An Educational Summer @ MHS

By Kathleen Barker

More than 500 teachers from across the United States (and Dubai!) will return to school this fall equipped with classroom resources obtained through various workshops at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Educators, as well as a few curious adults, took part in fourteen different workshops offered at the MHS this summer. These lucky participants investigated documents related to a vast array of intriguing characters, events, and issues. Topics on offer included the dilemmas of colonial governor Thomas Hutchinson, daily life during the Siege of Boston, the ratification of the United States Constitution in Massachusetts, women in colonial Boston, and Irish American and African American participation in the Union Army during the Civil War. 

Photograph of educators participating in an MHS workshop at the Forbes House MuseumWhenever possible, education programs at MHS provide educators with opportunities to explore landscapes related to the Society’s documents and artifacts. We were fortunate to take several field trips this summer to locales in Boston and beyond. Participants in our Thomas Hutchinson workshop spent a beautiful summer day exploring the Forbes House Museum and other Hutchinson memorabilia in Milton. (Pictured on left.) While learning about the Siege of Boston, other educators took a tour of Loyalist Cambridge with J.L. Bell that included a stop at Longfellow House – Washington’s Headquarters. Where better to see the Constitution in action than at a courthouse? Photograph of educators participating in an MHS workshop at  the John Adams Courthouse in Boston MAOur Constitution workshop participants were able to discuss the ratification process in the elegant surroundings of Boston’s John Adams Courthouse, home of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. (Pictured on right.) Of course, not all of our excursions were land-based. In early August, twenty teachers from the Boston area participated in a workshop at Fort Warren on Georges Island, part of Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.

Although the majority of our teacher workshops take place in the summer months, the MHS offers occasional workshops throughout the academic year. For a list of upcoming programs specifically for teachers, visit our events calendar or contact the Education Department.

This Week @ MHS

By Elaine Grublin

The final week before Labor Day looks like a quiet one at the MHS. There are no scheduled programs this week, but there are a couple of noteworthy items.

Please note that the library will be closed Saturday, 3 September through Monday, 5 September in observance of the Labor Day holiday. 

Also, Thursday, 1 August is the last Thursday evening that the library will be open until 7:45 PM. Starting on 6 September the library’s “late night” moves to Tuesday evening. The library will be open 9:00 AM to 7:45 PM on Tuesdays, and will close at 4:45 PM on all other weekdays and at 4:00 PM on Saturdays.  This is a permanent change.   

Finally, there are only three weeks left to view the exhibition History Drawn with Light: Early Photographs from the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.  The exhibition is open Monday through Saturday, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. 

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch Diary, Post 2

By Elaine Grublin

The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.

Monday, 31 December 1860

I have much to record at the close of the year; and my record must be a sad one, in regard to public and private affairs alike, though hope looks through where faith points.

First of public affairs. South Carolina precipitately declared herself independent. The President, weakly listening to a cabinet whom charity can hardly acquit of treachery, refused to reinforce the week garrison, (less than 10 men) of Fort Moultrie, and pledged himself not to do so, on certain promises from the secessionists not to attack the fort. Gen. Cass, Sec. of State resigned in disgust at such conduct. Mr. Cobb, Sec. of Treasury resigned, leaving the Treasury empty, and went South to preach secession. Major Anderson, the Commander at Fort Moultrie, bravely took the responsibility of evacuating it, to place himself in the stronger Fort Sumter. S. C. demands that he be censured for this. I hear today that the President, after hesitation, has refused to obey this order, that three members of the Cabinet have resigned in consequence, a good riddance, and that Carolina which had already occupied Forts Moultrie and Pickney, has taken a revenue cutter of the U.S. If so, the new year must begin with a Civil War; an awful necessity, but ‘from this nettle, danger, we must pluck this flower, safety.’ God defend the right!

Meantime in Congress a conciliatory proposition has been made by Mr. Charles Francis Adams, and seems likely to be accepted generally. I hope, more than I did yesterday, for our greatest danger seemed to me to be from imbecility if not treachery at Washington, which would encourage state after state to commit itself to extreme measures. Yesterday, I kept by anticipation, in my afternoon services, the fast which the president had appointed for Friday next.

