Happy Holidays!

By MHS Staff

From all of us at the Massachusetts Historical Society, best wishes for happy holidays and a wonderful 2011. We look forward to seeing you soon.

The MHS will be closing at 4:45 p.m. today, 23 December, and will re-open at 9 a.m. on Monday, 3 January 2011.

A Fond Farewell

By Jeremy Dibbell

Just a quick note of farewell from your loyal editor; tomorrow will be my last day at the Historical Society, so I’m handing over responsibilities for The Beehive to new co-editors Elaine Grublin and Carol Knauff, who I’m sure will keep you all entertained, up-to-speed, and educated about all things at the MHS in 2011. I’ve very much enjoyed researching, writing and encouraging others to write for the blog since its inception, and I hope you’ll keep reading and being involved with the Society (as I certainly intend to be).

As for me, I’m off to a new position at LibraryThing, where I’ll be coordinating their rare books projects (including the Libraries of Early America), managing interactions with authors and publishers, and coordinating outreach via their blog, Twitter, Facebook, &c. It’ll be something of a change of pace, and focus, but I’m looking forward to new challenges and opportunities.

For now, happy holidays to all, and my very best wishes for a delightful 2011.

If only MHS had “survived the troubles of civil war”

By Jeremy Dibbell

In the Summer 2010 issue of the Journal of the Early Republic I was pleased to find a new, edited version of one of the most fascinating pamphlets published in the early nineteenth century: it’s called Memoir of the Northern Kingdom, Written, A.D. 1872, By the late Rev. Williamson Jahnsenykes, LL.D. and Hon. Member of the Royal American Board of Literature, in six letters to his son, and the imprint reads Quebeck: A.D. 1901. See the full title page here.

The 48-page pamphlet (actually written in 1808 and published at Boston) is a bit hard to describe (and I’m hopeful that a full digital version will be available soon for all to read), but basically it’s a thinly-veiled criticism of the Jefferson Administration’s policies in the form of a counterfactual history of America. As the author tells it, due to the commercial policies of Jefferson the Union came to be dissolved into a French-dominated imperial South, a British/Canadian-controlled New England under a British viceroy, and the Illinois Republick (the last bastion of democratic government in America). In a series of six letters the author “reflects” on the breakup of the United States into these separate fiefdoms.

While the essay is often studied because of its “prediction” of the North-South split, it’s interesting for many other reasons as well, not the least of which is the fascinating level of detail its author goes into when describing the political and social changes that resulted from the conflict between the states during the period of tumult. A phrase immediately sprang out at me as I was reading this time: at the start of the fifth letter, which covers the history of New England, the author writes the following:

“Had that valuable library of domestick history, collected by the friends and associates of Belknap and Minot, survived the troubles of civil war, it would have been needless for me to leave you any hints of the antient history of New England. It was doubtless a politick measure of his Majesty’s lieutentants to suppress also the publication of those patriotick details of history, which could serve only to renew the memory of a different form of government from the present, and of purer times, those those, in which we live.”

Wait a moment, I thought, “that valuable library of domestick history, collected by the friends and associates of Belknap and Minot” – that’s the MHS! Jeremy Belknap and George Richards Minot were two key founders of the Historical Society, and both contributed significantly to the MHS’ early collections.

But who was the author of this curious tract, this Williamson Jahnsenykes? Not surprisingly, that was a pseudonym: he was one Rev. William Jenks (1778-1866), and although he was not yet a member of the MHS when he wrote Memoir of the Northern Kingdom, he was elected to the Society in 1821 (at the same time as Daniel Webster), and served as Librarian from 1823 to 1832.

Jenks graduated from Harvard in 1797, served as a Congregational minister at Bath, Maine and taught Oriental and English literature at Bowdoin College until 1818, when he returned to Boston and opened a school. Jenks was active in the Society for the Religious and Moral Instruction of the Poor, and later took up the pastorship of a church on Green Street, where he preached for nearly a quarter-century. He was a member and officers of the American Antiquarian Society and a founding member of the American Oriental Society. His magnum opus was the Comprenhensive Commentary on the Holy Bible, published in six volumes between 1834 and 1838, but he composed many other works, including a eulogy to James Bowdoin, several memoirs in the MHS Proceedings, and a historical account of the MHS (Collections, 3d Series, Volume VII).

