The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

This Week @ MHS

The July Brown Bag bonanza continues this week with two lunchtime talks. Also taking place this week is a two-day public workshop and a Saturday tour. 

"Old Towns/New Country: The First Years of a New Nation" is a two-day teacher workshop held in Milford, New Hampshire and Pepperell, Massachusetts, in parternship with the Freedom's Way National Heritage Area. Taking place on Wednesday and Thursday, 30-31 July, the workshop will look at the truly participatory, well-informed conversations taking place in twon halls and meeting places throughout the new colonies-turned-states. By turning an eye toward local politics and events, participants will rediscover the ways in which "ordinary people" contribute to American's creation story. Registration is required for this workshop and there is a $25 charge to cover lunches for both days. To register, please complete this registration form and send it with your payment to: Kathleen Barker, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1154 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02215. Additional two-day workshops will be held in Searsport, Maine, August 6-7; in Falmouth, Massachusetts, August 13-14; and in Framingham, Massachusetts, September 26-27.

Also taking place on Wednesday 30 July, is a Brown Bag lunch talk featuring Kristen Burton, University of Texas, Arlington, and her project titled "John Barleycorn vs. Sir Richard Rum: Alchohol, the Atlantic, and the Distilling of Colonial Identity, 1650-1800." Focusing on the rise of commercial distilling, this project examines the shifting perceptions of spirituous liquors in the Atlantic World throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Burton also explores the evolution of liquors from their use as a wholesome source of medicine to a pernicious, societal threat. This talk is open to the public free of charge and begins at noon. 

And on Friday, 1 August, is another Brown Bag lunch, this time presented by Rachel Walker, University of Maryland, and titled "Character Detectives: Female Physiognomists in the Early American Republic." Looking at the fraught connection between femaly beauty, morality, and intelligence in the post-Enlightenment era, this project examines how cultural ideas concerning these traits became intertwined by studying the eighteenth and nineeteenth century "science" of physiognomy. A discipline rooted in the notion that an individual could discern a person's moral and mental characteristics merely by examining his or her facial features, early Americans discussed male and female physiognomy in distinct ways and used discussions about female appearance to distinguish between the moral and intellectual capacities of men and women. This talk is open to the public free of charge and begins at noon. 

Finally, on Saturday, 2 August, join us for a tour of the Society's public rooms. Led by an MHS staff member or docent, the tour touches on the history and collections of the MHS and lasts approximately 90 minutes. The tour is free and open to the public. No reservation is required for individuals or small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact the MHS prior to attending a tour. For more information please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or

As always, be sure to keep an eye on our events calendar to see what programs are on the horizon. And do not forget to come in and see our current exhibition "Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in WWI," on display Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM, free of charge. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 27 July, 2014, 12:00 PM

Bragging Rights

The practice of attaching additional items (newspaper articles, photographs, etc.) to correspondence obviously is not a new custom. Attachments generally provide more detail about the subject matter discussed in the associated correspondence. However, I found an interesting letter in the S. Lothrop Thorndike papers in which the letter is meant for one individual and the attachments are intended for others.

The two articles enclosed with a letter from the Canton, China bound Samuel Lothrop Thorndike on 27 May 1852 tell fascinating stories about a wager on a ship race to Hong Kong and cyclonic gales encountered along the way in the Philippine Sea. The younger Thorndike clearly leaves mention of these events out of the letter, addressed to his father Albert Thorndike. He includes these grand adventure stories as attachments, intended for his college friends.

At 22 years of age, Samuel Lothrop Thorndike left Harvard College in the middle of his senior year to accompany fellow Harvard student William Sturgis Hooper on a voyage to China. These two young scholars obtained a faculty leave of absence to make the voyage, and traveled on the new ship Courser. Sturgis’s father, shipping merchant Samuel Hooper, dispatched the Courser from Boston to California then to China in January 1852.

The letter to Albert Thorndike contains little more than a greeting, a note that the son has not yet received mail, and reassurance of good health and love. Postscript directions from son to father request that the two enclosed attachments be given to young brother William “Bill” Thorndike, who will see that “the fellows in Cambridge” – Harvard classmates Joseph Hodges Choate and Peter Chardon Brooks – receive the articles.

The first newspaper article recounts a ship race from San Francisco to Hong Kong between the Courser and the Witchcraft. Seemingly unaware of the race, the clipper ship Invincible simply loses by nearly two weeks.

TON. – The ship Courser, Capt. Cole, of Boston,
sailed from San Francisco May 29 for Canton, where
she arrived July 11. The clipper ship Invincible,
Capt. Johnson, of New York, sailed from San Fran-
cisco May 16, and arrived at Canton July 11. The
clip ship Witchcraft, Capt. Rogers, of Salem,
sailed from San Francisco May 30, and arrived at
Canton July 19. We understand that bets were
made in San Francisco that the Witchcraft would
reach Hong Kong ten days before the Courser, but
the event proved that the C. which is not a clipper,
beat the Witchcraft full six days, and beat the In-
viscible thirteen days.

The second article briefly describes the cyclonic gales in the Philippine Sea that Thorndike and Hooper weathered during the Courser’s voyage.  

Very heavy cyclonic gales were experienced in the China
seas, from the 3d to the 7th of July. The Am ship Courser
encountered one on the 5th, in about lat 18 N, lon 128 E.
The Invincible on the 6th in lat 20 N, lon 119 E.

Thorndike does write to his father in reassurance, “I never was in better health and spirits in my life.” However, he does not mention the betting, race, or the gales. He essentially left all the fun and danger out of his letter to his father. But he dispatched the articles to his Harvard classmates as bragging rights.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 25 July, 2014, 1:00 AM

“For your mutual Happiness and...dedicated to the Public”: The Marriage of John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Adams

In the upcoming volume of Adams Family Correspondence we reach a pivotal moment in Adams family history—the marriage of Louisa Catherine Johnson to John Quincy Adams.

