Our Documentary Heritage showcases holdings drawn from the vast collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

The working files of the Pennsylvania Historical Survey [circa 1935–1950], Series 13.108, conducted by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, are held by the Pennsylvania State Archives. They consist of 133 cartons, five boxes, seventy-nine microfilm rolls, forty folders, seven volumes, and one bundle of materials. Among these diverse files is poetry composed by a Wilkes-Barre coal miner and slate picker who distinguished himself locally as a folk poet under the pseudonym “Con Carbon.” He endeared himself to John Mitchell (1870–1919), president of the United Mine Workers, during the Anthracite Strike of 1902 and became the union leader’s unofficial “court jester.” A ballad entitled “Mackin’s Porch” (right) describes the lively after-work gatherings of miners on the front porch of a company store located in Wilkes-Barre’s east end.

Pieces in the collection include “When the Breaker Starts Up Full” and “Gossip in a Streetcar” by Con Carbon, “White Slave in the Mine” by Samuel W. Boyd, and “Twin Shaft Mine Squeeze” by Harry Tempest. They are part of an undated sub-series, “Job 16: Wyoming Valley from 1616 to 1937, with Stories and Legends” under Series 13.108.20, which also contains a volume of forty-one pages entitled Wyoming Valley from 1616 to 1937, published by the William Penn Association of Philadelphia. In addition, there is a map of the Wyoming Valley and a chronology of historical events beginning with Etienne Brulé’s descent of the Susquehanna River in 1616. This sub-series includes a transcript of “A View of Susquehanna Valley Towns in 1834” extracted from A Narrative of the Visit to the American Churches by the Deputation From the Congregational Union of England and Wales by Andrew Reed and James Matheson, published in New York in 1835.

Legends collected by WPA workers include “Gertrude of Wyoming,” a poem by Thomas Campbell, the saga of Frances Slocum, a young Quaker girl abducted by Native Americans in 1778; “Snake Legend,” concerning Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf (1700–1760); the legend of Constable Michael John Mitchell Keinzle; the tale of the “Umbrella Tree”; an account of the “Grasshopper War”; and the stories of Benjamin Harvey, who was traded for whiskey, and Noah Hopkins, protected from capture by Indians by a spider web. Work on the American Guide Series, produced by the Federal Writers’ Project, that began in 1935 and included Pennsylvania: A Guide to the Keystone State (1940), emphasized folklore, ethnic studies, and local county guides. The Records of the Pennsylvania Writers, Pennsylvania Historical Commission, American Guide Series (1935–1941), are arranged numerically by job number and consist chiefly of field notes, drafts, and final versions of manuscripts.

 

Willis L. Shirk Jr. is an archivist for the Pennsylvania State Archives.