When Jenks died in 1866 he was the second-oldest member of the Historical Society, at the December meeting that year MHS president Robert C. Winthrop remembered Jenks for his services and publications, and makes mention particularly of Memoir of the Northern Kingdom, calling it “a political jeu d’esprit, of no common felicity, written during the party heats which attended the close of Mr. Jefferson’s Presidency, and was designed to portray the danger of a dissolution of the Union, and the overturn of our republican institutions. Meeting our venerable friend in the street, on New-year’s Day, 1863, – after exchanging the salutations of the season, – I told him I had found a copy of a pamphlet bearing this title, among my father’s books; and I ventured to ask him, through that ponderous ear-trumpet, – which was the badge of the only infirmity he had, – whether he was the author of it. He replied, without an instant’s hesitation, that he was.”

Among the MHS collections are Jenks’ diaries and fifty boxes of his papers, so I dug in a little bit to see if I could find any reference to the composition or publication of Memoir of the Northern Kingdom. In a partial letterbook covering the period 1806-1811 I found a particularly exciting letter, written by Jenks to Messrs Farrand, Mallory & Co. of Boston:

“Gentlemen, The inclosed little work is committed to you, in preference to other Booksellers of this town, to be published for your own emolument – if emolument arise from the publication – if not, at your risque.

It is however requested, since the design of it is the public good, that if it should prove sufficiently advantageous to you, & should bring in more, than might be necessary to defray your expenses & give you a comfortable profit, you would, in such case, deposit a sum, of whatever amount beyond $100 you please, with the Selectman of the town of Boston, to be awarded to the writer of the best ‘Essay on the best means of perpetuating the Federal compact of the United States of America.’

As to typographical execution, it is requested to be in a good & neat style, that it may form a large sized duodecimo volume of about, perhaps, 100 pages – paragraphs & lines well distanced, paper & size of type such, as might befit a book from ‘the Royal press at Quebeck.’ Not too costly, however, for a general perusal.

On no account must an item of the title page, or a sentence of the work, be altered. And, Gentlemen, you are requested that, after it be prepared for the bookstore, it may immediately find its way to Washington, Baltimore, Charleston, Philadelphia, New York, Albany, New Haven, Portland, &c. N.B. Orthography Johnsonian.

It hardly needs be added, that all the effect, which the writer expects from this effort of anxious patriotism, depends upon secrecy & suddenness of appearance.

It need not appear but to have come immediately from Canada.

I am, Gentlemen, with respect, Your (at present) unknown humble servant, Pomponius ‘Atticus’*.

P.S. Would it not be well to advertise ‘Messrs &c. expect to receive’ (forsooth, from the printers) ‘in a few days a New Work, entitled ‘Memoir of the Northern Kingdom‘ Quebeck 1901?”

Unfortunately Jenks’ diaries for 1808 aren’t part of the collection (and they aren’t mentioned in any of the other Jenks collections around either, so if anyone knows of them I’d be delighted to hear of it), but we do hold his diary for 1809, and I uncovered an entry there from the day Jenks received the printed copies of his essay. On 18 January, upon receiving copies of the pamphlet in the mail, Jenks writes: “At length my ‘Memoir’ has arrived, & with it the ‘Review.’ I took the package from the office with a palpitating heart, & have read with mingled emotions. I did expect certainly a more detailed notice, but perhaps it is not prudent to bring into too open discussion the questions I had prepared [or proposed?] to handle.” On 21 January he reports that of late his thoughts had been preoccupied with thoughts of poor health, death, and Heaven. “Such were my feelings, views & wishes till my ‘Memoir’ arrived on tuesday & with it the last no. of the Anthology containing a review of it. The reading of these, & the several readings & reflections consequent upon them & connected with them banished from my mind those pious efforts, to which alone I had before attended. The world, literary refutations, scientific labor, & learned research became again interesting.”

