New to the Reference Collection

By Anna Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services

Below are titles newly received or purchased for the library’s collection of contemporary historical scholarship and reference works. All of these books will be available for use in our library once we reopen to the public on Monday, 4 January 2016. In the meantime, enjoy the end of year holidays with family and friends. May you enter the new year renewed — and excited to pick your research back up in our cozy reading room while the winter snow piles up outside!


Cleves, Rachel Hope. Charity & Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America. Oxford University Press, 2014.

Crabtree, Sarah. Holy Nation: The Transatlantic Quaker Ministry in an Age of Revolution. University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Downs, Jacques M. with a new introduction by Frederic D. Grant, Jr. The Golden Ghetto: The American Commercial Community at Canton and the Shaping of American China Policy, 1784-1844. Hong Kong University Press, 2014.

Free, Laura E. Suffrage Reconstructed: Gender, Race, and Voting Rights in the Civil War Era. Cornell University Press, 2015.

Graves, Donald E., ed. First Campaign of the A.D.C.: The War of 1812 Memoir of Lieutenant William Jenkins Worth, United States Army. Old Fort Niagra Association, 2012.

Hamlin, Kimberly A. From Eve to Evolution: Darwin, Science, and Women’s Rights in Gilded Age America. University of Chicago Press, 2014.

Hemphill, C. Dallett. Siblings: Brothers and Sisters in American History. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Jefferson and Palladio: Constructing a New World. Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio, 2015.

Johnson, Marilynn S. The New Bostonians: How Immigrants Have Transformed The Metro Region Since the 1960s. University of Massachusetts Press, 2015.

Lockwood, J. Samaine. Archives of Desire: The Queer Historical Work of New England Regionalism. University of North Carolina Press, 2015.

Nicolson, Colin, ed. The Papers of Francis Bernard: Governor of Colonial Massachusetts, 1760-69. Volume IV: 1768. Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts vol. 87. The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 2015.

Prieto, Laura R. At Home in the Studio The Professionalization of Women Artists in America. Harvard University Press, 2001.

Rex, Cathy. Anglo-American Women Writers and Representations of Indainness, 1629-1824. Ashgate Press, 2015.

Schiff, Stacy. The Witches: Salem, 1692. Little, Brown and Co., 2015.

This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

There are no events on the calendar for this shortened week here at the Society. 

Please note that the library of the Massachusetts Historical Society is closed from December 24th through January 3rd and will re-open on Monday, January 4th. The MHS exhibition galleries are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on December 26, 28-30, and January 2. Find information on our website about our current and upcoming exhibitions

See you in January!

The Ekphrastic Fiske

By Peter Steinberg, Collection Services

On 30 January 2015, my colleague Dan Hinchen introduced our readers to Eben W. Fiske (1823-1900), a Civil War veteran and librarian as well as a talented amateur illustrator, in his post Ishpeming Illustrators. Dan discussed Fiske’s artwork, which he broke out into two categories: Civil War drawings and other. The Fiske family papers (Ms. N-1227) also contains letters and compositions, as well as several volumes containing original pencil drawings.

Recently I was asked to review the collection to determine whether any of the drawings might be worth including in a forthcoming web project. I pulled Box 3, which houses “Volumes 3-6: E.W. Fiske writings, drawings,” from the shelves. Volumes 3 and 4 contain newspaper clippings; volume 5 is a notebook with writings on the Bible. The folder with the intricate drawings was labeled “Volume 6: Pencil drawings. Illustrations to ?”.


The small sketch book, measuring 16.2 cm x 17.8 cm, features highly detailed scenes that correspond to text that Fiske puts in quotes. Curious about the quotes, I learned from Dan’s prior blog post that Fiske drew in response to the poem “On Lending a Punch Bowl” by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. As other poems are quoted and illustrated, I searched for word strings in Google and was happy to discover most of the works from which Fiske drew inspiration. Here is a list of the groupings of drawings:

Pages 1-4 respond to the poem “On Lending a Punch Bowl” by the physician and poet (among other things) Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1809-1894);

Pages 5-12 illustrate (pun!) Holmes’s “A Song: For the Centennial Celebration of Harvard College, 1836”;  

Pages 13-16 react to a lecture given at the Mercantile Library Association;

Page 17 draws on (pun, again!) Holmes’s “The Stethoscope Song”; and

Page 18 takes inspiration from Holmes’s “The Morning Visit”.



