Bread and Stones

by Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

Bunker HIll Monumnet
Bunker Hill Monument, Charlestown, Mass.

A few years ago, I posted to the Beehive about Noah Worcester of the Massachusetts Peace Society and his objections to the way battles were commemorated. Worcester believed, in short, that we should celebrate peace, not war. He interested me because, although a Revolutionary War veteran himself, he took an unpopular but principled stand against the hyper-nationalism and bravado that he believed only served to further divide people from each other.

In the records of the Bunker Hill Monument Association, I recently came across another compelling letter by a Revolutionary War veteran who dissented from prevailing opinion. His name was Caleb Stark, and his language was so powerful I decided to investigate further.

If it’s possible to have military service in your blood, Caleb Stark had it. His father was Maj. Gen. John Stark, and his mother Molly worked as a nurse to the troops during a smallpox epidemic. Caleb was only 15 when he ran away in 1775 to join his father at the front lines, and he arrived on the eve of the Battle of Bunker Hill. He would serve through the rest of the war, eventually attaining the rank of major.

He was a natural choice for membership in the Bunker Hill Monument Association. The BHMA was founded in 1823, as the fiftieth anniversary of Bunker Hill was approaching, and its mission was to design, fund, and build a monument to those who had served in the battle. The association’s officers wrote to Stark to notify him of his election to membership. His answer, dated 10 April 1825, was possibly not what they were expecting.

I have powerful national objections to the adoption of this project, for the  following reasons. First those who made this notable stand on this sanguinary hill, have almost all passed to those shades where military honors are not more highly appreciated than they have been in the United States.

In other words, the monument was too little too late. Most survivors of the battle had died in the intervening years. But Stark was just getting started.

Secondly, the actors in this bloody scene (the Revolutionary war) after having performed their part in a manner, perhaps unparalleled in antient or modern history, were refused by the government the rewards that were so solemnly promised in the hour of the most critical danger, & while the government has found ways & means to satisfy all other legal, & many illegal demands, they still continue a deaf ear to the crying demands for justice claimed by the disbanded officer & soldier. And now Sir in room of giving them the bread (that was solemnly promised), the debt is to be paid by a stone!!

I assumed Stark was referring to military pensions. In a biographical sketch written in 1860 by his son, Stark is described as an advocate on that issue, and his “testimony secured pensions to all whose cases he represented at the war department.”

Stark continued:

It is not to be denied that after a lapse of forty years 14,000 of the soldiers who were state paupers have been transfered to the United States, but the utmost care has been taken to preclude all others from the just claims due by the high national compact on the one side, & the discharged soldier on the other. These considerations have induced me to think that it would redound more to the honor of this rising powerful nation, to obliterate every vestige of the revolution, rather than have such a foul stain of ingratitude & injustice, coupled with the heroick deeds, privations, & suffering of the authors of the revolution.

Forceful words: better to forget the Revolution entirely than to neglect or mistreat its veterans and their families and then try to placate them with a monument.

What specifically were the “rewards” and “just claims” that Stark referred to? His son’s biography answers this question. It includes the text of a long article written by Stark and published in a local newspaper in 1835. Here is one of the relevant passages:

How have they [the United States] fulfilled their contract with the soldiers of the revolution? When it was necessary to continue the army in 1776, Congress, by a resolve of September 16, promised the soldier, in addition to his pay, one hundred acres of land in case they would join the officers and conquer the country. They closed with these terms, and by unparalleled suffering, exertions, and consummate bravery, in eight years cleared the country of its enemies, leaving the United States government in quiet possession of our immense public domain. Two years after the peace, May 20, 1785, resolves were passed for furnishing the soldiers the promised lands; but especial care was taken to saddle the law with a supplement, requiring the lands to be located in plats of six miles square, so that if two hundred and thirty soldiers could not be collected, and induced to combine in the location, they could not obtain their land.

The similarities between his language here and that of his letter to the BHMA indicate, I think, that this was Stark’s primary grievance. And he couldn’t hide his disgust at Congress’ self-dealing.

But Congress, farther to exhibit their love of justice and honor, enacted a law that the soldier might assign his right to the honorable fraternity of speculators, many of whom were members of the honorable Congress.

Stark goes into great detail about the maneuvers used to cheat veterans in favor of wealthy speculators, from reducing the size of land awarded to instituting a statute of limitations for claims. In fact, when he wrote the article, he had already spent nine years prosecuting his claim against the U.S. government for family land in Ohio. He ultimately won that fight, but learned in the process that “gratitude is a virtue often spoken of with apparent sincerity, but not so frequently exhibited in practice.”

In spite of his refusal to join the Bunker Hill Monument Association and his bitterness about promises broken, Stark did attend the ceremony for the laying of the monument’s cornerstone in Charlestown, Mass. on 17 June 1825. At 65, he was reportedly the youngest survivor of the battle of the 190 veterans in attendance. Noah Worcester of the Massachusetts Peace Society was not there.

I like to highlight the dissenting opinions of people like Stark and Worcester because they provide a fuller understanding of historical events that often come down to us simplified and sanitized. History is messy, and the closer you look, the more layers of compexity you find.


Select Bibliography

Bunker Hill Monument Association records, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Colby, Fred Myron. “Stark Place, Dunbarton.” The Granite Monthly, a New Hampshire Magazine, Devoted to History, Biography, Literature and State Progress, vol. 5, 1882, pp. 80-88.

