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Bragging Rights

The practice of attaching additional items (newspaper articles, photographs, etc.) to correspondence obviously is not a new custom. Attachments generally provide more detail about the subject matter discussed in the associated correspondence. However, I found an interesting letter in the S. Lothrop Thorndike papers in which the letter is meant for one individual and the attachments are intended for others.

The two articles enclosed with a letter from the Canton, China bound Samuel Lothrop Thorndike on 27 May 1852 tell fascinating stories about a wager on a ship race to Hong Kong and cyclonic gales encountered along the way in the Philippine Sea. The younger Thorndike clearly leaves mention of these events out of the letter, addressed to his father Albert Thorndike. He includes these grand adventure stories as attachments, intended for his college friends.

At 22 years of age, Samuel Lothrop Thorndike left Harvard College in the middle of his senior year to accompany fellow Harvard student William Sturgis Hooper on a voyage to China. These two young scholars obtained a faculty leave of absence to make the voyage, and traveled on the new ship Courser. Sturgis’s father, shipping merchant Samuel Hooper, dispatched the Courser from Boston to California then to China in January 1852.

The letter to Albert Thorndike contains little more than a greeting, a note that the son has not yet received mail, and reassurance of good health and love. Postscript directions from son to father request that the two enclosed attachments be given to young brother William “Bill” Thorndike, who will see that “the fellows in Cambridge” – Harvard classmates Joseph Hodges Choate and Peter Chardon Brooks – receive the articles.

The first newspaper article recounts a ship race from San Francisco to Hong Kong between the Courser and the Witchcraft. Seemingly unaware of the race, the clipper ship Invincible simply loses by nearly two weeks.

PASSAGES FROM SAN FRANCISCO TO CAN-
TON. – The ship Courser, Capt. Cole, of Boston,
sailed from San Francisco May 29 for Canton, where
she arrived July 11. The clipper ship Invincible,
Capt. Johnson, of New York, sailed from San Fran-
cisco May 16, and arrived at Canton July 11. The
clip ship Witchcraft, Capt. Rogers, of Salem,
sailed from San Francisco May 30, and arrived at
Canton July 19. We understand that bets were
made in San Francisco that the Witchcraft would
reach Hong Kong ten days before the Courser, but
the event proved that the C. which is not a clipper,
beat the Witchcraft full six days, and beat the In-
viscible thirteen days.

The second article briefly describes the cyclonic gales in the Philippine Sea that Thorndike and Hooper weathered during the Courser’s voyage.  

Very heavy cyclonic gales were experienced in the China
seas, from the 3d to the 7th of July. The Am ship Courser
encountered one on the 5th, in about lat 18 N, lon 128 E.
The Invincible on the 6th in lat 20 N, lon 119 E.

Thorndike does write to his father in reassurance, “I never was in better health and spirits in my life.” However, he does not mention the betting, race, or the gales. He essentially left all the fun and danger out of his letter to his father. But he dispatched the articles to his Harvard classmates as bragging rights.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 25 July, 2014, 1:00 AM

“For your mutual Happiness and...dedicated to the Public”: The Marriage of John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Adams

In the upcoming volume of Adams Family Correspondence we reach a pivotal moment in Adams family history—the marriage of Louisa Catherine Johnson to John Quincy Adams.

This partnership began quite simply on July 26, 1797. They were married before eleven o’clock in the morning at the Church of All Hallows, Barking, right by the Tower of London and immediately took a tour of country house near London, as JQA reported in his diary entry for the day. Louisa, who kept no diary at the time, wrote in her memoirs nearly thirty years later, and with the knowledge of what was coming quickly around the corner for the newlyweds—the embarrassment of her father’s financial failure—noted it simply, “On the Wednesday 26 of July 1797 I became a bride under as every body thought the happiest auspices—”

Two days after the wedding, the newlyweds sat down to compose a joint letter announcing their marriage to the distant John and Abigail Adams.

John Quincy opened the letter:

I have now the happiness of presenting to you another daughter.... My recommendation of her to your kindness and affection I know will be unnecessary. My sentiment of her merit, will not at this moment especially boast its impartiality, but if there be as I believe an inseparable chain of connection which binds together all the domestic virtues, I have the strongest pledge that she, who has in an amiable and respectable family, adorned the characters of a daughter and Sister, will prove an equal ornament to that of a wife.

