A Lesser-Known Massachusetts “First”: 1812 Flag-Raising on Catamount Hill

By Elise Dunham, Reader Services

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is home to countless United States “firsts.” Among the most famous Massachusetts initiatives are claims to the first Thanksgiving celebration, the first public park, the first university, and the first public library. The Commonwealth took the lead in these and many other well-known realms, but one quiet act of patriotism that tends not to make the lists is this: In May of 1812 on the top of Catamount Hill, the Loyalists of Colrain, Massachusetts raised the first United States flag to fly over a public schoolhouse.


I had not heard of this Massachusetts first until an MHS researcher brought it to my attention earlier this summer. She was interested in learning more about the 1812 flag-raising to inform her planning of an Independence Day event at Pioneer Village at Friends of the Beaver State Park in East Liverpool, Ohio. Eager to provide the researcher with any information about this event the MHS collections might hold, I immediately took to our online catalog, ABIGAIL, and started down the path toward uncovering the story of the flag-raising on Catamount Hill.

Not hopeful that a search for “First flag-raising” would get me very far–specificity is important for conceptualizing a search, but broadening out is crucial to its success–I began with a “Subject” search for “Colrain (Mass.)”. The search led me to a number of resources that document the history of Colrain. I traversed the MHS stacks to retrieve the materials and parked myself in Ellis Hall for a good dose of reading room research. What ultimately stood out as the most compelling and useful source was A. F. Davenport’s A Sketch of the Origin and Growth of the Catamount Hill Association of Colrain, Mass ( North Adams, Mass.: Walden & Crawley, 1901). The purpose of this publication was to record the proceedings and goings-on of the Association’s various reunion events. Their Sixth Reunion, which took place in 1900, featured discussion and commemoration of the 1812 flag-raising. The momentous event was well-documented in this part of the text, and Mrs. Fanny B. Shippee’s recounting provides perspective on the political context that surrounded it:

Here, on the Hill, the Republicans largely outnumbered the Federalists, but the latter were very loud in maintaining their political views, and made up in noise what they lacked in numbers. At this, the Republicans were naturally incensed, and to show their loyalty to our government, concluded to make and erect an American flag….Those sturdy farmers were showing to the world and to the ‘Feds’ in particular that they were true to this republic.

I was certain that the researcher in Ohio would be happy to learn about the circumstances fueling the flag-raising, but I was personally eager to learn more about the story behind this event’s receipt of the “first flag-raising” accolade. I read on, and found that the MHS itself had a part to play in the construction of this snippet of collective memory:

In a reply to a communication sent to the Massachusetts Historical Society at Boston, for information in regard to the Catamount Hill flag being the first ever raised over a school-house, an answer was received saying that there was no record of any earlier flag, thus giving the Catamount Hill patriots of 1812 the credit of being the first to raise a flag over a school-house in this country.

I wish I could say that a gust of wind blew through the reading room when I read this tale of my late-19th-century counterpart’s response to a reference query about the Catamount Hill flag-raising, so similar to the one I was working on in 2013. The experience did not reach that level of melodrama, but it did bring with it an all-important reminder: “facts” are constructed, interpreted, and re-established over time, and our engagement with them will be best-informed when we manage to bear that in mind.

If you’re inspired to track down the source of another Massachusetts first, Reader Services will gladly welcome you to the library at the MHS!





***Image from A History of Colrain Massachusetts, (Lois McClellan Patrie, 1974): 9.


This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

There are no public events on the calendar this week at the Society as we head into a long holiday weekend. However, this is the last chance to view one of our current exhibitions, “Estlin Cummings Wild West Show,” which will be closed at the end of the day Friday, 30 August. The other two exhibitions that are on display will stay up for one additional week with the last chance for viewing coming on Saturday, 7 September.

Also, please note that the MHS will be closed Saturday, 31 August and Monday, 2 September, in observance of the Labor Day holiday. Normal operating hours will resume on Tuesday, 3 September. Enjoy the long weekend!

The Other Adams-Jefferson Correspondence

By Amanda A. Mathews, Adams Papers

Two hundred years ago today, August 22,1813, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to his old friend, Abigail Adams; the first he had directed to her since 1804. While Jefferson’s incredible correspondence with John Adams has rightly acquired fame, Jefferson and Abigail maintained a warm relationship and a notable correspondence as well following their joint stay in Europe in the 1780’s, interrupted, during the often personal political conflict and mistrust of the 1790s and early 1800s.

