An Alternative History of Sally J. Chinn

Cross-posted from the KHS Chronicle.

The Civil War Governors of Kentucky project is deep into annotation, the phase of the project where each of the people, organizations, places and geographical features mentioned in every CWGK document is tagged, researched and linked together in a vast social network. I’ve written elsewhere about what that will look like from a research and technical perspective. Today, I want to focus on the research finds and unexpected questions that this work brings.

This week, I was working on this document, a letter from some Hartford, Kentucky, bankers, looking to have one of their own named a notary public in December 1860. Routine state business. Then I started researching cashier John C. Morton.

Not surprisingly, given the way small-town businesses work then and now, he is the older brother of the Alonzo L. Morton who has recently taken a job in the circuit court office. The two young professionals lived together with their father, Isaac Morton, when the census man came to town. Except he wouldn’t be living with his parents for long. On June 30, 1860, John C. Morton had travelled east to Frankfort to marry Sally J. Chinn, the daughter of prosperous farmer, Franklin Chinn. Everyone called her Jennie.

Jennie Chinn Morton c1910, KHS Collections, 1917.1

Now, the name Jennie Chinn Morton carries a certain connotation at KHS. She was the secretary-treasurer and later regent of the revived KHS of the late 19th century, the first editor of the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society and the driving force behind the establishment of this organization in permanent state offices in Frankfort, first in the capitol annex and later in the Old State Capitol itself. She shaped publications, research and collections. Jennie Chinn Morton was the Kentucky Historical Society.

This is not to hero worship. I have issues with her interpretation of the past and whose Kentucky stories she valued. I question the history she wrote and why she wrote it. But, her legacy as an institution builder is a model for any public history administrator. The Kentucky Historical Society has grown and evolved since Morton, but without her, the seed would never have been planted.

So, could this 21-year-old newlywed be that Jennie Chinn Morton? A quick search through our digital collections confirmed that it was. The finding aid to an 1893 diary, mentions that she was “Soon widowed after her marriage to John C. Morton of Hartford, Kentucky in 1860” after which she “turned her time and attention to literary pursuits.” Did she ever.

I still haven’t puzzled what happened to John Morton. Did he die of some summer disease right after their marriage? Did he rush off to enlist in one of the contending armies in 1861? Whatever the case, his death allowed one of Kentucky’s most influential femmes sole in 19th and early 20th century Kentucky to pursue work that was meaningful to her.

I wonder what would have happened if he had lived?

CWGK Symposium Storify Recap

Follow the discussions from the June 2017 CWGK symposium as they evolved in real time!

CWGK Graduate Research Associate Hannah O’Daniel created this Storify recap of the sessions in the Old State Capitol. More recap coverage is coming soon, and the papers will appear in an upcoming issue of the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society!

New CWGK Document Brings KHS Staff Together

It’s always nice when CWGK documents walk right into our office! While going through old family papers, KHS Head of Reference Services Cheri Daniels found an 1865 land grant to one of her ancestors, Matthew Pace, signed by Governor Thomas E. Bramlette. Land grants such as these are particularly difficult for CWGK to track down because they move administratively from the County Courts briefly to the executive department in Frankfort, and then back into the hands of the grantee. Documents like this one, in short, will likely have to come to CWGK via family holdings like Cheri’s.

As the CWGK staff got out the scanners, the story really took off. Register of the Kentucky Historical Society Associate Editor Stephanie Lang noticed the name of one of her Floyd County ancestors, William J. May, on the grant. KHS’s library collections came to the rescue, and the team quickly pulled maps of Floyd and Magoffin counties to locate the specific plot of land granted in this newly accessioned CWGK document.

Will this document change the way we understand the Civil War era in Eastern Kentucky? Perhaps not. But it does underscore the importance of every document in the CWGK corpus. Each document contains a link to the lives and stories of everyday people from across the Commonwealth and the globe. And bringing these documents together in digital public space allows CWGK researchers to make connections between one another in the context of our shared past.

Look forward to the digital debut of the Matthew Pace collection soon at!

Civil War Governors Going to England

keele logoPatrick Lewis will take the Civil War Governors of Kentucky (CWG-K) across the Atlantic to the David Bruce Centre for American Studies at Keele University in Staffordshire, England. On October 30, 2015, he will present with leading scholars from the United States, Canada, and the U.K. at the Bruce Centre’s colloquium on the Civil War and Slavery. He was interviewed by the Insider, the KHS staff magazine.

For updates on the trip, follow Patrick @KyPLewis and #CWGK

Q: What makes this opportunity at Keele special?
A: A couple of things. First, it allows KHS to demonstrate what our staff already knows; we are doing world class work here and our emphasis on digital dissemination of our collections, our resources and our scholarship means that Kentucky history will be front and center as students, teachers and researchers across the world write the next generation of history and use Kentucky lessons to address worldwide challenges.

But this isn’t just about KHS making connections to international institutions. This colloquium highlights how the quality of KHS programs feeds off of and mutually benefits each other. The event is being organized by two-time KHS Scholarly Research Fellow Laura Sandy. A few years ago, Laura came to do work on so-called “slave stealing” abolitionists in the antebellum era. We at CWG-K knew that our project would have wonderful material for her to extend that study into the war years, but we weren’t far enough along to let her access anything.

When Laura came back this summer, that had changed. She spent weeks combing through our nearly 12,000 transcribed documents and took home a massive haul of primary sources for herself, her graduate students, and her classroom. Laura was putting together the program for the colloquium while she was in Kentucky and insisted that we come to share CWG-K with American historians working in the U.K.

This opportunity to show the power of CWG-K to an international audience would never have been possible if KHS hadn’t built a relationship with Laura through the fellowship program. Our quality work across the organization helps us build a reputation for excellence, launch new programs and find new constituents in unexpected places.

Q: Why is a project like Civil War Governors important for international scholars?
A: Access. Laura knows firsthand how difficult it can be to find research travel funds. The financial barrier to conducting original research is huge for domestic scholars, but it is unbelievable for those across an ocean. CWG-K will break down those barriers by providing free digital access to documents from archives in Kentucky and across the United States. For the people at this colloquium, CWG-K is a lifeline for teaching and research material that will sustain American history programs in the U.K.

But this question of access is just as important here in Kentucky as it is in England. For students and teachers in rural counties who can’t afford to travel or purchase historical database subscriptions, CWG-K provides them free access to world class content that fits their curricular needs and is set in their home towns.

Access is why CWG-K is such a great KHS project. It gives back to our Kentucky communities while it simultaneously faces outward and shows the best of the Commonwealth to the world.

Q: So, with CWG-K going online soon, why do scholars like Laura even need to come to KHS anymore?
A: Simple, for every question that CWG-K will help researchers answer, it will raise many more. CWG-K couldn’t be a better advertisement for doing historical work in Kentucky and on Kentucky topics. Say a student uses CWG-K to write a short seminar paper; as they look to expand that germ of an idea into a thesis or dissertation, they seek out KHS collections and apply for KHS fellowships to broaden their source base and confirm the initial findings they made using our database. They find more resources in our online catalog and digital collections, make a list of relevant artifacts in the object catalog, tap KHS staff connections to find related content in Lexington and Louisville, spin off a chapter for publication in the Register, and serve as panelists for a public symposium we host.

CWG-K will be yet another access point that establishes relationships between KHS and history professionals. And KHS has an excellent habit of developing those relationships into really productive partnerships that touch on every part of KHS and benefit all of our constituent groups.