Inside this Issue
Glimpse into the lives and passions of the diverse group of women who comprise today’s DAR membership.
Take a step inside the DAR Museum for a closer look at its fascinating collection.
Learn about the interesting historical articles from this issue.
To Come in Our Next Issue
Preview the exciting stories to be featured in the next issue of American Spirit.
What Lies Beneath
Volume 153, Number 5
By Lena Anthony
Photograph courtesy of Sara Mascia
New York Daughter unearths history below modern construction sites
When the site for the new Staten Island Courthouse was selected on a hilltop overlooking New York Harbor, challenges were expected—par for the course anytime a large municipal building is constructed. But no one could have predicted the monumental challenge posed by the 19th-century burial ground uncovered at the northern end of the site. No one, that is, except Sara Mascia, Ph.D.
Dr. Mascia—a member of Hudson River Patriots DAR Chapter, Southern Westchester County, N.Y.—serves as vice president and principal investigator for Historical Perspectives, a Westport, Conn.-based cultural resources firm. New York City hired her company to conduct research on the history of the site, as mandated by the National Historic Preservation Act. Her research determined that the site was previously home to the New York Marine Hospital, which operated from 1799 until it burned down in 1858.
Any ship headed for New York, including ones carrying immigrants, stopped at Staten Island first for medical inspection. The sick stayed on the island until their health improved, or they died.
The likelihood of a burial ground on the site was extremely high, but, as Dr. Mascia said, “our report was a big surprise to the city.”
But where exactly was the burial ground? Archival research combined with field tests, which Dr. Mascia calls “archaeological reconnaissance,” placed the cemetery at the northern end of the property—a few feet under a paved parking lot. Then came the painstaking work of locating and moving the remains so that construction could begin. In all, they found 38 full skeletal remains and hundreds more partial remains in the area.
In 2014, as construction workers put the finishing touches on the new courthouse—nearly 15 years after Dr. Mascia’s company’s initial report to the construction team—the remains were re-interred in the adjacent Memorial Green. The memorial area, complete with a commemorative plaque, was dedicated to the unknown immigrants who died in quarantine.
“They died on the shores they were trying to get to and were buried unceremoniously in the backyard of the hospital,” she said. “Then they were under a parking lot for 100 years. It was nice to finally put the human remains we found to rest.”
Cemeteries are a frequent find in her work as a historical archaeologist. So are 18th-century cisterns and outhouses, “which can be mini-time capsules, if found intact,” she explained.
Sometimes the discoveries aren’t quite as exciting. On a recent project, Dr. Mascia thought they had uncovered an intact cistern, but further excavation showed that a sewer pipe, probably laid in the early 20th century before the National Historic Preservation Act took effect, had already destroyed it, leaving only a portion of its exterior.
What hasn’t already been destroyed by construction can be hard to access, due to demolition debris and landfilling. “In areas where there hasn’t been a lot of infill, archaeological finds could be two to three feet deep. But in places where 18th-century buildings were built on top of the debris of 17th-century structures, those finds can be closer to 12 or 15 feet deep.”
When Dr. Mascia unearths artifacts from the past, the initial excitement is followed quickly by a practical question: “Because of the preservation laws, we’re collecting so much material that we’re running out of repositories,” she said. “Unless the artifact is exceptional, where are we going to put it?”
It’s a question Dr. Mascia also grapples with as curator for the Tarrytown-Sleepy Hollow, N.Y., Historical Society. Three days a week, she oversees a team of volunteers as they conduct research and preservation projects related to the rich history of the region.
Helping to curate a historical society wasn’t something Dr. Mascia ever saw herself doing, but looking back she realizes the seeds were sown in her as a young child. “My mother was an avid historian and would spend countless hours at the historical society researching this or that, and I would sit below the table where she worked,” she recalled. “It’s the same table where I work today.”
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A World of Knowledge
Volume 153, Number 5
Geography was an integral part of the early American grammar school curriculum. Books on the topic varied widely, and these examples from the DAR Museum collection show some of the favorites of 19th-century teachers and students.
