The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

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Book Review: "The Palatine Wreck: The Legend of the New England Ghost Ship"


For nearly three centuries, stories of a burning ghost ship haunted the residents of Block Island, Rhode Island. Although it is unknown what it was witnesses have seen, the origin of “The Palatine Light” tells a different tale then the one passed down through popular culture. The Palatine Wreck: The Legend of the New England Ghost Ship by Jill Farinelli examines how the legend developed from the wreck of the Princess Augusta and explores how legends can emerge from public memory. By examining surviving letters of passengers, notarial records, and newspaper accounts of merchant ships, Farinelli was able to piece together a narrative of the Princess Augusta’s final journey in 1738 (xv-xvii). Further information on witnessed accounts of the ghost ship and surviving artifacts of the shipwreck was provided by Block Island’s historians. Jill Farinelli has worked as a freelance writer and editor for twenty-five years in Boston, Massachusetts. The Palatine Wreck is her first work of historical non-fiction.

In January 1867, the poet John Greenleaf Whittier published a poem titled “The Palatine” in the Atlantic Monthly. Based on a tale he heard from a friend, the poem was the first to launch the legend of “The Palatine Light” into mainstream society (158).

"The Palatine Light, from an illustration in the Providence Evening Bulletin, September 12, 1933. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library."

For still, on many a moonless night,

From Kingston Head and from Montauk light

The spectre kindles and burns in sight.


Now low and dim, now clear and higher,

Leaps up the terrible Ghost of Fire,

Then, slowly sinking, the flames expire.


And the wise Sound skippers, though skies be fine,

Reef their sails when they see the sign

Of the blazing wreck of the Palatine!


"They burned the wreck of the Palatine."

The origin of the Palatine Light legend began in 1738. Palatines, a name given to the people who resided in regions along the Rhine of modern-day Germany, began emigrating in vast numbers in the early 18th-century. As Farinelli examines, over 6,500 emigrants made their way to the British colonies in 1738 alone in hopes of a better economic opportunity in the Pennsylvania colony (169). Unfortunately, the 1738 sailing season would be one of the deadliest in history, with a death rate of 35 percent. Massive storms in the Atlantic and ill-preparation for numerous overcrowded ships were to blame. The Princess Augusta departed from Rotterdam in June 1738 with an estimated 340 passengers. While only 68 would survive the journey across the Atlantic, it was the ship’s destruction within the sandbanks of Block Island that brought wide-spread attention to the voyage.

Farinelli explores how such a common story captivated the public’s mind in final section of the book. Why was the Princess Augusta the event to be immortalized? One idea Farinelli explores is the rise of the Spiritualist Movement in the 19th century. People became interested in the paranormal and were simply captivated by stories believed to be started by the ship’s survivors, allowing them to remain popular amongst New Englanders (144-145). While Farinelli and other researchers are unsure what exactly caused the illusion of a burning ship, the legend has been embraced by many New Englanders.

"Map of Block Island.

Map: Patti Isaacs, 45th Parallel Maps and Infographics."

Farinelli’s research on the works of 19th-century New England writers, interviews with local Block Island historians, and years of researching Palatine emigration allows The Palatine Wreck to work as a case study for how history can transform itself into legend. A mixture of human tragedy fueled by the national rise in Spiritualism sparked interest amongst artists, who used the legend within their own fictional works. Whittier may have been the most famous example, but a number of writers had interpreted the event in their own ways. The emergence of Spiritualism sparked interest in these types of tales, combined with increased tourism in Block Island. At the end, Farinelli points out that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

In the end it doesn’t matter whether the Palatine Light is a phantom, a figment, or a floating mass of dinoflagellates. Because the light has become an integral part of the legend, its reappearances has served a continual reminder of the tale. Without it, the Princess Augusta and its many passengers lost to the sea, would be lost to history as well. (152).

