Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Discovering the History of Nashville: A Tennessee State Library and Archives Workshop

Join David Ewing for a look at Nashville’s unique history through the Tennessee State Library and Archives’ (TSLA) historical materials and from his own historical research. In this free workshop, Ewing will discuss how to navigate the TSLA’s records to research Nashville history, and to locate information about your own Nashville ancestors.

The workshop will be held from 9:30 a.m. until 11 a.m. March 28 at TSLA's building just west of the State Capitol building in downtown Nashville.

Ewing is a ninth generation Nashvillian, lawyer and historian. He has been researching Nashville and his family at the Tennessee State Library and Archives for 20 years. He has previously served on the Metro Historical Commission, and the board of The Hermitage and Travellers Rest. He is a founding member of the TSLA Friends. His Facebook page "The Nashville I Wish I Knew" was selected in 2013 as the best Facebook website by the Nashville Scene's Best of Readers and Editors poll.

Those wishing to attend this workshop must contact TSLA to make a reservation as the number of seats is limited. Parking is available in the front, on the side, and in back of the Library and Archives building. Patrons can register by telephone by calling (615) 741-2764, or by e-mail at: workshop.tsla@tn.gov. For more information contact:

Nashville, TN 37243
Phone: (615) 741-2764 | Fax: (615) 253-6471

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

New Online Application Maps African-American History During the Civil War in Tennessee

As slavery and plantation life dissolved in the crucible of war and occupation during the 1860s, Tennessee became a laboratory of new social arrangements for African Americans. Landscape of Liberation: The African American Geography of the Civil War in Tennessee, which highlights many of the changes in African-American life, is now available online at http://tnmap.tn.gov/CivilWar/freedmen/.

This fully functional (and free) geographic information system application shows 150 wartime sites—refugee camps, early freedmen schools and churches, and recruitment sites for the more than 20,000 black Union soldiers who enlisted from Tennessee. In addition to narrative information, the sites are linked to scans of original primary sources that document historic events. These sources include maps, newspapers, and manuscript items from the collections of the Tennessee State Library and Archives and the Tennessee State Museum.

The application is an interactive map showing the landscape of emancipation as it unfolded from 1861 to 1865. Students now have a powerful new tool for viewing the geography of the African-American experience in Tennessee and connecting it with the digitized primary sources from the archives.

The application, a collaborative project between the Tennessee State Library and Archives, the Fullerton Geospatial Laboratory at Middle Tennessee State University, and the State of Tennessee Office of Information Resources, was built with funding from the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area.

The African American Geography of Civil War Tennessee is an interactive map showing the landscape of emancipation as it unfolded from 1861 to 1865. Every point on the map is linked to primary documents and images that tell the story of people, places, and events.

Service Impressment Roster, North-Western Railroad, October 13, 1863. Tennessee State Library and Archives.
Image available online at: http://tnmap.tn.gov/linked_docs/Roll_of_ImpressedNegroes_NNWRR_1863.pdf

Railroad depot on Church St. from James Allen Hoobler, Cities Under the Gun Photograph Collection, 1862-1986. African American women selling produce at the depot are visible in this photograph. Tennessee State Library and Archives.
Image available online at: http://tnmap.tn.gov/linked_docs/Hoobler_RailyardMarket_THS454001.pdf

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"How I Came To Write 'The Will'" -- Playwright Sandra Seaton finds inspiration at the Tennessee State Library and Archives

Sandra Seaton is a playwright and librettist. As the author of 10 plays, the libretto for a solo opera, a spoken word piece, and short fiction, Seaton’s work has been performed in cities throughout the country. She received the Mark Twain Award from the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature in 2012, and has taught creative writing and African-American literature at Central Michigan University for 15 years as a professor of English.

In this entry on the TSLA Blog, Seaton recalls her visit to the Tennessee State Library and Archives where she found the wills of her great-great grandparents, Cyrus and Eliza, while researching her family history. This discovery later inspired her to write, “The Will,” a play which dramatizes the human consequences of the Civil War as experienced by an African-American family in a small town in Tennessee.

How I Came to Write “The Will”

By Sandra Seaton

   Since childhood, I had heard the story about an ancestor of mine named Israel who sassed a white man and had to be smuggled out of town disguised as a woman. According to the story, when the Ku Klux Klan came to the house looking for Israel, my great-great-grandmother Eliza refused to disclose his whereabouts. Just minutes before, she had hid Israel upstairs under a mattress. After his escape, no one saw or heard from him again.