There are also a few unfinished sketches and two instances where drawings were tipped in between pages.


Responding to a work of art using another form of art is called ekphrasis. It is most commonly seen when a poem is inspired by a work of art. See, for example, Sylvia Plath’s poems “Conversation Among the Ruins (1956) and “The Disquieting Muses” (1958) and Giorgio de Chirico’s paintings by the same names (the former1927 and the latter1916-1918). Those are just two examples; and it appears the term is flexible enough to include Fiske’s reactions to the poems of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

While there currently is no finding aid to the Fiske family papers, please do not let that stop you from coming into the MHS to enjoy the collection.


“The Sublimity of it, charms me!”: John Adams and the Boston Tea Party

By Amanda Norton, Adams Papers

In the fall of 1773, three ships carrying a cargo of tea from the British East India Company were on their way into Boston Harbor. Subject to the Tea Act of 1773, allowing the tea to be unloaded in Boston would have meant the acceptance of the principle of Parliamentary taxation, an idea that Bostonians had been fighting for a decade. After Governor Thomas Hutchinson and the ship owners refused to prevent the ships’ landing, the Sons of Liberty decided to take action, and 242 years ago on the night of December 16, a group of patriots wearing Native American dress snuck on board the three ships and dumped their cargo into the harbor.

The next day, budding patriot John Adams wrote to his friend James Warren enthusiastically about the audacious stroke: “The Dye is cast: The People have passed the River and cutt away the Bridge: last Night Three Cargoes of Tea, were emptied into the Harbour. This is the grandest, Event, which has ever yet happened Since, the Controversy, with Britain, opened!” He added, “The Sublimity of it, charms me!”

“The People should never rise, without doing something to be remembered—something notable And striking.” he noted in his diary. “This Destruction of the Tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid and inflexible, and it must have so important Consequences, and so lasting, that I cant but consider it as an Epocha in History.” “The Question is whether the Destruction of this Tea was necessary?” he queried. “I apprehend it was absolutely and indispensably so.”

In his letter to Warren, Adams looked ahead as to what would follow this momentous affair. “Threats, Phantoms, Bugbears, by the million, will be invented and propagated among the People upon this occasion. Individuals will be threatened with Suits and Prosecutions. Armies and Navies will be talked of—military Execution—Charters annull’d—Treason—Tryals in England and all that—But—these Terrors, are all but Imaginations. Yet if they should become Realities they had better be Suffered, than the great Principle, of Parliamentary Taxation given up.”

There were indeed serious consequences for the people of Boston in the form of the Coercive, or Intolerable, Acts levied by Parliament in retaliation. The harsh punishment backfired however. Colonists grew more unified in sentiment, and the calling of the First Continental Congress in 1774 was a pivotal step in the movement toward revolution and eventually, independence.

John Adams to James Warren, 17 December 1773, Warren-Adams Papers


This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

As we approach the year’s end there are three opportunities this week to get your fill of history before the holidays:

– Monday, 14 December, 6:00PM : “She Can Bring Us Home: Dr. Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, Civil Rights Pioneer” Join us for this author talk with acting New York State Supreme Court justice Diane Kiesel. She will discuss her biography of Ferebee, an African American obstetrician and civial rights activist, introducing her to a new generation of readers. This talk is open to the public with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Fellows or Members). Registration required. 

– Wednesday, 16 December, 12:00PM : Stop by at noon for a Brown Bag lunch talk with research fellow Kathryn Lasdow of Columbia University. “Mrs. Rowe’s Wharf: Femal Property Owners in Early-National Boston” offers some preliminary findings on the relationship between female waterfront property ownership and the rise of corporate-sponsored building projects in early-national Boston. This talk is free and open to the public. 

