As in any job, there are days when it can be slog to work in the archives; for example, sitting through any lecture by Dr. Cox . . . or watching Powerpoint after Powerpoint at a conference.
But then something comes along and all but makes up for it, that takes all that built-up cynicism and grudges and washes them all away.
Meet Messrs. John Boyer. and John Jaquett.
I first saw John Boyer in an eBay auction. His face was staring back at me from a tiny penny photograph from a West Chester photographer that no one had ever heard of. There were many others, but I only managed to snag him and another, Ella Melton (who has her own story). I wish I could have saved them all.
But I won Boyer’s portrait, and went to the Chester County Historical Society to see what I could find.
John was one of the nine children of Eli and Olivia (nee Powell) Boyer, of West Chester. He was 18 years old when he sat for this portrait. This is likely the only photograph of the young man ever taken, and one of only a handful of photographs by the photographer to have survived.
His father was a native of West Goshen Township, but in 1899, when this photograph was taken, he worked as a brickmaker and moved his family to 315 East Barnard Street.
John Boyer worked as a waiter at the West Chester State Normal School for a time, and was active in the Liberty Cornet Band and the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows, Peace and Plenty Lodge. He later moved to Brooklyn, New York, to work for the Vosburgh Electric Company. Ill health forced his return home. He died at the Barnard Street home of his parents on July 27, 1907, and was interred in the Chestnut Grove Cemetery.
The photographer, Havard G. Barrett, was quite the character. He opened his Penny Photograph gallery above the store of Thomas C. Hogue, at the southeast corner of High and Gay Streets, in February 1899. He apparently did not prosper in the venture, and abandoned (quite literally) the establishment after a period of only 5 months. Barrett skipped town in July of that year.
Barrett later returned to West Chester after a period of hiding to open a salesroom for the Cunningham Piano Company at 12 S. Church Street. This venture lasted approximately 6 months, when he was jailed for repeatedly embezzling money from the Philadelphia-based firm. He apparently never returned to West Chester after this last disgrace.
I knew I could not hoard John for myself, so I put digitized the tiny, stamp-sized photograph and put it online, on Flickr and Findagrave, and gave the original to the Historical Society.
Over a year later, I received a message from a member of the Boyer family.He had seen my picture of John, and was absolutely thrilled too see his relative, and wondered where he might find more.
* * *
John Jaquett’s photograph was purchased in a similar manner. John Henry Jaquett was the son of Peter and Ann (24 May 1795-10 January 1888, and was born on 25 July 1824. He married Elizabeth Miller (7 March 1827-1887) in 1850 and settled near Cupola, in Honey Brook Township. Jaquett was the grandson of Nicholas Jaquett and grand-nephew of Peter Jaquett, who served in the Revolutionary War. He was one of eight children, including sister Eliza P., and brothers Thomas, William N., Samuel, Edward, and Issac. Isaac, sadly, would be murdered by a Catholic priest Blasius Pastorius in Norristown in 1875.
A miller before the war, he enlisted on December 16, 1861, in the 99th Pennsylvania Infantry, Co. G, which recruited in Philadelphia and Lancaster County. Together with the rest of his regiment, he served in the battles of Roanoke, Seven Pines, Fredericksburg, Antietam, Bull Run, Wilderness, Gettysburg, and others. During the war, his wife, and three children, viz. Emily Elanora (b. 19 January 1852), Elmer Price (b. 8 April 1855), and Mary Anna (4 May 1860-10 October 1888), were on Relief.
Though his initial enlistment ended at the end of 1863, his reenlistment in 1864 was rewarded with a furlough home, ending on 30 March. As a result of this furlough, a daughter, Cora Therease (d. 22 Sept. 1905), was born on 16 December 1864.
He served out the remainder of the war, miraculously unscathed, with his regiment, and mustered out in August of 1865. He returned to Honey Brook, and after the death of his mother, daughter, and wife in the period of a year, he removed to his son Elmer’s house near Embreeville.
John H. Jaquett died on 1 February 1906 and after services at Honey Brook Methodist Episcopal Church, was interred in Cambridge, Lancaster County.
Several days after I donated him to the Historical Society, a woman came in holding a tiny drawer containing some rolled-up papers. She had bought an old table at an estate sale near Honey Brook, and found a little locked drawer no one noticed. Inside were some papers from the Civil War that belonged to someone named “J Jaquett”.
By providence, it was the very same John Jaquett. The table was his, and contained his papers from the Civil War—his draft ticket, the furlough pass that led to his daughter Cora, and some papers related to the relief his family was granted during the war, and some loose tobacco. She was thrilled when I told her what I had found.
But had I not been curious, I would never have known of these stories, nor would I have been able to share them and make it all worthwhile. And that, to me, is the essence of librarianship/archivy: we connect people, and we help them understand the world that they would not otherwise be able to find.
We are to make use of our gifts; for some of thus, that is simply and inquiring mind and the ability to find things. So take pride, librarian. Take pride, archivist.
You’re doing good.