Stark, Caleb. Memoir and Official Correspondence of Gen. John Stark, with Notices of Several Other Officers of the Revolution. Concord, N.H.: G. Parker Lyon, 1860. pp. 344-

Stearns, Ezra S., ed. Genealogical and Family History of the State of New Hampshire: A Record of the Achievements of Her People in the Making of a Commonwealth and the Founding of a Nation, vol. 1. New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1908. pp. 438-439.

Warren, George Washington. The History of the Bunker Hill Monument Association During the First Century of the United States of America. Boston: James R. Osgood and Company, 1877.

“Continuing the Work,” Boston Women & Aid to Civil War Veterans & Families

by Patrick T.J. Browne, Mellon Short-term Research Fellow, Boston University

In the summer of 1865 as soldiers returned home, the United States Sanitary Commission gradually terminated most of its activities. Over the course of the Civil War, the Sanitary Commission had become the nation’s largest relief agency, addressing a host of issues relating to the care of Union soldiers and sailors. To accomplish this, the Sanitary Commission relied on a vast network of local soldiers’ aid societies across the North—most of which were administrated by women.

Historians have noted that when the Sanitary Commission shut down, the women of local aid societies, in many cases, expressed a desire to continue their work on behalf of the returning veterans.[1] This was particularly true of the New England Women’s Auxiliary Association in Boston. While it is evident from their monthly published reports that the women of the NEWAA desired to keep up their work after the war, sources informing us as to what they actually did are scarce.

For this reason, I was particularly pleased during my time as a Mellon Research Fellow at the Massachusetts Historical Society to come across a small, handwritten minute-book documenting Executive Committee meetings of the NEWAA from 1865 to 1868. My dissertation project at Boston University focuses on the “Ordeal of Homecoming” for northern Civil War veterans and the social response on the part of northern civilians to the disruptions in their communities during the aftermath of the war. In researching the secondary literature I have found that local efforts to aid disabled veterans and their families have sometimes been written off haphazard and ineffective. This minute book helps to put this work in a different light.

Led by Abby Williams May, the Executive Committee met on July 18, 1865 to reorganize and develop a plan for continuation of their efforts. The scope of their work would be narrower than before, to be sure. Whereas the organization had once been the hub of supplies to the Sanitary Commission from towns throughout New England, they would now focus strictly on Boston veterans and their families. They decided to maintain their offices at 18 West Street as a place where those in need might apply for aid.

Their minutes suggest a large network of cooperation among numerous organizations (including the Boston Discharged Soldiers Home, the Overseers of the Poor, and the Boston Police) and provide an interesting glimpse of the mechanisms of local aid before national programs were instituted. Local missionaries seem to have been especially helpful in locating homes for widows and orphans.

Each week, the minutes end with a tantalizing remark, “The record of cases was read and acted upon.” Unfortunately, the minutes do not provide a list of applicants for aid nor any indication of what was done for each one. There are, however, general remarks in the minutes on larger matters which required the Committee’s attention, including drives to procure clothing for residents of the Discharged Soldiers’ Home and efforts to reach out to mill owners to secure employment for women whose disabled husbands could not work.

Evidently, there were limits to the NEWAA’s generosity. Two curious sentences appear in the December 5, 1865 minutes: “Miss Bailen’s case up again!!” and “Miss Shannon to be requested not to come to the rooms anymore.” We are left to wonder how these women apparently tried the Committee’s collective patience. It seems there was a perceived lack of self-sufficiency on their part and a prevailing sense that they were asking too much of the organization.

While the precise scope of their work is difficult to determine from the minutes it is clear that, nearly a year after the war’s end, the NEWAA office was quite busy. In January 1866 they voted to extend their hours and add staff. In February, they requested $3,000 from the treasury of the Sanitary Commission (which still held funds) to continue their work. They received only $1,000 which was enough to keep them active until June 1866 when they stopped taking on new cases. After that, they stopped meeting regularly and finally opted to discontinue the organization in 1868.

Though their post-war activity covers a relatively brief span of time, the NEWAA minute-book book provides a rare window on the work of a local soldiers’ aid society during a crucial period for veterans and their families.


[1] Judith Giesberg, Civil War Sisterhood, (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2000), 144-150; Jeanie Attie, Patriotic Toil: Northern Women and the American Civil War, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998), 255-256.

Happy Birthday, Maine!

by Hannah Elder, Reproductions Coordinator

This Sunday, 15 March, marks the 200th anniversary of Maine’s statehood.  Maine had been a district of Massachusetts since the 1650s, and though secessionist sentiment was strong in the district from shortly after the Revolution, it was not until 1819 that Massachusetts allowed Maine to become its own state. The move was formalized in 1820 as a part of the Missouri compromise.

Osgood Carleton Map of Maine
Map of the District of Maine, Massachusetts; Compiled from Actual Surveys made by Order of the General Court. Map by Osgood Carleton; engraved by J. Callender and S. Hill.

Some of our collections explore the relationship between Maine and Massachusetts, including Maine’s journey to statehood. One such collection is the Vaughan Family Papers. Ebenezer T. Warren, the father-in-law of William Manning Vaughan, was a lawyer and politician who lived in Hallowell, Maine in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. Much of his correspondence discussed the developing statehood of Maine. When the Society’s library reopens, consider stopping by to check it out!

