Happy Halloween!

By Jeremy Dibbell



Happy Halloween from all of us at the Historical Society!

This scary little guy (or is he laughing?) is a silver gun sight attached to a ~1770s English fowling piece made by John Parkes of Birmingham, England, and originally owned by Paul Revere. The sight was probably made and attached to the barrel by Revere, who would have aimed right over the gargoyle’s nose.

The gun was given to the MHS by William B. Revere in December 1931.




An Adams Family Razor

By Jeremy Dibbell

Among the other recent interesting finds our Preservation Librarian Kathy Griffin has made in the Society’s pre-1900 archives is a 25 June 1860 note from Dr. Charles G. Greene of Boston, which accompanied his donation of a razor used by John and John Quincy Adams:

“A razor, purchased in Paris, (France) in 1778 or 9 by John Adams, afterwards President of the U. States; used by him & by his son John Quincy Adams, on their august faces; transmitted by the latter to his kinsman, Mr. — Greenleaf, of Quincy, & by him to his son Wm C. Greenleaf, an intimate friend & chum of the undersigned. In 1829 Wm. C. Greenleaf presented it to me.

Through the varied phases of its existence, it has been in constant use in smoothing the faces of its different owners, & though costing, originally only one franc, was worth a hecatomb* of the best razors, ever manufactured by the celebrated makers of Barber, Greaves, Butcher or Westleholm.”

Our Curator’s files describe the razor as “steel blade, incised with partial maker’s mark on one side: STY…REFINED, with protein based handle (horn, baleen or antler) having three small brass inlays on front side.” They also suggest that Dr. Greene’s description is not quite accurate: the razor is English, made around 1780.



* hecatomb – OED says this properly means “an offering of a hundred oxen,” but loosely was used to refer to “a large number or quantity.”

This Week @ MHS

By Jeremy Dibbell

– We hope you’ll join us on Wednesday, 27 October for an author talk with Pauline Maier about her new book Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788. The reception will begin at 5:30 p.m., with the talk getting underway at 6 p.m. Registration for this event is required; more info here. [Personal note: I’m reading Ratification now, and am finding it absolutely excellent].

– On Thursday, 28 October, the Boston Immigration and Urban History Seminar series continues with a paper by Michael Ebner of Lake Forest College: “Motives, Interests, and Mapmakers: Storylines about the Drawing of Boundaries in Metropolitan America.” Sam Bass Warner of MIT will give the comment. Please read the Seminar Series 2010 post for information on MHS Seminars.

Quincys Take Center Stage

By Jeremy Dibbell

Our fall exhibit, Josiah Quincy: A Lost Hero of the Revolution officially opens on Saturday, and we hope you’ll come by and see what we have on display. The show will be open to the public without charge, 1:00-4:00 p.m., Monday-Saturday, 23 October 2010 – 22 January 2011, except from 24 December 2010 – 1 January 2011, when the Historical Society is closed for a brief holiday season respite.k

Our October Object of the Month complements the exhibit: it’s a watercolor of Col. Samuel Miller Quincy (1833-1887) in his Civil War uniform. Col. Quincy was the great-grandson of Josiah Quincy, Jr. “The Patriot,” and edited his ancestor’s legal notes (while stationed at Port Hudson during the Civil War, as Peter Drummey notes in the Object essay). He later served as “acting mayor” of New Orleans.

The exhibit celebrates the publication by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts of the final two volumes of Portrait of a Patriot: The Major Political and Legal Papers of Josiah Quincy Junior, edited by Daniel R. Coquillette and Neil Longley York, the first modern edition of the complete works of Josiah Quincy, Jr. (1744-1775). A brilliant young attorney – he was only twenty-six when, with John Adams, he defended the British soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials – Quincy was an ardent spokesman for the cause of liberty in Revolutionary Massachusetts, although his early death has made him less familiar today than many of his contemporaries.

The exhibition focuses on the Historical Society’s manuscript sources for the new Colonial Society volumes, including Quincy’s political and legal commonplace books, travel journals (he was a harshly critical observer of slavery in the American South), and the law reports that his great-grandson, Samuel Miller Quincy edited. In the exhibition, Josiah Quincy, Jr.’s personal papers will be shown in the context of the MHS’s enormous archive of Quincy family papers–letters, diaries, drawings, artifacts, and paintings that document eight generations of this extraordinary family–including the watercolor portrait of Samuel M. Quincy on display as our Object of the Month.


