The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Harry Adams Hersey’s Bike Ride: Creating a Digital Map from a Nineteenth-Century Travel Diary

When spring arrives in Boston, bicycles return to the streets. No longer are two-wheelers limited to intrepid all-weather cyclists bundled up in scarves, hats, and gloves, navigating their way around ice, snow and potholes -- now riders young and old can strap on a helmet, jump on a bike (perhaps borrowed from Hubway?) and set off across the city -- or further! -- in search of adventure.

As I have written previously here at the Beehive, we modern-day cyclists follow in the path of a trailblazing generation of “wheelmen” (and women) who popularized bicycle riding in America during the late nineteenth century. Many Bostonians were enthusiastic early adopters of the bicycle, including a young Dorchester piano tuner named Harry Adams Hersey (1870-1950). In July 1892, the twenty-two year old set off to ride from Dorchester, Massachusetts, to Boothbay, Maine. He was accompanied to York, Maine, by his cousin Fred Howard and two friends, Arthur Newhall and Fred Ducette. He chronicled the adventure in a diary that he later circulated to friends and family as a “descriptive letter” of his travels. He writes about the weather and the state of the roads, the tourist sights visited, and where the friends found food and shelter.

Consulting this diary in our reading room recently, I was struck by the number of geographic locations Hershey mentions in his brief account. Using the free online tool Mapbox, I created an interactive map sharing quotations from the diary, as transcribed by his daughter, Helen, in the 1990s, mapped onto the locations which the diary describes. Thus, readers can follow Hersey’s journey, geographically as well as narratively, as he moves northward from his Dorchester home to the wilds of coastal Maine.


Seven years after his cycling vacation, Harry Hersey became engaged to a schoolteacher named Lottie May Champlain, shortly after his ordination to the ministry. The couple married in 1906, and raised four children while Hersey served Universalist congregations in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, New York, and Indiana.

According to his daughter Helen, Hersey rode over 100,000 miles over the course of his lifetime, “without a major accident,” riding his bicycle both for pleasure and parish business. Hersey died in 1950 in Somerville, Massachusetts, only three years after completing an ambitious bicycle trip on the coast of California. Helen Hersey Dick donated her father’s memoirs and accompanying photographs to the MHS in the 1990s, where they and her transcripts can be accessed in the Society’s reading room.

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

This Week @ MHS

The Society is CLOSED on Monday, 21 April, in observance of Patriot's Day. Enjoy the Marathon!

Please note that the Tell It With Pride teacher workshop, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday, 22-23 April, is CANCELLED.

Despite a shortened week and a cancellation there are still plenty of reasons to stop by the MHS this week and indulge in some public programming!

On Wednesday, 23 April, beginning at noon is a Brown Bag lunch talk given by Marie Stango of the University of Michigan. "'Pious Females' and 'Good Schools': Transnational Networks of Education in Nineteenth-Century Liberia" examines the networks of men and women who helped support education efforts in the American settlements in Liberia, West Africa. These philanthropists, many of them based in Massachusetts, helped establish formal and informal schools in the former American colonies and planned for a college, which opened for classes as Liberia College (now the University of Liberia) in 1863. How did these American sponsors manage an institution over four thousand miles away? This talk is free and open to the public so pack a lunch and come on by!

And on Wednesday evening is a special public program beginning at 6:00PM in which Mitchell L. Adams will speak about his great-grandfather, "Dr. Zabdiel Boylston Adams: Surgeon & Soldier for the Union." The Civil War was a watershed and a defining period in the life of Zabdiel Boylston Adams, an 1853 graduate of the Harvard Medical School. On 2 July 1863 the doctor set up a makeshift hospital close to the field of battle. Having noticed how many soldiers were dying during transport from combat to distant medical care, Adams pioneered on-site medical treatments. He labored so long in surgeries at Gettysburg that he was nearly blinded with exhaustion. At the Battle of the Wilderness Adams was severely wounded. Captured by Confederate forces, his shattered left leg useless and gangrenous, he treated himself by pouring pure nitric acid into his wounds, a treatment that must have been as excruciating as it was efficacious. Dr. Adams was a man at the nexus of two distinguished New England families at a particularly dramatic moment in history. Registration is required for this program at no cost. To Reserve: Click here to register online, or call the MHS reservations line at 617-646-0560. Pre-Talk reception begins at 5:30PM.

Then, on Friday, 25 April, there will be an afternoon Gallery Talk beginning at 2:00PM. Staff members from the Museum of African American History will be on hand to discuss items featured in the Society's current exhibition Tell It with Pride. This event is free and open to the public.  

And on Saturday, 26 April, come by at 10:00AM for The History and Collections of the MHS, a 90-minute docent-led tour of the Society's home at 1154 Boylston Street. This free tour explores the public spaces of the building and touches on the art, architecture, history, and collections of the MHS. 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


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

This Week @ MHS

On Tuesday, 15 April, Gloria Whiting of Harvard University presents "'How can the wife submit?' African Families Negotiate Gender and Slavery in New England." This seminar is part of the History of Women and Gender series and is rescheduled from 13 February 2014. Whiting's paper discusses the various ways in which the everyday realities of slavery shaped gender relations in Afro-New England families. While the structure of slave families in the region was unusually matrifocal, these families nonetheless exhibited a number of patriarchal tendencies. Enslaved African families in New England therefore complicate the assumption of much scholarship that the structure of slave families defined their normative values. Barbara Krauthamer of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, will provide comment. Please note that this seminar takes place at the Schlesinger Library and begins at 5:30PM. Be sure to RSVP for this program by emailing or phoning 617-646-0568.

