Map from world atlas (Sekai zu), Japanese, Ink and color on paper, 1698. Gift of Mr. Philip Hofer and Mr. Francis B. Lothrop, 1972. © 2011 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Walter Silver.
“We’re kind of surprised every day by who walks in the door and what they’re looking for, and even more so, that we can help them with these collections in extensive areas,” says reference librarian Catherine Robertson.
A research request came from a woman who believed that the Phillips Library housed material about the tiny population of people on the Pitcairn islands in the South Pacific, 3,300 miles northeast of New Zealand. “This is another request where I’m thinking, I can’t imagine that we do,” says Robertson. “Then with just a little bit of digging, I found a collection of material from Charles Derby.”
Henry Tiffin commonplace book, drawn 1748-1776, Watercolor and ink on paper. Gift of Mrs. Anna Glen Butler Vietor, 1982. © Peabody Essex Museum.
The discovery included letters exchanged between Salem native Charles Hasket Derby and Ivan Christian, a native of Pitcairn Island, to discuss trade between Pitcairn and America. The island’s inhabitants are descendants of those cast off the Royal Navy vessel HMS Bounty in the South Pacific in 1789. During Salem’s age of sail, the islanders accompanied a Salem ship captain from New Zealand back to the islands, after New Zealand tried to force them to live on the mainland. They traded with Salem sea captains. For goods carried aboard the ships, they sometimes exchanged hand-painted leaves meant to be used as bookmarks.
As a recent Phillips Library fellow from the University of Illinois, Ben Bascom spent four weeks poring through the sermons and diaries of Jonathan Plummer, an itinerant peddler, poet and preacher from Newburyport. Housed at the library is the one surviving copy of the narrative of Plummer’s life, which is in far better condition than a digitized version created with lesser technology in the 1960s.