This is your official warning—Valentine’s Day is just over two weeks away. Maybe you’re in charge of planning festivities; maybe you’re looking for a subtle way to remind the person who is in charge. Either way, read on.
If there’s one thing my time with the Adams Papers editorial project has taught me, it’s that the answers to all of life’s questions can be found within the collection. Since the project contains three central power couples—John and Abigail, John Quincy and Louisa Catherine, and Charles Francis and Abigail Brooks—I knew the outline of a perfect Valentine’s Day date was scattered across those quarter of a million manuscript pages.
John and Abigail liked nothing more than to sit together by a crackling fire, languorously paging through the newest additions to their ever-growing private library. “I read my Eyes out, and cant read half enough neither,” John wrote to his like-minded wife on 28 Dec. 1794. “The more one reads the more one sees We have to read.” John and Abigail’s letters are full of quotes and beloved bon mots, and they would swap book recommendations, yearning to hear the other’s opinion. If you and your partner are all about that hygge lifestyle, swap books, get a fire roaring, put your feet up, and sink into a soft chair. Let others fight for those hard-to-get dinner reservations. (Bonus points if you indulge in another of John and Abigail’s favorite things: hot chocolate!)
John Quincy and Louisa Catherine shared an affection for music. Louisa was a harpist and singer, and John Quincy played the flute. John Quincy’s first impressions of Louisa were of her musical ability, as she always sang and played for him when he visited her family in London. “Memory often repeats to my Fancy, every strain which was once performed by you; it gives an Echo still returning to my ear, to every sound uttered by your voice, or called forth by your fingers,” John Quincy wrote to her on 6 March 1797. Valentine’s Day is the perfect excuse to get dolled up and take the music lover in your life to a symphony, choral concert, or opera.
Charles Francis and Abigail Brooks were collectors by nature. Their free time was filled with antiques shopping, and Charles was a regular at auctions. Charles collected rare coins, and Abby was delighted by knick-knacks of all kinds. They enjoyed traveling together, taking in landscapes, wandering through art galleries, and tasting local cuisine. “My Wife went in to make her purchases at the shop, the usual tax for curiosity in travelling,” Charles Francis recorded in his diary on 19 July 1836. If you and your date are always up for a daytrip, why not spend your Valentine’s Day as tourists, exploring boutiques and gift shops somewhere new?
It doesn’t matter how you celebrate this February 14th so long as you spend the day with your Dearest Friend.
The Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society gratefully acknowledges the generous support of our sponsors. Major funding is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and the Packard Humanities Institute. The Florence Gould Foundation and a number of private donors also contribute critical support. All Adams Papers volumes are published by Harvard University Press.
“We left Boston on Sunday the 5th day of January 1845 in the Barque Hannah Sprague, Richard Canfield master, bound to Madras and Calcutta, 409 tons burden, loaded with ice and merchandise, to the consignment of Wm. C. Codman and Augustine Wills. Chas S. Fessenden of Boston Agent. Wm G. Bartlett of Newburyport 1st Officer, W. Smith of New York 2nd Officer. 9 Seamen besides the cook, steward and cabin boy. The Passengers including the Supercargo are Wm. C. Codman of Dorchester. Edward Gassett of Boston, Elis Jenkins of Hull and myself. John Lucike a (strange) passenger sent with Mr. Jenkins by Frederick Tudor of Boston for the purpose of Selling ice at Madras. Wind Strong from SE. Ship very crank- a bad sign (portending trouble) before the end of our long voyage. Being the first day out I immediately began to oversee the preparation of my State-room &c. Find it pretty difficult to walk on the deck, not being accustomed to the motion of a ship. Did not sleep very well, but was not the least bit sick.”
Thus begins Day 1 of Horatio Rotch’s 120 day journey towards Madras and Calcutta, India from Boston on a chilly January day. The log of the barque Hannah Sprague was kept by Horatio Stockton Rotch from 5 January 1845 through 25 December 1845, while on a trading voyage. Entries record longitude and latitude, course, winds, and distance traveled. One of many in the Society’s collection, I find this logbook to be simply remarkable. Indeed I am appreciative for his lovely legible handwriting (which I imagine is not easy aboard ship) but I am even more grateful for his detailed and honest descriptions throughout the journey. This must have been his first, as his narratives are rich in detail. The volume includes the logbooks of two subsequent journeys by Rotch: one aboard the barque Sylphide in 1846 and another on the brig Emily Bourne in 1849.
