Category Archives: Collections

Uncovering Local Sharecropping through a General Store: The Van Brunt Business Records

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Around thirteen miles North from downtown Tallahassee is Lake Iamonia. Families such as the Van Brunts historically developed the land around Iamonia as large cotton plantations. R.F. Van Brunt was born in 1862 and from 1902 to 1911 operated a general store and the Van Brunt plantation in the area. The collection primarily comprises store account ledgers like the 1911 Day Book on the left.

At first glance these financial ledgers may not contain anything other than store balances and goods sold. However, this collection sheds light on local sharecropping. Sharecropping was an agricultural labor system that replaced slavery following the end of the Civil War. Plantation owners used this system to keep many former enslaved people bound to their plantations to maintain their crop-driven businesses. 

Sharecropping contracts, like the one below found in one of the Van Brunt store ledgers contracting Randall Hayes, leased land to the sharecropper to cultivate a cash crop. At a specified date, the sharecropper had to produce the contracted quantity of which they kept a portion. VanBrunt04

The Van Brunt store ledgers help us understand the economics of sharecropping. The country store in Iamonia is one example of how credit networks drove sharecropping. At the beginning of the agricultural year, sharecroppers bought their seeds and supplies on credit. The store often supplied individuals for months at a time without receiving payment. Near the date on their contracts, sharecroppers paid their store account in several ways.

The entry for September 16th affirms that five individuals received a balance on their store account for labor “by hauling seed.”

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While they could pay cash if they had it, sharecroppers paid their store balance down with agricultural goods as well. The entry from October 6th reveals that customers paid their store accounts down “by cotton.” Because they paid rent on farmland, and sometimes store balances, in cotton, local sharecroppers often settled their debt with the plantation owner and store during the harvest season.

Infrequent opportunities to settle accounts with plantation owners, natural disruptions, and crop failures meant that sharecropping easily became a cycle of debt that trapped African Americans on the same plantations that enslaved them or their parents.

We invite members of the FSU community and the general public to access our collections in our reading room on the first floor of Strozier Library Monday-Thursday from 10:00-6:00 and Friday from 10:00-5:30.

The 1911 Day Book and Sharecropping Contracts are also available for viewing in our digital library, DigiNole.

Click here to learn more about the Van Brunt Business Records.

Further Reading:

Paisley, Clifton. “Van Brunt’s Store, Iamonia, Florida, 1902-1911.” Florida Historical Quarterly 48 (1970): 353-367.

Enslaved Lives in the Archives at FSU- Research Guide and ASERL Exhibit Update

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A list of enslaved people that George Whitfield of Tallahassee owned as of 1862. [Original Object]

Special Collections & Archives wants to share some updates on our work surfacing and highlighting collections documenting local enslavement and sharecropping. Collaborating with the Tallahassee History and Human Rights Project in their creation of the Invisible Lives Tours produced a list of our archival materials that we wanted to make more visible and accessible to researchers and the general public. What followed was the creation of a research guide solely devoted to gathering our primary sources of Enslavement and Sharecropping in Florida in one place.

The guide aims to promote and support historical and genealogical research in Tallahassee and surrounding counties. In the guide you can find relevant manuscript collections, rare books, and oral histories available on-site and/or digitally. To find Special Collections research guides, navigate to the FSU Libraries home page, click on “Research Guides,” select “By Group,” and then select the drop-down menu “Special Collections.”

From that body of material, we digitized and submitted objects for inclusion in the Association of Southeast Research Libraries’ (ASERL) “Enslaved People in the Southeast” collaborative exhibit that debuted November 4th. The exhibit commemorates the 400 years that have passed since enslaved Africans were first sold in the English colonies in 1619 marking the beginning of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

FSU and thirty-five other institutions offered a range of primary sources including “photos, letters, bills of sale, emancipation documents, insurance and taxation documents, and maps indicating segregation zones.” With this breadth of archival primary sources, “Enslaved People in the Southeast” seeks to show the social complexity of enslavement and its legacy across sharecropping, Jim Crow, and segregation. 

