Exploring Special Collections

Prior to this class, I had never been to the sixth floor of the library. I was told by former History professors that UTA had a really good Special Collections Archival Center, but none of my previous assignments or projects had ever led me to use the Archive Center as a research tool. After our tour last week, I wished I had known of it because it would have been a helpful research tool, especially for my Texas History class. I made an appointment with Brenda McClurkin, and as far as preparation for my meeting I just told her that I was interested in researching Cabeza de Vaca and Estevancio’s adventure through Texas because Estevancio is considered to be the first African born person to set foot in Texas. I also told Brenda that I wanted to look at actual slave bills of sales because I wanted to closely examine the paper, ink and the style of handwriting that was used. When I arrived to the special collections center, she immediately handed me this giant binder that consisted what were in the boxes of documents they had in their special collections. She pretty much left me on my own to find any bills of sales or other documents because she said that I needed to experience the research myself. Once I found a box of records that I wanted to examine, Brenda showed me how to go about pulling the box, signing for it, and keeping a marker to put the folder back exactly in the box where it was before I pulled it. Now some might find all these steps a bit tedious, but actually it is very convenient because now if I want to pull the box again in the future, they have a detailed record of what box I pulled.

The box I had pulled out had eight slave bills of sale. Immediately I sat there just practicing transcribing the receipts and just seeing if I could understand the handwriting. The handwriting was difficult to understand in each one, but there were a few that stood out to me because they had specific characteristics. In one bill each word that ended with the letter “d” the writer looped the stem on the letter “d” over the first letter of the word. In another bill every word that ended with the letter “y” had the stem of the letter “y” loop under to the first letter of the word. There was also another bill that when a letter “t” needed to be crossed, the writer crossed it very boldly. All of the handwriting of these bills look very similar and unreadable, but the more I read them, the more distinct characteristics in each writer’s handwriting I began to notice.

There was a mark on one of the sheets of paper that said “SOUTHWORTH COMPANY SUPERFINE”. I looked up the company, and I found out that it is a paper company that still exists to this day. According to paperlogic.com, “A US-based company since it’s inception in 1839 in West Springfield, Massachusetts, Southworth produced some of the first commercially available paper in the US. Abraham Lincoln used Southworth paper for his important correspondence, and we supplied the paper for Remington’s first typewriters. Today, Paperlogic carries on the Southworth tradition of quality and innovation for a wide variety of industries. We are an active member of numerous industry associations, and the research clusters at the University of Massachusetts.”

As far as researching Estevan and Cabeza de Vaca, Brenda directed me to UTA’s online database and there I found two very useful books that were strictly online. One book “Black Texans: a history of African Americans in Texas”, said that Estevan was the first African to come to Texas, and it also said that most blacks in Texas were either born in Texas or Mexico, but that after 1803 mostly all blacks in Texas migrated from the United States. One other interesting note I found from the book was that there were people of African ancestry among the indians along the mouth of the Rio Grande. I remembered how during our class tour of the special collections center Brenda had said that they had many old documents and letters that were in spanish. Since I can read and write in spanish, I began to think that next time I am in the special collections center, I could try and read some of the documents because there might be some insight to blacks in Mexico.
Overall my experience went well, and I think next time I go in for research I will be better prepared.

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