The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

George Hyland’s Diary, January 1919

A new year means a new serialized diary here at The Beehive, where for the past four years we have showcased a diary from the collections written one hundred years ago (you can read the 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 series in our archives!).

In October 1913 a fifty-nine year old man, George Hyland of Hingham, Mass., was given a hardbound standard diary by his representative to the Massachusetts state legislature, Rep. Charles H. Waterman. Rather than using the book as intended--filling one page per day for the year--Hyland instead began recording his life story in dense, script beginning with his childhood memories of the Civil War. Once he reached the present, Hyland continued to fill the diary until 1922, including the daily details of his life during the year 1919. 

The year of 1919 opened “Cloudy. Cold. W.N.W. tem. about 25-36.” As you will see, the weather is a continual refrain in George’s diary -- as you might expect for someone who spends his days outside chopping and hauling wood, walking to buy groceries, and visiting family.  In order to make the most economical use of space in his diary, George abbreviates common words: “Staid [sic] all aft. ret. to N. S. on tr.” Stayed all afternoon, returned to North Scituate on train. We read about the price of milk (“now 12 cts per quart”) and the mundane tasks of life (“Mended some of my clothes in the eve.”) as well as entertainments (“Music by victrola in the sitting room.”) and tragedies: “A great mollasses [sic] tank exploded about 1 P.M. to-day on Commercial St., Boston.” We also get glimpses of the way in which the Great War continues to cast its long shadow even after the armistice. “Little Elizabeth,” George writes on January 21st, “came into the Swamp to tell me to come to the house and eat dinner. She is only 4 years old. She said her papa went to the war to fight the Germans and now he is dead.”

Join me in following George Hyland during one year of his life in the early 20th century. 

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PAGE 320


Jan 1. Cloudy. Cold. W.N.W. Tem. about 25-36. Misty rain at times, very heavy fog all day. Eve warm, tem. 55 W.S.W. mod. Gale and rain -- max. wind about 34 m.

2d. Mod. rain all day and eve. W.N.W. tem. About 36. Called at uncle Samuel’s late in aft. Lt. Weyland and Nellie G. Sharpe there, Elizabeth Bahe there, is to stay with Ellen at present.

3d. Rain all day and eve. W.N.W. to N.E. tem. About 27-32. Late in aft. Went to Lt. Weyland’s and bought a bus. of potatoes. Also bought some bread at H. Litchfield’s, then went to Mrs. Merritt’s and bought some milk. 10 P.M. snowstorm. W.N.E. Sawed some cedar logs in the cellar (some [...] outlast winter) and put the wood in the back chamber -- also put some planks and timbers there. Snowstorm all night

4th. Forenoon cloudy, aft. Clear. Tem. about 28-25, W.N.W. early in eve. Went to N. Scituate. Walked down and back. Stopped at Mrs. Merritt’s and bought some milk. Eve. clear. Cold. 3 inches of snow on the ground.

5th (Sun.) Clear. Cold. W.N.W. tem. 12-26 early in eve. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s. Staid [sic] there 1/2 hour. Music by victrola in the sitting room. Elizabeth sent me a cornball this aft. Eve. clear. cold; tem. 12. Got 2 sledloads of wood in Swamp this aft. Called at Uncle Samuel’s in eve.

6th. Light snowstorm early A.M. W.N.E. forenoon clou. aft. Par. clou. to clear. Tem, 26. Eve clear. W.N.W. tem. 7 P.M. 12. Got 2 sledloads of wood in Swamp. This aft. Called at Uncle Samuel’s early in eve.

7th. Light snowstorm early A.M. clear after 10 A.M. tem. About 18-38, W.N.W. in forenoon, S.E. in aft. N.W. in eve. Eve clear. Mended some of my clothes in eve. Called at Uncle Samuel’s later in aft. Elizabeth gave me a cornball.

8th. Clou. A.M. began to rain at 11 A.M. tem. 24-38. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s in eve. Clear in eve. W.W.N.W.

9th. Cloudy. Chilly. Damp. late in the forenoon walked to N. Scituate. Went to Hingham 12:17 tr. Went to Henrietta’s. Had dinner there. Carried a lot of toy furniture for her to sell for Henry. Staid [sic] all aft. ret. to N. S. on tr. at about 5:15 P.M. Walked home in eve. Brought my [...] bag ([...]) full of clothes -- coats, pants, etc. heavy to carry. Tem. to-day about 23-36. W. W. S. W. late eve. par cloudy. colder. very windy.