To access our collections, we invite members of the FSU community and the general public to our reading room on the first floor of Strozier Library Monday-Thursday from 10:00-6:00 and Friday from 10:00-5:30. We also encourage those interested to browse our digital library, DigiNole.

New Digital Collection – The Talisman

may 1909 (1)

The Talisman was a student run publication that was active at Florida State College for Women (FSCW), FSU’s predecessor institution. The magazine was published quarterly by the Thalian Literary Society and the Minerva Club, the first two literary debate societies of FSCW. The first issue was published in 1906 and it ran until 1914, when it was turned into a weekly newspaper called the Florida Flambeau. As the students put it in the first ever issue of the Florida Flambeau in January 23rd, 1915, “Things happen so rapidly that once every three months makes a slow visitor.”

may 1909 (2)

The Talisman was the first college literary periodical to be published in Florida. Each issue featured student writings, editorials, campus news, and updates on all departments, including music and athletics. It included spaces for student notes and campus directories. Not only did The Talisman provide an avenue through which students could express their thoughts, it also was a way for students and surrounding communities to be informed as to the happenings of our campus.

The Talisman now exists as a time capsule for us. The writings of these students paint a picture of what student life was like in those years. We can also trace the progress and growth of our university through these publications by reading the departmental news from those early years. The Talisman can be found in DigiNole with our other publications here. If you have any questions about this collection please contact the Heritage & University Archivist, Sandra Varry, at svarry@fsu.edu.

Boots Thomas Digital Collection online from the FSU WWII Institute

Ernest Ivy “Boots” Thomas Jr. was born on March 10, 1924 and raised in Monticello, Florida. He served as a Platoon Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, Company E, Second Battalion, 28th Marines of the Fifth Marine Division during World War II. His collection, held by The Institute on World War II and the Human Experience, contains the letters he sent home to his mother during his time training at Parris Island, South Carolina, as well as the time he served as a drill instructor for the Marine Corps.

Through his letters, one can follow his very active and exciting time in the service, starting from his attempts to join (despite having color blindness) and leading him through to his training at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, Camp Pendleton in California, Camp Tarawa in Hawaii, and eventually into the Pacific Theatre for combat in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Ernest “Boots” Thomas postcard to his mother, Martha Thorton Thomas, September 9, 1943 [original object]

Boots Thomas was known by his comrades and leaders as a natural leader, taking a post as drill instructor early on in his military career. During the campaign for Iwo Jima, Thomas battled through the rough terrain of the island and Mt. Suribachi, taking charge after the platoon leader was wounded. Leading the platoon, he and his men successfully defended against the Japanese and raised the first American flag atop Suribachi on February 23, 1945. The subsequent second larger flag raising, for which Thomas was not present, would later be repeated and captured in the now-famous photograph from Joe Rosenthal of American Press. Thomas was killed in action on March 3, 1945, seven days before his 21st birthday, and awarded the Navy Cross for “extraordinary heroism,” along with the Purple Heart Metal and other combat-recognition awards.

This digital collection was described by FSU student Carmellina Moersch of The Institute for World War II and the Human Experience. Moersch is a senior at Florida State studying Classics, Humanities and Religion. At the Institute, she works as an Archival Assistant, processing collections and gaining important experience related to historical research, analysis, exhibit curation, and more. The Institute works diligently to preserve the photographs, letters, and artifacts of service members and their families. The Institute depends on Undergraduate and Graduate students to process collections, create finding aids, perform administrative tasks, and help further the goal of making our holdings available to researchers and scholars around the world.

To view the Boots Thomas letters in DigiNole: FSU’s Digital Repository, visit its collection there. You can see all digital collections from the Institute on World War II and the Human Experience in DigiNole as well. For more information about the Institute and its programs, please visit its website.

Behind the Scenes: Enslaved Lives in the Archives at FSU

Special Collections and Archives spent this summer contributing to two projects centered on the lives of local enslaved people. Currently, we are supporting the Tallahassee History and Human Rights Project. The first phase of this collaborative effort between the Grove Museum, Goodwood Museum & Gardens, the Tallahassee Museum, and the community seeks to better interpret the lives and experiences of the enslaved people that lived on and built the plantations at those sites.

