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Keys Library Acquires Historic Document — A 19th-Century "Facebook"

Nancy Klingener

In the 1840s, Alexander Patterson was a notary public who recorded the depositions of shipwreck salvagers. He noted their accounts of efforts to save valuable cargos from ships that ran aground on the reefs along the Florida Keys.

Sometime during the 1860s and 1870s, someone — probably one of his daughters — used his logbook as a scrapbook, pasting onto its pages pictures and newspaper stories of the day.

Now that book, which documents different aspects of 19th century life, is in the collection of the Monroe County Public Library.

Historically, the accounts of the wreckers are immensely valuable because so few documents survive from that period.

"It's the first account of what happened when they came in," said Mary Haffenreffer, a volunteer and donor with the library's Florida History department.

Patterson, who served as a mayor of Key West, had two daughters. Both married and moved to Savannah, Ga., but one returned to Key West with her children after her husband died. The other, Theodora, stayed in Savannah and many of the scrapbook's contents indicate that the person who pasted them in was living in a Southern city.

"I really think she must have been the one," Haffenreffer says.

The book's cuttings pasted reflect life into the 1870s and include pictures indicating interest in fashion, art, music and poetry — but also politics and serious accounts of issues of the day.

Credit Nancy Klingener / WLRN
The accounts of salvaged shipwrecks have been covered by pasted-in pictures and newspaper clippings. The library plans to have the book scanned, then remove the pasted in additions to reveal the information underneath.

  "It's like a Facebook page," Haffenreffer says. "It's like the early version of putting it up on your board."

The library is sending the scrapbook to the Northeast Document Conservation Center for preservation. There, the pages will be scanned and the pasted-in additions removed to reveal the shipwreck accounts beneath them.

Eventually, images from the book will be added to the library's online image archive.