An Adams New Year’s Reflection

By Emilie Haertsch

Charles Francis AdamsAs the New Year approaches, many people set aside time to reflect upon their lives. What has transpired over the past 12 months? What were our successes? Where could we have improved? Charles Francis Adams, too, used the end of the year as an opportunity to evaluate his life, and the Society has his diary entries on the subject in the Adams Family Papers.

Charles Francis was the grandson of John Adams and son of John Quincy Adams. Hoping to carry on the Adams family legacy of public service after the untimely deaths of his two older brothers, he became a politician, writer, and editor. In this December 31, 1852 diary entry he reflects on the previous year, including both the positive and the negative.

And thus terminates the year 1852. I look back upon it with a great many emotions, in which the leading one is gratitude for unnumbered blessings enjoyed. I have lost in it my last earthly parent, but under circumstances which soften the pain I might have felt for the blow. She lives to me in the agreeable recollection of the profuse affection she uniformly bestowed upon me during her life.   

Charles Francis’s mother, Louisa Catherine Adams, suffered a stroke and died on May 15, 1852. Adams had other difficulties, as well, that year, but he chose to look on them in a positive light, writing, “These things have been given to me to purify my heart and my mind, and to warn me to correct the defects of my own character and temper.” Adams was 45 years old when he wrote this entry but still concerned with improving himself. He hoped to live up to his own expectations and reach his goals before he reached his dotage.

If only all of our year-end reflections were so generous to others and focused on self-improvement. Perhaps Adams’s words will provide us with a little inspiration. Do you take the time to self-assess at the end of the year? What other New Year’s traditions do you keep? Share with us in the comments below.

Commemorating the Emancipation Proclamation

By Elaine Grublin

Tuesday, 1 January marks the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.  As part of the Society’s ongoing celebration of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War we have staged two related exhibitions, both of which will open on Monday, 1 January with special exhibition hours (12:00 PM to 4:00 PM) and a public program (details below).  

Forever Free, features the pen Abraham Lincoln used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, and a number of paintings, broadsides, engravings, and manuscripts that tell the story of how Boston celebrated Emancipation.

Lincoln in Manuscript and Artifact offers visitors an opportunity to view Lincoln’s letter to Joshua F. Speed explaining his evolving views on slavery as well as the casts of the life mask and hands of Lincoln made by Leonard Volk in the spring of 1860.

At 2:00 PM on New Years Day, MHS Librarian Peter Drummey and Curator of Art Anne Bentley will guide visitors through the story of when the news arrived in Boston on New Year’s Day 1863 that Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation, focusing on how this epochal event in American history became an extraordinary moment in Boston history, and how the pen Lincoln used to sign the proclamation became one of the most treasured artifacts in the MHS collection.


The 1811 Richmond Theater Fire

By Susan Martin, Collection Services

December 26 is the 201st anniversary of the tragic Richmond Theatre fire in Richmond, Va. The fire broke out during the evening performance when an oil lamp ignited pieces of stage scenery, sending the packed house of 600 running for the exits. But the theater, built long before fire safety regulations, couldn’t accommodate the escaping crowd, and in the end, 72 people were killed. Horrific accounts of the event appeared in newspapers across the country.

Harriet Otis, daughter of U.S. Senate Secretary Samuel Allyne Otis, was living in Washington, D.C. at the time. On December 28, 1811, she wrote: 

Papa came home at noon with the sad intelligence of the destruction of the Richmond theatre by fire, in which many noted and interesting people perished—among others Lieut Gibbons [James Gibbon, U.S. Navy] who was here a little while since—so little while, that I felt a sensation of horror at hearing he was no more—the particulars of this horrible catastrophe I do not yet know.

Two days later, she had a little more information:

Every tongue utters some new circumstance of horror respecting the Richmond sufferers—Poor Gibbon! hard as seems his fate well may his mother, rescued by him, exult in such a son—He had saved her and rushed back to save Miss [Sallie] Conyers a lady to whom he had long been attached—his efforts were vain and they both perished.