And on Friday, 18 April, stop by the Society at 2:00PM for a free gallery talk as Samantha Anderson of Northeastern University presents "The Battles of the 54th: Norther Racism and the Unequal Pay Crisis." When Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew proposed to raise the first military unit consisting of black soldiers during the Civil War, he was assured by Secretary of War Edwin Stanton that the men would be paid, clothed, and treated in the same way as white troops. As the recruiting posters and newspaper advertisements stated, this included a state bounty and a monthly pay of $13. In July of 1863, an order was issued in Washington fixing the compensation of black soldiers at the laborers' rate of $10 per month. This amount was offered on several occasions to the men of the 54th, but was continually refused. Governor Andrew and the Massachusetts legislature, feeling responsible for the $3 discrepancy in pay promised to the troops, passed an act in November of 1863 providing the difference from state funds. The men refused to accept this resolution, however, demanding that they receive full soldier pay from the federal government.

Learn more about this pay controversy, and how it was resolved, through items on display in our current exhibition Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Shaw Memorial.

Finally, please note that the Society is closed on Monday, 21 April, in observance of Patriot's Day. Normal hours will resume on Tuesday, 22 April.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 13 April, 2014, 12:00 PM

Answers to Questions of Chinese Script, 1801

In a prior blog post, "Chinese Hanzi Characters in 1801," I wondered what message the Chinese script on the verso of the 30 July 1801 letter from Captain Samuel Barrett Edes of the snow Pacific Trader to American merchant Sullivan Dorr expressed. Last month, to my great surprise, I received two separate e-mails regarding the script.

The first correspondent, professional Chinese translator Ye Aiyun, graciously gave me a direct translation of the Chinese characters:


[This letter] is to the Sixin Grocery Store at Stoning Street in Canton, and the store will send it to Dorr of the flower flag country (United States of America). If Dorr writes back, his letter will be sent to Canton in the same way. This letter should arrive at Macao on [September] 22nd and back to Canton on the 23rd.  If the foreigner [does not have a letter to send back in return], the store will just leave it [alone]. The postage is two dollars, and [the people in] Macao have paid one dollar.

Ye's translation confirmed my first assumption about the script.  It definitely gives directions for delivery of the letter to Sullivan Dorr.

Paul A. Van Dyke, professor at Sun Yat-sen University in Canton, China, and former Benjamin F. Stevens fellow at the MHS, also wrote concerning the Chinese script. Van Dyke gave me further context for the letter:

"The address on this envelope is to Sullivan Dorr's residence in Canton, which was in the Thirteen Factories area. It is clear from the Chinese inscription that this [letter] was sent to the Thirteen hong district 十三行。 The confusion comes in the name of the street Zao Shi Street (鑿石街) which does not exist on any maps [of which] I am aware. And the name of the building Si Xing Ban Guan (泗興办館) is also very strange and appears in [none of the] listings of the buildings in this district. In short, we know all of the Chinese names of the streets and buildings in this district at this time and these names do not appear."

Yet another mystery arises from this letter! Van Dyke explained that perhaps this address is a small undocumented alley within the American Factory, a trading post that American Consul Samuel Shaw constructed and Sullivan Dorr, at one time, managed. Responding to my previous post, Van Dyke also addressed my final query concerning who might have written this note. He stated that Chinese compradors (provision purveyors), pilots, linguists, and merchants were generally literate, so any one of them could have written the instructions for delivery.

Thank you to my generous correspondents Ye Aiyun and Paul A. Van Dyke for their answers to my questions. Do you have any additional information to contribute to this conversation? Please leave a comment on the blog or feel free to e-mail me.

comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 9 April, 2014, 8:28 AM

This Week @ MHS

The Red Sox are back in town, increasing foot traffic around the Society. This week, though, is a quiet one at the MHS, with only two events on the schedule.

If you are headed to Fenway Park on Tuesday, 8 April, why not stop by the MHS on the way for a free seminar? Starting at 5:15PM, Jonathan Anzalone of Stony Brook University presents "A Mountain in Winter: Wilderness Politics, Economic Development, and the Transformation of Whiteface Mountain into a Modern Ski Center, 1932-1980." Comment provided by Jim O'Connell, National Park Service. This seminar - part of the Environmental History series - examines the development of Whiteface Mountian as a skiing spot with the broader context of the Adirondack Park's transformation into a playground for the masses. Wilderness politics, class divisions, and the vicissitudes of nature combined to frustrate administrators and strain their relationship with business leaders, winter sports enthusiasts, and wilderness advocates. The debate sheds brighter light on disparate interpretations of modern recreation and economic development. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

On Saturday, 12 April, there will be a free tour that is open to the public. The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute docent-led tour of the Society's home at 1154 Boylston Street. The tour explores all of the public space in the building, touching on the history, art, architecture, and collections of the Society. No reservation 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

Finally, remember to visit the MHS soon to see the current exhibition, "Tell It With Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus-Saint Gaudens' Shaw Memorial." This exhibit, organized by the National Gallery of Art (NGA) in Washington, D.C., is open to the public Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM, through 23 May.




comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 6 April, 2014, 12:00 PM

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