The renewed friendship between Jefferson and the Adamses is evident in Jefferson’s playful tone. “I have compared notes with mr Adams,” Jefferson teased, “on the score of progeny, and find I am ahead of him, and think I am in a fair way to keep so. I have 10 1/2 grandchildren, and 2 3/4 great-grand-children; and these fractions will ere long become units.”

Jefferson concluded, “under all circumstances of health or sickness, of blessing or affliction, I tender you assurances of my sincere affection and respect; and my prayers that the hand of time and of providence may press lightly on you, till your own wishes shall withdraw you from all mortal feeling.”

What Jefferson could not know, however, was that it was under sickness and affliction that he was writing to his two old friends. Abigail Adams Smith, better known as Nabby, the only daughter of John and Abigail Adams, had passed away on August 14 at her parents’ home after a recurrence of breast cancer, ending a difficult adult life generated by her husband’s financial misadventures. In her reply to Jefferson, “your kind and Friendly Letter found me great affliction for the loss of my dear and only daughter, mrs smith . . . I have the consolation of knowing, that the Life of my dear daughter was pure, her conduct in prosperity and adversity, exemplary, her patience and Resignation becomeing her Religion— you will pardon by being so minute, the full Heart loves to pour out its sorrows, into the Bosom of sympathizing Friendship.”

Abigail closed her letter with her own assurances of friendship, “altho, time has changed the outward form, and political ‘Back wounding calumny’ for a period interruped the Friendly intercourse and harmony which subsisted, it is again renewed, purified from the dross. with this assurance I beg leave To subscribe myself your Friend.”

While the letters written between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson certainly deserve the recognition they have received, Abigail’s independent friendship with the third president, one built on mutual respect and shared sorrows, fostered a correspondence equally as fascinating.

Honoring MHS Trustee Pauline Maier


Pauline Maier

All of us at the MHS were saddened by the sudden passing of Pauline Maier, a distinguished historian and author of Revolutionary-era America and the foundations of U.S. democracy, and a good friend of the Society, on Monday, 12 August. She was 75.

A great historian, teacher, and author, Maier was committed to making history vivid and accessible to all. She wrote for both general and scholarly audiences by building suspense in telling stories whose outcome readers already knew. Her best-known books include American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence (1997), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 (2010), winner of the George Washington Book Prize. Along with books and textbooks she produced more than 30 edited volumes, articles published in scholarly journals, and other publications, and wrote book reviews for publications including The New York Times Book Review and the William and Mary Quarterly.

Maier’s involvement with the Society began as a graduate student doing research in the MHS library. As a professor, she encouraged her students to visit the MHS and use its collections just as she had done. She was elected a Fellow of the MHS in 1983 and served on the Board of Trustees. She was an active member and enjoyed lively conversations with many staff and fellow Board members. Maier was Chair of the Adams Papers Committee and had served on the Publications and Fellows committees. She was active the Society’s teacher workshops improving the teaching of history through the use of primary source documents. As well, she presented at, participated in, and moderated many of the Society’s Boston Area Early American History Seminar sessions. An advocate of history scholarship, Maier was a proponent of making the Society’s collections available to everyone.

This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

August is creeping by and the summer is beginning its downward trajectory toward fall. So to with the event schedule here at the Society. This week is the last of the month to feature public programming so be sure to stop by and take part!

First, on Monday, 12 August 2013, there is a Brown Bag lunch taking place at 12:00 PM. Zara Anishanslin of College of Staten Island, CUNY, presents “Rebelling Subjects, Revealing Objects: The Material and Visual Culture of Making and Remembering the American Revolution.” Anishanslin’s research uses objects and images to narrate how ideology, politics, and war – and their material practices – were ambivalent and fluid in the Revolutionary era. The project considers how women, Loyalists, slaves, and Native Americans, as well as Patriots, experienced, made, and remembered the American Revolution from 1763 to 1791, with a coda about historical memory arranged around General Lafayette’s Jubilee Tour. This talk is free and open to the public so pack a lunch and come on by!

On Tuesday and Wednesday, 13-14 August, the MHS sponsors a two-day teacher workshop taking place at Coolidge Point in Manchester, Massachusetts. “Old Towns/New Country: The First Years of a New Nation” concentrates on how to use local resources to examine historical issues with a national focus. The workshop highlights the concerns and conflicts, hopes and fears, experiences and expectations of the people living in the Boston area in the period just after the Revolution, a time of uncertainty, fragility, and possibility. Questions to be investigated include: What was it like to live in a town that had been around for a long time in a country that was new? How much did geography, economy, culture, and social makeup of the region influence peoples concerns? How does a local focus add a crucial dimension to our understanding of a key period in American history? The workshop is open to teachers, librarians, archivists, members of local historical societies, and all interested local history enthusiasts. Workshop faculty includes Jayne Gordon, Kathleen Barker, and Laura Lowell of the MHS, historian Christian Samito, and Dean Eastman, a local educator and previous recipient of an MHS Teacher Fellowship. Workshop partners include Salem Maritime National Historic Site and The Trustees of Reservations. An additional two-day workshop in Pittsfield, Massachusetts is scheduled for 8-9 November. To Register: Please complete this registration form and send it with your payment to: Kathleen Barker, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1154 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02215. For Additional Information: Contact the Education Department: 617-646-0557 or education@masshist.org.