Rotch describes day to day happenings aboard the ship. It seems their journey was not in the least bit peaceful.
“ 2 Days Out
The gale kept continuing al day and increasing in violence towards night. Rained very hard and blew tremendously al night, so that the ship was in great danger of Capsizing. The ship bore up gallantly against the heavy sea, which at every plunge washed her decks, and almost overwhelmed her, and the next morning saw her safe.”
“3 Days Out
We got through the night safe, only to experience during the whole of today a constant succession of squalls, once in a while getting a peek at the sun. One of the sailors taken sick and put under my care by the Captain.”
“4 Days Out
Fair weather. Sun makes its first appearance to our great delight. First Observation taken. A Barque visible at the Southwest what name and where from we cannot find out, probably from some southern port. We are now in the South side of the gulf, and the change in climate is very manifest.”
And after two calmer days…
“7 Days Out
9 O’clock –The Storm still continues to rage, incessant squalls, very heavy sea. Blew a perfect hurricane all day and night. Thunder and lightning with most perfect squalls every five minutes. Scudding before the wind under a close-[suffered] foresail Great anxiety for the safety of the Ship and consequently of ourselves. Almost gave her up at one time during the night. The Captain said he had never experienced such a tremendous hurricane, although he has been eight voyages to the East Indies. The ship bore up gallantly (Just like a seagull) in spite of the roaring of the sea, which at every rise looked like a huge Mountain about to dash us to pieces. The scene in the Cabin was quite comical, some praying, some groaning, and most all frightened to Death, especially an Austrian name Lucike. Nobody can conceive the danger of our situation, save an eye-witness. Words cannot describe the scene.”
That was only 7 days out with another 111 to go before they would near their first destination. Personally, I would have never left land again, but as we already know, Horatio Rotch set out on the very next ship. For those who wonder what it was like to be out at sea on such a journey, this logbook is a magnificent resource. While there is simply not enough space in this post to include all the interesting details of the logbook, I will add that there is a fight scene 87 days out on the homeward bound journey. What would a sea voyage be without an “Interesting Spectacle” between the Captain and the 2nd Mate? Rotch describes the altercation in detail as “This Gentlemanly Affair took place on the starboard side of the forecastle in presence of the crew and every-body else aboard.”
Arriving in India three months later, Rotch gives a description of the Calcutta and an interesting recommendation:
This is one of the largest cities in the east-indies and one to which it is well worth while to pay a visit, if only for once. It covers an immense space of ground and is three or four times the size of our largest American city (New York)…”
Turly, he must have succumbed to the lure and excitement of traveling the world, as is evident by the haste in which his next voyage begins. Horatio Stockton Rotch died in 1850 at the age of 28 and is buried in New Bedford, Mass. His thoughts and words live on through his wonderful logbook.
Interested in reading more? Visit the MHS library to view the log of the bark Hannah Sprague. Or, search our online catalog, Abigail, for logbooks. Everyone is welcome to do research in our Reading Room, so stop in the next time you are on Boylston Street, and take a journey back in time and across the Globe!
By Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator
The MHS recently acquired a fascinating letter, dated 10 August 1849 from Mecklenburg County, Virginia. It was written by “Nannie,” a young white woman from New England, to her brother back home. Over four large, densely packed, cross-written pages, she discussed a variety of subjects, including chattel slavery on a plantation in the antebellum South.
It’s a disturbing letter to read. According to Nannie, enslaved people were not mistreated, they suffered more at each other’s hands than at those of slaveholders, and Northern opposition to slavery was the real problem, because it made Southerners cling more tightly to their ways. She warned that the South “will see, and vote for, a dissolution of the union before they will give one inch to the north upon the subject.” She also revealed the whites’ widespread fear of revolt and defended the separation of families as necessary to preserve order.
