This Week @ MHS


Here we are, once again, with the weekly round-up of events to come.

– Monday, 30 October, 6:00PM : Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson is the latest work by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gordon S. Wood of Brown University, who will speak about his book and the relationship between these two founding fathers. A reception precedes the talk at 5:30PM and the speaking program begins at 6:00PM. THIS TALK IS SOLD OUT!

– Wednesday, 1 November, 12:00PM : Start off the new month right with a lunchtime Brown Bag talk. Join us as Kabria Baumgartner of University of New Hampshire presents “Equal School Rights: Black Girlhood and School Desegregation in Antebellum Massachusetts.” This project looks at some of the integral players in the fight to desegregate public schools in Massachusetts before the Civil War. They authored anti-descrimination pamphlets, helped to organize boycotts, and wrote missives against racial prejudice. As the campaign grew, so did the activist network that bound together African American women, men, and children, as well as their allies across the state. This talk is free and open to the public. 

– Saturday, 4 November, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the MHS tour is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, 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: Yankees in the West.

– Saturday, 4 November, 11:00AM : Experience revolutionary politics “indoors” and “out-of-doors” as it would have happened 250 years ago. Participate in a live reenactment at Faneuil Hall of a Boston town meeting; join the discussion as local citizens argue over whether or not to stop importing British goods; and join a rowdy procession of laboring-class Bostonians from Faneuil Hall to the Old State House as they express their disapproval of British trade policies in a rather colorful and intimidating way. The Devil and the Crown is being offered as a joint program of Boston National Historical Park, Minute Man National Historical Park, The Bostonian Society, and Revolution 250, a program of the MHS. Admission is free to all! For more information, please contact Jim Hollister at 978-318-7829 or

Fornication as Crime in 18th-Century Massachusetts

By Brendan Kieran, Reader Services

While the MHS is not home to a large collection of court records, I recently viewed two items we do hold relating to fornication in 18th-century Massachusetts. These materials concern judicial proceedings that were separated by nearly sixty years, but provide interesting glimpses into the criminalization of sex in colonial Massachusetts. Through further investigation, I learned more about the ways the judicial system addressed sexuality during this period, including the significance of race and gender within the system.


A small collection of Barnstable County (Mass.) legal documents includes one “memorandum of presentments to the Court of General Sessions of the Peace.” This January 1702 document, which bears the signature of foreman Daniel Parker, notes two cases of unlicensed sale of liquor, one case of profaning the Sabbath, and two cases of fornication. The people accused of fornication are Sarah [Backer?] and [Mercy Chase,] both of whom were married at the time; each supposedly engaged in “fornication some time in 1702.”


A Grand Jury presentment, 1 January 1760, located in our Miscellaneous Bound Manuscripts collection, notes an accusation against Ann Frost, a Boston resident who supposedly engaged in fornication on 1 November 1758. The man involved was “to the jurors unknown.” Frost had a child out of wedlock, “against the peace of our said lord the king and the laws in that case provided.” This presentment bears the signature of foreman John Spooner and was created for a Court of General Sessions of the Peace for Suffolk County-ordered grand jury.

In Regulating Passion: Sexuality and Patriarchal Rule in Massachusetts, 1700-1830 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), Kelly A. Ryan (a former Andrew W. Mellon fellow at the MHS) writes that, during the 18th century, white women became the main targets of fornication charges in the Massachusetts judicial system, while punishment of men for fornication dwindled beginning in the mid-17th century as sex outside of marriage came to be seen as a legal issue for women, not men (13-14, 21-23). Additionally, for much of the 17th-century colonial period, “premarital sex” was the main cause of fornication charges; however, in the late 1600s and early 1700s, men increasingly ceased to face judicial consequences for premarital sex (22-23). Also beginning in the late 1600s and extending through the 18th century, “nonmarital sex” became more common among fornication charges against women, as “the court and communities were especially concerned with remedying the problem of disorderly white women” (23-24). These charges were used to justify patriarchal control of white women; however, women accused of fornication did find ways to push back, including by resisting attempts of justices of the peace to elicit names of men involved (13-15, 30-32).