– Friday, 18 December, 2:00PM : “Terra Firma: The La Perouse Atlas of a Lost Voyage” is a gallery talk centered around our current exhibition, Terra Firma: The Beginnings of the MHS Map Collection. Petery Drummey of the MHS will walk visitors through the mystery of the ill-starred Pacific voyage of the Comte de La Perouse. This event is free and open to the public. 

– Saturday, 19 December, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the MHS is a free, docent-led tour of the Society’s home at 1154 Boylston St. Visitors will tour all of the public space in the building and will also have time to view our current exhibition. No reservations necessary for individuals or small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley in advance at or 617-646-0508.

Cryptic Communique: Rebuses from Britain and the United States

By Kittle Evenson, Reader Services

[If you have trouble seeing the small details in some of these images, hold Ctrl and press + to zoom in on your browser.]


Whether as an educational tool, a creative form of political commentary, or a crafty way of targeting a chosen audience, rebuses have been used for centuries. Dating back to 1540 and the work of calligrapher and engraver Palatino, rebuses harness text, numbers, and images of recognizable objects as phonograms and hieroglyphics to convey meaning. I tracked down four examples from the MHS collections, and was surprised by the difficulty and intricacies of their presentations.

Rebuses rely on two primary usages for images: either as hieroglyphics or phonograms. Using hieroglyphics, authors can convey straightforward words by simply replacing them with an image that shows their meaning, such as   replacing the word “ship”. To express more abstract words, creators juxtapose letters and drawings that could be used as phonograms. When combined, these sounds build words, such as  representing the word “cannot”. In linguistics this is actually called the “rebus principle”.

Both techniques can be seen in Benjamin Franklin’s “The Art of Making Money Plenty in every Man’s Pocket” (circa 1848), Matthew Darly’s satirical publications from the American Revolution entitled “Britannia to America” and “America to her mistaken mother” (both published in London in 1778), and an unattributed educational publication of Mother Goose in Hieroglyphics (1849).

“The Art of Making Money Plenty in every Man’s Pocket”


As I worked my way through these puzzles I began to recognize a specific vocabulary of images, a vocabulary that I was surprised to discover took some serious investigation to fully understand. Even with full-text translations to reference it took the help of several colleagues to track down the names for all of the images pictured.

“Britannia to America”


“America to her mistaken mother”

Rebuses speak specifically to the historical context in which they were created. They rely on commonly understood imagery to convey meaning, and as I compared the rebuses I was able to construct a set of common images, always used identically. Because the content of the individual excerpts is different: Franklin’s lectures on personal fiscal responsibility, Darly’s speak to the British fear of a strategic partnership between the colonists and France, and Mother Goose telling a children’s fairytale, the overlap is limited, but that which does exist exemplifies a historical context that makes its interpretation by 21st century minds difficult.

Some common sounds represented identically across these publications include

  • (eye) = “i”
  • (an individual toe) = “to”
  • (yew tree)  = “u” (“you”)
  • (awl) = “all”
  • (bee) = “be” or “b”
  • (ewer) = your


While some of these images are easily recognizable even today (the bee, or a human eye), others are no longer commonplace in most of our lives, such as an awl, or a ewer.

Changes over time in storage, weight, and measurements have also disassociated other commonly used pictures, such as a cask  , from traditionally related terms like “butt,” a British unit of measure.

Just like Franklin’s and Darly’s works, Mother Goose uses the ewer, awl, toe, and butt images to convey a story, but unlike the others Mother Goose includes an introductory note as to the importance of the use of images within the text itself. The unknown author of the Mother Goose rebus introduces the work with the words “When the doctor sends for physic for a nervous little chick, make a mistake, and go to the bookseller’s and buy Mother goose in Hieroglyphics; that’s what is wanted — a pretty book, written with pictures, as they wrote in Egypt a long while ago, when folks new something.” While Franklin uses the rebus structure to make sure readers are challenged to expend effort before obtaining answers, Mother Goose uses them as a teaching tool, bridging the gap between speech and textual understanding in children.

Mother Goose

To see an example of some unpublished rebuses, check out Susan Martin’s June 17, 2015 blog on Samuel W. Everett. Dating to the mid-19th century, Everett’s illustrations demonstrate that early Americans did not just consume these puzzles in printed form, but produced them for personal entertainment as well. If the rebuses in this   post strike your fancy, consider visiting our library to view them in person, or to explore any of our other collections in greater depth.


