This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

It is the return of the seminars this week at the MHS. Up first, on Tuesday, 13 January, from the Environmental History series is “The Rise and Fall of the Texas Longhorn.” This talk, given by Joshua Specht of Harvard University, explores the crossroads of economics and biology in the evolution of the cattle ranching industry. Comment provided by Beth LaDow, author of The Medicine Line: Life and Death on a North American Borderland. The talk begins at 5:15PM. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

On Wednesday, 14 January, stop by at noon for a Brown Bag lunch talk given by Kate Culkin of Bronx Community College, CUNY. “The Emerson Sisters’ Correspondence: A Record of Daily Life in the Emerson Home and Nineteenth-Century Concord” explores the changing world of the nineteenth century through the correspondence of two daughters of Ralph Waldo Emerson. This event is free and open to the public. 

Another seminar takes place on Thursday, 15 January, this time from the Biography series. The panel, moderated by Caroly Bundy, will discuss “Biography, the Visual Artist, and the Story Behind Public Art.” This seminar begins at 5:30PM. Please RSVPSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

Finally, once again there is a free tour taking place on Saturday, 17 January, at 10:00AM. The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute docent-led tour through the public spaces of the Society’s home at 1154 Boylston Street. The tour is open to the public at no charge. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or




Homegrown Gifts: George Washington’s Locks

By Andrea Cronin, Reader Services

Our exhibition Father of His Country Returns to Boston closes today as the holiday season wraps up. The exhibition commemorates the 225th anniversary of President George Washington’s month-long tour of New England in October 1789. One of the most interesting items on display as part of this exhibition is a lock of hair that George Washington gave to Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton worked closely with Washington throughout the American Revolution and their political careers. Hamilton was born the second illegitimate child of James Hamilton and Rachel Faucett Lavien on 11 January 1755 or 1757 in Charlestown on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies. He worked as a clerk until he traveled to the British North American colonies for education. In New York, Hamilton became increasingly involved in the rumblings of Revolution during his studies at King’s College before responding to a call for recruits in 1776. Washington appointed Hamilton to the position of aide-de-camp at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel on 1 March 1777. Washington mentored Hamilton as he did with all his aides-de-camp until a parting of ways in February 1781 when Hamilton resigned from Washington’s staff position over insult. However, their working relationship did not end there. Washington later appointed Hamilton as first Secretary of the Treasury in  September 1789 just before the President’s tour of New England commenced in October.  The circumstances surrounding the gift of Washington’s hair to Hamilton however remain undocumented.

The practice of gifting hair seems particularly strange to the 21st century observer. Nowadays people share photographs of themselves and their families in holiday cards or digitally through social media. Portraiture remained the primary way individuals shared images of themselves prior to the invention of the daguerreotype by Louis Daguerre in the late 1830s. But the gift of hair also held considerable value. Hair was often woven and incorporated into rings, bracelets, and other jewelry throughout the 18th century. Lovers, friends, and family often exchanged locks of hair as mementos.   Vestiges of hair traditions remain even today when parents save locks of their children’s hair.

The Massachusetts Historical Society has not just one but two separate locks of hair that George Washington gave to Alexander Hamilton. Mrs. Charles Mason donated the first singular lock to the Society on 11 May 1876. The second lock of Washington’s hair is framed together with a lock of Hamilton’s own hair. The son of Alexander Hamilton, James A. Hamilton of Nevis, gave these locks to Eliza Andrew, wife of Massachusetts Governor John Albion Andrew, on 27 October 1865. The Society later received the locks from Andrew’s children, Edith and Henry Hersey Andrew in December 1920.

