Author Archives: jangstad

Mapping The Christian Recorder

New digital tools developed for history help to provide new ways to analyze historical data. These new ways to analyze data not only help to answer questions but also undoubtedly raise new questions. Like the many other graduate students who have posted on this blog, I applied one of these new digital history tools to the information wanted ads of the Christian Recorder. More specifically I used new mapping tools to map the locations associated with these information wanted ads and found it raised more questions than it answered. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me explain a bit about the project we all undertook and the Christian Recorder.

Christian Recorder from April 21st, 1866

Christian Recorder from April 21st, 1866 (Accessible Archives)

The Christian Recorder was one of the most popular African-American newspapers during the Civil War, though publication started nine years before the war in 1852. It was run by the African Methodist Episcopal church and was not only used for religious and church news but also for regular news and advertisements. The newspaper still runs to this day. During the later stages of the Civil War, many ads under the heading of information wanted started appearing in the newspaper. These ads were posted by African-Americans looking for long lost family members and friends. A majority of these people were separated by the effects of slavery, whether it was being sold away from one another, people running away from slavery, or one of the hundreds of other ways people could be separated by slavery or in an active war zone.  Even after the war ended, these ads continued to be posted in the Christian Recorder. These ads provide a unique opportunity for historians to get more information on a group of people who are very under represented in primary sources from this time period.

As part of a project for a digital history class at Villanova University, my classmates, my professor and myself made a huge excel project incorporating information from these ads posted between late 1864 and summer of 1869. In this excel project we tried to include information about the people posting the ads, termed the Advertiser for this project, (name, gender, relationship to the person they were looking for,  reason and length of separation, and mailing address for the ad) and the people being looked for in the ad, termed the Advertisee for this project (name, gender, place of origin, last known address, and relationship to the Advertiser). Besides this information pulled from the ads, some rows had additional notes about points of interest from that particular ad. With all of this information, the amount of research, and digital projects that could spring from it are too many to count. I chose to do a project using a digital map making program. I chose to do this because this whole semester I have enjoyed learning about map making software, whether it was map warping or some other map making software.

Information Wanted Ad from the April 21st, 1866 Christian Recorder

Information Wanted Ad from the April 21st, 1866 Christian Recorder (Accessible Archives)

This leads me to try to figure out the best way to apply mapping software to this chart and which software to use. As to the second part of my quandary I chose to use Google Fusion Tables. Google describes their new software as, “an experimental data visualization web application to gather, visualize, and share data tables.” Not only can you upload your own excel files or use your own files on Google Drive but if you just want to experiment with the program you can use other people’s data to play around with. As described above, besides making this data easier to share, it allows you to map the data in Google Maps. As with most things with Google, even though this one is still classified as experimental, it is free, easy to use, and impeccably well run.

Once I figured out which program I was going to use, I determined the best way to use this program was to map the location of the subscribers to the Christian Recorder. I chose this as my original map because of a fundamental question that developed in my mind. The question was, how wide spread was the circulation of the Christian Recorder? Depending on how wide spread it was, it would certainly influence how effective the information wanted ads would be at finding the people in the ads. Since our project covers about five years and I only had a short period of time to assemble this information, I knew I would have to choose only one year. I chose 1866 since it was the year that had the most ads posted in it, according to our research. Each issue of the Christian Recorder had a section that would normally list people who had either just renewed or just subscribed to the paper, called acknowledgments. I went through each issue in 1866 listing the locations of these subscribers. I did not record the names of the subscribers since I was studying the locations of the subscriptions and not the people who were subscribing, which would be an interesting study in and of itself. After going through the paper I was able to assemble the following Excel spread: Christian Recorder Subscribers 1866.

