This Week @ MHS
The events schedule is full this week. Without further ado, here's a look at what's coming up.
- Monday, 14 November, 6:00PM : Kicking off the week is an author talk featuring Wendy Warren of Princeton University. She will be speaking about her recent book, New England Bound : Slavery and Colonization in Early America, a work that reclaims the lives of long-forgotten enslaved Africans and Native Americans in the seventeenth century. This talk is open to the public with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows), RSVP required. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM followed by the program at 6:00PM.
- Tuesday, 15 November, 5:15PM : This week's Environmental History seminar takes the form of a panel discussion. "Native Peoples, Livestock, and the Environment" features Katrina Lacher of Unversity of Central Oklahoma and Strother Roberts of Bowdoin College, with Nancy Shoemaker of UConn providing comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.
- Wednesday, 16 November, 6:00PM : In the second author talk of the week, Riachard Alan Ryerson discusses his book John Adams's Republic: The One, the Few, and the Many. This talk is open to the public with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows), RSVP required. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM followed by the program at 6:00PM.
Please note that the library is closed on Thursday, 17 November.
- Thursday, 17 November, 6:00PM : Join us for Revolutionary Portraits from the Collections of the MHS, a fun and festive evening that spotlights portraits of Revolutionary-era figures from the Society's collection. Enjoy a reception, view terrific works of art, and learn about the artists and the people they portrayed. Erica Hirshler, MFA, Boston, will present Copley’s John Hancock and David Dearinger, Boston Athenæum, will present Lafayette: Before & After.
Reservations are required; please call the Development Office at 617-646-0543 to register for this event.
- Friday, 18 November, 2:00PM : Stop by on Friday for an afternoon gallery talk with past MHS Director, WIlliam Fowler, Jr., of Northeastern University. In this talk, Mr. Fowler will discuss George Washington's Newburgh Address as a turning point in American History, ensuring civilian control of the government. This even is free and open to the public.
- Saturday, 19 November, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society Tour is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition: Turning Points in American History.
| Published: Sunday, 13 November, 2016, 12:00 AM
Clearing the Seas with Fire and Steam
By Rhonda Barlow, Adams Papers
In the spring of 1787, two men wrote to America’s representative in London recommending naval inventions that they thought would help the United States fight the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean. One of those writers was Andrew Quin, a gunner aboard the Dutch warship, Batavier; the other was Patrick Miller, a Scottish banker and inventor who experimented with cannons, water wheels, and steam power. The American representative just happened to be John Adams, then serving as American minister to Britain.
In his 30 May letter, Andrew Quin recommended that American warships use “burning shot” as effective ammunition against the Barbary pirates, and offered his assistance:
“Sir I am of oppinion if any force was sent out to protect the trade I could be of great service to them. by making a burning shot That whould disstroy them or put them to the flight.”
“Burning shot,” more commonly known as “red-hot shot,” or simply “hot shot,” refers to cannonballs that were heated in a furnace before being loaded into the cannons and fired. These cannonballs not only damaged a ship, but threatened to set it on fire.
Quin also told Adams about his two sons, his financial troubles, and the challenge of emigrating to America. He wrote with a legible hand, and although the words do not rhyme and the sentences flow across the page, he imitated the poetic convention of capitalizing the first letter in each line.
Adams was familiar with the Batavier and with her former captain, Wolter Bentick, who died from the wounds he sustained during the 1781 Battle of the Dogger Bank between the Dutch and British navies. But he had probably never heard of Quin, and this letter appears to be the only letter Quin wrote to John Adams. We have no reply from Adams, and found no evidence that Adams took any action beyond retaining the letter.
In contrast, there are two letters to John Adams from Patrick Miller, who was experimenting with steam propulsion for navigation. With his 14 April 1787 letter, Miller included an essay on naval architecture: Elevation, Section, Plan, and Views of a Triple Vessel (Edinburgh, 1787); and on 30 April, Adams wrote a short note to him:
“I have received the elegant volume you did me the honor to address to me, and shall take the first favorable opportunity to transmit it to Congress at New York, in conformity to your desire.”