The importance of manuscripts like this to our historical understanding can’t be overstated. Many white Northerners were not, of course, abolitionists, but were either complicit in or openly justified the South’s “peculiar institution.” This letter gives us a first-hand look at their self-serving rationalizations and willful ignorance.
Cataloging this new acquisition was also challenging for another reason: I had no idea who wrote it. Nannie was probably a nickname, but the letter came to the MHS as a single item, not as part of a family collection, so I had no context to help me. I didn’t even know the name of the brother she was writing to. So I began with a close reading of the text, gathering whatever piecemeal clues I could.
Nannie mentioned several other correspondents, including Elizabeth, Parker, and Caleb.
She asked about happenings at Amherst, Mass., possibly her hometown.
She worked as a teacher for a Mr. Pettus, who treated her well and wanted her to stay on.
She apparently lived and taught in the family home; she described writing the letter “by the windows of my school room which looks out upon the piazza” and going upstairs one night to visit the “boarders.”
Her brother, the recipient, worked for an abolitionist paper, of which Nannie disapproved.
She wrote poetry and had previously published her work in newspapers under the pseudonym “Viola.”
And that was it. Not much to go on. I thought my best clue was the name Pettus and started there. Searching online, I found Pettuses galore in Mecklenburg County, including three listed in an 1860 census of slaveholders, but I could not pinpoint who employed Nannie. I needed to come at it from a different angle.
I searched using various combinations of keywords (Nannie, Pettus, Mecklenburg, plantation, Parker, Caleb, Amherst, Viola, 1849, etc.), hoping but not expecting to stumble on something helpful. To my surprise, I got a break in the case, so to speak. I found a transcription of an 1851 letter from Arlena Pettus to someone called Nancy “Nannie” Henderson Hubbard!
Arlena had apparently been one of Nancy Hubbard’s students, and the details in her letter matched what I knew—she even asked after her teacher’s birds, and our Nannie had written about keeping mockingbirds. Using this website as a jumping-off point, I set out to confirm the identification. I found Historic Homes of Amherst, a 1905 publication by Alice Morehouse Walker, which filled in most of the gaps: Nancy Henderson Hubbard, born in 1823, attended school in North Amherst, “went South as a teacher,” and published poetry under the pen name “Viola.” This was definitely Nannie.
Researching Nancy Hubbard’s family tree, I found a brother Parker (who incidentally later served in the Union army), a sister Elizabeth, and a brother Caleb. The only living brother she didn’t mention in her 1849 letter—and therefore its recipient—was Stephen Ashley Hubbard (1827-1890), a journalist in Connecticut and later managing editor of the Hartford Courant.
Arlena’s letter not only linked the names Pettus and Hubbard, but also provided the specific Pettus for whom Nannie worked, the picturesquely named Musgrove Lamb Pettus (1808-1881). I verified this with the help of the Library of Virginia, which holds a few of Nancy’s letters discussing Musgrove’s family. My final and unexpected discovery was the 1850 Mecklenburg County census, where Nancy’s name is listed alongside Musgrove, Arlena, and other members of the Pettus household.
Nancy Henderson Hubbard returned to Massachusetts in 1851 and married Ansel Wales Kellogg, a banker in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. She died in Wisconsin in 1863, just thirteen days shy of her fortieth birthday. The Oshkosh Public Museum holds a carte-de-visite photograph of Nancy, a.k.a. Nannie, taken in 1855.
Hooped petticoats arrived in the United States from England and France in the 18th century. Many women started to wear them as the hoops lifted heavy petticoats off the legs. The image above is a drawing of a woman in a dress from around 1865 with a full skirt and a view of her hoop skirt.
However religious leaders of the church condemned the garments because the lightness of the hoop skirts often caused them to raise and expose undergarments or bare skin. Newspapers also published satirical cartoons and articles exaggerating how impractical wide skirts were, suggesting women got stuck in doorways or crushed men with their hoops. Despite the controversy, women continued to wear hooped undergarments until the silhouette fell out of fashion around the 1780s.
