History Day Has Gone Virtual—and We Need Judges!

by Elyssa Tardif, Director of Education

True to our 2020 theme “Breaking Barriers,” National History Day in Massachusetts has transitioned for the first time ever to a virtual contest! Looking for something to do at home? Learn some amazing history and support our students from the comfort of home by judging at our new state-wide competition. We have over 840 students competing, so we are looking for 200+ judges who have a love of history. Learn more on our website, or sign up now on our Judge Registration Form!

Judging will take place between 17 and 23 April, on your own schedule. For more information, please e-mail education@masshist.org. No experience or technological expertise required; PDPs provided for teachers.

We look forward to celebrating history and our students’ hard work with you!


Bread and Stones

by Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

Bunker HIll Monumnet
Bunker Hill Monument, Charlestown, Mass.

A few years ago, I posted to the Beehive about Noah Worcester of the Massachusetts Peace Society and his objections to the way battles were commemorated. Worcester believed, in short, that we should celebrate peace, not war. He interested me because, although a Revolutionary War veteran himself, he took an unpopular but principled stand against the hyper-nationalism and bravado that he believed only served to further divide people from each other.

In the records of the Bunker Hill Monument Association, I recently came across another compelling letter by a Revolutionary War veteran who dissented from prevailing opinion. His name was Caleb Stark, and his language was so powerful I decided to investigate further.

If it’s possible to have military service in your blood, Caleb Stark had it. His father was Maj. Gen. John Stark, and his mother Molly worked as a nurse to the troops during a smallpox epidemic. Caleb was only 15 when he ran away in 1775 to join his father at the front lines, and he arrived on the eve of the Battle of Bunker Hill. He would serve through the rest of the war, eventually attaining the rank of major.

He was a natural choice for membership in the Bunker Hill Monument Association. The BHMA was founded in 1823, as the fiftieth anniversary of Bunker Hill was approaching, and its mission was to design, fund, and build a monument to those who had served in the battle. The association’s officers wrote to Stark to notify him of his election to membership. His answer, dated 10 April 1825, was possibly not what they were expecting.

I have powerful national objections to the adoption of this project, for the  following reasons. First those who made this notable stand on this sanguinary hill, have almost all passed to those shades where military honors are not more highly appreciated than they have been in the United States.

In other words, the monument was too little too late. Most survivors of the battle had died in the intervening years. But Stark was just getting started.

Secondly, the actors in this bloody scene (the Revolutionary war) after having performed their part in a manner, perhaps unparalleled in antient or modern history, were refused by the government the rewards that were so solemnly promised in the hour of the most critical danger, & while the government has found ways & means to satisfy all other legal, & many illegal demands, they still continue a deaf ear to the crying demands for justice claimed by the disbanded officer & soldier. And now Sir in room of giving them the bread (that was solemnly promised), the debt is to be paid by a stone!!

I assumed Stark was referring to military pensions. In a biographical sketch written in 1860 by his son, Stark is described as an advocate on that issue, and his “testimony secured pensions to all whose cases he represented at the war department.”

Stark continued:

It is not to be denied that after a lapse of forty years 14,000 of the soldiers who were state paupers have been transfered to the United States, but the utmost care has been taken to preclude all others from the just claims due by the high national compact on the one side, & the discharged soldier on the other. These considerations have induced me to think that it would redound more to the honor of this rising powerful nation, to obliterate every vestige of the revolution, rather than have such a foul stain of ingratitude & injustice, coupled with the heroick deeds, privations, & suffering of the authors of the revolution.

Forceful words: better to forget the Revolution entirely than to neglect or mistreat its veterans and their families and then try to placate them with a monument.

What specifically were the “rewards” and “just claims” that Stark referred to? His son’s biography answers this question. It includes the text of a long article written by Stark and published in a local newspaper in 1835. Here is one of the relevant passages:

How have they [the United States] fulfilled their contract with the soldiers of the revolution? When it was necessary to continue the army in 1776, Congress, by a resolve of September 16, promised the soldier, in addition to his pay, one hundred acres of land in case they would join the officers and conquer the country. They closed with these terms, and by unparalleled suffering, exertions, and consummate bravery, in eight years cleared the country of its enemies, leaving the United States government in quiet possession of our immense public domain. Two years after the peace, May 20, 1785, resolves were passed for furnishing the soldiers the promised lands; but especial care was taken to saddle the law with a supplement, requiring the lands to be located in plats of six miles square, so that if two hundred and thirty soldiers could not be collected, and induced to combine in the location, they could not obtain their land.

The similarities between his language here and that of his letter to the BHMA indicate, I think, that this was Stark’s primary grievance. And he couldn’t hide his disgust at Congress’ self-dealing.

But Congress, farther to exhibit their love of justice and honor, enacted a law that the soldier might assign his right to the honorable fraternity of speculators, many of whom were members of the honorable Congress.

Stark goes into great detail about the maneuvers used to cheat veterans in favor of wealthy speculators, from reducing the size of land awarded to instituting a statute of limitations for claims. In fact, when he wrote the article, he had already spent nine years prosecuting his claim against the U.S. government for family land in Ohio. He ultimately won that fight, but learned in the process that “gratitude is a virtue often spoken of with apparent sincerity, but not so frequently exhibited in practice.”

In spite of his refusal to join the Bunker Hill Monument Association and his bitterness about promises broken, Stark did attend the ceremony for the laying of the monument’s cornerstone in Charlestown, Mass. on 17 June 1825. At 65, he was reportedly the youngest survivor of the battle of the 190 veterans in attendance. Noah Worcester of the Massachusetts Peace Society was not there.

I like to highlight the dissenting opinions of people like Stark and Worcester because they provide a fuller understanding of historical events that often come down to us simplified and sanitized. History is messy, and the closer you look, the more layers of compexity you find.


Select Bibliography

Bunker Hill Monument Association records, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Colby, Fred Myron. “Stark Place, Dunbarton.” The Granite Monthly, a New Hampshire Magazine, Devoted to History, Biography, Literature and State Progress, vol. 5, 1882, pp. 80-88.

Stark, Caleb. Memoir and Official Correspondence of Gen. John Stark, with Notices of Several Other Officers of the Revolution. Concord, N.H.: G. Parker Lyon, 1860. pp. 344-

Stearns, Ezra S., ed. Genealogical and Family History of the State of New Hampshire: A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of a Commonwealth and the Founding of a Nation, vol. 1. New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1908. pp. 438-439.

Warren, George Washington. The History of the Bunker Hill Monument Association During the First Century of the United States of America. Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1877.

“Sic vos non vobis”

by Daniel Hinchen, Reference Librarian

Did you ever wonder where the name for this blog came from? The Beehive does seem an odd name for a platform that is spreading news of an institution like the MHS.  While the source of this name and associated imagery is well-known I invite you to take a look back at an older post called “Behind the Title: Why the Beehive?” to learn how we got here.

MHS Seal
Left: MHS seal as depicted on fireplace in Ellis Hall. Right: MHS seal as depicted on glass door to Ellis Hall.

Now you know all about Virgil and his hexameters and how someone else stole credit for his work. But it is a single line, “Sic vos non vobis malleficatis apes” (Thus do ye, bees, for others make honey) that has stuck with us. Like bees making honey, the staff of the MHS collects, preserves, and makes accessible the materials of our history as a commonwealth and as a nation not for ourselves, but for all those who wish to learn from them. And now more than ever, in this strange time of social isolation, the staff of the MHS is working to find new ways to carry on that mission so that others may continue to take lessons from our shared history.

Even though our beehive (1154 Boylston Street) is currently closed, the Library Reader Services staff is available to help you with the research you want to conduct. Granted, being away from our home means we are limited in the amount of honey we can produce, but we are ready to help how we can. With that in mind, here is a quick list of ways you can connect with us to ask your questions, and some easy ways to find content on our website.

As always, our online catalog, ABIGAIL, is open for searching for materials that might help your research. While much of it will remain inaccessible without being in the building, there are plenty of ways to find digital editions of some of our resources on our website:

All of this information and more is also available on two new web-pages we’ve created to illustrate how we are updating our Reference Services and Reproduction Services during this time when we do not have physical access to our collections.

So, if you have a burning question–or even a casual curiosity–relieve some of that isolation and reach out to our reference team by

  • E-mailing us at library@masshist.org
  • Leaving us a voicemail at 617-646-0532
  • Tweeting us @MHS1791_Ref

“Continuing the Work,” Boston Women & Aid to Civil War Veterans & Families

by Patrick T.J. Browne, Mellon Short-term Research Fellow, Boston University

In the summer of 1865 as soldiers returned home, the United States Sanitary Commission gradually terminated most of its activities. Over the course of the Civil War, the Sanitary Commission had become the nation’s largest relief agency, addressing a host of issues relating to the care of Union soldiers and sailors. To accomplish this, the Sanitary Commission relied on a vast network of local soldiers’ aid societies across the North—most of which were administrated by women.

Historians have noted that when the Sanitary Commission shut down, the women of local aid societies, in many cases, expressed a desire to continue their work on behalf of the returning veterans.[1] This was particularly true of the New England Women’s Auxiliary Association in Boston. While it is evident from their monthly published reports that the women of the NEWAA desired to keep up their work after the war, sources informing us as to what they actually did are scarce.

For this reason, I was particularly pleased during my time as a Mellon Research Fellow at the Massachusetts Historical Society to come across a small, handwritten minute-book documenting Executive Committee meetings of the NEWAA from 1865 to 1868. My dissertation project at Boston University focuses on the “Ordeal of Homecoming” for northern Civil War veterans and the social response on the part of northern civilians to the disruptions in their communities during the aftermath of the war. In researching the secondary literature I have found that local efforts to aid disabled veterans and their families have sometimes been written off haphazard and ineffective. This minute book helps to put this work in a different light.

Led by Abby Williams May, the Executive Committee met on July 18, 1865 to reorganize and develop a plan for continuation of their efforts. The scope of their work would be narrower than before, to be sure. Whereas the organization had once been the hub of supplies to the Sanitary Commission from towns throughout New England, they would now focus strictly on Boston veterans and their families. They decided to maintain their offices at 18 West Street as a place where those in need might apply for aid.

Their minutes suggest a large network of cooperation among numerous organizations (including the Boston Discharged Soldiers Home, the Overseers of the Poor, and the Boston Police) and provide an interesting glimpse of the mechanisms of local aid before national programs were instituted. Local missionaries seem to have been especially helpful in locating homes for widows and orphans.

Each week, the minutes end with a tantalizing remark, “The record of cases was read and acted upon.” Unfortunately, the minutes do not provide a list of applicants for aid nor any indication of what was done for each one. There are, however, general remarks in the minutes on larger matters which required the Committee’s attention, including drives to procure clothing for residents of the Discharged Soldiers’ Home and efforts to reach out to mill owners to secure employment for women whose disabled husbands could not work.

Evidently, there were limits to the NEWAA’s generosity. Two curious sentences appear in the December 5, 1865 minutes: “Miss Bailen’s case up again!!” and “Miss Shannon to be requested not to come to the rooms anymore.” We are left to wonder how these women apparently tried the Committee’s collective patience. It seems there was a perceived lack of self-sufficiency on their part and a prevailing sense that they were asking too much of the organization.

While the precise scope of their work is difficult to determine from the minutes it is clear that, nearly a year after the war’s end, the NEWAA office was quite busy. In January 1866 they voted to extend their hours and add staff. In February, they requested $3,000 from the treasury of the Sanitary Commission (which still held funds) to continue their work. They received only $1,000 which was enough to keep them active until June 1866 when they stopped taking on new cases. After that, they stopped meeting regularly and finally opted to discontinue the organization in 1868.

Though their post-war activity covers a relatively brief span of time, the NEWAA minute-book book provides a rare window on the work of a local soldiers’ aid society during a crucial period for veterans and their families.


[1] Judith Giesberg, Civil War Sisterhood, (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2000), 144-150; Jeanie Attie, Patriotic Toil: Northern Women and the American Civil War, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998), 255-256.

Happy Birthday, Maine!

by Hannah Elder, Reproductions Coordinator

This Sunday, 15 March, marks the 200th anniversary of Maine’s statehood.  Maine had been a district of Massachusetts since the 1650s, and though secessionist sentiment was strong in the district from shortly after the Revolution, it was not until 1819 that Massachusetts allowed Maine to become its own state. The move was formalized in 1820 as a part of the Missouri compromise.

Osgood Carleton Map of Maine
Map of the District of Maine, Massachusetts; Compiled from Actual Surveys made by Order of the General Court. Map by Osgood Carleton; engraved by J. Callender and S. Hill.

Some of our collections explore the relationship between Maine and Massachusetts, including Maine’s journey to statehood. One such collection is the Vaughan Family Papers. Ebenezer T. Warren, the father-in-law of William Manning Vaughan, was a lawyer and politician who lived in Hallowell, Maine in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Much of his correspondence discussed the developing statehood of Maine. When the Society’s library reopens, consider stopping by to check it out!

In the meantime, take a look through some of our online resources. Can you find any Maine connections?

This Week @MHS

We have a busy week of programming at the MHS. Here is a look at what is planned:

On Monday, 9 March, at 6:00 PMInventing Boston: Design, Production, & Consumption, 1680–1720 with Edward S. Cooke, Jr., Yale University. During the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Boston was both a colonial capital and the third most important port in the British empire. Boston was also an independent entity that articulated its own identity while appropriating British culture and fashion. Edward Cooke examines period dwellings, gravestones, furniture, textiles, ceramics, and silver, revealing through material culture how the inhabitants of Boston were colonial, provincial, metropolitan, and global, all at the same time. This detailed account demonstrates how Bostonians constructed a distinct sense of local identity, a process of hybridization that exhibited a desire to shape a culture as a means to resist a distant power. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30 PM; the speaking program begins at 6:00 PM. There is a $10 per person fee (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members, EBT or ConnectorCare cardholders). 

On Tuesday, 10 March, at 5:15 PM: The Metabolism of Military Forces in the War of Independence: Environmental Contexts & Consequences with David Hsiung, Juniata College, and comment by James Rice, Tufts University. In order to function during the War of Independence, armies and navies needed multiple sources of energy—food, firewood, work animals (which also needed food), ammunition, and more. How did specific natural environments, both proximate and distant, fuel those military metabolisms? How did such actions affect those environments in the decades and centuries that followed? This paper is the seed of a book proposal that, when watered by your feedback, will germinate come summertime. This program is co-hosted by the Boston Seminar on Environmental History and the Pauline Maier Early American History Seminar* series. Seminars are free and open to the public.

On Wednesday, 11 March, at 6:00 PM: City on a Hill: A History of American Exceptionalism with Abram C. Van Engen, Washington University in St. Louis. Abram Van Engen shows how the phrase “City on a hill,” from a 1630 sermon by Massachusetts Bay governor John Winthrop, shaped the story of American exceptionalism in the 20th century. By tracing the strange history of Winthrop’s speech, from total obscurity in its own day to pervasive use in modern politics, Van Engen reveals the way national stories take shape and shows us how those tales continue to influence competing visions of the country—the many different meanings of America that emerge from a preservation of its literary past. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30 PM; the speaking program begins at 6:00 PM. There is a $10 per person fee (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members, EBT or ConnectorCare cardholders).

On Thursday, 12 March, at 5:15 PM: Fashioning a Life: How Style Matters in Biography with Caroline Weber, Barnard College; Channing Joseph, University of Southern California; and moderator Natalie Dykstra, Hope College. Is fashion art or commerce? Frivolous or full of meaning? Is fashion evidence? This panel brings together Caroline Weber, author of Queen of Fashion: What Marie-Antoinette Wore to the Revolution and Proust’s Duchess, and Channing Joseph, whose forthcoming book recovers the untold story of formerly enslaved William Dorsey Swann, who became, in the 1880s, a progenitor of ballroom and drag culture. They will join moderator Natalie Dykstra, author of Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life, and now at work on a biography of Isabella Stewart Gardner, in a conversation about the ways biographers use fashion to decode lives and historical contexts. This is part of the New England Biography Seminar series. Seminars are free and open to the public.

On Saturday, 14 March, at 10:00 AM: The History & Collections of the MHS. This is a 90-minute docent-led walk through of our public rooms. The tour is free and open to the public. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or abentley@masshist.org.

*Our seminars bring together a diverse group of scholars and interested members of the public to workshop a pre-circulated paper. After brief remarks from the author and an assigned commentator, the discussion is opened to the floor. All are encourage to ask questions, provide feedback on the circulated essay, and discuss the topic at hand. Discussion is followed by a reception of light refreshments. The sessions are free and open to everyone.

Fire! Voices from the Boston Massacre
On the evening of March 5, 1770, soldiers occupying the town of Boston shot into a crowd, killing or fatally wounding five civilians. In the aftermath of what soon became known as the Boston  Massacre, questions about the command to “Fire!” became crucial. Who yelled it? When and why? Because the answers would determine the guilt or innocence of the soldiers, defense counsel John Adams insisted that “Facts are stubborn things.” But what are the facts? The evidence, often contradictory, drew upon testimony from dozens of witnesses. Through a selection of artifacts, eyewitness accounts, and trial testimony—the voices of ordinary men and women—Fire! Voice from the Boston Massacre explores how this flashpoint changed American history. The exhibition is on display at the MHS through 30 June 2020, Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and Tuesday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM.

