Hans Christian Andersen in the Charles Town Jail

By LJ Woolcock, Library Assistant

You can never be sure exactly what you’re going to find when you head into the archives. While working with a researcher over the past few weeks, I was looking through papers related to a story I thought I would know: John Brown and Harper’s Ferry. Looking for correspondence related to the raid’s aftermath, I pulled the Stevens family papers, which includes the correspondence of a member of Brown’s raiding party, Aaron D. Stevens.

It caught me totally by surprised when I discovered a handwritten copy of a story by Hans Christian Anderson – the Danish author of classic fairy tales including “The Little Mermaid,” “Thumbelina,” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes” – amongst the many letters from Stevens’ lawyer, friends, family, and strangers writing their support and well-wishes.

Rebecca Spring letter to Aaron Stevens

Letter from Rebecca Spring to Aaron Stevens, [Dec 1859], Stevens Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society. Full text transcription at the end of the post.

The story was sent to Stevens by Rebecca Spring at some point in December 1859. Spring was an abolitionist and educational reformer, who was one of the co-founders of the Fall River Anti-Slavery society in 1836, but by the 1850s was living in a utopian community she co-founded at Eaglewood near Perth Amboy, New Jersey. When John Brown & the raiding party were captured and imprisoned, she travelled to Charles Town intending to help care for Brown, and was allowed to meet with him twice. She kept an ongoing correspondence with Aaron Stevens after Brown’s execution, which is recorded in the Stevens Family Papers.

Spring sent the letter as one of her many care packages to Stevens: “This was written in Copenhagen by our beloved friend Hans Christian Andersen, and sent to me. It has never been published. I hope it will bring some light into your prison—” The story is written in Spring’s hand, indicating that she copied it out to send to Stevens.

In a subsequent letter dated to 6 January 1860, Spring also describes socializing with Andersen and his circle in Copenhagen:

“We were delighted with our visit … One evening a little company of friends were spending an evening with us at our hotel, Hans C. Andersen was talking to me in broken English, some times he would jump up and try to catch some word in the air, when he could not remember it, the Icelander took up a glass of wine and said, ‘Andersen, I drink to your English.’”

The story itself—no offense Hans—has none of the charms of his fairy tales. It’s along the lines of moralizing fiction common to the 19th century. A young Danish trader, upon going to sleep with a Bible under his pillow, is visited by an angel, who grants him a vision of his grandmother and his home back in Denmark.

It also clearly draws upon a deep-rooted tradition of colonialism and xenophobia towards the Indigenous peoples of the Far North. The Danes in Andersen’s story take their journey to, “try how far men could force their way,” echoing centuries-old violent colonial rhetoric. The supposed “wilderness” of the North is juxtaposed with the verdant clime of the main character’s home in Denmark. Meanwhile the Indigenous traders that the Danes meet are unnamed, and clearly painted as primitive:

…whole swarms of natives came, strange to look at, in their dresses of hairy fur. On their sledges which were made of lumps of ice, they brought far in great quantities, of there [sic] furs they made warm carpets for the snow houses, warm covering, and beds…”

We often think of the fairy tales and stories of Andersen as sprouting from untouched folk traditions, and carrying some essential ancient quality. Yet both Andersen’s work and the other famous 19th-century anthology of fairy tales—the Märchen of the Brothers Grimm—were both literary products of their time, shaped by their authors’ desires and values. The Grimm Brothers claimed that they were merely the transcribers of the folk & fairy stories they were told, but historian Ruth Bottigheimer has shown that this is more based on the Grimms’ own rhetoric & romanticism than fact.[1]  Andersen’s  incorporated stories that were entirely his own creations with others from his childhood that he re-worked, and others with some historical basis, such as the “Emperor’s New Clothes,” based on a story in the medieval Spanish Tales of Count Lucanor, by Infante don Juan Manuel. [2]

Encountering Aaron Stevens reading Hans Christian Andersen in the Charles Town jail in 1859—only months before his execution—conjures an unmistakably historical moment where the entangled narratives of slavery and colonialism in America and Europe came together in an unexpected way.


“In the uttermost parts of the Sea”

Some big ships were sent up to the North pole, to find the borders of the lands towards the sea, and to try how far men could force their way.

Already for years and days they had steered through mist and ice and suffered great hardships; now the winter set in again, the sun was always down, for many, many weeks it would be a long night here. Every thing far and near was one solid piece of ice, to this the ships were moored. The snow was very deep, and of the snow houses were made, looking like beehives, some very large, others only large enough to contain two or four men. It was not dark, for the northern lights were shining red and blue, like one eternal grand piece of fireworks – the snow gave light too, and the night was one blazing twilight.

When this long night was brightest, whole swarms of natives came, strange to look at, in their dresses of hairy fur. On their sledges which were made of lumps of ice, they brought far in great quantities, of there [sic] furs they made warm carpets for the snow houses, warm covering, and beds for the sailors, and thus they were warm under their domes of snow, while outside it was freezing in a way we don’t know of in our coldest winter time.

Here, in our Denmark, it was still autumn, the sailors thought on it in their snow huts far away; they remembered the rays of the sun at home, and the red and brown leaves hanging on the trees.

The watch told it was evening, and time to sleep, and in one of the small snow houses, two had already laid themselves down to rest; the youngest had with him his best, richest treasure from home, which Grandmother gave unto him before he left home, it was the Bible. Every night it lay under his pillow, he knew from his childhood what was in it, and laying on his couch, there came often to his thoughts the consoling, and holy words, “If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me!” Under these words of faith, and truth, he shut his eyes, the sleep came, and the dreams came.

