for other functions.

           The California redwood spindle also points to an important piece of American identity: tourism. The California Redwood Forest brings in thousands of visitors each year and this site has often become a popular spot for photographs. It is a quintessential destination for families taking road trips across the country and visiting the famed Redwood forest. A piece of this forest has now been transported and reshaped into a spindle found in Middlebury, Vermont. The Sheldon chair is able to contain an actual piece of a national forest while alluding to broader patriotic themes. The spindle does not simply just represent a piece of a national forest, but represents the values of American identity.

-Luke Peterson ’19

 

Footnotes:

1.  Henry Sheldon’s Acquisition Ledger for the Sheldon Museum, Sheldon Archives, Collection of Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, Middlebury, Vermont.

2.  Acquisition ledger of the Sheldon Museum, Sheldon Archives, Collection of Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, Middlebury, Vermont.

3.  Schuyler Mahan, “Improvement in articles of food from cider,” 21 Oct. 1873. U.S. Patent No. 143,918.

4.  Collection of Rollin Birchard papers in Sheldon Archives, Sheldon Archives, Collection of Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, Middlebury, Vermont. Accessed January 17, 2018.

5.  “California Redwood”, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library.  New York Public Library Digital Collections, Accessed January 25, 2018.

6.  J.D. Grady, Saving California’s Redwoods (Berkeley: University of California/Save the Redwoods League, 1922), 5.

7. Scott L. Stephens and Danny L. Fry. “Fire history in coast redwood stands in the northeastern Santa Cruz Mountains, California.” Fire Ecology 1, no. 1 (2005),  5-6.

William (Letitia) Penn’s House

Alexander Lawson after J.J. Barralet, portrait of Sir William Penn, 1797. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Henry Sheldon’s 23rd spindle procured for his Windsor chair allegedly comes from the William Penn house in Pennsylvania. William Penn is an interesting character in American history and had a huge impact on the state of Pennsylvania specifically, which is probably why Sheldon wanted to procure a relic from his home. Though the significance of the spindle lies in William Penn’s legacy, the reality is more complicated.[1]

Born into a high class family in England, Penn was groomed by his father to take his place as the head of the family.[2] After attending Christ Church College in Oxford and having a tough experience there, Penn questioned his religion and eventually converted to become a Quaker.[3] This led to imprisonment along with nineteen other Quakers for attending a meeting in 1667.[4] After being released from prison, Penn was then kicked out of his father’s house before being imprisoned a second time in the Tower of London for denouncing the Holy Trinity.[5] It was his third imprisonment that made him the both polarizing and national figure that he is recognized as today. After multiple more arrests for his Quakerism, Penn concluded that there was little hope for religious tolerance in England and began to play with the idea of sailing for America.

Stereoview of the “Letitia Penn House,” Philadelphia, circa 1863. The Library Company of Philadelphia.

He received land from the crown as a settlement for debts they owed his father and sailed for America in August of 1682.[6] Upon arrival, Penn successfully founded Pennsylvania. The state was focused on creating a highly tolerant and accepting culture that was lacking from his life in England. Most of the significance of the relic lies in William Penn’s historical presence in American history. At the time when Sheldon acquired the relic, the house it was procured from was thought to have been the primary residence of William Penn, built by Penn in 1682 and given to his daughter Letitia in 1701. Originally located in the “Old City” of Philadelphia (on Letitia Street between Market and Chestnut streets), the house was moved in 1883 to the Fairmount Park neighborhood for preservation. By the 1930s, subsequent research indicated the house had been misidentified and had no connection to Penn, but when Sheldon bought the wood, he believed it to be legitimate.[7]

Detroit Publishing Company, postcard of the “William Penn House” in its new location in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia (moved 1883), circa 1913-1918. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library.

