The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: Research Published

Bostonians Respond to Union Loss at 2nd Bull Run

31 August 1862 was a remarkable day in Boston—one full of anxiety and activity. News reached town that day of the Union’s devastating defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run. The battle, which took place in Virginia from 28 to 30 August, resulted in approximately 15,000 casualties, the vast majority suffered by Union soldiers. Bostonians responded with a diligent relief effort.

Nothing in the historical record captures the mood of such a moment like a good diarist. Caroline Healey Dall (whom I’ve blogged about before) was an excellent one, and her journal, which lives at the MHS, gives us a bracing account.

I heard Mr Clarke preach, yet hardly heard him, for I longed for the service to be over, that I might hurry home to help prepare lint & bandages.


No one who was in Boston today—will ever forget it. No one but will be proud to own it as a birth place. The car which I took from Dover St. to Court—was crowded to a crush with women & bundles. Most of them were weeping. "Give way," said rough men to each other, "those bundles are sacred." When we got to the Tremont House—a dense crowd had pressed between it & the Hall. All were eagerly gaping for rumors. About the Tremont Temple a semi-circular rope was stretched enclosing several hundreds of cubic feet. At Three Tables, placed in the center & at each end, men took down subscriptions for the freight fund. Within on the side walk immense boxes were being packed. In the building 1800 women sewed all day.


In the car that went to Medford every body was bitterly depressed. The women thought—that if we conquered in the end, the life of the Camp would ruin our young men, that they would come home coarse, licentious cruel. I could not stand this, and the end was, that I appealed aloud to the women, in a plea lasting—partly in a conversational way, nearly the whole time we were coming out, as to the moral end of the war. How moved the whole population were we can judge from the fact, that one could hear a pin drop in that rattling car—& there was not a smile at me on man's or woman's face.

If the news of the Second Battle of Bull Run and the mad rush to send relief were not cause enough for emotional turmoil, the day held yet another significant—and personal—event for Dall. That morning, her husband, the Unitarian minister Charles Dall, arrived in the ship Panther from Calcutta, where he had been engaged in missionary work since 1855 and where he would live until his death in 1886. This was the first of his four trips home over 31 years. But in the confusion of the day, their paths did not cross.

Willie came out at dusk to tell me, that his father would not get up till tomorrow. I was surprised to find that in the general distress, I had forgotten my private pain, not having thought of the Panther, after thinking of nothing else for months, since I heard she was in the bay.

To learn more about Dall and her materials at the MHS, check out the Caroline Wells Healey Dall Papers 1811-1917: Guide to the Microfilm Edition. We are pleased to work with editor Helen R. Deese to produce the four-volume Selected Journals of Caroline Healey Dall, of which Volume I (1838–1855) is available and Volume II (1855–1866) is in preparation. The excerpts above are taken from the 31 August 1862 entry in volume 25 of Dall’s journals, which covers 24 April 1860 to 23 October 1862, and the full entry will appear in Volume II of Selected Journals.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 31 August, 2012, 8:00 AM

Interview with Author and NEH Fellow Martha Hodes

Martha Hodes, author of The Sea Captain’s Wife: A True Story of Love, Race, and War in the Nineteenth Century, is the recent recipient of an NEH fellowship to conduct research at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The Sea Captain’s Wife was a finalist for the Lincoln Prize and was named a Best Book of 2006 by Library Journal. Hodes, who teaches at New York University, took the time to talk with us about the book, her past research, and her current project.

1. How did you come to know the Society and become involved in research here?

I first conducted research at MHS while I was writing my second book, The Sea Captain’s Wife: A True Story of Love, Race, and War in the Nineteenth Century. The book’s protagonist, Eunice Connolly, is a white, working-class woman from New England whose husband fought and died for the Confederacy – after which she married a black sea captain from the Caribbean. Manuscript collections at the MHS illuminated important context, including anti-slavery sentiments in the New Hampshire town where Eunice lived during the Civil War, and anti-Irish sentiments in the cotton mills (where Eunice worked). Eunice lived in Lowell when the war was ending, so I also invoked a Lowell woman’s personal response to Lincoln’s assassination from the Martha Fisher Anderson Diaries at MHS. I had no idea then what my next book would be about.

