“Do you Think to Stand Four Regiments?”: Conflict & Authority in the Streets of Occupied Boston

by Nicole Breault, University of Connecticut, Louis Leonard Tucker Alumni short-term research fellow at the MHS

“God damn you, do you know who you hail damn you, you have no right to hail an officer!”[1]

In November of 1768, Edward Ireland, a constable of Boston’s night watch, heard this phrase many times. Perhaps too many times. It had been only a month since the King’s regiments sailed into the harbor, disembarked, and paraded 1200 soldiers down Long Wharf and up King Street. Almost overnight, Boston had become a garrisoned town. Royal authority stationed a military presence to remedy the political and economic unrest in Boston over recent imperial policies. The newly arrived officers viewed their authority as superior and understood local officers such as the watch to have no power to question their movements or actions. Contests over who had authority in occupied Boston ensued.

Each night of the year the nightly watch acted as the apparatus of local government as the town slept. Beginning at 9:00 PM in the winter and 10:00 PM in the summer, they walked their assigned routes until daylight. Nightly watches observed and listened, watching for signs of fire, distress, and disorder. Part of a larger peace-keeping network of justices of the peace and day constables, watchmen were not endowed with powers of arrest but used their discretion to aid individuals in need and detained those violating the law or social norms. At the end of each month, the watch constable of each unit submitted a report to the town selectmen.

In November 1768, three constables of the watch filed monthly reports and formal complaints with the town selectmen charging that officers of the regiments used strong language and threats of violence to challenge watch authority. John Martin of the South End watch reported that one of his watchmen was “asolted,” struck by an officer of one the regiments for inquiring who was walking at night.[2] Benjamin Burdick of the Townhouse watch filed a complaint regarding the threats officers made against their watch unit. Edward Ireland of the Dock Square watch listed five separate incidents, two in his complaint and four in his monthly report. The complaint written by Ireland is located here in the MHS collection. One of many encounters he reported that month, Ireland described an incident outside of the door of his watch house as such:

the officer swearing and cursing to us we had no business to hail an officer and said do you think to stand four regiments, god dam you? We have four regiments here and we will burn you all to ashes in a moments time, we will send you all to hell and damnation in a minute and drew his bayonet and stabbed it against the door and said god dam you come out here. what do you think to do with us, times is not now as they have been.[3]

Edward Ireland Reports of the Dock Square watch, Boston
Reports of the Dock Square watch, Boston, Mass., 1768-1774

By filing a formal complaint, Ireland not only sought redress but also asserted the legitimacy of his authority and that of existing governing structures. The narrative in Ireland’s complaint paints a vivid picture of the tension that existed at street level and of the threat that occupation posed to the watchmen’s jurisdiction. Setting a watch in mid-18th-century Boston hinged on discretion and rigor and times of political crisis challenged the watchmen’s ability to govern the diverse needs of the town at night. Violent encounters such as this one brought the night watch into contact with agents of empire, making them visible players in a wider political conflict. The officer of the regiment was correct about one thing: for the night watch, times were certainly “not now as they have been.”

[1] Edward Ireland Return: November 1768, MS Bos. 11, Box 13, Boston Town Records, BPL.

[2] John Martin Return: November 1768, MS Bos. 11, Box 13, Boston Town Records, Loose Papers, BPL.

[3] Reports of the Dock Square watch, Boston, Mass., 1768-1774. Ms. S-858, MHS, Boston, MA.

Archivist as Detective: At Sea on the Paulina

by Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

As a processing archivist here at the MHS, I enjoy the opportunity to play detective, to research a newly acquired but unattributed manuscript and try to identify its author. I’ve described some of these “investigations” in previous blog posts: Benjamin Smith, Louisa Appleton, and one of my favorites, Eliza Cheever Davis.

These discoveries are very rewarding. Of course it’s satisfying to solve a mystery, but I also appreciate the chance to uncover some of the fascinating men and women who have been lost to us over time and to ensure they’re part of the historical record.

My mission this time was to identify the author of a journal acquired by the MHS earlier this year. The thin, paper-bound volume, a kind of ship’s log kept from 1847 to 1848, describes a round-trip journey between Boston and Rio de Janeiro on the bark Paulina. Only 34 pages long, the journal includes a lot of detail—not only navigation information, such as latitude, longitude, wind direction, course, etc., but also descriptive entries and some beautiful drawings in the margins.

Journal showing entries from 7-13 October 1847
Page 2, showing entries from 7-13 October 1847

The journal didn’t come to us as part of a family collection, so I didn’t have the help of context to narrow my search. All I could determine at first was that our author was most likely male, apparently young, and since he wrote about the ship’s captain, mate, and steward…well, he wasn’t one of them. A search for information on the Paulina came up dry, so I went back to the text for clues.

A close reading turned up a few entries containing the letters W.S.C. First this one: “This P.M. painted Fanny’s trunk W.S.C. instead of her initials.” Then two annotations about halfway through the volume, in the same hand but apparently written at later date, followed by “W.S.C.” A map of the Paulina’s route was also signed this way.

Curtis journal with map of the Paulina's route
Page 33, with attribution enlarged

These letters were almost certainly the initials of our author. I was getting closer. If nothing else, I could at least include “W.S.C.” in my catalog record for the journal and hope that some intrepid researcher would someday make the identification for us. But I wasn’t giving up yet.

I stumbled on a few other tantalizing details in the text. Someone named Greely saw the ship off when it sailed—a brother or friend, maybe? Fanny, as mentioned above, had been the previous owner of the trunk our young man now used. There was also a reference to a brother Jim.

The author did leave me one very specific biographical tidbit on 15 February 1848: “Birthday – The last of my Teens.” So he was 19 years old, born on 15 February 1829. How to find someone with just their initials, birth date, and a few first names of friends or siblings?

