Following is an excerpt from “With my pen directed toward home,” Letters From Elizabeth Cole Fleming. Download Part 1 (2.7 mb) Part 2 (4.0 mb), Part 3 (1.1 mb), Part 4 (2 mb), Part 5 (3.7 mb), Part 6 (3 mb) and Part 7 (333k) (pdf format).
Part I introduces Elizabeth Cole Fleming and discusses the methodological challenges involved with my thesis. Introduced also are many of the people listed on her Genealogy Tree in particular her two grandfathers, Capt. John Cole and Rev. John W. Alvord, and her parents, John A. and Julia Alvord Cole. Important to both families was their involvement with the U. S. Christian Commission during the Civil War. Nineteenth-century volunteer societies were unique to the United States and almost every visitor from around the world commented on this quirky Americanism.
With so many primary resources I needed to figure out a way to process my information and organize my material. Finding a logical methodology is discussed in my Introduction, while Chapter 2 takes a closer look at decisions made by the New Social Historians of the 1960s and at epistolary methods and theories, using Elizabeth’s letters in particular. Chapter 3, “A Sense of Home,” was written to showcase the abundance of first-hand records in my collection. I was struck by the fact that there were at least two Indias—the Christian and the non-Christian—as well as two Christian Americas, the free and the not-so-free. There were also idealized, Victorian concepts of home versus real, tangible brick houses or mud huts, and all of these variations needed exploration.
My journey into my grandmother’s world has been a life-altering experience, but not without ups and downs. Part of submerging oneself in another’s life is experiencing shared experiences on a visceral level, but the process involved patience and perseverance. At one point when I was blocked in my research, I sincerely believe that Elizabeth reached out to me and that her “metaphysical intervention” transformed my journey.