Jenks’ efforts were at least somewhat successful. The correspondent who sent Jenks’ copies notes “by the way in several places lately I have heard much said about a northern Kingdom, leads me to believe that this book is not unnoticed.” The pamphlet quickly attracted some attention in Boston: the members of the Anthology Society (precursor to the Boston Athenaeum) had received a copy by the time of their 29 November meeting, when it was assigned to Mr. [William] Tudor for review (which he read to the Society on 13 December). The short review, printed in the December 1808 issue of the Monthly Anthology (pp. 683-684), reads:

“This is a production generated by the temper of the times. The pretended author, whose barbarous name it is too much trouble to copy, undertakes, towards the close of this century, to give an account to his son of the troubles, which had previously taken place in the United States, and which ended by the formation of a Southern and Northern Kingdom, while the middle states constituted a republick. Were we to occupy ourselves in speculations of this kind, we should not be disposed to predict the future fate of the country exactly as the author has done, even if we admitted the notion of the destruction of the present Union. The idea of anticipating the events of futurity, is not new, but this opens a wide field for ingenuity and political sagacity, if it be lawful even to think on the subject. The style of this publication is very good, but it has been too hastily written to preserve more than a momentary existence. The author possesses of affect the candour, which is natural, when treating about the political characters of past times.”

It is advertised (price 25 cents) in several New England newspapers in late November and early December 1808, (Portsmouth NH Gazette on 29 November; Boston Gazette and Independent Chronicle on 5 December; Newburyport Herald and Salem Gazette on 13 December). It is headlined as “Interesting PAMPHLET” in the Boston Repertory of 20 December and as “A Peep into Futurity” in the 27 December Connecticut Herald. By January 1809 copies could be had in Portland, ME and Walpole, NH, and an Albany bookstore advertises its availability in late May. I’m sure a more detailed study of newspapers would be useful in tracking its spread. Unfortunately the Memoir may have met an unfortunate end: the 14 December 1811 issue of the Boston Centinel reports that 532 copies in sheets were to be sold as part of a sheriff’s sale, and what happened to them after that is unknown. At any rate, my supposition is that Messrs. Farrand and Mallory did not end up sponsoring the essay prize Jenks recommended in his letter to them.

In doing a little sleuthing for this post I found a 1942 footnote suggesting that perhaps the manuscript of Jenks’ Memoir was in his papers here at the MHS at that time, but I have not had any luck in locating it thus far (if it’s in there, it’s hiding very well). Nonetheless, I was somewhat surprised to find even the references I did, and am pleased to be able to add a little bit to the story of this interesting work. When I started working on this post it was just going to be about the little oblique reference to the MHS in Jenks’ essay, but, as these things tend to do, the story got much more interesting than that!



* Jenks’ pseudonym in the letter to his publishers, Pomponius Atticus, probably refers to the Roman writer Titus Pomponius Atticus (109-32 BCE)

Whatever Happened to our Flamingo?

By Jeremy Dibbell

One of my favorite things about the early volumes of MHS Proceedings are the donation lists from the first few years, when the Society accumulated not only gifts to enhance its library of manuscripts and printed books but also a hefty collection of natural history specimens and “curiosities.” The first large donation of this type was received at the sixth meeting, on 21 December 1791, when the owners of the ships “Columbia” and “Washington” (“the first vessels from the United States to Nootka Sound and the Sandwich Islands”) presented to the Historical Society “a hat, cloak, and mantle of the natives, several pieces of cloth manufactured there from the bark of trees, and other artificial and natural curiosities of that part of America brought in those vessels …”.

Donations along these lines continued to arrive: on 29 January 1793 the Proceedings note more “curiosities” from the Pacific, plus “A curious Rose,” “A Milliped[e], found at Hopkinton,” and “Some Teeth of the Spermaceti Whale.” In April of the same year came “A Tarantula, from Mr. Elisha Sigourney,” (Sigourney later gave “a Fur Seal, from Falkland Islands”) “A Specimen of Animal Preservation, from Mr. Jeremy Belknap, Sen.,” and the one I like best of all: “A very large Flamingo, from Mr. William Hussey, Jr.” Other interesting gifts from 1793-94 include “a Bone of the Sawfish, from Mr. William Miller, Jr.,” “A Demerara Opossum, stuffed, from Captain Peter Chace,” “A Madagascar Bat, from Dr. Dexter,” and this grand list from Jeremy Belknap: “A Flying Fish, a Vitriol Stone, an Ermine from New Hampshire, an Indian canoe, a number of Coins, a Globe-fish from the island of St. Helena, and a Dolphin.”

