Books and Papers

3/11/2005

On exhibit through August 21, 2005

The museum’s collection of letters, journals, books and other handwritten and printed documents is an invaluable record of two hundred years of rich and diverse Arkansas history and culture.

From the law books and letters of United States Senator Chester Ashley (1791-1848), to the charming, hand-drawn cartoons of a young Paragould girl at the turn of the twentieth century, Books and Papers illustrates the range and quality of the museum’s extensive collection

Especially poignant are the papers that reference both slavery and the anti-slavery movement. The juxtaposition of an agreement between two men arranging the loan of slave labor with the 1828 written legal complaint by a free woman of color in Arkadelphia alleging assault and battery by a man named Joseph Butler brings to light the various ways African Americans were viewed and treated by a slave-holding society. In the one instance, two men stoically bartered the rights of another man. In the second, a woman referred to only as “Nancy” won her case against Butler even though her rights were severely limited as an African American in early 19th century America.

Another such comparison is seen in a nearby exhibit case with two tokens displayed side-by-side. One, an abolitionist token, speaks of the humanity of those enslaved with an image of a woman in chains and the words, “Am I Not a Woman & A Sister”. The other, a slave auctioneer’s token, reveals the inhumanity of dealing in human lives with the petty phrase, “Going at only a penny.”

Books and Papers also offers insight as to who were the movers and shakers of Arkansas Territory and early statehood. Roswell Beebe (pictured), for example, made his fortune as a savvy realtor. Beebe was able to convince the U.S. government that he and his partners had rights to most of the land in and around the city of Little Rock since those who already owned land had purchased their titles prior to the official transfer of land from the Quapaw Indians to the United States

After the government conceded and issued Beebe a patent for all Little Rock lands and declared all others invalid, Beebe allowed the previous landowners to buy back their land for a dollar.

Theses and other stories are all told through written and printed documents--documents that are preserved as part of the collection of Historic Arkansas Museum. The generosity of Arkansas families, along with funding from the Loughborough Trust, the Gala Fund and the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council, makes possible the continued growth of this collection.