God spoke to him in his dream, and his soul was awake while his body reposed. In his soul he heard melodies of old, dear, well known songs, all about him seemed mild and warm as summer, and from his couch he saw a shining light – over his head, as if the dome of snow was illuminated. He raised his head, the radient white was neither wall nor ceiling, but from the great white wings of an angel, and from his mild shining face. From the leaves of the Bible as from the chalice of a lily the angel raised himself, extended his arms and the walls of the snow but disappeared as a light mist veil. Home, with the green fields, and hills covered with woods [deletion] brown and yellow, law in quiet sunshine, a beautiful day in autumn, the stork’s nest was empty, but still the apples hung on the wild apple trees, though the leaves were fallen; the red eglantine shone, and the starling whisteled in the little green cage over the cottage window, of his own dear home. The starling whisteled, as he had taught it, and the Grandmother hung chickweed round the cage as the grandson always had done, and the Smith’s [deletion] daughter so young and so pretty, stood drawing water at the well, nodding to Grandmother, and Grandmother beckoned to her, showing a letter from far off, this morning it had come from the cold lands, yes, from the North pole, where the Grandson was – in God’s hand –

How they laughed and they cried – And he, surrounded by ice and snow, there in the world of the spirit, under the wing of the [deletion] angel saw and heard it all, laughed with them, and cried with them. And there was read from the letter itself, these words of the bible – “If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there his right hand shall lead me, and hold me.” Far and near it sounded like divine psalms, and the angel let his wings drop, like a veil round the sleeping. – the dream was ended – It was dark in the little house, but the bible lay under his head, faith and hope in his heart – God was with him, and home too – in the uttermost parts of the sea!

Hans Christian Andersen

Works Cited

[1] Bottigheimer, Fairy Tales: A New History (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2009), chapter 2.

[2] Wullschlager, Hans Christian Andersen: the Life of a Storyteller (London: Allen Lane, 2000), 170.

Archivist as Detective: The Case of C.S.

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

When the MHS acquired a small collection of four sermons by Abijah Cross of West Haverhill, Mass., I was struck by one in particular. It’s a funeral sermon from 1832, and written across the top is the note: “By the dying request of C.S. a young female member of the chh.”

Funeral sermon for C.S., 1832
Funeral sermon for C.S., 1832

Unfortunately Cross didn’t name her in his sermon, referring obliquely to “the interesting and lamented subject of the following discourse.” In fact, he provided no biographical clues at all, not the names of her parents, her age, cause of death. It seemed unlikely that I’d be able to learn the identity of C.S., but of course I had to try.

When it comes to making identifications like this, family genealogies are invaluable, but I didn’t even have a surname this time. Town histories are also a good resource, but only for particularly notable citizens. I couldn’t even rely on random web searches. In the end, all the information I had about C.S. came from that first line: she lived in Haverhill and died in 1832 when she was still young.

The last possible thread I had left to follow was the church itself. And as they have so many times before, fellow archivists and librarians came to my rescue.

I found information on Abijah Cross easily enough. In 1832, he served as pastor of the West Congregational Church in Haverhill, and I quickly discovered that the church’s records are held at the Congregational Library & Archives right here in Boston. Not only are the records housed there, but staff at the library have digitized the collection! (Knowing all the work that goes into digital projects, I’m especially grateful.)

It was a matter of just a few minutes to select the corresponding volume (1826-1838) and, using the digital viewer, page through images to find what I was looking for. Beginning on page 101 is “A Record of the Deaths of members of this Church,” and at the bottom of that page, in Cross’s own handwriting: “July 29, 1832. Cynthia Smith died of consumption at the early age of 14 years and 7 months. Dau. of Jesse & Lydia (Corliss) Smith.”

Chruch record excerpt
Excerpt from church records at Congregational Library & Archives

Armed with her and her parents’ names, I could use genealogical sources to confirm the identification and learn more about the family. Sure enough, Cynthia Smith is listed on page 64 of the Genealogical Record of the Corliss Family of America (1875). That book being a little sparse on details, I consulted other sources to reconstruct more of the family’s history. Here’s what I discovered:

Cynthia was born on 30 December 1817 and died on 29 July 1832 at the age of 14. Her mother Lydia had died two years before, and I found her death listed in the church volume just a few lines above her daughter’s. Both Cynthia and her mother are buried at the Second West Parish Cemetery in Haverhill.

Cynthia’s father was a farmer named Jesse Smith, originally from Methuen, Mass. Jesse remarried twice, first to Lois Merrill (with whom he had at least three other daughters), then to Mary Howe. He lived to 1879, surviving all three wives. He, Lois, and Mary, are buried at Hillside Cemetery, also in Haverhill.

For young Cynthia Smith’s funeral sermon, Abijah Cross took as his text Job 7:16: “I would not live alway.” He contrasted Job’s despair and impatience for death with what Cross characterized as Cynthia’s peaceful acceptance and submission to God, and he urged the young people of the congregation to heed her example and be prepared for death.

Another sermon in the MHS collection is worth mentioning. Twice in the spring of 1836, Cross delivered a fiery anti-slavery sermon to congregations in Massachusetts. He called slavery “a sin of the greatest enormity” that “overshadows all the rest” and argued that Northerners were complicit unless they “rebuked” enslavers in the South, as they would an erring brother.

God has made of one blood all nations to dwell on the face of the earth. On what then does the master ground his claim to the right of property in a being, whom God has made his equal? […] Where has he written “Master” on the brow of one man and “Slave” on the face of another?

In fact, Cross was life member of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and an unapologetic abolitionist. He opposed incremental abolition and colonization, and instead called for the immediate emancipation of all enslaved people on the grounds of equal rights.

P.S. I can’t close this post without commenting on what a terrific name Abijah Cross is for a minister. And here I thought no one could beat Philip S. Physick, M.D.!

Announcing the 2021-2022 MHS Research Fellows

by Katy Morris, Research Coordinator & Book Review Editor

We are pleased to announce the fellowship winners for the 2021-2022 academic cycle. Every year, the MHS administers roughly a quarter million dollars in research support to help scholars from all career stages access our remarkable collections. These fellowships range from short-term funding (4 to 8 weeks) to long-term residency (4 to 12 months).

