The Beatty-Quisenberry Family Papers

By James J. Holmberg
Curator of Special Collections

Appointment of Adam Beatty as a circuit judge, 17 July 1811.Whatever forms the material takes, it is part of our mission here at The Filson to try to assure its collection and preservation. The three P's of collecting as I call them - patience, persistence, and persuasion - are important in trying to achieve this, and we are heartened by our successes and disappointed when we fail.

 One recent success has been the acquisition of the Beatty-Quisenberry Family Papers. Letter from escaped slave Zephaniah to his former master Adam Beatty reporting his arrival in Canada and the desire to purchase his wife's freedom, 28 June 1835. This collection is a perfect example of the application of the three P's. Beginning in May 1999 and concluding in July 2002, The Filson acquired this important Kentucky collection in segments from two separate sources. I had actually been aware of the existence of the collection since the mid-1980s, but the owner declined to part with the collection at that time and it was not until the late 1990s that he decided to quietly place it on the market through a philatelic dealer. The first acquisition consisted of only a small group of letters from a second dealer who had acquired them from the agent of the collection. This alerted us to the presence of the collection on the market. In a serendipitous occurrence, a local collector, from whom we occasionally acquire material, mentioned seeing a selection of Beatty papers at a stamp show here in Louisville. From him I learned the name of the agent and contacted him regarding the papers. The next time he was in town for one of the periodic stamp expositions I visited with him. Over the next two years, we quietly and steadily acquired portions of the collection as they were made available. We continued to acquire small portions from the agent, but most of the material came from the philatelic dealer representing the owner. By last summer, two years after beginning the acquisition process and several conversations regarding the fate and welfare of the collection, the owner and representative agreed to consider The Filson as the depository of the collection - some four cubic feet of letters and ephemera. A year later the deal was finalized, and The Filson is now the proud owner some five cubic feet of the Beatty-Quisenberry Family Papers. While others acquired some of the papers over the years, we are confidant that The Filson owns the greatest portion of the collection.

A printed letter from Joseph Henry of the Smithsonian Institution, 20 November 1852. The papers of Adam Beatty form the core of the collection. A granddaughter of Beatty married John Quisenberry; the material from the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries is from this branch of the family. Judge Beatty was a prominent figure in antebellum Kentucky. Born in Maryland in 1777, he moved to Kentucky in 1800, studied law under James Brown, and settled in Mason County in 1802. From that time until his death in 1858, Beatty was involved in Kentucky politics, agriculture, religion, manufacturing, and more. He served in the state legislature and as a circuit judge. He was an active participant in many of the issues of the time and was held in high regard. The letters, broadsides, essays, receipts, and other material discuss everything from family news to presidential elections; from the management of his farm to abolition; from the improvement of agricultural products and mechanical devices to religion. The items shown here provide a only a sampling of the collection's importance and scope.

Certificate regarding a monument for the grave of Henry Clay, 20 July 1852. Researchers delving into a variety of topics undoubtedly will regularly use the Beatty-Quisenberry Family Papers once they are catalogued. Just as Adam Beatty reached beyond state lines in his interests and relationships, researchers with topics outside of Kentucky-related projects will also find the collection to be of interest because Beatty's correspondents from outside Kentucky provided information from their part of the world.

There are other collections "out there" that we hope to preserve here one day at The Filson. In this instance, patience, persistence, and persuasion persevered (yet a fourth P!) and resulted in a significant addition to The Filson's nationally recognized manuscript collection. Let us hope that the four P's will result in many more such acquisitions.

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