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Homegrown Gifts: George Washington’s Locks

Our exhibition Father of His Country Returns to Boston closes today as the holiday season wraps up. The exhibition commemorates the 225th anniversary of President George Washington’s month-long tour of New England in October 1789. One of the most interesting items on display as part of this exhibition is a lock of hair that George Washington gave to Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton worked closely with Washington throughout the American Revolution and their political careers. Hamilton was born the second illegitimate child of James Hamilton and Rachel Faucett Lavien on 11 January 1755 or 1757 in Charlestown on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies. He worked as a clerk until he traveled to the British North American colonies for education. In New York, Hamilton became increasingly involved in the rumblings of Revolution during his studies at King’s College before responding to a call for recruits in 1776. Washington appointed Hamilton to the position of aide-de-camp at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel on 1 March 1777. Washington mentored Hamilton as he did with all his aides-de-camp until a parting of ways in February 1781 when Hamilton resigned from Washington’s staff position over insult. However, their working relationship did not end there. Washington later appointed Hamilton as first Secretary of the Treasury in  September 1789 just before the President’s tour of New England commenced in October.  The circumstances surrounding the gift of Washington’s hair to Hamilton however remain undocumented.

The practice of gifting hair seems particularly strange to the 21st century observer. Nowadays people share photographs of themselves and their families in holiday cards or digitally through social media. Portraiture remained the primary way individuals shared images of themselves prior to the invention of the daguerreotype by Louis Daguerre in the late 1830s. But the gift of hair also held considerable value. Hair was often woven and incorporated into rings, bracelets, and other jewelry throughout the 18th century. Lovers, friends, and family often exchanged locks of hair as mementos.   Vestiges of hair traditions remain even today when parents save locks of their children’s hair.

The Massachusetts Historical Society has not just one but two separate locks of hair that George Washington gave to Alexander Hamilton. Mrs. Charles Mason donated the first singular lock to the Society on 11 May 1876. The second lock of Washington’s hair is framed together with a lock of Hamilton’s own hair. The son of Alexander Hamilton, James A. Hamilton of Nevis, gave these locks to Eliza Andrew, wife of Massachusetts Governor John Albion Andrew, on 27 October 1865. The Society later received the locks from Andrew’s children, Edith and Henry Hersey Andrew in December 1920.

The text of the frame states:

“The above is the hair of my Father
Alexander Hamilton, presented
by me to Mrs. Andrew
Octo. 27 1865
James A. Hamilton”

“The above is the Hair of “The Father
of his Country” Geo. Washington pre=
sent to his friend Mrs Andrew by
James A. Hamilton
Oct 27 1865”

Marble bust of Alexander Hamilton by Giuseppe Ceracchi, 1794

Their working relationship tempered by respect endured any snarls. Washington’s death on 11 December 1799 came as a great loss not only to the country he fathered but also to his former mentee. In a letter to Washington’s personal secretary Tobias Lear on 2 January 1800, Hamilton wrote, “Perhaps no man in this community has equal cause with myself to deplore the loss. I have been much indebted to the kindness of the General, and he was an Aegis very essential to me.”

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 9 January, 2015, 1:00 AM

Equality in Incarceration: The Push for Women’s Prisons in Massachusetts

For my inaugural Beehive post I delved into the world of female incarceration, attempting to better understand the creation of women’s prisons in Massachusetts, and the codified societal controls imposed on women in the 19th century.

In 1874, Emory Washburn published “Reasons for a Separate State Prison for Women” and with impassioned rhetoric, called out the systemic inequalities leading to women’s imprisonment, and called for a shift in focus from punishment to reformation.

While I initially read his publication expecting a paternalistic discourse, what I found was a sharp commentary on women’s power for self-determination and democratic participation.

But for what we are bound to suppose wise reasons, the voice of only one sex can be heard at the ballot-box, while the other must content themselves with humbly making known their wishes to the legislature, that something may be done to relieve the Commonwealth from this inequality in the administration of justice in the case of the two sexes. It is not overlooked, that not a few of those who would be the inmates of such a prison as is here advocated, have become so from causes with which those whose votes help to settle questions of this kind have had much to do [emphasis added].

Crime is a form of social action; the criminal justice system a type of social control; and the arc of women’s history is inexorably linked to both. In puritan New England, women were predominantly brought up on charges of fornication and adultery, and even crimes such as murder, were often the result of secretive abortions, or desperate acts of infanticide. Punishment was evocative and public. As concrete expressions of social control, it served dual purposes as both a lesson to the female perpetrators and an establishment of boundaries for the women waiting in the wings.

Within our collections, there is a smattering of “last words” of colonial-era women convicted and punished for felonious crimes. Secondary sources, such as N.E.H. Hull’s Female Felons: Women and Serious Crime in Colonial Massachusetts deftly explicate the female experience in colonial courts, but women’s first-hand accounts of the 19th century justice system prove maddeningly elusive.

In his call for sex-segregated prisons, Washburn is speaking to a society in which women are jailed in the same institutions as men, yet offered no means with which to train or educate themselves.

Reformers saw the harsh conditions of men’s prisons as hardening and detrimental to women, with the lack of educational and vocational trainings failing to prepare them for a productive life beyond their incarceration. With no prospects independent of crime, recidivism among women was high, and the cycle of crime in the mid-19th century rarely broken. By advocating for separate women’s reformatories, Washburn saw a chance to break women free from this cycle. So long as the women had sufficient time to internalize the reform.