In the meantime, take a look through some of our online resources. Can you find any Maine connections?

“Adventures by Sea & Land”: A Disabled Veteran Tells His Own Story

by Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

Part of my job cataloging manuscripts here at the MHS involves revisiting older catalog records to improve descriptions and access. I recently revised the catalog record for the Lewis Augustine Horton papers, which the MHS acquired back in 1988, and I found a lot more in the collection than I’d expected.

Portrait of Lewis Augustine Horton, 1908
Lewis Augustine Horton, 1908

Horton served in the Union Navy during the Civil War, and his story is really remarkable. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor for helping to save the lives of crewmen of the U.S.S. Monitor when it sank in a storm on 30 December 1862. He spent some time as a prisoner of war, including at the notorious Libby Prison. And on 3 November 1863, he suffered a terrible accident on board the U.S.S. Rhode Island, when a cannon he was loading discharged prematurely and blew him backward into the sea. Miraculously, he survived, but his arms were so badly injured they had to be amputated above the elbows.

On 24 March 1864, Lewis Horton married Frances Goodwin, and the couple had three children: Florence, Luella, and Aubin. Lewis was an avid yachtsman and worked for many years at the Boston Custom House, dying in 1916 at the age of 74.

The papers include very little original manuscript material. The bulk of the collection consists of a typed manuscript and photocopies of secondary material, somewhat disorganized but apparently compiled for a biography of Horton that was never published. The manuscript was written by “Mrs. Lewis A. Horton”—not Horton’s own wife, but Lois Ormes Horton, the wife of his grandson and namesake. It probably dates from the second half of the twentieth century.

Lois made a few factual errors in her biography of her grandfather-in-law—for example, his middle name and the date of his death—but she very helpfully annotated most of her material and identified images with captions. She was also the person who donated the papers to the MHS 32 years ago.

The most intriguing item is a 16-page original manuscript titled “Adventures by Sea & Land, L. A. Horton.” It begins: “In the month of Jan’y 1857 at the age of 14 years I left New York in the Wm. Mason…”

Page from “Adventures by Sea & Land” by Horton
First page of “Adventures by Sea & Land”

The manuscript describes incidents in Horton’s life, particularly during the war, but the fact that it was written in the first person gave me pause. Was this a transcription by Lois? A dictation? At first I missed its significance. Then I came across a newspaper clipping about Horton from the Boston Sunday Herald, dated 27 December 1959. One passage mentions a memoir: “the now-faded pages on which [Horton] had penned a modest account of his Civil War days.”

Could this be a reference to the very same pages I had in front of me? On closer inspection, I saw that the writing didn’t match Lois’s at all. I did a little more research and found several sources asserting that Horton could, in fact, write very legibly—by holding a pen in his mouth. But I still wasn’t sure I could definitely attribute this particular manuscript to him.

Two final clues clinched it for me. First, a photocopy of an 1870 document (Horton’s application for reimbursement for prosthetic arms) contains very similar writing. And second, the memoir is written, in part, on letterhead of the U.S. Treasury Department, the agency that administered the customs service and therefore Horton’s employer.

Stationery used by HOrton
Detail of stationery used for Horton’s memoir

Here are a couple of excerpts to whet your appetite:

The name of one brute is indelibly impressed upon my mind as one of the officers of the prison. He was a brother of the wife of President Lincoln, Lieut [David Humphreys] Todd; usually drunk he thought nothing of sticking a man with his sword if his orders were not immediately obeyed.

[After the accident in which he lost his arms] The first impression was that I was torn into a thousand pieces, but coming to the surface & treading water, kept up until a boat could reach me & rescue me just in time, for I was growing weak from loss of blood & the sharks were attracted by the blood.

The 1959 Herald article indicates that Horton’s grandson, Lewis Aubin Horton, inherited the manuscript. When he died in 1973, it passed into the hands of his widow, Lois.

Photo of Horton and grandson ca. 1903

Lewis Augustine Horton and his grandson Lewis Aubin Horton, ca. 1903

For more information about Lewis Horton, I recommend this terrific piece by William F. Hanna of the Old Colony History Museum, published just two months ago. And of course, please visit the MHS library to look at the collection yourself!

Revisiting the Boston Massacre, 250 Years Later

by Laura Williams, Visitor Services Coordinator

When thinking back on the American Revolution, we return to the state of Massachusetts, its capital city of Boston, and the numerous pivotal events that took place there which shaped American history. One such event which comprises this famed coup is the Boston Massacre of 1770. A present-day popular tourist stop along The Freedom Trail, the site of the Boston Massacre is preserved for all to see in a rough recreation outside The Old State House. This momentous confrontation between British soldiers and the citizens of Boston marked a turning point for the American people and the beginning of a series of battles for independence from the British regime. After 250 years, we at the MHS are commemorating this event and highlighting pieces from our collections within the exhibit, Fire! Voices of the Boston Massacre, on display through June 2020.

On the evening of 5 March 1770 on King Street in Boston, a small riot among the civilians led to bloodshed when British soldiers fired into the unruly crowd. With five of those civilians killed and others injured, the event soon became known as the Boston Massacre. This event was preceded by many clashes involving the British soldiers stationed in Boston and the growing tension and unrest surrounding the British tax acts on the American people. Boston citizens were already participating in nonconsumption and nonimportation efforts; the fight between Tories and Patriots was growing; and the British soldiers who were meant to protect the Customs Commissioners had long been wary of their place there.