The incoming cohort of fellows explores an exciting variety of topics. They range from studies of political history to examinations of the arts, poetry, and the gothic tradition. Others delve into histories of religion, time, and emotion. Still others are delving into histories of citizenship, abolition, women’s networks, and trade.

Congratulations to our incoming fellows – we can’t wait to learn more about your work!

Fellowships sponsored by the Massachusetts Historical Society, 2021-2022

MHS-NEH Long-Term Fellowships

  • Jamie Bolker, Post-Doc, Newberry Library, “Lost and Found: Wayfinding in Early America”
  • Patrick Bottiger, Associate Professor, Kenyon College, “Corn, Beans, and Squash: The Three Sisters Agricultural Revolution and the Remaking of North America, 300 CE to 1850”
  • Dan Du, Assistant Professor, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, “The World in a Teacup: Chinese-American Tea Trade in the Nineteenth Century”

Suzanne & Caleb Loring Fellowship on the Civil War, Its Origins, and Consequences

  • Anne Cross, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Delaware, “‘Features of Cruelty Which Could Not Well Be Described by the Pen’: The Media of Atrocity in Harper’s Weekly, 1862-1866”

MHS Short-term Fellowships

  • Kathryn Angelica, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Connecticut (Andrew W. Mellon Fellow), “‘The Glorious Cause of Liberty’: Women’s Anti-Slavery and Abolitionist Activism in New England”
  • Megan Armknecht, Ph.D. Candidate, Princeton University (Ruth R. & Alyson R. Miller Fellowships), “Diplomatic Households and the Foundations of U.S. Diplomacy, 1789-1870”
  • Cameron Boutin, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Kentucky (Mary B. Wright Environmental History Fellowship), “War and the Elements: Civil War Soldiers’ Experiences with the Weather”
  • James Broomall, Associate Professor, Shepherd University (Military Historical Society of Massachusetts Fellowship), “Battle Pieces: The Imagery and Artifacts of the Civil War”
  • Jimmy Bryan, Professor, Lamar University (Malcolm and Mildred Freiberg Fellowship), “The Empire of Grim: Gothic Subversions of US Expansion”
  • Heesoo Cho, Ph.D. Candidate, Washington University at St. Louis (Andrew W. Mellon Fellow), “The Making of the Pacific Ocean in the Early Republic, 1780-1820”
  • Jennifer Factor, Ph.D. Candidate, Brandeis University (W.B.H. Dowse Fellowship), “Poetry Performance in Colonial New England”
  • Donovan Fifield, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Virginia (W.B.H. Dowse Fellowship), “Credit and Imperial Crises in the American Northeast, 1698-1775”
  • Sarah Beth Gable, Ph.D. Candidate, Brandeis University (Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati Fellowship), “Policing the Revolution: Massachusetts Communities and the Committees of Correspondence, Inspection and Safety, 1773-1783”
  • Christopher Gillett, Assistant Professor, University of Scranton (C. Conrad & Elizabeth H. Wright Fellowship), “Catholicism and Revolution in the British World, 1630-1673”
  • Ethan Goodnight, Ph.D. Candidate, Harvard University (Andrew W. Mellon Fellow), “Tongues of Fire: Religious Enthusiasm, Racial Formation, and Anti-Blackness in the Atlantic World”
  • Daniel Gullotta, Ph.D. Candidate, Stanford University (Marc Friedlaender Fellowship), “‘The Lord Preserve Us from Socinian Presidencies’: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, and the Transformation of American Religious Electoral Politics”
  • Joanne Jahnke Wegner, Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (Benjamin F. Stevens Fellowship), “Stolen Lives: Captivity and Gender in the Northeast, 1630-1763”
  • Samuel Jennings, Ph.D. Candidate, Oklahoma State University (Andrew W. Mellon Fellow), “‘The Most Perfect Foundation of Her Faith’: The Virgin Mary in Mid-Eighteenth Century North America”
  • Randal Grant Kleiser, Ph.D. Candidate, Columbia University (Kenneth and Carol Hills Fellowship in Colonial History), “Exchanging Empires: Free Ports, Reform, and Revolution in the Atlantic World, 1750-1784”
  • Joshua Kleuver, Ph.D. Candidate, Binghamton University (Andrew W. Mellon Fellow), “Hiding in Plain Sight: Socialist Legislators at the State Level, 1899-1944”
  • Alexandra Macdonald, Ph.D. Candidate, College of William & Mary (Louis Leonard Tucker Alumni Fellowship), “The Social Life of Time in the Anglo-Atlantic World, 1660-1830”
  • Jacqueline Marie Musacchio, Professor, Wellesley College (Andrew Oliver Research Fellowship), “At Home Abroad: Anne Whitney and American Women Artists in Nineteenth-Century Italy”
  • Jesse Olsavsky, Assistant Professor, Duke Kunshan University (African American Studies Fellowship), “Fire and Sword Will Affect More Good: Runaways, Vigilance Committees, and the Rise of Revolutionary Abolitionism, 1835-1861”
  • Sarah Pearlman Shapiro, Ph.D. Candidate, Brown University (Ruth R. & Alyson R. Miller Fellowships), “Women’s Communities of Care in Revolutionary New England”
  • Anne Powell, Ph.D. Candidate, College of William & Mary (Kenneth and Carol Hills Fellowship in Colonial History), “The Antinomian Controversy: Theological Disorder Amidst Colonial Crisis in New England”
  • Helena Roth, Ph.D. Candidate, Graduate Center, CUNY (Andrew W. Mellon Fellow), “American Timelines: Imperial Communications, Colonial Time-Consciousness, and the Coming of the American Revolution”
  • Francis Russo, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Pennsylvania (Short-term Fellowship), “Utopian Dreams at the End of Early America: 1663-1860”
  • Chelsea Spencer, Ph.D. Candidate, MIT (Andrew W. Mellon Fellow), “The Contract, the Contractor, and the Capitalization of American Building, ca. 1865-1930”
  • Duangkamol Tantirungkij, Ph.D. Candidate, Graduate Center, CUNY (Andrew W. Mellon Fellow), “An Act of Congress: Freedom Suits and the Emancipatory Consequences of the Northwest Ordinance (1790-1850)”
  • Heather Walser, Ph.D. Candidate, Penn State (Louis Leonard Tucker Alumni Fellowship), “Amnesty’s Origins: Federal Power, Peace, and the Public Good in the Long Civil War Era”
  • Russell Weber, Ph.D. Candidate, University of California, Berkeley (Short-term Fellowship), “American Feeling: Political Passions and Emotional Identity in the Early Republic, 1754-1797”
  • Emily Yankowitz, Ph.D. Candidate, Yale University (Andrew W. Mellon Fellow), “Documenting Citizenship: How Early Americans Understood the Concept of Citizenship, 1776-1840”