Engagement with the justice system for sex crimes did not look the same for men and women of color as it did for white people, though. According to Ryan, African Americans faced fornication charges in the 17th century, but African Americans and Indians experienced increasingly fewer such prosecutions during the 18th century (74-75, 77). This lack of prosecutions served to uphold white patriarchy by preventing white men from facing consequences for sexual contact with women who were enslaved while denying women of color agency and preventing African American men from being able to seek paternal rights (74, 78, 82). White women faced legal consequences for fornication with African American men, along with social disapproval for sex with Indian men; these actions were intended to enforce the notion that white women should be with white men (78-79, 82). Ultimately, according to Ryan, “[g]overnment prosecutions promoted white men’s sexual authority, partnerships between white women and white men, and the removal of paternal and sexual rights for men and women of color” (82).


Feel free to visit the MHS library if you would be interested in viewing materials in our collections. The library is open Monday through Saturday!


“The pretty little place was burnt to the ground”: The Destruction of Darien, Georgia

By Susan Martin, Collection Services


We feel very badly that you were compelled to take part, through your men, in the destruction of Darien, & fully sympathize in the sentiments you express. I sincerely hope that as Genl Hunter has been relieved, there may be a modification of the policy which caused the perpetration of such a deed, & that you may not be obliged again to participate in anything so repugnant to you.


This excerpt comes from a letter written by Francis G. Shaw to his son Robert Gould Shaw on 23 June 1863, part of the Shaw-Minturn family papers at the MHS. Twelve days earlier, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the African-American regiment Robert commanded, had participated with other troops in a raid on the town of Darien in southeast Georgia.

Unfortunately, our collection doesn’t include Robert’s original letter, but Francis was probably replying to the one Robert wrote to his wife Annie the day after the raid, which she sent on to his parents. Robert’s letter to Annie has been printed in Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune (1992) and other publications.

According to his account, when Union troops arrived at Darien, they found the place all but deserted. James Montgomery, colonel of the 2nd South Carolina Infantry (another black regiment) and post commander, had the furniture, livestock, and other movable property confiscated, then smiled “a sweet smile” at Shaw and said, “I shall burn this town.” Shaw explained:

I told him, “I did not want the responsibility of it,” and he was only too happy to take it all on his shoulders; so the pretty little place was burnt to the ground, and not a shed remains standing; Montgomery firing the last buildings with his own hand. One of my companies assisted in it, because he ordered them out, and I had to obey. You must bear in mind, that not a shot had been fired at us from this place, and that there were evidently very few men left in it. All the inhabitants (principally women and children) had fled on our approach, and were no doubt watching the scene from a distance. […]

The reasons he gave me for destroying Darien were, that the Southerners must be made to feel that this was a real war, and that they were to be swept away by the hand of God, like the Jews of old. In theory it may seem all right to some, but when it comes to being made the instrument of the Lord’s vengeance, I myself don’t like it. Then he says, “We are outlawed, and therefore not bound by the rules of regular warfare”; but that makes it none the less revolting to wreak our vengeance on the innocent and defenceless.


Shaw called it a “dirty piece of business” and “as abominable a job as I ever had a share in.” He hated “to degenerate into a plunderer and robber. […] There was not a deed performed, from beginning to end, which required any pluck or courage.” He also feared the raid would damage the reputation of black soldiers. Montgomery’s actions were “barbarous” and gratuitous, he thought, and made him no better than notorious Confederate raider Raphael Semmes. But disobeying orders would have meant a court-martial. Shaw lamented, “after going through the hard campaigning and hard fighting in Virginia, this makes me very much ashamed of myself.”

