Catching Up on the News

Summer Fellow Lindsay Doyle is discovering a new perspective on the American slavery debate through a local newspaper from the 1850s.

At the request of the Historical Society of Montgomery County, Lindsay is poring over the delicate newsprint of a Civil War era newspaper. In those pages she is discovering a published debate on the morality of slavery between two prominent men who used the Bible to defend their positions.

The project, under the guidance of English Professor Rebecca Jaroff, is titled “Civil War Era Newspapers published in Norristown, Pa.” It is the first look at the contents of The Olive Branch, a temperance newspaper published between 1851 and 1860, first in Doylestown, Pa., then in Norristown, Pa.

The Olive Branch, published by Frank Sellers of Doylestown, advocated the temperance philosophy.The newspaper was recently discovered among its holdings by the Historical Society, which asked several area colleges for help exploring the contents. Lindsay took on the project with Dr. Jaroff, who has written on antebellum literature and history.

The Slavery Debate

As she began delving into the newspaper pages, Lindsay discovered a debate that surfaced between the Rev. John Chambers and Dr. Joseph Moyer on slavery and the Fugitive Slave Act. Chambers, a well-known Philadelphia pastor, said slavery was a law that needed to be followed. Moyer, a Bucks County physician, said it was an ‘unlawful law.’

The Fugitive Slave Act, part of The Compromise of 1850, was meant to diffuse secession and a civil war. It required that all escaped slaves were, upon capture, to be returned to their owners, and required citizens of free states to cooperate.

“It’s interesting how both men are using the Bible to defend or speak against slavery,” Lindsay says.

Dr. Jaroff believes the project will add to the understanding of the region’s history during the era before the Civil War. “Rev. Chambers was a very prominent figure in Philadelphia,” she notes. “The debate between him and Dr. Moyer contextualizes research done on the Fugitive Slave Act, which was highly controversial because it turned everyone into a potential slave catcher.  Here is a conversation on it between two respected men of the era.”

Lindsay, a rising senior from Troy, N.Y., became interested in Civil War history after taking a class taught by Professor of History Dallett Hemphill. She was especially intrigued studying the Grimké sisters, who grew up on a plantation but were abolitionists. “It made me interested in this era,” she says.

Summer Research Opportunities

The Ursinus Summer Fellows program, which offers selected students stipends and housing to do eight weeks of focused research, allows Lindsay to do her research directly from the primary documents at the Historical Society. Lindsay, who is president of the International Relations Club and the student organization Fighting for Ophelia, has worked in the Berman Museum of Art on campus. She sees the summer experience as important for her future interests working in a museum or in archival research.

The Ursinus Summer Fellows program is an eight-week opportunity for some 70 students to work with a faculty mentor on an independent research project or creative project on or off campus. Fellows will present their research in a campus symposium July 25.