Charles Cornish Pearson and the Great War, Part I
By Susan Martin, Collections Services
I’d like to introduce Charles Cornish Pearson, a young man who served during World War I in the 101st Machine Gun Battalion, 26th Division, American Expeditionary Forces. The MHS acquired his papers a few months ago, but as I looked at them more closely, I realized there was so much good material that I’m going to stretch his story out over several posts. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I have. The collection also came to us with 32 terrific photographs, undated and mostly unidentified, some of which I’ll be using as illustrations.
Charles C. Pearson was born on 2 April 1890, the son of Charles H. and Gertrude (Cornish) Pearson. He grew up in Arlington, Mass. with his older brother Bill and younger sister Jean. He graduated from Somerville Latin High School in 1908 and Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1912. The MAC yearbook described him like this:
This is little “Napoleon.” When he came here, he hit the studies hard and now he doesn’t have to plug, because the “Profs.” pass him on general principles. He holds the reputation of being one of the really good-looking men in the class who doesn’t fuss. “Connie” had an awful time electing his courses. He wanted to take everything, but of course they wouldn’t let him. We shouldn’t be a bit surprised to see him a member of Phi Kappa Phi.
Charles worked as a salesman after college, specifically as manager of the Hartford, Conn. office of E. Naumburg & Co. The U.S. entered World War I on 6 April 1917, Charles enlisted 12 June, was appointed corporal 1 July, and shipped out to France in early October. His letters at the MHS were written primarily to his mother Gertrude, his father Charles, his aunt Florence, and his brother and sister. He signed his correspondence variously as Charles, Cornish, C.C.P., and most often as “Buster,” but I’ll just call him Charles for simplicity’s sake.
Philip S. Wainwright’s History of the 101st Machine Gun Battalion, published in 1922, is a great resource for all things 101st. I’ll be using Wainwright’s text to add some details, but I want to focus primarily on Charles’ letters, his personal reaction to events, and his evolution over the course of the war.
Spirits were high as the men of the 101st embarked for Europe, and Charles’ first letters home were sent from “a little village in France” in November 1917. He wasn’t allowed to reveal his exact location, but I learned from Wainwright that Charles was stationed in Mont-lès-Neufchâteau in the northeastern part of the country. He was cheerful, except when it came to the weather, which was too wet and muddy for his liking. (A recurring motif.) He urged his family to write often and requested a number of items from home, including clothes, toiletries, cigarettes, and especially reading material. He also reassured them.
Believe me you & Dad and the rest of the family are constantly in my mind, and for your part don’t worry about me, have been in fine health ever since I left Niantic and believe I will keep so, and as regards getting into actual fighting why that is too far off to start worrying about.
Things had been fairly quiet for Charles so far. The training was rigorous, but he suffered few hardships, except monotony. He also liked the locals, despite the language barrier.
The French people here in the village are an interesting lot. Understand practically no English & as most of us are lacking in French, we don’t make much head way. However they all seem only too glad to do what they can for us & jabber away in French just as though we could understand every word they said.
The men of the battalion were “looking forward to when we begin to do our bit” and working hard to master their weapons and other equipment. Two days before Christmas, Charles wrote to his mother about some of this training.
Had my first experience with gas today. Tried out a couple of the masks we have issued to us. We non-coms had the pleasure of going into what they call a gas chamber (which in truth was a well built cattle shed) put on our masks & let them turn the gas on. Nothing very exciting happened if you did things as directed but if not well you would be lucky if you got away with slight sickness. […] However we have to get used to them, learning how to put them on quickly, test for gas etc, so that when we get up against the real thing why we will know what to do.
The 101st Machine Gun Battalion celebrated Christmas 1917 with the French villagers of Mont-lès-Neufchâteau. Many soldiers received care packages from home, and Charles described the meal and entertainment. The holiday was “complete except for being away from our families and believe me you could notice a far away look in the boys faces as they opened their packages and thought of the folks at home.”
Join me in a few weeks when I pick up the story of Charles Cornish Pearson in his new year and ours.
| Published: Friday, 8 December, 2017, 12:00 AM
Gerry E. Studds Papers Available
By Susan Martin, Collection Services
The MHS is pleased to announce that the papers of Rep. Gerry E. Studds (D-Mass.) have been processed and are available for research. This very interesting collection contains material on subjects as wide-ranging as environmental and wildlife conservation, foreign policy (particularly in Central America), and gay rights and HIV/AIDS prevention.
Gerry Eastman Studds (1937-2006) was the first openly gay Congressman in the United States. He served in the U.S. House for 24 years, from 1973 to 1997, representing first the 12th district of Massachusetts, then the 10th after redistricting in 1983. Studds’ district included Cape Cod, the islands, and parts of the South Shore, and his papers are a great resource for information on fishing, fisheries, and the Coast Guard. He also served on the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee and the Foreign Services Committee.
The collection consists primarily of legislative papers, campaign papers, and scrapbooks. Included are speeches, statements, press releases, newsletters, correspondence, subject files, clippings, briefing books, surveys, and commendations. Here are a few highlights:
- - Two biographical scrapbooks compiled by Studds’ mother, Beatrice (Murphy) Studds, including material from his childhood, education, and early career;
- - Papers related to the 1968 New Hampshire primary campaign of Senator Eugene McCarthy, which Studds coordinated;
- - Sixteen detailed surveys of voters in Studds’ district reflecting the attitudes of his constituency on a variety of issues over his 24-year tenure;
- - Papers documenting Studds’ work to protect Massachusetts Bay’s Stellwagen Bank and to designate the Boston Harbor Islands as a national park;
- - And heartfelt letters from anonymous gay servicemen and women thanking Studds for his support of policies that would allow them to serve openly in the military.
We hope this collection will get a lot of use. The bulk of the papers are stored offsite, so use the online guide to submit your request at least two business days in advance.
| Published: Friday, 21 July, 2017, 12:00 AM
A Treasure Rediscovered: The Civil War Sword of Robert Gould Shaw, 54th Regiment
By Daniel Tobias Hinchen, Reader Services
Today, the MHS is happy to unveil a recent acquisition to the collection. On 12 July the Society announced the acquisition of a significant collection of Shaw and Minturn family papers, photographs, art, and artifacts. The most remarkable item in the collection is the officer’s sword carried by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment – the first Northern regiment composed of free black volunteers. One hundred fifty-four years ago, Shaw carried the weapon during the failed assault on Fort Wagner, Morris Island, South Carolina. With sword in-hand, Shaw was shot in the chest while mounting the parapet and was killed. The sword and other personal effects were stolen from his body during the night and presumed lost.
However, the sword survives. Following acquisition of the sword from descendants of the Shaw family, the collections staff here at the MHS had the daunting task of tracing the provenance of this sword in order to ensure that it is the genuine article.
What follows is a brief chronology of Robert Gould Shaw and his sword, as laid out by Curator of Art & Artifacts Anne Bentley, and Senior Cataloger Mary Yacovone, who combed through various sources published, primary, and otherwise. [N.B. – These events are arranged chronologically but, as with much historical research, the pieces fell together in anything but clear order.]
Nov. 1860 – Robert Gould Shaw (RGS) enlists in the 7th NY Militia.
28 May 1861 – RGS commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, Company H, 2nd Massachusetts Infantry.
8 July 1861 – RGS commissioned 1st Lt. in same.
10 Aug 1861 – RGS commissioned Capt. in same.
31 Mar 1863 – RGS commissioned Major, newly-formed 54th Massachusetts Regiment.
17 Apr 1863 – RGS commissioned Colonel, 54th Mass. Regt.
[mid-late April 1863?] – RGS’ uncle, George R. Russell, orders an officer’s sword for Shaw from master English swordsmith Henry Wilkinson.
11 May 1863 – Wilkinson sword no. 12506 proofed on this date, per Henry Wilkinson records.
23 May 1863 – Wilkinson sword no. 12506 etched and mounted on this date. Sold to C. F. Dennett, Esq., per Henry Wilkinson records.
28 June 1863 – RGS wrote to his mother: “Uncle George has sent me an English sword, & a flask, knife, fork, spoon &c. They have not yet come.”1
29 June  – “June 29 – Monday. “Arago” in and mail from the North.”2
1 July 1863 – RGS wrote to his father that “A box of Uncle George’s containing a beautiful English sword came all right.”1
4 July 1863 – RGS wrote to his father that “All the troops, excepting the coloured Regiments, are ordered to Folly Island. … P.S. I sent you a box with some clothes & my old sword. Enclosed is receipt.”1
16 July 1863 – Mass. 54th participated in the Battle of Grimball’s Landing, James Island. RGS probably used his new Wilkinson sword in this action. First experience under fire for the 54th, which stood strong and proved its mettle covering the retreating Union forces.
18 July 1863 – Assault on Fort Wagner. RGS shot in the chest as he stood on the parapet of Ft. Wagner, sword in hand. Overnight his body was robbed of personal effects and arms and stripped to underwear. Sources differ as to the culprits.
19 July 1863 – RGS buried. According to Brig. Gen. George P. Harrison, C.S.A. writing to Luis F. Emilio much later, RGS was placed in the rifle pits below the parapet and 20 of his dead soldiers placed on top of him. Sources here differ also.
22 July 1863 - In a letter to his family, Capt. Luis Emilio, Company E, describes the attack on Fort Wagner just four days prior:
Through the grace of Providence I passed safely through the terrible assault of Fort Wagner last Saturday night last [sic] and where our Regt was fearfully cut up, we lost our beloved Col. (Shaw) killed on the parapet, two Capts. missing (probably killed) – three four Capts wounded and three Lts., our Adjt. And Major also wounded. Nearly three hundred men killed, wounded or missing in all. We had the advance of everything; were not allowed to fire a gun, and charged clear up to the fort, but it was no use. Terrific fire from Wagner, Sumter, Johnson, Moultrie, and Cumming’s Point concentrated was too much for us, and we had to fall back. 3
Friday 24 [July 1863] – John Ritchie diary: “Packed up Col. Shaw’s effects & expressed them North.” Ritchie later noted that he also sold the colonel’s horse.
3 June 1865 – Letter from Brigadier General Charles Jackson Paine, district commander at New Berne, N. C., to family:
Goldsboro June 3, 1865. I heard the other day of the sword of the late Robt. G. Shaw killed at Fort Wagner, in the possession of a rebel officer about sixty miles from here. I sent out and got it; the scabbard was not with it. I am going to send it on as soon as I have an opportunity.4
28 Jan 1876 – Letter from Lydia Maria Child to John Greenleaf Whittier:
I spent last winter with the parents of Colonel Shaw…The flag of the 54th Regiment was in their hall, and the sword of Colonel Shaw. There is a history about that sword. It is very handsome, being richly damascened with the United States coat-of-arms, and the letters R. G. S. beneath. It was a present from a wealthy uncle in England, and he received it a few days before the attack on Fort Wagner […] When his mother showed me the weapon she said: "This is the sword that Robert waved over his followers, as he urged them to the attack. I am so glad it was never used in battle! Not a drop of blood was ever on it. He had received it but a few days before he died."5
Detail of the sword, showing United States Coat-of-Arms and initials R.G.S.
(Photograph by Stuart E. Mowbray)
1900 – At a meeting of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, Commandery of Massachusetts, Brev. Lt. Solon A. Carter, U.S.V., presented a paper titled “Fourteen Months’ Service with Colored Troops,” in which he stated:
In July , upon leaving the service, the late Assistant Adjutant General* was charged by General Paine with the duty of restoring the sword to Colonel Shaw’s father, and upon arrival at this home, opened a correspondence with Mr. Francis George Shaw informing him of its recovery.
The sword in question proved to be the one carried by the gallant colonel and was identified by the initials R.G.S. delicately etched upon the blade. In a postscript to one of his letters, Mr. Shaw wrote, "The sword was a present to my son from his uncle, Mr. George R. Russell, who purchased it in England and caused the etchings to be made there."
In a subsequent letter acknowledging its receipt he says "I thank you most heartily for all the care and trouble you have taken. So far as such words may be applied to an inanimate thing it is the weapon which has done most for our colored people in this war, and it is to me likewise as well as to you a source of great satisfaction that is was recovered and restored by officers of colored troops.”
*Captain Solon A. Carter, of Leominster, Mass., served as C.J. Paine’s Assistant Adjutant General. Appointed 15 July 1864 and resigned 3 July 1865.
Mar 2017 – The sword was found in the attic of the home of Mary (McCawley) Minturn Haskins.
6 Apr 2017 – In an e-mail to MHS Curator of Art & Artifacts Anne Bentley, one of the donors stated:
Susanna Shaw Minturn is my great-grandmother and apparently was very close to her brother, RGS. Her oldest son, Robert Shaw Minturn, had no children; there were four girls and my grandfather, Hugh Minturn (who died in 1915, before his mother). I can only guess, but presumably my great-grandmother passed the sword on to my father, Robert Bowne Minturn, not her oldest grandson, but the senior by male primogeniture. My father was 15 when his grandmother died in 1926. The sword may have hung on his childhood bedroom wall.
17 Apr 2017 – Shaw sword is given to the Massachusetts Historical Society as part of a larger gift including papers and portraits.
1. Shaw, Robert Gould, Blue-eyed child of fortune: the Civil War letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw / edited by Russell Duncan, (Athens : University of Georgia Press, c1992.)
2. Lt. John Ritchie’s diary, Quartermaster of the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry Regiment, whose diary was used by Luis F. Emilio in A Brave Black Regiment.
3. Luis F. Emilio to his family, 22 July 1863, Luis F. Emilio papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.
4. Paine, Sarah Cushing, Paine ancestry : the family of Robert Treat Paine, signer of the Declaration of Independence, including maternal lines / compiled by Sarah Cushing Paine ; edited by Charles Henry Page, )Boston : Printed for the family [Press of D. Clapp & Son], 1912.
5. Child, Lydia Maria Francis, Letters of Lydia Maria Child / with a biogrpahical introduction by John G. Whittier and an appendix by Wendell Phillips, (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1883).
| Published: Tuesday, 18 July, 2017, 10:00 AM
Working with Google to Showcase MHS Content about U. S. Presidents
By Nancy Heywood, Digital Projects Coordinator
Selections from MHS’s two most important collections, the Adams Family Papers and the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts, are now part of the Google Arts & Culture website. This website is administered by the Google Cultural Institute, a non-profit initiative founded in 2011 that partners with cultural organizations to “bring the world’s cultural heritage online.” [Read more about the Google Cultural Institute here: https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/about/partners/.]
When MHS was approached by a coordinator of the Google Cultural Institute in the late summer and asked to contribute content about U.S. Presidents for the American Democracy Project, MHS staff realized there were many benefits of having our collections showcased within the Google Arts & Culture web delivery system. Highlights of the Society's extraordinary Adams and Jefferson manuscript collections are now available to users who browse and search the content Google is hosting from about 1,200 significant museums, archives, and cultural organizations.
MHS's main website has thousands of presentations of documents from our Adams and Jefferson materials, and the first challenge was to figure out what specifically to contribute to Google's recent project. The Google content management system features items as single digitized images and online exhibitions featuring those digital items. Given limited production time to assemble the online content, we decided to focus our efforts on creating two online exhibitions--"The Private Jefferson" and “From Diplomats to Presidents: John Adams and John Quincy Adams”.
For "The Private Jefferson" online exhibition, Laura Wulf, Production Specialist, worked from the publication, The Private Jefferson: Perspectives from the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, the companion to the recent MHS exhibition. It features selected letters written by Jefferson, pages from manuscript volumes, architectural drawings and sketches, published documents, and engravings.
