This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

After a long weekend to be thankful for we have a heavy list of events this week at the Society. First, stop by Tuesday evening, 2 December, for “Threads that Bind: Irish Linens, Immigration, and the Consumer Atlantic World.” This installment of the Early American History Seminar is presented by Kristin Condotta of Tulane University with Marla R. Miller, UMass – Amherst, providing comment. The program is free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers. The talk begins at 5:15PM. 

On Wednesday, pack a lunch and stop by at noon for a Brown Bag talk that begins at noon and is presented by Seth Meehan of the Insitute for Advanced Jesuit Studies, Boston College. “Denominating a People: Congregational Laity, Church Disestablishment, and the Struggles of Denominationalism in Massachusetts, 1780-1865” is free and open to the public. 

And on Wednesday evening, beginning at 6:00PM is the MHS Felllows and Members Holiday Party. Members and Fellows who wish to attend, please RSVP. This event is open only to MHS Fellows and Members.

Thursday evening, 4 December, features the second seminar of the week, this time from the department of the History of Women and Gender. “One’s Own Branch of the Human Race: Frances Watkins Harper, Anna Dickinson, and Frederick Douglass” is presented by Sharon Hartman Strom, University of Rhode Island, with Julie Winch, UMass – Boston, providing comment. The seminar begins at 5:30PM and is free and open to the public, RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

Finally, come by on Saturday, 6 December, for a free tour. “The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society” is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free and open to the public with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or

While you’re here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibitions, “Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in World War I” and “The Father of His Country Returns to Boston, October 24, 1789.”



Thanksgiving in London

By Amanda A. Mathews, Adams Papers

On October 3, 1789, President George Washington issued a proclamation, calling for November 26 of that year to be celebrated as a day of thanksgiving by the whole nation now independent and united under a new Constitution. Exactly 74 years later, President Abraham Lincoln, seeing the nation embroiled in a bitter, devastating, and deadly Civil War, recognized that there was still much to be grateful for as “the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”

Charles Francis Adams was one of those Americans sojourning in foreign lands as the United States minister to Great Britain. Invited by a group of Americans living in London to attend a Thanksgiving Day celebration and give a toast to President Lincoln, the dinner opened with a reading of Lincoln’s proclamation. No devotee of the president, Adams noted that the proclamation was “very good, and…therefore never emanated from Mr Lincoln’s pen.” In his diary, Adams summarized his toast and feelings on the honoree: 

“The press here had sneered at the notion of a thanksgiving in the midst of a desolating civil war. I thought it a good opportunity, whilst avoiding the topic of victories over our fellow countrymen which necessarily take a shade of sadness, to explain more exclusively the causes of rejoicing we had in the restoration of a healthy national solidity in the government since the announcement of the President’s term. I went over each particular in turn. The result is to give much credit to Mr Lincoln as an organizing mind, perhaps more than individually he may deserve. But with us the President as the responsible head takes the whole credit of successful efforts. It certainly looks now as if he would close his term with the honor of having raised up and confirmed the government, which at his accession had been shaken all to pieces. And this a raw, inexperienced hand has done in the face of difficulties that might well appall the most practised statesman! What a curious thing is History! The real men in this struggle have been Messr [William] Seward and [Salmon] Chase. Yet the will of the President has not been without its effect even though not always judiciously exerted.”


Shown here is the program for that Thanksgiving Day celebration. Since 1863, Americans around the world have stopped in late November each year for a day of joy and thanksgiving with friends and family, as we will tomorrow. Wishing you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving!



This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

Before the long holiday weekend ahead we have two events at the Society this week. On Monday, 24 November, join us for a Brown Bag lunch talk given by Nathan Jérémie-Brink, Loyola University Chicago. “‘Gratuitous Distribution’: Distributing African American Antislavery Texts, 1773-1850” is free and open to the public and begins at noon. And on Tuesday, 25 November, we have the next installment in our Immigration and Urban History Seminar series. Stop by at 5:15PM for “‘Greetings from the Levee!’: Labor and Leisure on the Streets and Docks of Postbellum New Orleans.” This talk is presented by Theresa McCulla of Harvard University with Lynnell Thomas, UMass-Boston, providing comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

Please note that the Society is closed on Thursday, 27 November, for Thanksgiving. The library is also closed on Friday and Saturday, 28 and 29 November. The exhibition galleries are open on Friday and Saturday, 28 and 29 November. Take a break from battling the shopping crowds and come in for some history! There is also a free tour taking place on Saturday, 29 November, at 10:00AM. 

