Associate Professor of English Stanley Blair gave a presentation sponsored by the Monmouth County Historical Association titled “Hello from Bushy Hollow: Henry Morford’s New Monmouth, Middletown NJ, c. 1838-1843” on Sept. 15.
Morford (1823-1881) was a late nineteenth-century writer and journalist, best known at that time for his Civil War novels and travel literature. As early as 1852, in his Keyport-based newspaper the “New-Jersey Standard,” he published humorous memoir sketches, and continued to do so in the New York newspapers for which he later worked. In 1863, he collected some sketches in a book intended to entertain railroad travelers, “Sprees and Splashes: Or, Droll Recollections of Town and Country.”
Four of the book’s sketches are set 20 to 25 years earlier, around 1838-1843, in a village he calls “Bushy Hollow,” which biographically correlates to the time he came of age in the village of Chanceville, now the New Monmouth section of Middletown Township.
In effect, Morford’s memoir sketches interpret, present, and preserve a portion of Chanceville history. Blair took an interdisciplinary literary-historical approach, using contemporaneous maps, correspondence, newspapers, archival materials, and recent scholarship to show what life was like in Chanceville as Morford remembered and represented it. Blair concluded by suggesting that Morford likely depicted other Monmouth County locations such as Keyport and Freehold.
The 70 attendees from Monmouth County and other states included several Monmouth University students from Blair’s four Fall courses.
During the post-presentation Q&A, Gildon Smith, a sophomore biology major, asked about what had happened to the Morford brothers’ farms in Chanceville. Blair replied that over time they had been sold off, though at least one Morford house still stands, and the driveway of another, first shown on an 1861 map, appears to have been paved and is now called Morford Road.
The interdisciplinary approach to local literary history appealed to students from a variety of majors. Ashley Zingillioglu, a junior majoring in English and creative writing, remarked that “Dr. Blair’s presentation about local literature and culture inspired me to imagine living during the author’s time and what that could have been like. What stood out to me most was when he integrated families and their clothing into his topics of discussion. He provided supplemental photographs that helped the audience see the attire.” Senior accounting major Zach Francese said, “I like to study cartography and it was very interesting to see the old maps,” which “provided me with a better understanding of the area in which we attend school.” Aubrey Stoner, a junior biology major, added that Blair “was able to go back in time and describe to us what life was like during the 19th century in New Monmouth,” which “allows us to gain a better understanding of the culture back then.”
Some students appreciated how local literary history related to their studies at Monmouth University. First-year student Julianna Gulotti, a social work major, said, “I am from Philadelphia and like many Philadelphians the only time I came to New Jersey was to visit the beaches. When choosing colleges many people had things to say about how beautiful and historic Monmouth County is. That is why this lecture caught my eye because I am very interested in digging deeper into the history,” adding, “Needless to say this lecture was very interesting and makes me proud to know that I picked a university with so much history surrounding it.”
Olivia Cutaia, a sophomore health studies major, agreed: “I thought the presentation as a whole was very informative. Whether you grew up in this area, or go to school here as I do, it is important to know the history of your area and how it has progressed.” Junior English major Sabine Saavedra said it was “a pleasure to learn about the local history here in New Jersey. It is amazing to see just how a small community could have such a rich history from back so many years ago.”
Association Digital Education Archivist Dana Howell remarked that “The Monmouth County Historical Association was pleased to host the presentation of Dr. Stanley Blair’s interdisciplinary research on Morford’s New Monmouth, a topic into which no previous researcher had yet delved. His findings were compelling and will surely encourage future researchers to consider a literary approach in addition to standard research techniques as generally applied to the study of history.”
Monmouth County historian Randall Gabrielan, speaking as the program chair of the Middletown Township Historical Society, said that the presentation “added humanity to a figure that most knew only as a prominent Monmouth County writer and brought life into what we believe is our New Monmouth.”
Blair thanked the Association, his past and current students, and three colleagues who supported and encouraged his research, interlibrary loan librarian Sherry Xie and his former supervisors Susan Goulding and Richard Veit.
At the end of the presentation, Blair encouraged local commemoration of Henry Morford’s 200th birthday, which the Middletown Township Historical Society is now planning for March 2023, with Blair as a speaker.
According to Blair, the Monmouth County Historical Association has also invited him to return in the spring to present on Pulitzer-Prize-winning local writer Margaret Widdemer, and share his summer research into her papers at Syracuse University, including discovery of a previously unknown novel manuscript.