Sheldon purchased the relic from William McKay Heath around the time of the house’s move to Fairmount Park.[8] Not much information has been historically documented about William Heath as a person or what his life story is. Sheldon does not seem to have known him very well, recording his name incorrectly in the Memorial Chair notebook as “McKay Keith.” What we do know is that he corresponded with Henry Sheldon regarding the potential to trade for the barrel of a specific rifle.[9] According to the letterhead he used in this correspondence, Heath was a rare book and art dealer.[10] Being located in Philadelphia and being employed in such a profession explains his access to the three relics he sold to Sheldon.

Detail from Henry Sheldon’s purchase ledger, 1884, indicating that Sheldon purchased the relic of the Letitia Penn House for 25 cents.

Along with a piece of wood from Letitia Penn’s house, Sheldon also purchased a relic from the the Centennial Building in Philadelphia.[11] Sheldon likely included these three relics because of their patriotic historical relevance even though the three had little to do with Vermont specifically.

Sheldon had written to Heath in pursuit of Philadelphia materials in mid-January of 1884, noting in his diary that he had “sent to Phila for some relics.”

Henry Sheldon’s diary entry for 14 Jan. 1884.

Sheldon seems to have prized these objects, referring to them in a diary entry as his “bundle of old gems from Philadelphia” when they arrived a few weeks later, in early February of 1884.

Henry Sheldon’s diary entry for 6 Feb. 1884.

Of all of the relics featured in the chair, the three relics from Philadelphia are incredibly significant to American history in a greater context. On top of that, they give the chair a more national dimension that would not be there to the extent that it is with them. Unfortunately, it seems as though Sheldon was mislead in believing that the relic actually came from William Penn’s house as aforementioned. The Letitia Penn House actually is not believed to have been built until between 1703-1715, a full 20-30 years after Penn sailed for present-day Pennsylvania.[12] Though this takes away from the relic’s larger significance, it also adds a unique dimension. Relics have been faked and falsely procured for centuries, and this is an example of Sheldon mistaking his relic for one of more significance.

-Grayson W. Ahl ‘19.5

 

Footnotes

[1] Henry Sheldon, “Acquisition Leger,” Sheldon Museum Archive.

[2] Andrew R. Murphy, “From practice to theory to practice: William Penn from prison to the founding of Pennsylvania,” History of European Ideas 43:4 (2017): 317-330.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Fiske Kimball, “The Letitia Street House,” Bulletin of the Pennsylvania Museum vol. 27, no. 149 (May, 1932): 147.

[8] Letter from William McKay Heath to Henry Sheldon, 9 September 1884. Letter 884509, Sheldon Museum Archive.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12]  Kimball,  149.

 

A letter from William McKay Heath to Henry Sheldon requesting the barrel of the “miss. rifle” in return for his choice of three options outlined by Heath. – September 9th, 1884, letter 884509. Henry Sheldon Archive.

 

Works Cited

Kimball, Fiske, “The Letitia Street House,” Bulletin of the Pennsylvania Museum 27:149 (May, 1932): 147-152.

Murphy, Andrew R., “From practice to theory to practice: William Penn from prison to the   founding of Pennsylvania,” History of European Ideas 43:4 (2017): 317-330.

Sheldon, Henry, “Acquisition Leger,” Sheldon Museum Archive.

“Letter from William McKay Heath to Henry Sheldon,” September, 9th 1884. Letter 884509, Sheldon Museum Archive.

Ullman Manufacturing Co, William Penn House, Digital Public Library of America.

Daniel Foot’s Chest

On October 6, 1883, Allen Foot presented Henry Sheldon with a piece of a chest buried by his grandfather Daniel Foot, along with several other “relics.”[1] Below is a photograph from Sheldon’s diary on the day he procured the specimen:

The diary reads, “Warmer partly clear + pleasant AM, I hung some pictures in upper rooms, PM I went to Allen Foots and got several old relics.” As his acquisition ledger indicated, Foot donated several objects, including two spools, a churn, a knife, and a candle rod.