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch Diary, Post 38

By Elaine Grublin

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

Sunday, Nov. 6th

In public affairs, I record the startling discoveries of election fraud in New York, & of a conspiracy against the gov’t in Indiana. Next Tuesday decides the election of President; – & my preference is for Mr. Lincoln, alike from personal approval, – as he is identified with the cause I believe to be right, and as I think that a change of system now would delay, instead of advancing, the return of peace.

Wednesday Nov. 16th

The election decided by a very great majority in favor of Mr. Lincoln, & the magnanimous & Christian manner in which he has expressed himself thereon, – are makers of history. There was a very [-elty] illumination here in honor of the result. Last news is of Sherman’s leaving Atlanta, supposed for Savannah & Charleston. At present there is going on in Boston a great ‘Sailors’ Fair,’ for the establ. of a naval hospital; My girls have attended, – through kindness of Uncles T. & H. & we propose to see some more of its wonders.

Sunday, Nov. 27th

Public attention is now fixed on the daring march of Sherman through the interior of Georgia – & the recent capture of the Florida in the waters of Brazil, with the danger of misunderstanding with that power. Hope dawns, but we fear lest we hope too much.

This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

We are kicking things off this week with a rare Sunday event, an MHS blue moon, if you will. Beginning at 1:30PM on Sunday, 16 November, is a special screening of The Better Angels, a film about Abraham Lincoln’s childhood.The screening is followed by a discussion led by Professor John Stauffer of Harvard University, current long-term research fellow at the Society. This event takes place at Landmark Theaters in Kendall Square (355 Binney Street, One Kendal Square, Cambridge, MA 02139).

On Monday, 17  November, join us at 6:00PM for an author talk given by Lindford D. Fisher of Brown University and J. Stanley Lemons of Rhode Island College. Decoding Roger Williams: The Lost Essay of Rhode Island’s Founding Father documents the interdisciplinary approach to cracking Williams’ handwritten code. There is a $10 fee (no charge for Fellows and Members). Please call 617-646-0560 or click here to register.

And on Tuesday, 18 November, come by for an Environmental History Seminar given by Derek Lee Nelson, University of New Hampshire. “The Ravages of Teredo: The Historical Impacts of Marine Wood-boring Worms on American Society, Geography, and Culture, 1865-1930” begins at 5:15PM and is free and open to the public. Robert Martello of Olin College of Engineering provides comment. Please RSVP if you plan to attend. Also, you can subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

Last but not least, on Saturday, 22 November, there is another free tour at the Society. “The History and Collections of the MHS” is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free and open to the public with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please first contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or abentley@masshist.orgWhile you’re here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibitions, “Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in World War I” and “The Father of His Country Returns to Boston, October 24, 1789.”

“Most Amusing”: A Brookline Couple on Holiday in California, 1915

By Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services

In late October of 1915, as the days in New England grew shorter and the temperatures colder, twenty-seven-year-old Mildred Cox Howes of Brookline, Massachusetts, boarded a train with her husband, Osborne “Howsie” Howes, and headed west. Between 22 October and 14 November 1915 the couple traveled to California, where they attended the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego and the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. As was her habit, Mildred carried with her a line-a-day diary in which she recorded their movements, travel times, meals, friends met along the way, and sights seen.

Despite the fact that Mildred had recorded in early October spending time rolling bandages at a local hospital, presumably to be sent overseas, her own life was largely untouched by the reality of war in Europe. While England and the continent were digging in for the war to end all wars, the United States was in an expansionist, celebratory mood. Having recently flexed its imperialist muscles in the Spanish-American and Philippine-American wars (1898-1903), in 1914 the United States finally saw the completion of the Panama Canal (1903-1914) which dramatically increased the speed of an ocean voyage from the Atlantic to Pacific coasts of North America, saving ships nearly eight thousand miles of travel around Cape Horn. The Panama-California and Panama-Pacific International expositions were a message to the world regarding the United State’s new place on the world stage, as well as an opportunity for San Francisco, particularly, to celebrate its reconstruction following the devastating 1906 earthquake.

