Archival Follies

Today’s Historical Infographic: Money

Or, Look! I Found a Neat Thing

CASH in various denominations and formats RULES EVERYTHING AROUND ME
CASH in various denominations and formats RULES EVERYTHING AROUND ME

Sometimes you fall down a nineteenth-century government statistical bulletin hole. It happens; I can’t explain it (and I’ll never get those hours from FRASER or HSUS back).

But what I can do is share this neat, colored-in chart of “United States Money in Circulation, 1860-1895” (see above).

It’s from the October 1895 edition of the Monthly Summary of Commerce and Finance of the United States, my second favorite issue of that glorious publication (first place, obviously, belongs to November 1895, for its unexpected and unprecedented compilation of tea customs receipts from 1790 onward). Here’s the specific page (gated by Hathi Trust).

Also, in case you missed it, the U.S. Government once produced a terrifyingly detailed map about syphllis.

Archival Follies, Golden Ghetto, Our Glorious National Heritage

Humblebragging Around the Horn

Or, Don’t Even Get Him Started on CrossFit


Richard Cleveland was a sailor, an entrepreneurial merchant, and a well-traveled man – but not a shy one. In his retirement, he published at least three editions of his memoirs, and by the end of the nineteenth century, and he and his children had produced some three different versions of his life’s story, all also in multiple transatlantic editions. Scholars still look to him today for details on Americans’ dealings in the Pacific, and beyond.

He’s a good source, if one we should perhaps examine mainly for its narrative framing and plot elements as much as for specific details. Among other feats, he was, as he explained in the preface to his lengthy autobiography of his time spent on the seas, as good a flinty, thrifty New Englander as Max Weber (or Freeman Hunt) could ever have wished for:
Continue reading “Humblebragging Around the Horn”

Archival Follies, Our Glorious National Heritage, Power At Play

Josh Giddings Lays the Smack Down

Or, Shut it, Calhoun

Joshua R. Giddings

Sometimes, studying nineteenth-century America can get damned depressing. It’s a slaughter-bench, and for most of the century, the guys that win (and they’re all guys) seem to be the worst possible: slaveholders, imperialists, filibusters.

There’s an antidote to this, though, and that’s reading Congressional debates.

Well, some of them.

Continue reading “Josh Giddings Lays the Smack Down”

Archival Follies, Our Glorious National Heritage

Keep Your Good Pirate Eye on the Market

Are you Kidding me?

While doing other research today, I ran across the following curiosity:

“The first merchandise direct from the Orient exposed for sale in America was brought to this country by pirates. Arabian gold, pearls from the Indian Ocean and Oriental fabrics abounded in the chief cities of the colonies. The treasure of Captain Kidd that was seized in Boston in 1699, contained a characteristic assortment of piratical plunder: ‘an iron chest of gold, pearls, etc., 40 bails [sic] of East India goods, 13 hogsheads, chests and case, one negro, and Venture Resail, a Ceylon Indian.’ Resail was one of the first Asiatics to visit America.”
~Charles Oscar Paullin, Diplomatic negotiations of American naval officers, 1778-1883, (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins press, 1912),157.

There is a lot going on here, and I don’t have any time at the moment to do any more research, but I did want to put a pin in it here for later. In no particular order, some thoughts, then:

  • That smuggling should have been the first (direct) source of Asian goods in America is more than appropriate
  • The presence of human beings in the “pirate” cargo puts the lie to fantasies of pirate democracy, eh? Or perhaps just reflects the Boston authorities inability to conceive of such a thing…
  • Paullin’s archaic language aside, the name “Venture Resail” seems too self-consciously literary to be true. Sure, while it wasn’t unheard of of slaveholders to give slaves ironic names (Caesar, etc), this name seems a bit on the nose even for that — really, 2 puns in one  name? — no less for its relation to Kidd’s case, a big deal at the time and a subject of much mythologizing since.

In any case, very curious, and something I’m interested in looking into further, once I have a spare moment again.

Image source: Pyle, Howard “With the Buccaneers ” in Howard Pyle’s Book of Pirates: Fiction, Fact & Fancy Concerning the Buccaneers & Marooners of the Spanish Main (New York, United States, 1921),,