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“He plants trees for the benefit of later generations”: John Quincy Adams’s Motto

In the summer of 1830, John Quincy Adams was preoccupied with two projects: planting trees on his properties in Quincy and reading the works of the Roman statesman and philosopher, Cicero, in the original Latin. Just two years earlier, in an 11 May letter to his son Charles Francis, John Quincy had lamented that he had not planted trees in his youth, for if he had, he could now enjoy their fruits and shade. He likewise wished he had read Cicero (106–43 B.C.) in Latin forty years earlier, when it would have been more profitable for his public service. He kept records of his planting and his reading in his Diary, which he had started in 1779, and by his death in 1848, filled 51 volumes.

On 14 August 1830, he started reading Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations, a philosophical treatise that began with “On the Contempt of Death.” In the midst of Cicero’s moralizing and speculation, a quote from the Roman poet Caecilius Statius leapt off the page:

Serit arbores quae alteri seculo prosint

John Quincy, writing in his Diary, made this translation from the Latin:

“He plants trees, says Statius... for the benefit of another century: for what purpose, if the next century were something to him? The diligent husbandman then shall plant trees, upon which his own eyes shall never see a berry? and shall not a great man plant laws, institutions, a Commonwealth?”

Cicero drew a comparison between the farmer and the statesman; but John Quincy was both. In his Diary, JQA followed his translation with this personal reflection:

“I have had my share in planting Laws and Institutions, according to the measure of my ability and opportunities— I would willingly have had more— My leisure is now imposed upon me by the will of higher powers, to which I cheerfully submit, and I plant trees for the benefit of the next age, and of which my own eyes will never behold a berry— To raise forest trees requires the concurrence of two Generations, and even of my lately planted nuts seeds and Stones, I may never taste the fruit— Sero arbores quae alteri seculo prosint.” Here John Quincy altered the Latin significantly, from Caecilius Statius’ “He plants” to “I plant.”

Having lost the 1828 presidential election to Andrew Jackson, John Quincy faced an early retirement from public life. He had passed from planting a republic to planting a garden. He could not forget the brief quote from Caecilius Statius. “Seculo prosint” kept appearing in his Diary as he cared for his trees. But within three months, he was elected to serve in the U. S. House of Representatives, and given a fresh chance to continue to plant laws for another century, another age, another generation.  

In June 1833, President Andrew Jackson, was in Boston inspecting the local troops. While listening to the roar of the cannons in the distance, John Quincy, alone with his seedlings, proclaimed alteri seculo as his motto. The Latin phrase was a shout of triumph in the midst of defeat. His grandson, Henry Adams, recorded that JQA designed a seal, featuring an acorn and two oak leaves, and began using it to seal his letters. He even made a fob for his watch, and carried it everywhere (Catalogue of the Books of John Quincy Adams, Boston, 1938, p. 144–145).

This seal now adorns every volume of The Adams Papers, and appears on the website for the digital edition.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 7 June, 2017, 12:00 AM

The Significance of Strawberries

In New England, the arrival of summer is synonymous with strawberries. Strawberry plants (fields) can be found throughout the region, and the strawberry harvest in late May and early June goes hand-in-hand with the most beautiful part of the year. The lovely, fragrant evenings and the final sigh of relief as New Englanders pack their coats away for the summer inevitably lead to the sudden desire to celebrate the arrival of the long-awaited warm months of summer. So, naturally, spring fetes were often “Strawberry Festivals.” The delicious berry was a welcome addition to the kitchen after months of cooking and consuming dried fruit. Every dish on the table was augmented, filled, or garnished with the beautiful, vibrant, and sweet berry.

In the nineteenth century Strawberry Festivals or parties were very popular. The strawberry was the first crop of the summer, and the region was dotted with strawberry farms. Strawberry festivals were popular events celebrated in many New England towns. Here at the Historical Society we have a few examples of broadside advertisements for local strawberry festivals from the late nineteenth century.


Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Club (yes, they were up to the same silliness all those years ago!) produced an annual show called “Strawberry Night” in June. 


But for us at the Massachusetts Historical Society, such festivals have a very special significance as our annual strawberry festival may have indeed led to the bequest of our biggest benefactor. According to Robert C. Winthrop, MHS President from 1855-1885, it was the invitation to the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Strawberry Festival that led Thomas Dowse to donate his prized library to the MHS, and to that end, Winthrop says, “the regeneration of our Society may thus be fairly dated.”

“SPECIAL MEETING, JUNE, 1886. A Social Meeting of the Society was held at the house of Mr. Charles Deane, in Cambridge, on Friday, the 18th instant, at five o'clock, P.M.

