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Armstrong Papers, 1932-1974 (Bulk: 1950-1960)
1 records storage box, 4 archives boxes, 1 flat box (3.5 linear ft.)

Abstract:
The collection contains correspondence, photographs, diaries, journals, publications and vital and legal documents dealing with Armstrong's days at Amherst college, Harvard University, his foriegn language studies and finally, the trip to Africa on which he died. The collection also includes the papers of Catherine M. Armstrong relating to her son's death, including correspondence with the families of Armstrong's fellow travelers, official correspondence relating to the investigation, notes on her trip to Paris to visit the family of Tommy-Martin and notes of sympathy following her son's death.

Terms of Access and Use:

Restrictions on access:

There are no restrictions on access to the John H. Armstrong Papers for research use.

Restrictions on use:

Requests for permission to publish material from the papers should be directed to the Archives and Special Collections.

Amherst College Archives and Special Collections

Biographical Note

Following his graduation from Amherst in 1954 with a BA in English, Armstrong attended Harvard University where he received a Master's degree in English Literature in 1955. In 1955 Armstrong joined the United States Army and attended the Army Language School in Monterey, California where he studied Chinese. In 1958 Armstrong received a Fullbright Scholarship and studied French and Chinese at the Institute for Advanced Languages at the Sorbonne in Paris.

It was during his stay in Paris that he met Yves Tommy-Martin (AC 1958), who was planning an automobile trip from Paris to Cape Town, South Africa. When Armstrong's Fullbright Scholarship was not renewed in 1959, he decided to join Tommy-Martin and Jean Pillu, Tommy-Martin's childhood friend. Another American, Donald Shannon, a Milwaukee native and former Air Force lieutenant, joined them not long before they left. Mindful of the dangers ahead, the four set off in specially equipped Citroen cars. Citroen, the French automaker, supplied the cars and offered a prize for the most interesting account of a trip by automobile. The four, dubbed the Franco-American Student's Automobile Tour of Africa," left France on July 4, 1959.

Following a route along the Mediterranean, they arrived in Egypt later that month. The low level of the Nile made it impossible to travel the customary ferry route and the travelers were forced to drive across they desert from Aswan, Egypt to their next stop in Wadi Halfa, Sudan. Well supplied and accompanied by the requisite guide, the party drove into the Egyptian desert expecting to be in the Republic of Sudan in two of three days. The four men never made it out of Egypt.

Having heard nothing form their son in over two months, Mrs. Catherine Armstrong contacted the U.S. State Department for help. The Egyptian Government was notified and a search was begun. Egyptian patrols found the bodies on October 26, 1959. It was estimated that the party had died sometime in early August.

There was a great deal of controversy, never officially resolved, concerning the cause of death. Official reports claimed the four died of thirst and exposure. The families found evidence that indicated the four young men were murdered.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The papers include correspondence, photographs, diaries, journals, publications and vital and legal documents, such as his birth certificate, passport and insurance papers documenting Armstrong's days at Amherst College and Harvard University, his foreign language studies and a 1959 automobile trip to Africa.

Also contained in the papers of John Armstrong are those of his mother, Catherine M. Armstrong. They relate almost exclusively to her son's death and include correspondence with the families of Armstrong's fellow travelers, official correspondence relating to the investigation, notes on her trip to Paris to visit the family of Tommy-Martin and notes of sympathy following her son's death.

Note that correspondence from JHA to his mother is filed with JHA's correspondence. Letters to Catherine Armstrong relating to JHA's legal bank accounts and insurance policies are filed with JHA's vital and legal records.


Information on Use
Terms of Access and Use
Restrictions on access:

There are no restrictions on access to the John H. Armstrong Papers for research use.

Restrictions on use:

Requests for permission to publish material from the papers should be directed to the Archives and Special Collections.