Full skirts became fashionable again only a few decades later in the United States. At first women used other means to achieve the desired full skirt by wearing crinolines, which were petticoats stiffened with baleen and horsehair. The heaviness of these crinoline made hoop skirts appealing once again. The trend of hooped petticoats really took hold after the invention of spring steel petticoats (also called crinolines) around 1850. These new undergarments eliminated the need for layers of stiffened garments, allowed the legs to move easily, and sit comfortably.[i] This type of undergarment is likely what is depicted on the young women in the image above.
While the image of dresses with large hooped skirts are often associated with the antebellum period of the South the new spring steel hoop skirt became enormously popular, often dubbed “crinolinemania”. There were over 100 factories in New England making hooped petticoats and were even worn by women in rural areas of western Massachusetts.[ii] Sara Gooll Putnam of Boston often included photos and drawings of her friends and family wearing full skirted dresses in her diary entries.
The hoop skirt remained popular for many decades but eventually the style fell out of favor by the end of the 1860s. The condemnation of hooped skirts became stronger after the end of the Civil War, particularly by ministers.[iii] Additionally, the garments were impractical. While spring steel crinolines were an improvement wide skirts were still cumbersome, and in some cases even dangerous. In 1858 the New York Times reported that a woman in Boston died after standing too close to a fire in a crinoline, and that 19 women in England died due to crinoline related deaths.[iv] While the hoop skirt gave women a taste of freedom and mobility, eventually they wanted to have even more freedom of movement that a wide skirt cannot provide regardless of the undergarments holding it up.
[i] Erin Blakemore, “Why Hoop Petticoats Were Scandalous,” JSTOR Daily (JSTOR, January 28, 2018), https://daily.jstor.org/why-hoop-petticoats-were-scandalous/)
[ii] Lazaro, David E. “Supporting Role: The Hoop Skirt in 1860s Western Massachusetts Fashion.” In Dressing New England : Clothing, Fashion and Identity, 31. Deerfield, MA: Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, 2010.
[iii]Abbott, Karen. “Death by Crinoline.” Wonders & Marvels. Accessed January 10, 2020. http://www.wondersandmarvels.com/2012/08/death-by-crinoline.html.
[iv] “The Perils of Crinoline.” The New York Times, March 16, 1858.
As the MHS’s resident medievalist, I’ve found it a joy to get up close and personal with the Society’s early American manuscripts. From Abigail Adams’s neat and regular hand to John Winthrop’s nearly indecipherable scrawl, each new manuscript that crosses my desk introduces a new scribe with all their individual idiosyncrasies. And every so often these American documents offer up clear links to their medieval European antecedents.
One such example came up recently during tandem collation work in the Publications department.[i] Since last July we in Pubs have been busy preparing a digital edition of the Wôpanâak-English word list compiled by John Cotton Jr. and his unnamed Native interlocutors late in the 17th century. Working from transcriptions prepared by Kathleen Bragdon and her team at William and Mary, we have nearly completed our first verification pass of the document.[ii] The vocabulary is arranged in phrase sets with Wôpanâak words on the left and English on the right, sometimes with more than one phrase set to a line, as in this section on colors and kitchen implements:
Another section, this one concerning tides and water, uses a rather curious spelling of a common English word:
What looks like, “Kutchiskett, ffalling water,” is, in fact, “Kutchiskett, Falling water.” That double lowercase f represents a capital F.
This practice of doubling fs for capitals dates back to the Middle Ages and has been vexing readers for centuries since then. The New England Historical and Genealogical Register addressed the issue in 1893 by publishing a note from E. Maunde Thompson of the British Library.[iii]
Certain English hands, particularly legal ones, did not use the usual capital F, so “ff” developed as an alternative to set off more important words. A chirograph—a kind of legal document, as opposed to chirography, used above, which is a synonym for handwriting—from 1337 written in an Anglicana script features the grantor’s name, Robert Fitz Elys, spelled with the double f in the first line.