Finally, the coup de grace. When the Paulina returned to Massachusetts, our author wrote, “Mailed letter home – first thing I saw on going ashore was an old paper of Feb 25 saying the T. B. Curtis house 45 Mt Vernon St had caught fire but was ext[inguishe]d with little difficulty.” Could this have been his home? Did the “C” stand for “Curtis”?

A quick online search for “Curtis Boston 1829” (our author’s birth year) didn’t lead me to a genealogical website, as I’d expected, but straight to the guide for one of our very own collections, the Curtis-Stevenson family papers. Listed in the biographical sketches is none other than William Stevenson Curtis, born in 1829!

The other data points lined up. William was the son of James Freeman Curtis and his wife Isabella Pelham (Stevenson) Curtis. William’s seven siblings included brothers James and Greely and a sister Frances, or Fanny. The home on Mount Vernon Street that had caught fire belonged to William’s uncle, Thomas Buckminster Curtis.

All I had to do was head one floor up and check the Curtis-Stevenson family papers to confirm my attribution once and for all and to look for any additional items related to William. I found an amazing family history, written by his sister Isabella. She not only included descriptions of relatives and family anecdotes, but illustrated her volume with photographs, letters, you name it. It was here I got my first glimpse of William Stevenson Curtis, in this small tintype.

Tintype of William Stevenson Curtis
Tintype of William Stevenson Curtis, unknown date

Isabella filled in the last few details of William’s story. Willie (as she called him) served as the Paulina’s supercargo, an agent of the ship’s owner responsible for overseeing the loading, unloading, buying, and selling of cargo. An impressive position for someone so young.

Sadly, I learned that William died in May 1849 at the age of 20. He was on another voyage when he died of what Isabella called a “wasting fever” and was buried at sea. His uncle Charles Pelham Curtis wrote to a friend that he had never seen “a more loveable person” and called William’s death a “bolt [that] had been shot” and “a sharp wound” to the family.

Isabella wrote this loving tribute to her brother almost 50 years after his death:

He was the beloved of all, so gentle & just, so helpful and self-sacrificing. He was never robust, having a severe illness in childhood, which left him delicate. This want of health, with its consequent limitations, he bore in the most patient, cheerful way. His young life was made up of acts of thoughtful care for others, and of a most tender devotion to his Mother. “Brother Ibid,” his little sister Mary called him, because he is always the same.

For the catalog record of the William Stevenson Curtis journal, click here.

This Week @MHS

Here’s a look at the programs we have planned for this week:

On Wednesday, 17 July, at 12:00 PM: Class Conflict, Political Violence, & Coerced Oath-Taking In 1760s New England with Kevin Murphy, SUNY Stony Brook. Colonial society generally considered sworn promises binding in any circumstance, even if made under duress. This lecture describes the ethical and social values which underwrote this assumption and how they were weaponized during the Imperial Crisis to transfer power from loyalist elites to the patriot “crowd.” This is part of our brown-bag lunch programBrown-bags are free and open to the public. 

On Thursday, 18 July, at 6:00 PM: Boston Historical Reception with Anita Walker, Mass Cultural Council. There is no “Boston Historical Society,” but the metro area does have a wealth of history organizations. Boston and surrounding towns are steeped in local history and the inhabitants are proud of their local identity. The MHS is pleased to hold the fifth annual reception for history buffs and representatives of local organizations to mingle, share recent accomplishments, and talk about the great projects on which they are working. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30 PM; the program begins at 6:00 PM.

On Friday, 19 July, from 9:30 AM to 3:30 PM: National History Day in Massachusetts workshop. Join us for an introductory workshop that will provide you with tools and strategies for implementing the National History Day curriculum in your classroom. This program is funded in part by Mass Humanities, which receives support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. With generous support from Mass Humanities, we will be offering educators a $150 stipend and 22.5 PDPs upon completion of this workshop. The workshop will take place at the Hyde Park Branch of the Boston Public Library. It is open to grade 6 to 12 educators (priority given to BPS teachers).

On Friday, 19 July, at 2:00 PM: Abigail Adams: Independence & Ideals, pop-up display and talk. Join an Adams Papers editor for an in-depth look at the display. Never “an uninterested Spectator” when it came to the American political landscape, Abigail Adams leveraged a wide network of correspondents to discuss her vision of the emerging nation. The display will be on view through 21 September.

On Saturday, 20 July at 10:00 AMThe History & Collections of the MHS. This is a 90-minute docent-led walk through of our public rooms. The tour is free and open to the public. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or abentley@masshist.org.

“Can She Do It?”: Massachusetts Debates a Woman’s Right to Vote is open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and Tuesday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM. Featuring dynamic imagery from the collection of the MHS, the exhibition illustrates the passion on each side of the suffrage question. For over a century, Americans debated whether women should vote. The materials on display demonstrate the arguments made by suffragists and their opponents. While women at the polls may seem unremarkable today, these contentious campaigns formed the foundations for modern debates about gender and politics.

Take a look at our calendar page for information about upcoming programs.

New series at the MHS will explore the history of public and affordable housing in Boston

by Gavin W. Kleespies, Director of Programs, Exhibitions and Community Partnerships, and Sarah Bertulli, Public Programs Coordinator

This fall, the MHS will offer a series of programs that explore the complex history of public and affordable housing in Boston. These programs will bring together scholars, tenants, and administrators to examine Boston’s housing story and connect the public with lesser known histories of grassroots neighborhood renewal; community stewardship; and cooperation between residents, government, and private entities.

The planning process for this new series has been educational. We have been working with a project scholar, Lawrence Vale from MIT, and an advisory group that includes representatives from The Joint Center for Housing Studies, Harvard Graduate School of Design, Dudley Square Neighborhood Initiative, the National Public Housing Museum, Fenway CDC, and Everyday Boston, among others, to develop the programs.