The Day the Vice President Showed His Strength

by Rhonda Barlow, Adams Papers Research Associate

John Adams famously described the vice presidency as “the most insignificant Office” ever devised. Less well known is why he said this or that there came a day when he revealed that the office actually mattered a great deal.

As vice president, Adams spent his days in the Senate, sitting in a chair, reading the proposed legislation, and listening to the senators’ debate. It was tiresome, boring work for a man of thought and action. “This Confinement will injure my health,” he wrote to his eldest son, John Quincy, in April 1790. After France became a republic and declared war on Great Britain, Americans, caught in the cross-fire, disagreed over the Washington administration’s official policy of neutrality. Writing to Abigail Adams on 19 Dec. 1793, John explained his role in foreign affairs as vice president:

“I am very apprehensive that a desperate Antifœderal Party, will provoke all Europe by their Insolence. But my Country has in its Wisdom contrived for me, the most insignificant Office that ever the Invention of Man contrived or his Imagination conceived: and as I can do neither good nor Evil, I must be born away by Others and meet the common Fate.”

John Adams letter
John Adams letter to Abigail Adams, 19 December 1793

During his tenure as the first U.S. minister to the Court of St. James’s in the mid-1780s, Adams tried to negotiate a commercial treaty with Great Britain. But the former mother country, able to trade freely with the disunited States, had no need for a formal agreement. By early 1794, John Jay was about to undertake a special mission to finally negotiate a treaty with Britain, but Democratic-Republicans in Congress were still pushing anti-British legislation to restrict trade. John confided to Abigail on 3 April 1794, “The Times are so critical and Parties so nearly ballanced that I cannot in honour, nor consistently with my Duty abandon my Post. There are so many wild Projects and Motions and so many to support them, that I am become of more importance than Usual.” Twelve days later, he wrote, “The Senate will now be called upon to show their Independence, and perhaps your Friend to shew his Weakness or his Strength.”

John Adams letter
John Adams letter to Abigail Adams, 15 April 1794

A bill to prohibit British imports passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 59 to 34. In the Senate, the vote was as close as could be: 13 for and 13 against. It was up to the vice president to break the tie. On 28 April, John Adams blocked the bill, and cleared the way for Jay to sail to England and into history, successfully negotiating the 1794 Treaty of Amity, Commerce, and Navigation, commonly known as the Jay Treaty.

On 24 June 1795, John Adams once again sat in his chair in the Senate, and recorded the votes as the senators gave their advice and consent to the Jay Treaty by the required two-thirds majority. This new treaty not only improved relations with Great Britain, but demonstrated American independence from France. You can read more the Jay Treaty and about the ways John Adams shaped the vice presidency in the Adams Papers editorial project’s forthcoming volume 21 of The Papers of John Adams.

The Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society gratefully acknowledges the generous support of our sponsors. Major funding is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, the Packard Humanities Institute, and the Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund. All Adams Papers volumes are published by Harvard University Press.

Where in the World is Augustus Percival?

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

When the MHS acquired the letters of Augustus Percival, the condition of the collection left a lot to be desired. The letters themselves were presentable enough, at least as presentable as we could reasonably expect 150-year-old documents to be, but the collection was a jumble. Letters were out of order; envelopes were missing; pages were separated, mismatched, or torn at a fold; some appeared to be fragments; and many were undated or partially dated (for example, with just a day of the week). Without better arrangement and description, the collection would be incoherent to researchers.

First, some background: Augustus Percival (1830-1883) was a mariner out of Cape Cod. He engaged in trade with China, Taiwan, South Africa, Cuba, Jamaica, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Singapore, working his way up from first mate to captain of his own ship. From 1868 to 1883, he wrote detailed, multi-page letters to his wife Mercy (Higgins) Percival back in East Orleans, Mass., and these are the letters that make up the collection.

In fact, the letters are really more like a diary. As the days passed, Percival wrote and wrote, adding new pages as needed, until he came to a port or encountered a ship that could deliver the whole bundle back to Massachusetts. So each letter covers multiple dates and locations.

It was my job to catalog the collection, and it was going to take careful reading, content analysis, and physical examination—in other words, a combination of contextual and physical clues—to reassemble the letters and render them useable for researchers. Complicating matters was the sheer density of the material. Most of the letters were written on thin, fragile paper, and Percival made good use of every inch of every page, writing all the way to the edges on both sides.

Letter from Augustus Percival
Augustus Percival to Mercy Percival, Shanghai, 28 Nov. 1868

The MHS holds no other manuscript collections related to Augustus Percival, his family, or any of the ships on which he sailed. Between 1868 and 1883, he traveled on at least five different ships to far-flung locations in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean. So I started by using the dated letters in the collection to reconstruct his movements.

With a rough timeline of his whereabouts, I could then look at each orphaned page and try to plug it into the narrative based on contextual clues. I could generally tell, for example, if a passage was written at sea or on land. Percival might also mention someone by name who was a crew member of a specific ship or an acquaintance at a specific port.