 2. What is the focus of your research during your NEH fellowship?

I’m writing a book, Mourning Lincoln, about personal responses to Lincoln’s assassination, encompassing northerners and southerners, African Americans and whites, soldiers and civilians, men and women, rich and poor, the well-known and the unknown, those at home and abroad. I’m specifically searching beyond the public and ceremonial record in order to move beyond the static portrait of a grieving nation that we find in headlines and sermons. The idea is to understand a transformative event on a human scale -- access to the hearts and minds of individual Americans across the spring and summer of 1865 tells us so much more than we thought we knew.

 3. How did you become interested in history and decide to enter this field?

I went to college sure I’d be an English major. At Bowdoin, I ended up creating a double major in Religion and Political Theory. Then I continued my studies in comparative religion by getting an MA at Harvard Divinity School. During those years, my work-study job was at Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, and that was where I came to see that I was happier immersed less in abstract ideas and more in the workings of people’s daily lives. That’s when I applied to PhD programs in History.

 4. What inspired you to write The Sea Captain’s Wife? Did you discover anything unexpected while writing it?

While writing my dissertation at Princeton, I came across an amazing collection at Duke University – the letters of Eunice Connolly’s family. They didn’t belong in my dissertation and first book (White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the Nineteenth-Century South), because Eunice’s story wasn’t a southern one, and I hoped no one else would discover the collection before I got to it. Lucky for me, no one did. And the letters did indeed yield unexpected discoveries -- about race and racial classification. I found that when Eunice worked as a laundress during the Civil War (that was the lowest of lowly domestic work, reserved for Irish immigrants and black women), her New England neighbors barely thought of her as a white woman, and her subsequent marriage to a man of color further justified her exclusion from white womanhood. Then, when Eunice married the sea captain and went to live in the Cayman Islands, her neighbors there came to think of her as a woman of color, but in a very different way. In the Caribbean racial system, where the category of “colored” lay closer to whiteness than to blackness, Eunice’s status -- as the wife of a well-to-do sea captain of African descent -- rose beyond anything she had known as a poor white woman in New England. All in all, Eunice’s life story illuminates not only how malleable are racial categories and their meanings, but also how much power those classifications can hold. I didn’t know any of that when I began to write her story from the letters.

5. A number of professors have used The Sea Captain’s Wife in undergraduate and graduate-level courses. How do you feel about your work being taught and what do you look for in selecting materials for your own students?

I wrote The Sea Captain’s Wife for readers both within and beyond the academy, and I’m equally thrilled when professors assign it in their classes as I am when it’s chosen by, say, a women’s reading group. In my own classroom, whether I’m teaching conventional courses (like the Civil War or Nineteenth-Century U.S. History) or less conventional courses (like Biography as History or History and Storytelling), I strive to assign books that both impart good history and illuminate people’s lives, by asking -- or prompting the students to ask -- big questions about both the past and the present. I’m happy if The Sea Captain’s Wife can accomplish some of that. It’s what I hope to accomplish, too, in Mourning Lincoln.




comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 1 August, 2012, 8:00 AM

New Biography Illuminates Life of Clover Adams

For all the importance and notoriety of Henry Adams’s book The Autobiography of Henry Adams, it contains one glaring omission: Henry’s wife Clover Adams is not mentioned once. Natalie Dykstra’s new biography, Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life, attempts to rectify this by shedding light on the life and work of a remarkable 19th-century woman. This is no dry, esoteric biography, but an engaging, enjoyable read for the scholar or layperson alike.

Marian Hooper Adams was nicknamed “Clover” by her mother, who felt that her daughter’s birth was a lucky occurrence. Born into a wealthy, prominent Boston family, Clover was raised in privilege and highly educated. Her mother died when she was five, but Clover remained very close to her father for the rest of her life. In 1872, at the age of 28, she married the historian Henry Adams, who was teaching at Harvard. After five years they moved to Washington, DC, residing near the White House, and began hosting an exclusive salon of politicians, writers, and thinkers. Despite this stimulation, Clover and Henry were bored, and the spark went out of their marriage. Their problems intensified due to the fact that they were unable to have children.

Clover had always been interested in art and she found an outlet for her frustrations in a new camera in 1883. She learned the painstaking development process and began to take photographs of people, landscapes, and animals (she was a great lover of dogs and horses). Although a few of her photographs show traces of humor, including those of her dogs posed at a table set for tea, many of Clover’s photographs convey the melancholy and isolation of her own experience.

