The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Untangling North Atlantic Fishing, 1764-1910, Part 2: Anglo-American Treaties regarding the Fishery, 1783-1818


As discussed in a prior post, Great Britain previously held claim to the fish in the North Atlantic. American negotiators successfully secured the right to fish the North Atlantic in the post-Revolution negotiations at Paris in 1783:

It is agreed that the People of the United States shall continue to enjoy unmolested the Right to take Fish of every kind on the Grand Bank and on all the other Banks of Newfoundland, also in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and at all other Places in the Sea, where the Inhabitants of both Countries used at any time heretofore to fish … American Fishermen shall have Liberty to dry and cure Fish in any of the unsettled Bays, Harbors, and Creeks of Nova Scotia, Magdalen Islands, and Labrador.

As you can see, successful treaty negotiations in 1783 allowed the Americans to retain the right to fish in the region, and also to use British North American coastal lands for drying and curing, allowing them to better preserve their catches.

Yet, British impressment continued despite the stipulation that United States citizens “continue to enjoy unmolested the right to take fish.”  British maritime strength relied on the ability to force able seamen of any nation into service to fight its wars and replace the dead and deserters. Well aware of the injustice of the practice, the United States House of Representatives submitted a report entitled Legislative Provision Necessary for the Relief of American Seamen Impressed into the Service of Foreign Powers on 25 February 1796. The report’s proposals were twofold: relieve impressed seamen and provide documentation of citizenship. The House committee promoted “a provision for support of two or more agents, to be appointed by the Executive, and sent, the one to Great Britain, the other to such places in the West-Indies, where the greatest number of British ships of war may resort, and to continue there for such time as the President may deem necessary.” This plan did not cease the practice of impressment. British economic sanctions against the United States and increasing American outrage regarding impressment led to the War of 1812.

Following the British victory, the Treaty of Ghent in 1814 reversed much of the previous agreement regarding fishing rights made in 1783. Chief negotiator John Quincy Adams, Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin, and statesmen Henry Clay, James A. Bayard, and Jonathan Russell met with Lord James Gambier, Doctor William Adams, and Under Secretary of State Henry Goulburn in Ghent, Belgium in 1814 to negotiate a peace. The British vied for retention of gains made during the war while Americans held fast to pre-war boundaries and rights. In manuscript copies of Henry Goulburn’s correspondence held at MHS, the British negotiator outlines the important topics for discussion: British maritime rights, Indian protection, establishing borders, and fishing rights. While the third article of the Treaty of Ghent stipulated the restoration of prisoners of war, the British retained the right to impress men into maritime service.

Anglo-American land and sea disputes may have continued ad nauseam without the circumstances and consequential agreements following the War of 1812. The end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 reduced British impressment of American seamen. The Rush-Bagot Treaty of 1817 restricted naval armaments from the Great Lakes and Lake Champlain. The Treaty of 1818 resulted in the solidification of the 49th parallel as the northern land boundary between the United States and British North America. The British confirmed the United States’ right to fish the coast of Newfoundland, Magdalen Islands, and Labrador and to dry and cure in unsettled Newfoundland and Labrador. In exchange, “the United States hereby renounce for ever, any Liberty heretofore enjoyed or claimed by the Inhabitants thereof, to take, dry, or cure Fish on, or within three marine Miles of any of the Coasts, Bays, Creeks, or Harbours of His Britannic Majesty’s Dominions in America.” These agreements established important borders that remain today. This middle ground agreement between Great Britain and the United States held for nearly two decades before resuming contestation.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 3 April, 2015, 1:00 AM

“More fool than Knave”: Dr. George Logan and the Logan Act

Over the last few weeks the Logan Act, a bill passed by Congress and signed by President John Adams in late January 1799 has been widely discussed in the national news. Here at the Adams Papers, work has just begun on Adams Family Correspondence, volume 13, in which Dr. George Logan, whose actions provoked this legislation, is a major topic of conversation for the Adamses on both sides of the Atlantic.