On 24 November 1795 Mr. Thomas Hewes presented “A Bird of Paradise, from Batavia; a Crocodile and nondescript Quadruped, from Ceylon; a Silver Pen and Case, from Indian; a Gentoo Letter; a bundle of Palm Leaves, showing the manner of keeping accounts in India; a Bow and Arrows, from Bengal; a Petrified Substance, from the island of St. Helena; a Hooka, or Smoking Machine, of India; a Gentoo Slipper; a Horned Snake, from the Asps of Bengal; a Remora, from the Indian Ocean; a Firearm, from Ceylon, curiously wrought with gold and silver; a Sandwich Island Cup; two branches of Coral, from the Isle of France; a piece of Vitrified Rock, from the Isle of Ascension; a box of Insects, from the Cape of Good Hope; an Antelope’s Horn; a Crystallization, from a salt-pit in Liverpool; a collection of Marine Shells, among which are the Hummer, the Bullock’s Heart, and the Razor; a Petrified Snake Skin; a branch of the Cinnamon Tree; a Hog Fish; and an Indian Fan.” The same day brought “Two Grasshoppers, from the West Indies from Mr. Edward Renouf.

The Historical Society’s quarters must have been a pretty interesting place in those days. This continued for several years, with each meeting witnessing the donation of a few items of note (“A Giant Clam, weighing four hundred and seventeen pounds” arrived in January 1803, for example).

As the MHS matured, and became more focused as a repository for manuscripts (and moved premises several times), many of the natural history and ethnographic pieces were removed from the collections: in the 1830s the specimens were deposited in the cabinet of the Boston Society of Natural History (precursor of today’s Museum of Science), and later much of the material from the Pacific Coast and islands, along with the archaeological relics, were given to the Peabody Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology (now the Peabody Museum at Harvard).

But not quite everything left the Society’s holdings. Among the remaining “curiosities” are the following:

“A Hook, from the Sandwich Islands, made out of a bone of Captain Cook,” received from Mr. Jacob Williams, May 1804. A letter in the MHS Archives from W. Emerson to the Corresponding Secretary reports “The hook which accompanyes [sic] this Note I received from Deacon Jacob Williams, formerly an officer in my church, who requests me to present it in his name to the Historical Society. It was given to him by his son Jacob Williams, who received it from a man, who attended Capt. Derby, who died at Waterloo, one of the Sandwhich Islands, in 1802, and who, (Derby) received it from an indian chief, who said, that the prong of the hook was made of one of the bones of the celebrated navigator, Capt. Cook.” In 1996 the hook was tested by the staff of the Kendall Whaling Museum; they confirmed that it is human bone, but could not narrow it down to the precise original owner.


The windpipes of a chicken and a turtle, given by S. Hall of Bridgewater, 31 January 1833. We have no idea which is which (informed suggestions gladly accepted).






Nail and tree bark supposed to be from Mercy Otis Warren’s home and tree near Patriot James Otis, Jr., when he was struck by the bolt of lightning which killed him in May, 1783. He had reportedly said to Mercy before this, “My dear sister, I hope, when God Almighty in his righteous providence shall take me out of time into eternity that it will be by a flash of lightning.” He got his wish.







For more on the history of the Society’s collections, see Proceedings Vol. 28, pp. 312-348, in which then-librarian Samuel A. Green gives an extensive account of the subject.

“Boston Harbor a tea-pot tonight”

By Jeremy Dibbell

To mark the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, some related highlights from the MHS collections:

The Boston Tea Party page from our Coming of the American Revolution site. Read broadsides, diary accounts, and reactions to the dumping of the tea.

Manuscript minutes of the meetings held 14-16 December 1773, during the run-up to the Tea Party.

Our bottle of tea leaves gathered from the shore of Dorchester Neck on the morning after.

From the Adams Papers, John Adams’ 17 December 1773 letter to James Warren, with its wonderful opening line: “The Dye is cast: The People have passed the River and cutt away the Bridge: last Night Three Cargoes of Tea, were emptied into the Harbour. This is the grandest, Event, which has ever yet happened Since, the Controversy, with Britain, opened!”

This Week @ MHS

By Jeremy Dibbell

– We hope you’ll join us for the second of our of mini-courses, “What does Massachusetts have to do with …?”, on Tuesday, 14 December at 12 noon. Jayne Gordon and Kathleen Barker of the Education Department will discuss “What does Massachusetts have to do with … the California Gold Rush?” The cost for these courses (which includes lunch) is $20 for non-members, $10 for members. Space is limited and reservations are required; you can register online here or call 617-646-0519 to reserve a space. Watch this space for information on upcoming mini-course dates and topics.