The Hon. Robert C. Winthrop then spoke as follows :

 “Passing from this topic, let me say how glad I am to find myself at another social meeting of our old society at Cambridge…

…But another of these Cambridge meetings was still more memorable, and can never be forgotten in the history of our Society. I refer, as I need hardly say, to the meeting at good George Livermore's in 1856, just thirty years ago. From that meeting came the library and large endowment of our great benefactor, Thomas Dowse. Mr. Dowse was a neighbor and friend of Mr. Livermore, and had been specially invited by him to come over to our strawberry festival. Age and infirmities prevented his acceptance of the invitation; but the occasion induced him to inquire into the composition and character of our Society, and he forthwith resolved to place his precious books, the costly collections of a long life, under our guardianship, and to make them our property forever. From that meeting the regeneration of our Society may thus be fairly dated. Cambridge strawberries have ever since had a peculiar flavor for us, - not Hovey's Seedling, though that too was a Cambridge product, but what I might almost call the Livermore Seedling or the Dowse Graft, which were the immediate fruits of our social meeting at Mr. Livermore's.”*

Read more about Thomas Dowse and the Dowse Library here! (



Ten years ago, The Librarian of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Peter Drummey, suggested the library staff resurrect the age-old tradition; one hundred and fifty years later, a Strawberry Festival was once again held by the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The Library Staff of the Massachusetts Historical Society holds a Strawberry Festival every year in late May or early June for the staff, friends, volunteers, researchers and patrons of the Massachusetts Historical Society. We will be hosting our 2017 Strawberry Festival on Friday, June 2nd.


*Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Second Series, Vol. 3, [Vol. 23 of continuous numbering] (1886 - 1887), pp. 53-54


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 2 June, 2017, 8:51 AM

Origins of Memorial Day, In Brief

The Massachusetts Historical Society will be closed on Saturday and Monday this weekend in observance of Memorial Day. The origins of Memorial Day are rooted in the Civil War, and the rituals of commemoration that sprung up extemporaneously and then in a more collective, organized fashion in the postwar period and during Reconstruction. Decoration Day, later Memorial Day, celebrations honored the dead, celebrated emancipation, and in the white South kept the memory of the Confederacy alive. It was not until the First World War, in the early twentieth century, that Memorial Day became a national day to remember those who had fallen in all violent conflicts in which the United States had been militarily involved. 



The ribbon above [], from 1908, was worn by a participant in the Grand Army of the Republic ceremonies in Washington, D.C. It is one of two ribbons from the day's celebrations held in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society. 

We at the MHS wish you the best on this holiday weekend, and look forward to reopening the library on Tuesday for our summer research season.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 26 May, 2017, 12:00 AM

Crooked and Narrow Streets: Annie Haven Thwing’s “Old Boston” Scrapbook

I recently received a scrapbook from a friend moving away from Boston who needed to weed out her hefty book collection. She texted me a series of pictures of the books she was giving away, which included a Victorian volume with one word, “Scrapbook,” emblazoned in gold on the cover. The book was large (usually a deterrent for me, since I don’t have much room for books in my apartment either) and I didn’t entirely know what I would find inside, but of course I wanted it. I was happy to add this mysterious book to my collection and excited about flipping through its pages to find out what was tucked away between its covers.

I was similarly excited about looking through the Annie Haven Thwing Scrapbooks. It was the printed collection guide that first piqued my interest, the title list of the scrapbooks indicating volumes on ‘Old Boston,’ ‘Portraits,’ and ‘Friendly letters to A.H.T.’ I decided to pull the volume for ‘Old Boston’ and see what treasures it contained. Inside I found maps of Boston, reviews of Thwing’s book The Crooked and Narrow Streets of the Town of Boston, and a number of cut-out sketches and photographs of Boston.

What I found most interesting about these images, seemingly clipped from her own book as well as other publications, was the view they provide not just of Old Boston, but of lost Boston. A compilation of images depicting areas and buildings later demolished or destroyed, as well as maps of the city’s shifting boundaries satisfied some curiosities I had intended to research (What did Louisburg Square look like in the past?), some I didn’t realize I had (Who owned the pasture the State House was built on?), and raised others I have yet to thoroughly investigate: What’s the story behind Smokers’ Circle on Boston Common? The Water Celebration of 1848? The building replaced by the Boston Public Library? Thwing devotes several scrapbook pages to buildings and locations severely impacted by the Great Fire of 1872, highlighting the extent of destruction, damage, and change that such an event can precipitate. I certainly have enjoyed looking into these topics so far and will continue to do so. 


Map of Beacon Hill with preceding land ownership divisions.



Smoker’s Circle on Boston Common.


The Water Celebration of 1848 on Boston Common, commemorating the introduction of water from Lake Cochituate to Boston. 


The Samuel N. Brown House on the corner of Dartmouth and Blagden Streets, where the Boston Public Library now stands.


Artist’s rendering of Boston after the Great Fire of 1872.


