Found Music

By Scott Cave, 2014-2015 Barbara S. Mosbacher Fellow

We seldom stop to gasp and wonder at the sheer amount of music that exists, much less the sheer amount that can be summoned with a few swift keystrokes in the search bar of a streaming service. Sites like Excavated Shellac make sure that even the oldest, scratchiest, rarest records are listenable to modern audiences. We can even hear the horrifying hell-screeches of the first talking dolls, should we need high-octane historical nightmare fuel.

This is largely a result of the fact that we live in a recording society, even though this period only began in the last century and a half or so. Before, music spread via sheet music or via the people who carried it from place to place, musicians professional and amateur. The music you hear was the music that was made near you, whether by you, your neighbors, or professionals.

Still, we know that societies before recording reverberated with the tolling of bells, the singing of work songs, the chants of Mass, and other musical forms. It can be hard to reconstruct that soundscape, but that’s what I’ve been trying to do for the last few years, as I look at early colonial music in Latin America, specifically in indigenous villages and missions.

I’m not the first to have tried to do this, but its still a fairly understudied topic, and one that I find fascinates a lot of people I talk to. That search has sent me to some weird places.

I’ve looked at tattered Maya hymnals and musical textbooks at special collections libraries in Indiana, New Jersey, and Chicago. (The one in Indiana was wrapped in actual centuries-old deerskin, with the hair still on it!) I’ve looked at printed musical texts like the Nahuatl (aka Aztec) Psalmatia christiana. (You can see the fully digitized work here.) I’ve even found little one page songs in the back of indigenous-language textbooks on Christianity.

Frustratingly, because most Mexican and Central American music was accompanied by drums rather than other instruments, and because these drums were played by musical professionals who knew the rhythms beforehand, I have a lot of lyrics, but less music. We also know that a lot of sheet music was made, but that a lot of it was lost or thrown away as it got old. For secular music, I have even less. As boring as they can sometimes be, missionary dictionaries can help partially solve these problems. By approaching these things as lists of words a priest needed to know to live with his parishioners, we can combine the musical entries deemed important by the author and think about them as a series of facts on the musical landscape of an indigenous village. It is long, slow work that only feels rewarding in the long term.

Sometimes you get a fun surprise, though. I was looking at this amazing book called Rhetorica Cristiana by Diego Valadés. Valadés was a Mexican Franciscan friar who moved to Rome and put together a massive Latin treatise on the job of a preacher. I was interested in it because his wonderful engravings show that early missionary churches were actually huge open performance spaces, well-suited to singing, dancing, or whatever else a parish needed at the time. It was wrapped in the hard white cow skin cover that a lot of early Latin American books are, but this cover had come loose, and the scrap of paper that had been placed between the spine and the cover was showing through. I saw a few of the weird, squared-off notes of choral sheet music.

scottCaveAfter asking very nicely, John Carter Brown Librarian Kim Nusco agreed to hold up the book so that the spine faced me, so I could see what it was. It was the sheet music for a Latin mass, either from Italy, where the book was made, or possibly from Mexico (if the book was re-bound). According to her, sheet music, either used or unsold, was often used as the layer between leather covers and sewn book spines in the 16th century.

I’m not going to damage all of the rare books I see to find out, but it does make me wonder how much more there is to find tucked away in the hidden nooks and crannies of libraries. These silent bits of music may be all around us, if only we know where to look.

First published in Scott Cave: Cinque Metri Più

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Phoenicians, a JCB Director, and the Importance of Provenance

A book can be so much more than the sum of its words. Recently a cataloger flagged a book which has an very interesting provenance. The story connected to it was hidden before she included in a catalog record. It will soon be digitized because, in addition to its interesting provenance, it discusses indigenous American languages. Look for it soon in the John Carter Brown Library’s Internet Archive collection.

The book in question is David Bailie Warden, Recherches sur les antiquités de ‘Amérique septentrional, Paris, 1827, an abridged compilation of reports put out by the Académie des sciences de l’Institut royal. The researcher holding this book might be waylaid by the diagram of the petroglyphs on the Dighton Rock (markings on this rock found beside the Taunton River in Massachusetts have been variously attributed to indigenous sources or pre-Colombian visits from the Phoenicians, the Norse, the Portuguese [to Miguel Corte-Real], and even the Chinese! Cotton Mather included mention of the rock in his 1690 The Wonderful Works of God Commemorated).

Click on image to the below to see the plate.
Or the researcher might digress into examining the plans of Indian mounds or the Maya bas reliefs at Palenque. A researcher might even just wander off and examine the life of the author, a polymath of that particular stripe seemingly common to the nineteenth century—a correspondent of Thomas Jefferson, a scientist, mathematician, Presbyterian minister, school master, among other professions—who devoted his life to American historical bibliography and statistics after a brief, and not very successful, career as a diplomat.

BUT the researcher also might note the signature of Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the flyleaf dated 1909. The astute observer might notice the FDR bookplate on the front cover.

A typewritten note pasted on the back page gives further information.