   I had been told often that my great-great-grandmother, Eliza Webster, her parents Annie and Demps Cherry, and four others (all free blacks) had founded the first black Baptist Church Mt. Lebanon, in Tennessee in the 1840s. I also knew that Eliza and her husband Cyrus had 22 children together, seven of whom died in the smallpox epidemic. That was all I knew. With what resources I had, I had been doing some research (snooping in attics, basements, churches, and talking to people) since 1989. On my trips to Tennessee I went to churches, cemeteries, and courthouses. As a native of Tennessee and through family oral traditions, I knew that an African American free black community existed in middle Tennessee before the Civil War, one with ties to the free black community in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

   I was anxious to find out any information I could about Cyrus and Eliza, so I made a trip to the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville. Census records revealed that Cyrus had held farmland in Columbia before the Civil War. An 1850 record listed Cyrus, Eliza and a few of their children. Fascinated by the thought of African Americans of that era holding property in the South, and because of my desire to realize a full picture of the world of African Americans, I took a room at a hotel downtown and spent days at the Archives. I think I spent half the time trying to coax the microfilm readers or rewinding the rolls of film. I followed a number of leads but hadn’t turned up much.

   On my last day at the State Archives, a very hot summer afternoon about ten minutes before closing, I found the wills of my great-great grandfather and grandmother. As I read the two wills, I was awe-struck by their evocation of individuals and a way of life entirely different from the stereotypes about African Americans of their place and time. As I read, I was amazed by the beauty of the language and the care evident in each perfectly crafted sentence. My great-great-grandfather Cyrus’s will showed great planning and care. He was the nurturer, and his will revealed an appreciation for things like teapots, mirrors, and blankets. Throughout the will, he used terms of endearment for each family member, describing one relative as “a gentle, loving man.” My great-great-grandmother’s will, Eliza’s, on the other hand, concerned itself with the disposition of the land, down to the last foot.

   I was startled to notice that both wills mentioned Israel. Cyrus’s will left money and household items to Israel should he return. Eliza’s will contained a touching bequest to Israel pointing any reader of the will away from Israel’s actual destination. Archives are even quieter than libraries, but you know when I read those two wills, I couldn’t help it; I cried and cried. It was as if after all those years, there they were waiting quietly for me to find them.

Cyrus Webster's will, probated on Dec. 4, 1891, located within TSLA's Maury County Microfilm Records, Reel 184, Vol. G.
Tennessee State Library and Archives

Armed with copies of these wills, and at the encouragement of her grandmother, Emma, Sandra Seaton made a visit to Greenwood Cemetery, determined to find out more about Cyrus, Eliza and Israel. There, she made a startling discovery, inscribed in stone on the graves that marked her family members’ final resting place. She wrote:

   I desperately wanted to go to Greenwood. I knew there was no way my aunt was going to go with me, so I found a family friend, Mr. Herbert Johnson, and the two of us put on our old shoes and waded through the grass. Although Mr. Herbert, who was in ill health at that time, needed a cane to get around, nothing could stop this committed history buff from making the trip to Greenwood. We had looked at just about every tombstone we could find when we came to a group over in one corner that faced away from the rest. There they were, my family’s graves, just like Grandma Emma had said—Cyrus, Eliza, Eliza’s parents, Annie and Dempsey Cherry, seven little graves off in a corner, and next to Cyrus a very large monument with the name Anna Sanders at the top.

   The inscriptions were barely readable. I had heard of people doing grave rubbings so we went to a nearby drycleaner’s for some thin paper and to Kmart for crayons. Back then, grave markers could tell whole stories. After reading their wills at the archives, it was no surprise that the tombstones were finely scripted. We rubbed and rubbed, but were only mildly successful in making out dates for Cyrus and Eliza. For Anna, I was able to make out something that I didn’t understand, the words “cousin of Israel Grant.” Fresh out of paper, Mr. Herbert and I went to an auto shop next door. Maybe they had something we could use. I felt a little uneasy about announcing our purpose, poking around the white cemetery. A young white guy at the counter was casual about the whole thing. He had family over in Greenwood, couldn’t help out with paper, but was on his way home for lunch; he’d bring back a local historian’s book on the cemetery. Just look in the seat of my pick-up he told me.

   Sure enough, an hour later, the car window rolled down, the book lay there on the seat, waiting. The section on Cyrus and Eliza listed their inscription and the names of the graves of their seven young children and no more. There was no information on Anna Sanders. I called the local historical society. The woman on the phone told me to go to the grocery store, get some cornstarch or flour, throw it on the inscriptions, and dust it off. I threw cornstarch on Cyrus’s mother Anna’s grave and contemplated the words, “cousin of Israel Grant;” they just didn’t make any sense. My grandmother had always said we were related to Ulysses S. Grant. So was Anna the Grant connection? A light dusting revealed something I never expected to find: “Anna Sanders, 1790-1852, mother of Cyrus Webster and consort of Israel Grant.” Consort of Israel Grant! Cyrus had erected a monument over his mother’s grave, one of the largest in the cemetery. And he was proud of his ancestry, not only proud that a white man was his father, but that his mother was the common-law wife to this man, a relationship he cared enough about to inscribe on her tombstone. Here was Cyrus’s legacy, the example of a courageous man, courageous enough during slavery, 1852, to announce this relationship to a hostile world, and honest enough to show his love for his father by naming his first born son Israel.