The texts shown here sought to teach geography using two methods: questions and answers, and basic descriptions. Jesse Olney’s A Practical System of Geography was the most popular 19th-century geography book. First published in 1828, it went through 98 editions, and millions of copies were sold. The DAR Museum’s copy, dated 1831, is the eighth edition. Like all of Olney’s geography textbooks, it is profusely illustrated. He revolutionized the teaching of the subject by clearly explaining geographical terms. He began with basic principles, then described all the continents starting with North America.
Jedidiah Morse wrote the next most popular book: Geography Made Easy, which he first published in 1784. It, too, enjoyed widespread popularity and went through multiple editions. The DAR Museum has the 12th edition printed in 1806. Like Olney, Morse began by describing the geography and political boundaries of the United States. Geography Made Easy gave only cursory descriptions of the rest of the world, but it was illustrated with maps, unlike Olney’s text. (Coincidentally, Morse was the father of Samuel F. B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph.)
The third popular geography book, titled Outlines of Modern Geography, was written by the Reverend Charles A. Goodrich and published in 1830. Similarly, Goodrich arranged his book into a series of questions and answers. Like Olney’s version, Goodrich’s geography is abundantly illustrated with engravings. Goodrich was also the author of many children’s books, including The Child’s History of the United States and The Universal Traveller.
The last example is the 1803 edition of A Short But Comprehensive System of Geography of the World by Nathaniel Dwight. Dwight also arranged his book in a question and answer format, but he differed from the others in that the lessons began with Europe and ended with the United States. Based on geography books written in England, Dwight’s edition found limited popularity in the fledgling United States.
Most American geographies were accompanied with a small school atlas. (The DAR Museum has an 1830 atlas that paired with Olney’s geography textbook.) Atlases consisted of a selection of maps of the continents and the United States. The maps—often hand colored to clearly show political boundaries—were connected to questions in the textbooks.
The proliferation of geography textbooks in 19th-century America demonstrates how important this subject was for teaching students of a new country more about the world around them.
For more National Treasures, please visit the DAR Museum's Featured Objects.
What Early American Children Read by Megan Hamby
For young readers in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, books were meant for religious and moral instructions—not for entertainment purposes.
Up, Up and Away by Lena Anthony
French inventor Jean-Pierre Blanchard took to the skies above Philadelphia on January 10, 1793, in a hydrogen-filled balloon. His ride launched a fervor for hot-air-balloon-riding across the nation.
Independence Hurricanes by Chuck Lyons
On September 9, 1775, the largest and most deadly hurricane to ever strike Canada swept ashore along the coast of Newfoundland, killing thousands of British fishermen available for British Navy service. Many in the Colonies considered the timing of this fierce storm and a second hurricane in the Caribbean as a strange blessing to the Patriot cause.
Sport in Early America by Courtney Peter
Early Americans’ broad definition of sport extended to any type of play or leisure activity, including cock fighting, tavern games and horse racing— diversions that helped shape American democracy during the formative years of the republic.
Page-Turning Patriots by Bill Hudgins
In 17th and 18th century America, most booksellers imported their volumes from Europe, with the book trade centering around the major ports of Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Charleston.
Spirited Adventures: Carson City: Heart of the Silver State by Jamie Roberts
Nevada’s state capital was built by the mining, logging and railroad industries on the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevadas. It was named for frontiersman Christopher “Kit” Carson, who scouted the area for John C. Fremont’s expeditions of the West in the mid 1840s.
Historic Homes: A Place in Providence by Bill Hudgins
For decades, a wood-frame house located in Providence was home to one of Rhode Island’s foremost statesmen. Stephen Hopkins served as Colonial governor, speaker of the general assembly, chief justice of the superior court, and he signed the Declaration of Independence.
Our Patriots: Joseph Decuir by Ingrid R. Stanley
The son of French immigrants to Louisiana, Joseph Decuir served in the Spanish militia that came to the Colonies’ aid during the American Revolution. He and other Pointe Coupee Parish militia members are now remembered for their efforts in the war.
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To Come in November/December 2019:
DAR’s Millionth Member