This book may be of particular interest to those who study transatlantic migration, German migration, and the development of public memory. Local New England residents who are familiar with the tale of “The Palatine Light” may also be interested, as the book provides a thorough background to the incident. The Massachusetts Historical Society holds a number of collections that complement the themes of this book including Palatine migration, transatlantic history, spiritualism, and maritime culture: 



Depositions of officers of the Palatine ship Princess Augusta, 1939

The Palatine, or, German immigration to New York and Pennsylvania, 1897

John Erving logbooks, 1727-1730

Log of the Brigantine Dolphin, 1732-1734


Printed Material

Early eighteenth century Palatine emigration: a British Government Redempitioner Project to Manufacture Naval Stores by Walter Allen Knittle [Philadelphia: S.N., 1936]

Boston in the Golden Age of Spiritualism: Séances, Mediums, and Immortality by Dee Morris [Charleston, SC: History Press, 2014]


To work with these materials, or any other collections at the MHS, consider Visiting the Library!


[Updated, 5 March 2018, to include images.]

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 2 March, 2018, 3:58 PM

“He has been the great landmark of my life”: CFA on JQA’s death and legacy.

On a drizzly February morning in 1848, Charles Francis Adams, son of John Quincy Adams, walked into his Boston office. As he reached his desk, Adams noticed a telegraph that communicated that his father “whilst in his seat at the House of Representatives at half past one o’clock was taken in another fit of paralysis and that it was not thought he could survive the day,” CFA wrote in his diary. Adams was on the next train south.

Charles Francis Adams, Photogravure, from "Portraits of American Abolitionists," MHS.


Delays prevented Adams from making his connection to Philadelphia. As he waited for the next train, Adams began reading the book his wife had sent with him, Jane Eyre. That night, February 23rd, he anxiously read a newspaper that had reports from 11 p.m. on the 22nd that John Quincy “lingered.”

The next morning, while on the train to Baltimore, Charles Francis opened that day’s paper.

The first thing I saw was the announcement that at a quarter past seven last night my father had ceased to breathe. . . . Here then it is in all its reality— I have no longer a Father.

After another short layover in Baltimore, Charles Francis reached his parents’ home in Washington, D.C. He went straight upstairs to comfort his mother, Louisa Catherine. Charles Francis sat with her until it was time to go to bed.

She then told me she had no place to put me in but his room— And I went to it, just as he had left it on Monday morning: Yes there was his table and chair, his papers and writing materials, his bed and all his materials for his late sick life. And the animating spirit was not there and I was.

Charles Francis got little sleep.

The next day, his mother was “in a low, fainting state all day, and utterly unable to say any thing.” After a morning of greeting acquaintances and thanking them for their condolences, Charles Francis traveled to the House. He was ushered through crowds to the coffin, where he was left alone. “And here I was to take my last look upon one to whom for forty years I had been looking for support and aid and encouragement!” Charles Francis studied his father’s face through a glass pane and considered his future responsibilities. Poignantly, Adams reflected that he was “alone in the generation,” as his two older brothers and younger sister had all already passed away. He shed a few tears before returning to the committee room to discuss arrangements “until every nerve in me quivered.”

His mother being too unwell to attend, Charles Francis represented his family at the funeral. As he stood on the steps of the Capitol waiting for his carriage, he felt acutely the curious eyes of gawkers and resolutely stared ahead, reflecting on his father’s influence. “He has been the great landmark of my life,” Charles Francis wrote. “My stay and companion.” As he descended the stairs and climbed into the carriage, Adams prepared himself to become the Adams patriarch. “For the future I must walk alone and others must lean on me.”


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 23 February, 2018, 12:00 AM

When the Harlem Renaissance Meets Jim Crow

Your reference to the southerners regard, or rather, disregard of the Negro [--] I experienced a rather amusing incident a few weeks ago.




This passage comes from a letter written by African-American artist Meta Warrick Fuller on 5 January 1928 and recently acquired by the MHS. Fuller’s correspondent was Marion Colvin Deane, a white Canadian woman who worked at Virginia’s historically black Hampton Institute. Deane was an avid collector of autographs, particularly those of famous black writers, artists, educators, intellectuals, and activists. She wrote to Fuller, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Walter F. White, and many others soliciting autographs for her collection.

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (1877-1968) was an accomplished and acclaimed black sculptor associated with the Harlem Renaissance, though her work spanned the decades both before and after that era. Born in Philadelphia, her early artistic promise was nurtured by her family, and she studied art in Philadelphia before traveling to France in 1899 to attend the Académie Colarossi and the École des Beaux-Arts. In France, she met and was mentored by Auguste Rodin. Her work was exhibited alongside older and more established contemporaries like John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt, and she would go to win many commissions and awards over her lifetime.