In September 1798, tensions between France and the United States were running high. The specter of war loomed large as the revelation of France’s bribery attempt in the XYZ Affair and continued attacks on American vessels led to a buildup of American armed and naval forces with growing chants of “millions for defense, but not a sixpence for tribute.” It was in this climate that from their place in Berlin, John Quincy and Thomas Boylston Adams reported on the arrival of Logan in Europe. John Quincy detailed that Logan was claiming to be an envoy representing the Democratic-Republican Party, which opposed John Adams’s administration. At first refused a passport into France, Logan continued to represent himself as officially representing the United States while waiting in the Netherlands, and was eventually granted permission to enter France and given audiences with members of the French government to discuss the differences between the two nations. Thomas summarized his views on Logan—“a villain & a traitor to his Country.”

After Logan returned to the United States in November, he met with President Adams to discuss what he had learned from his meetings with the French government and to convince Adams that the French had peaceful intentions. Abigail’s nephew, William Smith Shaw, serving as John’s secretary, reported to the First Lady, who had remained in Quincy: “[Logan] then said, that he had just come from France and that he had the pleasure to inform the president that the directory had altered their conduct respecting America and had become more pacifick. Why then, said the president, have they not repealed their decrees against our commerce? here Logan stammered and said they were making preparations to do it.” John next asked if Logan believed that France would faithfully maintain a new treaty with the US, and he answered affirmatively claiming “the firm and united conduct of the Americans had proved to the directory the impolicy of their conduct.” Shaw reported that this response made John “burst into a broad laugh.” Adams continued his questioning, as Logan became increasingly uncomfortable until he “seemed to want some lurking place like the Turtle to draw in his head and to hide his face.” From this report, Abigail ultimately concluded in a letter to her husband that Logan was “more fool than Knave.”

Whether fool or knave, hero or villain, the Federalist controlled Congress had no patience with his meddling and passed the act prohibiting unauthorized private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments on behalf of the United States. The law has been in force ever since.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 1 April, 2015, 1:00 AM

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch Diary, Post 42

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

Thursday, March 2d.

Thank God for the triumphant progress of the Union arms, the occupation of Savannah, Columbia, Charleston, and Wilmington.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Tuesday, 31 March, 2015, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

On Tuesday, 31 March, come in at 5:15PM for an Early American History Seminar called "Frontiers and Geopolitics of Early America." This installment is presented by Patrick Spero of Williams College with Kate Grandjean, Wellesley College, providing comment. The seminar is free and open to the public though an RSVP is required. You can also subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers. 

Then, on Wednesday, 1 April, pack a lunch and come by at noon for a Brown Bag talk given by Krista Kinslow of Boston Univesity. Ms. Kinslow will discuss her current research project, "Contesting the Centennial: Civil War Memory at the 1876 World's Fair." As always, this brown bag talk is free and open to the public and starts at 12:00PM. No fooling!

Also on Wednesday, 1 April, is the second installment in the Lincoln & the Legacy of Conflict Series. Join us as author and editor Richard Brookhiser presents "Founders' Son: A Portrait of Abraham Lincoln," the title of his newest book. Registration is required for this event with a fee of $20 (no charge for Fellows and Members). The events begins at 6:00PM with a pre-talk reception starting at 5:30PM. 

On Thursday, 2 April, is the next Biography Seminar, this time featuring Dave Sobel, author of Longitude and Galileo's Daughter, in conversation with Susan Ware. The seminar is free and open to the public though an RSVP is required. You can also subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers. The program begins at 5:30PM. 

And on Saturday, 4 April, we have two items on the calendar. First is our weekly tour, the History and Collections of the MHSa 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 abentley@masshist.orgWhile you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition, "God Save the People!” which explores events leading up to the American Revolution.

Finally, on Saturday afternoon, starting at 1:00PM is "Begin at the Beginning: Boston's Founding Documents." This is the second of our lively MHS/Partnership of Historic Bostons co-hosted discussions, this time focusing on John Winthrop's journal. The discussion is open to all, though the discussion group is limited to 15; available on a first come first served basis. Links to the documents are available at the registration site. (Registration for this discussion group is coordinated by the Partnership of Historic Bostons).

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 29 March, 2015, 12:00 AM

The Unstoppable Anna Maria Mead Chalmers

As a manuscript processor here at the MHS, I have the opportunity to meet new people every day. Well, okay, most of them died a long time ago, but that doesn't make them any less interesting! One of the best parts of processing and cataloging a new collection is getting to know the personal stories behind the letters, diaries, and other papers. I almost always uncover something unexpected.