Luis F. Emilio, another officer of the 54th, wrote about the Darien raid 28 years later in his history of the regiment. Emilio also described the beauty of the town, as well as the looting and destruction carried out by Union troops. But while Shaw’s account was thoughtful and conflicted, Emilio’s was a little more clinical and didn’t address the ethical questions.

Robert Gould Shaw and many other men of the 54th Regiment were killed during the assault on Fort Wagner just a few weeks after the destruction of Darien. Another letter in the Shaw-Minturn collection, written by Rev. Phillips Brooks, summarizes Shaw’s legacy. Brooks wrote to Robert’s mother on 17 Nov. 1892: “Indeed, he belongs to all of us, & to the country, & to history.”


This Week @ MHS


It’s another busy week here at the Society with a nice selection of public programs happening. Here’s what is coming up;

– Monday 23 October, 12:00PM : Pack your lunch and stop by for a Brown Bag talk with Laura McCoy of Northwestern University. “‘Let it be your resolution to be happy’: Women’s Emotion Work in the Early Republic” explores the everyday realities of expressing and managing emotions as a foundation of daily labors – emotion work – and helps us understand women’s actions and self-perceptions in the early republic. This talk is free and open to the public. 

– Monday, 23 October, 6:00PM : “Advise & Dissent?” is a conversation that examines the role of public history in modern life. This compelling panel discussion is open to the public and registration is required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows). Pre-talk reception takes place at 5:30PM followed by the speaking program at 6:00PM. 

– Tuesday, 24 October, 5:15PM : Join us for the next installment of the Modern American Society and Culture seminar series. Led by Jennifer Way of the University of North Texas, “Allaying Terror: Domesticating Artisan Refugees in South Vietnam, 1956” explores the publication of photographs of North Vietnam refugee artisans in English-language mass print media. They aimed at resettling and domesticating the refugees while diminishing white American middle-class anxieties about the potential spread of communism in South Vietnam, a place Sen. John F. Kennedy pronounced “the cornerstone of the Free World in Southeast Asia.” Commen is provided by Robert Lee of Brown University. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers. THIS EVENT IS CANCELED DUE TO ILLNESS.

– Wednesday, 25 October, 12:00PM : The second Brown Bag talk this week is given by Nancy Siegel of Towson University, and is called “Political Appetites: Revolution, Taste, and Culinary Activism in the Early Republic.” Culinary activists furthered republican values in the revolutionary era as part of a political and cultural ideology. They developed a culinary vocabulary expressed in words and actions such as the refusal to consume politically charged comestibles, like imported tea, and the celebration of a national horticulture. Through these choices, they established a culinary discourse involving food, political culture, and national identity from the Stamp Act to the early republic. This talk is free and open to the public. 

– Wednesday, 25 October, 6:00PM : “Weird and Worrisome” is a special walking tour of Jamaica Plain. All neigborhoods have secrets but some are stranger than others. In this event, participants will stop at sites of anarchist robberies, stuffed elephants, and a nervine asylum and hear tales of trainwrecks and things that lurk beneath the surfact of Jamaica Pond. The tour is hosted in collaboration with the Emerald Necklace Conservancy and Jamaics Plain Historical Society. THIS TOUR IS SOLD OUT!

– Saturday, 28 October, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute, docent-led walk through the public spaces of the Society’s home at 1154 Boylston St. The tour is free and open to the public with no need for reservations for individuals or small groups. 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, Yankees in the West

Gertrude Codman Carter’s Diary, October 1917

By Anna Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services

Today we return to the 1917 diary of Gertrude Codman Carter. You may read the previous entries here:


Introduction | January | February | March | April | May

June | July | August | September


October 1917 is a lean month in Gertrude’s records, possibly because of Gilbert Carter’s return home from his long absence while Gertrude was relocating the family to Ilaro. After a final, hurried day of preparation on October 1st, Gilbert and Wickham — the household servant who had traveled with him — arrive and are greeted in fine style by a “grand gala festival.”