List of acknowledgments in February 17, 1866 Christian Recorder (Accessible Archives)

Once I had assembled the spreadsheet I uploaded it to Google Fusion Tables to map the different locations. Since the places I was trying to map were relatively straight forward, just city, state, and country, I thought it would be an easy process. Little did I know it would be like trying to pull teeth from an angry tiger. When I tried to map the locations originally it put them all over the map. So to fix this I thought I would find the latitude and longitude for each location. This was no small undertaking since I had 274 rows of data. There were some repeats in the subscriptions but not that many. When I tried to map these locations, it totally failed again (user error I learned later). After some choice words to the computer, I looked in the help section and figured out what I was doing wrong. I had to combine the city, state, and country into one cell. After figuring this out, I was then able to actually map the locations of the subscribers for 1866, which you can see pictured below. When you pull up the window, click where it says map to view the map. Also since there are a large number of data points, it does take a a bit of time for all of the data points to load in. (Repeat for the next maps)


Map of Christian Recorder Subscribers for 1866

Map of Christian Recorder Subscribers for 1866

After making this map I came to a conclusion that a majority of the subscribers for 1866 to the Christian Recorder were in the North and Upper South. This did not surprise me to any real extent since literacy rates among African-Americans was probably higher in the North as well as the infrastructure would be more in tact in the North since it was not torn apart by the war like the former Confederacy. What I think is also interesting are the subscribers located far out west in Colorado and California. It would be interesting to know how those people got out there, but that is for another project. Yet, this map didn’t really answer how effective these ads would be at finding people that were in the ads. To do this I decided I should map the last known locations of the Advertisees. Making this map went much faster since I knew how to make the Google Fusion Tables recognize locations in a table. After making my custom table with just the last known locations of the Advertisees and uploading it to Google Fusion Tables, I was able to produce the following map.

Map of last known locations of Advertisees

Map of last known locations of Advertisees

As would be expected, the last known locations of most of the Advertisees was in states where slavery was either legal (the border states) or practiced (Confederate States of America) until the end of the war. When compared to the subscribers map, you can see that there are large gaps in the former Confederacy. There are some subscribers in the South but when you get to the Deep South the subscribers are few and far between. Some states like Alabama, Florida, and Texas have no subscribers in it. This would make the likely hood of the ads finding anyone in those states very low. Of course these are just the subscribers for 1866, there could be subscribers in those states before or after 1866. It also may be that the Christian Recorder didn’t publish all of their subscribers in the paper. This means there could be subscribers in those blank areas that are not listed in the paper. Also some regiments of the United States Colored Troop had copies of the Christian Recorder, and many of them were on occupation duty (even though it was not called occupation duty) in the South throughout much of Reconstruction. To try and map the movements of all the U.S.C.T. regiments from 1864-1869 would be a very hard task and beyond my scope. It is safe to say they some of the regiments would have copies of the newspaper as they traveled through parts of the Deep South where there were few to no subscribers. This would increase the likely hood of the ads actually finding the intended people.

After making the map of the last known location of the Advertisees, I came to a realization. Besides the map of the subscribers from 1866, I should map the locations of the Advertisers. I think it is safe to assume that the people posting these ads would have access to a copy of the paper, whether it was their own copy or a copy they borrowed from someone. It was common that churches would have copies of the paper for people to read. This would allow me to map the entire time period we researched where copies of the Christian Recorder would have been, according to our research. I made the Advertisers location map using the same method as the Advertisee map.  I was then able to create a map of all the locations of the Advertisers.

Map of Advertisers' locations

Map of Advertisers’ locations

The locations of the advertisers matches closely to the map of the subscribers but there are some differences. There are a few people down in the Deep South but more than the subscribers map and this map shows someone out in Idaho. Now these differences can be explained by using some of my theories I suggested earlier. The advertisers represent people from 1864-1869, which means their subscriber base changed over time. It also shows, when examined with the data table, that not all subscribers were published in the paper. To get a better overall comparision between the three types, advertisers, advertisees, and subscribers, I combined the three maps.

