Celebrating Independence on July 2nd!

By Elaine Grublin

Yesterday we shared an Independence Day message from John Quincy Adams on the Beehive. In keeping in the spirit of preparing to celebrate our nation’s birthday, today we share some of John Adams’ words on the subject.  In a letter dated 3 July 1776 future president John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail: 

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

Adams was correct about everything but the date!  His description of people using “Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations” to mark this “most memorable day” is spot on for most American communities today. On Monday, 2 July visit the MHS to hear Stephen T. Riley Librarian Peter Drummey explain why John Adams believed 2 July 1776 would be the most memorable day in the history of America. We will offer two gallery talks, at 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM, for interested visitors to learn the story.

If you cannot make it to a gallery talk, you can still plan to visit the MHS to view the exhibition The Most Memorable Day in the History of America: July 2, 1776. The exhibition, features letters exchanged between John and Abigail Adams, manuscript copies of early drafts of the Declaration of Independence in both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson’s own handwriting, and the Society’s own first printing of the Declaration, also known as the Dunlap broadside. The exhibition is open Monday through Saturday, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, from 2 July through 31 August.  

Alex Ashlock of WBUR spoke with Peter Drummey about the exhibition over the weekend. Read more in his write-up Should We Be Celebrating July 2nd?

An Independence Day Message for the World

By Amanda A. Mathews, Adams Papers

Here at the Adams Papers we receive calls on occasion from the media looking for information on John and John Quincy Adams. This past month, Gregg Lint, Series Editor for The Papers of John Adams, and Jim Taylor, Editor-in-Chief, fielded a somewhat more unusual request. Voice of America, Korea, interviewed them as a part of a series they are doing on American presidents (the interviews can be found here). These interviews posed an interesting question—what would you most want to convey about these two American presidents to an audience unfamiliar with American history?

Gregg Lint highlighted three aspects of John Adams’s career: his writing of the Massachusetts Constitution and its influence on the federal Constitution, his diplomatic career, and his success in keeping the country out of war with France during his presidency.

John Quincy Adams, Jim Taylor emphasized, was well prepared to be president by his legal, political, and diplomatic careers, however, partisanship and changing American democracy prevented him from accomplishing much while in office, leaving his most significant achievements before and after the presidency.

As Independence Day approaches, we think more about these two presidents. John Adams’s connection with the holiday is well known: the “Atlas of Independence” who famously died on the 50th anniversary of that historic event.

John Quincy Adams also has an important Independence Day connection. On July 4, 1821, he gave a speech before the House of Representatives, which later became the basis for the Monroe Doctrine. The Declaration of Independence, John Quincy Adams affirmed, “stands and must forever stand alone, a beacon on the summit of the Mountain, to which all the Inhabitants of the Earth may turn their eyes for a genial and saving light, till Time shall be lost in Eternity and this Globe itself dissolve nor leave a wreck behind.— It stands forever, a light of admonition to the rulers of men; a light of salvation and redemption to the oppressed.”

With this message of liberty to the world, there is no doubt that John and John Quincy Adams would have been well pleased to find the stories of their lives and their steadfast belief in liberty broadcast to people around the world.



John Boyle O’Reilly Memorial

By Daniel Hinchen, Reader Services

Detail of memorial to John Boyle O'Reilly featuring his face only

John Boyle O’Reilly’s faults were few, his virtues many. He did his work fearlessly and brilliantly. He did it, too, with a conspicuous ability which was seen and appreciated by men of all classes and men of all creeds. He has gone from among us, but he has left a record which the land of his nativity, his adopted country, and the city in which he lived will always cherish with pride, with honor, and with respect. Col. Charles H. Taylor (Memorial of John Boyle O’Reilly from the City of Boston, Boston: By Order of Board of Aldermen, 1891)

Across the street from the MHS, and facing back at it, is a large bronze bust commemorating  John Boyle O’Reilly, an Irish-born poet, newspaperman, author, Statue of John Boyle OReilly taken from Boylston Streetand social activist who brought his passion and patriotism to Boston. He was a giant in the city and won the admiration and respect of all those he met. Upon his death in 1890, thousands of people descended on Tremont Temple to pay their respects.

The memorial that stands directly across from the MHS was designed by Daniel Chester French and erected in 1896. French was responsible for creating such iconic sculptures as The Minute Man statue standing in Concord, MA, a statue of a seated John Harvard that is in Harvard Yard, and the giant sculpture of Abraham Lincoln that occupies the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

French’s monument to John Boyle O’Reilly features a large bronze bust of O’Reilly on one side. On the reverse is a sculpture of Erin (representing Ireland), who is weaving a wreath and is flanked by her two sons, Poetry and Patriotism. Back of John Boyle OReilly Statue taken from Fenway The figures are placed in front of a backdrop composed of a Celtic cross and Celtic knots carved into the stone.