The sketch of her son, pasted over the entry for October 28th, has a faint inscription that seems to indicate that the drawing was made on the day of the visit to the photographer — an inference supported by the fact that John appears to be wearing the same outfit as he wore in the photograph pasted into the September pages of the diary.


* * *

Oct 1.

Paid servants & rushed on with G’s room. Mickey & I moved books, put up curtains, laid down mats.


Oct 2.

Gilbert (and Wickham) arrived.

Grand gala festival.

Mr. Soelyn came up & witnessed my will.


Oct 3.



Sketch of John


Oct 28.

G & I dined with Sir F. & Lady Clarke at the Crane. Festive occasion.


Oct 29.

Tea at the Challums. Laddy drove Mrs Gregg out & me in. 9 the [illegible].

We went to Bleak House.


Oct 30.

4.15 Miss Burton stonework.


Oct 31.

All Hallow’e’en Fete at the MacClaren’s 

Fete in red [illegible.]


* * *

As always, if you are interested in viewing the diary or letters yourself, in our library, or have other questions about the collection please visit the library or contact a member of the library staff for further assistance.


“Mark, Traveler, this humble stone”: Quaint and Curious Epitaphs of Copp’s Hill Burying Ground

By Shelby Wolfe, Reader Services

I find a visit to any of New England’s burying grounds fascinating year-round, but I consider treading among slate gravestones and timeworn monuments in October a quintessential New England experience. The leaves turn and fall, beautifully marking a transition from livelier months to the eventual stillness of winter. It’s a fitting setting to consider the lives and deaths of those memorialized on surrounding grave markers. In Historical Sketch of Copp’s Hill Burying-Ground with Descriptions and Quaint Epitaphs, published in 1909, John Norton provides an overview of Copp’s Hill in Boston and the burying ground’s gravestones. Norton begins with a history of Copp’s Hill, spanning its early days as “the North burying ground” through a time “when the well-to-do of Boston dwelt largely in the North End” to the end of the burying ground’s growth around 1832. The second half of this publication includes photographs and epitaphs of select gravestones and monuments.

Hull Street Entrance, Copps Hill Burying Ground


As I read through this Historical Sketch, I realized I neglect to spend as much time as I should to pause and read headstones as I walk through a graveyard. It’s a shame, because whether you appreciate some blunt wisdom from the grave or simply enjoy an eerie epitaph, these gravestones have you covered. Thankfully, John Norton mitigates my neglect with this compilation of “old epitaphs, many of them, as is usual in old burying-grounds, quaint and curious, some incoherent and ungrammatical.” Reading these lines on paper might not have the same effect as seeing them inscribed on their intended medium, but I found this publication a handy tool for noticing themes and considering intentions of particular inscriptions.

Copps Hill Buyring Ground. (Central Part.)


Norton includes his own commentary on certain epitaphs. He remarks, “Doubtless the oddest and most puzzling is that over the grave of Mrs. Ammey Hunt, who died in 1769. We have no clue to the neighborhood gossip hinted at in these peculiar lines:

A sister of Sarah Lucas lieth here,

Whom I did Love most Dear;

And now her Soul hath took its Flight,

And bid her Spightful Foes good Night.


Norton continues, noting an “even more amusing…tradition connected with the following conventional stanza” on the stone of Mrs. Mary Huntley:

Stop here my friends & cast an eye,

As you are now, so once was I;

As I am now, so you must be,

Prepare for death and follow me.


This reminder is a common theme of Copp’s Hill epitaphs, some phrased more motivationally than others:

Susanna Gray, July 9, 1798,––42.

Stranger as this spot you tread,

And meditate upon the Dead;

Improve the moments as they fly,

For all that lives must shortly die.


Mrs. Mary Harvey, died May 2, 1782, aged 63:

Mark, Traveler, this humble stone

‘Tis death’s kind warning to prepare

Thou too must hasten to the tomb

And mingle with corruption there.