Although he wrote his letters over the course of many days, Percival typically started each new day on a new page. As a result, many pages that looked like they might be the start of a new letter turned out to be subsequent pages of a continuous one. Thankfully, he was assiduous about addressing and signing his correspondence, so if a page didn’t begin with “my dear wife” or end with “your affectionate husband,” it was most likely part of a larger whole.

Percival did number the pages of his letters, but his numbering proved to be unreliable. And even dated entries on the same page were sometimes out of order. For example, in one instance, he left his unfinished letter on the ship, started a new one onshore, then accidentally left that behind and returned to fill in a blank space on the original page. It was only when I wrangled all the individual manuscript pieces together and read through them chronologically that the narrative made sense.

Percival used various types of stationery—folded half-sheets, whole sheets, off-white paper or blue, even green—and different colors of ink. These kinds of physical clues might indicate that two pages belonged together, but then again they might not! When he ran out of supplies, Percival scrounged for whatever was handy. You could say that the physical condition of the collection, as much as the content, reflects Percival’s peripatetic life.

In a few cases, I resorted to using paper folds or rust stains to match sheets together. Based on the folds of two separate pages, I could make a pretty good guess that they’d been sent in the same envelope. If they’d been paper-clipped and that clip had rusted, the stains lined up. Sometimes it came down to piecing fragments together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Letter from Augustus Percival written 17 April 1869
Augustus Percival to Mercy Percival, “at sea,” 17 Apr. 1869

As you can imagine, this process was painstaking and required a much closer reading of the material than I’m usually able to do. It was ultimately successful, though; I was able to date all the fragments, reassemble all the letters, and fill in the gaps of Percival’s story.

It was also worthwhile because the collection is truly fascinating. Percival describes life as a sailor in more detail than we usually get in a collection like this, including crew politics, customs in various countries, encounters with pirates and missionaries, the Chinese opium trade, South African diamond mining, and much more. One passage about Percival’s fight to protect his ship from armed looters reads like a dime novel. He lived an adventurous life and made some remarkable friends along the way, like Abbie Clifford.

Augustus Percival died on his ship, the Thomas A. Goddard, on 14 Oct. 1883 and was buried at sea. He was survived by his wife Mercy and three children, Mary, Augustus, and George.

Marian “Clover” Hooper Adams, Dog Portraitist?

By Heather Rockwood, Communications Associate

Known to her friends and family as “Clover,” Marian Hooper Adams was born in Boston, 13 September 1843, to Robert W. Hooper, an eye doctor, and Ellen (Sturgis) Hooper, a poet and a Transcendentalist. Clover and her two older siblings were raised by her father after Ellen died of tuberculosis when Clover was only five.

Clover married historian and writer Henry Adams, great-grandson of President John Adams, in 1872. They moved to Washington in 1877, where Clover was known for her wit and celebrated salon. She took up photography in 1883 and her work as a portraitist and landscape photographer was admired within her social circle. Although asked to publish some of her photographs, she declined.

After seeing Clover’s amusing portrait of her dogs Possum, Marquis and Boojum in “Three Dogs at Tea in Garden” recently, I wondered if she had an affinity for taking photographs of dogs. And the answer is yes!

Three dogs seated on chairs at a table set for tea
The photograph that inspired this blog post: Three dogs at tea in garden, by Marian Hooper Adams, 1883-1884. This photograph features Possum, Marquis and Boojum.

Although her main subjects were mainly landscapes or portraits of her friends and family in various settings, dogs made it into these portraits ten times out of the one hundred and thirty seven photographs held in the MHS collection. In her two and a half year career as a photographer from 1883-1885, seven percent of her photographs contain dogs!

Her favorite dog to include in her portraits was Marquis, who appears in five of the ten portraits, although Boojum with three and Possum with two portraits are close runners up. What I find most fascinating about Clover’s dog portraits is their clarity. Portraiture in the 1880’s was becoming easier for the subject, as exposure, or sitting, time was down from minutes to seconds. But it could still have been up to 64 seconds depending on the time of day, year, and lens used on the camera. These long exposure times lead photographers to ask their subjects to sit very still or they must choose to take pictures while their subjects naturally repose, or rest. After viewing many of Clover’s portraits, it is clear she preferred mainly the latter and you can see why in this image of a young boy and dog in front of a windmill.

Photo of windmill with boy and dog
Windmill, boy and dog in foreground, at Falmouth, by Marian Hooper Adams, circa 1885

A blurred image shows the movement of the subject during the exposure time while a photograph was taken. And in this image where Clover took a photograph while Brooks Adams, her brother in law, was caring for a horse shows some very specific blurring.

Photo of a man, dog, and horse
Brooks Adams with horse and dog, by Marian Hooper Adams, 1883

You can see that the dogs would need to be specially trained to stay still for up to 64 seconds, which Clover may have achieved. Or the dogs may be used to being in repose with their human companions. I especially enjoy the images that look as if Clover captured a moment between the human and dog where they are relaxing with each other.

Photo of a seated man with a dog
James Lowndes at Beverly Farms, seated outdoors in wicker chair, reading book, with dog at feet, by Marian Hooper Adams, 1883

This portrait features Boojum at the feet of James Lowndes, a friend of the Clover and Henry Adams.

Photo of a man seated on steps with a dog
Henry Adams seated with dog on steps of piazza, by Marian Hooper Adams, 1883

Marquis playing with Henry Adams, Clover’s husband.

Photo of a woman seated next to a dog
Betsy Wilder seated on piazza, with dog at her feet, by Marian Hooper Adams, 1883

Dandy can be seen here relaxing while Betsy Wilder, beloved housekeeper from Clover’s youth, knits on a porch.

In the images which appear more staged, rather than at rest, you can see that the dogs are upright and either looking at the camera, or looking at their human companion.