This partnership began quite simply on July 26, 1797. They were married before eleven o’clock in the morning at the Church of All Hallows, Barking, right by the Tower of London and immediately took a tour of country house near London, as JQA reported in his diary entry for the day. Louisa, who kept no diary at the time, wrote in her memoirs nearly thirty years later, and with the knowledge of what was coming quickly around the corner for the newlyweds—the embarrassment of her father’s financial failure—noted it simply, “On the Wednesday 26 of July 1797 I became a bride under as every body thought the happiest auspices—”

Two days after the wedding, the newlyweds sat down to compose a joint letter announcing their marriage to the distant John and Abigail Adams.

John Quincy opened the letter:

I have now the happiness of presenting to you another daughter.... My recommendation of her to your kindness and affection I know will be unnecessary. My sentiment of her merit, will not at this moment especially boast its impartiality, but if there be as I believe an inseparable chain of connection which binds together all the domestic virtues, I have the strongest pledge that she, who has in an amiable and respectable family, adorned the characters of a daughter and Sister, will prove an equal ornament to that of a wife.

Louisa, promising to always act worthily of their “esteem and tenderness,” concluded: “fulfillment of my duties either as wife or daughter, to be respected in these characters, and to meet the approbation of my Husband, and family, is the greatest wish of my heart— Stimulated by these motives (your affection the reward) will prove a sufficient incitement, never to sully the title of subscribing myself your, Dutiful Daughter.”

John Adams replied to the news of his eldest son’s marriage with his blessing: “I congratulate you and your Lady on this Event, which I hope will be for your mutual Happiness and..., for a long Course of years, dedicated to the Public— And may the Blessing of God Almighty be bestowed on this Marriage and all its Connections and Effects.” His blessing on this marriage, one that lasted over fifty years and combined the charm and sociability of Louisa to John Quincy’s dedicated and driven, if sometimes brusque demeanor, was more than fulfilled in the couple serving the public until John Quincy’s death in 1848.



**Image: JQA and LCA’s Marriage Certificate,  26 June 1797, Adams Family Papers.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 23 July, 2014, 1:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

We are back again with the round-up of events in the week to come here at the Society. Like last week, this one is a bit top-heavy and dominated by Brown Bag lunch talks. And here is what is tap.
Starting with Monday, 21 July, there is a Brown Bag lunch talk presented by Brendan Gillis of Indiana University. "Cosmopolitan Parochialism: Magistrates and Imperial Revolution in New England, 1760-1800" investigates how shared assumptions about magisterial authority contributed to the construction of new jurisdictions incorporating non-English lands and peoples. In New England, this British model of local government proved so adaptable that it allowed justices of the peace to assert independence during a period of imperial crisis. This talk is free, open to the public, and begins at 12:00PM.

On Tuesday, 22 July, also at noon, is another Brown Bag lunch talk, this time presented by Jeffrey Egan, University of Connecticut. "Watershed Decisions: Arthur Shurcliff's Vision of the Quabbin Reservoir in Massachusetts, 1922-1945" provides a brief historical overview of the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir in Massachusetts, a massive public-works project that led to the disincorporation of four rural towns in the western poriton of the Commonwealth and radically transformed 39 square miles of land during the 1930s and 1940s. It will then delve into the environmental wordlview and vision of the Quabbin project held by Arthur Shurcliff, the landscape architect employed by the Boston Metropolitan District Commission to reform the grounds surrounding this new, artificial lake. 

The third and final brown bag talk of the week will take place at noon on Wednesday, 23 July. This time, long-term research fellow Jonathan Grinspan, University of Virginia/Jeffersno Scholars Foundation, presents "The Virgin Vote: Young Americans in the Age of Popular Politics." Young people fueled American democracy at its most popular. Between 1840 and 1900, children, youths and young adults turned out at rallies and elections, searching for identity, advancement, and fun. Many viewed the political system as a route to adulthood, during a period of major social instability. At the same time, politicians wooed first-time “virgin voters,” lobbied young women to influence the men in their lives, and recruited children as future partisans. Their interest helped bring about the highest voter turnouts in U.S. history. This project explores this fascinating and forgotten relationship between public politics and personal aspirations.

And on Saturday, 26 July, join us for a free tour of the Society's building on Boylston Street in Boston's Back Bay. "The History and Collections of the MHS" is a 90-minute, docent-led tour of the public spaces in the building. The tour touches on the art, architecture, history, and collections of the Historical Society. The tour is free and open to the public.  No reservation is required for individuals or small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact the MHS prior to attending a tour. For more information please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or

Remember to keep an eye on the Society's online events calendar to see what is coming up in the near future and that our current exhibition, "Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in the First World War" is now on display. The gallery is open Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM - 4:00PM, free of charge. 


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 20 July, 2014, 12:00 PM

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch Diary, Post 34

The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.

Sunday, July 24th, 1864


As to public affairs, - we appear to gain little near Richmond, - Sherman advances successfully in Georgia. Gold has been up to 270 or above it. The president calls for half a million more men, - for one year. The first abortive attempts at negotiation are symptoms which may be followed by something better. The awful sacrifices of the war go on meantime; & among the late losses is that of my friend Hall’s son, of Dorchester, assistant Henry Ware Hall, killed near Atlanta, Georgia. His father bears it heroically.

 Sunday, July 31st


This dreadful war continues its ravages, & the good & the brave fall on both sides. Maria writes me of the death of her cousin Cyprus, - my namesake & godson, - in battle near Marrietta, - fighting in the rebel cause; - & of the Christian firmness & submission with which he met death. ‘How long, O Lord!’

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 18 July, 2014, 1:00 AM

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