Diaries at the MHS (and the Archivists Who Love Them)

By Susan Martin, Collections Services

As a manuscript processor here at the MHS, I’ve had the opportunity to see a wide range of personal and family papers, but I particularly like to work with diaries. Not usually intended for a stranger’s eyes, many of them are highly revealing and deeply moving. MHS collections include diaries by men and women, young and old, rich and poor, kept throughout the centuries for a variety of reasons.

Harriet Stillman Hayward, for example, was a young 19th-century woman who clearly kept her diary as an outlet for her loneliness. She was envious of her older sister Louisa’s many social engagements and, on 21 Feb. 1850, wrote in a confessional, emotional vein: “I wonder if people will ever care more for me than they do now […] I do not think that my highest aim in life is to have every one like me, but if I could feel that one person loved me […] I should not feel entirely forgotten. […] I must continue to bear in secret, while I appear outwardly indifferent […]”

Persis Seaver Bartlett’s diary documenting the decline and death of her son from consumption falls into this category, as well. Many devout people also used diaries to work out their feelings about God and salvation.

On the other end of the spectrum are those diaries that consist of an impersonal and unembellished account of daily activities. William Wharton began every morning with a detailed description of the weather, then noted the day’s errands and appointments—the dentist, the bank, etc. On fishing trips, he recorded the size of his catches. His diaries are almost uniformly mundane and unemotional, except for the entries he wrote at the time of his wife’s death.

Printed “line-a-day” diaries, with only a small space for each day and little room for introspection, lend themselves to this kind of strictly functional record-keeping. For example, the diaries of Jane Cummings:


Travel diaries were very popular and were kept by everyone from traveling salesmen to wealthy Bostonians on the traditional Grand Tour of Europe. My colleague Anna Clutterbuck-Cook has been following one woman’s travels in Egypt. Young Charles Phillips Huse only went as far as Essex County, Mass. on a trip with his grandfather, but he made a careful record of all their adventures, illustrated with photographs pasted onto the pages. Of course, Boston artist Sarah Gooll Putnam set the standard for illustrated diaries with her elaborate sketches and watercolors.

The diary of Eliza Cheever Davis, a personal favorite of mine, is a travel diary, but also a kind of literary exercise. Davis had fun with descriptions and built suspense into otherwise ordinary anecdotes. Her entry from 9 June 1811 sounds like something out of a Gothic novel: “Behold me then in a large room or rather Hall, the Chimney boarded up, on one side a small door which I ventured to unlock which led into a dark gloomy place in which there was not light enough for me to discover what it contained, but it looked very full of wonders […]”

Obviously most diaries were not meant to be seen by anyone but the writer (though very public figures, like John Quincy Adams, certainly knew their words would be read in later days). But some people did write directly to friends or family members in diary entries. Eliza Davis used this device, but the most striking example I’ve come across is the 1864 diary of Lillian Freeman Clarke, who frequently addressed her intimate friend Emily Russell and wished her a tender “good night” at the bottom of each page:


Some diaries are unfortunately unattributed. Some are shared, with contributions by more than one person, perhaps a husband and wife. The fascinating papers of John Wells Farley consist primarily of typescript pages of diary entries dictated by Farley to his secretary, who couldn’t resist adding the occasional quip or correction.

Diaries at the MHS are cataloged by year, so researchers interested in a particular historical event can get a cross section of opinion. We also use subject headings to group diaries by the types of people writing them, for example: “Students—Diaries,” “Politicians—Diaries,” and “Farmers—Diaries.” We hope you’ll visit our Reading Room and take a look!

Penmanship and Copy Books

By Shelby Wolfe, Reader Services

In a collection rich in manuscript material like that at the MHS, it’s easy to fixate on centuries-old handwriting, whether for admiration of delicate script or frustration at illegible penmanship. I’ve overheard a fair balance of researchers lamenting the eyestrain caused by hours of squinting at spidery letterforms, and those who voice their appreciation for such intricate, time-consuming writing and the character it gives to the writer. Penmanship has an element of individuality, even when students were taught the importance of identical script or the “science” of manually forming words on a page through instruction books like Penmanship Explained, or, The Principles of Writing Reduced to an Exact Science by S.A. Potter.