From that day forward, fired with curiosity and ambition, Sandra Seaton set out to write a play that dramatized the people whose characters were expressed in these wills. She wrote “The Will” shortly thereafter—a play that reveals both the conflicts of Reconstruction and the range of African American culture.

Readers may learn more about “The Will” and other works by Sandra Seaton by visiting her website at: http://www.sandraseaton.com/. The Tennessee State Library and Archives is grateful to have had a part in helping Sandra discover her family’s history. We hope this blog post will inspire you to visit us and possibly help you write your own family’s story.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

TSLA Remembers Brown v. Board of Education with Southern School News Digital Collection

During Black History Month, the Tennessee State Library and Archives is making available a new collection that showcases some of the highlights of the Civil Rights Movement. The Southern School News Digital Collection is an online compendium of the journal Southern School News, a monthly publication by the Southern Education Reporting Service (SERS) reporting on developments in education arising from the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas U.S. Supreme Court opinion from May 17, 1954. This full text searchable digital collection is comprised of 11 volumes with 12 issues containing 12 to 24 pages each that were published from September 1954 through June 1965 in Nashville.


Beginning with the publication of the first issue on September 3, 1954, each journal reported about desegregation of U.S. public schools state by state through primary documentation and statistical evidence. Changes in public school education in 17 United States southern and border states as well as the District of Columbia were communicated to benefit educational administrators and officials. The goal of the publication was to provide “a reliable, central source of information on developments in education arising from the United States Supreme Court decision declaring compulsory racial segregation in the public schools to be unconstitutional.”

Patricia Haye’s first day at John Coleman Elementary near Smyrna, Tennessee 1959. Southern School News Collection, Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA).

Southern School News published its mission in every issue, often on page four, along with a listing of correspondents and the board of directors. The journal unequivocally vowed to document all progress towards desegregation of public schools from the smallest detail to the largest university occurrences stating:

"Southern School News is the official publication of the Southern Education Reporting Service, an objective, fact-finding agency established by southern newspaper editors and educators with the aim of providing accurate, unbiased information to school administrators, public officials and interested lay citizens on developments in education arising from the U.S. Supreme Court opinion of May 17, 1954 declaring segregation in the schools unconstitutional. SERS is not an advocate, is neither pro-segregation nor anti-segregation, but simply reports the facts as it finds them, state by state."

1957 Map of southern-border region, segregation-desegregation status by counties. Southern School News Collection, Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA).

The board of directors for the publication was drawn from a wide variety of political and educational backgrounds to include both segregation and desegregation interpretations of the Supreme Court ruling. Members of the board included such distinguished Tennessee leaders as presidents and chancellors of Fisk and Vanderbilt Universities as well as George Peabody College. Also included were the editors of both The Nashville Banner and The Nashville Tennessean.

1962 Tennessee gubernatorial candidates with Jackie Robinson. From left: Carl Fry, P.R. Olgiati, Robinson, Former Governor Frank G. Clement, and William Farris. Southern School News Collection, Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA).

Visit the Southern School News Collection on TeVA's website at http://tn.gov/tsla/TeVAsites/SouthernSchoolNews/index.htm to view more digital copies of this publication held at the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Tennessee Hero's Long Voyage Home

What comes to mind when you hear the word hero? Usually, a hero is thought of as an ordinary person who exhibits exceptional qualities, such as courage and sacrifice, in extraordinary circumstances. During one of the deadliest conflicts in U. S. history, Nashville native Sgt. Ben Clay Espey exemplified these virtues.

Portrait of Ben Clay Espey,
in uniform, at age 19, 1943,
Balch Family Papers, 1780-1996
Born January 28, 1924, he was the son of Ben King Espey and Nannie Mae Windrow Espey. At the age of 16, Ben Clay received his private pilot’s license. He was a member of McKendree Methodist Church and attended Duncan Preparatory School. After Espey’s graduation from Duncan Preparatory School in 1940, he attended the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee. While attending the University of the South, Espey received the Algernon Sydney Sullivan scholarship and was a member of the Beta Theta chapter of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity, the German club and the golf club.