This volume bears the blue anchor bookplate of “Franklin Delano Roosevelt” and the note in his handwriting: “Franklin D. Roosevelt 1909 Lacking in most American libraries & little known.”

In 1938 the late President of the United States called a few friends to the White House and confided to them his plans of establishing his Library at Hyde Park, N. Y. The present owner of this volume sneaked back through New York, where most of his friends did not like F.D.R. But he did see the late Max Harzoff, who after expressing himself with characteristic vigor about the New Deal, gave this book away. Max acquired it at one time when F.D.R. was selling off a few books. [Signed] R.G.A. Janr 10, 1929.

R.G.A. is Randolph Greenfield Adams, Librarian of the William Clements Library, who was the father of Thomas Randolph Adams. Thomas Adams was the Librarian of the John Carter Brown Library from 1957-1983. The JCB received the copy as a gift from T.R.A. in 1967. In this one—rather rare and not very long—book, the researcher might discover myriad and fascinating levels to explore.

— See also Guide to the Microfilm Edition of David Bailie Warden Papers, Maryland Historical Society. Ms. 871

Putting a Mohawk Chief on the Map

Allison K. Lange, PhD, Norman B. Leventhal Map Center’s exhibition at the Boston Public Library

hendrickEighteenth-century images of Native Americans are rare, but portraits from this period that praise individual chiefs are even more unusual. This striking 1755 print, entitled The Brave Old Hendrick the Great Sachem or Chief of the Mohawk Indians, features Hendrick Peters Theyanoguin. He was a powerful Mohawk leader within the Iroquois Confederacy (also known as the Six Nations). The John Carter Brown Library is one of the few institutions with a copy of this hand-colored engraving.
The portrait glorifies Theyanoguin for his alliance with the British and for fighting on their side during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). Born around 1691, Theyanoguin became the first colonel of the Iroquois Confederacy and the first commissioner for Native American affairs in the northern colonies. His leadership and alliance with the British helped the Mohawks maintain their political, economic, and military strength in North America even as the British Empire grew.

Unlike contemporaneous imagery that depicted Native Americans as uncivilized peoples, this portrait presents Theyanoguin in a positive light. The John Carter Brown Library’s portrait was one of three versions of Theyanoguin’s portrait printed in London after his death during the Battle of Lake George in 1755. The portrait recognized the sacrifice of a man who died for the British cause.

Theyanoguin’s portrait depicts a man fluent in British and Native American cultures. He wears a British-style jacket with gold trim, a white ruffled shirt, and a tri-cornered hat. The Mohawk leader even has a protruding stomach, an attribute associated with wealthy European gentlemen who could afford to eat well. On the other hand, Theyanoguin also holds a wampum belt and a tomahawk, items associated with Native Americans. His face features tattoos—including a sunburst on his left temple—which was a popular practice for Native Americans in the Iroquois Confederacy.

The accuracy of Theyanoguin’s portrait is unknown. He never went to London, so the engraver probably had never seen him. The engraver, however, might have seen his portrait. Theyanoguin could have sat for a painter in the colonies who sent the portrait to London. If so, the portrait no longer exists. A third possibility is that the engraver imagined what Theyanoguin looked like in order to satisfy demand for a portrait of the recently fallen famous man.

The figure of Theyanoguin appears on a 1756 map entitled A Prospective View of the Battle Fought near Lake George, which depicts the battle where he died. British colonial troops and their Native American allies claimed victory at Lake George in September 1755. Samuel Blodget, a Massachusetts supplier to the troops, created this battle map based on his vantage point and eyewitness accounts. The left section situates Lake George on the Lake Champlain corridor, while the other two show the battle’s progression. Numbers label details of interest, including Theyanoguin on a horse next to the number three. The numbers correspond to explanations in an accompanying pamphlet, also authored by Blodget. He noted that Theyanoguin was “dressed after the English manner” and was on a horse “because he only could not well travel on Foot, being somewhat corpulent as well as old.” He went on to note, “he was a very good Friend to the English, and had most Influence to keep the Mohawks so.”

Theyanoguin was so important to the British that he became the subject of this portrait and a person of note on this map. Consumers in the colonies and England could purchase items commemorating the prominent leader. These pieces recognized Theyanoguin’s leadership and the Mohawks’ alliance with the British during the war.

You can see the John Carter Brown Library’s copy of this portrait of Theyanoguin on display in the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center’s exhibition at the Boston Public Library. The exhibition, We Are One: Mapping America’s Road from Revolution to Independence, uses maps to explore the tumultuous events that led thirteen colonies to forge a new nation. We Are One demonstrates that maps, from the map of the Battle of Lake George to early maps of the new nation, were central to the revolutionary process. The exhibition features maps as well as prints, paintings, and objects from the Leventhal Map Center’s own collection and those of twenty partners, including the British Library and Library of Congress. Visit to explore georeferenced maps from the exhibition.

The exhibition will be on display at the Boston Public Library through November 29, 2015. We Are One then travels to Colonial Williamsburg from February 2016 through January 2017 and to the New-York Historical Society from November 2017 through March 2018.

