John H. Armstrong (AC 1954) Papers
Scope and Contents
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.
- Creation: 1932-1974
- Creation: Majority of material found within 1950-1960
Conditions Governing Access
There are no restrictions on access to the John H. Armstrong Papers for research use. This collection is housed in off-site storage and requires advance notice before use. Please contact Archives and Special Collections.
Conditions Governing Use
Unless there is a specific Amherst College copyright involved, the burden of determining copyright status and permissions falls on the researcher. It is expected that researchers will give credit to the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections and cite sources completely so that others may refer to them easily.
Biographical / Historical
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 or three days. The four men never made it out of Egypt.
Having heard nothing from 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.
3.5 Linear feet (1 records storage box, 4 archives boxes, 1 flat box)
Language of Materials
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.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
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.
1 records storage box, 4 archives boxes, 1 flat box (3.5 linear feet)
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.
Correspondence from Armstrong to his mother is filed with Armstrong's correspondence. Letters to Catherine Armstrong relating to Armstrong's legal bank accounts and insurance policies are filed with Armstrong's vital and legal records.
- Peg Giguere-Davis, Archives Associate
- Listed by:
- Rachel Smith, Student Associate
- Peg Giguere-Davis, Rachel Smith
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.