During his junior year (1942) at the University of the South, Espey volunteered as an aviation cadet and in December of 1942, he was called into active duty in World War II. Espey was stationed for a time in both north Africa and southern Italy. While stationed in Italy, he was the cartoonist for the 15th Air Force’s paper and fashioned the character “Sir Donald McAce.” Espey served in combat service with the 15th Air Force and participated in air offensives over the Balkans, Austria, Germany, Romania, and Italy. He was killed on April 15, 1944, while returning from a bombing mission over the Ploesti oil fields in Romania. At the time of his death, Espey worked as a tail gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress and was attacked by German fighter planes. Crew members of other aircraft participating in the mission saw Sgt. Espey’s parachute falling toward the front of his plane. It was thought for a time that he might have survived the attack and was listed as missing in action.

On May 20, 1944, the War Department notified Espey’s parents that he had actually been killed during the confrontation with the German fighter planes. His remains were found and returned to Tennessee in 1950, almost six years after his death. Espey’s funeral and burial took place on March 23, 1950. He is buried in Woodlawn Memorial Park in Nashville, Tennessee.

Espey truly deserves the title of hero and received several medals and honors including the Air Corps Citation, the Purple Heart, a Presidential Citation, and the Air Medal. Items related to Ben Clay Espey’s life may be found in the Balch Family Papers, 1780-1996, at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Objects of note include correspondence, photographs, memorial items, newspaper clippings, a Sunday School certificate, and some of Espey’s original drawings.

"Espey Floop Special," color drawing by Ben Clay Espey depicting an aircraft, Nashville, Tennessee, ca. 1941.
Balch Family Papers, 1780-1996

World War II 15th Army Air Force Winged Star Bullion patch that has the number 15 above a winged star, believed to have belonged to Ben Clay Espey, ca. 1939-1945.
Balch Family Papers, 1780-1996

Cartoon type drawing by Ben Clay Espey depicting a plane, undated.
Balch Family Papers, 1780-1996

Title Page of Ben Clay Espey's Funeral Register, College Grove, Tennessee, March 23, 1950.
Balch Family Papers, 1780-1996

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Historic Maps of Tennessee and Beyond: Digital Maps at the Tennessee State Library and Archives

"I need to look at a map to understand it."

How many times have you said that? Tennessee's largest collection of historical maps is ready to be explored at the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA). Maps are invaluable components of historical and genealogical research, and documentary records often cannot be fully understood without referring to maps.

Map of Tennessee (1818), by John Melish and John Strothers, Jr.
Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA) Historical Map Collection

In an effort to increase use of this tremendous research resource, TSLA is digitizing original maps and making them available in the Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA). An initial collection of more than 100 maps has just been released, and TSLA will continue adding its maps to this digital online collection to bring more of them to a wider public.

Davidson County, Tennessee soil map (1903), by Julius Bien & Co.
Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA) Historical Map Collection

On Tuesday, Jan. 27, the State Library and Archives and the Nashville Public Library will host a presentation on the collection, "Historic Maps of Tennessee and Beyond: Digital Maps at the Tennessee State Library and Archives." Dr. Wayne Moore, assistant state archivist, will lead the discussion.

Route of the Memphis-Nashville-Bristol highway (1911).
Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA) Historical Map Collection

The presentation is free and open to the public and will begin at 11 a.m. in the auditorium of the Nashville Public Library, 615 Church Street in downtown Nashville.

Map of the British American Plantations (1754)
Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA) Historical Map Collection

Visit the Historical Map Collection on TeVA's website at http://tn.gov/tsla/TeVAsites/MapCollection/index.htm to view more digital copies of maps at the Tennessee State Library and Archives.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Reluctant Warrior Alvin York Subject of Next TSLA Workshop

He was a reluctant warrior who was denied conscientious objector status and agreed to combat duty only after a commander convinced him that doing so wouldn't conflict with his religious beliefs. He later helped lead one of the key offensives during World War I, earning a Medal of Honor and numerous other commendations for his efforts.

Sergeant Alvin C. York
aboard the S. S. Ohioan, 1919
Library Photograph Collection
Alvin C. York is one of Tennessee's most celebrated war heroes - and he'll be one of the main subjects of the next workshop sponsored by the Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA).

The workshop, titled "World War I and Alvin York: Tennessee's Service in the 'Great War,'" will be held in TSLA's auditorium from 9:30 a.m. until 11 a.m. Jan. 24. Dr. Michael Birdwell, a history professor at Tennessee Tech University, will lead the free session on World War I documents and photographs available at TSLA. Dr. Birdwell is curator of the Alvin C. York papers in Pall Mall and is considered an expert on World War I and York.

Although the workshop is free and open to the public, reservations are necessary due to limited seating in the auditorium. To make a reservation, email workshop.tsla@tn.gov or call (615) 741-2764.

The State Library and Archives building is located at 403 Seventh Ave. North, directly west of the State Capitol building in downtown Nashville.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.