Witnesses of the Boston Massacre share their experiences of that fateful night in this video from the exhibition:

Notably, only two of the eight British soldiers who were arraigned were found guilty of manslaughter (rather than murder). This verdict sent waves through the community, and yearly commemorations of the occurrence would follow in Boston until 1783 when the celebration of Independence Day would take precedence. Had the events on the evening of 5 March been prevented, many other historic clashes including the Boston Tea Party, Battle of Bunker Hill, etc. may look very different today. This violent culmination of tension between Bostonians and the British played a significant role in the larger sentiment among the entire country.

Included in our collections are artistic renditions of the event itself, letters, diary entries, court documents, and many more pieces which describe and manifest the “Massacre” and its legacy 250 years later. With sources such as these, we are able to recognize the larger impact that this event had on the American population and the road towards the American Revolution. Our additional companion websites which accompany our exhibition are linked below, and explore a detailed history of the various events leading up to the Massacre, the many perspectives of the American citizens, and finally the consequent forging of the nation. The exhibition is on display at the MHS through 30 June 2020, Monday Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, Tuesday from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM, and Saturday from 10:00 AM to 3:30 PM.

Companion websites:

Commemorating the 250th Anniversary of the Boston Massacre

Perspectives on the Boston Massacre

The Coming of the American Revolution: 1764 to 1776

The Kass Teacher Fellowship 2019: Locating New England Loyalists in the Archive

by Kate Melchior, MHS, and Michael Ryan

Every year, the MHS awards the Kass Teacher Fellowship to one or more K-12 educators. The is designed to offer K-12 teachers the opportunity to focus on historical research that will support their classroom efforts, discovering new primary sources to use in their classroom and deepening their understanding of history and humanities.

In 2019, Michael Ryan of Pollard Middle School in Needham MA was awarded a Kass Fellowship to pursue research into the Loyalist experience during the Revolutionary War.  Michael spent several months pouring through the MHS archives and creating a new collection of primary sources for teachers to use when teaching the Loyalist experience.  Here we have shared excerpts from Michael’s final report on his experience and his findings at the MHS.

The Experience of New England Loyalists During the Era of the American Revolution
Michael Ryan

Miniature portrait of Capt. Israel Williams
Captain Israel Williams, unidentified artist, c. 1800-1810


In the summer of 2019, I was awarded a Kass Fellowship to conduct research at the Massachusetts Historical Society. My proposed topic of research was the New England loyalist experience during the era of the American Revolution. The time that I spent at the MHS was one of the great experiences of my life.

As an instructor, I knew that I had never successfully integrated the loyalist story into my class narratives. One of my professional objectives is to present a complex, nuanced version of history—rarely can we understand events or people in simplistic terms. However, my own understanding of loyalism was itself superficial so I needed to learn more before I could genuinely attempt to construct meaningful lessons on the subject for my students. This past summer allowed me the opportunity to methodically dig through the incredibly rich archives held by the MHS on the topic. I accumulated a large amount of primary sources that I can use directly in the American History class that I teach in the Needham Public Schools. I am currently curating these documents into a collection that can be used in Needham classrooms.

In the following paragraphs, I briefly summarize several of the archives that I consulted for this project.

Meshech Weare Papers

Meshech Weare was perhaps the most active New Hampshire Patriot leader during the American Revolution. Throughout the war, he served as head of New Hampshire’s committee of safety, a position from which he corresponded with some of the most prominent figures of the era. After perusing Weare’s papers, I chose four different documents that I believe are illustrative of some of the larger themes of the war. The first two, while they do not focus upon loyalism directly, they offer evidence of the  overwhelming amount of responsibilities that committees on the home front were forced to address.

The first is from July 23, 1777, and is a letter from Weare to a Lieutenant Colonel Wentworth. It is alarmist in nature as it tells of a planned British naval attack on “some part of the New England states” and that Wentworth should prepare his men for this. Of course, such an attack never occurred and this is why the letter is invaluable. It reminds the reader that very little about this war was indeed inevitable and various scenarios could have played out, possibly changing the outcome of the war. Leaders like Weare had to be hyper-vigilant against all potential attacks.

In September of 1777, Weare received a letter from an officer in Philadelphia. The topic concerns the recent Congressional resolution that commissioned tickets for a lottery. It makes dire reference to the fact that if this undertaking failed it would “have a most unfavourable impact upon our public affairs…it will wound our public reputation, discourage our Creditors at home and our friends abroad and be argued by our enemies of our weakness.” This document offers evidence that financing was a major concern throughout the war, and that as early as its third year Patriot leaders were greatly concerned about the detrimental effect of a poor public credit.

An undated letter to Weare from the town of Derry’s Committee of Safety addresses the complexity of identifying and punishing potential counterrevolutionaries. A man by the name of Benjamin Hall was imprisoned for desertion from the Continental Army and his alleged pro-British sympathies. Hall was apparently to be released on bail, but the four men on the Derry committee pleaded with Weare to reconsider this action. Weare, as head of the state’s committee of safety, had the executive authority to overrule this decision. In their strongly-worded letter, the Derry group argued that Hall “ought not to be Liberated…as we find he is to the Great Grief and Dissatisfaction of every true friend of America.” Although I could not determine how this matter was resolved, this document helps us understand the Revolution as civil war; neighbor against neighbor and the gray area that existed between people who simply wanted no part of the conflict and those that were called out as Tories.

