The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: From the Reading Room

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 five-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

MHS Librarians Hit the Road

Today, the library at the MHS is closed in preparation for our annual fundraising event, Cocktails with Clio. What is a group of librarians to do with a day off? Rather than sit by and toil in our respective offices as set-up goes on around us, we instead are opting to go on a field trip. Specifically, we are jumping on the Mass Pike to go see our counterparts at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester.

The reader services staff here recently decided that we should better our knowledge of at least some of the many institutions in the area that are similar to ours. With that in mind, we compiled a list of such “sister institutions” to visit so that we can get a better sense of what they do, what collections they hold, and what a user’s experience is like.

While the MHS holds incredible and unique collections relating to the history of the state and the nation, we do not always have the right materials for every researcher. One thing that we hope to take away from these site visits is a better understanding of the holdings and specialties of some nearby institutions. This will in turn allow us to better serve our own researchers by knowing the proper direction to send them when we cannot answer their questions.

Also, these experiences give us the chance to network with colleagues and peers working in other libraries around the Boston-area. We can discuss emerging scholarship relevant to our respective institutions and talk about trends in research topics and researcher questions and behavior.

Another hope is that the places and people we visit will get the same from us in return. It is easy to think that every library professional in the area knows who we are and what we do but that is not always the case. These site visits give us the opportunity to expose ourselves more widely to the academic community in Massachusetts and to help our peers understand what material we hold and what we might do to help their researchers.

In a profession – and an institution – where it is sometimes easy to insulate ourselves from the outside, this is an opportunity for us to reach beyond our four walls to communicate our mission to other institutions. We also get the chance to increase our own ability to pursue that mission. 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 7 November, 2014, 12:00 PM

A Church for a Zombie: Architecture in Salem, MA

One thing that I like about working as a reference librarian is the extreme variation in the nature of questions I receive from outside researchers. In a library like the MHS, it is commonplace to work on inquiries relating to 17th century matters, such as King Philip’s War or early Puritan evangelization of the Indians. In the same day, a researcher might ask about the Revolutionary or Civil Wars and the role of Massachusetts men in them. Then a researcher in Europe e-mails me looking for a single letter held at the Society written by composer Felix Mendelssohn in 1845. Some of these are stranger than others but all fit the description of historical research and pertain to materials we hold.

Something that I do not expect is to field a question that crosses over with my own enjoyment of heavy metal music. Specifically, we recently received via e-mail a very brief question from a researcher who was looking for information about a church that appeared in the horror film the Lords of Salem (2012). The movie was directed by Haverhill, MA native Rob Zombie (a.k.a. Robert Bartleh Cummings). Before getting into movie-making, he founded the band White Zombie in the late-1980s and the group went on to produce two multi-platinum albums in the ‘90s. After that band dissolved he continued on to a solo career. Unfamiliar with the movie, the connection gave me a chuckle and I decided to field the question myself.

I started by looking up the movie online to find screenshots that feature a church. It took a few tries, but soon enough I found an image of a woman sitting with a dog in front of a small stone church. Part of the movie was filmed on location in Salem, MA, so I thought it likely that the church was located there. I continued searching the web for more shots of and/or information about the church but to no avail. So, I took to the Society’s online catalog, ABIGAIL, to see what resources might be of use.

Beginning the search with the subject term “Salem (Mass.)” I soon found a sub-heading “Salem (Mass.) -- Buildings, Structures, etc., -- Guide Books.” This seemed to be an appropriate place to check and, lo and behold, the only title under this heading is Architecture in Salem: An Illustrated Guide. I called for the volume and, using the index, flipped through for images of churches in Salem. There were far more than I expected to see, a few of which looked like potential candidates. Then, near the back of the book, I found an image of the Dickson Memorial Chapel and Conservatory located in the Greenlawn Cemetery in Salem.

 

 

While the still shot that I saw from the movie showed only the back of the church, I used this photo and a couple others online to compare some prominent features to conclude that they are the same.

With Halloween quickly approaching, why not visit Salem and take a stroll around Greenlawn Cemetery to get a closer look at this little church? And, if you are so inclined and want to disrupt your sleep patterns, follow it up with some of Mr. Zombie’s horror films.

 

 

 

comments: 2 | permalink | Published: Friday, 24 October, 2014, 12:00 PM

Debrief the Reader: Researcher as Resource

As a reference librarian at the Society I work regularly with the more than three thousand individual manuscript collections in the holdings. Often the job is a search for a specific piece of information in order to answer a defined question, perhaps for a remote researcher who cannot visit the library. In other instances, reference work might entail giving researchers suggestions for collections that are relevant to their particular project. Usually this second type relies heavily on searching the online catalog, ABIGAIL, or other in-house resources, to find collections that carry certain subject headings or involve certain people.

Unfortunately, in both of these situations, I do not always get the chance to look at a given collection in-depth and thereby gain a more complete understanding of the contents and how it might complement other resources or collections we have. This can be troublesome in a place where the reference librarians are sometimes expected to have deep knowledge of every collection in the building. In order to level the field a bit I try to focus my attention on the occurrences of the early days of colonial New England, roughly the period of the founding of Plymouth colony in 1620 up to the end of King Philip's War in 1676. When researchers come forward with questions concerning this time period I try to direct them toward collections or reference materials that, hopefully, will be of use.

While my colleagues in the collection services department are able to delve deeply into collections while going through the processes of arrangement and description, I do not always get that opportunity. Further, if a collection lacks descriptive aids then it can still be difficult to ascertain exactly what lies within and how it might fit with other collections. Yet, there is one recourse that I have left at my disposal should the chance arise.

Enter: the genial long-term researcher.

When a researcher brings an in-depth project to the MHS, we on the library staff have a wonderful opportunity to gain insights into the collections with which they work and to learn the topical connections existing among them. To illustrate: over the last couple of weeks we have had a researcher visit us nearly every day to work on a project involving 17th century colonial interactions between the English settlers and the native inhabitants. The researcher, who worked at the MHS in the past, came prepared with a few ideas of relevant collections with which to work. I suggested one or two other collections that I knew by name but of which I did not have intimate knowledge, with the idea that maybe one or two items would be relevant. As it happens, these collections turned out to be a veritable goldmine for our researcher. This also spurred her to investigate a couple of other things that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

This entire process is a benefit to both the researcher and myself. While I was able to point her to a collection she did not know about and which aided her research, she was able to identify to me the content of the collection, why it was so important for her research, and how it fits in with other collections that touch on the same time period. Because I lack the very thorough knowledge of the topics and themes involved, the researcher helps establish and explain the web of connections among the characters contained in our holdings. Without a doubt, the knowledge graciously passed on to me with regard to these collections will now help me to better direct future researchers in their endeavors to unlock the long-past and lesser-documented realities of 17th century New England.

comments: 2 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 29 January, 2014, 4:07 PM

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