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The Roderick Kirkpatrick Shaw Estate Division of Slaves

To support them, Special Collections & Archives identified manuscript collections, rare books, oral histories, and historic newspapers held at FSU that provide insight on African and African American lives from Territorial Florida to the Great Depression in Tallahassee and surrounding counties. We primarily found plantation records, personal papers, and business records documenting the era of enslavement and sharecropping in the Tallahassee locale. Please join these three museums for a series of tours on Saturday, September 14th that commemorate the lives and experiences of local enslaved people.

Alongside the research done for the Tallahassee History and Human Rights Project, Special Collections and Archives digitized and submitted objects to a collaborative online exhibit curated by the Association of Southeast Research Libraries (ASERL). The exhibit recognizes and commemorates the 400 years since the arrival of enslaved Africans in the United States.

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The Notebook of George Whitfield, a Slave trader in Tallahassee and Leon County. Digital version available here

The exhibit covers five periods: Colonial, American Revolution and Constitution, Antebellum, Civil War, and Twentieth Century. The digital exhibit is slated to debut on the Omeka platform in November. Our contributions, including the Whitfield Notebook to the right, have been digitized and added to our digital library, DigiNole.

Supporting these initiatives led Special Collections and Archives to question how to make our own holdings more visible and accessible. We started with the objects submitted to the ASERL Exhibit and added them to our digital library. The documents below are examples of what we identified that will be digitized in the near future. Alongside digitization, we have begun to incorporate these materials in class visits and aim to include them in research guides. As always, we encourage everyone to visit our reading room to view and work with our collections.

New additions to the digital library documenting enslavement and sharecropping include manuscript and printed sharecropping contracts, the Whitfield Notebook, and the R.F. Van Brunt General Store 1911 Day Book.

Special Collections & Archives welcomes visitors to our reading room on the first floor of Strozier Library Monday-Thursday from 10:00-6:00 and Friday from 10:00-5:30.

Scrapbooks to the Past, Gadsden County Edition

Scrapbooks are one of the best time capsules an archives may hold in its collections. These books, some giant, some small, were put together with care and love by the people who were actively looking to document and save their history as it was happening. Here at FSU, we hold dozens of scrapbooks that students have put together over the years, showing what student life was like on campus but also what was happening outside of FSU in the wider world that was affecting them as they worked on their degree.

Today, I share a very different kind of scrapbook. In partnership with the Havana History & Heritage Society in Havana, Florida, we digitized and described seven large scrapbooks kept by the Home Extension Services agent in Gadsden County, Florida from 1916 until 1961. These books showcase the work of 4-H clubs and women’s groups throughout some of the toughest years this rural Florida county faced during the Great Depression and into World War II.

A page from the 1928-1932 scrapbook. The caption reads “4-H Club Girls’ Exhibit of Canned Products. Achievement Day 1929” [See Original Scrapbook]

As a 21st century woman through and through, I marvel at the skills these children and women had to grow, preserve and produce the food, clothing and other resources they and their families needed during these years. Looking at the photos included in these books, what they called a “garden” was actually a small-scale farm. This was brought home to me especially when I found a FSU connection. It seems, in the 1930s, Florida State College for Women (FSCW), what FSU was called until 1947, often bought produce and their Thanksgiving turkeys from the Extension Services in Gadsden County. Which means, these small farms, helmed by women by the looks of it in the scrapbooks, were producing enough for themselves, their community and then some!

Take a look at these scrapbooks and some photographs that we digitized as part of this project with the Havana History & Heritage Society. I look forward to working with more community groups in our region to continue to bring to light the history and work of the people in Big Bend Region through partnerships like this one.

New materials available in DigiNole highlight Integration statue.

FSU alumni Doby Flowers holds up a bronze rose presented to her by sculptor W. Stanley “Sandy” Proctor (left). In the background is the integration statue and Tallahassee Mayor John Marks III. [Original Object]

A new set of photographs are now available in DigiNole: FSU’s Digital Repository. The photographs were taken from events at Heritage Day 2004, during which a statue celebrating integration was unveiled on campus. The digitized materials also include a program and newspaper clippings.