Today, many of us rely on electronic means of forming words, efficiently typed out and spell-checked. Instead of putting pen to page, we often put fingertips to keyboard. I sometimes wonder if we would be able to decipher difficult handwriting more easily if we spent more time writing by hand as well. Though, if all writers had followed Potter’s exact science of penmanship, maybe we would have no trouble at all!

In an effort to learn more about the history of penmanship, I decided to see what resources I could find in the MHS collection. In the online catalog ABIGAIL I found a variety of results for penmanship instruction books and advertisements, broadsides for ink powder and writing instruments, and a few personal copy books in family manuscript collections. One manuscript item (manuscript fittingly meaning “hand” and “to write”) that I found particularly interesting was Tristram Little’s copy book. Tristram Little of Newburyport, Maine was born in December 1784, making him fifteen years of age at the time of this book’s use beginning in early 1800.

Copy books often provided written lines and blank spaces for a student to copy the text. In the case of Little’s book, there are no printed lines to copy, which indicates he must have copied from a separate volume. On one delicately lettered leaf, Little has copied from a cover or title page, “Round Text Copies, Written for the Use of Schools and Academys by D. S…Engraved by J. Ellis.” Perhaps this is from Bowles’s elegant set of round hand copies, round text copies and comprised in a set. Performed for the use of schools & Academies by D. Smith, written by I. Trinder of Northampton, or a similar copy book circulated by this publisher.

Some penmanship books are literally by-the-book, with lines written directly from a published original. Others are strewn with more personal touches. The pages of Tristram Little’s penmanship practice book mostly contain repeated lines of proverbial advice. Some are of general instruction, “Beware of idleness & sloth”, “Quarrel not at play,” and some loftier lines: “Rouze up your Genius & exalt your mind” and “Honor attends virtuous actions.” Tristram’s personal touches include original poems, one an illustrated epitaph titled “On the death of General Washington,” complete with tombstone frame. He notes on the top of the page, “He died…December 15th 1799” – which is actually one day off, the correct date being December 14.

The poem reads:

Ah! while we gather round your urn,

Joins your blest bands great Wasington [sic],

Hark to that knell, a NATION sighs,

Waft his PURE SPIRIT to the skies.


Newbury Port

The bells were then tolling.


On a previous page, Little recorded an ode to the “glorious George Wasington [sic],” asking, “What mortal praise can equal thy great claim?” Clearly, Little had a great regard for George Washington’s reputation. This common copy book offers an insight into the mind of a teenager growing up in America’s early years, looking up to his nation’s leader and lamenting his loss. Other pages include lists of personal names and cities (Newburyport and Philadelphia). Little’s embellished pages, glorifying poems, and ornate illustrations add another level of character to his already unique handwriting, as we might consider it today.

Tristram Little’s copy book is just one example of penmanship study and practice in the MHS collection. You can find other penmanship practice books and copy books for arithmetic exercises, many as part of family manuscript collections. If you would like to explore this topic further, visit the library and enjoy these personal copy books – or fascinating handwriting throughout the collection – in person.


This Week @ MHS

By Dan Hinchen

Got a history itch? Maybe this week’s programs can help!

– Tuesday, 8 December, 5:15PM : “Rerouting Risk: New Orleans and the Mississippi River” is an Environmental History seminar presented by Craig E. Colten of Louisiana State University. This project looks at the impacts caused by flood diversions and offers a perspective on the environmental consequences of the impending transformations. Steve Moga of Smith College provides comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

– Wednesday, 9 December, 6:00PM : MHS Fellows and Members Holiday Party. MHS Fellows and Members are invited to celebrate the season at the Society’s annual holiday party. Enjoy festive music, holiday cheer, and the annual tradition of reading the anti-Christmas laws. Registration required. Become a Member today!

