Historian discovers stolen Andrew Jackson letter

Historians in the News

As assistant editor of the Papers of Andrew Jackson, Tom Coens spends a lot of time reading Old Hickory's mail.

So this spring, when he saw a Web site offering an 1824 letter from the seventh president for $35,000, Mr. Coens recognized it immediately as belonging to a collection at the New York State Library, in Albany.

"I was familiar with how the letter physically looked," says Mr. Coens, an assistant research professor of history at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, home of the Jackson project. "I had borrowed microfilm of that particular collection a year before, so I actually still had a digital image of it on my computer."

He called officials at the New York State Library, and they alerted the New York attorney general's office, which quickly recovered the four-page Jackson letter. The document's absence had been noted during an investigation into a series of thefts from 1997 to 2008 committed by Daniel Lorello, an archivist at the library. Mr. Lorello was already behind bars, having been ordered last fall to serve two to six years in prison for stealing hundreds of historical documents, including two Davy Crockett's Almanacks and a letter from Vice President John C. Calhoun. Mr. Lorello had admitted carrying out the thefts to finance such expenses as house renovations, tuition, and his daughter's credit-card problem....

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