Finally, on June 22, 1778, Weare sent a letter, under a flag of truce, to the Royal governor of Nova Scotia concerning prison exchange, a topic rarely referenced in textbooks or survey courses. It is important because it addresses one of the many logistical challenges faced by both armies. Once prisoners were taken, how did those in charge locate and administer adequate facilities? The logistical challenges faced by the war’s leaders are usually ignored, yet students tend to be fascinated by this information. Weare was eager to conduct an exchange with his British counterpart, requesting that an American officer by the name of Sherburne return from the meeting with as many American prisoners as he “can conveniently bring home with him.” In return, he promised that the same number of equal ranks” would be returned to the British.

The Israel Williams Papers

Massachusetts native Israel Williams exited the French and Indian War as representative of the brilliance of the imperial relationship. A colonel in the militia, Williams demonstrated great managerial skills in his majesty’s campaign to permanently expel the French from North America. His correspondence from the war portrays an individual who, if his passions had taken him in a different direction, may very well have ended up among the pantheon of local Founding Fathers. However, as his correspondence with Thomas Hutchinson indicated, he would choose the path of loyalty to empire.

These documents I will excerpt for use in my class to illustrate the complexity of choosing sides during the conflict. In 1778 a committee of safety in western Massachusetts charged Williams with a plan to “to obstruct and hinder all Salutary measures which the People universally throughout this Continent have adopted and are adopting to obtain a restoration of their constitutional rights and privilege.” Williams was placed under house arrest and spent over a year in this state of ostracization and ridicule. The documents relating to Williams’s experience are fantastic as they convey a man who honestly believed that he had committed no act of transgression, and that prior to the crisis, had presumably been exalted as a hero in his community. Fascinatingly, Williams did rehabilitate himself and did reintegrate into post-war Massachusetts society. It is important for students to recognize that after the war, not all Loyalists self-exiled or remained that way—former adversaries had to learn to live as neighbors once again.

Mary Robie-Sewall Diary

Box three of the Robie-Sewall papers contains the 1783 diary of teenager Mary Robie, the daughter of Boston merchant exiles living in Nova Scotia. This is apparently the original copy and it is fascinating as it offers a snapshot of loyalist life that is largely unconcerned with either of the great political questions that would have preoccupied her elders at the time: The Treaty of Paris and the manner by which, if indeed at all, her people would reintegrate into the life of their former community of Boston, Massachusetts.

I went through the entire six months of the extant diary and selected excerpts that I believe give a fairly representative view of Mary’s experiences and feelings during her exile. Not surprisingly, Mary writes often of her close relationship with both her family and fellow exiles so her reflections paint a detailed portrait of the daily experiences of  Bostonians living in exile as they anxiously awaited whether they would return “home” and become citizens of this new republic whose cause they had earlier spurned.

Other Loyalist Research

The following research also produced sources and stories about the Massachusetts loyalist experience. I will include selections from each in the booklet that I create for classroom use:

  • Winslow Family Papers, Correspondence, 1775. (Boxes 1 and 2.)
  • The Charles Ward Apthrop Papers, Correspondence, 1773-1791. (Box 3)
  • Boylston Family Papers, Correspondence, 1775. (Box 7)
  • King’s Chapel Records, founding through reorganization after the war. (Box 5) Savage Family Papers, 1775-1799. (Boxes 1, 2, and oversized.)
  • Richard Frothington Charlestown Papers, 1812-1880. (Box 3)
  • Divided Hearts: Massachusetts Loyalists 1765-1790: A Biographical Directory


If you are interested in learning more about the Kass Teacher Fellowship or any of our other programs, please visit the Center for the Teaching of History website or e-mail us at  We look forward to hearing from you!

Brattleboro Weekly News

by Florentina Gutierrez, Library Assistant

Browsing through processed archival collections can sometimes lead to unexpected surprises. Recently, I was going through a box of the Channing Family Papers (1685-1956), looking for a particular letter that a patron inquired about. Because I did not have a specific date, only subject matter and year range, it meant looking at almost every document that met those general criteria. Out of the countless letters, a five-page long handwritten newspaper stood out to me.

I have never seen a handwritten newspaper, outside of the context of an elementary school assignment where I was asked to create one. The top of this particular newspaper says “Weekly News: Brattleboro” and was dated August 9th, 1843. Below that, to the left, it also says “Vol. I. Published Weekly at the store of M. Wheeler & Co. [Terms?] one cent.” At first, I thought that perhaps someone in the town of Brattleboro produced handwritten newspapers to distribute throughout the town, which I could only imagine was extremely time consuming. I wondered, how many copies of these were written? And were they written every week?

Weekly News: Brattleboro
Image of Weekly News: Brattleboro, August 9th, 1843. from Channing Family Papers (1685-1956).

Actually, a handwritten newspaper is not such a crazy idea, even after the invention of the printing press. There are many examples of handwritten newspapers from the 19th century, some were likely created because of a lack of resources, and others perhaps because they were considered the most appropriate way to communicate. I found some examples at The Handwritten News Project website; the ones referenced there are mainly from North America and date to the 19th century.