– Thursday, 10 December, 5:30PM : “A ‘fine looking body of women’: Woman Suffragists Develop Their Visual Campaign.” This seminar from the History of Women and Gender series is presented by Allison Lange of the Wentworth Institute and looks at how suffrage leaders began to change the way they represented themselves and fellow prominent figures. Susan Ware, Schlesinger Library and American National Biography, provides comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

– Friday, 11 December : Library Closing at 3:30PM

Current Exhibitions : Remember that our exhibit space is open to the public free of charge Mon-Fri, 10:00AM-4:00PM. 

Dashing Through the Snow: A Tale of Boston’s Horse Railroads

By Kimberly Arleth, Reader Services

Growing up in a small Midwestern town in rural Minnesota, I had what some might say was a quintessential upbringing — complete with a horse farm! This, however, was a long time ago. Moving to the Twin Cities to attend college, and more recently Boston three months ago, I thought I left whatever rural nature I had in me behind for ‘bigger and better’ things. Yet, being in the ‘big city’ makes me nostalgic for my country childhood.

As I began to explore the extensive collections at the MHS, I found myself drawn to a number of items related to cities and working horses in the nineteenth century – particularly the ‘Horse Railroads’. This material intrigued me having worked with horses for the first thirteen years of my life and the romantic notions of a city filled with horse drawn carriages and trolley cars. Mentioning this to one of my coworkers, the joke became that after last winter’s transit halt,  it might not be a bad idea to return to these simpler roots. I wonder though, would New England snowstorms really be any easier to weather if the city ran on hooves rather than rails?


Cover of Rules and regulations for the government of horse railroads, 1865. Boston (Mass.). Board of Aldermen.


A 1865 pamphlet, “Rules and Regulations for the Government of Horse Railroads”, helped to shed some light on this question. It was declared, by an act of the legislature in 1864, that regulations on horse railroads were needed to address “the interest and convenience of the public.” Any instance of noncompliance with the rules would result in a penalty of “not more than five hundred dollars for each offence.” Today this would be a maximum fine of seven thousand dollars per offence, not a small sum at all!  

Much of the language in the rules and regulations pertain to maximum speeds allowed (five miles per hour in Boston proper, seven miles per hour outside of these city limits, and a walking gait when taking corners), and all the restrictions around when stopping of the horse railroad car is allowed and for how long. Most restrictions prohibited the stopping of the car for longer than one minute between “six o’clock in the forenoon and eight o’clock in the afternoon” (6:00 AM to 8:00 PM.) and then only at a station or designated stop. The only exceptions which allow for unscheduled stopping, repeated throughout the small four page document, are “unless detained by obstacles in the track or to avoid collision.”

Map showing horse rail roads and the surface steam roads with 104 stations in and around Boston…1878.

(A 1876 version of this map is available online at the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library.)


Yet, it was the regulations of Section 11 and 12 that proved to be the most valuable when thinking about surviving a winter with horse railroads. Section 11 spoke to the removal of snow, [] stating that if depths were sufficient “no plough shall be allowed to pass over” unless permission was granted by the Superintendent of Streets. In this case alternative methods could be employed by the railroads, in the form of sleighs, to transport citizens until rail tracks were again accessible and normal transit methods could resume.

Similarly, Section 12 discusses the use of any salt, brine or pickle or any other material employed in the melting of snow and ice would only be allowed after receiving a permit from the city. Such permits would only be given if such use would not be detrimental to vehicles crossing the tracks and rails.


Highland Street Railroad Tickets. [No Date]


These restrictions make me imagine that if such a winter as the one last year were to have occurred during these times, the breakdown in public transit would have been far worse. While the Rules and Regulations document spoke little to the care of the working animals, the necessity of keeping the horses in working condition alone would have extended delays in transportation and confined citizens as city and transit officials worked to clear the streets.

So as we approach another winter season, and my first in Boston, a joke about returning to horse powered public transit may seem like a good idea, but I hesitate to think that the ability to combat the snowstorms of nature would be any easier won.

These are just a few samples of the material at MHS about transportation and horse railroads. If you are interested in further exploration of our collections, please visit the library or contact us for further information.