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Beehive series: From Our Collections

“I still hear her whenever I open my window”

The MHS recently acquired two fascinating letters related to a woman named Nancy Barron, and when cataloging the collection, I found a surprising connection. 

The first letter, addressed to Dr. “Hayward” of Concord, Mass., was written on 20 July 1827 by R. Barron, Nancy’s mother. The Barrons lived in Boston. The letter begins:

Sir I sent a letter to you since Mr Stow was here but have receaved no answer. I take the liberty to state my curcumstances to you and hope that you will concider my case. My daughter is sick more or less all of the time. As for myself I cannot do any work of any consequence. Nancy can do some work all though not capable of takeing care of herself.

 

 

R. Barron asked the doctor for help with their rent, which was two months overdue, and explained that she and her daughter couldn’t come to Concord “as it would make Nancy as bad as she was before.” The family received some charity, but it wasn’t enough.

The only other letter in the collection was written almost a year later, this time to Dr. “Haywood.” The writer, D. Patten of Boston, pleaded on behalf of the Barrons, for whom circumstances had deteriorated. Mrs. Barron was “verry much afflicted with ill health,” and the family suffered “poverty and want in a great degree.” Adding to these troubles was Nancy’s “derangement of Mind […] which of late has become much worse.”

 

Just identifying the correspondents in this small collection was challenging. The two letters were clearly written to the same person, but spelled his name differently. I started with him, assuming he’d be the easiest to find. It took some digging, and through trial and error, I finally stumbled on Dr. Abiel Heywood (1759-1839). Neither Barron nor Patten had spelled the name right.

According to a biography of Heywood published in Memoirs of Members of the Social Circle in Concord (pp. 228-33), he began practicing in Concord in 1790, though he soon left medicine to serve in a series of public positions, including town clerk, selectman, tax assessor, justice of the peace, and Middlesex County judge. He was a very eminent member of the community in 1827, when Mrs. Barron appealed to him.

I never did identify the writer of the second letter, D. Patten. I also don’t know the first name of Nancy’s mother. But when I started looking for Nancy, I found more than I expected. A Google search turned up her name in, of all places, the journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The relevant journal entry is dated 24 June 1840. By this time, Nancy was living at the Concord Asylum, an almshouse just 200 yards behind Emerson’s home, across the Mill Brook. The reference to her is unexpected and startling. Emerson wrote:

Now for near five years I have been indulged by the gracious Heaven in my long holiday in this goodly house of mine, entertaining and entertained by so many worthy and gifted friends, and all this time poor Nancy Barron, the mad-woman, has been screaming herself hoarse at the Poor-house across the brook and I still hear her whenever I open my window.

 

Ralph L. Rusk, who edited the published volumes of Emerson’s letters beginning in 1939, included citations for a few letters related to Nancy, but he misread her last name as “Bacon.” The error was corrected in an annotation in volume 7 (p. 336) by subsequent editor Eleanor M. Tilton. Apparently, between 1839 and 1843, Emerson corresponded with a Mary Mason about Nancy’s case; these letters are currently on deposit at Harvard’s Houghton Library. It seems Emerson and others provided financial support for Nancy’s care, which would account for how he knew her name.

Like his neighbor Abiel Heywood (the land adjacent to Emerson’s home is still called Heywood Meadow), Emerson belonged to the Social Circle in Concord, a private club for illustrious men of the town. Also among its members was Cyrus Stow—undoubtedly the man R. Barron mentioned in her letter. According to the Memoirs (pp. 295-301), Stow contracted with the town “to take charge of its poor for the use of the Cargill Farm.” Concord Asylum was located on Cargill Farm, probably near where the police and fire department building stands now. Stow was the last piece of the puzzle.

The only other result of my search for Nancy was a single line in the register of births,  marriages, and deaths in Concord: “Nancy Barron aged 46 years died March 29, 1843” (p. 355). Emerson acknowledged her death in his correspondence with Mary Mason.