Boston has been home to a series of innovative approaches to public and affordable housing, even while dealing with a range of challenges such as segregation, white flight, urban renewal, and gentrification. Perhaps the lowest point in Boston’s housing history was in 1979. This is when the Boston Housing Authority’s 62 public housing sites were placed in receivership after the agency was sued by tenants who described inhumane conditions and racial discrimination. Beyond being a painful moment in Boston’s history, it is also the story that highlighted housing inadequacies in the city and spurred innovations to give communities’ control. New community organizations and a reorganized Boston Housing Authority have been important in metro Boston’s recovery from the challenges it faced in the 1970s and 1980s. The series will revisit the history along with the stories of community empowerment and successful government intervention that are often left out of the narrative.

The first three programs will focus on six housing developments that have varied and rich histories: Columbia Point and Commonwealth housing projects, Villa Victoria and Fenway CDC, Dudley Square Neighborhood Initiative and Orchard Park housing project. These particular projects were chosen with the help of our advisory group. Residents will be invited to participate as panelists. As well, we plan to conduct a series of interviews to start off each program with voices from the neighborhood. In addition to populating the panels, we are working with partner organizations to identify branch libraries or community centers that may be appropriate sites for these discussions.

The final panel in the series will explore the outlook for Boston housing and impart takeaways from the city’s past successes and missteps. It will synthesize what we have learned and bring the discussion to the present state of housing in the area. While greater Boston is facing soaring real estate prices today, it is important to understand the times when this would have seemed impossible. We will explore how an area with a rapidly declining population and a scourge of vacant property has changed to one that is now challenged by the social disruption of gentrification.

Mark your calendar for the Housing as History: The Story of Public and Affordable Housing in Boston series! Programs will take place on 2 October.  16 October, 13 November, and 20 November. Registration will open in mid-August.

This Week @MHS

Join us for a program at the MHS this week! Here is a look at what is planned:

On Tuesday, 9 July, at 6:00 PM: The Legacy of the China Trade in Massachusetts: Art, Artifacts, & Manuscripts in Local Collections with Layla Bermeo, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Karina Corrigan, Peabody Essex Museum, and Peter Drummey, MHS. Paintings, documents, decorative arts, and objects can weave together a more complete story of early America’s relationship with China in the 18th and 19th centuries. The intersections found in prominent collecting institutions in Massachusetts will be the subject of this discussion, which will feature highlights from the holdings of the MHS, MFA, and Peabody Essex Museum, and will describe the journey of these important objects and manuscripts from private hands to public collections. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30 PM; the speaking program begins at 6:00 PM. There is a $10 per person fee (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members or EBT cardholders).

On Thursday, 11 July and Friday, 12 July, from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM: Education: Equality & Access workshop. This program will investigate the history of education access in Massachusetts and the United States, with a particular focus on access to education for African American students. Participants will learn more about Massachusetts residents who influenced national education policies, Massachusetts court cases that changed the course of national education policy, and the legacy of segregation and desegregation practices that impact Massachusetts schools to this day. The workshop is open to all K-12 educators. Teachers can earn 45 Professional Development Points and 2 graduate credits (for an additional fee). There is a $40 per person registration fee.

On Saturday, 13 July, from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM: Transcribe-a-thon. Help the MHS celebrate John Quincy Adams’s birthday by joining our annual transcribe-a-thon. Immerse yourself in JQA’s diary and help the Adams Papers Editorial Project make more of his 15,000-page diary available online. Lunch and light refreshments will be provided. Registration is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Gwen Fries at gfries@masshist.org or 617-646-0556.

“Can She Do It?”: Massachusetts Debates a Woman’s Right to Vote is open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and Tuesday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM. Featuring dynamic imagery from the collection of the MHS, the exhibition illustrates the passion on each side of the suffrage question. For over a century, Americans debated whether women should vote. The materials on display demonstrate the arguments made by suffragists and their opponents. While women at the polls may seem unremarkable today, these contentious campaigns formed the foundations for modern debates about gender and politics.

Take a look at our calendar page for information about upcoming programs.

George Hyland’s Diary, July 1919

By Anna Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services

Today, we return to the diary of George Hyland. If this is your first time encountering our 2019 diary series, catch up by reading the January, February, March, April, May, and June 1919 installments first!

Nantasket beach
Image from Tourists Guide to Down the Harbor, Hull and Nantasket, Hingham… (1901).

July 1st, 1919 marked the beginning of Prohibition in the United States. “Last night was celebrated in Boston by drinking plenty of whiskey, rum, and other liquors,” George wrote, going on to describe an episode of domestic violence in Worcester that ended in a murder-suicide. The eighteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution — which banned the production, transport, and sale of “intoxicating liquors” — would remain in effect until repealed in 1933. George’s labors continue through the heat of July and he spends his days mowing, weeding, pruning, picking fruit to sell, and other tasks.  On the 4th he goes to hear military bands perform at Egypt Beach in Scituate; on the 12th he travels by train and steamer into Boston to pay a visit to the bank. Charmingly, he writes that “last time I was in Boston (May 6) some sparrows were near the Pier Rowe’s Wharf trying to find something to eat — I gave them a few crumbs of bread. Today I bought a loaf at the […] store and when I arr. at the pier I untied the package and cut off some bread and put it where the birds could find it.” He continues to play almost daily on the guitar.

Enjoy another month with George as we continue our journey through 1919.

* * *

PAGE 335 (cont’d)

July 1. Worked 5 hours for Mrs. Caroline Litchfield mowing and trimming grass on her place – 1.25. Walked up there — rode (ret.) 2 miles with Ellery Hyland in auto. Had dinner and supper at E. Jane Litchfield’s. Hot weather tem. About 66-87. W.N.W. The sale or making of whiskey, rum, or any liquor is forbidden in this country beginning to-day. Last night was celebrated in Boston by drinking plenty of whiskey, rum, and other liquors. 412 persons arrested in Boston for drunkenness — 30 of whom were women. Fighting, murders and other crimes. This was the same in other places in this whole country. One man in Worcester, Mass. pounded one of his children — a girl — broke her jaw, knocked out her teeth, also abused his other small children, then killed his wife, then k[illed] himself. Murders in other places.

