Civil War Era Newspaper Sheds Light on History

Ursinus College Summer Fellow Lindsay Doyle is discovering a new perspective on the American slavery debate through a local newspaper from the 1850s.

At the request of the Historical Society of Montgomery County, Lindsay, under the guidance of faculty mentor English Professor Rebecca Jaroff, is poring over the delicate newsprint of a Civil War-era newspaper, and discovering a published debate on the morality of slavery between two prominent men of the time who used the Bible to defend their positions.

Civil War Newspaper research

Summer Fellow Lindsay Doyle with faculty mentor English Professor Rebecca Jaroff

The project, titled “Civil War Era Newspapers Published in Norristown, Pa.,” is the first look at the contents of The Olive Branch, a temperance newspaper published between 1851 and 1860, first in Doylestown, Pa., then in Norristown, Pa. It was recently discovered among the Historical Society holdings. The Ursinus History Department was one of several area colleges which received a request for help exploring the newspapers, and Lindsay took on the project with Dr. Jaroff, who has written on antebellum literature and history.

The Olive Branch was published by Frank Sellers of Doylestown as a newspaper advocating the temperance philosophy. Soon after delving into the newspaper pages, Lindsay discovered a debate that surfaced between the Rev. John Chambers of Philadelphia and Dr. Joseph Moyer of Hilltown, Bucks County, on slavery and the Fugitive Slave Act. Chambers, a well-known Philadelphia pastor, said slavery was a law that needed to be followed. Moyer, a physician, said it was an “unlawful law.”

“It’s interesting how both men are using the Bible to defend or speak against slavery,” Lindsay says.

The Fugitive Slave Act was enacted as part of The Compromise of 1850 and meant to diffuse secession and a civil war. It required that all escaped slaves were, upon capture, to be returned to their owners, and required citizens of free states to cooperate.

Dr. Jaroff sees the project as an important one that will add to the understanding of the region’s history during the era before the Civil War. “Rev. Chambers was a very prominent figure in Philadelphia,” she notes. “The debate between him and Dr. Moyer contextualizes research done on the Fugitive Slave Act, which was highly controversial because it turned everyone into a potential slave catcher. Here is a conversation on it between two respected men of the era.”

Lindsay, a Troy, N.Y., rising senior, says she became interested in Civil War history after taking a class taught by Professor of History Dallett Hemphill, and was especially intrigued studying the Grimké sisters, who grew up on a plantation but were abolitionists. “It made me interested in this era,” she says.

The Ursinus Summer Fellows program, which offers selected students stipends and housing to do eight weeks of focused research, allows Lindsay to do her research directly from the primary documents at the Historical Society. Lindsay, who is president of the International Relations Club and the student organization Fighting for Ophelia, has worked in the Berman Museum of Art on campus. She sees the summer experience as important for her future interests working in a museum or in archival research.

The Ursinus Summer Fellows program is an eight-week opportunity for some 70 students to work with a faculty mentor on an independent research project or creative project on or off campus. Fellows will present their research in a campus symposium July 25.



One thought on “Civil War Era Newspaper Sheds Light on History

  1. I think your daughter is doing very well for herself. You have a lot to be proud of.

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