While there is no known large body of O’Reilly’s personal papers, the MHS holds letters written by O’Reilly scattered through our collection, including material in the Frederic Jesup Stimson Papers, the DeGrasse-Howard Papers, and the William Eustis Russell Papers. The MHS also hold a number of published items authored by O’Reilly, including his novel Moondyne: A Story from the Under-world (1879), and transcriptions of several speeches he made in his lifetime. The Boston Public Library newspaper room provides access to the full run of the Boston archdiocesan newspaper Pilot, including the issues produced during O’Reilly’s tenure as editor. To learn more about the life, death, and times of John Boyle O’Reilly, visit the MHS library to discover additional source materials.

Help Us Identify This Civil War Photo

By Emilie Haertsch, Publications

We need your help identifying the location of this photo! Taken during the Civil War, it was a 1911 gift from Edmund A. Whitman to the Society. The photograph accompanied the materials of his father, Col. Edmund Burke Whitman, a Harvard graduate and army quartermaster in the Civil War. Col. Whitman played a key role in the creation of the cemetery system for the Civil War dead, which was constructed after the war. During the war his career took him many places in the North and South, so it does not narrow the possibilities of this photograph’s location.

View a larger scan of the image here. It depicts what appear to be four African American soldiers with a cannon, probably a rifled Rodman breech-loading siege gun, a large cannon designed to knock down enemy fortifications. These Rodman guns were used by both the North and South. Since the Rodman gun fired cylindrical shells that looked like enormous modern-day bullets, the round cannon balls depicted were not used for that gun and may indicate that the emplacement had been in use before the arrival of these soldiers.

The fortification in the photograph appears old, and the grass growing over it indicates it was not very well maintained. Churches and other large buildings and a wide, bending river are visible in the background.  It is likely that some of the buildings in this photograph still stand and the modern-day view from the same vantage point is somewhat similar.

The soldiers could have been members of one of several U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery Regiments from the Civil War, designated with the numbers 1 and 3-14. They were raised in 1864, although some existed as state units prior to being called into federal service and re-numbered. Some remained in service, occupying the South after the end of the war. If the soldiers were part of these regiments, it would narrow the possibilities of the photo’s location because they often were assigned to border garrisons away from the fighting or to areas of the South occupied by the Union. However, the soldiers depicted in the photograph would not have needed to be members of a heavy artillery battery in order to man a siege gun, and there were African American artillery men not assigned to heavy artillery regiments.

Please help us solve this longstanding mystery! If you think you recognize the location of this photograph or have other related information, please share it in the comments below.

Caroline Dall Gears Up for Summer in 1862

By Jim Connolly, Publications

I don’t know how your week is going, but Caroline Healey Dall had a pretty nice one 150 years ago.

Daguerreotype of Caroline Wells Healy DallDall was a leading 19th-century reformer and essayist who played a significant role in the antislavery and women’s suffrage movements. The MHS published the Selected Journals of Caroline Healey Dall, Volume I (1838-1855), edited by Helen R. Deese, in 2006. The second volume, covering 1855 to 1866, is in the works: I am in the midst of preparing Helen’s manuscript for publication next year.

On 11 June 1862, Dall and her twelve-year-old daughter Sarah Keen Dall (“Sadie”) and sixteen-year-old son Willie were living in Medford, Mass. (my hometown, incidentally, and, the site of Lydia Maria Child’s “grandfather’s house,” of “Over the River and through the Woods” fame). She spent time with fellow Medford resident Mary B. Hall, who was apparently in a generous mood. Dall writes:

“Miss Mary gave me a little black silk sack for Sadie, & later with most tender motherly kindness–a bill for 100$–which I am to use now, & repay, if ever I am able to some one who needs it more than either of us, & whom I think Miss Mary would like to help if she were about.”

Not bad. A gift for her daughter and a C-note with instructions to “pay it forward,” if you will. Then Mary’s nieces show up with a nice surprise.

“Came home–& laid a cold tea for Sadie & self. Later Fannie & Anna Hall came with the first strawberries for Mr Towne, & in the eveg I helped him with his Ms.”