2d. Mowed in a lane and around his house — 5 hours for Charles Bailey (brother of Mrs. Emma Sargent) — 1.50. Also mowed Mrs. Eudora Bailey’s lawn and trimmed around the house – 1 1/4 hours — […] Also picked about 15 boxes of currants at home (James place) sold one box to Mrs. M. G. Seaverns, and 1 to Mrs. Ethel Torrey. Warm weather, muggy, W.M.W. and N.E. tem. 66-86. Played on the guitar 1 hour in eve.

3d. Worked 5 hours for E. Jane Litchfield — 1.25. Had dinner there. Mowed grass, hoed garden, and cleaned out the large closet. Walked up there — ret. rode ¾ mile with Everett Marcus in auto. In eve sold 12 boxes of currants to J. H. Vinal — keeps store and market. Very hot weather tem. 85-102 in shade. Clear. W.N.W.

4th. Staid [sic] at home. Weeded my carrots, parships, and other plants. Also picked 10 boxes of currants — sold 2 boxes to some people in large auto. Very hot weather tem. 85-102 in shade. In eve went to a great celebration at Thomas W. Lawson’s place, Egypt. Had 2 large military bands — from Brockton. Milo Burke’s band divided and enlarged one band (about 35) playing (in a concert) and one band playing in a very large Hall — for dancing (about 35 players) Milo Burke dir. of the band in the hall. Had cel. all day. Welcome to the 162 soldiers and sailors ret. from the Great War. 10 lost in the war. About 10 w[ounded]. Motion pictures in eve. Saw several men whom I knew — were there the same year that I worked there. The first person I saw when I arr. there were T.W. Lawson, his daughter Jean, and Capt. Burgess A. Edwards […] late of Battery B. 302d field artillery — in the Great War (married Miss Jean C. Lawson) and Gov. Samuel W. McCall (War Gov.) They all got into an automobile and rode to Mr. Lawson’s house — 1 mile from the Egypt end of the place. In eve., the 13th Mass. State Guard band played on the lawn — […] Academy, and the 14th Rgmt. M.S.G. played in the dance Hall. B. Milo Burke, Director.

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July 5th. Worked 1 hour for J. H. Vinal getting good from freight car and piling them in store — 25. Picked 3 boxes of currants. Sold J. H. Merritt 8 boxes, 96, J. H. Vinal 2, Mrs. Torrey 1 — total 132. Also worked in my garden. Very hot weather — tem. 87-103 in shade. I never saw the mercury in the glass at 103 (102 highest I ever saw it until this aft. W.W. tem. 100 to 102 nearly all aft. 103 for about 20 min).

6th. Sun. Thunderstorm N. of […] between 4 and 5 A.M. W.N.E. with rain. Another one (short) about 11 A.M. and for a few min about 8 P.M. rain in eve. tem. To-day about 72. This place is close to the State Road and automobiles are passing here all the time. 7 or 8 a min. 40 passed here in 5 min this forenoon.

7th. Dusted rugs 3 hours for Mrs. […] Ellis Bullard — 90. Mowed grass 2 hours for Mrs. Ethel Torrey — 60. Picked 1 box of currants (sold to Mrs. Torrey) worked in my garden 3/4 hour in eve. Played on the guitar 1 1/4 hours. Clear. Cool W.N.E., par. clou. late in eve. tem. To-day about 62-77.

8th. In forenoon mowed the grass in field — in aft. weeded and […] strawberry plants — 6 1/2 hours in all — for Peter W. Sharpe — 1.50. Had dinner there. Fine weather — W.N.E. Very cool. eve. cold. tem. 52. Played on the guitar 2 hours in eve. hoed in my garden 1 hour. late in aft.

9th. Weeded strawberry plants 6 1/2 hours for P.W. Sharpe — 1.50. Had dinner there with Franklin. Warm weather tem. about 60-82. W.S.W. Early in eve. Mrs. Sarah Brown X called here (15 min.) to see if I had any currants to sell. I showed her all my flower gardens. Charles Bailey called here a few min. in eve. eve. par. clou. Played on the guitar 1 1/4  hours in eve. X nee Sarah Bailey.

10th. In forenoon mowed lawn 2 hours for Mason Litchfield — 60. Very damp. W.S.W. Windy. Thunderstorm N. of here — rain here about 10:15 to 11 A.M. Rain at times all aft. Cold. Very damp wind in eve. Eve. cloudy.

11th. In forenoon picked 5 boxes of currants and 1/2 box of raspberries — sold them to Mrs. Albert (Burt) Wilder — 15cts a box for the currants, 10cts for the raspberries. Mrs. (nee Minnie Bates of N. Abington) there — have not seen her before for about 38 years. In aft. Transplanted some tobacco plants — also mowed the grass — with lawn mower, and dug out the walk. Mrs. Agnew stopped here a few min. early in eve. Fine weather to-day. Received a letter this eve. From Spokane, Wash. eve. very cool. Clear.

12th. Went to Boston (9:12 tr. A.M.) tr. to Nantasket Junc., than tr. to Pemberton, the Steamer (Nantasket) to Boston, ret. steamer (“Old Colony”) to Nantasket  Beach via Pemberton and […] Point. then Elec. car to Hingham, then tr. (5 P.M.) to N. Scituate. Went to State St. Trust […] Bank (33 State St.) and paid $15.00 on the Victory Bond (5th) I bought May 6. Stopped at Nantasket Beach, 1 hour. Band concert at the Hotel Nantasket, by Carter’s Band of Boston.

Cornet soloist. He had just played a fine cornet solo, and then the band an intermission — I was on the way to R.R. Sta. when I saw Mrs. (nee Mrs. Eva M. Thayer — in an automobile. He came there and she introduced me to her husband — the cornet soloist.

