The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

"Three Generations Have Advanced in a Century" : From John Adams to Charles Francis Adams II

            On October 31, 1835, John Adams’ grandson Charles Francis Adams, along with his wife, Abigail Brooks Adams, had their second son, Charles Francis Adams 2d, baptized at their home in the presence of John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Adams and other close family members. Born in May, the day for the christening had been specially chosen—the centennial of John Adams’ birth. While John Adams’ birthday is recognized as October 30 in the new style Gregorian calendar, John Quincy Adams erroneously believed that the date should be recognized on the 31st and convinced Charles Francis to hold the baptism on that date.

            Charles Francis Adams, who often reflected on his place within his illustrious family, noted the occasion in his diary:

“It was a little singular that a child of mine should be christened just one hundred years from the birth of his great grandfather. Three generations have advanced in a century. May the last who is carrying the name of the family into the next be as honest, as determined and as a conscientious as the first. I trust in a power above us which has for reasons unknown thought fit to make among us instruments for advancing the power, the honor and the prosperity of this Nation, and whose decrees are always just and always wise. My feelings always overpower me when I reflect how unworthy I am. Prosperity has been showered upon me. May I learn to deserve it!”

            John Quincy Adams also linked the events in his diary: “This day is the centurial anniversary of my fathers birth. . . . He was born of Parents in humble life, and has left an illustrious name, for his descendants to sustain by virtues like his own. May it please the disposer of all Events that his great grandson this day devoted to the service of God and man may enjoy as long, as useful and as prosperous a life.”

            The prayers of the father and grandfather were indeed answered in Charles Francis Adams 2d (1835–1915), who was a distinguished Union Army officer, railroad executive, historian, and biographer. Along with these many achievements, Charles Francis served as president of the Massachusetts Historical Society and selected the spot on the Fens Park where the MHS now resides. He was also instrumental in the creation of the Adams Manuscript Trust and the deposit of the Adams Family Papers at the Society, thereby assuring the preservation and propagation of his great grandfather’s legacy and that of the entire family.

            For more on the collection, preservation, and dissemination of the family’s manuscripts and the origins of the Adams Papers Editorial Project, see the introduction to the Diary and Autobiography of John Adams.



comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 28 October, 2015, 2:16 PM

This Week @ MHS

On Tuesday, 27 October, stop by at 5:15PM for a seminar from the Immigration and Urban History series. Luis Jimenez of the University of Massachusetts - Boston will speak about "Immigration, Race, and the Tea Party Movement," looking at the extent to which racial anxiety played a factor in the formation of the movement. Theda Skocpol of Harvard Universiy provides comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

Next up is a Brown Bag lunch talk that focuses on the founding father of the Society. Come in on Wednesday, 28 October, for "Jeremy Belknap, Missionary: Religion, History, and the Founding of the MHS," a chapter in an upcoming book by Abram Van Engen, Washington University, which asks why institutions like the MHS and New York Historical Society came into existence in the first place and what role religious belief may have played. The talk begins at noon and is free and open to the public. 

Also on Wednesday is the second event in the Transforming Boston series. This panel discussion, titled "Connecting the Communities Back to the City, 1960-1990" begins at 6:00PM, with a pre-talk reception starting at 5:30PM. This event is sold out.

Please note that on Wednesday, 28 October, the library reading room will close at 3:30PM in preparation for the evening's event. The reference area and microfilm collections will remain accessible until 4:45PM.

And on Thursday, 29 October, the Society will host an event to announce the recipient of the Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize. The evening will begin with a reception at 5:30 PM and will be followed at 6:00 PM by the presentation of the award and a talk by the author. Seating is limited and registration is required at no cost. RSVP by October 22.

Finally, on Saturday, come on in for a free tour of the Society. "The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society" is a 90-minute, docent-led tour of the MHS' historic building at 1154 Boylston St. No reservations necessary for individuals or small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley in advance at 617-646-0508 or





comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 25 October, 2015, 12:00 AM

How the Sausage Is Made: The Process of Processing

I’ve written many posts at the Beehive highlighting specific items, stories, and people from our collections that captured my attention, but it occurs to me that readers of our blog may be interested in a bigger picture of the work we do here. This week, I’d like to offer a behind-the-scenes look at how a collection is processed—or, as we say in Collections Services, how the sausage is made.

The responsibilities of the MHS Collections Services department include everything from the acquisition of new material to processing, preservation, and digitization. It’s the job of a manuscript processor like me to make collections both physically accessible and intellectually coherent to researchers, what archivists refer to as “arrangement and description.”

This can be challenging, to say the least. Collections come to us in all shapes, sizes, and conditions. Think of the way you keep your personal files at home or on your computer. You may know where things are, but would anyone else be able to figure it out? Are items arranged chronologically? Do folder labels really reflect the folders’ contents? How do the files relate to each other? When we’re talking about historical documents, often passed down through generations, potential problems multiply. Items may be in poor condition, undated, unidentified, basically a mess. For example:



This carton contains hundreds of letters folded up in their original envelopes and in no discernible order, as well as rusty staples, paper clips, and who knows what else. (Hair, leaves, dead insects—we’ve found them all!) These papers can’t be used by researchers like this. Each letter will need to be unfolded and arranged chronologically in acid-free boxes and folders for access and long-term preservation. It’s a very time-consuming job. A finished collection ends up looking something like this:



At the same time this physical work is being done, the processor will also need to make some intellectual sense of the material, scanning the letters carefully but quickly to determine who the authors and recipients are and what topics they discuss. The collection will be described in ABIGAIL, our online catalog, with headings for people, places, organizations, events, subjects, etc.