Mrs. Hariot Jacobus, died, May 27, 1812, aged 20:

Stop here my friends as you pass by,

As you are now, so once was I;

As I am now, so you must be,

Therefore prepare to follow me.


Others take a more resigned, if not foreboding, approach:

Mrs. Mary Hughes, d. in 1765, aged 46:

Time, What an empty vapour t’is,

            And days, how swift they flay:

Our life is ever on the Wing,

            And Death is ever nigh.

The Moment when our Lives begin,

            We all begin to die.


Mrs. Sarah Collins, died March 29, 1771, aged 62:

Be ye also Ready for you

Know not the Day nor hour.


Many epitaphs of younger women and children express themes of virtue and youth, imagery of fading flowers:

Miss Mary Fitzgerald, died Sept. 30, 1787, aged 19:

Virtue & youth just in the morning bloom

With the fair Mary finds an early Tomb.


John S. Johnson, died Sept. 9, 1829, aged 6:

See the lovely blooming flower,

Fades and withers in an hour

So our transient comforts fly,

Pleasure only bloom to die.


Others offer a sort of rational wisdom to console mourners:

Mrs. Deborah Blake, d. in 1791, aged 21 years:

Friends as you pass, suppress the falling tear;

You wish her out of heaven to wish her here.


Mrs. Abigail Cogswell, died Jan. 19. 1782, aged 42:

To those who for their loss are griev’d

This Consolation’s given,

They’re from a world of woe reliev’d

We trust they’re now in heaven.


If you have the opportunity, I encourage an autumn visit to Copp’s Hill and other historic New England burying grounds. While you take in the site and scenery, spend some time considering the lives and deaths of the individuals whose graves are marked. Read what they or their loved ones chose to be inscribed on their stones. For inspiration, historical sketches, and legible transcriptions of “ye ancient epitaphs,” as Norton writes, read more about visiting the library to work with Norton’s Historical Sketch of Copp’s Hill Burying-Ground and related material.


This Week @ MHS


It’s a busy week here at the Society with programs galore for your enjoyment! Here is what’s coming in the week ahead:

– Monday, 16 October, 12:00PM : The first Brown Bag talk this week features Hannah Anderson of the University of Pennsylvania and is called “‘Lived Botany’ : Settler Colonialism and Natural History in British North America.” Anderson contends that natural historians in early America frequently benefited from information and plants provided by non-elite colonists who relied upon a form of knowledge that she calls “lived botany.” Using methods inspired by material culture, household production, and more, “lived botany” shaped early American natural history, and facilitated settler colonialism by allowing colonists to adapt to new environments in the Atlantic world. This talk is free and open to the public. 

– Tuesday, 17 October, 5:30PM : The first seminar this week is part of the History of Women and Gender series. “Gender, Sexuality, and the New Labor History” is a panel discussion with Anne G. Balay of Haverford College, Aimee Loiselle of the University of Connecticut, and Traci L. Parker of Umass-Amherst, and moderated by Seth Rockman of Brown University. The “New Labor History” is highly gendered, global, and often situated in spaces that are transitory or obscured. This session will consider the new directions that the path-breaking work of these three scholars indicates. Please note that there are no pre-circulated essays for this session which takes place at Fay House, Radcliffe Institute. To RSVP, e-mail or call 617-646-0579.

– Wednesday, 18 October, 12:00PM : The second Brown Bag talk of the week is about a project by Heather Sanford of Brown University. “Palatable Slavery: Food, Race, and Freedom in the British Atlantic, 1620-1838” uses food in the British Atlantic to understand ideas about the body, race, and freedom. This talk is free and open to the public. 

– Thursday, 19 October, 5:30PM : “Chasing Your Subject: Traveling Biographers, Traveling Subjects,” part of the New England Biography series of seminars, is another panel discussion. This session features a discussion with Paul Fisher of Wellesley College, Charlotte Gordon of Endicott College, and author Sue Quinn, moderated by Civil War biographer Carol Bundy. What do biographers learn when they travel to distant parts and foreign countries in pursuit of their subjects? Is travel a necessary component to writing biography? And what challenges does a traveling subject present to a biographer? Come listen to these biographers talk about their experiences with such questions. To RSVP, e-mail or call 617-646-0579.