 Bostonian Sophia (Sewall) Wood didn’t hear about the fire until January 7. While newspaper reports had overestimated the loss of life, Sophia was deeply affected by the story:

This eve heard of a most melancholly heart-rending account of a dreadful fire at Richmond in Virginia. The Theatre burnt to ashes & 150 Persons fell victims to the flames. This news, so distressing we cannot contemplate unmoved. Oh! but how littlecan we feel for those sufferers & yet how much.

Religious leaders were soon speculating about metaphysical causes. Was the fire a punishment from God for the institution of slavery? For theater-going and other “vices”? The MHS holds a number of sermons preached shortly after the fire, one of which boasts the colorful title: Repent! repent! or likewise perish!…on the late calamity at Richmond, Virginia.

Sophia Wood took a similar line: 

Good often arises from the most calamitous events & tis to be devoutly wish’d, that this signal distress, will direct the minds of the disapated inhabitants of V___a to that divine sun of truth & religion, without which our lives are blanke here & the prospect of the future is indeed melancholly.

Harriet Otis, however, hesitated to pass judgment. On January 5, she described a sermon by Senate chaplain John Brackenridge that drew parallels to a Biblical story:

Mr Breckenridge warned us in a very good discourse not to think that “those Jews on whom the tower of Siloam fell were sinners above all others”—Alas who could be so dead to compassion as to pronounce such a sentence on the Richmond sufferers.

The Richmond Theatre building had been entirely consumed, and in 1814 Monumental Church was constructed on the site as a memorial to those who died.


Experiments in Historical Libations

By Emilie Haertsch, Publications

This holiday, would you like to fancy up your cocktail by adding some founding father authenticity? Then the MHS has just the recipe for you in our collections. Ben Franklin sent James Bowdoin his recipe for “Milk Punch” on October 11, 1762. Here is the transcription of it as it appears in Franklin’s own hand:

Take 6 quarts of Brandy, and the Rinds
of 44 Lemons pared very thin; Steep the
Rinds in the Brandy 24 hours; then strain
it off. Put to it 4 Quarts of Water,
4 large Nutmegs grated, 2 quarts of
Lemon Juice, 2 pound of double refined
Sugar. When the Sugar is dissolv’d,
boil 3 Quarts of Milk and put to the rest
hot as you take it off the Fire, and stir
it about. Let it stand two Hours; then
run it thro’ a Jelly-bag till it is clear;
then bottle it off. – 


Now modern readers likely don’t cook on a fire or have jelly bags lying around, so the MHS provides an updated version of the recipe here. For the benefit of readers, I dutifully submitted myself to the task of testing it out to see how it would stand up to holiday festivities. My findings: if you want to get your party hopping fast, Franklin’s your man. His milk punch packs a wallop.

This is not a party drink you can decide to make at the last minute, however, because it requires more than 24 hours to prepare. The first step is to grate and juice your lemons. You will be up to your neck in lemons with this recipe (note that the original recipe calls for 44), so definitely give yourself plenty of time to grate and juice them. With the task completed, I placed the zest in a bowl with the brandy, covered it, and refrigerated it overnight. The lemon juice I set aside for the next day.

When I eagerly returned home the following day to inspect the brandy infusion, a heavenly citrus aroma wafted from the bowl. I removed the lemon zest from the brandy and added water, lemon juice, and sugar. Because I didn’t exactly have a whole nutmeg lying around (Stop & Shop was fresh out), I had to cheat a bit with that part of the recipe. I substituted the pre-grated spice instead, estimating the amount. I stirred the concoction until the sugar dissolved, but let’s face it – it was still mostly brandy. The temptation to try it then was strong, but I held out for the true Franklin experience.

