Houghton From Home: Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Candle-lightin’ Time

Paul Laurence Dunbar is one of the most celebrated American poets of the late 19th century. Dunbar was raised in Dayton, Ohio by formerly enslaved parents who were emancipated after the Civil War. He began writing poetry at the age of six and published his first poem at 16. Though he died young, Dunbar published over a dozen collections of poetry, four novels, several short story collections, and an original play before succumbing to tuberculosis at age 33. Dunbar’s work, enjoyed by presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, centers the everyday experience of Black men and women in fin de siècle America.

Dunbar collaborated with the Hampton Institute Camera Club to illustrate six of his poetry collections. The Club’s affirming portraits of Black Americans became some of the mostly widely distributed images of African American visual culture in U.S. history. Dunbar’s 1901 work, Candle-lightin’ Time is a prime example of their partnership. The collection’s first poem, “Dinah Kneading Dough,” tenderly describes Dinah’s breadmaking accompanied by images of a Black woman elbow-deep in flour in her kitchen.

Frontispiece to Candle-lightin’ Time

Frontispiece to Candle-lightin’ Time by Paul Laurence Dunbar, Widener AL 1191.2.5

Title page of Candle-lightin’ Time

Title page of Candle-lightin’ Time by Paul Laurence Dunbar, Widener AL 1191.2.5

The images from Candle-lightin’ Time in this post are from a copy digitized by Widener Library, but Houghton is home to a dozen works by Dunbar, three of which are illustrated with photographs by the Hampton Institute Camera Club. Book design aficionados may be interested to know that several of Dunbar’s books were designed by Margaret Armstrong—as is the case here with Candle-lightin’ Time—and Alice Morse. A complete list of Houghton’s Dunbar titles can be found on HOLLIS.

Thanks to Christine Jacobson, Assistant Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts, for contributing this post and to Dorothy Berry, Digital Collections Program Manager, for her expertise and assistance with this post. Houghton From Home is a series of posts highlighting our digitized collections. For more items from across the Harvard Library, visit Harvard Digital Collections.

How Sergeant William Harvey Carney Rescued the Old Flag in the Assault on Fort Wagner in the American Civil War

By Peter X. Accardo, Scholarly and Public Programs Librarian

William Harvey Carney wearing his Medal of Honor.

Sergeant William Harvey Carney after the war, wearing his Medal of Honor, ca. 1901-1908. Gelatin silver print by James E Reed, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University. Public Domain.

Born into slavery in 1840, William Harvey Carney and his family left Virginia sometime in the 1850s before settling in New Bedford, Massachusetts, an active hub on the Underground Railroad and the same town where Frederick Douglass had brought his own family in 1838 at the start of his prophetic career. Carney was among the first to join Company C of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, an all-Black Union army regiment under the command of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, member of a prominent New York-Boston family and a former Harvard student (Shaw’s family letters are in the collection of Houghton Library and were consulted during the production of the 1989 film Glory).

In May 1863, the regiment left Boston and marched towards South Carolina, where, on July 18, they led the Union attack in what would become known as the Second Battle of Fort Wagner. Located on Morris Island south of Charleston, the fort was an earthwork that had been constructed to defend the city’s harbor. As Colonel Shaw and his men readied themselves for battle, federal ironclads offshore pummeled the sandy ground nearby.

Union and Confederate soldiers clash during the Battle of Fort Wagner.

Currier and Ives, “The Gallant Charge of the 54th Massachusetts.” (Portrait file). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Frank Vizetelly, an artist and British war correspondent for the Illustrated London News, arrived in Charleston just before the Union assault and was a first-hand witness to the bloody chaos that ensued, recording what he saw in his sketchbook. “The period chosen for my illustration is the moment when the last shell fired from the fleet bursts over the battery, and the troops, illumined by the glare, are seen rushing to the parapet to repel the assault. Some of the [Union troops] have already reached the crest of the work, but only to pay for their temerity by falling where they stand.” In the artist’s drawing, the Union standard is faintly visible above the parapet.

Union soldiers storm Fort Wagner.

Original sketch by Frank Vizetelly of the Union assault on Fort Wagner, South Carolina (MS Am 1585). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Among the battle’s early casualties were Colonel Shaw and John Wall. Desperate not to see the Union flag fall into Confederate hands, Sergeant Carney rescued it with his own. Under heavy fire, he seized the flag and attempted to rally the regiment, which had already begun to collapse in the onslaught. He then rolled the flag upon its staff and struggled down a treacherous embankment through seawater, gunfire, and darkness. Multiple times, he was struck by rebel bullets. When he finally reached the Union rear guard, a passing soldier offered to relieve him of the colors. Carney responded that he “would not give them to any man unless he belonged to the 54th regiment.”

Soldiers lie dead in the aftermath of the Battle at Fort Wagner.

Original sketch by Frank Vizetelly of the aftermath of the Union assault on Fort Wagner. (MS Am 1585). Houghton Library, Harvard University

Wounded and exhausted, Carney collapsed at a Union field hospital, but not before proclaiming to his jubilant comrades, “Boys, I did my duty; the dear old flag never touched the ground.” Carney’s was a triumph in a battle that ended in defeat for the Union and which resulted in massive loss of life: of the 600 troops of the 54th Massachusetts who participated in the assault, nearly half were killed, wounded, or captured.

After the war, Carney spent over 30 years as a letter carrier in New Bedford. In May 1897, he reunited with veterans in Boston at the dedication of Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ bronze monument honoring Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment. The monument captures the triumphant scene on Beacon Street 34 earlier when the regiment received a glorious send off from a grateful city. Onlookers cheered as the regiment’s survivors paraded through the streets, with Sergeant Carney once more carrying the flag he loved.