Louisa, promising to always act worthily of their “esteem and tenderness,” concluded: “fulfillment of my duties either as wife or daughter, to be respected in these characters, and to meet the approbation of my Husband, and family, is the greatest wish of my heart— Stimulated by these motives (your affection the reward) will prove a sufficient incitement, never to sully the title of subscribing myself your, Dutiful Daughter.”

John Adams replied to the news of his eldest son’s marriage with his blessing: “I congratulate you and your Lady on this Event, which I hope will be for your mutual Happiness and..., for a long Course of years, dedicated to the Public— And may the Blessing of God Almighty be bestowed on this Marriage and all its Connections and Effects.” His blessing on this marriage, one that lasted over fifty years and combined the charm and sociability of Louisa to John Quincy’s dedicated and driven, if sometimes brusque demeanor, was more than fulfilled in the couple serving the public until John Quincy’s death in 1848.

 

 

**Image: JQA and LCA’s Marriage Certificate,  26 June 1797, Adams Family Papers.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 23 July, 2014, 1:00 AM

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch Diary, Post 34

The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.

Sunday, July 24th, 1864

 

As to public affairs, - we appear to gain little near Richmond, - Sherman advances successfully in Georgia. Gold has been up to 270 or above it. The president calls for half a million more men, - for one year. The first abortive attempts at negotiation are symptoms which may be followed by something better. The awful sacrifices of the war go on meantime; & among the late losses is that of my friend Hall’s son, of Dorchester, assistant Henry Ware Hall, killed near Atlanta, Georgia. His father bears it heroically.

 Sunday, July 31st

 

This dreadful war continues its ravages, & the good & the brave fall on both sides. Maria writes me of the death of her cousin Cyprus, - my namesake & godson, - in battle near Marrietta, - fighting in the rebel cause; - & of the Christian firmness & submission with which he met death. ‘How long, O Lord!’

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 18 July, 2014, 1:00 AM

Guest Post: Searching for the Federalist Party in Massachusetts

I plan to be a professional historian, but I had this nagging worry that sifting through a bunch of historical documents could be a mind-numbing slog that would turn me off of the subject I love so much. Thanks to the Massachusetts Historical Society, I now know I’m in this for the long haul. I had so much fun looking through old letters, speeches, and newspaper publications. Every text seemed to be an appeal from the long-dead author, saying, “Hear me! Know my story!” It was a thrilling experience to hear the perspective of contemporaries and draw my own conclusions.

Once I was shown around the building and told how to navigate the collection, I felt right at home. There is such a welcoming atmosphere, and I really felt the satisfaction of learning from the material, rather than simply completing an assigned project. I could assign real value to my work, and I wasn’t treated like a child. I really enjoyed working on my own investigation, alongside like-minded people, in an environment in which I felt completely at ease. During my visits I was delighted to see other young people doing the same kind of thing. The staff always took me seriously, and was always ready to help if I had a question. Until now I had never used microfiche, but within two minutes the reference librarian had me set up and I knew all I needed to know to use it. I could even take pictures of the old documents and email them to myself so I could do work at home.

My project was an investigation of just what happened to the Federalist party after the Revolution of 1800, the first major turnover of power in our government’s history. Usually we are taught that this defeated party, woefully out of touch with public opinion, faded into obscurity quickly after being defeated by Thomas Jefferson, apparently the dashing savior of the republic. The sources I looked over showed a very different story of a party that raised its standard against what they saw as misgovernment and staged a strong, if brief, political comeback.

My most invaluable resource was a collection of the letters by the arch-Federalist Harrison Gray Otis in the aftermath of the disastrous Hartford Convention. I actually came upon it by accident while looking through a collection of Massachusetts letters for a specific speech. The letters form a plea by Otis to posterity, people like us, to not let the name of Massachusetts be blackened by the misrepresentation of its conduct by the rest of the country. After watching a rival get elected governor and listening to that man’s denouncement of his own state during the War of 1812, he laments:

Hereafter it will be too late to blot out the blot made by His Excellency upon the historic page, by alleging that his speech was intended merely to chime with the slang of the day. It will be answered … that the accused party in the Legislature quailed under the pungent rebuke from the chair, and that members of the Convention continued to be dumb as sheep before their shearer … will not the rising generations of this State burn with shame and indignation when it shall constantly be thrown in their teeth by the rising generations of other States, that their base blood has crept to them through ancestors who silently admitted themselves to be stigmatized as outlaws from the “American Family!”