Shortly after leaving Boston on the Stm. we saw a seaplane very near — it rose from the water and flew away towards the East. The last time I was in Boston (May 6) some sparrows were near the Pier Rowe’s Wharf trying to find something to eat — I gave them a few crumbs of bread. Today I bought a loaf at the […] store and when I arr.

PAGE 337

at the pier I untied the package and cut off some bread and put it where the birds could find it. One sparrow was there. par. clou. Today. W.S.W. very warm in aft. eve. par. clou. 5:20 P.M. to 6:20 P.M. worked (1 hour) for Mrs. M.G. Seavern — 35. Played on the guitar 1 1/4 hours in eve.

13th. (Sun.) In aft. went up to Uncle Samuel’s — little Sarah there — have not seen her since Nov. 2, 1918. I gave her some choc. candy (3cts). Picked some cherries for Sarah and Hester Tich, Irene and Ellen. Sarah and I went to my place and stayed a few min. We got some plants in my garden. Walked to Uncle Samuel’s — ret. rode 1 1/4 miles with Albert E. Brown and Mrs. B. fine weather. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s and carried it to my home at N. Scituate.

14th. Worked 5 hours for  177. George […] — digging out the well — making it deeper. Had dinner at Uncle Samuel’s. Warm weather — tem. About 60-88. W.N.N.E. walked up there ret. rode 2 miles with Aaron Bates. Worked in my garden 2 hours late in aft. Sold some brass, iron, and rope to Mrs. Benson this […] A.M. 12. Andrew Bates bought the grass on my place — 1.00. Paid the rent for July — for James place late in aft. 8.00 Played on the guitar 1 hour in eve.

15th. Worked 6 1/2 hours for George Crosby helping to dig an old well deeper. 2.30. Walked up there — ret. — rode 2 miles with Galen Watson. He came here in his automobile — I showed him around the place and in the house — I gave him some lettuce — from my garden. Worked in my garden 1 hour late in aft. Carried my dinner to-day ate it at Uncle Samuel’s. Sarah gave me some peas. I gave her a bannana [sic] and nearly a pint of raspberries. Picked them in my garden this A.M. fair to par. cloudy to-day W.SW. muggy. Began to rain about 8 P.M. Very light rain. Played on the guitar 1 hour in eve. Rain at times dur. night.

16th. Light rain all day W.S. muggy. Worked between showers in my gardens (flower and vegetable garden) eve cloudy. warm. Played on the guitar 1 hour in eve.

17th. Mowed, raked and piled up grass 5 hours for E. Jane Litchfield — 1.25. Had dinner and supper there. Walked up and back. Carried a bannana for Sarah. Cloudy. Warm. Waldo Litchfield gave me 21 cabbage plants and turnip seeds. Transplanted them early in eve. Also got an Oxide [sic] Daisy plant from my garden and transplanted it here. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s — Ethel got it for me. Played on the guitar 1 h. 10 min in eve.

18th. Worked 7 hours for George Crosby– 2.50. George Jenkins also worked there. Carried my dinner — ate it at Uncle Samuel’s — carried a bannana for Sarah. Walked up and back. Warm and muggy. clear to par. clou. W.S.W. Met Norma M. — she asked me when I am coming to hoe their garden. Worked in my garden 1 hour early in eve. Played on the guitar 1 hour in eve. Rain about 8 P.M. rain all night. Warm. Muggy.

19th. Warm and muggy. Rain until 9 A.M. mended some of my clothes in the morning. 10:37 A.M. Started for Mr. Crosby’s. Cloudy, but clearing went to Uncle Samuel’s. Had dinner there — carried it — also had some of their dinner. Carried nearly a pint of raspberries and a bannana for Sarah. In aft. Worked (5 hours) for Mr. Crosby on flower gardens and hedge. 1.75. Warm and muggy W.S.W. tem. 70-86. Walked up there — ret. rode 1 1/4 miles with Ellen A. Briggs and Olive and family in auto. Played on the guitar 1 hour in eve. Mrs. Eudora Bailey gave me 3 magazines to-night.

PAGE 338

July 20. (Sun.) Cloudy to par. Clou. Muggy, damp. 10 P.M. clear. Automobiles are passing here nearly all the time day and night. I counted the number that passed here dur. 5 min. Several times to-day — 6:05 P.M. to 6:06 (P.M.) 1 min. — 20 autos passed here — in 5 min — 6:05 to 10:05 P.M. 52 passed here. David Whitier sent me a N.Y. Sun “Times” of July 6, and a N.Y. Sun “Herald” of July 13. dur. past week — he lives in Groton ([…] New London, Conn).

21st. Worked 6 1/2 hours for Geo. Crosby. 2.29. Rode up there with him — walked back. Geo. Jenkins also worked there. Laurence Litchfield worked there in aft. Hot weather — tem. 73-88. W.S.W. par. clou. muggy. Put a charge of dynamite in a hole in bottom of well about 5.20 P.M. carried my dinner — at it at Uncle Samuel’s gave Sarah a bannana and some cheese. Played on the guitar 1 hour late in eve.

22nd. Worked 6 1/2 hours for Mr. Crosby — 2.17. Walked up there — ret. rode 1/2 mile with Harry Bates, then 1 1/4 miles with Mrs. Fletcher X in their new automobile. Light rain at times W.S.W. tem. about 75-85. Carried my dinner — ate it at Uncle Samuel’s gave Sarah a bannana and some raspberries. George Jenkins put a heavy charge of dynamite in the bottom of the well about 5:30 P.M. Mrs. Hall there late in aft. Came in her auto. Eve. warm. clou. W.S. Played on the guitar 1 1/4 hours in eve. Rain late in night.

X Mrs. asked me if I played on the guitar now.