This Week @ MHS

By Jeremy Dibbell

On Wednesday, 20 October Members and Fellows of the Society are invited to a reception marking the opening of our fall exhibit, “Josiah Quincy: A Lost Hero of the Revolution.” The reception will begin at 6 p.m., with a presentation by Daniel R. Coquillette of Boston College Law School at 7 p.m. The exhibit will showcase manuscripts at the Society related to the final two volumes of Portrait of a Patriot: the Major Political and Legal Papers of Josiah Quincy Junior, the first modern edition of his writings, recently published by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. The materials on display appear in the context of the Society’s enormous archive of Quincy family papers, letters, diaries, drawings, artifacts, and paintings that document eight generations of this extraordinary family. Registration is required for this event; information here.

On Thursday, 21 October we’ll host an author talk with Eric Jaffe on his book The King’s Best Highway: The Lost History of the Boston Post Road, the Route that Made America, as part of our “On the Move” lecture series. The lecture will begin at 6 p.m., with refreshments served at 5:30 p.m. An RSVP is required; information here.


MHS Announces New Membership Plans

By Jeremy Dibbell

In case you don’t receive @MHS, the Society’s e-newsletter (and if you don’t, you can sign up here), I wanted to highlight an important announcement in the new issue: some new membership plans and rates. By popular demand, we have extended the special one-year introductory membership rate of $75 for new members. In addition, we are introducing two new categories this fall: associate memberships for those age 40 and under and educator memberships for those who teach grades K-12. The student membership, now set at $35 per year, will also include access to a special annual “student members” event. To learn more or join today, visit www.masshist.org/join.


This Week @ MHS

By Jeremy Dibbell

Two seminars and a brown-bag lunch this week:

– On Tuesday, 12 October, at 5:15 p.m., as part of the Boston Environmental History seminar series, Matthew McKenzie of the University of Connecticut at Avery Point will discuss his paper “A History of Denial: Romanticization and Regulation in the New England Fisheries, 1893-1918.” Judith Layzer of MIT will give the comment. Please read the Seminar Series 2010 post for information on MHS Seminars.

– On Thursday, 14 October, also at 5:15 p.m., the Boston Early American History seminar series continues with a paper by Richard Ryerson, “The Discovery of the Republic, 1768-1772.” Robert Gross of UConn will give the comment. Please read the Seminar Series 2010 post for information on MHS Seminars.

– And on Friday, 15 October, at 12 noon, join us for a brown-bag lunch with Sheldon Cohen on his project “Commodore Whipple of the Continental Navy.”

Call for Papers: MHS Graduate Student Symposium

By Jeremy Dibbell

“Collecting History: The Massachusetts Historical Society Graduate Symposium”

“I must study Politicks and War that my Sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. my Sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting Poetry Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.” – John Adams, Letter to Abigail Adams, post 12 May 1780.

Inspired by John Adams’ educational blueprint and continuing a long tradition of support for emerging scholars, the Massachusetts Historical Society will host “Collecting History: The Massachusetts Historical Society Graduate Symposium,” an interdisciplinary conference for graduate students, on Saturday, 4 June 2011. Researchers are encouraged to make use of the Historical Society’s extensive collections, which offer an unparalleled resource for the study of American history from the colonial period through the twentieth century. Focusing on American history and related aspects of world history, the program will consist of several themed panels and a keynote address from a distinguished scholar. Papers will be substantial, pre-circulated essays and will be accessible online for attendees. Conference registration is free. Proposals from various disciplines welcome. Please key proposals to one of these topics:

–The Personal Papers of Three Presidents (John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson)

–Politics & War & Philosophy

–History of Women and Gender

— Navigation, Commerce, & the Natural World

–Immigration and Urban History

–Painting, Poetry, & Architecture

Please email abstract (300-500 words) and biography (150-300 words) to conference coordinators Sara Georgini (sgeorgini@masshist.org) and Kathleen Barker (kbarker@masshist.org) by Tuesday, 18 January 2011. Presenters will be notified by Tuesday, 1 February 2011.

Holiday Closure Notice

By Jeremy Dibbell

Please note: the MHS library will be closed on Monday, 11 October in observance of the Columbus Day holiday. The building will be open from 11 a.m. through 2 p.m. for the Fenway Alliance’s “Opening Our Doors” open house (your last chance to see the current exhibit, “Precious Metals: From Au to Zn”). More info here.

New on our Bookshelves

By Jeremy Dibbell

Another new arrival to our display shelves is Midnight Ride, Industrial Dawn: Paul Revere and the Growth of American Enterprise (just published by Johns Hopkins University Press), written by Robert Martello, associate professor of history of science and technology at the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering. Martello held two MHS research fellowships in the late 1990s, and his work draws heavily on the Revere Family papers.