 Annie Haven Thwing’s interest in Old Boston, every crooked and narrow street, is captured in her scrapbooks and writings. Other volumes in the scrapbook collection include personal correspondence, letters regarding the publication of her book, obituaries, and portraits of notable American figures, British political figures, Civil War regiments from New England, and newspaper clippings regarding the activities of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Visit the library to view the Annie Haven Thwing Scrapbooks and other collections to see what answers you can find to the questions and curiosities her clippings inspire. For a more detailed history of Old Boston from Thwing herself, read The Crooked and Narrow Streets of the Town of Boston online via the Internet Archive.




comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 19 May, 2017, 12:00 AM

The Final Journey of the Thomas P. Cope



A recent acquisition by the MHS details the harrowing trans-Atlantic voyage of the packet ship Thomas P. Cope in 1846 and, like so many other manuscripts in our collections, touches on several other fascinating subjects at the same time. The seven-page account was written by passenger Walter Cran on 10 January 1847, shortly after the events described. I wasn’t able to learn much about Cran, but he was apparently a Scottish immigrant living in St. Louis, Missouri. He, his wife, and their three young daughters were sailing to Scotland on the Thomas P. Cope, but they never arrived at their destination.

Our story begins a little earlier, though, on 5 October 1846, when the Cran family boarded the steamboat Colorado at St. Louis. As they made their way along the Ohio River, they saw what Cran called “novelties” and “Peculiar things,” including boats that carried sign-painting and glass-blowing establishments and even “a floating saw mill.” Cran also described this chilling sight: “We Passed a steamboat, that had on it a great number of Negros, 8 or ten being chained together like horses, going to Market.” It’s interesting to note that just five years earlier, Abraham Lincoln himself traveled on one of these boats. The MHS holds the letter Lincoln wrote to his friend Joshua Fry Speed on the subject:

In 1841 you and I had together a tedious low-water trip, on a Steam Boat from Louisville to St. Louis. You may remember, as I well do, that from Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio, there were, on board, ten or a dozen slaves, shackled together with irons. That sight was a continual torment to me; and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave-border.

In Cincinnati, Ohio, on 11 October, Cran witnessed another notorious American cruelty: “Saw the soldiers, escorting above 200 of the Miama Indians, to the same boat, for transportation to the west.” What he was watching was the forced removal of members of the Miami Nation from their home in Indiana, and by all accounts the number actually exceeded 300.

The Crans traveled on, met with some logistical and financial difficulties in Pennsylvania, then boarded the Thomas P. Cope at Philadelphia and sailed for Liverpool. Cran may have thought his hardships were behind him, but the worst was still to come. Late on 29 November, the ship was struck by lightning. Cran described a dramatic series of events:

In a sudden, a loud crack, or crash, was heard like that of a cannon, and a man runs down stairs, crying the ship’s on fire, when Immediately, the smoke rushed so on us, as it darkend the lamp light. I hurridly took hold of my two Eldest Children, & rushed them up stairs, & my Wife brought the baby, naked as they were, and we beheld the main mast and riggin, all in a blaze. A widow woman was halooing, my Child, my Child is below. I attempted to go down for her, but a sailor would not let me. The hatches was Imediately closed for to smother out the fire, for the Lightning had struck the main Mast, went down its centre, into the hold between Decks. […] O the confusion of Capt & sailors, hurring, of the boats over the ship, the women screaming; what a strange feeling I had Putting my family under the low deck of the forcastle, among ropes & blocks, chains &c., for to save them from being killed by Pieces falling from the riggen.

The ship’s main and mizzen masts were lost, and the Cope floated helplessly in the storm. The sea was so turbulent that the first rescue boat lowered over the side was immediately swallowed by the waves, so the frightened passengers and crew decided to stay onboard and try to contain the blaze until sighted by a passing ship. By morning, Cran wrote, some women “laying on the quarter Deck […] had their hair froze to the deck.” His own family huddled in the bow: “Hard times they had, for when the waves broke over, they were wet, and the sails of the fore mast, taring to ribbons, cracked over their heads, like thorns, a blazing, the snow & the hail attending.”

Amazingly, the passengers and crew managed to contain the fire and avoid sinking for almost a week. On 5 December, the Thomas P. Cope was spotted by a ship sailing from Liverpool—the Emigrant. Its crew effected a daring rescue, transferring passengers from ship to ship on small boats in the rough seas. Safe onboard the Emigrant, Cran and the others watched the Cope disappear in “a perfect cloud of smoke.” All but one of its passengers had survived—the widow’s six-year-old daughter trapped below deck in the initial chaos.

The Emigrant was sailing in the opposite direction, back to North America, and took their new passengers with them. With the help of that ship and another called the Washington Irving, the Cran family made it to Boston on 20 December 1846. Unfortunately, they had lost all their money and belongings. Walter Cran acquired some supplies from philanthropic individuals and societies, probably including the Scots’ Charitable Society (the MHS holds some material related to that organization). But the devastation of recent events caught up with him, and he wrote that he “could not help washing my face with my tears.”

Cran finally made contact with another Scottish immigrant, the wealthy merchant Robert Waterston. Waterston and his stepsisters, “the Misses Ruthven,” invited the penniless family to their home in Boston’s Fort Hill neighborhood. Cran described their hospitality with gratitude: “When we arrived, the first words the Ladies said to us, was; your welcome here. They set us by a large fire, and gave us breakfast, Plenty of water to wash with, and clean clothes to put on.” The Crans stayed there a week, until the Waterstons found Walter a job and put him “in a fare way, for to Provide for my Family again.”

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 10 May, 2017, 12:00 AM

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