Who is J. Gibbs?
By Susan Martin, Collection Services
The Massachusetts Historical Society recently received a donation of William Gray Brooks family papers, primarily correspondence on genealogical subjects. It’s a terrific collection of letters from some of the leading lights of the 19th century, including Charles Francis Adams, Edward Everett, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Eliza Susan Quincy, and many others. This new acquisition complements other MHS collections related to Brooks and his family.
I was intrigued, however, by additional material that came to us as part of the collection, namely 22 issues of a family “newspaper” called “The One Hoss Shay.” The newspapers were handwritten by J. Gibbs of Brookline, Mass. and reproduced on a hectograph.
“The One Hoss Shay” contains light-hearted poems, stories, illustrations, jokes, announcements, reviews, etc., written by Gibbs and others, and it makes for some very fun reading. Here’s one of the better limericks:
There was a young man of Bombay
Excessively fond of croquet,
But when he got beat,
He would beat a retreat
And show himself no more that day.
Sandwiched between articles are editorial asides by Gibbs.
We wish to apologise for the condition of our hectograph, which absolutely refuses to print well. We are not responsible for it’s [sic] freaks.
If the “Shay” should chance to seem too local for general interest, we call attention to the fact that the more we heard from elsewhere, the more foreign news could be introduced. (Hint.)
Who was the mysterious J. Gibbs of Brookline? Unfortunately, the “Shay” provides very few clues. She was a “Miss,” and I eventually found her first name: Julia. The newspapers were written between 1886-1888, which probably meant she was born in the 1860s or early 1870s. Her family apparently summered in Marion, Mass. These were the only biographical details I could find or infer.
I guessed that because the newspapers accompanied the Brooks letters, and because some Brooks family members are mentioned in Julia’s articles, she may have been a relative. It was easy enough to find Brooks genealogies, given how famous the family is. (William Gray Brooks’ son Phillips, for example, was one of Boston’s most renowned clergymen.) But there was no sign of a Gibbs among William’s siblings or cousins or their children or grandchildren.
I went back to the collection for more information and noticed a reference to “Harriette Brooks Hawkins (Mrs. Hubert A.) […] (a granddaughter of W.G.B.).” Born in 1881, Harriette was the daughter of William’s youngest son John Cotton Brooks and his wife Harriette Hall (Lovett) Brooks. She owned the Brooks letters in 1935, but had she also owned the newspapers? Did she have a connection to Julia Gibbs?
Armed with a few more keywords, I took one last crack at an online search for Julia and finally found her: Julia de Wolf Gibbs (1866-1952), later Mrs. Addison. The name was right, the age was right, and the location was right—she is buried in Marion, Mass. So what was her connection to Harriette and/or William Gray Brooks? I got my answer when I identified her parents: Julia’s mother was Anne (or Anna) de Wolf (Lovett) Gibbs. Her mother and Harriette’s mother were sisters.
Out of curiosity, I searched our catalog for Julia and was excited to learn that she later became not only a published author…
But also a designer of metalwork, ornamentation, etc. Some photographs of her work appear in one of our collections.
“The One Hoss Shay” was the brainchild of a creative young woman at the start of her career. Julia apparently took the title of her newspaper from Oliver Wendell Holmes’ 1858 poem “The Deacon’s Masterpiece, or the Wonderful ‘One-Hoss Shay’: A Logical Story.” In her third issue, she wrote that she and her aunt Harriette attended Holmes’ recitation of the poem at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre. This was her one-line review: “Our Patron Poet was quite at his best.”
(Incidentally, Julia’s future husband also earned a passing mention in one issue: “Rev. Daniel Dulany Addison is in Washington.”)
I’d be remiss if I didn’t say more about the newspaper’s impressive illustrations. Some were drawn by Julia herself, such as the seated girl on the right side of the first image above. Others were contributed by another of her cousins, “our popular artist, Mr. C. Dana Gibson.” If that name sounds familiar to you, it’s because Charles Dana Gibson went on to become one of the most popular illustrators in America and creator of the iconic turn-of-the-century Gibson Girl. He designed the letterhead for the “Shay” and provided drawings like this one:
Scene, a crowded horse-car. (Stout old man.) "Come, sonny, get up & give the lady your seat." (Small Boy.) "Get up yourself, & give her two!"
For more about Gibson, I recommend the 1936 biography Portrait of an Era, which contains hundreds of his beautiful illustrations.
| Published: Wednesday, 20 September, 2017, 12:00 AM
John Quincy Adams and the Education of a “Warrior Patriot”
By Rhonda Barlow, Adams Papers
When President John Quincy Adams delivered his first annual message to Congress on December 6, 1825, he noted that “the want of a naval school of instruction, corresponding with the Military Academy at West Point, for the formation of scientific and accomplished officers, is felt with daily increasing aggravation.” But Congress was not sufficiently aggravated to establish a school. Because young naval officers could learn to handle a ship only at sea, it seemed reasonable for all their education to be conducted aboard ship.