The Leventhal Map Center also hosts the NEH-funded American Revolution Portal database. Researchers can access maps from the American Antiquarian Society, British Library, Library of Congress, and other institutions in one search. Users can download images for research and classroom use.

Access these resources and learn more about We Are One at



The CODEX SP 61 and the Franciscan Knowledge Production of Western Amazonia

Roberto Chauca
 2014-2015 Jeannette D. Black Memorial Fellow

The John Carter Brown Library is renowned for its large and impressive collection of printed materials about the history of the early Americas. Yet, it also contains a reduced, but selected, group of manuscripts. One of these is the Codex Sp 61. This is a 460-leaf volume containing 4 documents with relevant information for the study of the social, geographical, and political situation of what is now eastern Peru during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The entire volume seems to have been reunited around the end of the eighteenth century by the hand of a Franciscan friar of the Province of Peru, presumably Manuel Sobreviela, with an interest in preserving reports and documents about the human and spatial conditions in Western Amazonia. We must remember that since the seventeenth century this tropical region had become a laboratory of evangelization and colonization by Jesuit friars from Quito, around the Napo and Marañon Rivers in what was then known as Maynas, and Franciscans from Peru, around the Huallaga and Ucayali Rivers.

The first two documents, “Copia de las Reales Ordenes sobre el Mayro” and “Noticias interesantes sobre Chanchamayo” contain transcriptions of documents, from 1754 to 1790, related to the exploration of a route connecting the center of Peru with the Ucayali River via the Mayro River and with the maintenance of a military station in Chanchamayo, respectively. These documents consists of reports sent by local officials and Franciscan missionaries that discussed different aspects of the Mayro and Chanchamayo enterprises as well as the responses from Viceregal authorities in Lima on those matters.

I find these documents particularly important because they show the entire project of colonization of the eastern flanks of the Viceroyalty of Peru and the different interests, from governmental officials and missionary authorities, which were at stake in such enterprise. Likewise, for someone interested in the crafting of missionary geographic and cartographic knowledge of Amazonia like me, these reports are vital to assess the role Franciscans played in the construction of such knowledge and how it was received, debated, approved, or disapproved among missionaries themselves and, more important, among authorities of the Viceroyalty in Lima.

The third document, “Informe sobre las misiones de Maynas echo por el padre Francisco de Figueroa de la extinguida Compañia de Jesus” is a transcription that the Franciscan Manuel Sobreviela presumably made in 1791 of the 24 chapters of the original 1661 account that the Jesuit Figueroa had written about the missionary presence of the Society in Western Amazonia since 1637. The Franciscan Narciso Girbal had brought an original copy of Figueroa’s Informe from one of his trips to the town of Laguna, former missionary capital of the Jesuit missions in Maynas and located near the intersection of the Marañon and Huallaga Rivers. It is also probable that in this same trip Girbal brought a copy of another report whose transcription constitutes the fourth document of Codex Sp 61: “Relacion de la entrada que hizo á la Nacion Pana, subiendo por el Ucayale , el Presbytero Don Pedro de Valverde, Superior, Visitador, y Vicario General de las Missiones de Maynas.” Valverde’s Relación seems to have been written in Laguna around 1789 and, although it remains not finished, it provides important information about the the Upper and Middle Ucayali, as well as descriptions of local Panoan and Conibo societies. These two documents demonstrate that the construction of the geographic and ethnographic knowledge of Western Amazonia transcended missionary affiliations and that late-eighteenth-century Franciscans from the Province of Peru came to depend on the knowledge that Jesuit friars and secular priests from the Audiencia of Quito had gathered about such region since the seventeenth century.

Together the four documents in Codex Sp 61 shed a fascinating glimpse into the human and spatial landscape of early modern Western Amazonia and reveal the different points of view, from missionaries and officials, which became the foundations of the knowledge on the tropical heartland of South America.

Discovering the Meaning of the African Dance in the Antigua Slave Conspiracy of 1736

Justin Pope, Postdoctoral Fellow, Brown University, JCB-Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice

A genuine narrative of the intended conspiracy of the negroes at Antigua. Extracted from an authentic copy of a report, made to the Chief Governor of the Carabee Islands, by the commissioners, or judges appointed to try the conspirators (Dublin: Printed by and for R. Reilly, 1737).
Willem Bosman, A new and accurate description of the Coast of Guinea, divided into the Gold, the Slave, and the Ivory Coasts (London: printed for J. Knapton, A. Bell, R. Smith, D. Midwinter, W. Haws, W. Davis, G. Strahan, B. Lintott, J. Round, and J. Wale, 1705). 71-367-006

The Antigua slave conspiracy trials of 1736 began with an enslaved man performing a mysterious dance in an open field. Two printed books held in the John Carter Brown Library help us to interpret the meaning of this dance and in the process, to better understand the ways in which enslaved people of African ancestry sought to reinvent themselves in the British Atlantic during the first half of the eighteenth century. Continue reading Discovering the Meaning of the African Dance in the Antigua Slave Conspiracy of 1736