Monday, May 13, 2013

Paperwork can be fun!--adding documents to a living history impression

It was Sunday and I had some time to kill, so I decided to create a tableau to represent the kinds of paperwork that would have followed a War of 1812 General Staff on the march. These are the kind of things that you can leave around a 1812 campsite or building, or hand around to people as props.

A Crowded Desk:
 Artifacts and ephemera include spectacles, a traveling inkstand, blotter, receipts, letters, bank notes, enlistment papers, and a wallet.

Written on 81/2 x 11 or 11x17 " paper (ivory rag laid paper if you can get it: the paper they used was made of cotton rags and hasn't faded too much even after 200 years). Postage was metered by the page, and paid by recipient. Some officers complained that they could not afford the postage of the letters from home and asked their loved ones to prepay.

No envelopes were used: instead sealing wax was melted and dripped onto the folded letter and pressed with a seal-- or, more often, a gelatin wafer seal was used. Beeswax discs about the size of a quarter may answer for this purpose. Seals were invariably red.

Gelatin wafers were also commonly used where modern paperclips and staples are used today, to hold papers together. I've even seen "post it" note-sized slips attached to larger documents or notebooks this way.

The address was written on the outside of the sealed letter. For the most part, the towns were not large enough to merit a street address. At top right you can see the postage due written by the postmaster.

Common people bartered or used coins, most commonly Spanish silver dollars and 1/8 fragments thereof. Notes were issued by individual banks and private businessmen who would redeem the note for cash... If they had enough on hand! The Federal government did not issue paper currency in large amounts until the Civil War. Right now I don't have any coins but hoping to get some soon.

 Receipts were made out in duplicate (the forms were locally printed for the Quartermaster) and represented documentation of where all the war bucks were going. Quartermasters could and did get into trouble for spending too much or not keeping good accounts. The quartermaster himself would have kept a large ledgerbook, but loose receipts were also made up. This particular one was for $4.50 paid to John Anderson for "riding express from Lower Sandusky to Franklinton and bringing dispatches from the Secretary of War addressed to G Harrison." Local citizens of good repute were hired to run dispatches, at least in the 8th Military District commanded by Major General William Henry Harrison. When the payee was illiterate, his signature was made by scrawling an X between the first and last name, with a "his mark" written above and below the name.

Stub receipts were also torn from full sheets of paper. This one is a payment to Black Duck, a Chippewa Indian to compensate him for a canoe commandeered and destroyed by the US Army. Was this the same canoe used by the French scouts on the Maumee in April 1813 and shot full of holes by Indians?

Enlistment Papers:
Enlistment papers were prototyped in the Acts of Congress or Articles of War, in books usually printed by private booksellers and sold to individual company officers or shipped out through the Army Quartermaster.   I think a lot of local print shops got orders from the recruiting officers to make up enlistment papers, which were basically contracts between officers and their men. The documents were witnessed by local officials and approved by a surgeon, and 8 of 16 dollars was given to the recruit for his bounty. A similar paper would certify the man's discharge from the Army, and accounted for any pay and accoutrements he received while in the service of the United States. This particular enlistment form came from the 19th US website: