“My whole mind is at home”: The Letters of Civil War Sharpshooter Moses Hill, Part 2
By Susan Martin, Collection Services
A few weeks ago, I introduced you to Moses Hill of the 1st Massachusetts Sharpshooters, whose letters form part of the Frank Irving Howe, Jr. family papers. When we left Moses, in January 1862, his company was traveling along the C&O Canal. Unfortunately, weather and camp conditions were very poor, and illness became a major problem. Moses wrote to his wife Eliza: “I do not dred a Battle so much as I do sickness.” And with good reason: many soldiers died from typhoid and other diseases that winter.
However, each Union victory renewed Moses’ hope that the war would end soon and he would be home with his family by spring. His two children were growing fast. 13-year-old Lucina was now 5 feet and 1 inch tall, and Moses was impressed with the letters he received from her. The proud father bragged:
I think Lucina must of improved very much at school for she wrote me the best letter that she ever wrote before. I could not of believed she wrote so well as she wrote in that letter. I must say it was the best wrote letter that I have received since I left home.
His son George, or “Bub,” had been just two years old when his father left for the war, and Moses longed to see “the little fellow.” He drew pictures for Bub at the bottom of his letters, mostly rabbits, roosters, and other animals. In March 1862, Eliza sent him a photograph of their son, which he cherished:
I found a letter here when I got back to Camp. I found a great preasant in it. I found bubs picture. It is every thing to me. I shall kiss it every time I get a chance.
Moses’ homesickness is palpable. The separation from his family was both an emotional and a physical pain. And although the collection contains very few of the letters they sent to him, it's clear the feeling was mutual. He assured his wife:
Dear Eliza you wrote that you dremped that I come home and I did not take any notice of you. Your Dream will never come to pass for if I come home or live to come home, and do not take notice of you and family I am mistaken. I think of home as much as you do of me and I think more. Why should I not out here in virginia. I think I ought to....You do not know what war is.
Moses had begun his military service, if not with enthusiasm, at least with optimism. But by March 1862, he had already taken part in many battles, and the war was taking its toll. He wrote: “I am sick of it. I want to come home I asure you but here we are.” On 27 Mar. 1862, the 1st Massachusetts Sharpshooters left for Yorktown, Va., where they would play a pivotal role in the month-long siege that spring. Please check back at the Beehive for the next installment of Moses Hill’s story.
| Published: Thursday, 2 May, 2013, 1:00 AM
Harbottle Dorr Launched
By Peter Steinberg, Collection Services
The Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) holds an important collection of Revolutionary-era newspapers assembled, annotated, and indexed by a Bostonian shopkeeper named Harbottle Dorr, Jr. The Society has just launched a digital presentation of this collection. Dorr's index terms and annotations offer a fascinating glimpse into his perspective and reactions to events, issues, and people discussed in newspapers of his time.
On Monday, 27 August 2012, I posted on The Idiosyncratic Index Subjects of Harbottle Dorr, Jr. In that blog post, I highlighted some of the more quirky index entries from Volumes 1 and 2 of the Harbottle Dorr, Jr. Annotated Newspapers collection, and also mentioned that a second posting would be forthcoming. Were you holding your breath? The wait is over! You can exhale now.
Cold Water, the Pernicious effects of drinking too much in hot weather &c. 212
Dogs Mad, Symptoms of 11
Drowned Persons Recover’d 638
Earth opening & swallowing Person's at Quebec 601
Mcdougal Capt. presented with venison (in Prison) 50
Rum Danger of drawing it by candlelight 192
Speaker of the House of Commons in Great Britain Sir John Cust died because the House would not let him go to ease the Calls of Nature; They Alter that Custom 85
Tea, Ladies of Boston sign not to drink any vid. Under Agreement 31.
Thunder Terrible, Broke on a Magazine & produced terrible Consequences. 418.
Auctioneer put up the Ministry for sale. 470.
America of what vast importance to Great Britain: the extent of it: will be the greatest Empire in the World: the King of Great Britain in time it's probable will fix his empire there, & great Britain become dependant on her, &c. 148.
Denmark Queen of, imprisoned (for attempting to poison the King.) with her paramour, &c. 52.
Deposition of John Mills, respecting a Tar Barrel put on the Beacon. 328.
Goal never intended as a place of Punishment. 24.
Giant at Hingham. 194.
Gun Powder Since found out, mens lives have been preserved, & c, & c, * 891.
Herculaneum City of in Naples, discovered, after being 1700 years buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius. 77.
Hillsborough Lord, on his intended resignation: a miserable wretched Creature. 164
Lemmons, wine, &c: a great hardship, to oblige the Americans to enter them in England. 198.
Snow, will make Puddings in the Room of Eggs. 223.
The indexes are now all transcribed and encoded, and available on the new website (www.masshist.org/dorr). The MHS has worked hard to make it as easy to use as possible, and are confident you will find the images stunningly clear and, while Harbottle Dorr, Jr. did have very good handwriting, we hope that the transcriptions provided will be accurate and helpful.