Adams took action, forwarding the essay to Congress. On 19 Nov. 1787 Miller wrote to Adams again, and included a report describing his experiment in the Firth of Forth, near Edinburgh, Scotland, on 2 June, when a ship reached speeds of over four miles per hour as five men operated a winch connected to his water wheel. In further experiments, Miller employed a steam engine and achieved speeds of 8 miles per hour.
Miller had already made improvements to a light and effective cannon, the carronade, and wrote that ships outfitted with paddle wheels, and thus capable of propulsion regardless of the lack of wind, were America’s answer to the Barbary pirates:
“Five or six such Ships would clear the Seas of all the African Cruizers.— In Calms or light Winds, very frequent in the Mediterranean Sea during the Summer Months, they would be superiour to any number of Ships of the present Construction of whatever force—”
Adams forwarded Miller’s report to Congress too. Based on Adams’ interactions, Miller’s letters will appear in the Papers of John Adams, volume 19 (Belknap Press, HUP, 2018), and Andrew Quin’s will not. But omitting the letter does not mean that we discard it. Andrew Quin’s original letter remains in the Adams Family Papers archive. You can view the manuscript on the Adams Papers microfilm, reel 370. A rough transcription is freely available on Founders Online.
| Published: Wednesday, 9 November, 2016, 10:58 AM
A Brief Look at 19th-Century Children’s Stories at the MHS
By Brendan Kieran, Reader Services
I initially came across The Carrier Pigeon and Other Tales: Illustrating the Rewards of Virtue and the Punishment of Vice, selected by Mrs. Pamela Chandler Colman (Worcester, 1849), in an effort to find materials relating to pigeons at the MHS. However, I ended up utilizing this collection of children’s stories as a jumping point into a look at children’s literature and children in the 19th-century United States. Through my reading, I began to gain some insight into the roles of children and themes represented in literature during this period.
The titular story of this book is set in the German countryside, seemingly in the medieval or early-modern period. A girl named Agnes comes into contact with a dove, which she decides to take in. Through the advisement of her mother, Othilia, Agnes turns the actions of the dove into lessons for her behavior, becoming a more obedient, hygienic, and organized girl in the process.
One day, a woman named Rosalind and her daughter, Emma, show up at the castle of Sir Theobald (Agnes’s father) looking for help; using her care for the dove as an example, Agnes encourages Theobald to take in the visitors. Later, once Rosalind and Emma have returned to their castle, two men show up at their house; unbeknownst to them, but later discovered by a servant named Leonardo, the men are robbers looking to steal from and murder Theobald and his family. Emma comes up with the idea of flying the dove with a note attached to it to warn Theobald and the family of the motivations of the robbers. Ultimately, it is successful, and the plan is thwarted.
The second story, “Ingratitude,” is about a young girl named Helen and Mrs. Everhold, a woman who takes care of Helen. When Helen’s mother dies, Mrs. Everhold is given responsibility for raising Helen. Everhold tries to teach her skills and a strong work ethic, but Helen decides to act out, eventually turning to working for a baroness and not being there for Everhold when she becomes ill and unable to work. Helen eventually marries a violent and abusive man, and when he dies in an accident, she goes to Mrs. Everhold for help. Helen apologizes for her past actions; going forward, she is good to Mrs. Everhold, who ends up living a long life.
The final story is “The Good Son,” attributed to Rev. E. Mangin. After the death of her husband, a woman and son go to live with another family. The son, after displaying artistic ability, begins to train with a nearby mason. Ultimately, he receives awards for his work, providing new financial stability for himself and his mother. After becoming successful and notable as a sculptor, he continues to be good to his mother, the man who discovered him, and the family with whom he had lived.