Hands varied over the time and by situation. A new style of writing called a secretary hand developed starting in the early sixteenth century. It also often used the double f form for a capital, as in this recipe “For a quart of black ynck” found in a commonplace book from 1595–1622:
As colonists sailed west from old England to New England, they brought with them their styles of handwriting. We saw John Cotton Jr.’s use of the double f above, and we can see it again in John Winthrop’s sermon notes, which were taken in England and brought over the Atlantic to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in its earliest years. In this note from Sept 2, 1627, Winthrop records, “Faith was now working by Love”:
As the italic and later the round hand came to predominate over the secretary, the double f slowly disappeared from use in favor of the now familiar capital F. You can still see vestiges of it today, however, in last names like Ffoster.
Armed with this new knowledge, the next time you find yourself confronted by initial double fs don’t ffall into despair, sighing, “Oh, ffs.” Have Faith and, with a flash of recognition, think, “Oh! F!”
[ii] John Cotton Jr.’s notebook also contains sermon notes, a journal, and Latin exercises in another hand. The journal was previously published in Len Travers, “The Missionary Journal of John Cotton, Jr., 1666–1678,” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 109 (1998): 52–101.
The Wôpanâak language fell into a century’s long dormancy beginning in the 19th century. It has recently been revived through the efforts of Jessie Little Doe Baird and the team at the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project.
[iii]The New England Historical and Genealogical Register 47 (April 1893): 212.
For the month of January, I have selected the diary of A.C. Woodworth, a businessman who was based in Chicopee, Mass. at the turn of the 20th century. The MHS holds two of his daily diaries covering the years 1894 and 1905 in which he kept records related to his travels and business dealings, expenses, family, and personal matters. The entries transcribed below recount his regional travels for work during the month of January 1894. At the beginning of January 1894 Woodworth accepted a position as traveling sales agent for the Field Life Guard Co., which sold “life guards,” or fenders, to be installed on the front of streetcars to prevent pedestrian fatalities. The below entries document his first few weeks in his new position.
* * *
Friday, January 5, 1894
I had a long talk with Lawyer Nash, 19 Congress St. yesterday, and he told me he had brought Suit against Sam’l May to collect the notes amounting to $15,000 — which I hold against him. The suit is brought in Springfield though Mr. McClough may want to […] Nash and said he wanted a personal interview with me, and Nash made an appointment for me to meet May today at 11 o’clock but May did not turn up — Mr. Nash will push the suit to judgement but I hope May will offer to settle on some […] before that time. Had an interview with Lawyer Fowle — 53 State St. — about the […] Elevated R.R. Stock (yesterday) the stock is simply worthless. Fowle asked me to try to get Chicago people interested.
Saturday, January 6, 1894
I came to Providence this a.m. and took room 34 at the Hotel […]
I find Mr. Harris has not yet returned from Brooklyn where he went to have a trial […] but he is expected home today. Mr. Makepeace is sick in bed and […] me until tomorrow.
Met Mr. Wheeler on the […] went to the theater in the evening.
Sunday, January 7, 1894
I had a long talk with Mr. M […] today, at his home, where I took tea. M […] says he has cancelled […] $100-note I sent him, and will give me […] $200-note he holds on which I paid him $100 — I think he thought to do this because I have put as much money in working up […]
M […] told me all about […] in the Fender business & Harris Connection — also the chalk business.
Monday, January 8, 1894
Harris has gone to Portland today to hold the annual stockholders meeting […] Field Life Guard Co. tomorrow (Wednesday) there will be a meeting after directors of that company held here in Providence when, if what Harris and Makepeace says comes true, an arrangement will be made with me to become their Western Agent on a salary of $2,500 per year and a commission of 10% on my sales — they to pay all my expenses.
Tuesday, January 9, 1894
I had a long interview with Mr. Geo. H. Corliss and Miss. Corliss. I went to their house, cor. Angel & Prospect Sts. abt. 12 o’clock, by appointment made by Mr. Weeden (nephew) The interview was a very satisfactory one — but I am obliged to wait until the 20” of this month, before they will put a price on their property — at that time they will give me a price for the Geo. H. Corliss Engine Co. — Complete as it now stands, if the partners who are now negotiating for it have not closed the bargain.