Case in point: a small collection recently donated to the MHS consists primarily of letters written by Sarah Louisa “Louly” (Hickman) Smith to her sister Anna Maria. Now, I knew that Louly had become a published poet in her teens before her untimely death at the age of 20, and her letters reveal a remarkable young woman. But I was also curious about Anna Maria. The collection contains letters written to her, but none by her, so she seemed more elusive.

The first clue I had about her life was her name. She was born Anna Maria Campbell Hickman on 23 July 1809. Simple enough so far, but it gets trickier. She married three times (and outlived all her husbands): first a Mr. Otis, then Mr. Mead, and finally Mr. Chalmers. For those of you at home keeping score, that would make her Anna Maria Campbell Hickman Otis Mead Chalmers. (She's generally referred to as Anna Maria Mead Chalmers.)

The more I learned about Anna Maria's life, the more interesting it became. Originally from Newton, Mass., she studied under some of the best teachers in the Boston area and spent a year with an aunt and uncle in Savannah, Ga. before marrying a young Boston lawyer named George Alexander Otis, Jr. in Feb. 1830. Unfortunately her husband died of consumption the following year when their son was only seven months old. George’s death was followed closely by that of her beloved sister Louly on 12 Feb. 1832.

In the mid-1830s, Anna Maria lived in Newton with her mother and young son (her father had died in 1824) and wrote several children's books for the American Sunday-School Union. She met and married the Rev. Zachariah Mead, a Virginian, moving with him to Richmond in 1837. The couple had two sons and a daughter: Edward C., William Z., and Anna Louisa Mead. Zachariah died (also of consumption) on 27 Nov. 1840, and Anna Maria, still just 31 years old, was now twice widowed and the mother of four young children.

For about a year, she took over Zachariah's editorship of the Southern Churchman, to which she had often contributed, before selling the paper and embarking on arguably the most significant chapter of her life. On 4 Oct. 1841, she opened a boarding school for girls in Richmond, which she would run for 12 years to great acclaim. During her tenure, hundreds of girls were educated in subjects as wide-ranging as history, literature, theology, the sciences, mathematics, languages, music, art, etc., all in accordance with Christian principles. An 1842 advertisement in the Southern Literary Messenger described the school’s mission this way: “to form the female character for its high duties here and its still higher destination hereafter.” Anna Maria also continued to write devotional fiction and articles.

Tragedy struck again when her youngest child and only daughter, three-year-old Anna Louisa Mead, died on 4 Dec. 1843. Her mother followed four years later. So, by the 1850s, Anna Maria had buried her parents, her sister, two husbands, and a daughter. She retired as schoolmistress of “Mrs. Mead's School” and, on 3 Jan. 1856, at the age of 46, married her third husband, David Chalmers. He was a widower and a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, and he owned a large Halifax County plantation.

As a wealthy planter, David Chalmers was, unsurprisingly, a slave owner, and Anna Maria became “a true Virginia matron.” How did she feel about the South's so-called “peculiar institution”? According to her son Edward in his comprehensive 1893 biography, she opposed slavery and often spoke out against it, but took no active part in the fight for abolition. She preferred to leave the matter to God. And while her husband advocated secession, she dreaded the coming war between the states. With very good reason, it turned out: the Civil War would find her with one son serving in the Union army, another in the Confederate army, and all of her northern property under threat of confiscation.

Her oldest son, George Alexander Otis (1830-1881), was a surgeon with the 27th Massachusetts Volunteers and the U.S. Volunteers. Her third and youngest son, William Zachariah Mead (1838-1864), fought for the Confederacy and was killed on 14 May 1864 in the Battle of Resaca, Ga. 

Anna Maria traveled north in 1863 to protect her property there and stayed in New York until the end of the war. In 1865, she returned to Virginia, where she would spend years helping the poor, educating freed slaves, and writing. She died on 8 Dec. 1891, outliving her third husband by 16 years and her oldest son George by ten, and survived by only one of her children, Edward Campbell Mead (1837-1908).

In her 82 years of life, Anna Maria Mead Chalmers was many things: a writer, an editor, a teacher, a philanthropist; a sister, a mother, and the wife (and widow) of a lawyer, a minister, and a farmer; a Northerner and a Southerner. It's remarkable to find so much of American history all rolled up into one person!


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 25 March, 2015, 1:00 AM

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