Since I have your attention, perhaps you will allow a sidebar? We are not yet presenting on the website transcriptions of the annotations from the newspaper issues themselves, but in working with the newspapers and their digital surrogates, we noticed from time to time humorous marginal commentary. Here is one such annotation that Dorr made to a speech by "his Excellency Sir Francis Bernard," which was published in The Boston Evening-Post from 3 June 1765. It is in Volume 1, numbered by Dorr page 95: "This Speech the House did not Answer, perhaps they did not understand it. Who could?"
Not thinking myself better than Dorr, I have endeavored to read and understand Bernard's Speech. Bernard begins by admitting, "I have no Orders from his Majesty to communicate to you; nor any thing to offer myself but what relates to your internal Policy: I shall therefore take this Opportunity to point out such domestic Business as more immediately deserves your attention." I take this that the gentlemen of the council were hijacked – as you are right now by me – by Bernard's ego! The rest of the speech is on Bernard's desire to see an increased production and export of "Pot-Ash, Hemp and the carrying Lumber to the British Markets."
Harbottle adds another personal opinion on two of Bernard statements in this same speech:
"The general Settlement of the American Provinces, which has been long ago proposed, and now probably will be prosecuted to its utmost Completion, must necessarily produce some Regulations, which, from their Novelty only, will appear disagreeable"
"In an Empire, extended and diversified as that of Great-Britain, there must be a supreme Legislature, to which all other Powers must be subordinate."
To these Dorr writes, "Now the Wolf shews himself notwithstanding his Sheeps Cloathing."
| Published: Wednesday, 1 May, 2013, 1:00 AM
This Week @ MHS
As the spring rolls on and we enter a new month it will be a busier week here at the MHS with plenty of public programs to take part in. First on the list is a rare Sunday program happening on 28 April 2013. Join Jayne Gordon, MHS Director of Education and Public Programs, for an afternoon walking tour in Concord, MA. "Authors & Abolitionists" is a leisurely two-mile walk that explores the involvement of authors and Concord-residents like Emerson, Thoreau, and the Alcotts and their neighbors in antislavery efforts in Concord, hotbed of 19th-century abolitionist sentiment, and beyond. The walk, starting at 2:00pm, begins and ends at the Concord train depot and is coordinated with the Sunday train schedule. Walk leader Jayne Gordon is a resident of Concord who has worked at many of the town's historic site and teaches the Concord history course required of all town guides. Registration Required. Fee $25/$15 (F/M); Free for MHS Fund Giving Circle members. Light refreshments included. For more information contact the education department at 508-577-4599 / email@example.com.
Next up, stop by the MHS on Tuesday, 30 April, for the next installment in the Immigration and Urban History Seminar series. This panel discussion, "19th-century Immigration, Nativism, and Politics" will focus on two papers. Mimi Cowan of Boston College highlights the ways in which participation in volunteer military groups sometimes helped immigrants combat nativism and, at other times, fueled nativists' concerns about foreigners in her paper "Honorable Citizens: Ethnic Militias in Chicago, 1855-1879." "African American and Irish Political Coalitions in Boston, Massachusetts, 1881-1890," by Millington Bergeson-Lockwood, George Mason University, identifies three areas where African Americans and Irish immigrants established coalitions and laid claim to participation in the founding events of the United States as well as a histori resistance to oppression. Comment in this discussion provided by Evelyn Stern, University of Rhode Island. This program is free and open to the public, though RSVP is required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers. Discussion begins at 5:15pm.
Two events will happen on May Day this week. First, on Wednesday, pack a lunch and hit the MHS at noon for one of our Brown Bag Lunch talks. This week, Katelyn Crawford of the University of Virginia will present "Transient Painters, Traveling Canvases: Portraiture and mobility in the British Atlantic, 1750-1780." Ms. Crawford's project examines the paintings and portraitists working within the 18th-century British Atlantic world to demonstrate the impact of mobility on artistic practice and portraiture on identiy construction. She considers a network of about ten portraitists, the canvases they produce, and the travel of both individiuals and images throughout the British Atlantic and identifies a shift in the construction of artistic communities ans artists took to the sea. Her project reveals visual convergences and divergences that illustrate the development of regional identities within imperial conventions. This event is free and open to the public.
And on Wednesday evening, 1 May, head over to the Coolidge Corner Theatre, 290 Harvard St. in Brookline at 6:00pm for an MHS-sponsored author talk with Nathaniel Philbrick. The bestselling author of Mayflower and In the Heart of the Sea turns his attention toward the story of the first major battle of the American Revolution in his new book "Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution." This book explores this, the bloodiest battle of the coming Revolution and the point of no return for the colonists in rebellion. Mr. Philbrick is a New York Times bestselling author, recipient of the National Book Award, and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. This event is co-sponsored with Brookline Booksmith and will take place at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline. For directions, please visit http://www.coolidge.org/. Tickets are available from the Brookline Booksmith and are $5 per person.Please visit brooklinebooksmith.com/tickets or call 617-566-6660 to reserve your space. When you purchase the book, you receive one free ticket and the option to purchase a second ticket for $5.