The striking juxtaposition of Nancy Barron and Ralph Waldo Emerson, with just 200 yards and a narrow brook between them, may have been the kind of thing Henry David Thoreau had in mind when he wrote the following passage in Walden (p. 172):

But how do the poor minority fare? Perhaps it will be found, that just in proportion as some have been placed in outward circumstances above the savage, others have been degraded below him. The luxury of one class is counterbalanced by the indigence of another. On the one side is the palace, on the other are the almshouse and “silent poor.”

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 22 June, 2018, 12:00 AM

Introducing John Adams, Vice President

"Huzza for the new World and farewell to the Old One," John Adams wrote in late 1787, wrapping up a decade of diplomatic service in Europe and packing for his new farm, Peacefield. "For a Man who has been thirty Years rolling like a stone," his recall was welcome news indeed. After completing several missions in Paris, The Hague, and London, Adams was eager to head home in order to witness the progress of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and the establishment of the federal government. His last 28 months abroad, chronicled in the Adams Papers' newest release, Volume 19 of the Papers of John Adams, were busy. The Massachusetts lawyer-turned-statesman secured American credit in Europe. He fought his way through the delicate etiquette of resigning his diplomatic commissions to Great Britain and the Netherlands. He wrote the second and third volumes of his landmark work on tripartite federalism, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America. With wife Abigail, he made plans for a quiet retirement in leafy Braintree. So long a citizen of the world, John Adams pondered his role in shaping the young nation’s progress. "Shall I feel, the Stings of Ambition, and the frosts of Neglect?" he wrote. "Shall I desire to go to Congress, or the General Court, and be a Fish out of Water? I Suppose so, because, other People have been so. but I dont believe So."

Papers of John Adams, Volume 19

Volume 19, which stretches from February 1787 to May 1789, marks a transitional period in John Adams' public career and personal life. Through the window of 341 documents, we watch a rich trove of stories unfold: the United States' uneasy peace with Britain; the risky state of American credit abroad; the political fallout of popular uprisings like Shays' Rebellion; the crafting of the federal Constitution; a surge in the British impressment of American sailors; and the monumental effort to form a cohesive federal government. Meanwhile, Adams settled into rural retirement with Abigail and watched the Constitution’s ratification evolve. His respite was cut short in April 1789. By volume's end, John Adams returned to the adventure of public life, preparing to serve as America's first vice president.

From Europe, Adams reported on a high tide of political crises. Piecing together Thomas Jefferson's and the Marquis de Lafayette's accounts of the reforms unspooling at the Assembly of Notables in 1787, and again at the convening of the Estates General two years later, Adams perceived France's prerevolutionary peril. Adams, from his perch at No. 8 (now No. 9) Grosvenor Square, longed to go and see the "Illustrious" group. "I wish I could be a Sylph or a Gnome & flit away to Versailles on a sun-Beam—to hear your August Debates," he wrote to Lafayette. To Adams' mind, the late eighteenth century heralded both an age of revolutions and an age of constitutions that realigned the continent’s balance of power. "England will rise in Consideration and Power, and France will Fall, in the Eyes of all Europe," he wrote. 

John Adams portrait

John Adams spent his last summer in Europe traveling with family—including his first grandchild, William Steuben Smith—in rural Devonshire, compiling the second volume of his Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, and mulling his legacy. He answered reference questions about the Revolution from scholars such as Philip Mazzei, Mercy Otis Warren, David Ramsay, and Reverend William Gordon. Retirement beckoned, but Adams was conflicted about trading the public stage for the solitude of Peacefield. Reflecting on his service, Adams claimed two wins: the ratification of the Moroccan-American Treaty of Peace and Friendship; and the progress of a proposed Portuguese-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce. The Adamses’ exit saddened friends like Jefferson, who wrote: “I shall now feel be-widowed.” Adams packed up his papers, including the letterbooks where he kept a close financial record of what it cost to be an American diplomat in Europe–a fascinating (and frugal!) report of expenditures that appears in the Appendix of Volume 19. He sold his chariot at The Hague. He closed up the London legation. "And now as We Say at Sea," Adams wrote to Jefferson, "huzza for the new World and farewell to the Old One."