23d. Went up to Uncle Samuel’s had dinner there. Spent day there. Played games with Sarah rode 2 miles with George Bailey Jr. very heavy rain early A.M. rain until about 2:30 P.M. nearly clear in late aft. Rode home with Fred J. Bailey — in auto. After 7 P.M. worked 1/2 hour for Mrs. Bullard — moving furniture and dusting a sofa — 25. Mrs. B. gave me a box of […] cake. She came here just as I arr. home. Mr. Bullard helped move the furniture. Very muggy and warm to-day tem. About 72-82. Eve […] W.S. Played on the guitar 1 1/4 hours in eve.

24th. Worked 7 ½ hours for George Crosby — 2.65. Finished digging out the well and began to wall it up. I also worked about 1 1/2 hours in flower garden. Walked there and back. Carried my dinner — ate it at Uncle Samuel’s. Gave Sarah 2 bananas. Hot weather W.W. tem. 75-90. Early in eve called at Mrs. Torrey’s to see their garden. The heavy rain broke down some of their corn. I fixed it up she gave me 2 cucumbers. Fine eve. Clear W.N.W. Played on the guitar 1 hour late in eve.

25th. Worked 7 hours for Joseph W. Morris — weeding and hoeing garden and mowing large Burdock plants — 2.10. Warm weather — W.W. tem. about 65-80. Clear. Played on the guitar 1 hour in eve.

26th. In forenoon mowed lawn and bank and around the house 2 1/2 hours for Mason Litchfield — 60. In aft. Mowed lawn and bank 2 1/2 hours for Mrs. Eudora Bailey. Par. cloudy to cloudy in aft. Light rain at times in aft. Late in aft. some lightning and rain. Played on the guitar 1 1/4 hours in eve. 10:45 P.M. clear.

27th. (Sun.) Hot weather, W.W. tem. 72-90.

28th. Worked 7 1/4 hours for George Crosby — pumped water out of the well 1 hour then worked on the flower gardens and wheeled stones to wall up the well (30 ft. deep — 10 ft. of water in it this A.M.) — 2.55. George Jenkins is building the wall in the well. Prob. shall not work there any more. Walked up there — ret. rode 1 mile with G. Crosby and family and George Jenkins — to Cohasset […] then walked home. Carried

PAGE 339

my dinner — ate it at Uncle Samuel’s. Had some peas there. Gave Sarah 20cts. She gave me some apples. In eve. got some water at Mr. Speare’s well. He gave me 2 shirts. Mar. Sp. and Norma M. there. In eve played on the guitar 1 1/4 hours. Mason Litchfield and […] Litchfield here 1/2 hour. Hot weather to-day — tem. 78-98; W.W. fine eve.

29th. Worked 6 hours for Mrs. M.G. Seaverns — moving and cutting up boxes and housing the wood — 1.50. Very fine weather, clear; W.N.W. tem. about 66-82. Played on the guitar 1 hour late in eve. Fine eve.

30th. In forenoon worked 3 hours for Mrs. M.G. Seaverns — 90. In aft worked 3 hours for Fred T. Bailey digging a trench at No. Scituate Beach — Surfside Road 1.20. Roan’s close to the ocean — rode down and back in auto. Fine weather. W.S.E.; tem. About 75-88. Played on the guitar 1 hour late in eve. Charles called here a few min. late in eve.

31st. Worked 8 hours for F.T. Bailey — at Mr. Roan’s place (3.20) N. Scituate Beach. (Rode down and back in auto.) Fine weather W.S.E. tem. About 70-86. Carried my dinner. Elmer Ramsdel gave me 2 bananas and a piece of lemon pie — Mrs. […] gave me some coffee. Late in aft. 2 young ladies there gave us some tea and milk and some cake. Late in aft. Mowed part of the lawn here. Mrs. Studley (nee […] called here a few min. Mrs. Ethel Torrey gave me 2 cucumbers. Eve. cloudy. Played on the guitar 1 hour. Shaved in eve. Rain late in night.

* * *

If you are interested in viewing the diary in person 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.

*Please note that the diary transcription is a rough-and-ready version, not an authoritative transcript. Researchers wishing to use the diary in the course of their own work should verify the version found here with the manuscript original. The catalog record for the George Hyland’s diary may be found here. Hyland’s diary came to us as part of a collection of records related to Hingham, Massachusetts, the catalog record for this larger collection may be found here.

“We Should Have Learned Women”

Sara Martin, Adams Papers

“If we mean to have Heroes, Statesmen and Philosophers, we should have learned women,” Abigail Adams declared to her husband John on 14 August 1776. The powerful statement may seem familiar to some—it was the fan favorite among a field of 32 contenders in the Abigail’s All-Stars bracket earlier this year. It is also one of the manuscripts currently on view in the Massachusetts Historical Society exhibit, Abigail Adams: Independence & Ideals.

Abigail Adams letter
Detail of letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 14 August 1776.

The display provides a glimpse of Abigail’s views from the political center of the emerging nation, including several letters written as the events of 1776 unfolded. “I cannot but feel sorry that some of the most Manly Sentiments in the Declaration are Expunged from the printed coppy,” Abigail wrote to John on 13 July 1776, just days before she “went with the Multitude into Kings Street to hear the proclamation for independance read” from the “Belcona” of the State House on 18 July. She was likely referring to the condemnation of slavery that she had read in an early draft of the Declaration but was absent from the final version.

Detail of Abigail Adams letter
Detail of letter from Abigail Adams to John Adams, 13 July 1776

As Abigail knew there was often a gap between theory and practice, she viewed education as critical to upholding republican principles. “I most sincerely wish that some more liberal plan might be laid and executed for the Benefit of the rising Generation, and that our new constitution may be distinguished for Learning and Virtue,” Abigail opined. “If much depends as is allowed upon the early Education of youth and the first principals which are instilld take the deepest root, great benifit must arise from litirary accomplishments in women.” John wholeheartedly agreed with his wife, replying on 25 August: “Your Sentiments of the Importance of Education in Women, are exactly agreable to my own. . . . In reading History you will generally observe, when you light upon a great Character, whether a General, a Statesman, or Philosopher, some female about him either in the Character of a Mother, Wife, or Sister, who has Knowledge and Ambition above the ordinary Level of Women, and that much of his Emminence is owing to her Precepts, Example, or Instigation, in some shape or other.” For the founding couple, education was key to sustaining the new nation.

Letter from John Adams
Detail of letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 25 August 1776

The Abigail Adams: Independence & Ideals exhibit will be on display through 21 September as part of the Society’s Remember Abigail events that spotlight the life and legacy of the nation’s second First Lady. The shared website www.RememberAbigail.org includes a calendar of MHS and partner events and other information about the commemoration. We encourage you to post your Abigail reflections to social media using #RememberAbigail.

This Week @MHS

Happy July! We have one evening program and a Saturday tour scheduled at the MHS this week. Here are the details:

On Tuesday, 2 July, at 6:00 PM: Isaac Allerton: Mayflower, Magistrate, & Merchant with David Furlow and Lisa PenningtonIsaac Allerton, a tailor born in 1586, went from Suffolk to London, Leiden to America. Through the Mayflower Compact, his service as Plymouth’s first Assistant to the Governor, and the Remonstrance of the Eight Men of Manhattan, Allerton wove representative government, popular elections, law, and commerce into the fabric of American society. David Furlow, editor of the Texas Supreme Court Historical Society Journal, and Lisa Pennington, a descendant, tell Allerton’s story. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30 PM; the speaking program begins at 6:00 PM. There is a $10 per person fee (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members or EBT cardholders).

On Saturday, 6 July at 10:00 AMThe History & Collections of the MHS. This is a 90-minute docent-led walk through of our public rooms. The tour is free and open to the public. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or abentley@masshist.org.

“Can She Do It?”: Massachusetts Debates a Woman’s Right to Vote is open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and Tuesday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM. Featuring dynamic imagery from the collection of the MHS, the exhibition illustrates the passion on each side of the suffrage question. For over a century, Americans debated whether women should vote. The materials on display demonstrate the arguments made by suffragists and their opponents. While women at the polls may seem unremarkable today, these contentious campaigns formed the foundations for modern debates about gender and politics.

Please note that the building is closed on Thursday, 4 July. Take a look at our calendar page for information about upcoming programs.

Henry Davis Minot and His Birds

by Hannah Elder, Library Assistant

During American Archives Month, I told the blog that one of my favorite collections at the MHS is the Audubon Society of Massachusetts Records. Mass Audubon was founded by Harriet Hemenway and Minna Hall, two Boston women who used their social standing to save birds by persuading other upper-class women to abandon the fashion of wearing feathers. Today, I want to introduce you to another champion for birds: Henry Davis Minot.

Minot was born near Forest Hills in 1859, the sixth of seven children of William and Katharine Maria Sedgwick Minot. He took an early interest in ornithology, recording careful observations of what he believed to be a new species of bird in May of 1871. In 1876, Minot entered Harvard University, where he befriended fellow ornithological enthusiast Theodore Roosevelt. Throughout their friendship, the two exchanged letters and went on birding expeditions. During one expedition in the Adirondacks in 1877, Minot caught and preserved the wings of a blackburnian warbler. The preserved relics were placed in Minot’s personal papers and were found by an archivist when the collection was processed.

Warbler relics
Original wrappings for the warbler relics
Birding expedition relics, 1877
Relics from Minot’s 1877 birding expedition with Theodore Roosevelt

Minot left Harvard in his sophomore year and entered the railroad industry, but he never left behind his interest in ornithology. Throughout his travels to Mexico, England and Scotland, and the American Midwest, he kept counts of the birds he saw and made observations of species that were new to him. He wrote multiple books and essays on birds, including Land-Birds and Game-Birds of New England (1877), Notes on Colorado Birds (1880), and New England Bird Life (1881).

In 1880, Minot became not just an observer of birds, but an advocate for them with the publication of Diary of a Bird, Freely Translated into Human Language. In this short publication, Minot acts as “translator” for a black-throated green warbler who has kept a diary “for the purpose of amusing, instructing, and enlightening mankind,” even though the diarist claims he does not approve of the practice of diary-keeping amongst birds. The diarist does not have a name; he writes, “in a bird-community, every member is expected to know his own mate and children; beyond that, we make no distinctions . . . . I myself, for instance, have no individual name, and am very well content; for among us are no rights of property and inheritance, no law-suits, no marriage-ceremonies; but each of us lives for himself.” The warbler writes of the end of his migration from southern Mexico to the White Mountains, his mate’s efforts to build a nest and sit on their eggs, a run-in he has with a birder, and the activities of raising his family. Our feathered diarist often makes use of turns of phrase used only by birds (for instance, he once describes a lake as being “as long as the flight of a heron with thirty or more wing-beats), which Minot, as translator, helpfully explains. (Thirty heron wing-beats is about 500 feet, if you were wondering!)

The Diary of A Bird, by H.D. Minot

The major event of the diary is a meeting in early September of all of the birds of Massachusetts, organized to discuss “The Destruction and Extermination of Birds; how caused and how to be prevented.” The meeting, held in the middle of the woods to avoid notice by humans, is attended by all types of birds, leaving our warbler amazed at the sight of so many feathered friends. During the meeting, various species of birds describe their greatest threat. It is widely agreed that humans, with their traps, guns, nets, light-houses, clear-cutting, and domesticated cats, are the most dangerous threat to birds. Our diarist writes:

Men seem not only for the most part to have lost all appreciation of Nature, the best source of health and pleasure . . . but to be so utterly improvident as not to appreciate the mischief they are doing to themselves, or at least to their young, in deforesting the country. Their depravity is melancholy. Can’t they live without disturbing Nature, just as birds do? I can’t understand why they should ruin large tracts of country, as they often do, and then, instead of using them, leave them covered with pine-stumps, and bushes or stunted saplings.