Nothing like iced tea and strawberries to prepare oneself for summer–assuming, of course, that her friend, the Unitarian minister Edward Towne, was kind enough to share the sweet fruit in exchange for help with his manuscript. Such help was valuable: Dall was an accomplished writer in many forms, including lectures, articles, and books, such as Woman’s Right to Labor (1860), Woman’s Rights Under the Law (1861), and The College, the Market, and the Court (1867).

An entry from later that week (14 June 1862) finds her in similarly idyllic territory, enjoying a “busy but peaceful morng.” and combing Towne’s hair “till he fell into a light slumber.”

page from journal of Caroline Wells Healy Dall

Union and Confederate troops in Virginia, meanwhile, enjoyed no such idylls as the disastrous Peninsula Campaign dragged on, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths. You can learn about the Peninsula Campaign and other aspects of the Civil War at the MHS Civil War web resource page.

Caroline Dall’s personal papers live at the MHS. To learn more about her and her materials, check out the Caroline Wells Healey Dall Papers 1811-1917: Guide to the Microfilm Edition, or pick up a copy of the MHS publication Selected Journals of Caroline Healey Dall, Volume I (1838-1855), mentioned above. Editor Helen R. Deese has also published a one-volume, redacted version of Dall’s diary, Daughter of Boston: The Extraordinary Diary of a Nineteenth-century Woman, Caroline Healey Dall (2005) through Beacon Press.

Join Us for Our Open House!

By Elaine Grublin

Join us on Saturday, 16 June from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM at our annual Open House featuring a preview of our summer exhibition Mr. Madison’s War: The Controversial War of 1812. Visitors are invited to participate in tours; listen to exhibition talks; enjoy refreshments; and learn more about the Society’s collections, programs, and services.

Here is a preview of the day’s activities:

  • 10:00 AM — A guided tour of the Society’s public rooms departs the front lobby
  • 11:00 AM — “Frederic Baury’s Extraordinary War,” a gallery talk offering a detailed description of the brief but illustrious Naval career of a Midshipman during the War of 1812
  • 12:00 PM — A guided tour of the Society’s public rooms departs the front lobby
  • 1:00 PM — “War and Peace: John Quincy Adams in St. Petersburg and at Ghent, 1809-1814,” a gallery talk focusing on John Quincy Adams’ detailed letters to his parents and voluminous diary accounts documenting his observations of the events leading up to the War of 1812 in America, and the “other” War of 1812, the titanic French invasion of Russia.
  • 2:00 PM — A guided tour of the Society’s public rooms departs the front lobby

Throughout the day visitors can view Mr. Madison’s War: The Controversial War of 1812 and examine the controversial nature of the war in Massachusetts and the struggles between the Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans, enjoy refreshments in our 19-century gentleman’s library, and visit our information table to learn about MHS resources, upcoming programs, and how to become a member. 

For more information e-mail rsvp@masshist.org.

History’s Mysteries: Building a Family Tree

By Emilie Haertsch, Publications

The protagonist of my favorite mystery novel series, Maisie Dobbs, creates a map of each case she works on. A London detective in the 1930s, she pins down a large piece of paper and writes down every bit of information she discovers, drawing lines to connect the pieces as the case evolves. Recently the staff of the Society’s Publications Department took a page out of Maisie Dobbs’s book and created a “map” to solve our own mystery regarding family connections and progeny.

Ondine LeBlanc Building the Shattuck Family Tree on a White Board in the publications officeWe are working on a book to coincide with the Society’s upcoming exhibition on mourning jewelry. The book, titled In Death Lamented: The Tradition of Anglo-American Mourning Jewelry, features mourning jewels from the Society’s collection and from the private collection of the author, Sarah Nehama.

Several mourning jewels used in the book were donated to the Society by Dr. George Cheever Shattuck in 1971, and although some of the people those jewels honored shared last names, we could not initially discern how they were all related. Many prominent families in 18th- and 19th- century Boston intermarried and used the same names throughout generations, making it difficult to differentiate mothers, sisters, and cousins. Many parents also named their children after close family friends, confounding things further for any genealogist.

With one woman in particular we struggled – Elizabeth Cheever. The inscription on her mourning ring had been transcribed as “Elizabeth Cheever obt. 28 June 1814 Aet 72,” indicating that she was 72 and died on June 28, 1814. Even with these details we could not find biographical information on her anywhere. That is, until we had the help of a great MHS volunteer. Kathleen Fox, who is assisting with this project, discovered that the date of death we had for Elizabeth Cheever had been transcribed incorrectly. Rather than 1814, it was 1802! With this new date we were able to find Elizabeth Cheever using the Town Vital Records Collections of Massachusetts on Ancestry.com. Formerly Elizabeth Edwards, she was born in 1730 and married William Downes Cheever.

