The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: From the Reading Room

Prospect Hill Tower and the Grand Union Flag

One day when wandering through Somerville, my boyfriend, a recent transplant to Cambridge, noticed what looked like a castle tower in the distance. He asked me about it, and rather than just find the answer online, we decided to have an adventure and discover in person what this tower was all about. It turns out that there is not a secret castle in Somerville, rather it is the Prospect Hill Tower, built in 1903 to commemorate the first flying of the Grand Union Flag on that same hill 1 January 1776.



As someone who is a fan of early Massachusetts history, I was surprised that I did not know about this tower and even more surprised that the first flag representing the United States had looked as if it had a Union Jack quartered on it. The next day I decide to search our collections here at MHS to see what materials we held about the Prospect Hill Tower and the first flying of the Grand Union Flag.



We do hold a number of secondary sources about both Prospect Hill and the flag flying, ranging from published historic guides of Somerville to sheet music composed about the first flag flying. The sheet music, pictured below, was printed in 1862 and while it is about the first raising of the flag in 1776, you will notice that the soldier pictured on the cover is dressed in a Civil War uniform, with tents in the background. Prospect Hill was used during the Civil War as a training camp. Most of our materials regarding the flag and Prospect Hill are from the late 19th and very early 20th centuries, which was about the time the tower was erected.



One of these sources is a bound scrapbook, created by Alfred Morton Cutler in 1921. In it, he pasted clippings of articles he had written for newspapers, such as the Cambridge Tribune, between 1918 and 1921. A number of the clippings were Letters to the Editor, in response to articles on the location and flag, with Cutler writing in to correct errors. All the articles go into great detail about not only the location of the first flag on Prospect Hill but also the type of flag. Cutler describes the first American flag as having “thirteen stripes, and containing in the field the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew.” At the end of the scrapbook is a clipping from a letter to the editor from William E. Wall: “An attempt is being made by the Librarian of the Cambridge Public Library to rob our city of Somerville of the honor which it has held so long, viz., that on January 1, 1776, on Prospect Hill (then a part of Charlestown) the flag of the United Colonies ‘first flung defiance to an enemy.’” Mr. Wall goes on to encourage readers to read closely Mr. Cutler’s “answer to assertions of the Cambridge librarian.” Unfortunately the letter written by the Librarian of the Cambridge Public Library was not included in the scrapbook, though this was the apparent conflict which prompted Cutler to correct the narrative.



Perhaps realizing that a book would have a wider audience than a newspaper, Cutler re-works many of his articles and letters into a short book titled The Continental “Great Union” Flag which was published in 1929. Similar to his letters to the editor, which contained short citations, Cutler goes to great lengths to prove the validity of his claims by citing in detail his various sources, which I am sure would lead to more delightful discoveries if a researcher ever chose to track them down.


Stop by and visit the library to help answer your own early Massachusetts or local town history questions! Though you can find answers to many questions online, it is more interesting (and fun!) to see how scholars thought about those same questions many years ago. 


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 3 October, 2015, 2:29 PM

Porcineographs and Piggeries: William Baker Emerson and Ridge Hill Farms

Occasionally, when going through the stacks here at the MHS, something that you are not looking for catches your eye and makes you stop and take a look. Sometimes, you just take a quick look and then go back to what you were doing. Other times, though, the item piques your interest and prompts you to start doing a little bit of digging, even if only to fill up a blog post. Conveniently enough, just such a scenario played itself out for me this week.

While going through some of the Society’s broadsides the other day, looking for an item requested by a researcher, I saw a large broadside folder with the word “Porcineograph” written on it. Curious, I opened the folder and found a fairly beautiful, 19th century map of the United States made to look like….a pig. Bordering the pig-map were crests for each state of the Union accompanied by local cuisine involving pork products. I immediately scanned for Illinois – my home state – to see what was usual back in 1877 and was not disappointed: “Prairie hens, berries, corn-fed pork, and lager.” That sounds like a nice and balanced meal to me!

I made a mental note to take another look at this broadside and then looked it up in our online catalog, ABIGAIL, to see what little I could find out about it there. And here’s what I found!

In looking at the catalog record for the Porcineograph, I found that it was created by a man named William Emerson Baker and was meant as a souvenir for guests at his estate, Ridge Hill Farm, where the invitees were to have a dual celebration: commemorating the centennial of the Battle of Bunker Hill, and the establishment of a new “Sanitary Piggery” on his farm. Using the subjected headings in the catalog record I was able to find the subject term Swine—Massachusetts in our catalog and thus identified two copies of invitations to the event.

Through a little bit of investigation online, I found that Baker, a man who made a fortune in the mid-19th century making sewing machines and retired at the age of 40, bought up several adjacent farms in the town of Needham, Mass., and established an 800-acre estate called Ridge Hill Farm. The farm featured things like a man-made lake, bear pits for exotic animals, extensive gardens, and a 200+-room luxury hotel.