Combination of the three previous maps

Combination of the three previous maps

When all three maps are examined, you can clearly see that there is a lack of Christian Recorders in the Deep South. As discussed above, just because the map doesn’t show that there are copies down there doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. But even if there are more copies in the Deep South, we can assume they are few and far between since barely any show up on this map and if there was a prevalence of copies in the Deep South there would be more of them on this map. This raises the question as to why there are so few subscriptions in the Deep South? True it is a Philadelphia based paper but it does have an audience all the way out in California. Another question that comes to mind is why are there so many of the papers in the South located near the coast or a river? Are there large African-American communities there? Is it easier to transport papers there? Is there a larger presence of the Union Army there? This map really does raise more questions than it answers.

That is the curse and blessing of using digital history tools to analyze data. It is a blessing because it can help to answer questions about data. By mapping all of these different points you can see where subscribers, advertisers, and advertisees were located. It helps to show the coverage of the Christian Recorder and the information wanted ads. It shows that these ads probably were not very effective at finding people because of the coverage or lack there of, of the Christian Recorder when compared to the last known locations of the Advertisees. Then again it is a curse because it raises even more questions such as those mentioned above. Yet, this is what historians strive for, not only to answer questions but to raise new ones. This is how we as historians can push forward historical knowledge and learning.


Camp William Penn: Creating United States Colored Troops in Pennsylvania

Company E of the 4th U.S.C.T.

Company E of the 4th U.S.C.T. (Library of Congress)

By January of 1863 the Civil War was well under way. Hundreds of thousands of troops were enlisted in the Union Army to preserve the Union! Yet, the government would not enlist any African-Americans, whether they were runaway slaves or free men. By the end of year this would change, with thousands of African-Americans enlisting in the army. Camp William Penn would be Pennsylvania’s only training camp of African-American Troops and would become one of the nation’s largest and most important training grounds for these troops.

Initially, Abraham Lincoln resisted the enlistment of African-American troops in the Union Army. That was in 1861 when everyone hoped that the war would be short.  By September of 1862 the war was well over a year old and the Union had suffered a string of losses at the hands of the Confederacy. The Emancipation Proclamation that Lincoln issued on September 22, 1862 changed that. Today we remember the proclamation as the act by which Lincoln freed all the slaves (which isn’t technically true but that is for another article), but near the bottom of the document there was a single sentence about using African-Americans as soldiers. “And I further declare and make known, that such persons of suitable condition, will be received into the armed service of the United States to garrison forts, positions, stations, and other places, and to man vessels of all sorts in said service.” With this single statement, Lincoln started the country towards using African-American troops. Once the Emancipation Proclamation took effect on January 1st, 1863 states started to form African-American regiments. The first and most famous of the state regiments was the 54th Massachusetts, which was formed in March of 1863 but there was no system in place for the Federal government to recruit African-American troops.

The attack on Fort Wagner by the 54th Massachusetts (Knox University)

The attack on Fort Wagner by the 54th Massachusetts (Knox University)

General Order 143 changed all that. When Secretary of War E. D. Townsend issued this order in May of 1863, it created the United States Colored Troops. This was the organization that was created for enlisting and organizing African-American into regiments.  Already in March of 1863 a group of men formed a committee, with former cavalry officer Colonel William Frismuth as head of the committee, for the recruitment of African-American soldiers into regiments. Originally, it seems as though the committee wanted to use these troops to form Pennsylvania state regiments. This proposal was originally backed by Governor Curtain but had trouble getting support from the War Department. In May a new committee, dubbed the Citizen’s Bounty Fund Committee, formed and petitioned the new Secretary of War Stanton to recruit for and form colored regiments in Pennsylvania. This committee in turn formed a sub-committee, called the Supervising Committee for Recruiting Colored Troops, which would not only recruit troops but also help to administer the new training camp for these troops. On June 22nd this committee received word from the War Department:

“I am instructed by the Secretary of War to inform you that you are hereby authorized as the representative of your associate petitioners to raise in Philadelphia, or the eastern part of Pennsylvania, three regiments of infantry, to be composed of colored men, to be mustered into the service of the United States for three years or during the war. To these troops no bounties will be paid.

They will receive $ 10 per month and one ration, $ 3 of which monthly pay may be in clothing.