The process of working to reform in such prisons must, at best, be slow, and the attempt to do it in the period of a few months practically hopeless. Such sentences have reference to disposing of bad subjects for the time being, and not to the reforming of them (6).

To better understand the women’s prisons that arose from this movement, I found the 1888 report to the Massachusetts Commissioners of Prisons detailing the first year of the  Reformatory Prison for Women at Sherborn. The report echoes Washburn’s call for longer sentences and the necessity for access to education and vocational training. But it also complicates our understanding of female incarceration - detailing the all-female prison staff tasked with monitoring, controlling, and reforming the women under their care. This staff included a chaplain: Eliza L. Pierce, a physician: Eliza M. Mosher, and superintendent: Eudora C. Atkinson.

In its first year the prison held 794 women. 143 of the inmates were sentenced for acting “idle and disorderly”; 147 for being a “common night-walker”; and the most, 161, for being a “common drunkard” (161). While the women’s financial backgrounds are unclear, it was recorded that the majority, 54%, were foreign born.

Fom this tableau of sources, we see the beginnings of a rich context into which the experiences of women as gatekeepers, educators, protectors and prisoners can be woven. Questions abound as to the concrete changes these women pursued; the dynamics between domestic and foreign-born inmates; and the support these prisoners received after their release, specifically from institutions such as Temporary Asylum for Discharged Female Prisoners.

These are just a selection of the MHS’s offerings pertaining to women’s incarceration. Researchers interested in engaging further with these sources, or our broader manuscript and print collections, are encouraged to contact the library or stop by for a visit.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Tuesday, 30 December, 2014, 1:00 AM

Happy Holidays from the MHS

Warm wishes for happy holidays from the MHS!

Illustration depicting three "Christmas Eve" scenes from the Bertha Louise Cogswell drawing books

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 25 December, 2014, 8:00 AM

Collection Data on Collecting Eggs: Having Fun with William Jenks's Diary

comments: 2 | permalink | Published: Friday, 12 December, 2014, 1:00 AM

The Old North Cemetery of Holliston, Mass.

The MHS recently acquired a small volume of records of a cemetery in Holliston, Mass. that contains some fascinating information about this 19th-century town. The volume is not the original record book, which has apparently been lost, but a manuscript copy made by local historian John Mason Batchelder between 1894 and 1916. The loss of the original book makes this copy that much more significant, since it may contain records that exist nowhere else.

The North Burying Yard of Holliston, now known as the Old North Cemetery (or the Old Indian Cemetery), was established on an acre of land bought from Henry Lealand in 1801. Subscribers purchased lots for their families, and the appointed clerk, Samuel Bullard, recorded “the death and age of all persons buried in any of the Lots in said yard.” The burials listed in this volume date from 1803 to 1876. The entries are brief, but include some interesting details.

 Many of the townspeople interred here are members of the Bullard, Eames, and Lealand families. Included is Civil War soldier Emerson Eames of the 22nd Mass. Regiment, who died on 22 Oct. 1862. (His remains have since been moved to the U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.) The cemetery also contains several veterans of the American Revolution, including Aaron Eames (d. 1827), Reuben Eames (d. 1818), Timothy Lealand (d. 1843), Ephraim Bigelow (d. 1834), and Aaron Pike (d. 1848). In recognition of their military service, some or all of these men received new headstones from the U.S. government in 1916, as noted by Batchelder. Pike's story is especially poignant: he was buried as a town pauper at the age of 82 and apparently had no grave marker at all before 1916.

 Also buried in the pauper section is the “child of an Irish family,” who died in 1838 at 16 months. Elsewhere we find 14-year-old Isaac Allard, a victim of typhoid fever in 1860; the unnamed baby daughter of a “single woman”; and poor James Bigelow, who “came to his death by his neckhandkerchief being caught in the turning lathe.”

 Sadly but not unexpectedly, most family lots hold the remains of a husband and wife and any of their children that died young. For example, Eleazer Bullard and his wife Patty are buried with their children: Luke (10 mos.), John (3 days), Peter Parker (3 years), and Martha (4 weeks). Grown children of Eleazer and Patty were presumably buried elsewhere.

 The Old North Cemetery also contains the graves of a few black residents of the town, including Jane Muguet, a state pauper and “colored girl” who died in 1846 at 16. Reuben Titus was another pauper who “lived with Wm Lovering until aged and infirm” and died at about 90 in 1855. The earliest recorded death of a black resident is that of Rose, “negrowoman of Isaac Cozzens,” in 1812.

After copying the records, Batchelder compared his book against the headstones in the cemetery, checking off the names he found there. About half of the names are not checked off, indicating burials recorded by the cemetery clerk but graves unmarked at the time of Batchelder’s visit. (These names are also missing from the Old North Cemetery name index compiled by the Holliston Historical Society in July 2011.) There are several possible explanations for this discrepancy: an error in the original record book or the transcription, a grave that was moved, or one that was never marked in the first place, such as those of the paupers. If the original volume really is lost, this copy may be the only record of the final resting places of Isaac, James, the four Bullard children, Jane, Reuben, Rose, and many others of Holliston.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 10 December, 2014, 1:00 AM

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