In 1928, when Marion C. Deane wrote to her, Fuller was living in Framingham, Mass. with her husband Solomon Carter Fuller and their three sons. She worked in her own private studio behind the house.

Fuller began her reply to Deane by apologizing for her handwriting and thanking Deane for “the kind interest and regard – may I be worthy of them.” Then, in response to a comment by Deane on Southern racial animosity, she described a recent “amusing incident” on a Framingham bus. Returning from a shopping trip and finding the bus crowded, Fuller opted to sit in the back, although for her this was “contrary to custom.” From there, she overheard “a youngish sort of woman”—a white woman presumably visiting from the South—talking to a friend.

I could still hear the conversation – she spoke of how strange it seemed to see colored people mingling with white people – in schools – restaurants and the like – she would go out if one sat down at a table with her – it didn’t seem right.


And what was Fuller’s reaction? Maybe not what you’d expect.

It all impressed me as very funny – and mischief got the better of me – I wrote on a slip of paper ‘God made man of one flesh[.]’ I rolled it up, and as I passed on my way out dropped it in her lap. I was convulsed at the expression of surprise when she saw what I had done, but I left the car before she had time to read it. I have not since seen the woman with whom she was talking but I am curious to know what she did after reading it.


The MHS currently holds no other papers of Meta Warrick Fuller, so this letter is a very welcome addition to our collection. It’s also a fascinating record of racial attitudes in the years between the Plessy v. Ferguson “separate but equal” decision and the height of the civil rights movement in America.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 16 February, 2018, 9:48 AM

Fetched from the Stacks : "Every breed of dog known"

Well, maybe that title is a little bit ambitious. But, in recognition of the 142nd annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show – taking place this weekend – today we are looking at collections items featuring canines, particularly images of dogs that are in the stacks here at the MHS (the images, not the dogs). 

In 1845, Sir John Franklin, English rear admiral and explorer, led an expedition in search of the Northwest Passage. However, his journey met with disaster and, three years later, the remains of he and his crew were found in the Canadian Arctic.1 Of the several search and rescue missions put together to find Franklin and his men, one was carried out by the H.M.S. Enterprise and included some four-legged crew members.

"Daddy," the Esquimaux dog of H. M. S. "Enterprise," sent in search of Sir John Franklin.

According to a bit of text that is alongside the above image

The intelligence of the Esquimaux dogs, and their utility, is well known. The portrait of "Daddy" represents a faithful companion of Captain Collinson, who accompanied him 2000 miles, and of whom many anecdotes might be narrated; but one of the most interesting attaches to a dog of Capt. Penny, "Sultan," who saved the life of one of Sir John Ross' men who had indulged too freely on a visit to the Felix, when in winter quarters. The man alluded to was found by Sultan floundering in the snow at midnight, and, by his repeated intimations of something having occurred, induced some of the men to leave the ship and follow him to the spot. A few minutes more and life would have been extinct.


The following images have much less information to go along with them, but you can click on the links to see what we know.

Boxser. [graphic]


High life : from the picture in the Vernon Gallery [graphic] / E. Landseer, R. A. painter ; H. Beckwith engraver


Dog [graphic]


Fox-hunting, p. 1 / [graphic] Howitt in et f.


First aid / [graphic] Diana Thorne


Finally, we can connect all of this to another recent post published here on the Beehive. A few weeks ago we learned a bit about the famed showman P. T. Barnum, his lavish estate called Iranistan, and how he managed to attract the Swedish Nightingale, Jenny Lind, to perform in America. [See: “No Mere Adventurer…”]

Today, we probably associate Barnum most closely with the rise of the traveling circus, but did you know he also dabbled in dog shows? 


Small broadside advertising "A Great National Dog Show."


As manager of Boston's Aquarial Gardens, Barnum arranged for a six-day show, "including every breed of dog known," with prize money going to the top two or three finishers in each category. Those who did not finish in the top tier were given "elegantly engraved Diplomas" as evidence of the quality of their canines. Among the various breeds and classes to be judged at this event were Newfoundlands, Pointers, Coach Dogs, and Esquimaux Dogs (just like "Daddy"). Below is an example of a prize diploma. 

An elegantly engraved Diploma, "Awarded by the judges to S. Hammond Esq. for his Blenheim Spaniel."