All three of these stories have similarities that live up to the subtitle of the book. In “The Carrier Pigeon,” the dove serves as a symbol of virtue, imbued with overt religious connotations; to be like the dove is to be pure and respectful of God. The dove even serves as the means by which Rosalind and Emma are able to save lives. In “Ingratitude,” while Helen is disrespectful for much of the book, she ultimately turns to “proper” behavior toward a woman who took care of her, with suggested positive results for Everhold’s longevity. In “The Good Son,” the boy demonstrates hard work, creativity, and respect for the people who fostered his success. All of the children serve as lessons, indeed, on “the rewards of virtue and the punishment of vice.”
However, the stories do have some notable differences that raise questions regarding the audience of the book and the roles of class, gender, and race in 19th-century children’s literature. For example, the families in “The Carrier Pigeon” seem to be quite wealthy and of the nobility; however, the subjects of the other stories struggle with financial insecurity. There also seems to be an implication that girls are especially in need of lessons regarding proper morality. While the girls in “The Carrier Pigeon” learn lessons through the dove, and Helen in “Ingratitude” only learns good behavior after misfortune hits her, the boy in “The Good Son” seems to be good and respectful all along. It is men (the robbers) who exhibit most of the immorality in “The Carrier Pigeon,” and Helen’s abusive husband in “Ingratitude” is not a model of good behavior, but the process of learning lessons and correcting behavior seems to be more apparent in the women and girls in this book than in the men and boys. Racialized language seems to be a factor in “The Carrier Pigeon,” with the whiteness of both Agnes’s dresses and the dove deployed to represent good morality and cleanliness. This analysis is brief and tentative, but it hopefully notes the potential significance of this resource to scholars of race, class, and gender in 19th-century United States children’s literature.
I consulted our copy of Karen Sánchez-Eppler’s Dependent States: The Child’s Part in Nineteenth-Century American Culture (University of Chicago Press, 2005) in the hopes of learning a bit more about children’s literature in the 19th-century. Sánchez-Eppler offers some conclusions about children and literature of the period. The author notes the role “of teaching morals and forming character” in primers of the period, and notes the “variation on the basis of class, region, gender, and race” in conceptions of childhood in the 19th century, including the connection between leisure and a middle-class living. Sánchez-Eppler also notes the desirability of “submissiveness” for girls in 19th-century temperance literature of the period; the literature suggested – often using references to incest – that these qualities in girls would help their fathers overcome alcoholism and become better people. This literature has class connotations, as well, with children representing middle-class norms in some temperance works. Later, the author draws connections between race and the proper, domesticated behavior of children in 19th-century Sunday School works; these themes served as components of imperialist and colonialist projects. There is much more to Dependent States than what I’ve included here, and Sánchez-Eppler’s scope of analysis is broader than strictly children’s literature, but these ideas offer some insight into the complex roles constructed for children in literature of the period.
The MHS library is open for anyone who would like to view any of our available print materials. In addition, an 1851 copy of this book is available electronically through Internet Archive.
| Published: Monday, 7 November, 2016, 12:00 AM
This Week @ MHS
It is a little bit quieter at the Society this week but we still have three public programs on offer. Here is what is happening:
- Monday, 7 November, 12:00PM : "The Church Militant: The American Loyalist Clergy and the Making of the British Counterrevolution, 1701-92" is a Brown Bag talk presented by Peter Walker of Columbia University. This project is a study of the loyalist Church of England clergy in the American Revolution, focusing on the New England and Mid-Atlantic colonies. Walker attempts to shine light on the relationship between church and empire, the role of religious pluralism and toleration in the American Revolution, and the dynamics of loyalist politics. This program is open to the public free of charge. Pack up a lunch and come on in!
- Thursday, 10 November, 5:30PM : Join us for a Conversation with Fredrik Logevall, part of our Biography Seminar series. Caroly Bundy will moderate the discussion in which Logevall, Harvard University, talks about his current book project, a biography of John F. Kennedy. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.
