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a past ‘distant and unknown’? — a clipping from the loft

A fine Father’s Day gift was time to putter in the attic, pulling down pine planks (some flooring and some wall planks) that had been repurposed as ceiling furring, being nailed to the underside of the tie beams to support a modern lath & plaster ceiling in the west end. Above the tie beams lay another set of planks, whitewashed on the bottom, serving as an original ceiling for the west-end attic room, and serving as floor for a loft of sorts — almost a fourth floor. I hadn’t been up above these planks since we bought the house, but needed to get up there to clear out a wasp nest and rescreen a louvered gable vent. The loft floor is thick with dust and generations of roofing debris. And near the hatch-hole I found a newspaper clipping, black with dust. Bringing it down and dusting it with a soft brush yielded a bucolic ode “in imitation” of the fourth Ode in Horace’s first book of odes. On the back, portions of two ads: one for Almy and Brown’s cotton textiles, another for a seed-merchant by the name of “…ob Hardenberg” — either Job or Jacob. Clearly a relic of 18th-century Providence, another scrap from the General’s papers (click image for a bigger version):

A good dusting, a careful scan, and a little research took it to a new level: Almy & Brown was the partnership that ran the Slater Mill, famous as the first great stride in New England’s industrial revolution. The partnership was formed in 1789, and the famous mill (still standing) was built in 1793. Jacob Hardenberg was a Dutch immigrant to Providence who worked as a gardener and seed-seller, who died in 1828 at the age of 80. Slater Mill’s flickr photo stream has some similar Almy & Brown ads from Providence newspapers. Since Hardenberg was a smaller business, I hoped to date this notice by reference to his ad. From some resources (early Providence city directories) it appeared that he lodged & operated at different parts of the city over his career. My plan was to pin down the years he was selling seeds by Hoyle’s tavern to help date the ad, and for this I turned to the “Early American Newspapers, Series I (1690-1876)” database accessed through NewsBank and licensed to NEHGS members. I searched Providence newspapers for any hits with “Jacob Hardenberg” in the years 1790 to 1828. Amazingly, this very ad surfaced on the first screen of results! It is from the United States Chronicle for 21 April 1791; here I’ve got the whole issue (4 pp.) as a pdf.

I wonder whether it was Thomas or Amy who saw this poem in the chronicle, liked it, and saved a clipping, back in April of 1791. And I wonder whether it got read, up in the loft, or simply pasted to a wall plank, ten years later when the house got divvied up, with attendant alterations, after Thomas’s death. But whoever first liked this riff on Horace, I hope that they heeded the poem’s advice:

Improve to-day — to-day’s your own–
To-morrow’s distant and unknown.

How might they have felt about the distant and unknown tomorrow, 221 years later, when someone else finds this clipping lying on the floor?

One Comment

  1. pricegen wrote:

    It’s awesome to find records like this. Thanks for posting!

    Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 02:47 | Permalink

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