In March of this year I was contacted by Barbara Meyn. I knew her name as someone who had been a volunteer and a Vice President for PHS as well as Pettengill-Morron House Coordinator. She had done a huge amount of research and work in the collection in the past. She had been working with her church archives and as the project was completed she had picked back up her research on the Pettengill family intending to finish her Moses Pettengill biography she had set aside.
During this research she had found a Miss Daisy Hale who married the Great Grandson of Moses Pettengill. Reaching out to her she found that there was a body of material related to Peoria and the Pettengill family in Miss Daisy’s possession. Barbara was very excited about the prospect of what might be in the material and was planning a trip to take stock. I myself was traveling to Virginian and New Hampshire in June and decided to include a stop at Miss Daisy’s to view the material. After some discussion between Barbara, Jeanette (Miss Daisy’s Guardian) and Miss Daisy it was decided we would view the material on June 9th and 10th.
The collection was extensive. Furniture from Blanchard Pettengill’s Massachusetts home, portrait paintings, boxes of correspondence, pictures, dairies, genealogical research, and general ephemera from the family. Some of which was from later generations or other family lines but it seemed that there was a significant portion related to Moses Pettengill, his family and Peoria. The possibilities of what was there was exciting. Would there be material related to Moses and Lucy’s involvement in the anti-slavery movement and the underground railroad?, information about Moses’s friendship with Abraham Lincoln?, what would the photographs show?
We learned upon or arrival in New Hampshire that Miss Daisy had to be admitted to the hospital so we would not be able to meet with her but that we could still come and view the collection. My daughter was home from college and traveling with me. She agreed to help Barbara and I do a quick survey and to photograph or scan as much of the collection as we could in the two days we had.
The moment we saw the collection spread out in one room of Miss Daisy’s home it immediately became clear that there was both a huge amount of material related to the Pettengills and Peoria but that we also were only going to be able to scratch the surface in the time we had available. After getting an orientation to the collection from Jeannette and her brother they left us to work. We split into two teams. Barbara and Charissa would use the document camera to capture a good sampling of the written material while I would sort through the boxes, bring them material I found and also I would scan and photograph the photographs and artwork.
There were three portraits painted by Major Morris Clark of Moses, Hannah, and Blanchard Pettengill, in wonderful condition and in the original frames. The tables were loaded with boxes of correspondence, diaries, and photographs. Stacks of photo albums and numerous framed pictures and the artwork filled up what space was left. As I pulled out written items related to the Pettengills and Peoria I would hear exclamations of excitement from the other room as Barbara recognized something of particular importance or interest.
Running through all the boxes in an initial sort and leaving them a pile of material to copy I quickly photographed the larger photographs and the artwork and then began sorting through and scanning the stacks of photographs. Then onto the photo albums. Only having time to scan select pieces I documented albums with the camera. While the scanner scanned at high resolution I started back through the boxes a second time to catch what might have been missed. The three of us worked all day and were told at the end of the day there was more material stored in various places around the house.
Barbara came back the second day and looked at some of this material and documented more items with a camera. What a treasure trove of material even without a chance for in depth research at this point. Documents showing Moses’s business ventures (and that some of them were with other non-abolitionist), Photographs of Moses and his family that we have never seen before, the earliest picture of the Pettengill home that has been seen.
Dating to 1870 to 1877 by the address of the photographer it appears to be from 1870 as there is obvious construction debris, the yard is not manicured, and the house has none of its exterior additions. This picture alone solves one question about the house. There is a central chimney in the kitchen area so the kitchen was original to the house with no summer kitchen evident. The original decorations are evident as well as un-painted brick.
An obviously later un-dated photograph shows the removal of some exterior details but the addition of the porches. Particularly interesting is the detail of the original porch railing. During the last renovation of the house an obviously later railing had been removed as non-original but we now can reproduce the original railing. Photographs of Moses’s parents, a young Moses, and various family members all surfaced from the stacks of pictures and the albums. None of which were known pictures here at PHS.
Work continues on the scans of documents that were made, more material waits to be discovered as well. A wealth of knowledge to more fully understand and tell the history of a house, the family that built it, and the town they called home.
Miss Daisy was excited about our visit and our enthusiasm and we were in the process of planning a visit for here in Peoria when sadly her health took a turn for the worse and she passed away on July 17, 2014. A friend of History she had told her friends and guardian she wanted the material to come to the Peoria Historical Society. Work continues with the estate to make her wishes a reality. Our history is as mobile as our people. Keep your eyes and ears open as you never know where something important will show up.