10th. Par. clou. to clear. W.N.W. and S.W. tem. 9-24. Called at Uncle Samuel’s in aft. Gave Elizabeth an orange and a bannana [sic] (Henrietta gave them to me yesterday). Got some wood in Swamp late in aft. Went to H. Litchfield’s and bought some bread early in eve. eve. clear. Cold.

11th. Split wood (very large pieces) 3 hours for Jane Litchfield. 75. Had dinner there. Early in eve. went back to N. Scituate. Walked down and back. Bought some groceries at Mr. Seavern’s store. Mrs. S. got [...] for me also some chocolate candy (2 cts) for Elizabeth. Tem. 30-18. W.N.W. fair to par. clou. eve. cold. Tem. 9.

12th (Sun.) Clear. W.N.W. tem. 2-24. Eve. cold. clear. calm.

13th. Fine weather; clear; W.S.W. tem. 8-34. Fine eve. Got some dead wood in Swamp 1/2 mile from here to-day. Hard to get along there is so much dead wood piled up lying in all directions.

14th. Got some of my wood out of the Swamp (wet in Swamp to-day). Also cut wood 2 1/4 hours in Swamp for Uncle Samuel. He was cutting wood there. Cloud. Wind. S. to S.W. tem. 34-44. Early in eve went to N. Scituate. Bought some groceries at Mrs. Seavern’s store. Also bought some cold tablets for Ellen and some quinine (for toothache) for myself (1 doz 2 gr. Sulph Quinia pills - 15 cts). Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s -- milk is now 12 cts per quart. Margaret Brown medicine for me at the Drug Store. Eve. clou.

15th. Cut wood 4 hours for Uncle Samuel. Cloudy A.M. 11 A.M. clear. W.N.W. tem. 32-42. Had supper at Uncle Samuel’s. Eve. clou. Fine weather

A great mollasses [sic] tank exploded about 1 P.M. to-day on Commercial St., Boston. 2,250,000 gallons ex. des. buildings, flooded street, k. 11 men, women, and children, and injured 60 others. Several horses k. 1 girl

PAGE 321

[cont’d] a. about 12 was drowned in the molasses.

16th. Cut wood 5 hours. Very fine weather. Clear. tem. 32-46 W.W.S.W. bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s early in eve. Fine eve. tem. 35. Weather is like early spring.

17th. Cut wood 6 hours. clou. A.M. Clear at 11 A.M. aft. par clou. to clou. a few drops of rain. 3 P.M. clear. eve. clear. temp. to-day - 30-48. W.S. to S.W.

18th. Cut wood 5 hours in Swamp. Cloud A.M. W.N.W. began to rain about 11 A.M. rain light for 1 1/2 hours. aft light misty rain, W.N.E. tem. To-day 30-36 early in eve. Walked to N. Scituate. rode back with Albert Litchfield. Stopped at Mrs. Merritt’s and bought some milk. Eve very foggy. L. E. Bates here while walking to N. Scituate. I boxed the compass four times each way - backwards and forwards - N. by way of E. back to N. - then by way of W. back to N. - then S. to E. both ways, then S. to S. both ways - then W. to W. both ways. I like to do it.

Bought 5 cents worth candy for Elizabeth.

19th. (Sun.) forenoon cloudy. aft. and eve. Clear. W.N.W. tem. About 33-40. Windy. Weather like March.

20th. Cut wood 6 hours. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s and some bread at H. Litchfield’s in eve. Elizabeth gave me some soure [sic] candy and an apple when I called there in eve. Fine weather to-day clear; tem. 30-46; W.N.W., S., S.W. fine eve.

21st. Cut wood in Swamp 6 hours. Had dinner at Uncle Samuel’s -- little Elizabeth came into the Swamp to tell me to come to the house and eat dinner. She is only 4 years old. She said her papa went to the war to fight the Germans and how he is dead. (Was in the U.S. Navy). Elizabeth is Sarah’s third daughter. Cloudy. very damp to-day, W.N.E. and S.E. tem. 36-44. Very wet in the swamp. Eve. clou. W.S.E. will prob. Rain or snow to-night or to-morrow.

Last eve. (5-9 P.M.) I heard a great number of steamer whistles in Boston Harbor. [word] were saluting the Stm. “Canada” just arrived from France, with a load of soldiers. The whistling continued for 15 min.