In the spring of 1885, Clover’s father died, and her emotional state worsened. In December of that year she took her own life by drinking a chemical used in processing photographs. She was 42 years old. Although Henry Adams rarely spoke of his wife after her death, he commissioned the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to produce a memorial at her gravesite in Rock Creek Cemetery. Saint-Gaudens created a sculpture of a mysterious shrouded, seated figure, which still receives many visitors today and helped inspire Natalie Dykstra to begin researching this book.

Dykstra is an associate professor of English at Hope College in Holland, MI, and she received a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship for her work on Clover Adams. A Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Dykstra did much of the research for her book at the Society, and she guest-curated the Society’s current exhibit, A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life: The Photographs of Clover Adams. The exhibit is free and open to the public and runs through June 2nd.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 25 May, 2012, 8:00 AM

Recently Published Research

Putting together a summer reading list?  Here are some recent publications that we are aware of, completed by researchers that made use of our collections or publications.



Baldwin, Peter. In the Watches of the Night: Life in the Nocturnal City, 1820-1930 (University of Chicago Press, 2012).

Dyer, Justin Buckley. American Soul: The Contested Legacy of the Declaration of Independence (Rowman and Littlefield, 2012).

Dykstra, Natalie. Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life (Houghton Mifflin, 2012).

Gamble, Richard. In Search of the City on a Hill: The Making and Unmaking of an American Myth (Continuum Press, 2012).

Johnson, Laura. “American Blues: Printed Pottery Celebrating a New Nation” Antiques and Fine Art (Winter 2012).

Lynch, Matthew. Before Obama: A Reappraisal of Black Reconstruction Era Politicians (Praeger Publishing, 2012).

Newton, Ross. “ ‘Persons of worthy Character’: Slaves, Servants, and Masters at Boston’s Old North Church” Journal of the North End Historical Society (March 2012).

Platt, Stephen. Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012).

Winship, Michael. Godly Republicanism: Puritans, Pilgrims, and the City on a Hill (Harvard University Press, 2012).

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 21 April, 2012, 8:00 AM

New on our Shelves: Vincent Carretta On the Elusive Phillis Wheatley

With his latest book, Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2011), Vincent Carretta, a 2008-2009 MHS-NEH long-term research fellow and professor at the University of Maryland, provides the first full-length biography of the elusive African American poet Phillis Wheatley. Besides her own literary work, Wheatley left behind very little evidence about her life. Rising to the challenge, Carretta scoured archives around the world and examined Wheatley’s entire body of work, allowing him to delve deeper into Wheatley’s world than any previous biographer.

Brought by a slave ship, Phillis Wheatley arrived in Boston in 1761. John Wheatley, a successful merchant tailor, purchased Phillis to be a personal servant. Soon the family found themselves forming an unconventional relationship with Phillis treating her more as a daughter than as a slave. Phillis excelled at writing and began composing poetry at an early age. Understanding Phillis’ talent, the Wheatley’s found a publisher in England to publish a volume of Phillis’ poems. In 1773 Phillis followed her work to England and was welcomed and praised for her talent by the British. Upon her return to Boston in 1774, the Wheatley’s freed Phillis. By 1778, Phillis’ writing of poetry slowed down to a trickle and she married John Peters, a man that would fall in and out of her life until her death in 1784. 

Carretta’s critically acclaimed Phillis Wheatley presents fresh theories about the life of the poet including how Phillis arrived in America, her earliest written poem, her involvement in her rise as a literary star, and her large network of friends both in America and England. Carretta also reveals new findings on Wheatley and her husband John Peters including details of their married life, Peters’s personal character, and his life after Wheatley’s death in 1784. These new findings introduce provocative ideas regarding Wheatley and her family that will likely spark debate among historians for years to come. 

As part of the MHS Author Talk Lecture Series, Vincent Carretta returned to the MHS in early November to celebrate the release of his book Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage. During the lecture, Carretta spoke about researching his book, several of his discoveries, and answered questions regarding Wheatley and his research. To view a video of the event click here.

If you would like to view Wheatley manuscripts owned by the MHS, visit our Phillis Wheatley page, which is part of our larger African Americans and the End of Slavery in Massachusetts web presentation.  If you would like to read more about Vincent Carretta’s Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage, check out Publisher’s Weekly star review here.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 5 January, 2012, 8:44 AM

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