Be sure to check back next week for SGB’s next post, dated 14 January 1861, in which he corrects facts mistated in this post and reflects on the growing seccession crises.

What, Exactly, is an MHS “Brown-Bag” Lunch?

By Kate Viens

It is sometimes said that the MHS is “a genteel society.” Perhaps it’s our quiet customs, steeped in tradition. So, what are these hour-long events called “brown bag lunches”? Can one really bring food into the MHS, and upstairs, no less? Do presenters really deliver programs to a crowd munching on pretzels and carrot sticks?

The answer is “yes”! Think of the brown-bags as a working lunch for scholars, with you and I encouraged to join in and take the conversation in new directions. Many organizations offer brown-bag lunchtime talks, but at the MHS, they’re the epitome of “historical tradition meets modern scholarship.” 

Programs take place at the MHS around the oval table in the 19th-century gentleman’s library of Thomas Dowse. Participants settle into massive mahogany and leather armchairs, unpack their chicken Caesar wraps, and begin to introduce themselves: a scholar from Johns Hopkins, a neighborhood resident, a graduate student from Berkeley, an MHS staff member… The program begins as the presenter describes his or her research in the MHS collections, following which, all are welcome to ask questions and comment.  

The MHS offers a brown-bag lunch program on the first Wednesday of every month, with others scheduled during the year. Lunches begin at noon and end promptly at one o’clock, and the MHS provides an assortment of soft drinks and coffee. 

On September 7, Laurie Ellen Pazzano will describe her research on “Peace field: 1788–1818, The New England Farm of John & Abigail Adams.” Laurie is a student of the Landscape Institute of the Boston Architectural College/Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. 

On September 14, Anthony Antonucci will discuss his work, “Americans and the Mezzogiorno: United States Relations with the Regno delle Due Sicilie from Thomas Jefferson to Herman Melville, 1783-1861.” Anthony has just spent the year as a Fulbright Scholar in Italy and is earning his degree at the University of Connecticut. 

If you can make the time to join us, we would love to see you at these or future programs!


This Week @ MHS

By Elaine Grublin

Today, 22 August, at noon join us in the Dowse Library for a brown-bag lunch presented by Jennifer Egloff of New York University.  Jennifer will present her project “Popular Numeracy in Early Modern England and British North America” before taking questions and comments from all attendees. 

On Saturday, 27 August, join us for the 90-minute building tour The History and Collections of the MHS.  The tour, which is free and open to the public, starts at 10:00 AM and departs from the front lobby. 


The Civil War and Citizenship @ Fort Warren

By Kathleen Barker

On 13 August 2011, members of the Education Department spent a beautiful day on Georges Island, part of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area.

Our day began with an exploration of Fort Warren, a National Historic Landmark built between 1834 and 1860.  Thanks to its strategic location overlooking the shipping channel into Boston’s inner harbor, the fort became a crucial part of Boston’s coastal defense plan during the Civil War. Fort Warren also served as a recruiting and training camp for Massachusetts regiments of the Union Army, as well as a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp. The first prisoners of war, including 155 political prisoners and over 600 military prisoners, arrived in October 1861. Perhaps the most famous Civil War prisoner held at Fort Warren was Alexander H. Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, who was held there from 25 May – 13 October 1865. Enthusiastic visitors can still take a peek into the cell occupied by Stephens during his stay on the island.  Other interesting nooks and crannies to explore include the fort’s bakery, the old hospital, and a powder magazine. Brave souls can also explore the dark arch (Bastion A), a former storage area and recreation hall full of mysterious rooms and dim corners best explored by flashlight!

In addition to roaming the fort, we also enjoyed a fantastic talk by Dr. Christian Samito, a practicing lawyer and a faculty member at Boston University School of Law, where he teaches courses on the legal history of the Civil War and Reconstruction eras. Education staff members have been working with Chris throughout the summer on a series of public programs and teacher workshops related to issues of citizenship and Civil War military service. During this particular talk, which was co-sponsored by the MHS, Chris discussed how African American and Irish American soldiers influenced the modern vision of national citizenship that developed during the Civil War era. By serving in the Union Army, African Americans and Irish Americans demonstrated their loyalty to the United States and strengthened their American identity. While their experiences differed greatly, both groups cited their participation in Union efforts as they advocated for the expansion of citizenship rights after 1865. In the years following the war’s end, African Americans gained access to legal and political processes from which they had previously been excluded on the basis of race, and Irish Americans helped to cement recognition of their full citizenship through naturalization. For more information about this topic, pick up a copy of Chris’s recent book, Becoming American under Fire: Irish Americans, African Americans, and the Politics of Citizenship during the Civil War Era, published by Cornell University Press.