Photo of a woman seated at the beach with a dog
Mrs. Jim Scott and dog seated by rock at east end of Singing Beach, Manchester, glass plate negative by Marian Hooper Adams, 1883

This image is from a glass plate negative, displayed in positive as the printed portrait is much more difficult to see. The subject of this portrait, Boojum, is seen quite clearly at the feet of Mrs. Jim Scott, a neighbor who came along for a day at the beach.

Photo of woman seated on steps with two dogs
Miss Langdon seated with two dogs on steps of piazza, by Marian Hooper Adams, 1883

Toto and Marquis are seen here comforting Miss Langdon, who is in mourning attire for her recently deceased grandmother, on the same porch steps which we saw Marquis playing with Henry.

Photo of a man and dog in the window of a playhouse
James Lowndes and dog in window of playhouse, by Marian Hooper Adams, 1883

Marquis is seen here relaxing, perhaps after a brisk walk, with James Lowndes. This may have been on the same day as the other image with James Lowndes.

Natalie Dykstra writes in her biography Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life, “If Clover could be playful and mocking in her pictures, as with her “dogs at tea” photograph, a send-up of social convention she occasionally found tedious, she could also evoke sadness or an intense feeling of loss.”  I do feel that although the subject of dogs can be whimsical, especially for photography in the 1880’s, that their human companions mostly evoke sadness.

Photo of two dogs seated at a table set for tea
Two dogs at tea in garden, by Marian Hooper Adams, 1883

The second and last in Clover’s “dogs at tea” series features Marquis and Possum. This one has a more natural setting and no white backdrop giving the image a feeling that the viewer happened upon this tea party that was already occurring.

To read more about Marion “Clover” Hooper Adams and her photography visit the MHS online Collection Guide, see the MHS Selected Letters and Photographs, or read The Beehive blog post about those pages and the biography by Natalie Dykstra.

Further Reading:

Letters Shed New Light on Henry Adams | Beehive (masshist.org)

Clover Adams’ Memorial: From a Husband Who Would No Longer Speak Her Name – Atlas Obscura

The Great Worcester Tornado of 1953

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

Today, 9 June , marks the anniversary of a tragic day in the history of Worcester, Mass. and the surrounding areas. On this day 68 years ago, a catastrophic tornado swept across the county, causing massive damage and killing 94 people. The MHS holds a collection of 72 photographs taken by Boston photographer Alfred K. Schroeder in the aftermath of the tornado.

Photo of 1953 Worcester tornado
Photo. #29.18
Photograph showing destruction from 1953 tornado in Worcester, Mass.
Photo. #29.51
Photograph showing destruction from 1953 tornado in Worcester, Mass.
Photo. #29.11

The statistics are staggering: 94 killed, 1,288 injured, 4,000 buildings damaged or destroyed, hailstones the size of baseballs, winds exceeding 300 miles an hour, debris thrown as far as Cape Cod, and over $52 million in damage (in 1953 dollars). The tornado lasted 84 minutes, mowing a path about 45 miles long from Petersham to Southborough. When it hit the county seat of Worcester—the second most populated city in Massachusetts and home to over 200,000 people at the time—the storm was a mile wide. Ten thousand residents, or 5% of the population, lost their homes that day. (Some sources put this number as high as 15,000.) The 1953 Worcester tornado still ranks as one of the worst in U.S. history.

Photograph showing destruction from 1953 tornado in Worcester, Mass.
Photo. #29.63
Photograph showing destruction from 1953 tornado in Worcester, Mass.
Photo. #29.7
Photograph showing destruction from 1953 tornado in Worcester, Mass.
Photo. #29.14

The storm must have been a terrifying sight to see. When it first touched down, eyewitnesses reported seeing three funnels simultaneously. Among the hardest hit areas were the campus of Assumption College (now the site of Quinsigamond Community College) and the Burncoat Hill and Great Brook Valley residential neighborhoods. Other, smaller tornadoes were also hitting other parts of Massachusetts and New Hampshire at the same time.

These tornadoes were part of a weather system that had moved in from the Midwest. However, forecasters had only called for severe thunderstorms in Massachusetts, so residents were taken almost completely by surprise. Because of this disaster and others, as well as technological advances, today’s meteorological warning systems are much more robust.

Worcester Telegram and Evening Gazette special edition, 18 June 1953
Worcester Telegram and Evening Gazette special edition, 18 June 1953

Nine days after the tornado, the Worcester Telegram and Evening Gazette issued a special edition dedicated to the storm, headlined in capital letters: “TORNADO.” This item is also part of the MHS collections. The paper contains 40 pages of pictures of the destruction, as well as horrifying personal stories. For example, a two-week-old infant named Charles C. Oslund of Holden, Mass. was killed when he was literally torn from his mother’s arms by the winds.

The Fujita scale by which we categorize tornadoes today was not introduced until 1971. Looking at the data, meteorologists have retroactively categorized the Worcester tornado as an F4, though it is generally believed to have reached F5 intensity in some locations.

See the MHS website for more of Schroeder’s striking images. The Worcester Historical Museum has also posted some terrific 1953 newsreel footage showing the extensive damage and clean-up efforts in the wake of the storm.

“My sense of duty leads me to support the administration”: John Quincy Adams as Senator and Professor, 1801–1809

By Neal Millikan, Series Editor for Digital Editions, The Adams Papers

Transcriptions of more than 500 pages of John Quincy Adams’s diary have just been added to the John Quincy Adams Digital Diary, a born-digital edition of the Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The new material spans the period September 1801 through July 1809 and chronicles Adams’s experiences as a senator in Washington, D.C., and a professor at Harvard.

John Quincy Adams was selected to be a member of the U.S. Senate in February 1803, elected to the position by a Massachusetts legislature controlled by the Federalist Party. Taking his seat in October, Adams charted an independent political course, voting on issues as he believed they related to the national good and not simply to Federalist interests. This was most obvious when he voted for the embargo in December 1807, which sought to punish France and Great Britain for their punitive trade restrictions by prohibiting U.S. vessels from trading with European nations.