- Saturday, 12 November, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society Tour is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or email@example.com.
While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition: Turning Points in American History.
N.B.: The MHS is CLOSED on Friday, 11 November, in observance of Veteran's Day.
| Published: Sunday, 6 November, 2016, 12:00 AM
Bringing Willa Home: A Child Displaced by Civil War
By Susan Martin, Collection Services
I’ve written a few times here at the Beehive about manuscripts from the Fay-Mixter family papers, and I’d like to dive into that collection again this week. I was intrigued by four letters from December 1861, so I dug a little deeper and uncovered the story of a family separated by war and a Southern child taken in by Northern friends.
The four letters were written by Edwin Parsons to Joseph Story Fay. Fay, originally from Cambridge, Mass., moved to Savannah, Ga. in 1838 and became a prosperous cotton merchant. He was a slave-owner, but opposed secession, and before the Civil War broke out he returned to his home state of Massachusetts. When these letters were written he lived in Boston with his wife, their three children, and a child unrelated to them, the young daughter of a Mr. Sims.
This passage in Parsons’ first letter to Fay, dated 10 December 1861, was the first thing that caught my eye: “I will advise you in time so that you can send Mr Sims little daughter on.” Parsons continued:
It seems to me however to be a heartless piece of business on Sims part to send for her in such times. With her mother dead & father in Fort Pulaski where he may soon reap the folly of his disloyalty, it will be a sad day for the little girl to exchange the kind care of Mrs Fay, for such a home as awaits her in Georgia.
Fort Pulaski was the vital clue. Among the soldiers stationed at this Savannah garrison in December 1861 was one Capt. (later Col.) Frederick William Sims of the 1st Georgia Infantry. Other details of his biography lined up: his wife Catherine (Sullivan) Sims had died in 1858, followed by one of their two children in 1859, leaving Sims and his nine-year-old daughter Willa. Willa must have been taken in by the Fays in Boston while her father fought for the Confederacy—the disloyalty Parsons alluded to.
Sims wanted his daughter brought back to the South, presumably to live with extended family while he finished out his military service. But Parsons, who apparently acted as a kind of agent for Sims, thought it was a terrible idea. Savannah was like a ghost town after the Battle of Port Royal, and many felt the war would continue for some time. And the possibility of “some hard fighting” in Kentucky after its admission to the Confederacy would make travel difficult, if not impossible. However, on 26 December 1861, when Parsons wrote his fourth and last letter on the subject, the matter was still unresolved.
The last piece of the puzzle was a letter I’d originally passed over, not recognizing the signature. On 14 November 1861, Frederick W. Sims scrawled this short note to Joseph Story Fay on fragile onion-skin paper:
The bearer of this note Mr Briggs will bring Willa home with him. Will you add one more to the many favors already vouchsafed me by fitting her out for the journey. Mr B. has funds[?] to bring her out.
As this may be the last communication which will pass for some time between us I beg you to accept my heartfelt thanks for the Kindness of yourself and Mrs Fay and believe me when I wish you a long life and prosperity.
Fort Pulaski was captured by Union forces in April 1862, and Sims became a POW, later paroled. After the war, he worked as a merchant and insurance executive in Savannah and served as one of the city’s alderman from 1867-1869. He had at least six more children with his second wife, Sarah (Munroe) Sims, but most of them died young. According to newspapers, in 1875, suffering under severe financial difficulties, Sims committed suicide with a morphine overdose. The coroner’s report lists the belongings he left behind: $20.90 in coin, a gold watch and chain, clothing, and a revolver.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find out what happened to Willa after 1861. No other papers in the Fay-Mixter collection refer to her. The obituary of Sarah (Munroe) Sims, who died in 1904, identifies only two surviving children, Emily and Elizabeth.
| Published: Wednesday, 2 November, 2016, 12:00 AM