On December 4, 1827, Adams gave his third annual message to Congress, and for the third time, recommended the establishment of a naval academy similar to West Point, which Thomas Jefferson had established twenty-five years earlier. But this time, Adams explained his view of naval education in detail.
Adams held high standards for the “enquiring minds” of “the youths who devote their lives to the service of their country upon the ocean.” In his 1827 message, he explained that the academy he envisioned needed teachers, books, equipment, and a permanent location on shore. Subjects should include not only shipbuilding, math, and astronomy, but also literature, “which can place our officers on a level of polished education with the officers of other maritime nations,” and knowledge of foreign laws. As a former diplomat, and secretary of state from 1817 to 1825, Adams recognized that naval officers were a special class of American ambassadors.
But this combined scientific, technical, and liberal education was not enough. “Above all,” Adams continued, a young naval officer needed to learn “principles of honour and Justice” and “higher obligations of morals.” For John Quincy Adams, an American naval officer was a “Warrior Patriot,” equipped with a moral education that distinguished him from a mere pirate.
An entry in Adams’ Diary, made a few days after his 1827 speech, sheds light on his understanding of the role of morality in officer education. In his Diary, Adams reflected on the court martial of Master Commander William Carter for drunkenness.
Although he was reluctant to end Carter’s naval career, he wrote that “such enormous evils from intemperance demanded a signal example.” While intoxicated, the master commander twice was guilty of giving orders that almost caused the ship to founder, endangering both the valuable warship and her crew. On another occasion, he had been rude to a British officer. On another, he had engaged in disorderly conduct on shore, observed by, among others, a British officer. Adams’ Diary reveals that moral education was about self-control and responsibility, and the reputation of America’s fledgling navy abroad, especially among the British, whose Royal Navy was the envy of the world.
Adams failed to convince Congress to establish a naval academy. But eighteen years later, Adams, then a congressman, met with George Bancroft, the new secretary of the navy. In his Diary, Adams recorded that Bancroft “professes great zeal to make something of his Department.” A few months later, on October 10, 1845, Bancroft opened the Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD.
| Published: Monday, 18 September, 2017, 12:00 AM
“An Amusing Journey”: John Quincy Adams Explores Silesia
By Hobson Woodward, Adams Papers
On 17 July 1800 John Quincy Adams and his wife Louisa Catherine embarked on an extended tour of Silesia, now southwest Poland. John Quincy chronicled their tour in a series of letters to his brother Thomas in the United States. The letters provide a rich description of a European excursion at the dawn of the nineteenth century. They also provide a rare look at a relaxed John Quincy Adams, unfettered by the demands of his diplomatic duties in Berlin.
John Quincy Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams, 20 July 1800, letterbook copy (Adams family papers, Massachusetts Historical Society)
John Quincy prefaced his first letter to Thomas by advising him to send his correspondence to their mother Abigail if his extended descriptions of the Silesian countryside and people proved a bore:
I cannot promise you an amusing journey, though I hope it will prove so to us; & if at the sight of this my first letter on this occasion, you think it looks too long, & appears likely to prove tiresome, seal it up, unread, & send it to Quincy, where a mother’s heart will fill it with all the interest of which it may be destitute in itself
Thomas Boylston Adams to John Quincy Adams, 15 January 1801 (Adams family papers, Massachusetts Historical Society)
Thomas found the letters anything but boring, however, and he was so entranced that he gave them to a newspaper editor friend for publication. John Quincy graciously accepted their printing for the public, even though he had not been told in advance. He was less happy when the articles were later published in an unauthorized 1801 London edition.
John Quincy’s travel accounts are indeed vivid. In a 3 August letter he described an ascent of a mountain near Schreiberhau (now Szklarska Poreba, Poland). The hike began easily enough, he reported, traversing a grade “about equal to the steepest part of Beacon hill in Boston.” The difficulty increased, however, and the party finally emerged to a dramatic sight:
Instantly a precipice nearly fifteen hundred feet deep opened its gastly jaws before us— A sort of isthmus, or tongue of land however allowed us to proceed about an hundred rods further, untill we could fix ourselves against the side of a rock, & look over into the tremendous depth— We had then the precipice on both sides of us, & it passes by the respective names of the great & the small snow-pit— They are so called because generally the snow at the bottom remains unmelted the whole round, although this has not been the case for the last two summers, & at present they contain no snow at all
Later John Quincy and Louisa visited the Zackenfall waterfall. One is almost brushed by the leafy mist when reading John Quincy’s description:
At this place you stand upon one side of the cleft & see the water dash down from the other; upon a level with yourself; between you & the stream is an abrupt precipice, which seems the more profound, for being so narrow; about an hundred yards— With the help of a ladder I descended to the bottom, & walked partly over the rocks, & partly over the billets of wood lying in the bed of the stream to the spot from which the water falls— We likewise went round by a winding foot path on the top, to the spot from which the streams launches itself
John Quincy also described a visit to a coal mine near Waldenburg (now Walbrzych, Poland). The mine was accessed by a small boat navigated over a subterranean stream.
