J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, June 02, 2015

A Peek in the D.A.R. Library in D.C.

Yesterday I visited the research library at the national headquarters of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Washington, D.C., for the first time.

For folks visiting Washington, the library is quite accessible: the building entrance is just off 17th Street across from the Ellipse, a short walk from the Farragut North and West Metro stops.

It’s also quite accessible for researchers: anyone can go in without a lengthy registration process, just a couple of sign-ins. And the shelves are open, letting a person browse for books one didn’t yet know one wanted to see.

The library space itself is a handsome, old-fashioned room, as shown above. During my visit there was plenty of space to work; in fact, even over the course of the day researchers were probably outnumbered by staff. One quirk of the space: Most of the ceiling above the reading tables is made up of skylights, so on a meteorologically interesting day the light can shift dramatically as one reads.

The collection has a focus on American genealogy, reflecting how the D.A.R. is a hereditary society, but the resources on local history and Revolutionary War history are also deep. Some of the things on the shelves I didn’t yet know I wanted to see were doctoral dissertations.

Here, for example, are some notes from William Arthur Baller’s thesis at Clark University in 1994, “Military Mobilization during the American Revolution in Marblehead and Worcester, Massachusetts”:
  • At least 1652 Marbleheaders or 36 percent of the community’s population fought in the Revolution. As many as 1780 or 39 percent may have taken up arms against the British.” But the count is difficult because of the number of local men with the same name and the lack of complete rolls from privateers.
  • “At least 267 Marbleheaders” became prisoners of war.
  • “Fifty Marbleheaders under seventeen years of age saw service aboard privateers alone.”
  • “In 1780, more than 278 of Marblehead’s women were widows and 672 of the city’s children were fatherless.”
  • As to whether poor men fought while rich men stayed home, “Three hundred and eight Marbleheaders voted [paid poll tax and were thus on the voting roll?] in 1771. Of that number at least 164 fought in the Revolution. . . . Of the 140 individuals who held office in Marblehead from 1769 through 1785, 69 actually fought in the Revolution. The families of another 54 officeholders contributed at least one member to the war effort.”
Undoubtedly the D.A.R. library (like the Society of the Cincinnati’s library at Anderson House) gets overshadowed in Washington by the vast Library of Congress. But I certainly plan to go back when I have free days in the capital city.

1 comment:

Charles Bahne said...

I am curious as to what population figure Mr. Baller uses as the basis for "36 percent of the community's population". The 1765 census of Massachusetts — which I believe is the last one before the Revolution — shows that Marblehead had an adult white male [over age 16] population of 1,199, plus 71 male Negroes of all ages. The entire population, including women and children, was 4,954 people; and 1,652 comes to 33.3% of that total. But unless the town had a huge growth spurt in the decade before the Revolution, the number of people who served in the war comes to more than 130% of the adult male population. This just does not compute. It seems unlikely that there were that many drummer boys or Deborah Samsons.

Is there any chance that the figure of "1,652 Marbleheaders [who] fought in the Revolution" includes men from other towns who served in Marblehead regiments?