Notable people depicted in the photographs include Doby Flowers, FSU’s first African American homecoming princess, and her brother Fred Flowers, the first black athlete to wear an FSU uniform. Other alumni from the first decade of integrated classes (1962-1982) were also in attendance, as were several FSU presidents and former Tallahassee Mayor John Marks III.

You can explore all these materials in the University Records of the Office of the Associate Vice President of University Relations.

Impressive Fabrics: The Ina VanStan Printing Plates

Professor Ina VanStan examining Peruvian fabrics. (FSU Historic Photographs Collection)

Ina VanStan (1901-1989) was a Professor of Clothing and Textiles at Florida State University. Her studies focused on a variety of fabrics pre-Colombian Peru, as well as other cultural artifacts from that time.

An enhanced, flipped image of Plate 3 (Peruvian Domestic Fabrics)
01-MSS 0-333, VanStan Plates, Box 1, Item 4

The Ina VanStan Printing Plates contain twenty-three printing plates of various sizes depicting fabric patterns from Van Stan’s studies of Peruvian fabrics. The printing plates were used for producing images for VanStan’s scholarly publications. The collection’s finding aid offer’s access to VanStan’s relevant publications on artifacts such as dolls, fabric fragments, and feather ornaments; it provides a springboard for those interested in further study of ancient Peruvian culture.

Photo of a Feather Fan from the
Ina VanStan Printing Plates
01-MSS 0-333 Box 1, Folder 1

Those interested in related materials to VanStan’s studies can find images of artifacts in the Carter Collection in FSU’s Museum of Fine Arts (MoFA).

New Digital Exhibit on Integration at FSU

Integration Statue
Integration Statue

A new digital exhibit is now available, featuring information and documents that expand on the items currently on display in at the Heritage Museum in Dodd Hall. The exhibit is titled A University in Transition: The Long Path to Integration and focuses on the role of institutional racism in delaying state university integration. It also highlights acts of resistance by students, such as John Boardman, who was expelled for his active involvement with the black Inter-Civic council during and after the Tallahassee Bus Boycott.

Picture of Bob Leach, Vice President for Student Affairs (1978-1988)
Bobby E. Leach, Vice President for Student Affairs (1978-1988)

African American students, faculty, staff, and alumni also tell their story during the 40th anniversary of integration, for which a statue was commissioned featuring the first black graduate, athlete, and homecoming queen. The exhibit concludes with a spotlight on FSU’s first black administrator, Dr. Bob E. Leach, whose speeches inspired students for over a decade (1978-1988) and who served as a model of leadership for the university.

The exhibit also aligns with the goals of FSU’s recently established Civil Rights Institute. The interdisciplinary institute will sponsor events, speakers, publications, education, and research on civil rights and social justice. Its collections will be housed in Strozier Library and include historical African American newspapers, the Tallahassee Civil Rights Oral History collection, microfilm editions of NAACP and ACLU organizational records and the Emmett Till archives.

For more information, check out the library’s Civil Rights LibGuide.

The digital exhibit is available here: https://universityintransition.omeka.net/exhibits/show/a-university-in-transition/introduction

Celebrating the Start of Summer

We recently completed digitization of the newspaper from Leon High School here in Tallahassee. Started in the 1920s, the paper has gone through several name changes to end up at Leon High Life today. Our recent additions to the newspaper started in 1988 and bring us up to the end of Spring 2019. To write this update, I took a look at the newspapers published just at the end of the school year.

As a school publication, there are few to no issues published beyond the beginning of June. These papers are the last hurrah for the seniors, celebrating the next steps for those leaving, looking back at the year of academics and athletics.

2001-2002 Sports Year in Review spread [original item]

They also used these issues to talk about what they’d loved and hated that year, making these issues time capsules to what the kids thought was cool at the time.

Spread from the May 31, 1988 High Life Graduation Issue [original item]

But they were also looking forward to their summer and looking at what would be on deck to go see, hear, and do for their last few months of freedom if they were Seniors or just looking forward to the break if there was more high school ahead of them.

What students were looking forward to in the summer of 1992 [original item]

You can explore the entire run of the Leon High Newspaper for a unique look at life in Tallahassee from a high schooler’s perspective from the 1920s up to 2019.