Although little is known about the function of the chest, Sheldon’s log book entry of the woods used in the relic chair suggests that it stored sentimental heirlooms and was buried when the British drove the Foot family out of their home during the Revolutionary War. A copy of the entry is displayed below:

HL Sheldon Papers, Vol 19, Collection of the Henry Sheldon Museum, Middlebury, Vermont

Sheldon’s records suggest that the specimen was procured from Daniel Foot’s plot of land. As the map below indicates, Foot’s property was located in southeast Middlebury roughly half a mile away from Middlebury College’s campus today.

Map of Addison County c. 1790, Collection of the Henry Sheldon Museum.

-Harry Rich ‘17.5

Footnotes

[1] H.L. Sheldon Diary entry, 6 Oct. 1883. Collection of the Henry Sheldon Museum, Middlebury, VT.

See also the entry on the relic from Daniel Foot’s barn, also donated by Allen Foot: http://sites.middlebury.edu/sheldonrelicchair/2018/02/01/daniel-foots-barn/

 

Daniel Foot’s Barn

Daniel Foot was a pioneer and an original settler of Middlebury. Born in Simsbury, Connecticut on April 27, 1724, Foot lived in Washington, MA and Dalton, MA before permanently relocating to Middlebury, VT, in 1788.[1] In Middlebury, Foot purchased and developed 600 acres of land, building mills, houses, and barns and felling forests.[2] In 1801, Foot bequeathed his entire plot of land to his children and their spouses and moved on to develop unchartered territory in what is now Canton, NY.[3] Shortly after his arrival in Canton, Daniel Foot died of smallpox.[4] He was said to have embodied a spirit of industriousness and contagious energy; in his book, History of the Town of Middlebury, Samuel Swift describes Foot as a man who “could never be contented on a well cultivated farm.” Swift goes even further writing, “There must be forests to subdue, and new dwellings to erect, or it was no place for him; and at last he died in the woods, and for lack of boards for a coffin was laid in bark from an elm tree.”[5]

This piece of oak, from Daniel Foot’s Barn, was donated by Foot’s grandson, Allen Foot.[6] The large barn, built nearly a century earlier, in 1790, was situated on the Foot family farm (located on the west side of Foot Street, two miles southeast of the Middlebury village).[7] At this point in his life, Foot wanted nothing more than to establish both the business and religious centers of Middlebury on his plot of land.[8] The barn initially served as the center for religious and organizational meetings in Middlebury, but as the town grew in population, all business, governmental, and spiritual spaces were moved to the village. Foot vehemently opposed this change but was still regarded as a respectable, conscientious man in the midst of this heated controversy.[9]

Below is a map of Daniel Foot’s property drawn by William Bott in 1791. The photograph clearly shows foot’s Barn off of what appears to be Main Road.

William Bott, Map of Middlebury, 1791. Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History.

Allen Foot donated the barn relic on June 7th, 1884, as indicated by Sheldon’s ledger. Sheldon wrote an especially lengthy diary entry that day, stating, “Warm Day, shower with hail at 3/Pm…  I rode out to see Allen Foot an early settler of Midd, who is palsied, he told me of old matters.”[10] In addition to Foot’s donation of several objects in October 1883, this entry suggests that Henry Sheldon and Allen Foot were close acquaintances. The entry also insinuates that Allen Foot was in poor health at the time of procurement of this relic and that this may have been a final visit between old friends. This relic is both symbolic in that its origins are deeply rooted in the founding and development of Middlebury and that it serves as a physical token, representative of a fruitful friendship.

Detail from Henry Sheldon’s Acquisition Ledger, June 1884. Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History.

-Harry Rich ‘17.5

Footnotes

[1] Swift, History of the Town of Middlebury: In the Country of Addison, Vermont (A. H. Copeland, 1859), 198.

[2] Ibid. 199.

[3] Ibid. 199.

[4] Ibid. 199.

[5] Ibid. 199.

[6] H.L. Sheldon Papers, Vol. 19, Collection of the Henry Sheldon Museum, Middlebury, Vermont

[7] Swift, History of the Town of Middlebury, 197.