– Friday, 20 October, 2:00PM : “Looking West from the East” is a biographical sketch of Chiang Yee, artist, poet, lecturer, and best-selling author best known for his Silent Traveler books. Chiang was also good friends with historian, author, and Boston Athenaeum librarian Walt Whitehil, whose papers are at the MHS. This program offers a unique perspective on America and the immigrant experience as well as a glimpse into the life of the Silent Traveler through one of his closest friendships. Registration is required for this program at no cost. 

– Saturday, 21 October, 9:00AM : K-12 educators are invited “The Material Culture of Death.” In this workshop, participants will use documents and photographs from the Society’s collections to investigate spirit photography, the spiritualist movement, and other fascinating intersections of technology, faith, and grief. Registration is required for this event with a fee of $25.

– Saturday, 21 October, 2:00PM : Join us for a talk with Peter Manseau, author of The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, & the Man Who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost. The stories recounted by Manseau offer a view of our nation’s obsession with the afterlife and our reluctance to choose science over fantasy. This talk is open to the public free of charge, though registration is required. 

Finally, don’t forget to come in and check out our current exhibition! Yankees in the West is open to the public, free of charge. 

Meet Your Archivists!

By Rakashi Chand, Reader Services

October is Archives Month, and to celebrate our wonderful archivists, we would like to introduce them to you! Every day the very talented and skilled archivists of the MHS work tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that theSociety’s collections are safe, properly preserved, well-organized, and accessible for use today and for future generations.

To introduce them to you, we asked our archivists a few fun questions, and here are their answers:


Collection Services:

Katherine H. Griffin, Nora Saltonstall Preservation Librarian

What is your favorite collection or your favorite item in the collection?

Kathy: William Sturgis papers.

Why did you become an Archivist?

Kathy: I was in a “public history” master’s degree program at Northeastern University, thinking I wanted to work in museums, and I had an adjunct professor from the MHS.  We had a tour of the MHS for one of the classes, and I was completely captivated by manuscripts and paper conservation.

Several years later, a position came open at the MHS and Anne Bentley called me and told me to apply, which I did, and Voila!

What is a fun fact about you?

Kathy: I never wanted to live in a city, but now it’s hard to imagine living anywhere else.


Peter Steinberg, Digital Projects Production Specialist 

What is your favorite collection or your favorite item in the collection?

Peter: The Wilder Dwight letter he wrote as he lay dying.

Why did you become an Archivist?

Peter: For the benefits.

What is a fun fact about you?

Peter: I like All Bran.



Reader Services:

Alexandra Bush, Library Assistant

What is your favorite collection or your favorite item in the collection?

Alex: It’s hard to choose a favorite, but one item from our collections that I really love is Christopher P. Cranch’s 1839 journal (part of the Christopher P. Cranch papers). It includes some great cartoons and rough doodles representing Cranch’s interest in the Transcendentalist movement. Perhaps the most noteworthy of these is an early sketch of Cranch’s famous “transparent eyeball” cartoon, which is based on a passage from Emerson’s Nature. (Here’s a link to the digitized version of the journal ->

Why did you become an Archivist?

Alex: I chose to become an archivist because I wanted an outlet for my love of history that allowed me to do my own research as well as help other people who also love history. I’m also really into organizing things!

What is a fun fact about you?

Alex: I’m an aspiring artist and also a dweeb who secretly loves video games.

Favorite archival tool?

Alex: The microspatula!


Brendan Kieran, Library Assistant

What is your favorite collection or your favorite item in the collection?