Mildred’s diary is spare, but does provide readers with a sense of the nature of upper-middle-class travel during the early twentieth century, before widespread adoption of the automobile. The Howes left Brookline on Tuesday, 22 October by the 12:34 train for Chicago. Mildred reported a “very pretty” ride through the Berkshires. Arriving in Chicago the following morning, they spent the day in Chicago visiting friends, dining out, and attending a garden show that Mildred described as “not much good.” Departing on an evening train, the Howes passed through Kansas and New Mexico, reaching the Grand Canyon a week after leaving home.

The Grand Canyon was not yet a national park (it would be dedicated in 1919), but nonetheless a popular tourist attraction. “About 10- we started & walked down to the plateau 5 miles & very steep,” Mildred wrote, “A guide & mule met us there …I rode up. Howsie walked. Fine. Wonderful views.”

The Howes reached San Diego the following day, after a morning spent traveling by train across the desert to Los Angeles, and then changing trains for the trip south to San Diego. They spent three days in San Diego, sunbathing at Coronado Beach, visiting the Panama-California Exposition, and driving down to Tijuana for a day (“Most amusing & just like a book”).

Departing from Coronado Beach by motorcar, the couple drove through Murietta Springs, Riverside, Pasadena, Los Angeles, arriving in Santa Barbara on Monday, November 1st. The automobile appears to have been as much for pleasure as transport, as Mildred repeatedly describes having “motored around” the cities they pass through, including a detour up to the top of Mt. Rubidoux, today a city park. Mildred also lists the names of the hotels at which the couple stay, often luxurious locations such as the Mission Inn (Riverside) and the Potter Hotel (Santa Barbara). When they arrive by train in San Francisco, they take up residence at the newly-constructed Palace Hotel, about three miles from the exposition — located between the Presidio and Fort Mason in what is today the Marina District.

“First [day] at the exposition – cleared off into a lovely day,” Mildred reported on November 4th. “Saw the manufactural palace & fibral arts… Dined at the hotel & went out again. Took a chair & looked at the illumination & listened to the bands.” Mildred and Howsie remained in San Francisco for a week, taking in the exposition and exploring the area. On exposition days, they arrived mid-morning and stayed until dinner, sometimes returning in the evening. On Saturday, Mildred reported going to the cinema to see “On Trial” (“very good & exciting”); on Sunday they took a Packard car and drove to Palo Alto for lunch with friends. On Tuesday they went to see Houdini perform at the Orpheum.

Twenty days after leaving Boston, Mildred and Howsie packed and, after a final morning at the fair, left at 4 o’clock on an eastbound train, traveling through Nevada to Ogden, Utah, and on across Wyoming and Nebraska at a brisk pace; they reached Chicago after three days’ steady travel, stopping the day to visit the art museum and stretch their legs. Boarding the train in Chicago they discovered friends Jessie and Frank Hallowell, and John Balcheder, also headed for Boston. By Sunday, November 14th, they were home once more.

Briefly factual in tone, Mildred’s diaries reveal only glimpses of her subjective experiences as a traveler, but nonetheless strongly evoke the rhythms of early-twentieth century travel for modern readers. If you are interested in this, and other diaries, kept by Mildred Cox Howes, you are welcome to visit or contact our library to access the collection.



**Photographs from Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. Photograph Collection: Grand Canyon of the Colorado (#183.2043); Lotta’s fountain in front of the New Palace Hotel (#183.2022); Crowds at the Golden Gate Park (#183.2027).

This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

After a flurry of activity to close out last week, this one starts a little bit more slowly. Please note that the Society is closed on Tuesday, 11 November, in observance of Veteran’s Day. Happy Armistice!

On Wednesday, 12 November, join us at noon for a Brown Bag lunch talk given by Johann Neem of Western Washington University and the University of Virginia. In this talk, titled “Making the Self-Made American: The Original Meanings and Purposes of America’s Public Schools,” Neem discusses the collective effort required to achieve American individualism. This talk is free and open to the public. 

Then, on Friday, 14 November, beginning at noon is a free author talk. Join award-winning food and drinks writer Corin Hirsch as she discusses her first book, “Forgotten Drinks of Colonial New England.” This event is open to the public at no cost.