From this new information we were able to link Elizabeth Cheever to Mary Cheever (her sister-in-law), William Cheever (her son), and so on. We created a family tree, researching each family member until we had connected seven generations of Cheevers, Davises, and Shattucks. The family tree includes those commemorated by all of the jewels Dr. George Cheever Shattuck contributed to the MHS. No mean feat. But we’re not done yet. We still need one confirmation on a Hannah Davis. The mapping – and mystery – continues. Sometimes working at a historical society is just like being a detective.

For more information on the Cheever, Davis, and Shattuck families, read this earlier post on the discovery of Elizabeth Cheever (Davis) Shattuck’s travel diary. She appears in the family tree, and In Death Lamented features a mourning ring commemorating her.

The New Riding Club of Boston

By Daniel Hinchen, Reader Services

The Boston area is known for some very famous examples of architecture. Photograph of 52 Hemenway Street, front of buildingJust think of the variously colored steeples that dot the campus of Harvard in nearby Cambridge; the golden dome of the State House; and of course, the grand brownstones that line Newbury and Beacon Streets and Commonwealth Avenue. One architectural style that is not well represented in Boston, though, is the Tudor Revival style. And yet, just around the corner from the MHS, among the rows of stone and brick apartment buildings, is a fine example of that style.

At 52 Hemenway Street there stands a three-storied building with a steeply pitched roof, high chimneys, dormer windows, and just a touch of the half-timbered feature that makes the Tudor Revival style so noticeable. While it may be missing the herringbone brickwork and mullioned windows of most structures in this style, it is nonetheless distinguishable as a Tudor Revival building.

The building has served as a home to two very different organizations. And while it may look out of place in its neighborhood, it has been standing for 120 years and has a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

Designed by Willard T. Sears, 52 Hemenway was first home to the New Riding Club of Boston. Photo of side of 52 Hemenway StreetA quick look at the building’s exterior shows one repeated feature that hints to its original use: around the building are several large portals — some arched — resembling modern-day garage doors giving the viewer the impression of stables. 

Built in 1891, it allowed for easy access to the bridle paths in the nearby Back Bay Fens, which had recently been completed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Inside the building there were several stables for horses, as well as a riding ring. It retained this make-up until 1934 when it was acquired by the Badminton and Tennis Club.* After the take-over, the riding ring was converted to tennis courts. Finally, in 1985 the remaining stables were converted into residential apartments.

The MHS does not hold  much original material relating to either of these organizations in our collections. We do hold original copies of the published by-laws and rules of the New Riding Club, from 1920 and 1924. Interested neighbors may view these items in our library.


*The Badminton and Tennis Club is affiliated with the Boston Tennis and Racquet Club whose home is in the Back Bay at 939 Boylston St. which was built in 1902 and contributes to the area’s designation as a National Register Historic District.


This Week @ MHS

By Elaine Grublin

There is much happening at the MHS this week. Be sure to check out our online calendar for more information about these and other upcoming programs. 

Do not miss your chance to learn more about the fenced in gardens on the Fenway and to join in celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Fenway Victory Gardens.  Tuesday, 5 June, join us at 1154 Boylston Street to view items from the Fenway Garden Society’s collections, held by the MHS, and to stretch your legs with a walk through the gardens. This program is co-sponsored by the Fenway Garden Society

Wednesday, 6 June, at noon join us for a Brown-bag lunch program. Researcher Jared Hardesty, Boston College, will present his project The Origins of Black Boston, a project that examines the formation of a slave community in pre-Revolutionary Boston and argues that historians have overstated the significance of freedom as a motivating factor for slaves. Come listen to Jared’s presentation, and then join in the Q & A session.

Saturday, 7 June, stop in for our tour “The History and Collections of the MHS.”  The 90-minute guided tour departs the front lobby promptly at 10:00 AM. 


Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Post 14

By Elaine Grublin

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

Thursday, June 19th, 1862

Of public events the chief worthy of record is the sudden irruption of the rebel force into central Virginia, occasioning the retreat of Gen. Banks, & an instant rally to arms in this state and elsewhere. The first personal acquaintance I have lost in this war (as far as I yet know) was killed in the encounter, at Port Royal, with Jackson’s Force, – Capt. Wm. P. Ainsworth of Nashua, a fine young man of my former parish.

Come back to read Bulfinch’s July entry where he reflects on the increasing loss of life in battle and Lincoln’s call for 300,000 new volunteers.