“The Visiters’ Book”

Long Horn's signature in 'The Visiters' Book', 1818.
Long Horns’  signature in ‘The Visiters’ Book’, 1818.

In June’s ‘Family Tree Magazine’  I will have a  piece about crafts done by ancestors in asylums.

Here on the blog, I like to share those fascinating bits and pieces from my research that I can’t shoehorn into my writing. Amongst the documents I used for the research, was the ‘Visiters’ Book’ [sic] of the Quaker-run, Retreat asylum in York. (RET 1/4/4/1).

It struck me as a great resource for genealogists and historians, alike. A book full of names and addresses of people from all over the world.

The book has signatures and comments  from everyone from celebs like the Duke of Wellington,  to “Rodrick McCloud. A person from Scotland who has been many years in America in the mercantile trade”.

The asylum was progressive – the first of its kind in the world, so attracted visitors and enquiring minds from various countries.  Another American visitor came on 11th March, 1803: “Abraham Barker, New Bedford, Massachusits [sic], N. America, a young man (a Friend) on a tour…”  (‘A Friend’ meant a fellow Quaker, member of the Society of Friends).

I was unable to explore the ‘Visiter’s Book’ in the article ~  so for your delectation, and as a taster for anyone who may want to read that issue of ‘Family Tree Magazine’, here is one of my favourite autographs.  I will put up more of them over the next few weeks.

In 1818, a group of native Americans, from the Seneca nation, visited the Retreat.   The Seneca were one of the Five Nations of the Iroquois, and allies of the British in the Seven Years War and the American Revolution. It seems their cordial relationship with the British survived into the early nineteenth century.

On the 8th May, 1818, “A Chief and six warriors of the Seneca Indians with their Interpriter [sic] came to breakfast and stop[ped] til about two P.M…”  The Visitors, who included a chief, his brother-in-law and son, signed the ‘Visiters’ Book’ with pictographs, “the marks of their Tribe” as the Visiters’ Book termed them. I suspect these may refer to their various war bands?  The chief, Long Horns, signs with a pictograph for his name.  Their names were rendered phonetically in the book, and then translated into English. Considering how few native American autographs from Regency times, must exist in the world – these have to be priceless. They are a valuable piece of history for both the Seneca nation and Yorkshire.

I have used very many primary sources, in recent years; documents dating back from Tudor times onwards. But I have to admit this is my favourite ever ‘find’ in an archive.  I have always loved the unexpected and arcane in Yorkshire history. This is close to the motherlode.

I will share more from the Senecas’ visit, in the next few weeks, for those who love this stuff as much as me.

Photo Credit: Nathaniel Hunt

Image by kind permission of The Borthwick Institute For Archives, University of York.

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