[8] Ibid. 197.

[9] Ibid. 199

[10] H.L. Sheldon Diary, 7 June 1884. Collection of the Henry Sheldon Museum, Middlebury, Vermont

Benson Whipping-Post

The eighteenth spindle incorporated into Henry Sheldon’s relic chair is a red cedar part originating from a public whipping-post in Benson, Vermont.(1) Donated by Hon. E. L. Barbour, this piece of the Benson Whipping-Post was accepted and later incorporated by Sheldon because of the historical prominence of both the post and Egbert Benson himself.(2)

Prior to the mid-20th century, public whipping-posts were considered to be an essential adjunct of the criminal justice system with the purpose of executing judicial punishment.(3) By contemporary standards, corporal punishments of this kind are deemed to be rather severe. Particularly harsh sentencing was habitually carried out in Rutland County, Vermont, where the town of Benson is located. In 1808, a man was convicted in Rutland of distributing counterfeit money.(4) A severe white-collar crime that targeted the sanctity of working local capitalism, this crime, however, was nonaggressive. The nonviolent crime received a sentencing of an hour in the pillory, thirty-nine lashes at the whipping-post by a cat-o-nine-tails whip, $500 fine in addition to the prosecution fees, and seven years of hard labor in state prison.(5) The whipping was seen by then Rutland resident Amasa Pooler, who described there to be over a hundred carriages in attendance. Local residents flocked to observe the convicted criminal be stripped, lathered in rum and beaten despite the bitter cold and deep snow.(6) The event went further than a public display of justice. It was entertainment.

Whipping-posts were an essential part of public life in the 19th century. They were not merely a place of restitution, but also a landmark for governmental addresses, administration of warrants and local news.(7) While the Benson Whipping-Post did indeed serve the same purpose as neighboring whipping-posts in fulfilling these societal roles, it was incorporated into Sheldon’s relic chair specifically because of its historical connection to founding father Egbert Benson.

Born in New York City on June 21, 1746, renowned patriot Egbert Benson was a decorated Revolutionary War officer and law practitioner who played an instrumental role in the formation of the United States of America.(8) Benson, the third of four sons, grew up in a respected Dutch family.(9) His father, a brewer, and mother, a homemaker, lived respected middle-class lives and provided Benson a foundation for both academic and societal success.(10) Egbert Benson graduated fromKings College, New York, from now known as Columbia University, in 1765 with a law degree.(11) In 1769, he proceeded to pass the bar with relative ease and moved roughly one hundred miles north to find work in Red Hook, New York.(12)

 

Not long after Benson left New York City, the Revolutionary War broke out and Benson’s focus shifted from his progression as a lawyer to his advancement as an abolitionist.(13) He led the earliest meetings of organized resistance in Dutchess County and became a figurehead of progressive enlightenment as he rallied citizens to join in the revolutionary movement.(14) As his public notoriety expanded, he cemented his influential role in public office. He was appointed first attorney-general of New York by ordinance of the May 8, 1777 convention and held this position until his resignation in 1787.(15) He drafted the vast majority of bills passed by the assembly during the war and he quickly became considered a man of insurmountable aptitude.(16) Later, he played a vital role in the adoption of the constitution, and in 1789 he was elected as one of the six representatives from New York to the first congress.(17) In 1794, he was appointed as a New York supreme court judge where he excelled until his resignation in 1801.(18) At this time he was appointed to chief judge in the second circuit, but never ended up taking office and subsequently retired. Following his departure from political office, he moved to Jamaica, Queens and resided there until his death on August 24, 1833.(19)

The Benson Whipping-Post, in itself, is of minimal historical significance. It is not a site of a specific historical sentencing. It is not a historical landmark. And it is not a distinctive characteristic of Benson, Vermont. It is, however, a historical representation. The Benson Whipping-Post is a physical manifestation of how the material world reflects the historical past.(20)Therefore, through a piece of red cedar from a seemingly conventional whipping-post, Henry Sheldon accurately conveyed the complicated histories of corporal punishment and law and order, while concurrently illustrating the impact of those associated with the post itself.