“Adventures by Sea & Land”: A Disabled Veteran Tells His Own Story

by Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

Part of my job cataloging manuscripts here at the MHS involves revisiting older catalog records to improve descriptions and access. I recently revised the catalog record for the Lewis Augustine Horton papers, which the MHS acquired back in 1988, and I found a lot more in the collection than I’d expected.

Portrait of Lewis Augustine Horton, 1908
Lewis Augustine Horton, 1908

Horton served in the Union Navy during the Civil War, and his story is really remarkable. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor for helping to save the lives of crewmen of the U.S.S. Monitor when it sank in a storm on 30 December 1862. He spent some time as a prisoner of war, including at the notorious Libby Prison. And on 3 November 1863, he suffered a terrible accident on board the U.S.S. Rhode Island, when a cannon he was loading discharged prematurely and blew him backward into the sea. Miraculously, he survived, but his arms were so badly injured they had to be amputated above the elbows.

On 24 March 1864, Lewis Horton married Frances Goodwin, and the couple had three children: Florence, Luella, and Aubin. Lewis was an avid yachtsman and worked for many years at the Boston Custom House, dying in 1916 at the age of 74.

The papers include very little original manuscript material. The bulk of the collection consists of a typed manuscript and photocopies of secondary material, somewhat disorganized but apparently compiled for a biography of Horton that was never published. The manuscript was written by “Mrs. Lewis A. Horton”—not Horton’s own wife, but Lois Ormes Horton, the wife of his grandson and namesake. It probably dates from the second half of the twentieth century.

Lois made a few factual errors in her biography of her grandfather-in-law—for example, his middle name and the date of his death—but she very helpfully annotated most of her material and identified images with captions. She was also the person who donated the papers to the MHS 32 years ago.

The most intriguing item is a 16-page original manuscript titled “Adventures by Sea & Land, L. A. Horton.” It begins: “In the month of Jan’y 1857 at the age of 14 years I left New York in the Wm. Mason…”

Page from “Adventures by Sea & Land” by Horton
First page of “Adventures by Sea & Land”

The manuscript describes incidents in Horton’s life, particularly during the war, but the fact that it was written in the first person gave me pause. Was this a transcription by Lois? A dictation? At first I missed its significance. Then I came across a newspaper clipping about Horton from the Boston Sunday Herald, dated 27 December 1959. One passage mentions a memoir: “the now-faded pages on which [Horton] had penned a modest account of his Civil War days.”

Could this be a reference to the very same pages I had in front of me? On closer inspection, I saw that the writing didn’t match Lois’s at all. I did a little more research and found several sources asserting that Horton could, in fact, write very legibly—by holding a pen in his mouth. But I still wasn’t sure I could definitely attribute this particular manuscript to him.

Two final clues clinched it for me. First, a photocopy of an 1870 document (Horton’s application for reimbursement for prosthetic arms) contains very similar writing. And second, the memoir is written, in part, on letterhead of the U.S. Treasury Department, the agency that administered the customs service and therefore Horton’s employer.

Stationery used by HOrton
Detail of stationery used for Horton’s memoir

Here are a couple of excerpts to whet your appetite:

The name of one brute is indelibly impressed upon my mind as one of the officers of the prison. He was a brother of the wife of President Lincoln, Lieut [David Humphreys] Todd; usually drunk he thought nothing of sticking a man with his sword if his orders were not immediately obeyed.

[After the accident in which he lost his arms] The first impression was that I was torn into a thousand pieces, but coming to the surface & treading water, kept up until a boat could reach me & rescue me just in time, for I was growing weak from loss of blood & the sharks were attracted by the blood.

The 1959 Herald article indicates that Horton’s grandson, Lewis Aubin Horton, inherited the manuscript. When he died in 1973, it passed into the hands of his widow, Lois.

Photo of Horton and grandson ca. 1903

Lewis Augustine Horton and his grandson Lewis Aubin Horton, ca. 1903

For more information about Lewis Horton, I recommend this terrific piece by William F. Hanna of the Old Colony History Museum, published just two months ago. And of course, please visit the MHS library to look at the collection yourself!