22nd.Cut wood in the Swamp 6 hours. Finished cutting 2 1/2 cords of hardwood for Uncle Samuel. 625. Cloudy. Very damp. W.S. to S.W. tem. 34-46. Bought some choc. Candy for Elizabeth - 3cts. She came into the Swamp today. Eve. cloudy. 10:30 P.M., misty rain, W.W.

23rd. Cloudy. Foggy. W.S. tem 40-44. Got some wood in Swamp. In aft. Put rivet in a pair of scissors -- also sharpened them -- for Mrs. Merritt. 15. Late in aft. Went to N. Scituate. Bought some groceries at Mrs. Seavern’s Store. Also some choc. Candy for Elizabeth - 3cts. Walked down and back. Eve. clou. 9:30 P.M. began to rain. Rain all night.

24th. Cloudy to par. Cloudy. Very windy. tem. About 34-37 W. N.W. did some work at home. Early in eve. Went to H. Brown’s store. Wind blowing a gale - (40m.) Cold. Clear. Windy all eve. mod. At 11:50 P.M. much colder.

25th. Did some work at home. Very fine weather for [...]. Clear; W.N.W; tem. 26-37. Paul Briggs [...] home to-day - stopped here nearly 2 hours - had dinner here with me. He has been in the U.S. Army for one year and 4 months - has not had a furlough for a year - been on duty all the time -- was in [...]U.S. [...] Guards -- on duty at Jersey City, N.H. -- pier 1 where the U.S. transports leave for [...]. They had to guard the stores, supplies, and etc. He was discharged yesterday, and came from a Mil. Sta. in Pa. come on the 11:15 P.M. tr. from N.Y. last night had honorable discharge. The soldiers are coming home now as fast as they can get them here. Went to N. Scituate early in the eve. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s. Fine eve.

PAGE 322

[cont’d] Jan. 25. Paul brought home a box of fine cigars, which the capt. of his gave him. Paul gave me one of them (15 ct cigars). Paul was in the 16th Div. U.S. Army -- Co. L. 302nd Inf. -- but was transferred to Co. A. U.S. Guards.

Gave 25cts for [word] to soldier.

26th (Sun.) Clear; tem. about 26-40. W.N.W. eve. clear.

27th. Cut wood in Swamp 5 hours for Lt. Weyland. Fine weather. W. N.W., tem. about 28-40. Early in eve. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s. Eve. par. clou.

28th. Sold E. Jane Litchfield 1 1/2 ft. of cedar wood for kindling. 150. Split it into very small pieces, also split some large pieces of hardwood, and housed the whole. 5 hours in all. 125. Had dinner there. Fine weather, fair to par. clou. tem. 32-40; W.N.W., N.E, S.E., S.W. early in the eve. Went to N. Scituate - bought some groceries at Mrs. Seavern’s Store - also some choc. candy for Elizabeth - 3cts. Rode 1 1/4 miles with George Hardwick in auto. Alma Lincoln and Irene Dalby brought a [...] of Mt. Blue Spring water to E. Jane Litchfield late this aft. eve. clear but hazy at times. Stars look very small -- will snow or rain soon.

29th. Light snow storm all day. W.N.E.; tem. 37. Cut wood in Swamp 1 hour in aft. Early in eve. Went to H. Brown’s store -- also went to Mrs. Merritt’s and bought some milk. Eve. clou. 10 P.M. clear; W.N.W.

30th. Cut wood in Swamp 5 hours. fine weather, clear; tem. about 30-40; W.S.W. Snow nearly all melted today. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s in eve. Fine eve. clear. warm for season. W.S.W., by W.

31st. Cut wood 5 1/2 hours in Swamp. Clear, windy. (M.W.) tem. 28-40. Cold late in aft. and in eve, windy early in eve. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s, also got some for Ellen, then went to H. Litchfield’s and bought some bread. Cold night.

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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 George Hyland’s diary may be found here. Hyland’s diary came to us as part of a collection of records related to Hingham, Massachusetts, the catalog record for this larger collection may be found here.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 11 January, 2019, 1:00 AM

New and Improved: The Tufts Family Logbooks

My work as a processing archivist here at the Massachusetts Historical Society involves not only cataloging new manuscript collections, but also improving descriptions and access for collections that have been sitting on our shelves for some time. Case in point: the Tufts family papers, which was recently brought to my attention by Laura Wulf, the MHS’s photographic and digital imaging specialist. While working on digital images from that collection, she noticed an oversight in our online catalog ABIGAIL.