On Wednesday, 14 August, join us for another Brown Bag lunch talk. This time, Kristin Allukian from the University of Florida presents “Working to Become: Women, Work, and Literary Legacy in American Women’s Postbellum Literature.” This interdisciplinary project has foundations in both 19th-century women’s history and literature, focusing on literary representations of career women by late 19th-century American women writers. Allukian’s research re-imagines the interconnections of society and women’s paid labor, showing that work, and women’s work in particular, was no longer a fixed entity that showed up in the lives of those living during the 19th-century but, rather, was a shaping force. This Brown Bag lunch is free and open to the public and begins at 12:00 PM.

Finally, on Saturday, 17 August, stop in for The History and Collections of the MHS, a 90-minute docent-led tour that explores all of the public rooms in the building while touching on the art, architecture, history, and collections of the Society. The tour is free and open to the public. No reservation is required for individuals or small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact the MHS prior to attending a tour. For more information please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or abentley@masshist.org.

And don’t forget that there are currently three exhibitions on display. The exhibitions feature a variety of artifacts and manuscripts from the Society’s holdings and are free and open to the public Monday-Saturday, 10:00am-4:00pm.


Orange is the Old Black?: Nineteenth-century Prisoner Activism in the MHS Collections

By Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services

There’s been a lot of chatter recently about the new Netflix original series “Orange is the New Black,” a drama about life in a women’s prison. As Heather Chapman, one-time volunteer at the Massachusetts Correctional Institute in Framingham, writes in The Guardian:

The reality is over 2 million Americans are currently locked up. Put another way, that’s 1 in 100 US adults.  And 1 in 37 Americans will be locked up at some point in their lifetimes. Despite the “lock ’em up and throw away the key” mentality, most of these people will re-enter society. The public should understand our correctional system – and its financial and human costs – far better than we do now.

What does a twenty-first century Internet series have to do with an institution like the Massachusetts Historical Society? While the medium is new, the message is not: American calls for prison reform and advocates of prisoner’s rights have long historical precedent. Before the advent of moving pictures – and long before the invention of the Internet – reformers and prison advocates alike used text and images, to convey their message. Here are a few examples drawn from the MHS collections.

This illustration from prison warden Gideon Haynes’ Pictures From Prison Life: An Historical Sketch of the Massachusetts State Prison (1869) depicts a tidy building and grounds, with a row of prisoners exercising.




A different perspective can be found in the lyrics and illustration of “Song of the Convict,” a maudlin lament written by William and James Bradley, “two brothers, prisoners,” for the celebration of Thanksgiving at the Massachusetts State Prison in 1846. Along with the image of the forsaken prisoner kneeling in his cell, the lyrics of the song document the religious motivation of many behind prison reform campaigns during this period:


Phillippi’s dark dungeons with anthems are shaken,
And notes of thanksgiving peal thro’ the night air;
O! what can such joy in a Prison awaken?
The friends and the spirit of Jesus are there;
There angels mercy paints,
Mid rising songs of saints,
The rainbow of Hope on the cloud of despair.

Women in prison (the subject of “Orange is the New Black”) were then, as now, their own particular topic of concern. In a circular tentatively dated from 1849, the Prisoner’s Friend Association reported to its membership:

The design of the Charity is, to furnish to female prisoners, on their discharge from the House of Correction, a temporary home, to encourage them to reform, and to enable them to do so by procuring for them honest means of support.

Examples of successful “reform” and subsequent participation in society are detailed in explicitly gendered (and in one case racialized) terms:

One, who in the moment of temptation was guilty of theft … was returned to her family [upon release], where she has since, for a period of eighteen months, faithfully discharged her duties as a wife and mother.

A young girl, also, whose heart had not been hardened by crime, after a short imprisonment, was taken by our Agent and furnished with a place of service, where she remains.

A colored girl, with few acquaintances and no friends, was sent to a family in the country, where she has given such evidence of fidelity and capacity as to merit and receive from her mistress the highest encomiums.

At once progressive in the assumption that former criminals may be rehabilitated, the reformers in the Prisoner’s Friend Association also paint a very clear picture of the limits of that rehabilitation: who it is possible to rehabilitate, and what the former prisoners might be suitably rehabilitated for: the roles of wife and mother, the position of servant.

Researchers interested in the history of prison life, prison policy, and prisoner advocacy are invited to explore our collections to see what other primary sources we have to offer!


Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Post 24

By Elaine Grublin

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

Saturday, Aug. 1, 1863

Have sympathized with the relatives of Henry Foster, who died by his own rash or bewildered act, at New Orleans, and of my friend Rev. T. B. Fox’s son, who received a mortal wound at Gettysburg.

Wednesday, Aug. 12th, 1863

Monday, we had the pleasure of welcoming home our young neighbors, C. & D. Weymouth, who arrived with their regiment, the 42d. They have been prisoners in Texas, and since then in a paroled camp near New Orleans…Today, the village (Bridgewater) is lively with the mustering-out & paying off, of three companies of the returned Third Regiment.


This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

This week at the MHS there are two events on schedule for public consumption as well as a multi-day Society-sponsored workshop. First, on Wednesday at 12:00pm there will be a Brown Bag Lunch talk taking place. Join us as Marian Desrosiers of Salve Regina University presents “Private Lives and Public Spaces: John Banister and Colonial Consumers.” Ms. Desrosiers’ research examines the account books of Rhode Island merchant John Banister (1707-1767) to gain insight into his roles as merchant, retailer, ship owner, broker, and as a trade and industry leader in Newport. Banister’s careful delineation of profit, loss, commissions, taxes, and ownership reveal a merchant’s family expenses and income and his lists of commodities provide information about the lives of consumers and producers in the public marketplace. All of these details combine to reveal how Banister’s adventurous capitalism influenced the economy of pre-Revoultionary America. This event is free and open to the public.

On Saturday, 10 August, the Society will host The History and Collections of the MHS, a 90-minute docent-led tour that explores all of the public rooms in the building while touching on the art, architecture, history, and collections of the Society. The tour is free and open to the public. No reservation is required for individuals or small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact the MHS prior to attending a tour. For more information please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or abentley@masshist.org.

Finally, beginning on Monday, 5 August, and continuing until Thursday, 8 August, the MHS sponsors a teacher workshop: “Battle Road: Crisis, Choices, and Consequences.” Using historical documents, landscapes, buildings and artifacts as investigative tools, participants will examine the concerns, conflicts, dilemmas, decisions, and dramatic confrontations of people along the road to revolution. Presented by the Massachusetts Historical Society and partnering organizations, the workshop takes place in locations throughout Boston, Lexington, Lincoln and Concord. An outstanding group of historians, educators, and site interpreters will work with the group over the course of the four day workshop.

This workshop is open to teachers and the general public, and is funded in part by a grant from the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati. Educators can earn PDPs and 2 graduate credits (for an additional fee) through Framingham State University.

To register, complete this registration form and send the form with your payment to:

Kathleen Barker
Massachusetts Historical Society
1154 Boylston Street
Boston, MA 02215

Complete directions for public transportation options, parking, and special lodging rates in Concord will be sent to all registrants. Questions? Call workshop directors Jayne Gordon (617) 646-0519 or Kathleen Barker (617) 646-0557.

Happy Twitterversary JQA!

By Nancy Heywood, Collection Services

John Quincy Adams (JQA) had a remarkable life and over the course of almost 70 years assembled an extraordinary number of diaries.  JQA began keeping a diary in 1779 at the age of twelve and continued writing diary entries until shortly before his death in 1848.  All in all, his diary entries fill 51 volumes, over 14,000 pages.  JQA’s diaries are part of the Adams Family Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS).  MHS shares this American treasure in many ways:

By making page images of the entire set of diary volumes available

By making the Adams Papers Editorial Project’s authoritative transcriptions of JQA’s diary entries for 1779-1788 available as part of the Adams Papers Digital Edition

By tweeting his succinct line-a-day diary entries about his life 200 years ago via a Twitter account

The diaries are important because they share the life and thoughts of a man who held many important public offices and interacted with many world figures.  John F. Kennedy summarized JQA’s significance this way:

John Quincy Adams—until his death at eighty in the Capitol—held more important offices and participated in more important events than anyone in the history of our nation, as Minister to the Hague, Emissary to England, Minister to Russia, head of the American Mission to negotiate peace with England, Minister to England, Secretary of State, President of the United States and member of the House of Representatives.  He figured, in one capacity or another, in the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the prelude to the Civil War. Among the acquaintances and colleagues who march across the pages of his diary are Sam Adams (a kinsman), John Hancock, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Lafayette, John Jay, James Madison, James Monroe, John Marshall, Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Hart Benton, John Tyler, John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster, Lincoln, James Buchanan, William Lloyd Garrison, Andrew Johnson, Jefferson Davis and many others. (John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage, NY: 1956, pages 35-36.)

