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Biography

REMARKS OF THE DONOR, SARAH JOHNSON

It is an accident of birth that my sister and I had these documents in our possession. It is not, however, an accident that we have chosen to donate them to the Carl A. Kroch Library here at Cornell. Over the years my sister and I have had a number of discussions about the deposition of these papers. Our first concern was preservation. Here in this facility our family records will be stored in a climate-controlled vault, kept as safe as humanly possible from floods, fire, earthquakes, and insects. Second, we wished to make the documents available to others. Here scholars and students will have the opportunity to work with the original documents rather than from a microfilm or xerox copy of them. Already undergraduate students have had a chance to read the family correspondence of John and Abigail Adams in its original form. Holding such a document in one's hands can alter one's sense of history; legendary figures come alive, they become human. And we could not have asked for greater access than to have the letters posted on the world-wide web. Kroch has admirably addressed our fundamental concerns.

Equally important to us was the character of the institution in which we placed the documents. It is understandable that so much of the interest in the collection is focused on the Adams' letters. But the Adamses, distinguished though they were, are only one branch of our family. The letters they wrote originated in Quincy, but their destination was Utica, New York. The history of the other branches of our family is embedded in that of this region. The archives here at Kroch already contain evidence of their presence here, their ties through marriage, commerce, politics and friendship with other families in the area. One of those many ties was to the Cornell family itself. Our grandfather's sister, Mary Savage Johnson, was a friend of Ezra Cornell's daughter, as the inscription in Mary Emily Cornell's autobiography testifies.

Beyond what the documents may reveal about specific individuals and Upstate New York, the collection also reveals, in our view, something about our nation. Three branches of our family were victims of religious persecution. Abigail Adams' ancestors were Puritans who set sail for the New World on the Mayflower; the Savages were French Huguenots; and the Johnsons were Sephardic Jews. All were driven from their homes at some point in their history and came here, we imagine, in search of peace and tolerance, conditions necessary for them to prosper. Let us hope that our country continues to extend this promise to people of all religious and ethnic backgrounds.

On a very personal level this occasion is a somewhat sad one for me. My sister and I have no children. Those of you who have children and grandchildren can envision your family extending into the future, while our immediate family stands behind, not in front of us. Last fall I carried the two tin boxes containing the fragile paper relics of our ancestors to this Library and left them here. By placing these papers in the care of one of the finest research libraries in the world, my sister and I believe we have ensured that the children of the future, both those who can trace their ancestors back generations and those who do not know even their parents' names, will be able to examine the papers and learn something about who we are as a people.

The sadness I have occasionally felt over relinquishing these papers has been outweighed a thousandfold by the pleasure I have received as a consequence of this gift. It has been great fun working on the collection with the superb staff of this facility. The reactions of students and others who have seen the papers have been tremendously gratifying. And it has given me special satisfaction to make this gift to Cornell. During quieter moments, usually on my walk home from campus, I look around and feel the same wonder I felt when I first arrived. I have been so fortunate to be a member of this community of scholars striving for intellectual excellence. Cornell is a truly extraordinary institution. My sister and I could have found no finer home for our family's papers.

By placing these papers in the care of one of the finest research libraries in the world, we have attempted to ensure that they will be preserved and that others will have access to them. We have entrusted them to Kroch with the hope that the children of the future, both those who can trace their ancestors back generations and those who do not know even their parents' names, will have the opportunity to study them and learn something about who we are as a people.

Sarah L. Johnson

Gwyneth J. Lymberis