The collection consists of correspondence, diaries, logbooks, and other papers of the notable Tufts family of Charlestown, Mass. Included are two logbooks dating from the mid-1850s, kept by brothers George and Alfred Tufts. Normally, logbooks that are part of a larger collection are individually cataloged to allow for more detailed subject access. As Laura discovered, Alfred’s had been cataloged, but George’s was nowhere to be found.

The oversight was understandable—the brothers were actually traveling together on the same ship, the Ocean Pearl, and it’s pretty easy to make a mistake about who kept which volume if you don’t have time to examine them closely. But George deserved his due, and I was sorry to see him overshadowed by his younger brother like that! So the first thing I did was create a new, separate catalog record for his log.

I enjoy doing this kind of clean-up, not only because it makes our catalog more useful and our collections more discoverable for researchers, but also because it gives me the opportunity to add more detail to ABIGAIL and to familiarize myself with our older collections. The Tufts family papers were donated to the MHS back in 1962, and I don’t think I’ve ever had reason to look at them before. It’s a really fun and interesting collection.

In their logbooks, George and Alfred kept the usual navigational records—longitude, latitude, wind, course, temperature, etc.—but they didn’t stop there. The logs are also journals, fleshed out with long-form descriptions of daily life on a ship, including who got seasick (George), who lost his hat overboard (Alfred), who got drenched (pretty much everybody at some point), what Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin were arguing about (the window shutter), and what was really going on between Capt. Sears and Mrs. Whitney (who knows?). The two volumes complement each other; the brothers recount the same events, often in very similar language, although Alfred’s entries tend to be longer. Both logs also contain sketches of icebergs, islands, and other sights.

The Ocean Pearl sailed from Boston on 28 November 1854, around Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America, and landed at Honolulu, Hawaii. There, it turns out, the brothers split up—Alfred continued on the Ocean Pearl to the Far East, but George stayed in Hawaii for six months, where he wrote terrific descriptions of the islands’ natural and cultural wonders. On 26 September 1855, George embarked for San Francisco, overlapping with the tail end of the California Gold Rush, then sailed across the Pacific to Hong Kong and other points in Asia. Adding insult to injury, these voyages had been mistakenly attributed to Alfred, too!

After straightening out the catalog records for both logbooks, I noticed the collection contained another journal kept by George in 1850. On closer inspection, I found it described a trip up the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers via steamboat, so I added some detail to that catalog record, as well. Like the logbooks, there’s a lot more to this volume than meets the eye. For example, here’s one of George’s entries from June of that year:

In the afternoon went in a canoe to Crow wing village 6 miles below St Paul. I had seen the indians among the whites, but here they were by themselves on their own soil doing things in their own way. When I arrived at the village they had just been dancing the scalp dance, over the scalps they had taken this spring from the Chippeways. When the scalps were taken they made a mark on the knee & are to dance every other day till the grass gets to that height. A group of them were sitting on the ground playing a game with moccasins accompanied with singing, drumming & yelling with “variations.” I heard their noise when two miles from the place. Their burial ground is on a hill back of the town. The bodies are mounted on a scaffold with the articles used by the deceased in his life time hanging about it. Also the clothing & locks of hair. They leave them in this way about 6 weeks & then bury them.

High-quality digital images of the Ocean Pearl logbooks of George and Alfred Tufts, as well as material from related collections at the MHS and other repositories, are available as part of the China, America and the Pacific online resource, published by Adam Matthew Digital. You’ll have to visit our library in person (or another participating library) to use this subscription database, and we hope you will. If you have questions about any of our collections, please don’t hesitate to contact our reference staff.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 9 January, 2019, 1:00 AM

This Week @MHS

Happy 2019! Here is a look at what is going on at the MHS this week:

- Tuesday, 8 January, 5:15 PM: The Consecration of Samuel Seabury & the Crisis of Atlantic Episcopacy, 1782-1807 with Brent Sirota, North Carolina State University, and comment by Chris Beneke, Bentley University. Samuel Seabury’s consecration in 1784 signaled a transformation in the organization of American Protestantism. After more than a century of resistance to the office of bishops, American Methodists and Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans all established some form of episcopal superintendency after the Peace of Paris. This paper considers how the making of American episcopacy and the controversies surrounding it betrayed a lack of consensus regarding the relationship between church, state and civil society in the Protestant Atlantic.This is part of the Boston Area Seminar on Early American History series. Seminars are free and open to the public.

