Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Earth Day and the Environment

Happy Earth Day! I thought we could use this opportunity to talk a bit about environmental education at Stratford Hall. Many people know us as a historic site, but we're always expanding our program offerings to include even more than history. With these changes, we'll address more of Virginia's Standards of Learning for school programs--not just history, but science and math, as well. While we have a start on this already, with a new fossils program and an architecture program we added last year, we're working harder to continually update and offer more options to teachers.

Something I'm very excited about is a new environmental school program I'm designing. As you probably know, Stratford Hall is located right on the Potomac River, which gives us ample opportunities to discuss environmental issues with school children and adults. Our new program will focus on a variety of topics: pollution in the Potomac River/Chesapeake Bay, recycling, conservation of water...and if it gets too big (which it may!), we'll split it into several different programs. I've gotten a lot of ideas for--and help with--this program from members of the Education team at Friends of the Rappahannock and the Three Rivers Environmental Educators (TREE).

This short blog posting all came about because today is Earth Day, and Earth Day should remind us all how important it is to recycle. Did you know that Cynthia Vanderlip, manager of the State of Hawaii’s Kure Atoll Wildlife Sanctuary, cut open the dead body of a fledgling albatross to find more than half a pound of plastic in its stomach? This picture shows all of those pieces--bottle caps, plastic lighters, etc. We shouldn't be thinking about taking care of the earth only on Earth Day, but this specific day does serve as a reminder to become more conscientious individuals. So next time you're on a beach, pick up that plastic bottle you see washing up to shore. And if you don't already, please start recycling. It's not a difficult thing to do, but will really make a difference in the end.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Library Cataloging Project: Wm Lee Letter Books

The most tedious part of the effort to catalog all of the duPont Library's manuscript collection on computer has been the four letter books used by William Lee to keep records of his mercantile correspondence. William, born 1739 in Westmoreland County, was the next to youngest son of Thomas Lee, builder of Stratford. He learned accounting skills while serving as clerk for his older brother Philip Ludwell Lee at Stratford and eventually established himself as a London merchant in 1768. William sent ships to Virginia and Maryland to collect tobacco on consignment, arranged for its sale in London and elsewhere, and sent back to the colonies goods ordered and charged against the anticipated proceeds of the crop.

The earlier letter books, spanning the years from 1769 to 1775, document the political and financial turmoil that existed between England and the colonies just prior to the American Revolution. They also detail some of the financial dealings between mercantile houses, planters, insurers, lawyers, ship captains and ship owners. William's correspondence makes it very clear that the process by which most planters purchased goods from England was essentially a creative juggling act--on paper and using credit, with very little actual money exchanging hands. Thanks to these books, we know about all sorts of troubles that plagued the tobacco trade, including shipworm infestations, pirates, crooked inspectors, and gusts [hurricanes].

The books contain over 700 pages of William Lee's letters, copied by office clerks with varying degrees of spelling and handwriting skills and, later, by his own hand. With help of dedicated volunteer Maurice Capone, who transcribed many of the letters prior to their cataloging, the project has proceeded steadily and will soon reach completion. We are currently working on the last letter book that ended four days prior to William Lee's death on June 27, 1795.