John Quincy Adams often kept several different types of diary volumes simultaneously, and for many dates there are several entries—long entries, short entries, lists, draft entries, and also “line-a-day” entries.  The line-a-day entries are short –the words describing one day fit on one handwritten line, and each page contains entries for one month.  These succinct summaries of JQA’s activities fit within Twitter’s 140-character limit and in on 5 August 2009 MHS began tweeting JQA’s line-a-day diary entries 200 years after the day he described. 

We enjoy hearing from JQA’s followers and thought we’d share a few tweets that we’ve received via the JQA Twitter account:  

@JQAdams_MHS I look forward to the tweets every morning. 🙂 I feel as if I actually know him. lol.   [From Susan T. @marypoppins68 9:41 AM – 19 Jul 13]

@JQAdams_MHS has been dead for 165 years and he still tweets more than most people I know. [From Sean Junkins  @sjunkins 5:04 AM – 15 Jun 13]

@JQAdams_MHS it is amazing that these entries can be so old and still stir such emotion. This project has really humanized JQA for me.   [From JD Miller @jdudemill 7:18 AM – 15 Sep 12]



The Letters of Rev. John Higginson’s Merchant Sons

By Andrea Cronin, Reader Services

“Dear Brother Nathaniel. It is now sixteen years since you left England, from whence, while you were there, I had often refreshing letters from you,” wrote Salem merchant John Higginson to his brother Nathaniel Higginson on 16 April 1699, in a letter contained in the Higginson Family Papers held by the MHS. John Higginson and Nathaniel Higginson were both sons of Rev. John Higginson of Salem. While Nathaniel Higginson ventured off to England after graduating from Harvard College in 1670, John Higginson remained in Salem to become a merchant and member of the Governor’s council. The elder brother continued his letter, echoing sentiments that occur with repetition in the family letters:

But now, what climate have you got into that makes you forget your Father’s house? I have not received one line from you since you left England, though you have had so many opportunities by England, Holland, Barbadoes. What is it that we have offended you in, that you will not afford one line in so many years? Have the honours, profits, &c., of the world quite swallowed you up?

What climate did Nathaniel Higginson find himself in? After his education at Harvard, the young New Englander traveled to England in 1674 where he acted as  steward and tutor to Lord Wharton’s children for seven years. This departure from New England happened just before King Philip’s War, when troubled relations between the Native Americans and colonists perhaps factored into the young man’s decision to visit his relatives in England. Higginson was later employed under Lord Wharton in the mint of the Tower of London. In 1683 he left England and sailed to India. In his early thirties at the time, he established himself as a merchant at Fort St. George in Madras, eventually becoming the colonial governor of Madras. He was handed the keys to the garrison and city of Madras by Elihu Yale, the namesake of Yale College, on 23 October 1692.

Nathaniel Higginson never returned to New England, despite his brother John’s pleading to come home. On 20 June 1697, John clearly demostrates his wish to see his brother again, writing to Nathaniel:

Dear Brother,
I request you to give me a particular account of your circumstances; and I hope you do not intend to spend all your days in India, but will return into England, and so into New England. We want such men; and now you have gotten you an estate, the business is to contrive how to lay it out for the glory of God and the good of yourself and yours; which, I conceive, may be done as well in New England as any where.

The nomadic brother did make some effort to return to New England. In 1700, he sailed with his wife and five children from India to England to settle his affairs with plans to sail to Salem or Boston. However, Nathaniel Higginson died in London on 31 October 1708, in the same year as his father Reverend John Higginson died in Salem.

Of Reverend John Higginson’s other sons, Thomas Higginson became a goldsmith in England and later left for Africa, after which he was never heard of again. Francis Higginson went to England, was educated at the University of Cambridge, and died of small pox in London in his mid-twenties. Henry Higginson became a merchant in Barbados and died of small pox in 1685. Reverend John Higginson’s eldest son, the letter writer John, was the only son to remain in New England. He lived until 1720 to the age of 73, flourishing in Salem as an East Indies trader.

Interested in the Higginson family or East Indies trade?  Visit the library at Massachusetts Historical Society to check out the Higginson family papers. If you are not located within the Boston area, the Hathi Trust has provided a digital edition of the transcription of these letters from the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 3rd series, Volume 7 (1838).