For the next step, I brought the milk to a boil on the stove and then added it to the lemon/brandy mixture. Lemon juice causes milk to curdle, which is intentional in this recipe. This was hard for me to wrap my mind around because usually if I curdle milk while working on a recipe I have done something very wrong. But as the curdled texture began to form in the punch I trusted in Franklin’s wisdom. This was all part of the process. To allow for a full curdling experience, I set the punch aside for two hours. Finally, I strained the curds out to leave a smooth liquid.

It was time to reap the fruits of my labor. I poured myself a glass and garnished it with a little nutmeg sprinkled on top. At last I experienced Franklin’s milk punch, and it was worth the effort. It is quite strong, although the tart, citrus taste hides that at first. The punch reminds me a bit of a whiskey sour, which I wouldn’t expect from a drink with the word “milk” in the title. But today I shared my experiment with other MHS staffers, and they weren’t all as enthusiastic. Some enjoyed it, but others found the flavor a bit medicinal. That’s not a bad thing for everyone – it could be a nice alternative to the hot toddy.

For myself, I would definitely make this recipe again for the right crowd. So if you decide you really want to make an impression at your bash this holiday, let ol’ Franklin help you out. You will be continuing a tradition that goes back at least 250 years. Now that’s worth a toast.


Making History @ MHS

By Kathleen Barker, Education Department

Pop Quiz! Which bloody seventeenth-century skirmish brought English settlers into conflict with local Wampanoags? The answer, of course, is King Philip’s War, a series of attacks that killed many colonists and Native American in 1675 and 1676, destroyed several New England towns, and cost the life of Wampanoag leader Metacom (or King Philip). Over the past few months, thirty-plus students from Boston University have been scouring the Society’s collections to learn more about this intriguing episode from Massachusetts’s past. Under the tutelage of Professor James Johnson, students became historians as they examined artifacts, transcribed documents, and tried to make sense of the relationships forged between colonists and native inhabitants, and where those relationships disintegrated.

Students visited the MHS several times, both as a class and as individual researchers. They had the opportunity to analyze a series of manuscripts and published documents. Pamphlets such as John Eliot’s Strength Out of Weakness (1652), describe Puritan’s attempts to convert Indians to Christianity, while other works, like William Hubbard’s The Present State of New-England: Being a Narrative of theTroubles with the Indians in New-England (1677) suggest that not all native peoples were willing to adopt English customs or religious principles. Class members also transcribed a number of documents from the Winslow family papers, which include the papers of Edward and Josiah Winslow, colonial governors of Plymouth Colony from 1638-1680. Several letters in the collection detail colonists’attempts to negotiate with Metacom and other native inhabitants, even as native groups began forming alliances against the English settlers.

All of this hard work culminated in an exhibition and public program hosted by the MHS on 13 December 2012. More than 100 guests visited the MHS that evening to hear the students talk about their discoveries. The program began with Professor Johnson and his students providing a brief introduction to the principles of the course, as well as colonial-native relations, growing tensions,and the war itself. Students then became docents as program attendees viewed a special exhibition assembled by the class. Small groups of students discussed the particular materials they had studied, while also answering questions about their experiences as budding history detectives.

Ultimately, this program combined many of the things that we love to do here at the MHS: we introduced a new group of people to our collections through our research library; we piqued the interest of young historians; and we provided history enthusiasts with an entertaining and informative program. For more information about visiting our library to conduct your own research, checkout our visiting the library page. You can also visit our web calendar for information about upcoming education & public programs.

When Adams Met Lincoln

By Amanda A. Mathews, Adams Papers

Recent viewers of Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln may be wondering whether an Adams-Lincoln connection exists as the Adamses always seem connected to the major figures of American history. John Quincy Adams and Abraham Lincoln indeed served together in the 30th Congress for three months before John Quincy Adams died on February 23, 1848. Lincoln served on the Committee of Arrangements for Adams’s funeral, but that is the only conclusive connection between the two. They shared similar political outlooks, particularly on slavery, but what Adams thought about the young Lincoln, history does not record.

We do know, however, what John Quincy Adams’s son Charles Francis Adams, minister to Great Britain during the Civil War, thought of President Lincoln. “Mr Lincoln is a tall, illformed man,” Adams wrote in his diary after their first meeting in February 1861, “with little grace of manner or polish of appearance, but with a plain, goodnatured, frank expression which rather attracts one to him.” Adams, part of the Boston elite, had little respect for his ability as a social host or leader. Shaking hands with Lincoln at his inauguration ball on March 4, Lincoln appeared to have forgotten him. “Were it any body but a Western man I should have construed it as an intentional slight,” Adams wrote.

Lincoln’s handling of the Civil War only partially softened Adams’s impression. “Mr Lincoln has certainly in some respects acquitted himself with honor,” Adams wrote on March 30, 1865, “But nothing could ever make him a gentleman, or a sagacious administrator in the selection of agents.”

Upon hearing of Lincoln’s assassination in April 1865, Adams’s final assessment is in true Adams style, accurately recognizing Lincoln’s larger place in history as well as the questions left unanswered:

To the country, the loss of Lincoln is hardly reparable. There was a grandeur about the national movement under his direction which even he might not have been able fully to sustain, but which his successor will not attempt to continue. For his own fame, the President could not have selected a more happy close. The just doubts about his capacity for reconstruction are scattered to the winds in the solemnity of the termination. From that moment his fame becomes like that of Washington the priceless treasure of the Nation.


Images: Top, John Quincy Adams (17 -1848), carte de visite of daguerrotype (1847) by Brady’s National Photographic Portrait Galleries, [Matthew B. Brady], after 1860; Middle, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), photomechanical, from Portraits of American Abolitionists, MHS photograph #81.410; Bottom, Charles Francis Adams (1807-1886), photogravure, from Portraits of American Abolitionists, MHS photograph #81.2

This Week @ MHS

By Elaine Grublin

As the holidays draw near, 2012 is winding down here at the MHS.  We have one last week jam packed with quality programs.  If you have not fulfilled last year’s resolution of attending a program at the MHS, be sure to visit us this week. 

Tuesday, 11 December at 5:15 PM, the final Environmental History Seminar brings Brown University’s Strother Roberts to the MHS to present “Changes in the Water: Early Modern Settler Society Impacts on the Connecticut River and Long Island Sound.” This paper explores how the commodity production activities of early settlers impacted the land and waterscapes of New England’s longest river. John T. Cumbler, University of Louisville, will provide the comment. Please email if you you would like to attend.

Wednesday, 12 December at 6:00 PM, Fellows and Members of the MHS are invited to celebrate the season with the Trustees and staff of the MHS at the Holiday Party.  All guests must register in advance.

Thursday, 13 December at 6:00 PM, a semester long collaboration with a class of undergraduate students at Boston University commences with “Making History: King Philip’s War in Documents & Artifacts,” with a presentation and exhibition put on by the students. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30 PM.  Please RSVP if you plan to attend.    

Finally, there are two more building tours remaining this year.  Join us either Saturday, 15 December or Saturday, 22 December at 10:00 AM for “The History and Collections of the MHS.” This 90-minute tour departs our front lobby and explores all the public space in the building. 


Our great programming resumes early in 2013.  Be sure to check back at the Beehive, or look ahead on our online calendar.



Immigrants Not Such a “Problem” in 1914 Report

By Emilie Haertsch, Publications

In 1914 the Massachusetts Commission on Immigration issued a report titled The Problem of Immigration in Massachusetts (there is a copy in the Society’s collections, and you can also view it here on Google Books), but it is not what you might think. The “problem” is not how to prevent immigrants from entering Massachusetts or how to deport immigrants already residing in the Commonwealth. Rather, it is how to ensure proper care and treatment of new immigrants to the state. The report outlines the commission’s findings on the current living and working conditions of immigrants residing in Massachusetts and suggests ways in which the government can improve their lives.