Revisiting the Boston Massacre, 250 Years Later

by Laura Williams, Visitor Services Coordinator

When thinking back on the American Revolution, we return to the state of Massachusetts, its capital city of Boston, and the numerous pivotal events that took place there which shaped American history. One such event which comprises this famed coup is the Boston Massacre of 1770. A present-day popular tourist stop along The Freedom Trail, the site of the Boston Massacre is preserved for all to see in a rough recreation outside The Old State House. This momentous confrontation between British soldiers and the citizens of Boston marked a turning point for the American people and the beginning of a series of battles for independence from the British regime. After 250 years, we at the MHS are commemorating this event and highlighting pieces from our collections within the exhibit, Fire! Voices of the Boston Massacre, on display through June 2020.

On the evening of 5 March 1770 on King Street in Boston, a small riot among the civilians led to bloodshed when British soldiers fired into the unruly crowd. With five of those civilians killed and others injured, the event soon became known as the Boston Massacre. This event was preceded by many clashes involving the British soldiers stationed in Boston and the growing tension and unrest surrounding the British tax acts on the American people. Boston citizens were already participating in nonconsumption and nonimportation efforts; the fight between Tories and Patriots was growing; and the British soldiers who were meant to protect the Customs Commissioners had long been wary of their place there.

Witnesses of the Boston Massacre share their experiences of that fateful night in this video from the exhibition:

Notably, only two of the eight British soldiers who were arraigned were found guilty of manslaughter (rather than murder). This verdict sent waves through the community, and yearly commemorations of the occurrence would follow in Boston until 1783 when the celebration of Independence Day would take precedence. Had the events on the evening of 5 March been prevented, many other historic clashes including the Boston Tea Party, Battle of Bunker Hill, etc. may look very different today. This violent culmination of tension between Bostonians and the British played a significant role in the larger sentiment among the entire country.

Included in our collections are artistic renditions of the event itself, letters, diary entries, court documents, and many more pieces which describe and manifest the “Massacre” and its legacy 250 years later. With sources such as these, we are able to recognize the larger impact that this event had on the American population and the road towards the American Revolution. Our additional companion websites which accompany our exhibition are linked below, and explore a detailed history of the various events leading up to the Massacre, the many perspectives of the American citizens, and finally the consequent forging of the nation. The exhibition is on display at the MHS through 30 June 2020, Monday Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, Tuesday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM, and Saturday from 10:00 AM to 3:30 PM.

Companion websites:

Commemorating the 250th Anniversary of the Boston Massacre

Perspectives on the Boston Massacre

The Coming of the American Revolution: 1764 to 1776

This Week @MHS

Take a look at the programs planned at the MHS this week:

On Tuesday, 3 March, at 5:15 PM: The 1621 Massasoit-Plymouth Agreement & the Genesis of American Indian Constitutionalism with Daniel R. Mandell, Truman State University, and comment by Linford Fisher, Brown University. On 22 March 1621, Wampanoag sachem Massasoit agreed to a pact of mutual sovereignty and defense with Plymouth. At the same time, Massasoit promised to send his people who injured Englishmen to stand trial in their courts. While apparently contradictory, Plymouth’s acknowledgment of Wampanoag sovereignty and claim of the right to judge such conflicts reflected emerging international law and English legal norms, and created a constitution for Native-English relations that held for decades. Although King Philip’s War destroyed this agreement, similar political and jurisdictional arrangements continued to dominate British America and were reflected in U.S. Indian policy through the 1820s. This is part of the Pauline Maier Early American History Seminar* series. Seminars are free and open to the public.

On Wednesday, 4 March, at 6:00 PM: The Boston Massacre: A Family History with Serena Zabin, Carleton College. The story of the Boston Massacre is familiar to generations. But from the very beginning, most accounts have obscured a fascinating truth: the Massacre arose from conflicts that were as personal as they were political. Serena Zabin draws on original sources and lively stories to follow British troops as they are dispatched from Ireland to Boston in 1768 to subdue the increasingly rebellious colonists. She reveals a forgotten world hidden in plain sight: the many regimental wives and children who accompanied the armies. We see these families jostling with Bostonians for living space, finding common cause in the search for a lost child, trading barbs, and sharing baptisms. Becoming, in other words, neighbors. When soldiers shot unarmed citizens in the street, it was these intensely human and now broken bonds that fueled what quickly became a bitterly fought American Revolution. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30 PM; the speaking program begins at 6:00 PM. There is a $10 per person fee (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members, EBT or ConnectorCare cardholders). 

On Saturday, 7 March, at 10:00 AM: The History & Collections of the MHS. This is a 90-minute docent-led walk through of our public rooms. The tour is free and open to the public. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or abentley@masshist.org.