– And we’ll have the last two seminars of 2010 this week:

On Tuesday, 14 December at 5:15 p.m. the Boston Environmental History Seminar continues with a talk by Steve Moga of MIT, “Flattening the City: Zoning, Topography, and Nature in the American City.” Karl Haglund of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation will give the comment.

On Thursday, 16 December at 5:15 p.m., the Boston Seminar on the History of Women and Gender series continues with a talk by Molly Geidel of Boston University, “Breaking the Bonds? Domesticity, Decolonization, and the Peace Corps Girls in the 1960s.” Alexander Bloom of Wheaton College will give the comment.

Please read the Seminar Series 2010 post for informaton on attending MHS seminars.

Maier Talk Available Online

By Jeremy Dibbell

You can now watch Pauline Maier’s 23 October MHS author talk about her new book Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 online, thanks to the Forum Network. The video is located here.

My Internship at the Massachusetts Historical Society

By Kimberly Kennedy

During my senior year at college, I finally reached a point where I had to decide what I was going to do with my B.A. in history. Then, my mom offered a suggestion I’d never thought of before: what about being a librarian?  As I began to explore this career possibility, I learned more about archives, and, through a tip from a Tufts University archivist, wound up with an internship at the Massachusetts Historical Society. I enjoyed my time in the collections services department and decided to get my masters degree in library science at Simmons College. Last year, I was lucky enough to get another internship in the collections services department as part of one of my Simmons classes, and this semester, I came back for more! This time, I worked in the reader services department answering researchers’ reference questions. 

Getting a taste of public services in an archives has been extremely valuable and a great complement to my behind-the-scenes experiences. It’s rewarding to help people directly and see the immediate results of one’s work. However, being in direct contact with researchers has its added pressures. For example, I received one question about how slavery ended in Massachusetts that I spent half a day on but still could not find the answer. Despite the frustration, the search for the answer was educational for me because I learned a ton about the end of slavery in Massachusetts. As a plug, an especially great resource was the Massachusetts Historical Society’s online exhibit: http://www.masshist.org/endofslavery/

This internship also reinforced for me the importance of building connections between different cultural institutions, such as museums, archives and libraries, and knowing other institutions’ collection strengths. Researchers asked me several questions this semester that our library didn’t have the right resources to answer, so I sent people to other repositories. For example, since genealogy is not a collecting focus of the MHS I referred several people to the New England Historic Genealogical Society and the Massachusetts State Archives. However, I did have one genealogical victory. A researcher wanted information on an ancestor that lived in Charlestown during the 17th century, and I was surprised to discover several mentions of him in our ready reference collection, as well as an autobiography on Google Books!

Overall, this internship gave me a greater appreciation of reference librarians. There is so much information, not only in the physical collections but also on the web, that knowing which sources to check takes trial and error, experience, and a great memory. I was lucky to pick up a few tips in my time here.

This Week @ MHS

By Jeremy Dibbell

We’ll hope you’ll join us this week for our last evening program of 2010: on Tuesday, 7 December we’ll host a conversation with Rebecca Eaton, executive producer of PBS Masterpiece for WGBH in Boston, as part of our “Creating the Past” conversation series. Refreshments will be served at 5:30 p.m., with the conversation beginning at 6 p.m. Registration for this event is required; more info here.

And on Thursday, 9 December the Boston Early American History Seminar series continues with a paper by Sharon Ann Murphy of Providence College, “Banking on the Public’s Trust: The Image of Commercial Banks in Pennsylvania around the Panic of 1819.” Bruce Mann of Harvard Law School will give the comment. The seminar will begin at 5:15 p.m. Please read the Seminar Series 2010 post for information on attending MHS seminars.

Siege of Boston Digital Collection Launched

By Jeremy Dibbell

As promised, we’ve launched a new digital collection, The Siege of Boston. Featuring more than a dozen eyewitness accounts and reports from Boston during the siege (April 1775 – March 1776), this collection brings together a wide range of materials from the Society’s holdings, and provides hi-res images and transcriptions of each. Several maps are also included.

This digital project was made possible by a grant from the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati, and implemented by our digital projects team: Nancy Heywood, Bill Beck, Peter Steinberg, and Laura Wulf. Enjoy!