Based on the information provided in the advertisement above, Mr. Hammond stood to win $10 for his best-specimen spaniel. However, the last page of the three-page ad also lays out some stipulations from Mr. Barnum. To wit: 

Should the Manager desire to retain the Cash Premium Dogs on exhibition from and including June 23rd until and including Saturday June 28th, he shall have the right to do so, he continuing to provide the proper care, food and water for the Dogs FREE, and continuing to admit exhibitors of said dogs free during the time above specified.

Ever the entrepreneur and showman, it makes sense that Barnum would retain the right to attract more viewers for these prize-winning dogs. Cash paid is cash earned, I suppose. 


These are just a few examples of animal illustrations available here at the MHS. Try searching our online catalog, ABIGAIL, to see what else you can find, then consider Visiting the Library to work with material in our reading room!


1. "Sir John Franklin," Encyclopaedia Britannica, Accessed 2018-02-10 at https://www/


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 10 February, 2018, 4:15 PM

Barbara Hillard Smith’s Diary, January 1918

A new year means a new serialized diary here at The Beehive, where for the past three years we have showcased a diary from the collections written one hundred years ago (you can read the 2015, 2016, and 2017 series in our archives!). This year’s diary was transcribed by intern Lindsay Bina.


The diary for 2018 is a tiny line-a-day diary kept by teenager Barbara Hillard Smith. Smith was born on 16 July 1903 and was fourteen in January of 1918 when she began keeping her diary. Before she began to record her daily activities, Barbara carefully completed the “Identification” page in the front of the diary, noting that her weight was 126, her height 5 feet, 6 ½ inches, her shoe size a 7, her hosiery 10 ½, and her gloves 6 ¼. Her telephone number was Newton West 193-M and her physician was an H.W. Godfrey. She was a student at Newton High School.

Image from The Newtonian (1920) yearbook. Barbara was captain of her basketball team senior year and is depicted in the center holding a basketball.


Without further ado, we bring you January 1918 through the eyes of a Newton teenager.

* * *

TUES. 1                      JAN., 1918 NEW YEAR’S DAY

Muriel’s. Skating at Bulloughs. Women Club Play


WED. 2

Went over to Aunt Mabels.


THUR. 3      

Mother went to New York. Aunt Mabels.


FRI. 4

Aunt Mabels


SAT. 5

Aunt Mabels


SUN. 6

Came home


MON. 7

School. Took care of the baby.



School. Basket Ball.


WED. 9

Sick with cold. Peg hurt her back


THUR. 10

Sick with cold. Had Dr. Godfrey.


FRI. 11

Cold Better. Mother came home


SAT. 12

In the house. Down street.


SUN. 13

Church. Sunday School. Service flag unfurled. Skating in back yard. Sick


MON. 14

School. Stayed for algebra. Pegs skating


TUES. 15

School. Stayed for geometry. Pegs.


WED. 16

School. Stayed for French. Skating in front yard.


THUR. 17

School. Skating at Pegs. Concert at the Seminary


FRI. 18

School. Down to Rosa’s. Watched swimming class.


SAT. 19

Shampoo at Miss Mitchells. Sewed on my dress. Down town


SUN. 20

Sunday School. Hung around


MON. 21

School. Took care of the baby.


TUES. 22

School. Basketball. up to Mrs. Reed’s


WED. 23

School. Took care of baby.


THUR. 24

School. Basketball


FRI. 25

School. Camp Fire. Swimming.


SAT. 26

Skating with Mrs. Moody. Pegs. Mother Carey’s Chickens.


SUN. 27

Church. S.S. Skating at Pegs. [Havene] here. Fell down and hurt my back


MON. 28

Home with my back. Felt kind of weak


TUES. 29

Home with my back. Took care of sonny. Father died.


WED. 30

School. Took care of sonny.


THUR. 31

School. Basket Ball. Symphony and Mischa Elman.


* * *

If you are interested in viewing the diary in person in our library or have other questions about the collection, please visit the library or contact a member of the library staff for further assistance.


 *Please note that the diary transcription is a rough-and-ready version, not an authoritative transcript. Researchers wishing to use the diary in the course of their own work should verify the version found here with the manuscript original. The catalog record for the Barbara Hillard Smith collection may be found here.



comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 31 January, 2018, 12:00 AM

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