Good cataloging is vital because it’s our description that directs researchers to a specific collection. Experienced archivists have developed both subject knowledge and professional instincts that help them make informed judgments about the context and importance of a collection. What makes the papers historically significant? What possible avenues of research might bring someone to see them?

When you look at one of our catalog records, you may notice many slightly different permutations of the same topic. For example, papers of the director of Boston’s Children’s Hospital during the peak of the U.S. polio epidemic might be described by any or all of the following subject headings (and then some):

Children’s Hospital (Boston, Mass.).


Children—Health and hygiene.


Hospital administrators.




This may seem redundant, but there’s a method to the madness. What headings are useful depends on a researcher’s particular area of interest. Is he or she doing work on the specific hospital, children’s hospitals, Boston hospitals, hospital administration, polio, general childhood health?

Catalog records for manuscript collections have to be written from scratch because each collection is unique. No two archivists will describe the same papers the same way. Hundreds of our collections here at the MHS are also described more fully in online guides, which allow us to go into more detail about groups or “series” of papers and to indicate where specific material is located. Our guides are fully searchable, and more and more people are finding us through online search engines.

Manuscript processing is fundamental to all the work done at the MHS. Every other function of the library, from research to digitization, exhibit planning, even blogging, would not be possible without it. We’re constantly refining our catalog records and collection guides, and we’re still making discoveries in collections that have lived on our shelves for years. Our researchers are a great resource, bringing their subject knowledge to bear to fill gaps…and to catch our mistakes!


comments: 2 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 21 October, 2015, 1:35 PM

This Week @ MHS

We're taking a breath this week at the Society and the schedule is a bit lighter, but there is still plenty to take in to fill your history fix. 

On Wednesday, 21 October, join us for a public conversation. In "The Two Worlds of Erastus Hopkins," authors Bruce Laurie and Anne Emerson will read and discuss their separate works that are united by their focus on a common historical figure. The talk is open to the public with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members) and registration is required. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM and the talk begins at 6:00PM. 

And on Saturday, 24 October, we have a special event. Join us from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM for this special event and see the 2004 Red Sox World Series Trophy alongside a one-day display featuring the Society’s 1912 Red Sox medal and other baseball artifacts from its collections. Visitors are invited to take pictures with the trophy. 

Also on Saturday we have our weekly free tour, the History and Collections of the MHS. This 90-minute, docent-led talk is free and open to the public. No need for reservations for individuals or small groups, but parties of 8 or more should contact Art Curator Anne Bentley in advance, at 617-646-0508 or

Finally, don't forget to come in and see our current exhibitions. Free to the public, our galleries are open Mon.-Sat., 10:00AM-4:00PM. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 18 October, 2015, 12:00 AM

New Titles in the MHS Library’s Reference Collection

Here in the MHS library it is always a pleasure to see the fruits of scholarly labor pursued in our reading room come back to us as the form of publications hot off the presses. In recent months, we have been delighted to add a number of titles to our collection gifted to us by their authors.



The following recently-published titles have been cataloged and are now available for use as part of our reference collection:

Amestoy, Jeffrey L. Slavish Shore: The Odyssey of Richard Henry Dana Jr. (Harvard University Press, 2015).

Balik, Shelby. Rally the Scattered Believers: Northern New England’s Religious Geography (Indiana University Press, 2014).

Berry, Stephen. A Path in the Mighty Waters : Shipboard Life & Atlantic Crossings to the New World (Yale University Press, 2015).

Blanck, Emily. Tyrannicide: Forging an American Law of Slavery in Revolutionary South Carolina and Massachusetts (University of Georgia Press, 2014).

Fisher, Julie A. and David J. Silverman. Ninigret, Sachem of the Niantics and Narragansetts : Diplomacy, War, and the Balance of Power in Seventeenth-century New England and Indian Country (Cornell University Press, 2014).

Gaskill, Malcolm. Between Two Worlds : how the English became Americans (New York: Basic Books, 2014).

Hodes, Martha. Mourning Lincoln (Yale University Press, 2015).

Kopelson, Heather Miyano. Faithful Bodies: Performing Religion and Race in the Puritan Atlantic (New York University Press, 2014).

Morrison, Dane. True Yankees: Sea Captains, the South Seas, and the Discovery of American Identity (Johns Hopkins, 2014).

Researchers are welcome to visit the MHS library during our regular business hours to consult these and other titles. If you are an author who has written a work drawing on research done at the MHS, we invite you to send a copy of your book to the Reference Librarian for inclusion in the Society’s collection. 


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 16 October, 2015, 8:10 AM

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