It must be distinctly understood that but one regiment is to be recruited at a time; thus, the organization of the first regiment must be completed and the regiment mustered into service before the recruiting of the second is commenced.

The troops raised under the foregoing instructions will rendezvous at Camp William Penn, Chelten Hills, near Philadelphia, where they will be received and subsisted as soon as they are enlisted, and an officer will be assigned to duty at that post to take command of them on their arrival and make the necessary requisitions for supplies.”

Camp William Penn (Library of Congress)

Camp William Penn (Library of Congress)

Camp William Penn officially open on June 26th, 1863. The response by the Philadelphia African-American community was overwhelming and immediate. By the end of July a full regiment of 800 men had been recruited and formed into the 3rd United States Colored Troop. By the end of August enough officers had been found and the 3rd U.S.C.T. was officially mustered into the Union Army. (Mustered in means they were officially sworn in and were a part of the army) The response only slowed slightly after the formation of the 3rd U.S.C.T. The 3rd U.S.C.T. was the first of eleven regiments that would pass through Camp William Penn. Besides the 3rd U.S.C.T., the 6th U.S.C.T., the 8th U.S.C.T., the 22nd U.S.C.T., the 24th U.S.C.T., the 25th U.S.C.T., the 32nd U.S.C.T., the 41st U.S.C.T., the 43rd U.S.C.T., the 45th U.S.C.T., and the 127th U.S.C.T. all were formed and trained at Camp William Penn. If you would like complete regimental histories of these units, they are in Samuel Bates’ History of Pennsylvania Volunteers 1861-5; Prepared in Compliance with the Acts of the Legislature Volume V. When Camp William Penn closed in May of 1865  about 11,000 enlisted men and 400 officers had been trained in camp. Considering only about 80,000 African-Americans enlisted during the Civil War, Camp William Penn trained almost 1/8 or about 13% of all African-Americans that served in the Union Army during the course of the war.

Troops on parade at Camp William Penn (National Archives)

Not only was Camp William Penn one of the largest camps for training African-American troops but it also acted as a link to the African-American community. Thousands of men from Philadelphia and other states flocked to the camp creating a link between it and the African-American community. Some of the most visible connections appear in issues of the Christian Recorder. The Christian Recorder was one of the most popular African-American newspapers in the country and was based out of Philadelphia. In issues of the newspaper you see articles written about the camp and letters sent by soldiers from regiments that were formed in Camp William Penn. Recruiting ads were placed in the newspaper as well. There were many soldiers from U.S.C.T. regiments, whether they were formed at Camp William Penn or not, that were subscribers of the paper. With the prevalence of sharing newspapers and reading aloud, this would greatly increase the number of people who would be exposed to the paper. Probably the biggest advantage to this would be the added exposure for the information wanted ads. Information wanted ads were people advertising trying to find long lost friends and family, usually separated by slavery. Not only were soldiers sometimes the people posting these ads but were sometimes the people being looked for in the ads. With these soldiers being spread out around the country both North and South, it greatly helped to boast the chances of the people in the ads being found.

The 3rd U.S.C.T. Battle Flag (Library of Congress)

The 3rd U.S.C.T. Battle Flag (Library of Congress)

Camp William Penn was one of the most influential training camps of African-American soldiers. Not only did it train a large chunk of these soldiers who served during the war but its’ connection with the African-American community and the Christian Recorder made it a large part of the African-American culture during that time period.


Additional Reading about Camp William Penn:

Camp William Penn 1863-1865: America’s First Federal African American Soldiers’ Fight for Freedom by Donald Scott, Sr.

Camp William Penn and the Black Soldier by Jeffry D. Wert (JSTOR access required)

Camp William Penn by Pennsylvania 150th Anniversary of the Civil War

Camp William Penn in Historic La Mott

National Archives Records on Camp William Penn

Additional Reading about the United States Colored Troops

 United States Colored Troops by the National Archives and Records Administration

Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers by Joseph T. Glatthaar

United States Colored Troops by the National Park Service