It was the discovery of documents such as this that helped me to develop a real connection to the project, unearthing old misconceptions and hearing age-old voices as directly as I possibly could. The MHS archives gave me a wonderful opportunity to experience historical research first hand. Even now that my fellowship is over I intend to go back and continue my research. We are so lucky to have access to these documents in Massachusetts and this organization, and I hope other people will take advantage of them as I did.

 

**The MHS has awarded the John Winthrop Student Fellowship since 2013. This fellowship encourages high school students to make use of the nationally significant documents of the Society in a research project of their choosing.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 10 July, 2014, 8:00 AM

“Use the Elevated!”: The Boston Elevated Railway Promotes its Services in 1926

On July 1st, riders on the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) rail and bus system saw fare increases that brought the cost of a single local bus ride to $1.60 and a single rapid transit (“T”) ride to $2.10. In light of this change, and the ongoing discussion within the Boston metropolitan area -- as well as across the country -- about the place of mass transit in the fabric of our lives, I thought it would be timely to look back at the history of Bostonians transit options.

The history of “mass” transportation in the Boston area actually begins much earlier than one might assume, with the commencement of stagecoach service between Boston and Cambridge in 1793. The nineteenth century saw an expansion of horse-drawn omnibuses and railcars, then a conversion to electric trolley lines in the late 1800s. This shift came about in part due to organized opposition to the harsh treatment of the working horses. The 1890s also saw the construction of the first subway tunnel in the United States, Boston’s Tremont Street Subway completed in 1897. By the 1920s there were hundreds of miles of streetcar, elevated, and subway tracks wending their way through Boston, many of them run by the Boston Elevated Railway Company. In 1926, the Elevated issued a Guide and Information Book for riders which offers us a glimpse at what public transit was like almost a century ago.

In 1926 the fare for a single ride on the local rail and bus lines in Boston was ten cents, or $1.30 in today’s currency (adjusted for inflation). As today, the company struggled to make needed improvements in service on the income these fares produced. In a section of the pamphlet titled, “USE THE ELEVATED,” the company exhorted Bostonians to use the railway “operated by the public and for the public.” According to the company’s 1925 ridership statistics, the average resident rode the railway less than once per day. Their faith in the public’s civic engagement is admirable as they proceed to provide a line-item budget for needed improvements and suggest that “If the population served had traveled an average of once a day per capita … revenue would have increased by $7,800,000”! Would that Bostonians of today responded to such fiscally-minded challenges to “use it more”!

With a network of railways and bus routes that trace similar routes to modern-day transit lines, then, as now, “the railway [offered] a solution for traffic congestion.” Even before the highway and automobile boom following World War Two, Bostonians wrestled with the problem of congested streets and long commutes. “At Governor Square and Kenmore Station in the … period between 5.30 to 5.45 P. M.,” the Guide reports, “there were 30 elevated units comprising 78 cars transporting 4178 passengers [while] 1204 automobiles [carried] 2057 passengers.” One pictures earnest civil engineers standing on each corner, pencil and notebook in hand, scribbling away.

The Guide also offers visitors to Boston a useful list of cultural and historical sites of interest, including our very own Massachusetts Historical Society (“Subway--Ipswitch Street car”). “To the resident or visitor,” the Guide concludes on the final page, “Boston offers an inexhaustible variety, whatever his [sic] inclination may be”:

If it be historical, here he may find the scenes of the events which shaped the early development of our country. If literary and education, its churches, libraries, schools and colleges; if artistic, in its galleries, museums and concerts halls where the world’s best of art and music may be seen and heard. … for amusement there are its theatres, skating rinks, baseball parks, boating and canoeing, trolley rides, automobile rides, and nearby all the delights of the seashore, salt water bathing, and excursion trips.

Such boosterism would definitely make modern-day Boston’s promoters proud.

Interested in exploring the history of Boston’s transportation network further? For a live-action tour through the history of Boston street cars, check out Civil Engineering student Gil Propp’s twenty-minute documentary film “Streetcar Tracks” available to stream at his website Boston Streetcars. And of course, researchers are always welcome to stop by the Massachusetts Historical Society (Green line T--Hynes Convention Center) to explore our holdings!

 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 9 July, 2014, 1:00 AM

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