Page 18 - Marist Magazine Winter 2011-2012

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M A R I S T M A G A Z I N E
continued
Letters
“For students and visiting researchers to be able to
handle such items is exciting,” says John Ansley,
head of archives and special collections. “Having
the digital copy is nice, but it’s not the same as
holding the real thing. It could never take the place,
for me, of having that tactile response
of handling a Thomas Jefferson letter
or a John Jay letter.”
The Reese Family Papers,
one of 17 collections that make
up the Hudson River Valley
History Collection, document
the professional and personal
lives of ancestors, going back
to the 1750s, of Reese and her
husband, Wi l l is Livingston
Mesier Reese. These predeces-
sors were prominent residents of Dutchess
County, NY, for many generations. In December
2010, Marist officially acquired the Reese
papers in a bequest from the Reese family.
Notable among the ancestors was Ebenezer
Stevens (1751-1823), who took part in the
Boston Tea Party, was commissioned as a first
lieutenant in the Artillery in 1775, and fought
in the Battle of Bunker Hill. George Washington
selected him to raise battalions against Quebec
to join the expedition against Canada. He was
present at the surrender of British general John
Burgoyne at Saratoga on Oct. 17, 1777, and he
served under the French general the Marquis
de Lafayette in Virginia. He was later trans-
ferred to the New York Artillery and in 1781
was one of the commanders at the siege of
Yorktown. By 1805 he had risen to the rank of
major general and was involved in the defense
of New York during the War of 1812. After his
military career he was a successful merchant
in New York and a member of the state assem-
bly. Highlights of the collection are letters to
Ebenezer Stevens from Thomas Jefferson, James
Madison, John Jay, and George Clinton on the
topic of artillery sales to the colonial army.
“It was a privilege to be able to view
letters penned by our Founding
Fathers,” says Raven Baptiste
Holder ’12, who has worked for
two years in the archives. “From
childhood, we know who James
Madison was, or who Thomas
Jefferson was, and then maybe
we forget and file it away with
long-passed history classes.
Being born into modern-day America, we don’t
have to actively think about how it got that
way, and when we do, we might think instead
of blurbs in textbooks, and the presidential
rock faces in South Dakota. The time passed
creates a kind of distance between the modern
American and the Founding Fathers. They seem
almost a part of lore instead of an actual space
in time, and so to look on something as palpa-
ble as a written letter is a lot like traveling; it
bridges the gap in an unexpected way.”
In addition to the letters, the collection
includes correspondence of Henry Livingston,
known as the author of the famous poem “The
Night Before Christmas.” The papers also
contain indentures, military documents, manu-
scripts of prose and poetry, scrapbooks, bills
of lading, invoices, promissory notes, canceled
checks, financial ledgers, diaries, passports,
newspaper clippings, and photos.
“It’s more than just a collection of auto-
graphs,” says Ansley. “It really is the story of
Ebenezer Stevens’s life, at least as a prominent
member of the colonial army; he’s correspond-
ing with Madison and Jefferson. You get to see
how he fit into that part of our history. You see
the business side of war.”
n
Highlights of the collec-
t i on ar e l e t t e r s to
Ebenezer Stevens from
Thomas Jefferson, James
Madison, John Jay, and
George Clinton on the
topic of artillery sales to
the colonial army.