To learn more about Boston and Fort Warren’s role as a site of diplomatic intrigue, join MHS staff members on Georges Island at 1:45 P.M. on Saturday, September 17th, when we present “The Trent Affair.” In the fall of 1861, Jefferson Davis sent diplomats James Mason of Virginia and John Slidell of Louisiana to Europe seeking support and recognition for the Confederacy. Eluding the Union blockade, the Southerners reached Cuba, where they boarded a British mail steamer, the Trent, for passage across the Atlantic Ocean. On 8 November 1861, the ship was seized and its Confederate diplomats imprisoned at Fort Warren.  MHS Education and Library staff members will discuss the details of the event; Mason, Slidell and prisoner life at Fort Warren; and the important role the Trent Affair played in Anglo-American relations. We hope to see you there!

This event will take place on Georges Island. For information about ferry tickets and schedules, please visit the Boston Harbor Islands Partnership website.

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch Diary, Post 1

By Elaine Grublin

The following excerpts are from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch

Sunday, 11 November 1860

The great event, for which preparations have been making by the different parties, has at length taken place. On Tuesday last, it was decided by the election of a large majority of Presidential electors, that Abraham Lincoln was the choice of the people for President. I receive the decision, as thousands do, with gratitude to God, that now the direction of our country is right; not that we wish to interfere with slavery where it exists, otherwise than by moral & friendly influence, but that our country has avowed the preference of liberty to slavery, that the reviving slave trade will be suppressed, no more slave territory added, & the prestige of the government be in favor of progress.

There is great excitement at the South, but this, I think, will subside; and when our brethren there find that no wrong is intended them, they will bow to the republican principle that the majority must govern.

Monday, 19 November 1860

The excitement at the South continues; but N. Carolina, Tennessee etc. declare manfully their adhesion to the union.

Be sure to check back next week for the 31 December entry where SGB reflects on the secession crisis and the growing national conflict.


This Week @ MHS

By Elaine Grublin

As the summer winds down, it is a quiet week for programs at 1154 Boylston Street.  

The exhibition will be open Monday through Saturday, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and the weekly building tour, The History and Collections of the MHS, will begin at 10:00 AM on Saturday, 20 August.  



John Quincy Adams Writes about an American Born in Russia

By Nancy Heywood

On 12 August 1811 in St. Petersburg, Russia, where John Quincy Adams (JQA) was posted as a diplomat, his wife, Louisa Catherine, gave birth to a daughter. This baby, their first daughter, was named after her mother.   The couple already had three sons– George Washington Adams (born 1801), John Adams (born 1803), and Charles Francis Adams (born 1807)—although only their youngest son had accompanied them to Russia. Their two older sons were left in the care of relatives in Massachusetts.  Louisa Catherine was anguished about leaving two of her children behind, but JQA felt it was the best decision given the circumstances of a long transatlantic journey and the daunting logistics of setting up diplomatic operations as well as a household in a foreign country.

JQA’s succinct line-a-day diary entry for 12 August 1811 (“My wife gave me a daughter. Galloway came. Montreal here, and Hall. Patterson. Plummer, Ashton, Marks &c. “) doesn’t convey much about his thoughts regarding the arrival of young Louisa.  However, based on other documents JQA wrote on the same day, it appears that he was indeed happy, a bit awestruck, but also very concerned about the welfare of his wife, who was in labor for a long time.

JQA’s full diary entry for 12 August 1811 begins, “I bless God, for the birth of a daughter this Evening at 7. O’Clock-  My wife had been taken with short pains from 7 in the morning…” and indicated that after the birth (during which Louisa was probably tended to by a nurse) JQA sent for Dr. Galloway who arrived at 9:00 in the evening and made sure “Mrs. Adams was as well as the circumstances admitted.” 

JQA also wrote two letters after the birth of his daughter. (JQA kept copies of these letters in a letterbook volume 11, part of the Adams Family Papers, available on microfilm, reel 135.)  One letter was sent to his mother-in-law in which he communicated “the joyful tidings.” The other letter was sent to his mother, Abigail Adams, and not only does he describe his new child as his “charming daughter,” he also expresses some humor–“I think this will convince you that ‘the climate of St. Petersburg is not too cold to produce an American.’” JQA was quick to explain his humorous remark:  “I hope that you will not think a little levity in this manner of stating to you the fact, incompatible with a heart overflowing with gratitude to God for this new blessing that I have received at his hands.”  JQA also writes of “the deep anxieties of my own heart” regarding his wife’s difficult labor and towards the end of the letter he refers to his wife as his “dearest friend” (a term that his parents often used when writing to each other).  The passage reads:  “To the tender mercies of that Being from whom every good and perfect gift proceeds I commit the Mother and the child, imploring the aid of his Spirit, that my dearest friend may … be restored to health….”

[Warning to JQAdams_MHS Twitter followers–spoiler alert:]  Tragically, young Louisa Catherine only lived thirteen months, and died on 15 September 1812 following a severe infection.  Her death devastated her parents.  Not only had they welcomed their daughter while they were living in St. Petersburg, Russia, but they also had to say goodbye and bury her there. 

Sources for further reading:

Allgor, Catherine.  “A Republican in a Monarchy:  Louisa Catherine Adams in Russia” from Diplomatic History, volume 21 (Winter 1997): pp. 15-43.

Butterfield, L. H.  “Tending a Dragon-Killer: Notes for the Biographer of Mrs. John Quincy Adams” from Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, v. 118, no. 2 (Apr. 1974), pp. 165-178.

Nagel, Paul C.  John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life.  (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997).


Diary Offers a Unique Glimpse of the Civil War

By Zach Reisch, Intern

Searching for material to include in the Civil War Monthly Document feature on the MHS website, I came across the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch. Within this extensive diary–described in more detail below–Bulfinch gives an (almost) month-by-month account of the Civil War. Sometimes spending just a few lines on the national conflict, sometimes dedicating an entire entry, Bulfinch provides commentary on many of the most important events in “public affairs” from the divisive election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 to the status of reconstruction after the war. 

Discussing the diary with Elaine Grublin, who oversees the Civil War Monthly Document project, we concluded it would be too difficult to choose just one entry from this rich diary to include in that project.  Instead we decided to share all of Bulfinch’s Civil War entries through the Beehive. These snippets from Bulfinch’s larger diary entries offer a unique perspective on the war.  By both reporting and reflecting on events Bulfinch provides his views on themes such as the conflict’s division of families, the role of women and children in the war, public opinion as events unfolded, religious leaders going into battle, and the cost of war — in human life — felt by his own neighborhood.

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch was born on 18 June 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts to architect Charles Bulfinch and his wife Hannah Apthorp. The youngest of seven children, Bulfinch graduated from Columbian College in Washington, D.C., and Harvard Divinity School.  He proceeded from there to preach as a Unitarian minister. He was married twice, first to Maria Howard, who died in childbirth, and later to Caroline Phelps.

The MHS holds two volumes of Bulfinch’s diaries in the Bulfinch Family Papers. The first volume contains intermittent descriptions of the Bulfinch’s travels between 1827 and 1830. The second volume covers of his settled life in Massachusetts,  containing entries from 23 December 1856 to 31 December 1865, with some gaps. This volume details various familial events such as the death of his brother Charles and his constant worry about his sickly daughter, Maria. Bulfinch also discusses his struggles with the Unitarian Church’s doctrine and his resignation from his preaching position after concluding that he believes in the Holy Trinity. The diary then turns to Bulfinch’s attempts to find work, as well as his renewed passion for completing a work of fiction he had previously started.  He sees this work, Honor, or the Slave-dealer’s Daughter published in 1864.

Transcriptions of the Civil War focused diary entries will be published to the Beehive providing both an objective timeline of the Civil War and offering a unique perspective on the events as seen through a civilian’s eyes.  Starting with a number of entries in quick succession to bring Beehive readers up to September 1861, in September we will add a post the first of each month, so be sure to follow the Civil War series to stay current with Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch’s diary.