Reading through this newspaper, it quickly became apparent that this was not meant as a particularly serious/factual “newspaper” and was likely not one that was distributed to the public. The contents of it are varied, including marriage announcements, short stories, advertisements for goods and services, and lost and found items. Nevertheless, weaved among what appear to be real events in the town are a lot of snippets clearly meant to come off as humorous and witty, and that are overall quirky.

Here are a few lines, transcribed as they were written in the document:

“Miss Ellen Nutt to Mr. William Hut, hope they will Nuts to eat & Huts to live in. -W.”

“Sale at the store of Peter Grimes a wonderful mixture, which will not only make persons sneeze, cough, laugh, & cry at pleasure, but it effects the heart so deeply as to make a man fall in love with the first girl that goes round the corner. -B.

I can bear witness to the efficacy of Peter Grimes medicine, for I never should have been married, if I had not turned the corner. -Ellen Hut.”

“I have got a darned hole in my stocking [Mom?]… I am very glad my son, I shall not have to mend it. -M.”

“Lost a beautiful white cat, with blue spots, & a black tail, anyone who finds it, shall be rewarded with a bite from the cat. -Lizzy.”

“Just published, the life of the remarkable man, who waded across Charles river & was drowned just as he was getting in to the stage on dry land. -Reb.”

“Fire broke out at Melissa Simons’s, it broke out in the toe of her shoe, for she was in the habit of keeping her matches inside of her shoe. -M.”

“I am not as cool as I ought to be, as the boiled cucumber said. -W.”

Almost every section is signed off with an initial. The ones appearing most often were B, M, W. Reading through the Channing Family Paper collection guide, it is likely that those initials refer to Barbara H. Channing (1786-1876) and William Ellery Channing (1817-1901), both the children of Dr. Walter Channing, and to Mary E. Channing Higginson, related to the Channings by marriage and with who Barbara may have been close to as there is remaining correspondence that was sent between them.

While the newspaper is not addressed to anyone in particular, I think it likely was meant as a type of letter to a close relative or friend of the Channings in order to provide them with an update/”gossip” of the town. In a time without texting or social media or even the ease of transportation we currently enjoy, it makes sense that people would find creative ways to communicate with each other while having a little fun.

If you are interested in learning more about handwritten news, you can check out a list of resources put together by The Handwritten News Project here.

Common Craft

by Lila Teeters, University of New Hampshire, and Andrew W. Mellon Fellow at the MHS

I came to the Massachusetts Historical Society to conduct legal history. I spend most of my time researching Native American citizenship in the United States, with a particular focus on the lead up to the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act. The cartons awaiting my gaze at MHS belonged to Robert G. Valentine, who served as the commissioner of Indian affairs from 1909 to 1912. This period was critical in the development of policies guiding Native citizenship in the United States, and Valentine’s papers provide an unparalleled look into the ideological underpinnings of federal policies. While I came for legal history, I left with an additional lesson on pedagogy.

People often ask me if I am a teacher or historian first. My master’s degree is in teaching social studies, and I taught high school history for four years before starting my PhD. My answer to their question is usually wonky, as I try explaining that each of those roles encompasses the other. A teacher and historian are one, I say, earning accusations of being sophist. Perhaps it is no coincidence then that some of my favorite archival moments occur when I see my historical actors teaching others about their chosen craft. These sources are usually irrelevant to my primary research, and I tuck them away to be considered later.

As a PhD candidate trying to finish my dissertation, I am particularly drawn to my actors’ advice on writing. The process feels (to use a popular millennial phrase) very “meta,” particularly when the people I write about give advice about the act itself. Composing a person’s history comes with a certain amount of responsibility (a well-worn claim that once again earns me accusations of sophistry), and weighing subjects’ advice feels like a way to honor that responsibility.

Hence my excitement when I came across writing exercises tucked within Valentine’s notes. Valentine taught English and composition classes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1896-1902, and his papers contain lecture notes, assignments, and musings on prose and pedagogy. One of the exercises he recommends is about depth: “In order for you to determine the qualities of mind,-wealth, discipline, and understanding, which you possess, it is useful to write a very short sketch of

  1. Someone you know,
    1. like
    2. dislike
    3. are indifferent to
  2. a view,
    1. familiar
    2. unfamiliar
  3. a thought
  4. a feeling
  5. a machine
  6. a process
  7. a story
  8. an argument
  9. history”

He recommended that each sketch be around 200 words.[1] Valentine wanted his students to determine if they had the deep knowledge of a subject to condense its essence down to a 200-word meditation—a written crucible of sorts. Compress to assess.

Valentine is an actor whom I find maddening. While I “know” him only through his writings and his policies as Indian commissioner, I at once like, dislike, and am indifferent to him. My “very short sketch” of him encompasses all three:

Born in 1872, Roger G. Valentine was a civic-minded man directed by principle and prejudice. A son of Massachusetts, a father and husband, Valentine assumed the role of commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1909. While he forswore essentialist racial classification of Native Americans, Valentine held other racist views, claiming that Natives needed to be taught self-respect, self-support, and good citizenship. Many of the policies he promoted operated from these paternalist assumptions. Valentine prized civic engagement and held citizenship and patriotism in the highest regard. As commissioner, he attempted to root out corruption, separate church from state, and solicit feedback from Native people. Yet he assumed one of his most prized possessions—US citizenship—would likewise be prized by all Natives. His administration created “competency commissions,” which assessed the “fitness” of individual Natives to be citizens of the United States. While he acknowledged the harm done by American policies, soldiers, and citizens, he almost never questioned why some Natives did not want to become citizens. A controversy, one that threw Valentine’s integrity into question (he and I believe rather unfairly), prompting his resignation in 1912. A long list of joined organizations and committees show his appetite for civic engagement went unabated until he died in 1916 at the young age of 43.