S.E. Prospect

Home at last in June 1788, Adams briefly settled into the life of a gentleman scholar. Throughout the autumn, a stream of support for Adams' political ascent materialized in the mail. Reverend Jeremy Belknap, later a founder of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and Dr. Benjamin Rush conveyed support for Adams as a contender for the vice presidency. On 6 April 1789, senators began counting votes from the Electoral College. George Washington was the unanimous choice for president. Adams, who received 34 out of 69 votes, was elected as the first vice president. Basking in ceremonial fanfare, Adams traveled to New York City. To the ever-candid Adams, the Federalists' victory felt bittersweet. The 54-year-old statesman now faced an unprecedented task in shaping the largely undefined office of the vice presidency. Adams' days became a whirlwind of meetings, visits, and reunions. He was flooded with requests for patronage. Many Americans hoped to earn jobs as port collectors, naval officers, or customs inspectors. Office seekers appealed to Adams' Federalist views, Harvard College roots, or New England connections. Within the Adams Papers, these letters form a unique genre documenting patronage in early American politics. Moved by the sentiment but bound by the Constitution, Adams rejected many pleas. Early on, he staked out strict constitutional boundaries for the vice president’s powers. Looking out from his seat in a Senate increasingly riven by regional factions, Vice President John Adams wondered: What came next for the new nation?

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Tuesday, 19 June, 2018, 10:00 AM

Barbara Hillard Smith’s Diary, June 1918

Today we return to the 1918 diary of Newton teenager Barbara Hillard Smith. You may read our introduction to the diary, and Barbara’s previous entries, here:

 

January | February | March | April

May | June | July | August

September | October | November | December

 

As regular readers of the Beehive know, we are following Barbara throughout 1918 with monthly blog posts that present Barbara’s daily life -- going to school, seeing friends, playing basketball, and caring for family members -- in the words she wrote a century ago. Here is Barbara’s June, day by day.

 

* * *

SAT. 1                         JUNE

Swimming. May [Fête]. Hot as the deuce

SUN. 2

Went to Winthrop

MON. 3

School. Babies

TUES. 4

School. Babies

WED. 5

School. Babies

THUR. 6

School. Swimming Exhibition

FRI. 7

School. Went up River and to Park.

SAT. 8

Babies. In town with Peg.

SUN. 9

Hung around. Commencement Vespers

MON. 10

School. Babies. Class Night at Lasell

TUES. 11

School. Sick? Mother with Cousin Bert

WED. 12

School. Babies

THUR. 13

School. Babies

FRI. 14

School. Babies

SAT. 15

In Town. Wellesley with Peg. Dance at Spuds

SUN. 16

Church. S. School. Mrs. Moody to dinner

MON. 17

School. Babies

TUES. 18

School. Babies. Got a boil.

WED. 19

School. Riding with Cousin Bert. Peg over Night.

THUR. 20

French Exam. Mother’s Birthday. Headache. Pegs. Almost Sick

FRI. 21

Latin Exam. Tennis at Pegs

SAT. 22

Cooked. Pegs. Party at Posies. Dancing at Garden

SUN. 23

Sunday School. Peg’s over night.

MON. 24

Geometry Exam. Cleaned Closet. Peg’s for eighth grade party.

TUES. 25

In town with Mrs. Dow. Cousin Alice’s for supper. Met Babe

WED. 26

In town to the Dr. Dill. K’s for supper. Study club affair

THUR. 27

DIn town. Worked with Platt.

FRI. 28

Cleaned. Dentist. Dinner with Platt. Saw him off.

