Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Post 29
The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.
Jan. 2d. 1864
In regard to public events, the year has witnessed many calamities, through the rage of civil war; but God has sustained us, and it now seems as if the end, - and a righteous and permanent end, - was nigh. May He grant its speedy attainment!
| Published: Wednesday, 15 January, 2014, 1:00 AM
Party Politics: The Adamses' Jackson Ball
The women of the Adams family may not have held public office themselves, but they were vital to their husbands' political careers. Abigail aided John both through her counsel and astute management of their property during his long absences. Louisa Catherine Adams, on the other hand, choosing to remain near her husband at his various posts, used her charm and entertaining skills to showcase John Quincy to the political world in her parlor.
Perhaps her greatest triumph in this vein came on 8 January 1824, the ninth anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans, an important victory for the United States at the end of the War of 1812. Louisa hosted a grand ball to honor the hero of the battle, Andrew Jackson.
The Jackson Ball that Louisa planned was a magnificent affair that took over two weeks for the family to prepare. Five hundred invitations were issued to congressmen, cabinet members, and the social elite of Washington, and newspapers estimated that potentially 1,000 people attended the ball that required the Adamses to install pillars to support the upper floors of their F Street, Washington, D.C., home. Wreaths, garland, and roses covered the walls, while delicate chalked eagles and flowers graced the floors and guests were treated to a sumptuous buffet. "Mr Adams and I took our stations near the door that we might be seen by our guests and be at the same time ready to receive the General to whom the fete was given," Louisa recalled in her diary. "He arrived at nine o’clock and I took him round the Rooms and introduced him to the Ladies and Gentlemen whom we passed. . . . my Company dispersed at about half past one all in good humour and more contented than common with their entertainment."
But this was no mere party. This was politics. The Adamses hoped to win over the support of a yet undeclared candidate and potential political rival in Jackson, and showcase their leadership as John Quincy became a leading presidential candidate. During the evening, a small mishap underscored this understood overlap between the social and political worlds. Louisa recorded, "While sitting in the dancing Room one of the lamps fell upon my head and ran all down my back and shoulders— This gave rise to a good joke and it was said that I was already anointed with the sacred oil and that it was certainly ominous— I observed that the only certain thing I knew was that my gown was spoilt—" While this lavish ball failed to win Jackson's political support, as he became Adams's chief rival in the Election of 1824, it was a smashing social success, spoken of for years to come, and clearly revealed Louisa's mastery of social politics.
If you would like to learn more about Louisa in her own words, the forthcoming A Traveled First Lady: Writings of Louisa Catherine Adams is available for pre-order now.
| Published: Wednesday, 8 January, 2014, 8:00 AM
A New England Christmas (And A Mystery)
On friday evening came the chunky, fat, merry, rosy cheeked dutchman Santa Claus, who makes an annual visit to good children, who have loving parents, on Christmas eve, bringing with him his pack of all sorts of nick-nacks to put into the Christmas stocking. How he makes out to get down our narrow throated chimneys, and these obstructed by grates or stoves, I dont know, unless he and his pack can be contracted and expanded by volition, like Miltons fallen angels, who reduced their gigantic forms to the size of bees, that they might be accommodated in Pandamonium…
This Christmas letter from Jacob Newman Knapp (1773-1868) to his son Frederick, written on 27 Dec. 1852, is just one of many interesting letters in the Knapp family correspondence, a new collection at the MHS.
Jacob’s long life stretched from the American Revolution to the Civil War. He had been a teacher for many years and now lived on a farm in Walpole, N.H. with his wife Louisa (Bellows) Knapp and Frederick’s younger brother Francis. Frederick was minister of the First Parish Church in Brookline, Mass. The family was obviously very close, and letters were frequent and affectionate. Jacob’s in particular, though not short on paternal advice, also reveal a playful and endearing sense of humor.
Christmas at the Knapp home that year was a big event. The guest of honor was a young girl named Rebecca. Rebecca’s name had suddenly appeared in the correspondence just a few days earlier, and any letter indicating who she was or why she was staying with the family has since been lost. Neither Frederick nor Francis was married or had children yet, so I assumed Rebecca was the daughter of a friend or distant relative, or perhaps the child of a servant. The Knapps were known for their hospitality, and Jacob and Louisa seem to have taken this girl under their wing. Whoever she was, she was fêted in grand style, with her very own Christmas tree, a Queen Mab doll, sleigh rides, and afternoon tea with seven other children of Walpole.
One of my favorite passages in the letter is Jacob’s description of a sleigh ride with Rebecca and the other children. He was obviously a natural storyteller, painting a vivid picture for us:
They were as full of happiness, as they could hold. The people in the street stared at the passing show, for the children, comely by nature, were bright, and cleanly dress’d. There were so many little heads peeping above the sleigh, that you might have imagined it a man and horse running off with a birds nest.
Then this fascinating detail:
Ah! a certain friend of ours would say, “you are spoiling that little coloured girl, if you have not already done it.” That we cannot readily assent to. Goodness, in every condition of life, should be encouraged, merit rewarded, and practical reform be prefer’d to theoretical and visionary. When our dignity requires to be enclosed in a glass case to guard it from plebean contact, we shall distrust in generousness, and we prefer being obeyed by love, rather than by fear.