It is comforting to know that Valentine found writing difficult. His papers are speckled with frustrated marginalia and rabid reworkings. He would most likely quibble with my sentence structure just as I grumble at his passive voice. I like the image: historian and subject, united briefly through our common craft.

[1] “Notes from RGV’s composition class, 1902-1903,” carton 17, folder 21, Robert G. Valentine family papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Be Mine?

by Ashley Williams, Processing Assistant and Library Assistant

E. J. Dumee, The Love Letter
[The Love Letter] by E.J. Dumee. An infant cupid leaning laughingly over the shoulder of a youth reclining in a loose gown on a bed to right, pointing at the letter on which he rests one hand while reaching to take up the quill; after R West. 1822.
Happy Valentine’s Day Beehive readers! I hope you’re all in the mood for some flirtatious frivolity. To celebrate this season of candy and cupids, I’ve curated a small selection of amorous displays from the MHS collections ranging from sincere, heartfelt loquaciousness to bawdy verses that will make you blush. So cuddle up and get ready for the dripping sentimentality, and if you’re feeling a little bitter this season, maybe just enjoy heckling the silly ways people express affection for one another.

Album of Love removed from the Head Family papers
Album of Love removed from the Head Family papers

The first selection in the lineup is for the love poem enthusiasts in the crowd. This tiny volume published in 1853,  measuring a mere 12 centimeters is titled The Album of Love. It begins with a dedication and an entire page defining, “What is Love?” where the previous owner saw fit to leave a pressed flower. And, though this book be but little, it is fiercely packed with the sonnets and verses of all your favorite love poets, Shakespeare, Lord Byron, Spenser, Eliza Acton,  and John Clare.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Though famous poets are great,  you didn’t come to an archive’s blog to read about published works, did you? Where is the personal tea? Don’t worry. The following transcription comes from a letter from the John Lowell Letters, dated November 30, 1823. In this letter John Lowell Jr. carefully constructs a marriage proposal to his cousin and soon-to-be wife Georgina M.A. Lowell. It’s nice to know this worked out for him because the calculated tone of the request makes it seem that he was apprehensive at best about his chances. There’s even a part in which he instructs her to burn the letter if she doesn’t feel the same way.

Dear Georgina

I venture to address you in this formal manner on a subject nearly connected with my happiness, because I cannot devise any other mode of bringing it before you. It is the offer of myself & the request that you will permit me to ask Uncle Lowells consent to our union. I say nothing of my affection or the desire I have long had to obtain your approbation before that of any other person, because if I have not already persuaded you of these things, protestations would now be useless. This step may appear premature or presumptuous but I hope the near approach of the period when I shall cease to live here & the solitude I feel to settle a question of this sort previously to it’s arrival will excuse me it If it is not in your power to permit me the indulgence of those sentiments I feel towards you, I will thank you to burn this letter & not let it’s reception disturb the harmony of our acquaintance. I declare that no lady shall ever be voluntarily embarrassed by my attentions, when I know them to be unacceptable–

Believe me that whatever your determination may be though I earnestly desire a favorable one. I also wish that it may contribute to your happiness, for the continuance of which I would certainly sacrifice my personal feelings.

I am truly sincerely


John Lowell J.

This next excerpt is from the Henry W. Bellows Correspondence and is a letter from Henry to his fiancee, Anna Huidekoper Peabody, dated May 27, 1874. It’s particularly short, but may also be some of the sappiest collection of words I’ve ever seen written down. Imagine receiving good morning texts like the letter that Henry sends to Anna:

My dear & only love, your precious note of yesterday came in just after breakfast to feed me with new longings to see you, who are my breath & life! Don’t imagine I ask anything more lovely than every sentence you write. I see you through every loop in the letter & they all have sweet & tender meanings hanging onto their pot-hooks!

Hold on to your pot-hooks because things are about to take a turn. These next two items are not for the faint of heart. If you blush easily, you may want to skip past these.

The Love Sonnets of a Hoodlum by Wallace Irwin
The Love Sonnets of a Hoodlum by Wallace Irwin

There is really no getting around the fact that the “love” sonnets in this book are just plain dirty. The love in question is definitely of a more physical nature, and many of the sonnets include references to a personified “Willie” who is usually being abused in some way or another. Crude nature aside, the sonnets do seem to follow the storyline of a relationship or series of relationships.

Did I hear someone in the audience ask about newspaper clippings?

This next letter excerpt happens to be accompanied by just such an artifact! The excerpt comes from the Stone-Jackson Family papers in a letter from Arthur L. Jackson to his wife-to-be Pauline F. Stone dated February 9, 1889. 

I enclose a little clipping that has a slight bearing on the subject and will merely say that I shall most certainly follow out its advice the very first time I see you. Shall I need mistletoe then sweetheart? If so I advise you to trim your hat with it and have all the ceilings in your house and veranda covered with it. If you do I shall kiss you under every single leaf of it. once for every day we have been separated, if only to make up for lost time. Just think how horribly in arrears we are that way now-a-days dearest. It will take just about a lifetime to ever get square again, won’t it dear.