Finally, on Friday, 3 May 2013, MHS Librarian Peter Drummey will present an exhibition spotlight, "The Three Lives of Anthony Burns." This program will explore the heroic, and tragic, life of Anthony Burns through documents on display at the Society. Who was Anthony Burns? How was his rendition - his return from Boston to slavery in 1854 - a turning point in the Abolitionist stuggle? What happened to him after he was free and his celebrity faded? Come by the MHS at 2:00pm to hear the answers to these questions. And while you are here, be sure to check out the three complementary exhibitions currently on display until May 24.
| Published: Saturday, 27 April, 2013, 1:10 PM
Fenway Garden Society: From Victory Gardens to Historic Landmark
By Emilie Haertsch, Publications
When the United States entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the nation’s food resources were already stretched thin. Once operating at a surplus, U.S. farmers were sending a large portion of their crops overseas to aid the Allies and alleviate the growing food shortage in Europe. With U.S. troops heading to war, there was an ever greater demand for food as only well-fed soldiers could serve at full strength.
In response to the increasing need for food, the U.S. government implemented the Food Rationing Program in 1942, which called on U.S. citizens to conserve their food consumption and avoid waste. In conjunction with rationing, the government also asked civilians to plant “Victory Gardens” and consume the produce they grew. The slogan “Food For Freedom,” originally coined during World War I, was repurposed to great effect.
There is evidence of this very garden movement in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood today. Among the 49 areas obtained for gardens by the Boston Victory Garden Committee, one large plot was established in what is now known as the Back Bay Fens. Area community members could apply for their own plots to aid the war effort, and receive instruction if they were novice gardeners. In order to encourage better gardening and crop yield, Victory Gardeners also held contests and exhibitions.
The gardens remained in this form until the war was drawing to a close and the need for food rationing in the U.S. lessened. In 1944, a group of plot-holding gardeners who feared losing usage of the land assembled with the goal of continuing their urban gardening beyond the war. They established the Fenway Garden Society, and the MHS has their papers in its collections.
The Fenway Garden Society held its first meeting on 15 October 1944, with 23 members in attendance. According to the meeting notes, the society’s object was to “promote the planting and growing of vegetables for home usage.” The society continued to be part of the war effort into 1945, when Chester Bowes of the War Food Administration in Washington, D.C., “wrote stating more food would be necessary.” However, by 1946 the National Victory Garden Commission had dissolved and the society shifted its focus to the general benefits of gardening.
They continued to hold contests to encourage good gardening, giving out small cash prizes and the coveted gold star to winners. They also wrote open letters to gardeners to encourage them to become involved in the society’s work and promote knowledge of gardening.
The Fenway Garden Society often faced an uphill battle in maintaining the piece of land used for the garden plots in what continues to be a highly desirable part of Boston. In one of their first open letters in 1946 they referenced “a petition asking for the gardens for this year, and expressing appreciation for them in the past” and encouraged prospective and current gardeners to sign. There would be many more occasions when the society’s members would have to advocate to maintain their land. Throughout the years, attempts have been made to build hospitals, schools, and parking lots on that land, and it has only been through the Fenway Garden Society’s efforts, and media and legislative support, that the community gardens have remained.
Today the Fenway Victory Gardens are a Boston Historic Landmark. The Fenway Garden Society still exists today and tends the same land in the Fens, which now consists of 500 individual plots cultivated by a diverse group of gardeners.
| Published: Wednesday, 24 April, 2013, 1:00 AM
This Week @ MHS
After a very strange week here in Boston last week it appears that things are returning to normal. The Society was forced to cancel a couple of public programs last week. Stay tuned for information about rescheduling of last Tuesday's Immigration and Urban History Seminar, "Dynamic Tensions: Charles Atlas, Immigrant Bodybuilders, and Eugenics, 1920-45."
Perhaps appropriately, this week is also light on the public programs at the MHS as Boston returns to a regular schedule.On Friday, 26 April, the Society will sponsor a Bus Trip to the Museum of World War II, a special event for Members of the MHS Fund Paine through Adams Circles, part of the MHS Local Travel Series. Participants will enjoy a special lunch and behind-the-scenes tour of the the Museum of World War II with founder and director Kenneth Rendell. The museum houses the most comprehensive collection of World War II artifacts on display anywhere in the world. A bus will leave from the MHS at 11am and return by 5pm. Space is limited and RSVP is required, with a fee of $50. For more information or to register, contact Katy Capó at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-656-0518.
And as usual, the three current exhibitions on display at the Society are available for public viewing, free of charge, Monday-Saturday, 10:00am-4:00pm. Be sure to stop by and check them out.
| Published: Monday, 22 April, 2013, 1:00 AM