By supporting the embargo, Adams in effect voted against the Federalist Party, whose New England contingent relied heavily on merchant shipping for their economic livelihood. He was also supporting the policy of President Thomas Jefferson, his father John Adams’s political adversary. Jefferson, who had defeated the senior Adams in the presidential election of 1800, was the leader of the opposition party, the Democratic-Republicans. After the embargo vote, John Quincy recorded his reasoning in his diary: “On most of the great national questions now under discussion, my sense of duty leads me to support the administration, and I find myself of course in opposition to the federalists in general.” He went on, however, to clarify that he had “no Communication with the President other than that in the regular order of business in Senate.” Indeed, Adams recognized that owing to his personal stances on the main issues of the day, “my political prospects are declining.”

As his political career floundered during this period, his personal finances also received a setback due to the 1803 failure of London bankers Bird, Savage, and Bird. While this failure negatively impacted John Quincy’s savings, he was more worried about his parents, John and Abigail Adams, for whom he had heavily invested with Bird, Savage, and Bird, the funds planned for their retirement. To help protect his mother and father from financial ruin, John Quincy sold his personal property and practiced extreme personal economy. He moved his family out of their Boston home and back in to the small house in Quincy, Massachusetts, where he had been born. He recounted these actions in his diary, noting that while “I have practiced all the economy I thought practicable” he found to have “needed still more.”

Drawing of John Adams and John Quincy Adams birthplaces by Eliza Susan Quincy
Birthplaces of John Adams and John Quincy Adams, watercolor drawing by Eliza Susan Quincy, 1822

There were, however, some bright spots for John Quincy Adams during these years. He and his wife, Louisa Catherine Adams, and eldest son, George Washington Adams, welcomed two additional children into their family: John Adams was born on 4 July 1803 and Charles Francis Adams on 18 August 1807. He also enjoyed his tenure as the Boylston Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory, a position to which he was elected by the Corporation of Harvard University on 24 June 1805. He spent significant time researching and writing thirty-six lectures, delivering the first one on his thirty-ninth birthday, 11 July 1806. After that lecture, he proudly recorded in his diary that it “was well received, and could I hope that the issue of the whole course would but bear a proportion to the effect of this introduction, I should be fully satisfied.” The lectures were published in 1810.

For more on his life in this period, read the headnote, or, navigate to the entries to begin reading his diary. With this release, transcriptions of forty years of John Quincy Adams’s diary, from 1789 to 1829, are now freely available on the MHS website. In addition, the side-by-side viewer tool allows users to access images of the over 5,700 diary manuscript pages that accompany these transcriptions.

The Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society gratefully acknowledges the generous support of our sponsors. Major funding for the John Quincy Adams Digital Diary is provided by the Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund. Harvard University Press and a number of private donors also contributed critical support.

“‘The Unhappy and Unparalled Defeat at Penobscott,’ and the entanglement of Machias and Bagaduce”

By Darcy Stevens, Phd student, University of Maine, 2020 Society of the Cincinnati short-term fellow

“This native Kansan is going to the Birthplace of the American Revolution!” That was my first thought after I processed the feeling of honor of being named a Society of the Cincinnati fellow. I envisioned long satisfying days in the Massachusetts Historical Society archives then evenings exploring historic Boston. I’d snap selfies in front of Faneuil Hall and the Old North Church. I’d tour the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, and maybe catch a ball game at Fenway (I’m not all nerd). At the end of my fellowship, I would have material for great articles and personal stories alike!

It was not meant to be. Like the rest of the country, I spent most of the last 14 months working from home. There would be no Boston, but thanks to the work of the amazing staff at MHS and technology my fellowship research could move forward remotely.

Readers will have guessed that I study the American Revolution. Specifically, I examine allegiance and neutrality in the Borderlands of Maine – Nova Scotia. My interest is in revealing how inhabitants navigated the contentious social landscape during this period. The Borderlands was home to Loyalists, Patriots, and Neutrals, soldiers and militiamen, Indigenous leaders and politicians. Their interwoven stories illustrate the complexity of living surrounded by friends and foes in wartime.

This was true for the inhabitants of Bagaduce (now Castine). When the British arrived in 1779 there were very few settlers. Patriot forces launched the Penobscot Expedition to rout the British, were soundly defeated, and the British held the region for the remainder of the war. In just a few months the handful the previously isolated settlers were surrounded by Loyalists from distance places, British, Scottish, and German soldiers, and their families. Their lives would become entangled and interdependent. There is much yet to uncover about Bagaduce and I am excited to discover what it will reveal.

While Bagaduce has received most of my attention so far, I have also spent some time examining Colonel John Allan. A Nova Scotian Patriot, Allan commanded the American forces at Machias and was superintendent of the Eastern Indians. In the latter role he worked tirelessly to secure an allegiance with the Wabanaki. He was convinced that without their support, or at least their neutrality Maine would fall to the enemy. His letters give the impression of a self-confident, almost brazen man, who wasted no time on deference and flowery composition. He was busy; he cut to the chase and didn’t sugar-coat the facts. I think Allan and I would have gotten along famously.

The MHS holds a collection of John Allan’s papers and since receiving digital copies I have spent many happy hours poring over them. During my research on Bagaduce and the Penobscot Expedition I had not come across Allan. So, I was pleasantly surprised to find a letter he wrote about the event. Allan reported he received a request from General Solomon Lovell, at Bagaduce calling for reinforcements on 1 August. Allan then detailed the many reasons he was not ready to sail for another nine days. On the same day he received a second message from Lovell asking him to “proceed with all Expiditon & bring as many of the Militia as Could be spared” Allan learned of British ships in the much closer Passamaquoddy Bay.[1] Yet, he delayed his departure for another four days, until he learned those British ships were only trade vessels. Still fearful of an attack on Machias when he finally set out for Bagaduce he took only one hundred men. This was two full weeks after Lovell’s first request. On the fourth day of travel Allan sees great billows of smoke, suspects the settlements were burning, decided he did not have enough men or provisions, and turned back for Machias. Meanwhile, Lovell’s papers are replete with his optimism that Allan was on the way.  Lovell wrote that on 13 August he “every moment expected a reinforcement by Colonel Allan.”[2] But that was the day British reinforcements arrived. Allan still had not left Machias. The next day the last of the Patriot ships were captured or scuttled and the remaining troops went scurrying through the Maine wilderness.