I was more intrigued than ever. Who was Rebecca? A few other letters in the collection contain passing references to her, but nothing more. I consulted published biographies of the Knapps, but turned up nothing.
On 27 June 1853, Rebecca left the Knapp household under the care of a Mr. Makepeace, probably Walpole resident George R. Makepeace. The last letter in the collection is dated a few days later. In it, Jacob tells Frederick: “Rebecca’s safety was well cared for, as much so, as if her complexion had been a combination of white and red. She is a good girl, and will, I hope, continue so.”
| Published: Wednesday, 25 December, 2013, 8:00 AM
Corticelli Sewing Silk Thread, 1876
In a prior post about American Sericulture, Dr. James Mease of Philadelphia wrote to Colonel Timothy Pickering about his sericultural pursuits in 1826. Small American sericulture experiments such as Dr. Mease’s endeavor gave way to industrial enterprise by the 1840s. In Northampton and its surrounding towns, businessmen Samuel Whitmarsh and Samuel Lapham Hill spun the necessary structure for the Nonotuck Silk Company and its Corticelli production line of sewing silk.
Though Samuel Whitmarsh gave Nonotuck Silk Company its name, the company did not survive the mulberry speculation bubble and subsequent implosion in the late 1830s. The Northampton Association of Education and Industry purchased the remains of Whitmarsh’s operations but struggled to produce raw silk until the ultimate dissolution of the association in 1846.
Samuel L. Hill converted the silk production operations of Northampton Association of Education and Industry into manufacturing mills. The company began importing the silk from China and Japan thereafter. Hill began to manufacture a new silk sewing thread known as "machine twist" that was durable enough to be used in mechanical sewing machines. Hill sent sewing machine inventor Isaac M. Singer some of his entrepreneurial "machine twist" silk spools in 1852. Singer was so impressed that he requested all of the company’s silk spools stock. The silk thread market blossomed under the influence of these two businessmen.
Samuel Hill remained president of the Nonotuck Silk Company until his retirement in 1876. At the 1876 Centennial International Exposition in Philadelphia, the Nonotuck Silk Company presented this gorgeous 1876 broadside that depicts twelve steps in silk production process from silkworms to raw silk.
What step in this broadside interests you the most?
| Published: Wednesday, 18 December, 2013, 1:03 PM
“Long Sleeps Last Night for Both Sophias”: A New Mother’s Diary from 1910
By Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services
As one of our staff prepared to depart on maternity leave this fall, I took the opportunity to delve into the print and manuscript materials in our collection related to pregnancy and childbirth, parenting and childhood. The MHS has a wide variety of print, manuscript, art and artifact materials related to the history of parents and children, from Cotton Mather’s Help for Distressed Parents, Or, Counsels & Comforts for Godly Parents Afflicted with Ungodly Children (1695) to the children’s health diaries of Helen C. Morgan (in the Allen H. Morgan Papers), who kept tidy notes on her children’s growth, eating habits, childhood illnesses, and medical treatments from their infancy through their college years (1923-1951).
One of my favorite discoveries was the diary kept by Sophie French Valentine during the first months of her daughter’s life. Perhaps in anticipation of her daughter’s birth, Sophie purchased a page-a-day Standard Diary for 1910. In the days before Internet-based social media was our platform of choice for documenting the everyday, Standard Diaries offered a way for many Americans to keep account of their own comings and goings with “status updates” that continue to resonate with intimate immediacy for future generations.
Sophie Valentine’s 1910 diary remained blank until the page for Saturday, July 23, on which she wrote simply, “She came. 8 pounds 7 ounces, 21 inches. Thoroughly healthy. abt 11.42 a.m.”
While her infant daughter was healthy, Sophie was not. On August 2nd she had to undergo an operation (unspecified), that necessitated separation from her daughter and several days’ sedation with “narcotics.” Sophie wrote on the page for August 2nd, “I nursed the baby every three hours up to this time - but just before the operation it was decided best to take her from me!”
As the summer waned, Sophie recovered from her surgery and chronicled the comings and goings of her household, as well as the growth of her daughter (also christened Sophia). Several weeks after the birth, the family doctor paid a visit and pronounced “the little one…sound and vigorous.” Three days later, infant Sophie “went out in the bassinette in front of the house” for the first of what would be many afternoons in the fresh air with her mother. Sophie’s husband, a diplomat, appears to have been away during much of his wife’s convalescence, but a steady stream of female friends and relatives populate the pages of Sophie’s diary. On August 14th, for example, the day “the little one” was baptized Sophia French Valentine, she “had pictures taken with Harriet, Charles, Aunt Martha, Auntie May; and Elizabeth and Lucy,” as well as with her mother and Aunt Caroline (“who held her and talked to her lots”). Later she was visited by “Theodore, Mrs. Graves, and Auntie Beth.”
By Thursday of that week the social whirl may have worn thin for both mother and daughter: the entry for August 18th reads simply, “Long sleeps last night for both Sophias.” A heartfelt status update that will no doubt resonate with many new parents generations hence.
The Sophie French Valentine Papers are part of the Robert G. Valentine Family Papers and available for use by researchers in the reading room of the MHS library.
| Published: Wednesday, 11 December, 2013, 1:00 AM