The text of the frame states:

“The above is the hair of my Father
Alexander Hamilton, presented
by me to Mrs. Andrew
Octo. 27 1865
James A. Hamilton”

“The above is the Hair of “The Father
of his Country” Geo. Washington pre=
sent to his friend Mrs Andrew by
James A. Hamilton
Oct 27 1865”

Marble bust of Alexander Hamilton by Giuseppe Ceracchi, 1794

Their working relationship tempered by respect endured any snarls. Washington’s death on 11 December 1799 came as a great loss not only to the country he fathered but also to his former mentee. In a letter to Washington’s personal secretary Tobias Lear on 2 January 1800, Hamilton wrote, “Perhaps no man in this community has equal cause with myself to deplore the loss. I have been much indebted to the kindness of the General, and he was an Aegis very essential to me.”

Hacking John Adams

By Amanda A. Mathews, Adams Papers

At the end of 2014, the hack into Sony Pictures and the subsequent publication of the private communications of Sony employees drew massive public interest. While many decried the methods, and resentful of foreign meddling, many people were still deeply interested in the revelations about the executives’ opinions on various celebrities.

John Adams faced a “hack” of his own in the summer of 1775 when private letters he had written to his wife, Abigail Adams, and to his friend James Warren were intercepted by the British and subsequently published in Boston and London. Adams, participating in the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, was growing increasingly frustrated at the reluctance of some of the members to take strong measures of resistance against Great Britain and took to his letters to vent his frustration, in particular against John Dickinson, a member from Pennsylvania who believed that even with hostilities ongoing, reconciliation with Great Britain was still possible and should be pursued. John Adams fed up with this, vented to Warren: “In Confidence,—I am determined to write freely to you this Time. —A certain great Fortune and piddling Genius whose Fame has been trumpeted so loudly, has given a silly Cast to our whole Doings—We are between Hawk and Buzzard.” To Abigail he alluded to his fellow congressmen: “I wish I had given you a compleat History from the Beginning to the End of the Journey, of the Behaviour of my Compatriots.——No Mortal Tale could equal it.——I will tell you in Future, but you shall keep it secret.——The Fidgets, the Whims, the Caprice, the Vanity, the Superstition, the Irritability of some of us, is enough to——” and there broke it off.

Entrusting these private thoughts to Benjamin Hichborn, a young lawyer, making his way back to Boston, Adams had no idea that he had just penned words that would bring him more fame than anything he had written to that point. While at a ferry crossing in Rhode Island, a British naval vessel captured the ferry and took possession of the letters Hichborn carried. Unsurprisingly they found the contents very interesting. The British officers made several copies, some of which were sent off to London, and the letters were also quickly printed in the Massachusetts Gazette and other Boston papers, trying to create division within the patriot cause.

The breach deepened the rift between Adams and Dickinson and occasioned a great deal of gossip on both sides of the Atlantic; however it had no long term effect on John Adams’ reputation in the Congress, continuing to be an influential member, nor did it influence British policy. Still, just as many were fascinated to know what executives really thought about Angelina Jolie, there were many Americans in 1775 fascinated to hear such candid opinions about congressional members.

To read more about the incident and the subsequent reaction see the complete coverage.

This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

As the new year begins, it is a quiet first week back at the MHS. 

On Wednesday, 7 January, join us for a rare musical program at the Society. “Over There: The Boys Who Went to Fight and the Women Who Endured” tells the story of the U.S.’s involvement in WWI and its effects on the nation’s women, men, and children, starting from before the U.S. entered the war until after the war when the “boys came home”. A reception for the event begins at 5:30PM and the program begins at 6:00PM. The event is open to the public for a $10 fee (no charge for Fellows and Members). Registration is required for this event. You can register online or call 617-646-0578.

On Saturday, 10 January, is a tour of the Society’s building at 1154 Boylston Street. 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 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 exhibition, “Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in World War I.” This exhibit ends on Saturday, 24 January 2015. Catch it before it goes!

Also, please note that the other current exhibit, “The Father of His Country Returns to Boston, October 24, 1789,” ends on Friday, 9 January. Come in this week anytime, 10:00AM-4:00PM, to have a last look!