And on Saturday, 15 November, we return with “The History and Collections of the MHS.” This 90-minute, docent-led tour explores all of the public space in the Society’s home at 1154 Boylston St., touching on the art, architecture, collections, and history of the institution. The tour is free and open to the public with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or While you’re here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibitions, “Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in World War I,” and “The Father of His Country Returns to Boston, October 24, 1789.”


MHS Librarians Hit the Road

By Dan Hinchen

Today, the library at the MHS is closed in preparation for our annual fundraising event, Cocktails with Clio. What is a group of librarians to do with a day off? Rather than sit by and toil in our respective offices as set-up goes on around us, we instead are opting to go on a field trip. Specifically, we are jumping on the Mass Pike to go see our counterparts at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester.

The reader services staff here recently decided that we should better our knowledge of at least some of the many institutions in the area that are similar to ours. With that in mind, we compiled a list of such “sister institutions” to visit so that we can get a better sense of what they do, what collections they hold, and what a user’s experience is like.

While the MHS holds incredible and unique collections relating to the history of the state and the nation, we do not always have the right materials for every researcher. One thing that we hope to take away from these site visits is a better understanding of the holdings and specialties of some nearby institutions. This will in turn allow us to better serve our own researchers by knowing the proper direction to send them when we cannot answer their questions.

Also, these experiences give us the chance to network with colleagues and peers working in other libraries around the Boston-area. We can discuss emerging scholarship relevant to our respective institutions and talk about trends in research topics and researcher questions and behavior.

Another hope is that the places and people we visit will get the same from us in return. It is easy to think that every library professional in the area knows who we are and what we do but that is not always the case. These site visits give us the opportunity to expose ourselves more widely to the academic community in Massachusetts and to help our peers understand what material we hold and what we might do to help their researchers.

In a profession – and an institution – where it is sometimes easy to insulate ourselves from the outside, this is an opportunity for us to reach beyond our four walls to communicate our mission to other institutions. We also get the chance to increase our own ability to pursue that mission. 


The Siege of Louisbourg, 1758: The Daring Capture of the Prudent and Bienfaisant

By Thomas Lester, Reader Services

During the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the fortified French city of Louisbourg loomed over the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, denying the British access to the Saint Lawrence River – the route to capturing the key cities of Quebec and Montreal.  The fortress, considered the “Gibraltar of the North,” had famously been captured by a combination of New England militia and the British navy in 1745, only for the Treaty of Aix-La-Chapelle to return it to the French in 1748.  Now, a decade later, the invading British forces looked to capture the fortress for a second time. 

In early June 1758, ground forces under the command of Jeffery Amherst landed outside the city and began a siege operation which, in accordance with the standard of 18th century siege warfare, meant digging a network of trenches surrounding the city.    

While Amherst’s command toiled in the trenches, the British navy remained concerned about French ships defending the harbor.  Though only five French ships of the line remained by late July, they proved enough of a menace to receive considerable attention by way of British artillery fire.  As a result, on July 21st, a cannonball penetrated one of the ships, detonating its powder magazine.  The ensuing blaze was so hot that it set fire to the sails of two neighboring ships, burning all three down to the waterline. 

Three days later, on July 24th, Admiral Edward Boscawen, commander of all British vessels in North America, informed Amherst of his bold plan to capture the remaining two ships – the Prudent (74 guns) and the Bienfaisant (64 guns) .  Late in the night of July 25th-26th, two squadrons under the command of Captains John Laforey and George Balfour, totaling approximately 600 sailors and marines, rowed into the harbor.  Concealed by the dark and fog, and with Amherst ordering his artillery to “fire into the works as much as possible, to keep the enemy’s attention to the land,” the two squadrons slipped past the French battery guarding the entrance to the harbor and approached the two French vessels undetected. 

As Laforey’s command approached the Prudent and Captain Balfour the Bienfaisant, each was hailed by sentries aboard the ships.  Receiving no response, the guards opened fire, breaking the silence.  The squadrons then moved quickly to maneuver alongside their respective targets, capturing both ships with minimal resistance, but at a cost of sixteen casualties (7 killed, 9 wounded).      

