Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Post 7

By Elaine Grublin

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

Monday, Aug. 12th, 1861

 Among public events, since I last wrote, the battle at Bull’s Run is the most important, – an advantage, though a dear-bought one, to the secessionists. It has led to a change of commander in that section, and to more strictness of discipline and circumspection, while the spirit of the country rises to meet the emergency. There is some misgiving among the more timid, and the importance which the question of emancipation is beginning to assume, may divide our people somewhat. The hope of the secessionists is that England will interfere to break up the blockade which would keep from her the cotton on which she so greatly depends. Congress, after a short and efficient extra session, has adjourned.

My nephew, Charles F. B. has marched for the seat of war, as private in the 13th regiment – M.V.M. He left Monday, July 29th, and is stationed at Sharpsburg, near Harper’s Ferry.

His brother Thomas J. B. is still on board the Narragansett, by last advices at Acapulco, on the Pacific; and has received the approval of his officers, while his letters speak well for his intelligence and character.

Sunday, September 14th 1861

The condition of the country is yet painful; but hope increases, from successes, though not decisive ones in the West, – the capture of the forts at Hatteras Inlet, and the firmness of the government in crushing opposition in Baltimore.

Sunday, Sept 28th

Public affairs still critical. A pretty large force at Lexington in Missouri, of our men, compelled to surrender. Some dissension between the government and Gen. Fremont. But the good sense of the President, I trust under God, will prevent trouble there; an enormous army is said to be concentrated at Washington; Kentucky is decidedly on the Union side; and North Carolina gives favorable indications. The question, What shall be done about the slaves? is pressing itself on public attention, especially from Fremonts’ proclamation of freedom to slaves of secessionists in Missouri, & the president’s qualification of it. For myself, while with reverence I recognize the approaching settlement of the slavery question by Divine Providence, I am very anxious lest any false step should involve us in the guilt of calling the slaves to insurrection, & the horrors that must succeed. I think, the hour may come for declaring freedom to the slaves; but am disposed to fix the time for it at the end of the war, rather than in its course.

Our young connection Edw. Huntington, has entered the regular army. My brother F. continues to receive good accounts from his sons. Two of my young parishioners, W. F. & P. B. have returned from the army, out of health.

Be sure to visit the blog in October to read Bulfinch’s comments on the Battle of Ball’s Bluff.

Marriage, Statistics, and the State: Lunch Talk Recap

By Anna J. Cook

On Monday, 26 September, Bostonian Society/New England Women’s Club Fellow Sarah Kirshen, a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, gave a presentation on her dissertation research, “The Family’s Values: Marriage, Statistics, and the State, 1800-1909.”  With a background in Public Health, Kirshen has undertaken to write a history of marriage statistics-gathering by state and federal governments, beginning with Thomas Jefferson’s call in 1800 for such information to be collected (a proposal that went nowhere) and ending with the publication of the second national study of marriage in the United States in 1909. Specifically, Kirshen focuses on two waves of activism in support of keeping marriage statistics.

First, during the 1830s and 1840s, there was a push for keeping vital statistics (birth, marriage, and death records) as a function of developing national identity. The advocates of vital statistics saw the keeping of such records as documentation that would provide a means to track individuals family histories as both a public health measure and as a means of developing a national lineage. In 1842, Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to pass a vital statistics act, followed by other New England states. For the first time in 1850 the federal census asked about marital status. Kirshen looks at how the implementation of these laws led to the creation of “labor systems” by which the data could be collected and tracked. She also examines how the bureaucratization of marriage changed the meaning of marriage by making state solemnization central to the meaning of marriage in the United States.

The second wave of nineteenth-century activism around marriage appears in the Reconstruction era, when there was widespread national anxiety about changing household forms, particularly because of the new visibility of free black families and the debate over women’s property rights in marriage. Some reformers, specifically, drew upon marriage statistics as an authoritative source by which to argue that the American family was in crisis. They were particularly concerned about the prevalence of divorce, which they attributed to a lack of uniformity in marriage and divorce law nationwide. Thus, both the evidence of the problem (a supposedly newly-high rate in the breakdown of marriage relationships) and its cure (uniformity of marriage record-keeping) were tied up in the collection and analysis of statistics.

During the question and answer period, audience members asked about the influence of anti-Mormonism in the late-nineteenth-century push for marriage registration and the uniformity of state-sanctioned marriage. Kirshen has, as yet, uncovered little direct reference to Mormon polygamy in her research, but acknowledged the possible connection. In response to a question about opposition to vital-statistics gathering, Kirshen described the vocal dissent of Archbishop John Hughes of New York, also a critic of mandatory public schooling. Hughes argued that marriage was a sacred rite, not a state contract, and should not be subject to state oversight.

We wish Kirshen the best of luck with her research moving forward, and anticipate the completion of her dissertation with interest.

The Darian Expedition

By Anna J. Cook

Welcome to a new Beehive series, “Readers Relate,” in which we hope to bring you a variety of examples of the type of research being done here in the MHS library by researchers who visit in person, and also by researchers who contact us from across the globe.

We developed a set of five questions for our researchers to respond to via email and will forward the questionnaire to researchers nominated by members of the MHS staff. If you are yourself a researcher and are interested in participating, please contact me at and I will be happy to forward the questionnaire to you.

Our first response comes from Julie Orr, a Colorado native who recently spent some time at the MHS on her way home from a year in residence at the University of Dundee, Scotland.

Can you briefly describe the research project that brought you to the Massachusetts Historical Society? 

The research seeks to expand the multinational historiography surrounding the attempt by the Company of Scotland to establish a colony on the isthmus of Panama in 1698-1700.

What specific material in our collections made coming to the MHS important to your research?

The Francis Russell Hart Collection contains his notes, transcriptions and translations of varied documents addressing the Spanish perspective of the Scottish initiative.

 While you were working here, was there something you examined that surprised you?

Hart´s material contained the first documentation of both torture of prisoners and the reaction of the general population of Spanish America to the Scottish incursion.

Is there a particular quote (or visual image) from the material that you consulted that stands out for you?

The visual image of masses being celebrated in response to the Scottish capitulation.

If you brought a visitor to the MHS and you had a chance to show them ONE item from our collections, what item would it be? 

Hart´s translation of the interrogation of the translator for the expedition, who was abandoned on Cuba.

Orr writes of her work, “Following a career with the U.S. Public Health Service in environmental health, I have returned an academic setting to further my education in history, specifically to examine and expand the story of the Darien Expedition and its impact not only in Europe but also in the Americas.”  We wish her good fortune with her project, and thank her for taking the time to answer our questions.




Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Post 6

By Elaine Grublin

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

Monday, June 10th, 1861

The public were in great fear for the city of Washington for a few days after the Baltimore fracas; but the energy & good judgment of our officers, especially Gen. B. T. Butler; the rapid pouring in of troops, even if but half equipped, – the delay or want of preparation of the rebels, & above all the Divine Blessing, saved our capital. The accounts have been and still are watched with feverish anxiety; but nothing decisive has yet transpired. The events of most note are, the occupation of Alexandria & death of the brave young Col. Ellsworth; – the establishment of a strong force at Fortress Monroe, – of another at Cairo, Ill; – the advance of troops into Western Virginia from Ohio; – the advance, commencing at last accounts, from Penna towards Harper’s Ferry, & slight actions at Fairfax C.H., Acquia Creek, & Philippa. The North is thoroughly aroused. Business is paralyzed, – the payment of all debts from the South is stopped; & while we are blockading the Southern ports, the Secessionists are privateering against our commerce. We receive, it is said, appearances of sympathy from abroad, but less from England than other powers.

The Anniversary meeting this Spring were affected by the times. The Collation was dispensed with, & the discussions and arrangements affected by the prevailing state of feeling. The meeting of the Peace Society was commenced by observations savoring of peace, and closed by those savoring of war. The A. U. A. contracted its operations by choosing only a lay secretary with a salary of $1000. At the ‘Conference,’ after an ineffectual attempt to interest the brethren in a theological subject, the duty of ministers in relation to the war was taken up, and after peace speeches from Drs Gaunett, Peabody, & Stebbins, some remarks more in harmony with the general feeling from Dr. Hall and another speaker were greeted with unlawful applause. Nine tenths of the community feel that the only way out of our troubles is the way right through them, with fixed bayonets. “Justice were cruel, weakly to relent; from Mercy’s self she got the sacred glaives”

I received a letter from Maria yesterday. Her health is still but indifferent; & she is much saddened by the civil war, which separates her nearest relatives…. My nephew C. F. B, – our young friend Edw. Huntington, – the two young Blakes of my parish, & others whom we know, are on service at the forts; & may be ordered off.

 Tuesday, June 18th, 1861

The trials of the country continue. The armies are approaching each other in Virginia; – or rather the Union troops advancing, and the secession troops retiring to concentrate and make a stand, as we suppose. Skirmishes take place frequently, and valuable lives are lost. Hope rises over fear, but the future is dark. O my God, if thou sparest me to see another birth-day, may I be so blessed as to see my country re-united! But the future in regard to this and all things is in thine hands; and whatever comes, may I have grace to say, Thy will be done!

Return to the Beehive next week to read Bulfinch’s entries for August and September 1861.  He offers comments on the Battle of Bull Run, events in Missouri, and two Dorchester natives returning from the front “out of health.”

This Week @ MHS

By Elaine Grublin

The fall calendar is full of engaging programs and exhibitions for folks with a wide range of interests.  This week we offer four programs and gallery hours, so be sure to stop in and enjoy at least one of the following.

At noon on Wednesday, 21 September, come to hear Andrew W. Mellon Fellow Kerima Lewis, University of California, Berkeley, presents her project Atlantic Fires Burning: Arson as a Strategy of Slave Resistance in the British American Colonies ata brown-bag lunch.

Area graduate students and faculty at graduate programs are invited to join us on Thursday, 22 September, at 6:00 PM for our Second Annual Graduate Student Reception. Registration is required for this program. To register, email Kate Viens or phone 617-646-0568 by 21 September with your name, affiliation, and major academic interest.

On Saturday, 24 September, we are pleased to offer a special event just for MHS Fellows and Members, a tour of the Arnold Arboretum. The program begins at 9:30 AM at the Hunnewell Building at the Arnold Arboretum. Registration is required.

Also on Saturday, 24 September, our weekly building tour, The History and Collections of the MHS, departs the MHS lobby at 10:00 AM. This 90 minute tour is guided by an MHS docent. 

All visitors to the MHS are also encouraged to visit our newest exhibition space. The newly installed exhibition “Like a Wolf for the Prey”: The Massachusetts Historical Society Collection Begins, installed in our recently renovated 2nd floor lobby, is open to the public Monday through Saturday, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. 

Celebrating the Star-Spangled Banner

By Elaine Grublin

1860s single page printing of the Star-Spangled BannerOn 14 September 1814, Francis Scott Key penned the first lines of the poem that would become the American national anthem.  “The Defence of Fort McHenry” was written and popularized in the days immediately following the American’s success in fending off an attack by the British on the city of Baltimore during the War of 1812. 

Key, a lawyer from Georgetown, and John S. Skinner, a government agent, had been sent by the federal government to arrange the release of Dr. William Beanes.  Beanes had been arrested by the British and was being held prisoner aboard a British ship.  After securing Dr. Beanes release, Key and Skinner were informed that they would not be allowed to leave the fleet until after the British launched their attack on Baltimore.  Perhaps it was feared that Key and Skinner knew too much about the size and force of the fleet and the British attack. After spending several days aboard the HMS Surprise, on 13 September Key and company returned to their own vessel but were required to remain at anchor until after the attack. From the deck of this vessel on the Patapsco River, Key had a clear view of the flag atop Fort McHenry. The battle lasted well into the night,. When the bombardment ended shortly before the break of day on 14 September, Key and Skinner were not certain if the British had taken the fort or if the Americans had repulsed the attack.  As daylight broke, the anxious men looked to the fort and saw that “the flag was still there” and the fort was still in American hands. Shortly after the group was allowed to lift anchor and head back to their homes.  

The Star-Spangled Banner was written as a multi-stanza poem, illustrated in the broadside (published in the 1860s) shown above, to be sung to the tune of “The Anacreontic Song”. Key claimed to have begun writing the poem in the dark hours aboard ship before he knew the outcome of the battle.  He completed writing as he sailed back to Baltimore. The finished version was penned in a Baltimore hotel room and was almost immediately distributed as a hand-bill and published in Baltimore area news papers.  



Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Post 5

By Elaine Grublin

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

Wednesday, May 8th, 1861

The awaking of the country after the Fort Sumter affair has been one of the noblest spectacles of the age. For a few days Washington was considered in danger, but regiment after regiment poured in from the north for its defense, – Massachusetts doing her part among the first, and with a remarkable exhibition of the ability of her soldiers to meet every emergency. The sixth regiment was attacked by a mob in Baltimore; but forced their way through, though with the loss of three lives. The bodies of the martyred soldiers have since been received and reverently buried. This occurrence led to the selection of the route through Annapolis, – the discontinuance of travel through Baltimore, – much talk in Maryland and much wrath both in and against it. But the state and city seem to succumb to the necessity of the case. Meantime Washington is safe; the armory at Harper’s Ferry and the Navy Yard at Norfolk have been destroyed to baffle the approaching enemy, – 80,000 more soldiers and sailors, for a longer term, have been called out, – the administration is firm, and our hopes of an eventually happy if not a bloodless solution of the difficulty are increasing.

Our ladies have been working to make clothing for the soldiers. A few of our Dorchester youths have joined a Roxbury company, now expecting to march; and two companies are nearly formed in this town. A large subscription by individuals, & a liberal appropriation ($20,000) by the Town, have been made to encourage them.

My nephew C. F. B. has volunteered, but I do not yet know whether he will be ordered off.

Next week look for SGB’s June 1861 entry.  He discusses early troop movements and skirmishes, the economic impact of the war, and his hopes for a quick end to the conflict.


This Week @ MHS

By Elaine Grublin

Please join us at noon on Wednesday, 14 September, as Anthony Antonucci, University of Connecticut, presents his project “Americans and the Mezzogiorno: United States Relations with the Regno delle Due Sicilie from Thomas Jefferson to Herman Melville, 1783-1861” at a brown-bag lunch program. 

On Saturday, 17 September take the family to George’s Island to hear MHS staff members present a lecture on The Trent Affair.  This event is part of the Boston Harbor Islands Civil War History Series and is co-sponsered by the MHS. The lecture starts a 1:45 PM on Georges Island. For directions to the Island, please visit

It is the final week to view the current exhibition History Drawn With Light.  Visit the exhibition Monday through Saturday, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The exhibition closes forever on Saturday, 17 September to allow the staff to install our next major show. The Purchase by Blood: Massachusetts in the Civil War, 1861-1862, opens on 7 October.  Stay tuned for more information on that exhibtion.  

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch Diary, Post 4

By Elaine Grublin

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

Tuesday, 16 April 1861

Our country is engaged in civil war. I have made no entry for three months past; but during that time the evil has been growing to a head. By the criminal neglect of the late administration, the secessionists have been encouraged, and the government handed over to the present ruler in an almost powerless condition. It is but justice however to exempt from this blame, Secretaries Holt and Dix, and to say that Mr. Buchanan seems at last to have tried to do something like his duty.

Mr. Lincoln’s prudence and conciliatory demeanor, – his unexpected passage through Baltimore, disappointing those who were preparing insults if not assassination, – his inauguration, with his excellent address, – the formation meantime of a provisional gov’t at the South, – the much talk & little done in the ‘Peace Convention’ and various other conventions, – the many rumors about Fort Sumter, – the desertion of Gen. Twiggs & other officers, – are now all matters of history. Last week brought on the crisis. On Saturday, Fort Sumter surrendered to the overwhelming force of the Southerners, – its battered ruins alone left; and Yesterday morning appeared President Lincoln’s proclamation, calling on the states for their quotas of troops, to the number of 75000 men, and convening Congress on the 4th of July next. The country is already responding nobly to the call. New York passed the necessary bill the same day; & two regiments, it is stated, of Mass. militia leave Boston for Washington to-day. Pennsylvania troops are probably already there, or on their way. The Democratic and ‘Bell & Everett’ papers are falling in with the national feeling.

I understand that I displeased some friends by a sermon Sunday before last, being the Sunday after the state fast. I regret their displeasure, but do not feel that I did wrong. The main sentiment for us all to feel now is to stand by the flag and the government of our country. God defend the right!


Next week look for SGB’s 8 May 1861 entry.  He discusses Massachuetts’ quick response to Lincoln’s call for troops, the attack on the Sixth Massachusetts in Baltimore, Maryland, and the organization of companies of soldiers from Dorchester.