Ranks of soldiers stand before a bronze monument.

Veteran officers of the 54th Massachusetts in front of Saint-Gaudens’ monument. Massachusetts Historical Society.

In a letter published soon after his heroism at Fort Wagner, South Carolina, Carney introduced himself to readers of William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator: “Previous to the formation of colored troops, I had a strong inclination to prepare myself for the ministry; but when the country called for all persons, I could best serve my God serving my country and my oppressed brothers. The sequel in short — I enlisted for the war.” In a later recounting of his wartime service in a Boston Daily Globe interview, he noted that “while the government refused to pay us equally, we continued to fight for the freedom of the enslaved, and for the restoration of our country.”

Thirty-five years after the end of the Civil War, on 23 May 1900, William Carney belatedly received the Medal of Honor for his actions at Fort Wagner, taking his rightful place in the long line of African-American patriots who have defended the United States of America, in times of peril and in times of peace.

Houghton From Home–Dickinson Family Library

Why read your own copy of Charlotte Brönte’s novel Jane Eyre when you could read Emily Dickinson’s copy? Can you find the two passages the poet marked in pencil? (Hint: the marks are in the margin on page 418 and the passages are devastating.) Houghton Library is in fact home to 30 volumes known to have been associated with—i.e. owned or read by—the reclusive bard, and nearly 600 owned by her family. Over half of the volumes in the Dickinson family library are available fully online, including Emily Dickinson’s bible which features markings, excised verses, and carefully laid botanical specimens; her brother’s copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Conduct of Life; and her niece’s copy of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

If you still haven’t gotten your fix of Emily, why not peruse her herbarium, gaze at her writing desk, and of course, read her manuscript poems. (We also heartily recommend watching Apple TV’s Dickinson—a joyous, playful interpretation of the poet’s teenage years.)

Thanks to Christine Jacobson, Assistant Curator of Modern Books and Manuscripts, for contributing this post. Houghton From Home is a series of posts highlighting our digitized collections. For more items from across the Harvard Library, visit Harvard Digital Collections.

Emily Dickinson Bible

Emily Dickinson Bible, Dickinson Family Library, EDR 8. Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Announcing the winner of the 2020 Summer Humanities and Arts Research Program (SHARP) undergraduate fellowship at Houghton Library

By Adrienne Chaparro, Scholarly and Public Programs Assistant

The Harvard College Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (URAF) and Houghton Library are pleased to announce that Madeleine Klebanoff-O’Brien, Class of ’22, is the winner of the Summer Humanities and Arts Research Program (SHARP) Fellowship. Houghton offers fellowships through SHARP, a program that supports arts and humanities research for a cohort of undergraduates each summer. Houghton’s SHARP fellowship allows students to propose their own research projects within any topic or discipline supported by the library’s collections. Usually a 10-week residential program, this year’s fellowship will be conducted remotely for 8 weeks due to the COVID-19 outbreak and Harvard’s commitment to the health, safety, and wellbeing of its community.

Map of the first five circles of hell

Map of the first five circles of hell, Divina Commedia (*IC D2358 472c 1506, f. O vi recto). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Klenbanoff-O’Brien describes her project as a survey of Dante illustrations at Houghton Library focused on maps of the Divine Comedy, in which mapping signifies an effort to spatially synthesize multiple of the poem’s episodes. She plans to produce original maps for Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso, and the poem as a whole, as well as a commentary tying to her artistic decisions to her research.

The Harvard Undergraduate Fellowship at Houghton Library is open to all Harvard College students currently enrolled in an undergraduate degree program. Applicants are asked to describe their proposed project, including information about the Houghton Library materials the project would use and project outcomes. This year’s project supervisors are Houghton staff members Kristine Greive, Head of Teaching and Learning and Kate Donovan, Associate Librarian for Public Services.

Dante encountering the leopard, lion and she-wolf in the dark wood

Dante encountering the leopard, lion and she-wolf in the dark wood, Divina Commedia (*IC D2358 472c 1506, f. a vi verso). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Three Bostonians and the Smallpox Epidemic of 1721

By Peter X. Accardo, Scholarly and Public Programs Librarian

Title page, Some account of what is said of inoculating or transplanting the small pox

Cropped and torn title page of Mather’s pamphlet on smallpox inoculation, Some account of what is said of inoculating or transplanting the small pox (*AC7.M4208.721s). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Among the texts available through Harvard Library’s online collection Contagion: Historical Views of Diseases and Epidemics is Some Account of What is said of Inoculating or Transplanting the Small Pox (*AC7.M4208.721s), anonymously printed in 1721 and long thought to be written by Puritan minister Cotton Mather (1663-1728); this attribution is attested by an early owner who has written Mather’s name below the introduction. In the pamphlet Mather abstracts two treatises on inoculation published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. But it was the personal testimony of Onesimus, an enslaved West African who had been “gifted” to Mather by members of his congregation, that proved decisive in his advocacy of inoculation against a devastating outbreak of smallpox in Boston in 1721. In an earlier letter to the Royal Society, Mather wrote,

Enquiring of my Negro-man Onesimus, who is a pretty Intelligent Fellow, Whether he ever had the Small-Pox; he answered, both, Yes, and No; and then told me, that he had undergone an Operation, which had given him something of the Small-Pox, and would forever preserve him from it, adding that it was often used among the Guramantese [likely corresponding to the Berber peoples of southern Libya or the Coromantee from the coastal areas of modern-day Ghana], & whoever had the Courage to use it, was forever free from the Fear of the Contagion. He described the Operation to me, and showed me in his Arm the Scar.

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