*Our seminars bring together a diverse group of scholars and interested members of the public to workshop a pre-circulated paper. After brief remarks from the author and an assigned commentator, the discussion is opened to the floor. All are encourage to ask questions, provide feedback on the circulated essay, and discuss the topic at hand. Discussion is followed by a reception of light refreshments. The sessions are free and open to everyone.

Fire! Voices from the Boston Massacre
On the evening of March 5, 1770, soldiers occupying the town of Boston shot into a crowd, killing or fatally wounding five civilians. In the aftermath of what soon became known as the Boston  Massacre, questions about the command to “Fire!” became crucial. Who yelled it? When and why? Because the answers would determine the guilt or innocence of the soldiers, defense counsel John Adams insisted that “Facts are stubborn things.” But what are the facts? The evidence, often contradictory, drew upon testimony from dozens of witnesses. Through a selection of artifacts, eyewitness accounts, and trial testimony—the voices of ordinary men and women—Fire! Voice from the Boston Massacre explores how this flashpoint changed American history. The exhibition is on display at the MHS through 30 June 2020, Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and Tuesday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM.

The Kass Teacher Fellowship 2019: Locating New England Loyalists in the Archive

by Kate Melchior, MHS, and Michael Ryan

Every year, the MHS awards the Kass Teacher Fellowship to one or more K-12 educators. The is designed to offer K-12 teachers the opportunity to focus on historical research that will support their classroom efforts, discovering new primary sources to use in their classroom and deepening their understanding of history and humanities.

In 2019, Michael Ryan of Pollard Middle School in Needham MA was awarded a Kass Fellowship to pursue research into the Loyalist experience during the Revolutionary War.  Michael spent several months pouring through the MHS archives and creating a new collection of primary sources for teachers to use when teaching the Loyalist experience.  Here we have shared excerpts from Michael’s final report on his experience and his findings at the MHS.

The Experience of New England Loyalists During the Era of the American Revolution
Michael Ryan

Miniature portrait of Capt. Israel Williams
Captain Israel Williams, unidentified artist, c. 1800-1810


In the summer of 2019, I was awarded a Kass Fellowship to conduct research at the Massachusetts Historical Society. My proposed topic of research was the New England loyalist experience during the era of the American Revolution. The time that I spent at the MHS was one of the great experiences of my life.

As an instructor, I knew that I had never successfully integrated the loyalist story into my class narratives. One of my professional objectives is to present a complex, nuanced version of history—rarely can we understand events or people in simplistic terms. However, my own understanding of loyalism was itself superficial so I needed to learn more before I could genuinely attempt to construct meaningful lessons on the subject for my students. This past summer allowed me the opportunity to methodically dig through the incredibly rich archives held by the MHS on the topic. I accumulated a large amount of primary sources that I can use directly in the American History class that I teach in the Needham Public Schools. I am currently curating these documents into a collection that can be used in Needham classrooms.

In the following paragraphs, I briefly summarize several of the archives that I consulted for this project.

Meshech Weare Papers

Meshech Weare was perhaps the most active New Hampshire Patriot leader during the American Revolution. Throughout the war, he served as head of New Hampshire’s committee of safety, a position from which he corresponded with some of the most prominent figures of the era. After perusing Weare’s papers, I chose four different documents that I believe are illustrative of some of the larger themes of the war. The first two, while they do not focus upon loyalism directly, they offer evidence of the  overwhelming amount of responsibilities that committees on the home front were forced to address.

The first is from July 23, 1777, and is a letter from Weare to a Lieutenant Colonel Wentworth. It is alarmist in nature as it tells of a planned British naval attack on “some part of the New England states” and that Wentworth should prepare his men for this. Of course, such an attack never occurred and this is why the letter is invaluable. It reminds the reader that very little about this war was indeed inevitable and various scenarios could have played out, possibly changing the outcome of the war. Leaders like Weare had to be hyper-vigilant against all potential attacks.

In September of 1777, Weare received a letter from an officer in Philadelphia. The topic concerns the recent Congressional resolution that commissioned tickets for a lottery. It makes dire reference to the fact that if this undertaking failed it would “have a most unfavourable impact upon our public affairs…it will wound our public reputation, discourage our Creditors at home and our friends abroad and be argued by our enemies of our weakness.” This document offers evidence that financing was a major concern throughout the war, and that as early as its third year Patriot leaders were greatly concerned about the detrimental effect of a poor public credit.

An undated letter to Weare from the town of Derry’s Committee of Safety addresses the complexity of identifying and punishing potential counterrevolutionaries. A man by the name of Benjamin Hall was imprisoned for desertion from the Continental Army and his alleged pro-British sympathies. Hall was apparently to be released on bail, but the four men on the Derry committee pleaded with Weare to reconsider this action. Weare, as head of the state’s committee of safety, had the executive authority to overrule this decision. In their strongly-worded letter, the Derry group argued that Hall “ought not to be Liberated…as we find he is to the Great Grief and Dissatisfaction of every true friend of America.” Although I could not determine how this matter was resolved, this document helps us understand the Revolution as civil war; neighbor against neighbor and the gray area that existed between people who simply wanted no part of the conflict and those that were called out as Tories.

Finally, on June 22, 1778, Weare sent a letter, under a flag of truce, to the Royal governor of Nova Scotia concerning prison exchange, a topic rarely referenced in textbooks or survey courses. It is important because it addresses one of the many logistical challenges faced by both armies. Once prisoners were taken, how did those in charge locate and administer adequate facilities? The logistical challenges faced by the war’s leaders are usually ignored, yet students tend to be fascinated by this information. Weare was eager to conduct an exchange with his British counterpart, requesting that an American officer by the name of Sherburne return from the meeting with as many American prisoners as he “can conveniently bring home with him.” In return, he promised that the same number of equal ranks” would be returned to the British.

The Israel Williams Papers

Massachusetts native Israel Williams exited the French and Indian War as representative of the brilliance of the imperial relationship. A colonel in the militia, Williams demonstrated great managerial skills in his majesty’s campaign to permanently expel the French from North America. His correspondence from the war portrays an individual who, if his passions had taken him in a different direction, may very well have ended up among the pantheon of local Founding Fathers. However, as his correspondence with Thomas Hutchinson indicated, he would choose the path of loyalty to empire.

These documents I will excerpt for use in my class to illustrate the complexity of choosing sides during the conflict. In 1778 a committee of safety in western Massachusetts charged Williams with a plan to “to obstruct and hinder all Salutary measures which the People universally throughout this Continent have adopted and are adopting to obtain a restoration of their constitutional rights and privilege.” Williams was placed under house arrest and spent over a year in this state of ostracization and ridicule. The documents relating to Williams’s experience are fantastic as they convey a man who honestly believed that he had committed no act of transgression, and that prior to the crisis, had presumably been exalted as a hero in his community. Fascinatingly, Williams did rehabilitate himself and did reintegrate into post-war Massachusetts society. It is important for students to recognize that after the war, not all Loyalists self-exiled or remained that way—former adversaries had to learn to live as neighbors once again.

Mary Robie-Sewall Diary

Box three of the Robie-Sewall papers contains the 1783 diary of teenager Mary Robie, the daughter of Boston merchant exiles living in Nova Scotia. This is apparently the original copy and it is fascinating as it offers a snapshot of loyalist life that is largely unconcerned with either of the great political questions that would have preoccupied her elders at the time: The Treaty of Paris and the manner by which, if indeed at all, her people would reintegrate into the life of their former community of Boston, Massachusetts.

I went through the entire six months of the extant diary and selected excerpts that I believe give a fairly representative view of Mary’s experiences and feelings during her exile. Not surprisingly, Mary writes often of her close relationship with both her family and fellow exiles so her reflections paint a detailed portrait of the daily experiences of  Bostonians living in exile as they anxiously awaited whether they would return “home” and become citizens of this new republic whose cause they had earlier spurned.

Other Loyalist Research

The following research also produced sources and stories about the Massachusetts loyalist experience. I will include selections from each in the booklet that I create for classroom use:

  • Winslow Family Papers, Correspondence, 1775. (Boxes 1 and 2.)
  • The Charles Ward Apthrop Papers, Correspondence, 1773-1791. (Box 3)
  • Boylston Family Papers, Correspondence, 1775. (Box 7)
  • King’s Chapel Records, founding through reorganization after the war. (Box 5) Savage Family Papers, 1775-1799. (Boxes 1, 2, and oversized.)
  • Richard Frothington Charlestown Papers, 1812-1880. (Box 3)
  • Divided Hearts: Massachusetts Loyalists 1765-1790: A Biographical Directory


If you are interested in learning more about the Kass Teacher Fellowship or any of our other programs, please visit the Center for the Teaching of History website or e-mail us at education@masshist.org.  We look forward to hearing from you!