I have this day engaged with the Field Life Guard Co. of this city, for six months at $200 per month salary and all my expenses — I am also to have 10% com on all the new business I bring the co. Salary to begin January 1/94.
Saw Prest & Secy of Rochester Railway Co. and arranged for trial of fender in about 10 days. Took measurements of car — gave price at $40 per car job at Worcester […] furnish man to supt putting fenders on cars — they have 150 cars to be fitted up. […] has been given the authority to fit up tr. cars — they have one very fine car that is to be fitted with nickel plated fender — they are going to have the Pittsburgh fender. […] $5,000,000–
John H. Beckley, Prest. F. P. Allen, Treas. C.A. Williams, Secy.
[gap in record]
Tuesday, January 16, 1894
Stayed at the Bay State House all night — Mr. F[…] came this AM and we went to the […] Co. together.
Telephone to Prov. .45
Car fares .20
Bill at hotel 3.00
R.R. to Providence 1.10 5.00
F.L.G. Co. settled for Exp.
F. Co. Exp. to date $40.14
Wednesday, January 17, 1894
Providence & Brockton.
Field Life Guard Co. act.
R.R. to Taunton .60
R.R. to Brockton .80
Expenses .25 $4.65 4.82 9.47
Thursday, January 18, 1894
Worcester, Brockton & Providence.
I reached last [night] arriving at 9pm. Stopped at the B […] Hotel. Mr. C.B. Ragans Supt of this City .. will not put on fenders until he is obliged to.
R.R. to Prov. 1.22
R.R. to […] 1.10
Telephoning .29 4.82
Received from the F.L.G. Co. p/c of Expenses $150
Friday, January 19, 1894
Mashpee & Boston.
Spent the day at Ames Plow Co. Field did not come as promised. Went to Boston at 4.22pm. Hotel 4– R.R. to Boston 1–
R[…] .35 Street Car .10
Messenger .28 Supper .90
F.L.G. Exps $6.60
Mr. Field met me at Reynolds hotel this morning.
Saturday, January 20, 1894
Boston, Worcester, and Chicopee.
Took 7am train for Worcester, Field with me.
R.R. to Worcester 1–
R.R. to […] 1.24
R.R. to Chicopee .10 $2.89
Sunday, January 21, 1894
Chicopee & New York.
R.R. to New York 2.75
Street Car .05
Cigars .25 $3.80
I came to New York this evening and am stopping at the New Amsterdam Hotel cor. 21” and 4” Ave. Mr. Harris met me here at 11 o’clock.
Spent most of the day at the DeKalb […] shops with Harris and Field getting […] ready for […] Fender tomorrow. Saw […] a few moments.
Tuesday, January 23, 1894
New York – Brooklyn – En Route.
Breakfast (2) 1.65
Cab fares .15
Lunch (2) .80
Hotel Bill 3.00
R.R. to Binghampton 8.00
Gave Field 20.00
Porter .75 35.65
Had live [demonstration] of our fender today. Chauncy, Linton, and Supt. of DeKalb Short Railway being present. The test went off fairly well. I leave for Binghampton tonight at 8-30pm.
Wednesday, January 24, 1894
Binghampton & Rochester.
Arrived here this AM at 3-55 went to the […] Hotel. Saw Mr. G. Linny Pagus Prest. of the Binghampton Rd. Co.
Hotel Bill 1.25
R.R. to Rochester 3.65
Cigars .25 $6.05
Thursday, January 25, 1894
[illegible list of supplies and prices]
At work getting fenders on cars for trial.
[…] H. Moffett tonight that fender that would come off […].
Rec’d telegraph from Harris.
[gap in records]
Sunday, January 28, 1894
Sunday papers .75
Monday, January 29, 1894
Rochester – En Route.
Briefly went to New York yesterday — Had talk with Williams & Rasborough — Am to make a new fender & put on a car here. Packed up the 2 fenders and sent home by Express.
Car Fares .20
Papers .05 – 2.25
Hotel Bill (5 days) 17.50
Telegram from Moffitt .50
Buss [sic] .25
R.R. to Sp […] 6.92
Sleeper to Sp […] 4.00
Cigars .25 Porter .50 33.12
Tuesday, January 30, 1894
En Route & Chicopee.