Neal Millikan, Digital Projects Editor, and Amanda Norton, Digital Projects Editor (with input from their colleagues within the Adams Papers department) crafted an informative narrative for the exhibition “From Diplomats to Presidents: John Adams and John Quincy Adams.” This exhibition presents key documents and quotations about the extensive careers in public service of John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams.
The MHS digital team (Laura Wulf, Peter Steinberg, and I) assembled all the digital components (images and associated metadata), loaded them into the Google web delivery system, and used the exhibition editor tool to assemble the online exhibitions.
Please explore the exhibitions and MHS's online content within the Google Arts & Culture website, and the entire Google American Democracy project.
| Published: Friday, 17 February, 2017, 12:00 AM
Anti-suffrage Records Available Online
By Nancy Heywood, Collections Services
A few years from now, in 2020, the United States will recognize the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing women's voting rights across the country. Although some states and territories had granted women the right to vote in the last half of the nineteenth century (including many in the western part of the country), full suffrage for U.S. women took a long time. Many organizations pushed forward referenda at the state and national level. An amendment to the U.S. Constitution was introduced in Congress in 1878 but stalled. The 19th Amendment stating that no U.S. citizen shall be denied the right to vote "on account of sex" was similar to the 15th Amendment that granted African American men the right to vote. The 19th Amendment passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1918, and by the U.S. Senate in 1919, was ratified by enough states by 20 August 1920 to be adopted.
During the time when so many were working hard to gain voting rights for women, there were also those working against this movement. One such organization was based in Massachusetts (and has one of the longest names of any institution whose records are held within the Massachusetts Historical Society): the Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women.
The records of this organization are now fully digitized and available on the web, thanks to a grant provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act grant as administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.
All pages of this manuscript collection have been digitized and they are presented as sequences of pages linked to the folders listed on the collection guide. Website users may explore any or all administrative records, committee meeting minutes, typescripts of lectures and reports, and various printed items including by-laws, and printed lists of standing committee members from all over the state.
The records date from 1894 to1920. The Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women was formally founded in 1895, but stemmed from a committee formed in 1882. The Association actively recruited members, opposed legislation that would have granted voting rights to women in Massachusetts, and also held events and lectures promoting their cause.
Women working so actively against voting rights for women seems curious and perhaps even incongruous. Some of the reasoning and context for their motivation is found within the organization's own records. Within the Loose papers, Legislative history section, there is a typescript document of a speech given at a hearing before committee on constitutional amendments in Feb. 1905 which states four reasons for opposing woman suffrage: many women in Massachusetts don't petition for it, Massachusetts wouldn't benefit from it; it is a "most inopportune" time to change the Constitution, and suffrage hasn't proven to be beneficial elsewhere.
Additional resources (beyond the organizational records) also provide perspectives on the context for anti-suffrage work:
The historian Francis Parkman (1823-1893) summarized the perspective of some within a pamphlet, Some of the Reasons Against Woman Suffrage [Boston?: s.n., 1883?] by stating it would be too burdensome for women because women are delicate and not as robust as men. Parkman also advocates the position that women voting could potentially be disruptive to "civil harmony" if women were too sentimental or if women from different classes turned against each other and ended up being more "vehement" than men on opposite sides of an issue (page 13). This pamphlet is available online from Harvard Library.
The Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women published a newsletter, The Remonstrance. One sample issue, from January 1908, is available as a digital presentation. An article on the first two pages covers various reasons against woman suffrage including the argument that not all women want the right to vote as evidenced by the fact that very few women who are eligible to vote in school committee elections actually do so. Opponents also disputed the argument that voting rights would result in improving the condition of women because women already had an indirect influence on public affairs from their position of "moral influence." Page 4 of the newsletter offers a synopsis of "Recent Defeats of Woman Suffrage" in various states.
| Published: Monday, 31 October, 2016, 12:00 AM