Brendan: One item I enjoyed working with, and writing about, this year is the volume of Cigar Factory Tobacco Strippers’ Union records, 1899-1904, that is included in the Society’s collection of Boston Central Labor Union (Mass.) records. It was exciting to read about some ways in which women in Boston organized and responded to their working conditions during that period. Eventually, I’d like to look through other items in this collection and learn more about union activities in late 19th– and early 20th-century Boston.

Why did you become an Archivist?

Brendan: I gained my initial exposure to the field as an archives volunteer during my junior year of college. After I graduated, I sought out more opportunities in libraries and archives, and, as I gained more experience, I came to the conclusion that this was what I wanted to do long-term. Now I’m in library school, and I’m definitely happy that I chose this field!

What is a fun fact about you?

Brendan: My go-to fun fact is that I’m an identical twin!


 Erin Weinman, Library Assistant

What is your favorite collection or your favorite item in the collection?

Erin: It is really hard to pick just one item, but I absolutely love our collection of Powder Horns from the American Revolution. The designs on the horns are so interesting to look at and make each one very unique. They always give such a unique perspective on the soldiers who fought during the war. They also show who can and cannot draw, which I think we can all relate to today!

Why did you become an Archivist?

Erin: I absolutely love history, and I was very active in gaining experience in museums and archives growing up. I was introduced to public history in college which put a lot of emphasis on the importance archives had in the field. I knew right away that I wanted to be the person who assisted researchers in gaining access to archival records, create exhibits, and educate future historians. It has been very rewarding to work first-hand with materials and provide reference to such a diverse group of researchers. To me, there is nothing more important than having full access to our historical past!

What is a fun fact about you?

Erin: It is my goal to visit all of the National Parks in our country! I have been slowly making my way through the parks in the North East, but there are over 450 to visit!



Dan Hinchen, Reference Librarian

What is your favorite collection or your favorite item in the collection?

Dan: I can’t say that I have a single favorite. Usually, it is whatever collection/item I am currently working with. Recently, while working on a reference question, I did some digging through a small collection of Smith family papers. Included are some logbooks and account books kept by Capt. William Smith – apparently, the first ship captain to pilot a U. S. ship to Siam (Thailand), in 1818. Inside the volumes are several pencil drawings of various vessels, including a couple that depict the U. S. S. Constitution engaged in battle with the H. M. S. Gurriere, an event that was part of the War of 1812.

Why did you become an Archivist?

Dan: After college I was working a few part-time jobs and not pursuing a career in biology. Library school is something that was suggested by a couple of people near and dear to me, and I liked the sound of working in archives as a profession. Ten years later and here I am!

What is a fun fact about you?

Dan: In the summertime I have a second life, my weekends lived in the kitchen of a small clam shack on Cape Cod. Fry or die!



Now that you have had the chance to meet some of our archivists, come visit the MHS to meet more of our fascinating staff. We welcome questions about the MHS collections as well as the archival profession, and would be happy to tell you more! Email us at or call us with any questions at 617-646-0532. 


Happy Archives Month from all of us at the MHS!


What did an Adams kid do for fun?

By Gwen Fries, Adams Papers

When John Quincy Adams was 59 years old, he wrote a nostalgic letter to his cousin William Cranch in which he pined for their shared childhood. This led me to wonder something—if you were an Adams kid, what did you do for fun?


John Adams’s absence from his family during this period provides a rich correspondence with their mother, Abigail, throughout which she describes the health and development of their “Little folks.” From Abigail’s letters, the children’s later reminiscences, and their skills evident as teenagers and adults, we can glean that Nabby, John Quincy, Charles, and Thomas passed most of their time with some combination of reading, shooting, chess, playing the flute, ice skating, keeping doves, and dancing.

When she wasn’t needed for household chores, Nabby could be found reading, playing cards, and gossiping with her cousins about their crushes. It is also probable that she accompanied her younger brothers when they went fishing, as she later describes fishing with John and Abigail while in England, or when they went on long walks, as her father believed in fresh air and exercise for young girls. Along the way, Nabby also must have become proficient in chess, as in 1786 her husband admitted to losing a game of chess to her. 