SAT. 29

Shampoo. Aunt Mable’s. Said goodbye to Stewarts

SUN. 30

Church. Sunday School. Riding with [Gathaman’s]. Packed.

* * *

If you are interested in viewing the diary in person in our library or have other questions about the collection, please visit the library or contact a member of the library staff for further assistance.

 

 *Please note that the diary transcription is a rough-and-ready version, not an authoritative transcript. Researchers wishing to use the diary in the course of their own work should verify the version found here with the manuscript original. The catalog record for the Barbara Hillard Smith collection may be found here.

 

 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 15 June, 2018, 12:52 PM

The Joy of Bookplates

One of the Society’s “hidden gems” is finally getting its day in the sun with the processing of three collections of bookplates. Known since 15th-century Germany, bookplates, sometimes called Ex Libris, have a long and interesting history. Initially a tool to identify the owner of a book and to prevent theft (or ensure safe return), bookplates evolved from mere identification into tiny works of art and reflections of the owner’s personality and aspirations.

Perhaps the most common bookplates to be found in our collection are armorial bookplates, featuring family coats of arms and mottoes, which became prevalent in bookplate design from an early date. These armorial designs display both “pride of ancestry and love of the display of aristocratic claims.” Also quite common are simple labels with the owner’s name, sometimes enclosed in a border of engraving or type ornaments. But around the turn of the last century, bookplate designs became much more creative and personal with designers creating plates that reflected the interests of their clients—homes, pets, hobbies, portraits. In this period, many of the bookplates never made it into books, but instead were collected and traded among fellow enthusiasts. The collecting and trading of bookplates reached its peak between the 1880s and 1950s, and most of the plates in the Society’s collection date from this era.

The earliest bookplate found in the Massachusetts Historical Society is from 1685, a plate bearing the inscription “Gulielmus Payne Me suis addidit MDC,LXXXV, ” but I wanted to feature some of the quirkier examples of the art that caught my eye when I was cataloging these collections.

Edward N. Crane chose for his bookplate a play on his last name.

 

 Reverend Carl E. Peterson chose this 1893 design by Bessie Pease Guttman, better known for her illustrations of children and babies than for cheeky devils reading witchcraft books.

 

The Lake Zurich Golf Club in Lake Zurich, Illinois, identified its (presumably) golf-related tomes with the image of a studious monk with his libations and clubs at the ready.

 

 Dr. Maximilian Lewson of New York selected a somewhat dramatic scene by bookplate designer Curt Szekessy to represent his profession.

 

Last, but by no means least, Everett Hosmer Barney of Springfield, who made his fortune as a Civil War arms producer and inventor of clamp-on roller and ice skates, somehow managed to incorporate his genealogy, inventions, hobbies, and a grinning alligator onto one small bookplate.

 

The bookplates shown here are all from the Ruby V. Elliot bookplate collection (http://balthazaar.masshist.org/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?DB=local&BBID=114606), but there are plenty to treasures to be found in the Society’s own collection (http://balthazaar.masshist.org/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?DB=local&BBID=208382), as well as the collection of armorial bookplates amassed by Charles R. Crane (http://balthazaar.masshist.org/cgi-bin/Pwebrecon.cgi?DB=local&BBID=208307).

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 7 June, 2018, 11:55 AM

Charles Cornish Pearson and the Great War, Part VII

This is the seventh and final post in a series about the wartime experience of Charles Cornish Pearson. Go back and read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, and Part VI for the full story.

 

We’ve come to the conclusion of the story of Sgt. Charles Cornish Pearson and his service with the 101st Machine Gun Battalion during World War I. We pick up after the Battle of Saint-Mihiel in September 1918, a success for the Allies, who forced the German line back and captured thousands of prisoners and hundreds of guns. Loved ones back in the States were thrilled by the news. Charles wrote to his Aunt Florence:

Suppose the news in the paper the past few weeks has cheered up the people at home a good deal. Certainly is quite a set back to the Hun but guess they need a lot of licking yet before they see the error of their ways in the proper light. One doesn’t appreciate the havoc & needless vandalism they have carried on until one has travelled over this part of the country & then one hasn’t taken into consideration the slavery the civilian population has had to undergo the past four years. They sure have a lot to pay for if they ever can.

 

 

Despite rumors that the war was winding down, Charles knew his “next trick” would come soon, and he was right. Less than a month after Saint-Mihiel, on 8 October 1918, his battalion moved to the outskirts of Verdun to prepare for its part in the brutal Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Philip S. Wainwright points out, in his History of the 101st Machine Gun Battalion, that from this position the men could see the infamous Mort-Homme, the site of terrible losses in the Battle of Verdun two years before. Another soldier described the feeling of being surrounded by “numberless French graves” (p. 124).

From 23-31 October, the guns of the 101st were used to support an attack by the 26th Yankee Division at the Bois de Brabant-sur-Meuse. According to Wainwright, it was the hardest fight the battalion had ever faced, with “continuous shell-fire” and “gas attacks every night” (p. 52). Charles agreed. On 1 November, after a gap of 17 days, he wrote to his parents from a reserve position at Marre, and his usual breezy style was muted.

One doesn’t feel much in the mood for letter writing. […] Things have been happening pretty swiftly lately and I feel pretty lucky to be able to scribble you a line & say O.K. […] Suppose I could write you a great deal about what we have been doing the past days but am only too glad to be out of it for the time beginning [sic] & just say that war is h–l & let it go at that.

 

He told his brother Bill, in a bemused tone, “I often wonder how they all missed me and the others. Fate I guess with good dodging is the answer.” In a letter to his sister Jean, he included some very vivid details of the battle—huddling in a trench as shells flew overhead, the spray of dirt as “whiz bangs” hit the hill opposite, the hardness of the ground. He also switched seamlessly to the present tense and second-person pronouns, making his story even more visceral: “You try to sleep saying to yourself well you are pretty safe unless they make a direct hit…” But as for the worst of his experiences, he explained, “I am getting so now I try to forget all about them as soon as they are over and sometimes that is no easy thing to do.”

Rumors of peace were coming in fast and furious now. As one soldier put it, “this war is all over but the shooting” (Wainwright, p. 131). Sure enough, at 11 a.m. on 11 November 1918, the armistice went into effect. This description of that moment doesn’t come from Charles, but from another soldier quoted by Wainwright:

Suddenly there is a queer silence—we don’t know what to think or do. It is true—but no one wants to shout or laugh. We just cannot realize the significance of it. Here we were, only a few moments ago, ready to jump into our cars and go out and shoot up the Boche, or get shot up. What will happen, and where are we going now? (p. 132)

 

Charles, like others, was both stunned and relieved that the war was over. He wrote to his parents the following day,It seems too good to be true & one wanders around in a daze. It sure has been h–l at times but guess it has been worth it all.” And he signed off another letter with the words: “Finis la Guerre.”

 

Charles looked forward to getting back into civilian clothes, rejoining the commercial paper business, and doing “as I damn please for awhile.” He even asked his sister if she knew any single girls who would be interested in a “perfectly harmless veteran.” But he would have a long and frustrating wait of several months before the 101st Machine Gun Battalion finally sailed for home in the Agamemnon on 31 March 1919. Charles was discharged on 29 April 1919.

 

 

Charles married Edith Irene Carrier in 1925. He died on 19 May 1973 at the age of 83, survived by his wife, three children, six grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter.

In spite of his humble protestations, Charles was a very compelling correspondent, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this deep dive into his papers as much as I have. I’ll finish with an excerpt from a letter to his sister, written from France after the war:

Glad you have appreciated or rather enjoyed my letters written over here. Am afraid you over exaggerate as I never was much of a hand at letter writing and my power of description etc is sadly lacking, still if they gave you some idea of what we have been doing over here why I am satisfied.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 1 June, 2018, 12:00 AM

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