Newspaper clipping
Newspaper clipping from the Stone-Jackson Family papers in a letter from Arthur L. Jackson to his wife-to-be Pauline F. Stone dated February 9, 1889.

In comparison to The Love Sonnets of a Hoodlum, this letter could be construed as tame, but it was still one of the racier correspondences I came across when putting this together as Arthur playfully details his desire to kiss Pauline and under what circumstances.

Now that we’re nearing the end of the post, I thought it would be a good idea to cool us down and cleanse our palates with Some Old Puritan Love Letters.

letter from John Winthrop to Margaret Tyndall
Some Old Puritan Love Letters, letter from John Winthrop to Margaret Tyndall.

The particular letter pictured is from John Winthrop to Margaret Tyndall. It opens, “My only beloved spouse, my most sweet friend, & faithful companion of my pilgrimage, the happy & hopeful supply (next Jesus Christ) of my greatest losses, I wish thee a most plentiful increase of all true comfort…” Even with its formal language and regular allusion to biblical verse, this letter still manages to feel poetically intimate and caring. Please note that I did not photograph the entire letter as it was incredibly long. If you would like to see the rest, please stop by the MHS and check it out (figuratively… we aren’t a lending library). 

The Love Dream
[The Love Dream]. A sleeping woman is about to be attacked by an armed cupid, who crouches next to her, bow drawn.
I want to wish all of our readers a Happy Valentine’s Day and remind you to find joy in both the romantic and platonic loves in your life this February. In the words of John Winthrop, “I wish thee a most plentiful increase of all true comfort…” (i.e. candy and soft things).

Catching Up With the Armstrongs

by Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

I’m very happy to add a brief postscript to last year’s seven-part series about Civil War soldier Dwight Emerson Armstrong. Last fall, following on the heels of that series, the MHS acquired the letters of his brother, Joel Mason Armstrong.

Mason (as he was called) was born in 1833 in Wendell, Mass. He worked as a carpenter in Sunderland before enlisting at the age of 28. He would serve for almost a year in the 52nd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, Co. G., primarily in Louisiana. His collection is even smaller than his younger brother Dwight’s, but no less interesting. It consists of seven letters: six from Mason and one to Mason from none other than Dwight himself.

Dwight’s letter was written from Washington, D.C. on 15 September 1861, early in his service and before he’d seen any fighting. In it, Dwight described the building of batteries, the sound of nearby skirmishes, and a review of the troops by Gen. McClellan. I wrote about this period in Part II of the series.

All six of Mason’s letters were written to his sister Mary—the same sister, incidentally, to whom Dwight wrote his letters. Mason included some terrific details about life in the Union army, from the looting of nearby plantations for poultry, sweet potatoes, and sugar, to the days spent marching (“I find that I can tire out almost every one else & then march some ways further.”), to the thousands of formerly enslaved people who joined the Union caravan in the months after the Emancipation Proclamation. As for insight into Mason’s personality, I think this quotation sums it up: “I made up my mind long ago to make the best of everything and bear cheerfully whatever comes that cannot be helped.”

29 May 1863 letter from Joel Mason Armstrong
Letter from Joel Mason Armstrong to Mary (Armstrong) Needham, 29 May 1863

This collection also contains the letter Mason wrote to Mary on learning of Dwight’s death. Dwight was killed in battle on 3 May 1863, but Mason didn’t hear about it until nearly a month later, on the morning of the 29th. The news was confirmed by that day’s mail.

I Hoped that it was not so, until I got your letter & others telling the same story. I had not heard from him for a long time & began to feel anxious since we heard of the battle. It is indeed a sad blow to us. It seems hard to friends at home to think of dying so far away from home & friends; judging from my own feelings I think it is harder for friends at home than for those who die.

This patchwork of related collections is one of the advantages of a manuscript library like the MHS. Multi-generational papers, papers of different family branches, friends and neighbors running in the same social circles, letters from soldiers serving in the same military unit, travelers crossing each other’s paths—all of this overlapping and complementary material gives us a fuller picture of historical events and an opportunity to view those events from different perspectives. It’s not unusual to be working on a collection and run across the name of a person whose papers you recently processed.

I found biographical information about Joel Mason Armstrong in History of the Town of Sunderland, Massachusetts (pp. 254-5) and A Record of Sunderland in the Civil War (p. 14). The latter even confirms his aforementioned proficiency at marching! But these two sources don’t include one interesting personal detail that I turned up.

Mason and his wife Helen had seven children, but one online source contained what I initially took to be a mistake. Listed among his children was Clara I. Sweetser, but she was born a year before their marriage. A child from a previous marriage perhaps? The name rang a bell, so I looked back at my genealogical research from last year.

Sure enough, Sweetser was the married name of Mason’s oldest sister Sarah. Sarah and her husband both died in November 1864, just six days apart from each other. They left five children, the oldest only 14. After a little more digging, I found that six-year-old Clara, their only daughter, was in fact raised by Mason and Helen. (I couldn’t confirm it, but I assume her brothers were raised by other family members.) Sources seem to conflict on whether she was formally adopted, but her name was legally changed to Armstrong in 1865. Clara would marry in 1883 and have four children of her own.

Joel Mason Armstrong died in 1905 in Sunderland, Mass.