Like their elder sister, John Quincy and Charles loved to read. When John wrote home from Philadelphia and asked the children what presents they would like him to send home, Abigail replied, “I call[ed] them seperately and told them Pappa wanted to send them something and requested of them what they would have. A Book was the answer of them all only Tom wanted a picture Book and Charlss the History of king and Queen. It was natural for them to think of a Book as that is the only present Pappa has been used to make them.” As they grew older, John Quincy and Charles went for long walks and swims together, went shooting and ice skating, and took flute and dancing lessons.

Thomas, the youngest, enjoyed many of the same amusements of his older siblings, as evidenced by the necessity of abstaining from ice skating when he sustained a broken ankle. The “innocently playful” Thomas had an especially soft spot for animals. His aunt reported to Abigail, “Tom, a Rogue loves his Birds and his Doves, makes bad Lattin and says as he grows older he shall grow wiser.” When Thomas returned to live with Abigail, his aunt continued to send him reports of the animals. At fourteen, Thomas still appeared enamored with his pets, though John Quincy steered him towards more serious matters. His aunt wrote, “Thomas is A fine Lad, and does not run so often to look of his Doves in studying Hours, since Mr Adams has been here.”

Though it appears inconceivable to have a normal childhood when the enemy army is a few miles up the road, ten-year-old John Quincy confessed to his father that his thoughts were “running after birds eggs play & trifles,” and five-year-old Thomas couldn’t wait until his father returned home so that they could get back to playing “jail.” It seems that even when the world is turning upside down and countries are being crafted, a kid is still a kid. Even an Adams kid.

This Week @ MHS


We start this week with a holiday but then begin rolling through programs for the rest of the month. Here is what the coming week holds:

– Monday, 9 October, 10:00AM-3:00PM :  MHS Open House. Visit the MHS and view Yankees in the West, an exhibition of letters, diaries, photographs, drawings, and artifacts that explores the ways New Englanders experienced the trans-Mississippi west in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Free and open to the public, the open house is part of the Opening Our Doors celebration in the Fenway Cultural District.

The Library is CLOSED on Monday, 9 October. Normal hours resume on Tuesday, 10 October.

– Tuesday, 10 October, 5:15PM : Come on in for an Environmental History Seminar with James Rice of Tufts University, and commentor Christopher Parsons of Northeastern University. “Early American Environmental Histories” speaks to questions raised in a recent workshop at the Huntington on early American environmental history. How do timespan and scale change our understanding of historical relationships between people and their environments? What new light does environmental history shed on topics such as race, gender, or law? What can early Americanists contribute to the field of environmental history as a whole? Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers. To RSVP, click the link or call 617-646-0579.

– Thursday, 12 October, 6:00PM : Steam Titans: Cunard, Collins and the Epic Battle for Commerce on the North Atlantic is the title of a recent work by William M. Fowler, Jr., of Northeastern University, as well as this author talk with Mr. Fowler. Steam Titans tells the story of a transatlantic fight to seize control of the globe’s most lucrative trade route. Two men—Samuel Cunard and Edward Knight Collins—and two nations wielded the tools of technology, finance, and politics to compete for control of a commercial lifeline that spanned the North Atlantic. This talk is open to the public and registration is required with a fee of $20 (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows). Reception begins at 5:30PM, followed by the speaking program at 6:00PM. 

– Friday, 13 October, 12:00PM : Pack up a lunch and come by at noon for a Brown Bag talk with Caylin Carbonell of the College of William and Mary. “Women and Household Authority in Colonial New England” interrogates women’s vertical and horizontal relationships with other members of their household, as well as their involvement in the daily operation of their homes, to show colonial households as contested spaces wherein authority was negotiated rather than assumed. This talk is free and open to the public. 

– Saturday, 14 October, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society Tour is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, 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: Yankees in the West.