While somewhat eccentric and seemingly frivolous, Baker’s idea of a sanitary piggery was a bit revolutionary in that he recognized the potential links between poor care of livestock, low-quality foodstuffs, and public health. He believed that by taking better care of livestock, the food which they were used to produce would improve, and thus, public health would also improve. I find this interesting considering this was a good 25-30 years before the publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.

Unfortunately, after Baker’s death in 1889, the estate did not last much longer. The hotel succumbed to fire, the land was subdivided, and the ornate pillars and statues crumbled. However, as evidence of what once was, we have in our collections here a published Guide to the Ridge Hill Farms, detailing all of the wonders that existed there in its heyday.

If you are interested in reading more about this man and his estate, check out the articles I found online (linked below) and which provided some of the information in this post. And, as always, come on in to the MHS library to see the items from our collections up-close!



-          H.D.S. Greenway, “A Lost Estate,” Boston Globe, April 8, 2010. Accessed 7/31/2015 at _wondrous_estate_in_needham/

-          Rebecca Onion, “An Eccentric Millionaire’s 1875 Pork Map of the United States,” Slate. Accessed 7/31/2015 at _of_the_united_states.html [Includes image that can be blown-up.] 

-          “Once Upon a Time at the Baker Estate,” Gloria Greis, Needham Historical Society. Accessed 7/31/2015 at



comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 1 August, 2015, 10:55 AM

Untangling North Atlantic Fishing, 1764-1910, Part 4: The Halifax Fisheries Commission, 1877

The United States abrogated the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854 regarding free trade and inshore fishing on 17 March 1866, as discussed in a prior post. The fishery arrangements then reverted back to the Treaty of 1818 agreement that secured the 3-nautical mile coastal area for resident Canadian fishermen and prohibited further inshore fishing to Americans. Canadian inshore fishing regulation transformed into a licensing business applied to American vessels at per-tonnage fee from 1866 until 1870. When Canadian authorities discarded the licensing system and began seizing American vessels over a two-year period, the need for improved arrangement led in part to the Treaty of Washington in 1871.

Among other issues of Northwestern border disputes and damages caused by British-built warships in the Civil War, the Treaty of Washington also addressed the future state of fishing rights between the newly formed Dominion of Canadian and the United States. The commissioners settled the issue of rights of American fishermen in Canadian waters by proposing a mixed commission meet in Halifax, Nova Scotia to determine value for reciprocal privileges. The Halifax Fisheries Commission met in June 1877. The representatives included British-Canadian Sir Alexander Tilloch Galt, American Ensign H. Kellogg, and Belgian Minister to the United States, M. Maurice Delfosse. William Henry Trescot and Richard Henry Dana, Jr., represented the United States counsel against a 5-man British-Canadian contingent. 

Richard Henry Dana, Jr. of Boston, Mass. advocated that fishing in Canadian waters should remain free to Americans. “[The Reciprocity Treaty of 1854] made no attempt to exclude us from fishing anywhere within the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and it allowed no geographic limits,” he argued. “And from 1854 to 1866 we continued to enjoy and use the free fishery, as we had enjoyed and used it from 1620 to 1818.” He reasoned that the precedent for the free fishery had been established, that the fish do not adhere to ocean limits, and asked the purpose in establishing these limits:

“The right to fish in the sea is in its nature not real, as the common law has it, nor immovable, as termed by the civil law, but personal. It is a liberty. It is a franchise, or a faculty. It is not property, pertaining to or connected with the land. It is incorporeal. It is aboriginal. … These fish are not property. Nobody owns them … they belong, by right of nature, to those who take them, and every man may take them who can.”

The prose of Dana’s argument did not impress the Commission. In a split decision on 23 November 1877, the Commission determined that the United States was to pay $5,500,000 in gold to the British Government for fishing rights in Canadian waters. Despite Ensign H. Kellogg’s protest, the United States paid this sum to the British Government.



comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 29 May, 2015, 10:30 AM

Untangling North Atlantic Fishing, 1764-1910, Part 3: The Reciprocity Treaty of 1854

As discussed in a prior post, Great Britain and the United States negotiated fishing rights throughout the early 19th century. One of the important agreements made between the British North American colonies and the United States regarding trade, tariffs, and fishing was the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854. Under this agreement, negotiated by British North American Governor General Lord James Bruce Elgin and Secretary of State William L. Marcy, the provinces offered the right to coastal and inshore fisheries and the use of the St. Lawrence River to the United States. In exchange, the United States established free trade with the provinces by removing tariffs from natural products including grain, meats, produce, coal, timber, and lumber.

Reciprocity, by definition, is the exchange of privileges with others for mutual benefit. Free trade meant that the United States’ markets faced an exponential flood of British North American products without any protective tariffs to secure the national, regional, and local markets. Additionally, many Americans did not view the treaty favorably because the rights to coastal fishing in Canada had previously been theirs in the Treaty of Paris in 1783. While the American agricultural markets faced market saturation, the Reciprocity Treaty favored New England and New York fishing industries due to Secretary of State William L. Marcy’s negotiations. Born in Southbridge, Mass., and residing in Albany, New York, Americans accused Marcy of sectionalism, referring to the Reciprocity Treaty contemptuously as “Mr. Marcy’s treaty.”

An author using the nom de plume “Middle State Farmer” raised several objections to the agreement in his pamphlet The Agriculture Interest in 1854:

But we have thrown our markets as wide open as though these British provinces were States of this Union – markets which they will seek to sell in, receiving only in payment our precious metals, or exchange on England, to pay for the goods they buy of her. Everything they can grow on soil, produce from their forests or their mines, we shall have to take on these terms.

What do they give us in return besides their river to navigate, which they can’t navigate much themselves – being frozen tight six months in the year, and a hazardous navigation the other six – and a right to catch fish where we had always caught them before? What real reciprocity can they offer us in the way of markets?

The reciprocity agreement met increasing disapproval over the following decade. American protectionism, exemplified here in the Middle State Farmer’s argument, led to the abrogation of the treaty by the United States in 1866.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 17 April, 2015, 12:00 AM

Untangling North Atlantic Fishing, 1764-1910, Part 1: British Claim to the North Atlantic Fishery

Boundaries on land are largely man-made. These lines scribbled on paper or enclosed by transient fences signify what is claimed. Borders change over time. Geography shifts with natural disaster into or out of the ocean. Land boundaries are surprisingly fluid but not as immaterial as the open ocean, which poses the indeterminate question:  Who owns the sea? Who has the right to fish the ocean?

In a four-post blog series, I aim to examine the claims over the North Atlantic fishery from 1764 to 1910. I cannot identify who owns the ocean. You may want to ask Poseidon or Neptune. My goal is to tell the story of claims and contestation of this “American fishery” between Great Britain, Canada, and the United States through our collections at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The contestation truly begins with the coming of the American Revolution.

In the North Atlantic, various claims to the plentiful fishing waters off the Newfoundland coast to the tip of Cape Cod in Massachusetts Bay caused great strife between Great Britain and its colonies. Great Britain’s economy relied heavily on Atlantic fish trade especially that of dried, salted cod. The growth in population and life expectancy in New England throughout the 18th century also increased the numbers of New England fishermen and their fishing vessels, and thus increased Atlantic fishing. In response to this additional competition in the Atlantic, British fish merchants cornered the market by prevailing upon Parliament to protect their interests in the “American” fishery. To this end, Sir Hugh Palliser became Governor and Commander-in-Chief at Newfoundland in 1764 and intensified the removal of New England fishing vessels from the coastal waters in support of a British fishery in the North Atlantic.

Massachusetts resident William Bollan published a treatise entitled The Ancient Right of the English Nation to the American Fishery in the same year as Palliser’s appointment. This publication summarizes a history of naval conflict in the North Atlantic in an effort to persuade his London audience of their might over the pitiable French. In establishing the English right to this fishery, he then asks to share these waters with the enemy:

“…I cannot forbear recolleƈting that the eagles grief was encreased on her finding that she was shot with an arrow feathered from her own wing; and that my cordial wishes for the future happy fortunes of my prince and country are accompanied with concern that after obtaining so many important victories, whereby the enemy was so far enfeebled and disarmed, and the sources of her commence and naval strength brought into our possession, there should be prevailing reasons for putting into her hands so large a portion of this great fountain of maritime power.”

Bollan’s use of the eagle shot with an arrow feathered from her own wing in hindsight unintentionally reflects the growing revolutionary sentiments in the British North American colonies during the 1760s.

With tensions rising over the Sugar Act in 1764 and the Stamp Act in 1765, British seizures of American fishing vessels in Newfoundland waters increased the building momentum of riotous debate over colonial rights.  In the summer of 1766, Captain Hamilton of HMS Merlin boarded the colonial schooner Hawke and demanded to know what business skipper Jonathan Millet had in the Newfoundland waters. The New England fishermen were there for cod fishing. Upon the response, the captain promptly seized the vessel and fish, according to Jonathan Millet’s deposition from 13 September 1766, “…[Captain Hamilton] threatn’d that if he ever Catch’d any New England Men Fishing there again that he wou’d seize their Vefsells & Fish and Keep all the Men, beside inflicting severe Corporal Punishment on every man he took,….” Spurred by his foul treatment at the hand of the captain, skipper Millet recounted his impressment grievances to the Justices of the Peace Benjamin Pickman and Joseph Bowditch in Salem for this deposition. 

A plethora of impressment grievances appear in the 1760s in the MHS collections. In fact, William Bollan personally knew of impressment as a major issue of contention. Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson wrote to Bollan in the latter’s capacity as colonial agent in London on the issue of impressment in 1756. This letter was written a decade prior to the Hawke impressment.  British inattention to colonial rights and the impressment of colonial fishermen certainly led to rebellion. But the contestation over Newfoundland fishing rights continued well into the 19th century.

In the next blog post, I will examine the fishing in the Early Republic as New England fishermen become citizens of the United States, and Britain’s continued impressment until the Treaty of Ghent in 1814.


comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Friday, 6 March, 2015, 3:07 PM

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