Hearing the events that transpired, the French defenders were alerted to the threat and opened fire upon the two ships.  Under fire, and finding the Prudent run aground, the British sailors set her ablaze.  The Bienfaisant, meanwhile, was towed to the Northeast corner of the harbor, safe from French artillery fire.  The image above, printed in 1771, depicts the Prudent caught in a blaze, while nearby the Bienfaisant is towed to safety. 

The following day, with Amherst’s ground forces making ready to breach the city walls and Boscawen’s fleet entering the harbor, the French governor sent a messenger to Amherst initiating the surrender of the city.

Discussing the siege, historian Julian Gwyn notes in his book, Frigates and Foremasts, that “some naval and military historians have asserted that once the British assault landing force had succeeded, the capture of the fortress with its garrison was a foregone certainty.  Yet none of the British or French accounts expressed this view.”  He goes on to comment that “the loss of these two warships had a profound effect on the French defenders…morale plummeted within the town, and the fatigue occasioned by the siege, which until then had been borne without complain, suddenly became unendurable for many.” 

In the aftermath of these events, Captain Balfour was awarded with command of the Bienfaisant, and command of the frigate Echo to Captain Laforey.  Their lieutenants were also awarded with new commands of their own.

In the short-term, the event depicted was significant for breaking French morale and contributing to the success of the siege.  In the long-term it opened the heart of New France, most notably the cities of Quebec and Montreal, to British invasion via the Saint Lawrence River.  Having previously read about the events that transpired, I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled upon this print in our collection.  I love the color of the raging fire engulfing the Prudent set against the dark, foggy night with Louisbourg in the background.  Most of all I was caught in the suspense while reading about this risky operation.

This print was originally a painting by Richard Paton (1717-1791).  Born in London in 1717, Paton was found as a poor boy living on the streets by an admiral of the British navy and went to sea.  Receiving no professional training as an artist, Paton is known for depicting the famous sea-battles that occurred during his lifetime.  His paintings were exhibited it the Royal Academy of Art in London from 1776-1780. 

The engraving was made by Pierre Charles Canot (ca. 1710-1777).  Born in France, he moved to England in 1740 where he spent his professional career as an engraver.  Most famous for his engravings of Paton’s works, in 1770 he was elected Associate-Engraver of the Royal Academy of Arts in London.



This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

Here we are again looking at events taking place at the MHS in the week ahead. On Wednesday, 5 November, there is a Brown Bag lunch talk beginning at noon and presented by the Society’s new Director of Public Programs, Gavin Kleespies. In his talk “Choosing Challenges,” Gavin will give a rough outline of his goals, as well as his plans to meet them, in his new position. This event is free and open to the public. 

Also on Wednesday, 5 November, is an author talk featuring James Redfearn. He will talk about his most recent work, “The Rising at Roxbury Crossing,” a novel which centers on the true events of the 1919 Boston Police Strike. Visit to learn more about the author and his novel. There is a $10 fee for this event (no charge for Fellows and Members) and registration is required. Please call 617-646-0560 or click here to register. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM and the talk begins at 6:00PM.

On Thursday,  6 November, is the first in this year’s series of New England Biography Seminars. Beginning at 5:30PM, Ted Widmer moderates this panel discussion, “Understanding the Presidency: Personality, Politics, and Policy.” The discussion features three authors: Evan Thomas, Kathleen Dalton, and David Michaelis, and focuses on the balance between policy and politics as it affects writing presidential biography. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP required.

Please note that the MHS Library is CLOSED on Friday, 7 November, as we prepare for our fifth annual Cocktails with Clio. Kicking off at 6:00PM, the evening features an elegant cocktail buffet at the Society’s historic building and then continues at the nearby Harvard Club where guests will here a conversation with historian and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, David Hackett Fischer. Purchase tickets (tickets cost $250 per person). All net proceeds from the event will support the Society’s outreach efforts. 

Finally, on Saturday, 8 November, there is a teacher workshop taking place at the Society. Painless: A Survival Guide to the Dreaded History Project is a free hands-on workshop co-sponsored by the National Archives at Boston. To register, contact the MHS Education Department at or 617-646-0557. The workshop begins at 9:00AM and goes until 2:30PM. 

There is no building tour on Saturday, 8 November, but remember to stop by to check out our two current exhibitions anytime Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM.