The Joseph G. Rosengarten collection

Frequent readers may recall my last post on the autograph collection assembled by Francis Campbell Macaulay, the Philadelphia lawyer, Renaissance literature enthusiast, and early benefactor of the Penn museum.  The next project in my queue was a collection assembled by Macaulay’s contemporary Joseph George Rosengarten, whose contributions to the University’s development are a tad more conspicuous than Macaulay’s, not least because Rosengarten managed to get his name plastered over the reserve section at the Van Pelt Library thanks to his years of service as a trustee.  The finding aid for the collection can be found here.

Like Macaulay, Rosengarten practiced the lawerly trade.  After obtaining both an A.B. and M.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and being admitted to the bar, Rosengarten took a year abroad in 1857 to study Roman law at the University of Heidelberg and to travel.  After his return, Rosengarten had the extraordinary luck to witness a major event of American history.  According to the obituary written by Penn orientalist and librarian Morris Jastrow, Jr., Rosengarten, while travelling with his father George D. Rosengarten, and other directors of the Pennsylvania Railroad on a tour of inspection, arrived in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, on the 18th of October, 1859, and witnessed the detachment of U.S. Marines led by then-Brevet Colonel Robert E. Lee storm the fire engine house in which John Brown and his raiders had barricaded themselves.  Rosengarten saw Brown himself lying prostrate on the ground, having been wounded by a saber-blow from Marine Lieutenant Israel Greene, and later recounted his eyewitness experience in an Atlantic Monthly article.

Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry presaged the American Civil War, which Rosengarten served in on the Union side, first in Company A of the Pennsylvania Artillery, a volunteer unit composed largely of lawyers like himself, and later in the 121st Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers, of the Army of the Potomac.  He earned himself some heroic merit at the Battle of Fredericksburg, in which he picked up and carried the colors after four previous sergeants had been “disabled” (in Jastrow’s own clean language).  This brought Rosengarten to the attention of Union general John F. Reynolds, who appointed Rosengarten to his own staff.  Rosengarten served at the Battle of Gettysburg, and after the Civil War gave his time to numerous public institutions in Philadelphia, including the Lankenau Hospital and Drexel Institute.  He oversaw the reformation of the boys’ and girls’ reform schools, and was institutional in securing a grant from Andrew Carnegie which allowed many of the Free Library’s branches (including that at 40th and Walnut on our own campus) to be erected.  He served the University of Pennsylvania as a trustee of both the college and the library.  He also pursued his scholarly interests, which revolved primarily around the social history of Germans and French in the United States: their role in the country’s founding, development, and wars.  He wrote several books on the subjects, including “The German soldier in the wars of the United States,” “French colonists and exiles in the United States,” and “Frederick the Great and the United States,” among other publications and articles.

The collection he put together which I have just completed processing consists of many historical documents he used in his researches, as well as correspondence and historical material of great (if unfortunately in a rough state of preservation) interest.  The collection came to me nicely pre-housed, with the documents protected in acid-free folders alphabetized according to topic or individual, stored in three archival boxes.  Also included are two large scrapbooks that came housed in a slipcase.  Unfortunately, from the one look Holly and I were able to give one of the scrapbooks, we ascertained that while the actual historical materials pasted on or sewn into them are in fine condition, the scrapbooks themselves have deteriorated to a point beyond which they can be safely handled.  As such, this portion of the collection unfortunately must remain out of the hands of researchers and processors until conservation has had the opportunity to rescue it.  I thus cannot speak with great experience about the scrapbooks themselves, but the few documents I did see in one of them looked like a treasure trove for researchers.

I divided the collection into three series: Correspondence, Historical Manuscripts, and Printed Matter and Scrapbooks.  Correspondence consists largely of thank-you letters to Rosengarten from those who received (and in most cases read) a copy of “French colonists and exiles in the United States.”  Recipients included senator and industrialist Henry Algernon du Pont, Penn Shakespeare scholar Horace Howard Furness, United States senator, Attorney General (and eventually Secretary of State) Philander Chase Knox, founder and first chief of the United States Forest Service Gifford Pinchot, and President Woodrow Wilson.  Historical Manuscripts consists of numerous primary sources collected by Rosengarten in the course of his researches.  Highlights from the series include two sundry documents annotated or signed by Benjamin Franklin, 3 letters and a signed order from Frederick the Great, an autographed letter signed from the marquis de Lafayette and 5 from the comte de Rochambeau, and 2 letters and payment orders apiece from Baron Friedrich von Steuben.  Other big names in the series include Robert and Gouverneur Morris, John Jay, David and Joseph Rittenhouse, Louis XVI of France and Louis Philippe, and the infamous diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand.  The third and final series consists of the aforementioned scrapbooks and some miscellaneous printed matter.  The printed materials consist of 3 battle maps, original Massachusetts and Virginia dollars (of vastly different denominations – 500 Virginia dollars versus 9 Massachusetts pence!) and a separate folder of photographic negatives, containing some unidentified prints of ships and the photographed text of a letter from Baron von Steuben to Colonel Benjamin Walker.

This is the third collection I’ve finished since moving on to archival work.  At this point my new responsibilities have started crystallizing into a comfortable routine, much as rare book cataloging did after I began in late Fall 2012.  I still enjoy my job as much as I did back when I started, and am continually thankful for the opportunities to expand my knowledge and interact with the past.  I’d seen Rosengarten’s name over the Van Pelt reserve, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time getting to know the man behind the name, his history, interests, experiences, and public services.  Now that I respectfully lay Rosengarten to rest,  the next item in my queue is the John Scott collection, which you all will duly get another blog post for after it is completed!  Until then.

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