Car fare .10 $1.45
Wednesday, January 31, 1894
Mashpee & […] & Prov.
R.R. to Prov. $2.44
“ “ .10
R.R. to […] 1.10
Telegram to Harris .55
Car Fares .10 5.59
Came back from Providence to Worcester this morning.
* * *
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 A.C. Woodworth diaries are unrestricted and may be consulted in our reading room. If you have questions about the collection, or about planning a visit to the library, please contact a member of the library staff for further assistance.
by Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator
Wedy Jany 1st – The new year commenced in bustle and hurry – All was preparation for the grand event of waiting on the Queen – the room smoked so while we were dressing, that our eyes looked as tearful and red as if we were going to a funeral instead of a frolic.
Thus began New Year’s Day 1812 for 24-year-old Harriet Otis. The day was full of activity and interesting people, and fortunately for us, she described it all in her diary.
The Otis family lived in Washington, D.C., and the first item on the day’s agenda was the New Year’s reception at the White House. Harriet’s father, Samuel Allyne Otis, was secretary of the Senate, and like many other well-to-do Washingtonians, the Otises made an appearance at this important social occasion. (“The Queen” was Harriet’s somewhat snarky nickname for First Lady Dolley Madison.)
Harriet rode to the White House in the carriage of Hannah (Hooper) Reed, the wife of a Congressman from Massachusetts. It was a busy day in the city.
After a little hurry scurry our carriages set of[f] on full tilt – the whole city was alive – everybody in motion. [At the White House] we were jostled […] about two hours, diverted with strange figures and smiling and bowing and recieving [sic] good wishes untill [sic] it was time to go to Mrs Lloyd’s to dine.
The Otises’ next stop was the home of James Lloyd, senator of Massachusetts, and his wife Hannah (née Breck). It’s obvious from her diary that Harriet knew some of the most eminent men and women of the time, not just through her father, but also her brother Harrison Gray Otis and her uncle and aunt, James and Mercy (Otis) Warren.
I could identify some, but not all, of the people who dined at the Lloyds’ that day. Even so, Harriet’s uncensored opinions on the members of her exclusive social circle—and her gossipy, breezy writing style—make the diary very fun to read. We’ll start with Mrs. Lloyd.
A very sweet lovely woman but not always a very entertaining companion, having [a] trick of looking dreadfully wearied with everything.
Someone named Dr. Mitchell made a distinct impression, and I particularly like how Harriet described him.
As curious an Animal as any menagerie can furnish – very harmless though and accommodating too, for let him talk (and it is difficult to prevent him) he little regards whether you are listening or not – pompous, vain but goodnatured – his brain filled with all sort of knowledge ill digested and worse assorted.
And then, unexpectedly, a name I recognized.
Fulton the grand inventor of all manner of schemes – torpedos steamboats &c &c – just obtained a patent for building steamboats on the western waters for twenty eight years – His exterior quite prepossessing.
When Harriet met him, the accomplished Robert Fulton had embarked on a venture to establish exclusive rights to steamboat passage down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers from Pittsburgh to New Orleans. Just days after she wrote this entry in her diary, in fact, his steamboat New Orleans would complete its maiden voyage.
But while he was much renowned for his inventions, Fulton was also unfortunately (according to Harriet) a Democratic-Republican, and the Lloyds, Otises, and Reeds were all Federalists. Outnumbered, Fulton used a time-honored tactic for navigating political conversations during the holidays: avoidance.
Certainly a politic man for he wa[i]ved a political discussion (being a high Demo in company with feds) by saying “Dont ask me about politics, I have nothing in my head but wheels and pivots.”
A very happy and healthy New Year from the MHS to all of you and yours.
As we approach the end of 2019 and the start of 2020, I want to briefly share a few stanzas found in a publication from the 1830s. Titled A Saucy Carrier’s address for the year 1833, this multi-page piece of verse is “Dedicated, in general, to the readers of the Boston daily, semi-weekly, and weekly Advocate.” But the author does not stop there, but instead adds “[Including all who can read, wont read, but ought to be made to read, the TRUTH; with especial wishes for a Happy New Year to its FREE, bold Patrons, and all who are about to become such.]”