Footnotes:

The Charter Oak

John Rosch, The Charter Oak. White Plains Public Library.

This spindle comes from the Charter Oak, which grew in Hartford, Connecticut and was a long-standing symbol American independence and resistance towards the British crown. It was estimated that the tree was over one thousand years old when it fell during a lightning storm in 1856 (1). Since its falling, wood form the Charter Oak has been highly sought-after, and much of it has been crafted into works of art, furniture, jewelry, and more (2). Henry Sheldon managed to obtain this piece of the Charter Oak from a Hartford resident by the name of F.L. Avery, who visited Henry Sheldon’s home on September 1, 1883 (3). However, as Sheldon notes in his journal and the museum acquistion ledger, he did not receive the piece of wood until September the 27th(4).

Entry from Sheldon Museum acquisitions ledger, September 1883.
Illustration of the Charter Oak, circa 1880. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library.

Perhaps one of the most storied spindles, the importance of the Charter Oak goes back to the early days of the American colonies. The unusually-large oak tree played an important role in Connecticut’s rebellion against the British crown. In 1662, King Charles the Second of England began collecting the charters of the North Eastern colonies in an attempt to consolidate power and create the colony of New England. (5) This meant that Connecticut was at risk of losing their charter and therefore their right to self-govern.(6) The English Crown made Sir Edmond Andros responsible for this new colony. He proceeded to go on a tour around the northeast collecting all the colonial charters.(7) Although it was just a formality, this symbolized the end of their autonomy and their dissolution into the grater colony of New England.(8) However, during a heated debate between Edmond and the people of Hartford, over the colony’s future status, the charter was taken.(9) It is rumored that during this discussion the candles in the meeting hall were blown out and when relit, the charter was gone.(10)

Captain Joseph Wadsworth stole the charter in the darkness and hid it within a hollow cavern of what was to be known from then on out as the Charter Oak. Unfortunately, this did not prevent Edmonds from revoking the state’s charter and making them a part of the greater New England colony.(11) However, the colony of New England did not last long, and in 1689, after King Charles’s rule had ended, Connecticut was once again allowed to govern themselves.(12)

The Charter Oak stood in Hartford for nearly another two hundred years and became a point of pride for both the city and the state of Connecticut. Upon its death a funeral-like ceremony was held for the tree, where people spoke of its great importance in Connecticut’s history.(13) People began taking pieces of the tree for themselves, as mementoes to commemorate the tree and ensure its legacy would not be forgotten.(14) The Charter Oak has been further memorized through works of poetry and literature such as such the 1857 poem “The Fall of The Charter Oak,” in which the tree is described almost as a guiding hand which protects people from “threatened liberty.”(15) Over time the Charter Oak has become an icon of American history. The Charter Oak’s importance is of the highest caliber, as it inspired generations of Americans to fight and defend the morals which this nation was founded upon.

-Pate Campbell ’20

Footnotes

1. “The Legend of the Charter Oak,” Connecticut History/CtHumanities: connecticuthistory.org/the-legend-of-the-charter-oak/.

2. Leslie Landrigan, “The Legend of the Charter Oak,” New England Historical Society (23 Apr. 2014): www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/legend-charter-oak/.
3.Henry Sheldon’s diary. Henry Sheldon Museum. Middlebury, Vermont. 
4. Ibid.
5. Landrigan.
6. The Legend of the Charter Oak. Connecticut History. CtHumanities. connecticuthistory.org/the-legend-of-the-charter-oak/.
7. ibid
8. ibid
9. ibid
10. ibid
11. ibid
12. ibid
13. ibid
14. Landrigan.
15.L.H.S., “The Charter Oak: The Fall of the Charter Oak,” The Connecticut Common School Journal and Annals of Education 4, no. 1 (Jan. 1857): 7, 8.

