THE KEEPSAKE – 200-YEAR-OLD TREASURES

The things people keep!! What makes a keepsake, anyhow?

In preparing to move last December, I went through my family history boxes. I stopped to take a look in the pockets of a worn, brown leather billfold. I am not sure who it belonged to, but I discovered that it held treasures. Perhaps the billfold was the property of Harriet Morgan Stout, or her daughter, my grandmother Vera Stout Anderson. But the keepsake inside definitely has ties to Harriet (Hattie) Stout’s mother, Mary Bassett (1810-1890).

Mary Bassett, Student
Keepsake #1: Mary Bassett School Report

The First Keepsake

Mary Bassett, my great-great grandmother later became Mary Bassett Platt Morgan, but all her life, she treasured this tiny “report card.” If you read what I wrote about Mary’s life, you will see that she was a life-long learner and avid reader, so the fact that a good report survived is not a surprise.

As near as I can decipher, the paper says:

This certifies that Mary Bassett’s ___________attention and good behaviour merits the approbation of her

Instructress.

August 6th 1820

What Does This Scrap of Paper Mean?

The date on this looks to me like August 6, 1820, which makes the one inch by two inch torn and wrinkled paper TWO HUNDRED YEARS OLD. Mary would have been ten years old in 1820, and her family still lived in Keene, New Hampshire. Six years later, the family would move to Keene, Ohio.

I am fascinated by the fact that the edge of blue is printed around this tiny piece of paper, leading me to assume that this was a prepared “form” that the teacher filled out. The beautiful handwriting seems even more impressive when you consider how small this note is–approximately one inch high and two inches wide. At the time of the note, girls would likely have been taught by an woman who held classes in her own home–known in Colonial times as a Dame School. However, public schools and private academies also thrived in New England in the early 19th century.

Why did the Instructress not sign her name? Or give us a place? Could it have been Mary’s mother, Elizabeth Stone Bassett?

Catharine Fiske established a Young Ladies Seminary in Mary’s home town of Keene, New Hampshire in 1814. Could she be our Instructress? No, although her seminary illustrates the interest in women’s education in Keene, hers was a high school. A good history of the the schools of Keene is on line, but unfortunately it does not differentiate male and female schools or grammar from high schools. If you have more information about where Hattie might have attended school, I would welcome it.

An article in the History of Education Quarterly points out that the 1850 census, which designated both men’s and women’s literacy, showed New England citizens at almost 100% literacy. (Abstract on line at JStor.com)That contrasts with earlier evidence that only men were literate. Based on the ages of people surveyed, the author assumes that the shift to female literacy began about 1820.

I welcome your help with that one word that I am missing in my transcription. (Or is it two words?)

A Keepsake From Mary’s First Husband

Keepsake #2: A bill of lading for the business of Mary’s husband, Mr. Platt.

Mary, as I wrote in earlier posts about her life, made unfortunate choices in husbands. She married when she was 21 years old, in 1831. Her first husband, Asahel Platt, ran a dry goods business in Killbuck Ohio, but died just two years after the marriage, leaving Mary to fend for herself. (The second, my family’s most fascinating scoundrel, Jesse Morgan ran away in the Gold Rush and left Mary to raise their and his children.)

One would assume that such a business would have generated quite a bit of paper work, but this little card seems to be the only thing surviving, other than the list of possessions in his probate papers which first tipped me off to the fact that Mr. Platt was a store keeper.

This small card shows that he was in some sort of business in June 1831, several months before he married Mary.

The handwriting is quite clear, and my transcription follows:

We have agreed to transport Mr. A. Platt’s goods from New York to Massilon (sic) Ohio care Mr. Hogan J Harris at one dollar seventy nine cents per 100# all round.

New York, 18 June 1831

R. Putnam

agent H. E. L_____

The opposite side of the card is printed in [very faded] red ink on the brown card:

———————

WESTERN TRANSPORTATION

Oho, Troy & Erie Line.

PROPRIETORS

Gidings, Baldwin & Cox, Cleveland, Ohio

S. Thompson & Company…..,

Townsend & Cod,….. [These last two bracketed with Buffalo N. Y. on the left]

G. P. Griffith & Co.,….. Troy

Apply to

HILL, FISH & ABBE, Foot of Chestnut St., Philadelphia

RUFUS PUTNAM, 22 South Street, New York

—————————–

What Does This Keepsake Mean?

This note is dated months before Mr. Platt’s marriage to Mary, so I have no evidence of where he was conducting business. Later he had a store in Killbuck, Ohio where she spent the rest of her life He was married in Coshocton in 1831, but so far I have no evidence of where he was doing business that year.

Massillon was a stop on the Ohio Canal. The goods probably would have gone by boat across northern New York to Lake Erie, and then down the Erie/Ohio canal system to Massillon.

[Note: 3/9/2021: Thanks to my son Mike Badertscher’s eagle-eyed Internet search, we have some very interesting articles from the Cleveland Herald for 1830 and 1831 regarding the Ohio, Erie and Troy company. If you are as fascinated as I am by the short period of fast expansion in means of transportation, be sure to poke around this site a bit.

Reading this makes me wonder if perhaps Mary’s husband was not a rather adventurous soul, throwing his lot in with this brand new form of moving goods. Perhaps he was a middle man for the goods rather than a retailer?

Another interesting angle on this information. Remember that Mary’s parents moved to Keene Ohio with a group of settlers transferring from Keene New Hampshire. What was the draw to that area in 1827? The building of the Ohio canal!]

Note: The R. Putnam signing the note, must be the Rufus Putnam of New York listed on the printed side of the card. However, he would not have been the same Rufus Putnam as the Revolutionary War General who led veterans to settle Marietta, Ohio, as that Rufus Putnam lived out his years in Ohio and died several years before this transaction.

Of course what interests me most are the motivations of my great-great-grandmother, Mary Bassett Platt Morgan, as she tucked away each keepsake. I can understand saving the little note of praise from a loved teacher. But why keep this business record from her first husband, dated before they were even married? It is questions like these that make me wish I were a novelist instead of an historical researcher.

Notes on Research

Sklar, Kathryn Kish. “The Schooling of Girls and Changing Community Values in Massachusetts Towns, 1750-1820.” History of Education Quarterly 33, no. 4 (1993): 511-42. Accessed February 28, 2021. doi:10.2307/369611.

“Schools”, a chapter by Laurence O. Thompson in A History of Keene, New Hampshire, The Keene History Committee (1968), Keene, New Hampshire.

NOTE: I have a message pending to the Ohio History Connection to see if they can enlighten us on the company or the transportation routes mentioned in this post. If I get more information, I will certainly update.

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2 thoughts on “THE KEEPSAKE – 200-YEAR-OLD TREASURES

  1. Edie Jarolim

    The information is fascinating but my first reaction, as someone who worked in a Special Collections department at the UCSD library, was “Get those papers into acid-free sleeves!” Of course things have changed since the 1980s, including the fact that scanners and camera phones make preservation of the originals a little less essential. (Just a little, because who doesn’t want to see the ink and paper in the original?) So what did you do with those papers?

    Reply
    1. Vera Marie Badertscher Post author

      For now they are back in the original billfold while I figure this out. The sleeves I have are full page size and I am afraid the ting pieces of paper will slide around too much. Suggestions?

      Reply

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