As the warbler is speaking out against the use of birds in human fashions, the meeting is interrupted by the foe himself: a man with a gun, intent on shooting our diarist and his friends. I’ll leave it to you to find out what happens…

For Minot, the Diary was “a serious appeal for wiser thought and stronger action in the matter of protection of our birds” (letter to John Burroughs, 20 March 1880). He sent copies of the book to naturalists and it received praise and statements of hope for the future from some of them. In March of 1880, naturalist Samuel Lockwood wrote “This plea is very prettily put; and most heartily do I wish it God’s speed. . . . I love the birds, and cannot shoot them . . . Would that your little Warbler’s life story might still many a gun” (letter to Henry Davis Minot).

Sketch of a chickadee
An undated sketch of a chickadee by Minot

Sadly, Minot died in a train collision in 1890, so he never saw the conservation efforts of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, which was founded in 1896. I like to think that he would have appreciated and supported their cause.

If you would like to learn more about Minot’s ornithological pursuits, the Massachusetts Audubon Society, or the personal papers of other Massachusetts ornithologists, please consider visiting the library!

“I Was Some Afraid”: The Civil War Letters of Dwight Emerson Armstrong, Part IV

By Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

This is the fourth post in a series. Read Part I, Part II, and Part III.

Today we return to the Civil War letters of Dwight Emerson Armstrong of the 10th Massachusetts Infantry. In March 1862, Dwight’s regiment left Camp Brightwood in Washington, D.C. and traveled south into Virginia as part of the Union advance on Yorktown. On 15 April, he wrote to his older sister Mary (Armstrong) Needham from his position near Warwick County Courthouse. The siege of Yorktown was underway.

As for the “miserable war” so far, Dwight had this to say:

I have not done much but lug a gun around. I dont want to come home until the war is over, now I have got here; but I sometimes almost think, that the Union costs rather more than it is worth. It sounds very well, for these great men, who live in good warm houses; and on the fat of the land; to preach of the value of this glorious Union but let these same men come down here and stand as picket guard some night in a pelting storm; and if they dont get some of their patriotism washed out before morning, I’ll lose my guess. Still I would not have you think that I am discouraged […] and as long as I can have the privilege of grumbling, [I] shall get along nicely.

Much of his time was occupied with repairing roads. The army’s wagons and artillery tore up the roads, rain filled the enormous holes left behind, and soldiers like Dwight were assigned to shovel mud into the holes to keep the roads passable. He understood the necessity of the work, but complained, “I dont think much of coming down here to mend their highways for them but I suppose I cant help it.”

Though he was bitter about the “great men” in their “good warm houses” and resented the drudgery of his work, he defended George McClellan against criticism that the general acted too slowly and cautiously. He called McClellan “a different sort of a man [who] cares something for a man’s life.” In fact, after a year of service, Dwight didn’t think he’d ever see much fighting.

May 4, 1862 letter written by Dwight Armstrong
Detail of letter from Dwight Armstrong to his sister Mary, 4 May 1862

On 4 May 1862, Confederate troops evacuated Yorktown, and the Union army, including the 10th Regiment, pursued them west across Virginia. The two sides faced off in the Battle of Williamsburg the following day, but by the time Dwight reached the front lines, the fighting was already over. He was both frustrated and relieved: “I have had no chance to fire again at the rebels yet, and there is no prospect of my ever having a chance to, and I am sure I dont want to, after what I have seen.”

He didn’t elaborate, but he may have been referring to the bloody aftermath of the battle, as described by Joseph K. Newell in his 1875 history of the regiment. Newell writes about the Southern soldiers unable to retreat: “Men wounded in every shape; some dead, and some dying; many shockingly mangled, to whom death would have been a blessing.” (p. 90)

Union forces continued their march west, closing in on Richmond. Dwight didn’t even know if the Confederate army was still in the city, but he hoped they would just get it over with, make their stand “until they get enough of it, and are willing to give up. I am tired of chasing them.” His regiment was positioned about eight miles from Richmond, at Fair Oaks.

It was here that Dwight would see his worst fighting yet. The Battle of Fair Oaks (or Seven Pines) broke out on 31 May 1862. The attack was unexpected, according to Newell, “like a clap of thunder from a clear sky.” (pp. 98-9) The Union army was driven back and suffered heavy losses.

June 2, 1862 letter written by Dwight Armstrong
Letter from Dwight Armstrong to his sister Mary, 2 June 1862

Dwight wrote a short note to his sister after the battle to let her know he was alive and unharmed, but didn’t go into much detail until 14 June.

You want to know how I felt while in battle. Well, I suppose I felt pretty much as you would to stand out and have shot, and shell, and all sorts of missiles thrown at you. I have often read that when a man goes into battle, he loses all fear, and only thinks how he can kill the enemy the fastest. I can imagine how a man, if he was nervous enough, could get worked up to such a pitch of excitement that he would lose all fear for himself; and dont doubt it is so in some cases; but so far as my experience goes it is quite the contrary. For my part, I am not at all ashamed to own that I was some afraid at first, though the thought of turning around and running away never crossed my mind. It is perfectly astonishing what an immense amount of lead it does take to kill a man. If a single thousandth part of the missiles thrown the other day had taken effect every man on the field would have been killed the first hour. Bullets sometimes come pretty close to a man without hurting him any but if a cannonball or a shell hits a body of men it makes bad work. […] The bullets tore up the ground under our feet, and whistled terribly close to our ears, and fell all around us like hailstones; and it seems miraculous that no more were hurt.

The captain of his company, Edwin E. Day of Greenfield, Mass., was killed at Fair Oaks. Dwight witnessed his death. Under heavy fire, Day’s men were forced to leave his body behind, but when the fighting was over, they buried him “as decently as possible.” After the war, his body was retrieved from Virginia and interred at Greenfield.

Dwight finished his letter by reassuring his sister, as he had many times, to “keep up good courage and dont worry about me.”

I hope you’ll join me for the next installment of Dwight’s story here at the Beehive.