See also: Robert F. Trent, “The Charter Oak Artifacts,” Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin 49 (1984): 125-39.

 

USS Vermont

Detroit Publishing Company, USS Vermont, group of Chicago Naval Reserves, 1898. The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

On January 30, 1884, Lieutenant Aaron Ward of the U.S. Navy donated a piece of oak from the USS Vermont ship to Henry Sheldon(1). During the time of the donation, the ship was docked at the New York Navy Yard. The USS Vermont was authorized on April 29, 1816, and finished in 1825 at the Boston Navy Yard. The ship, commissioned by the United States Congress, was one of nine 74-gun warships. The USS Vermont was classified under the Delaware-class, being the number six-ship in the class.(2) Additionally, since the first commissioned ship of the Delaware-class became the USS North Carolina, the group also came to be known as the North Carolina-class.(3) Despite being finished in 1825, the ship stayed at the Boston Navy Yard until September 15, 1848, when it left the docks to make way for new boats (and due to the ship’s fire safety hazards).(4)

The USS Vermont was commissioned in accordance with the U.S. Navy’s effort to work overseas in an effort to secure American shipping. The USS Vermont was designed by famous naval engineer William Doughty, who was responsible for the Delaware class warships.(5) During the construction of the ship, progress was extremely slow due to funding issues. The ship lay unfinished for approximately thirty years due to the scarcity of Navy funds but was launched on September 15th, 1848 in an incomplete state. While the specificity of its incomplete status is unknown, photographs demonstrate that the ship turned out to appear very different than the typical sleek naval warship.

Detroit Publishing Company, USS Vermont, Brooklyn Navy Yard, ca. 1898. The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

While the ship was completed in 1825, the ship was not utilized until the 1861 Civil War, by which point it was already extremely outdated.(6) Nonetheless, the spacious hull of the vessel was used for transportation and storage, and it was docked in South Carolina. On December 9, 1861, the Trenton State Gazette reported the order for the outdated USS Vermont to aid in the coastal war, in an effort of a new phase of the naval war mustering all warships.(7) On December 13, 1861, The Burlington Free Press reported the USS Vermont had been sent to Charlestown Yard to rig the ship as a transport ship. Noting how the ship was previously dormant in the ship stocks for almost 30 years, the Navy planned to rig the ship with only twenty-four guns (originally, the Vermont was intended to have 84 guns)(8).

During February of 1862, the USS Vermont encountered a severe storm. The ship was heavily damaged and was reassigned to New York waters. In 1864, the USS Vermont was stationed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and utilized for public service, continuing to serve for storage and receiving ships, mostly being used for war supplies and medical service during peacetime. On July 1st, 1884, after being relatively inactive, the ship was reauthorized for active duty and re-commissioned in the Brooklyn Navy Yard again. The U.S. Navy condemned the USS Vermont in 1901, and it was sold in 1902.(9) The USS Vermont and crews received two major awards from the United States government for services rendered – the Civil War Campaign Medal and the Spanish Campaign Medal.(10)

While the USS Vermont didn’t have the illustrious history or participate in any infamous battles like some of the other naval ships included in the chair, one can assume it was included in the Sheldon chair due to the ship being named after the state which the chair was constructed in.

– Ryan Rudolph ’18

Works Cited:

1 Acquisition Ledger-Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History.

2,4,6,7 Staff Writer. “USS Vermont (1848).” Military Weapons, 15 Apr. 2016, www.militaryfactory.com/ships/detail.asp?ship_id=uss-vermont-1848

3,5,8,9,10 Michelle Young, “Vintage Photos: The Transformation of the USS Vermont at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.” Untapped Cities, 1 June 2016, untappedcities.com/2016/06/01/vintage-photos-the-transformation-of-the-uss-vermont-at-the-brooklyn-navy-yard/.

See also https://vermontcivilwar.org/units/navy/v-ussvt.php.

For more images of the USS Vermont (exterior and interior), see the collection at the Library of Congress.

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