Immigration has been a hot button issue since the early days of the Commonwealth, but the government has not always played a kindly role. In the 17th century, laws were enacted to discourage non-Puritan and non-English immigrants from settling in the colony. The government began encouraging the immigration of other ethnic and religious groups to aid the state’s growth in the 18th century, but by the 19th century the continuing influx of immigrants fueled a growing anti-immigrant sentiment and the rise of nativist parties in the state. This history makes the contents of this early-20th-century report even more striking

The commission identifies two main goals, “the welfare of the State and the welfare of the immigrant,” but actually focuses chiefly on the latter. Particularly remarkable is the section on education, which shows sensitivity to preserving traditional cultures in immigrant children who are assimilating. The commission recommends that teachers adopt a method that ensures “that the immigrant child shall not, through his Americanization, lose respect for his parents and for the traditions which they revere.” It also recommends offering more educational opportunities for older children and adults through evening classes, even suggesting “lectures in the various languages…to inform the immigrant about labor laws, sanitary regulations and other things he needs to know immediately upon arrival.”

Protecting immigrants from exploitation, scams, and unsafe conditions is a strong theme of the report. At the time immigrants often fell prey to negligent landlords, medical charlatans, “shyster lawyers,” and phony bankers. The commission recommends government oversight to prevent people from taking advantage of immigrants, especially those just arrived in the United States. The overall content of the report presumes two key beliefs: that the immigrant deserves to be welcomed and given the opportunity of a decent standard of living, and that the Massachusetts government has an obligation to protect and foster them.

If a modern-day Massachusetts Commission on Immigration issued a report on “The Problem of Immigration in Massachusetts,” what would it say? How might it be similar and how might it be different from this 1914 report? Share your comments below!

This Week @ MHS

By Elaine Grublin

The weather this week is predicted to be lovely!  Why not walk down to the MHS to attend a program.  We are offering two evening seminars, two afternoon public talks, and a morning tour — so there is a bit of something for everyone! And all events this week are free and open to the public.

Tuesday, 4 December, at 5:15 catch the final Early American History Seminar of 2012. Alejandra Dubcovsky, Yale University, will present “ ‘To know if it is true’: Spies, Sentinels, and Prisoners of War in the South Carolina-Florida Borderland.” This seminar paper, available to series subscribers prior to the event, describes how the Spanish created a new network of information that consisted of mobile and trusted informers in the colonial South. Seminars are free and open to the public. An RSVP is required.

Wednesday, 5 December at noon enjoy listening to MHS-NEH Long-term Fellow Kristen Collins, Boston University, discuss her research “Entitling Marriage: A History of Marriage, Public Money, and the Law.” After a brief presentation Collins will entertain questions from the audience.  Bring a brown-bag lunch if you wish. Coffee & softdrinks are provided.

Thursday, 6 December brings the final History of Women and Gender Seminar of the year. Beginning at 5:30 PM, Premilla Nadasen, Queens College, presents “The Origins of the Domestic Worker Rights Movement.” The seminar paper is part of a book-length project that follows four women and examines how and why they launched local campaigns for the rights of domestic workers. Ruth Milkman, City University of New York and Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Stud, will provide the comment.  An RSVP  is required. And remember to subscribe to received an advance copy of the seminar paper.

Friday, 7 December at 2:00 PM, the Society’s own art curator, Anne Bentley, offers her gallery talk “A Family Remembers: The Cheever, Davis, & Shattuck Memorial Jewels.” This hour-long talk allows guests to take an in-depth look at the half a dozen mourning jewels that George Cheever Shattuck gifted to the Society in 1971.  The jewels are part of our ongoing exhibition In Death Lamented: The Tradition of Anglo-American Mourning Jewlery.

And finally our Saturday tour “The History and Collections of the MHS” departs the front lobby promptly at 10:00 AM.  This 90-minute tour is free and open to the public. No reservation is required for individuals or small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or via email.