- Wednesday, 9 January, 12:00 PM: The Octopus’s Other Tentacles: The United Fruit Company, Congress, Dictators, & Exiles against the Guatemalan Revolution with Aaron Moulton, Stephen F. Austin University. With the 1954 U.S. government-backed overthrow of Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz, scholars have focused on ties between the State Department, the CIA, and el pulpo, the octopus, the United Fruit Company. This talk reveals how the Company's influence reached further to Boston-based congresspersons, Caribbean Basin dictators, and Guatemalan exiles. This is part of the brown-bag lunch program. Brown-bags are free and open to the public.

- Wednesday, 9 January,  6:00 PM: American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, & Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic with Victoria Johnson, Hunter College. The legacy of the long-forgotten early American visionary Dr. David Hosack includes the establishment of the first botanical garden in the United States as well as groundbreaking advances in pharmaceutical and surgical medicine. His tireless work championing public health and science earned him national fame and praise from the likes of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander von Humboldt, and the Marquis de Lafayette. Alongside other towering figures of the post-Revolutionary generation, he took the reins of a nation. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30 PM; the speaking program begins at 6:00 PM. There is a $10 per person fee (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members or EBT cardholders). 

- Saturday, 12 January, 10:00 AM: The History & Collections of the MHS. Join is for a 90-minute docent-led walk through of the public rooms of the MHS. 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   

Fashioning the New England Family is open Monday through Saturday, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The exhibition explores the ways in which the multiple meanings of fashion and fashionable goods are reflected in patterns of consumption and refashioning, recycling, and retaining favorite family pieces. Many of the items that will be featured have been out of sight, having never been exhibited for the public or seen in living memory. The exhibition is organized as part of Mass Fashion, a consortium of cultural institutions set up to explore and celebrate the many facets of the culture of fashion in Massachusetts. 

Take a look at our calendar page for information about upcoming programs.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Monday, 7 January, 2019, 1:00 AM

Upcoming Education Events

Welcome to 2019!  This year, the Center for the Teaching of History at the MHS brings a whole slate of education programs for teachers, students, and history enthusiasts.   

Become a Mass History Day Judge

The MHS is proud to be the State Affiliate Sponsor for Massachusetts History Day, a year-long primary source-based project where students in grades 6-12 create documentaries, exhibits, websites, performances, and papers that explore their favorite topics in history. With 5 competitions state-wide in March and April, we are calling for history enthusiasts to spend a morning talking with passionate students about history!  To learn more about Mass History Day and sign up to judge, visit our Mass History Day website.

Attend a Teacher Workshop

The MHS holds numerous teacher workshops during the year to dive deep into historical topics with educators and to explore methods for introducing them to the classroom. These programs are open to K-12 teachers and museum and heritage educators, and we offer a waiting list for those who are not educators but are interested in our programs. Check out our workshop calendar for more information and to register; e-mail with any questions. This winter and spring, we have several exciting programs including:

Teaching the Industrial Revolution in Massachusetts
Wednesday, 20 February

Registration Fee: $45
This workshop will be hosted at the Tsongas Industrial History Center in Lowell, Mass.

Lowell’s water-powered textile mills catapulted the nation – including immigrant families and early female factory workers – into an uncertain new industrial era. Nearly 200 years later, the changes that began here still reverberate in our shifting global economy. Hosted in partnership with the Tsongas Industrial History Center, this workshop will explore the history of industrial growth in New England and its impact on immigration, labor movements, women’s rights, and communities in New England and beyond.

The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919
Saturday, 13 April 

Registration Fee: $25

On January 15, 1919, Boston suffered one of history’s most unusual disasters: a devastating flood of molasses. The “Great Molasses Flood” tore through the city's North End at upwards of 35 miles per hour, killing 21 and injuring 150 while causing horrendous property damage.  With historian and author Stephen Puleo, we will explore how the flood is more than a bizarre moment in Boston history: it offers a lens into Boston and World War I, Prohibition, the anarchist movement, immigration, and the expanding role of big business in society.

“Shall the Tail Wag the Dog?”  The Fight For and Against the Right to Vote
Saturday, 11 May

Registration Fee: $25

Massachusetts citizens played a central role in the suffrage movement; Worcester hosted the first national woman’s rights convention in 1850 and Bostonians, led by Lucy Stone, headed a national suffrage organization and edited a long-running woman’s rights newspaper. In response to these influential reformers, activists formed the first anti-suffrage organizations in Massachusetts as well. Drawing on MHS collections and our new suffrage exhibition, we will explore letters, newspapers, political cartoons, visual propaganda, and other sources that illuminate the history and motivations of women on both sides of the campaign for the vote.