Perhaps the loss was inevitable. The British had a vastly superior navy. Still, reading Lovell’s account next to Allan’s makes me wonder. We will never know. What we do know is that Allan felt no responsibility. In fact, he was decidedly put out by the loss, as if the affair was a major inconvenience for him. He opens his letter to the President of the Massachusetts Council by writing:

The Unhappy and Unparalled Defeat at Penobscott, has put this Department in a most Critical & Dangerous Situation, such as Requires the Vigelant attention for its Preservation—The Various objects I am Compelled to Turn my thoughts & Time to, will prevent my being so Explicite in my Communicating Matters as I would wish.

He goes on to complain of the effect the defeat had on the relationship with the Wabanaki.

 The Dishonorable Flight (permit the Expression without Censure from a feeling of Mortification for the Disgrace brough on the Arms of our Country) of the Americans on the Penobscot River has given a wound to our Indian Affairs.[3]

Well, I said he was brazen.

Given the amount of work Allan put into wooing the Wabanaki, his complaint seems fair. What struck me, aside from his caustic statements, was the extent to which Bagaduce and Machias were entangled. At Bagaduce original settlers, loyalists, and British troops lived, worked, and socialized together. Their lives were obviously entwined. The same was true for the inhabitants and Patriot soldiers at Machias. Allan’s letter revealed how interconnected these disparate and distance communities were to one another and with the Indigenous communities of the region. This is an important point that I had yet to consider.

I still believe a close examination of these small Borderlands communities will reveal a great deal about the social landscape of the American Revolution. But now I am more mindful of how distant and seemingly unrelated events will impact my Borderlands actors and their decisions about allegiance and neutrality.


[1] John Allan to Jeremiah Powell, President of the Council of the State of Massachusetts Bay. September 10, 1779, Machias. John Allan Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society Collection.

[2] “Addendum To General Lovell’s Letter to Massachusetts Council.” Sept. 3.1779. As printed in General Solomon Lovell and The Penobscot Expedition, 1779. By Chester B. Kevitt. Weymouth MA: Weymouth Historical Commission, 1796. 120.

[3] Allan to Powell

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

By Hannah Elder, Reproductions Coordinator

Content warning: this post includes discussion of mental health, including instances of historic language regarding mental health that is outdated.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), 1 in 5 adults in the United States experience mental illness each year.[1] As we emerge from 15 months of pandemic-induced stress, fear, grief, and isolation, that number is bound to be even higher this year. Mental illness is not a new or modern phenomenon; throughout history, people have lived with mental illness, seeking support and treatment where they could. The MHS collections include references to mental health and mental illness spanning hundreds of years. These references include the personal papers of those experiencing mental illness or those caring for loved ones experiencing mental illness, the records of individuals and institutions advocating for better mental health care, and the papers of physicians and organizations who treated people with mental illnesses.

Transcribed below are just two examples of records discussing mental health and mental illness from the MHS collection.

Letters to Dr. Abiel Heywood

Letter to Dr. Heywood
D Patton to Dr. Abiel Heywood,, 8 June 1828

Boston June 8th 1828

Dear Sir,

By particular request I am induct to drop a few lines to you,  (although unknown in person) to solicit your attention to the case of Mrs. Barron who is very much afflicted with ill health in her own person, with which are intimately connected poverty and want in a great degree. (almost entirely dependant for a long time on charities from different sources) but another trouble and that not the easiest to be managed is the derangement of Mind of her Daughter Nancy, (of which I suppose you are not altogether unacquainted,) which of late has become much worse, and renders it nesesary that something should be done for their relief immediately: she states that she has been under the necessity of borrowing money to pay one quarters rent of her room, and another is almost here that she has not heard from you for five months; although you gave encouragement of affording some relief if it is within you province on behalf of the town of Concord to do any thing you are desired to let her know what she can depend on as soon as it is convenient or application must be made to some other source. Yours truly — D Patten

This is one of two letters written to Dr. Abiel Heywood by or on behalf of Rebecca and Nancy Barron in 1827 and 1828. The first letter, written by Rebecca Barron, describes their ill health and poverty and asks Heywood for help in paying their rent.

Mathew Carey to Isaiah Thomas in the Foster family autograph collection

Letter to Isaiah Thomas
Mathew Carey to Isaiah Thomas, 5 October 1826

Isaiah Thomas, Esq

Dear Sir

Your favor of the 1st I read yesterday

After advertising for two weeks in vain, Miss Aitken’s sister heard of the advertisement and called on me a few days hence, then I handed her you letter, which she opened in my presence, + which I found contained fifteen dollars. She appeared very grateful.

Miss Aitkens has not been from home for, I think, ten years. Her mind, I understand, is somewhat deranged.

Very respectfully

Your obedient servant

Mathew Carey

Philadelphia Oct. 5 1826

Jane Aitken was a publisher and book binder from Philadelphia. Little is known about the last decades of her life, when this letter was written.

These are just two of the individuals represented in our collections who grappled with mental illness. To continue research into mental health and mental illness, consider these collections:

If you are struggling with your mental health, please seek support.

  • Crisis text line: text HOME to 741741
  • The NAMI Helpline: 800-950-NAMI (800-950-6264)
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

[1] “Mental Health By the Numbers,” NAMI, https://www.nami.org/mhstats.