Preferred Citation

Please use the following format when citing materials from this collection:

[Identification of item], in John H. Armstrong Papers [Box #, folder #], Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College Library

History of the Collection

The papers of John H. Armstrong were maintained by Catherine Armstrong and given to Amherst College in 1975. Catherine Armstrong's sister, Betty Carlson, delivered the papers to J. Alfred Guest, of the Alumni Development Office. The papers were transferred to the College Archives in 1979. Originally housed on the class shelves, the papers were processed as a separate manuscript collection in 1990.

Processing Information

Processing is minimal. The correspondence is arranged in a rough chronological order by year. Material in each folder is arranged and still in its original envelope. The remaining material is boxed or in folders by type (i.e. diaries or published accounts of the expeditions) and is listed in alphabetical order.

Processed:1990-1991
By:Peg Giguere-Davis, Archives Associate
Listed by:Rachel Smith, Student Associate


Additional Information
Contact Information
Amherst College Archives and Special Collections
Robert Frost Library
PO Box 5000
Amherst, MA 01002-5000

Phone: (413) 542-2299
Fax: (413) 542-2692

Email Reference Form: http://www.amherst.edu/library/archives/askus
URL: http://www.amherst.edu/library/archives
Language
English.
Sponsor
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Contents List
Correspondence
1950-1958

Box 1: folder 1
Correspondence
1955-1958

Box 1: folder 2
Correspondence
1956-1958

Box 1: folder 3
Correspondence
1958-1959

Box 1: folder 4
Correspondence
1958-1959

Box 1: folder 5
Correspondence
1958-1959

Box 1: folder 6
Correspondence
1958-1959

Box 1: folder 7
Accounts of expedition
1959-1960

Box 1: folder 8
Accounts of expedition: news clippings
1959-1960

Box 1: folder 9
Accounts of expedition: magazines
1959

Box 1: folder 10
Address books
n.d.

Box 1: folder 11
Chinese language material
n.d.

Box 2: folder 1
Chinese language material
n.d.

Box 2: folder 2
Chinese language material
n.d.

Box 2: folder 3
Chinese language material
n.d.

Box 2: folder 4
Chinese language material (1envelope, 1 bound volume)
n.d.

Box 2: folder 4a
Diary
1955-1956

Box 2: folder 5
Diary
1959

Box 2: folder 6
Diplomas and certificates
1951-1956

Box 2: folder 7
Expense ledger
1950-1956

Box 2: folder 8
Honors Thesis
1954

Box 2: folder 9
Journal
1959

Box 2: folder 10
Miscellaneous
1950-1959

Box 2: folder 11
Photographs
n.d.

Box 2: folder 12
Photographs
n.d.

Box 2: folder 13
Photographs
n.d.

Box 2: folder 14
Publications (JHA)
1957-1959

Box 2: folder 15
Vital and Legal Documents
1932-1960

Box 2: folder 16
Catherine Armstrong Papers: correspondence
1939-1959

Box 3
Catherine Armstrong Papers: correspondence, diaries, sympathy cards
1960-1971

Box 4
JHA Realia (memorabilia)
1950-1959

Box 5

Search Terms
The following terms represent persons, organizations, and topics documented in this collection. Use these headings to search for additional materials on this web site, in the Five College Library Catalog, or in other library catalogs and databases.

Subjects
  • Africa--Description and travel.
  • Amherst College--Students.
  • Armstrong, Catherine M.
  • Armstrong, John H., 1932-1959.
  • Automobile travel--Africa.
  • Automobile travel--Europe.
  • Europe--Description and travel.
  • Harvard University--Students.
  • Pillu, Jean.
  • Shannon, Donald.
  • Tommy-Martin, Yves Marc, 1935-1959.

Contributors
  • Amherst College. Class of 1954. Armstrong.
  • Amherst College. Class of 1958. Tommy-Martin.
  • Armstrong, Catherine M.

Genre terms
  • Letters--Amherst College.


Questions about this collection? Contact the archives
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