Teacher and Student Fellowships

Teacher and student fellowships deadlines are coming up!  These scholarships are available to K-12 teachers and students who have a serious interest in using the collections at the MHS to perform research in the fields of American history, world history, or English/language arts. Applications must be postmarked by 18 February 2019. This year we are offering the following fellowships:

Swensrud Teacher Fellowships

Each summer, the Swensrud Teacher Fellowship program offers educators the opportunity to create lesson plans using documents and artifacts from the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society. The fellowships carry a stipend of $4,000 for four weeks of on-site research at the MHS and for the development of a curricular unit based on their research.

Kass Teacher Fellowships:

The Kass Teacher Fellowship program gives educators the chance to perform 20 days of research at the Massachusetts Historical Society on the topic of their choosing. This fellowship will carry a stipend of $2,000 for four weeks of on-site research at the MHS, and teachers will complete a 1-2 page report on their findings at the end of the fellowship.

John Winthrop Student Fellowship:

This award encourages high school students to make use of the nationally significant documents of the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) in a research project of their choosing. Students apply with a teacher mentor, and the Winthrop Student Fellow and their teacher will each receive a $350 stipend to perform historical research and create a project using materials at the MHS.  This project can be something assigned in a class, a National History Day project, or something of the student’s invention!

If you have questions or are interested in any of these programs, visit the Center for the Teaching of History website or e-mail  We look forward to hearing from you!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 2 January, 2019, 1:00 AM

The First Publication of Phillis Wheatley

Recently, the MHS hosted a program called “No more, America,”* which featured a conversation with Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Peter Galison, both of Harvard University. In it, the two men reimagined a 1773 debate between graduating Harvard seniors Theodore Parsons and Eliphalet Pearson who deliberated on the compatibility of slavery and “natural law.” In the program, Gates and Galison added a third contemporary voice to the argument, that of the then-enslaved Phillis Wheatley, the acclaimed poet who lived just over the Charles River from the two Harvard students.

Now, just over a week later, we recognize the anniversary of the first publication of one of Wheatley’s poems. “On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin” appeared on December 21, 1767, in the Newport Mercury, a Rhode Island weekly newspaper. According to Vincent Carretta in his 2011 biography of Wheatley, this poem was not published again during Wheatley’s lifetime.


When Wheatley submitted her poem to the Newport Mercury, she addressed a note to the printer which was to precede the poem.

Please to insert the following Lines, composed by a Negro Girl (belonging to one Mr. Wheatley of Boston) on the following Occasion, viz. Messrs Hussey and Coffin, as undermentioned, belonging to Nantucket, being bound from thence to Boston, narrowly escaped being cast away on Cape-Cod, in one of the late Storms; upon their Arrival, being at Mr. Wheatley’s, and, while at Dinner, told of their narrow Escape, this Negro Girl at the same Time ‘tending Table, heard the Relation, from which she composed the following verses.


On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin


Did Fear and Danger so perplex your Mind,

As made you fearful of the Whistling Wind?

Was it not Boreas knit his angry Brow

Against ? or did Consideration bow?

To lend you Aid, did not his Winds combine?

To stop your passage with a churlish Line,

Did haughty Eolus with Contempt look down

With Aspect windy, and a study’d Frown?

Regard them not; -- the Great Supreme, the Wise,

Intends for something hidden from our Eyes.

Suppose the groundless Gulph had snatch’d away

Hussey and Coffin to the raging Sea;

Where wou’d they go? Where wou’d be their Abode?

With the Supreme and independent God,

Or made their Beds down in the Shades below,

Where neither Pleasure nor Conten can flow.

To Heaven their Souls with eager Raptures soar,

Enjoy the Bliss of him they wou’d adore.

Had the soft gliding Streams of Grace been near,

Some favourite Hope their fainting hearts to cheer,

Doubtless the Fear of Danger far had fled:

No more repeated Victory crown their Heads.

To see what materials the MHS holds related to Phillis Wheatley's life and work, you can search our online catalog, ABIGAIL, then consider Visiting the Library, but be sure to consult our online calendar for upcoming holiday closures.


*Video of the event, “No more, America” will be available via the MHS website sometime in early 2019. Click the link to see what else is already visible.




Carretta, Vincent, Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage, University of Georgia Press, 2011.

comments: 2 | permalink | Published: Friday, 21 December, 2018, 1:00 AM

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