You go down in a boat, flat bottom’d, about a yard wide, & ten feet long. The canal is not more than four wide, & equally deep, & over it is an arch about as high, hew’d in many places through the solid rock. It is nearly an english mile long, & strikes deeper & deeper under ground, untill the surface of the earth over head is more than 150 feet above you. The boat is pushed along through the canal, by two men, one standing at each end, who with a short stick in the hand press it against the sides of the arch that goes over the canal.
John Quincy further commented on churches, factories, and estates, and the peasants, craftsmen, and soldiers who occupied them. Thomas called his brother’s travel accounts a “rich feast of epistolary excellence.” The letters survive today in the Adams Papers collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society. In 2019 a selection of them will be annotated and published in volume 14 of Adams Family Correspondence, providing unprecedented access to a luminous portrait of an excursion through central Europe in an age gone by.
| Published: Monday, 11 September, 2017, 12:00 AM
Holding Those in the Path of Hurricane Irma in Our Thoughts
By Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services
As I write this post on Friday, September 8th, Hurricane Irma is working its destructive way through the Caribbean toward the southeast United States. While this blog post was scheduled to be the September 1917 diary entries of Gertrude Codman Carter it felt strange not to recognize the lives that are being turned upside down in the very islands that Lady Carter called home for much of her adult life. Carter’s diaries, chronicling her journey from Boston to Barbados in the early twentieth century, are far from the only or the earliest connections between Massachusetts and the Caribbean to be found in the MHS collections.
Today, I want to share some images from our copy of Thomas Jeffrey’s The West-India Atlas: or, A compendious description of the West-Indies: illustrated with forty correct charts and maps, taken from actual surveys. Together with an historical account of the several countries and islands which compose that part of the world (London: R. Sayer and J. Bennett, 1775). The MHS copy of this 18th century atlas was owned by Robert Haswell, whose Voyage round the world onboard the ship Columbia-Rediviva and sloop Washington, 1787-1789 also resides in our collections. A pastel portrait of Haswell by the English painter James Sharples may be viewed here.
The details in this atlas are both informational and whimsical. In addition to the flocks of birds pictured above, almost every chart includes tiny parades of detailed ships making their way safely past such landmarks as the Colorados Reef, sunken rocks, and false headlands.
The atlas also provides voyagers with information about fresh water, as in this detail of the tip of Cuba, an “old ruined castle.”
Earlier this week, Hurricane Irma devastated the islands of Barbuda and Antigua, pictured here. I encourage you, if you have the ability, to donate to a charity of your choosing that will support those who need to rebuild their lives.
Look for a return to Lady Gertrude’s diary at the end of September.
| Published: Friday, 8 September, 2017, 12:00 AM
“A Subject Which Weighs Much Upon My Mind”: John Quincy Adams’s Work on Weights and Measures
By Neal Millikan, Adams Papers Editorial Project
On February 22, 1821, John Quincy Adams noted in his diary that “two of the most memorable transactions of my life” occurred that day: the ratification of the Transcontinental Treaty between the United States and Spain, and the submission of his report on weights and measures. While the treaty is remembered for orchestrating the U.S. acquisition of Florida, Adams’s work on weights and measures, which he referred to as “a fearful and oppressive task,” is largely forgotten today.
John Quincy’s obsession with the subject began in 1810 when he was minister plenipotentiary to Russia and spent his free time researching the variations among countries’ standard weights and measures. His wife, Louisa Catherine, recorded in her diary on July 21 that he “too often passed” the days “alone studying…no article however minute escaped his observation and to this object he devoted all his time.”
A page of John Quincy's notes
[John Quincy Adams memorandum and garden book, 1810-1845, Adams Family Papers, microfilm edition, 608 reels (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society) reel 203.]
As secretary of state (1817–1825) John Quincy had many duties, but none intrigued him more than this topic. In 1817, the Senate passed a resolution asking that office to submit “a statement relative to the standard weights and measures” within the states and foreign countries, along with “propositions…as may be proper to be adopted” in America. John Quincy assumed the position on September 22, and by October 7 he drolly noted in his diary that the subject “weighs much upon my mind.” During the summer of 1820 he would wake up early to perform tests and record his results before going to work. Adams’s final report recommended that “no innovation upon the existing weights and measures should be attempted.” He instead called for America to “declare” its official measures “as they now exist” and to give standard metal measurements to “every State and Territory.”
For all his efforts, Adams’s work was not widely read. Indeed, his own father, John Adams, referred to it on May 10, 1821, as “a Mass of historical, philosophical chemical mathematical and political knowledge” but noted, “I cannot Say and perhaps Shall never be able to Say I have read it.” Upon the completion of the work Louisa Catherine recorded in her diary: “Thank God we hear no more of Weights and Measures” [January 6], and John Quincy commented on the final report in his diary:
It is, after all the time and pains that I have bestowed upon it a hurried and imperfect work; but I have no reason to expect that I shall ever be able to accomplish any literary labour more important to the best ends of human exertion, public utility, or upon which the remembrance of my children, may dwell with more satisfaction.
| Published: Monday, 28 August, 2017, 12:00 AM