Tag Archives: debt

- A Monument of Debt


Washington Monument, Carol M. Highsmith photographer, 2010. (Image used courtesy of George F. Landegger Collection of District of Columbia Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.)

The Washington Monument is finally reopening on 12 May 2014 after undergoing restoration for damage caused by an earthquake in August 2011. I was curious what the Library of Virginia had in its collections relating to the monument and discovered an interesting footnote to the history surrounding its construction. The Washington National Monument Society, a private organization formed in 1833 to fund and build the monument, solicited donations and designs for more than a decade before construction finally began in 1848. In 1854, the Society went bankrupt, leaving a partial structure that stood unfinished until Congress assumed the duties of funding and construction on 5 July 1876. Arlington County Judgment Samuel Harrison Smith vs. Thomas K. Beale, dated October 1838, sheds some light on why the Society found itself bankrupt.

The judgment concerns the work of James M. McRea, an agent for the Society sent to Alabama to solicit donations “for the erection of a great national monument to the memory of Washington at the seat of the Federal Government.” Included in the case are three letters sent by McRea during his travels in Alabama. In the first, dated 2 April 1836 and sent from the then state capitol, Tuscaloosa, we discover that McRea did not travel alone but took along his family, causing a delay in his journey when his children were “attacked … read more »

- Independence didn’t come cheap

 

The American Flag: A New National Lyric sheet music cover, 1862. (Imaged used courtesy of Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Collection.)

The fledgling United States of America found that a considerable public debt had been generated by the struggle for independence against Great Britain. Such was the price for liberty, and the new country lacked a sufficient tax authority to secure any revenue. Various Congressional requisitions between 1781 and 1787 to the American states attempted to raise the money to pay off the debt. In addition, the states had accrued debts of their own and enacted various state laws to collect and settle both these debts and those of the federal requisitions.

Rescued from some badly damaged records from the Accomack County clerk’s office attic is a unique item that appears to be related to Virginia’s contributions to war debt settlement.

The Accomack County Tax List Related to Revolutionary War Debt, circa 1786, records the names, more or less in alphabetical order, of various persons from Saint George’s Parish, including those of women.  Three additional columns are labeled Specie Warrants, Tobacco, and Indent.  An indent was a certificate issued by the government of the United States at the close of the Revolution for the principal or interest of the public debt.  Numbers in pounds, shillings and pence are recorded in the Specie Warrants and Indent columns, with the Specie Warrant numbers always being roughly double that of the numbers in the Indent columns. No amount … read more »

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- “And the piano, it sounds like a carnival”


Schomacker Piano-Forte Manufacturing Co. Piano Catalog, H. W. Gray vs. Bettie L. Payne, 1884, Frederick County Circuit Court Ended Causes (Barcode 1141828).

In May of 1883, H. W. Gray, president of the Schomacker Piano-Forte Manufacturing Company, brought suit against Bettie L. Payne in the Frederick County Circuit Court for a debt of $500.  Bettie had purchased a piano from the company via one of its agents, William H. Manby.  After delivery, she refused to pay based on her belief that the piano was not of the quality that she had been promised.  She claimed to have purchased the Schomacker in part due to statements made in promotional materials about honors and prizes that the pianos had received at the International Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876—claims she now believed to be false and misleading.  In particular, she objected to the Schomacker being much inferior in tone and touch than she had been led to believe by the advertising. 

The Schomacker Piano-Forte Manufacturing Company was established in Philadelphia in 1838 by John Henry Schomacker of Vienna, Austria.  In 1855, he built a large piano factory at the corner of Catherine and Eleventh streets thanks in part to his success after his pianos won big prizes at various fairs and exhibitions in the United States.  The factory made upright, grand, and “square” grand pianos of high quality woods that were heavily carved in a Germanic style.  A big selling point was that the wires of the pianos were electroplated … read more »