Without further ado, some words of wisdom from the Saucy Carrier:
TIME rolls his certain, ceaseless round : again
The CARRIER, true to time, knocks at your door ;
Another year has gone, with all of vain,
Or good, that mark’d its progress, and once more
We pause to draw experience from the last,
And in the future, mend the errors of the past
The year that’s gone ! tis but another wave,
Washed on the shore of Time’s all-whelming sea :
Bu ah ! what wrecks of mind, when none could save,
What broken fair resolves, what bliss to be,
Lie buried in that wave’s resistless tide,
Or thrown upon the strand, in ruin wide!
There Retrospection comes, in pensive mood,
To gather up sad fragments of the past :
Fond Melancholy loves to sit and brood
O’er joys that she has lost, the best, the last ;
Hope lingers still, though all around is dark,
And sees, in every rising cloud, her coming bark.
Tis vain, tis vain : of Time that once has been,
One hour, one moment, we can ne’er recall ;
Its virtue or its crime, its bliss or pain,
Have fled. Remorse, repentance, now are all
The wretch has left of guilty, misspent hours,
And wither’d too, lie pleasure’s sweetest flowers.
The author carries on for several more pages, invoking political actors of the day and their effects upon the nation. To read what else this postal poet penned, resolve to visit the Library in the New Year and find out for yourself!
Every year, the MHS selects one or more high school students for our John Winthrop Student Fellowship. This award encourages high school students to make use of the nationally significant documents of the MHS in a research project of their choosing. Students perform historical research and create a project (usually an assignment for class) using materials at the MHS, both in our archives or digitized online. This project can be something assigned in a class, a National History Day project, or something of the student’s invention! Both student and teacher each receive $350 to support their research. Applications for the 2020 student fellowship are due on 11February 2020. Learn more and apply!
In 2019, Riana Bucceri and her teacher William Miskinis from Littleton High School were awarded one of our student fellowships to research how trends in gravestone iconography reflected shifts in early New England theology. Riana spent several months working in the MHS library with the support of our research librarians and produced an essay titled “The Frailty of Man”: An Analysis of Changing Gravestone Iconography and Theological Sentiment in Early New England.Read Riana’s account of her experience at the MHS:
Every student in our AP U.S history class is required to do a local research project. I had already known I was doing an analysis on gravestone iconography, but working solely with the sources I was getting from my town’s historical society was not cutting it. Luckily, I discovered the Massachusetts Historical Society and the search engine ABIGAIL, and was then able to breathe a sigh of relief. I found sermons from every time period I needed to connect iconographic trends on New England gravestones to the theology of the time. It was through this browsing of the MHS’s website that I discovered I had the opportunity to apply for the John Winthrop fellowship, which I immediately decided that I wanted to do.
When I went in to visit the MHS, I was instantly impressed with the welcoming, intellectual, and professional environment I encountered. Every employee was willing to help. I was honestly shocked that I was able to touch actual letters and sermons that were up to 300 years old. Sitting in the stately reading room, holding handwritten letters, I felt like I had history in my hands. After struggling with the delicate handwriting for a while, I deciphered letters from rural pastors addressed to city priests describing the great religious revivals they had witnessed. Their handwritten words demonstrated a clear turning point in religious sentiment that became the backbone of my paper. These letters show turning points in theological sentiment, which coincided with changes in iconography. I used these to compare the general evolution of New England gravestone iconography with greater theological ideas, such as predestination, and the First and Second Great Awakenings.
Possibly one of the most helpful and interesting sources I found was Ezra Sampson’s sermon on seventeen year old Olive Soule. His metaphors comparing death to nature were really beautiful, and the way he emphasized ‘the frailty of man’ was engrossing. He said, “Grass we know is but of short duration. It grows and flourisheth but a little while, before it fadeth and withereth away…and this holds true of man…” His themes showed an important turning point in religious sentiment that supported my thesis. In fact, I decided to entitle my paper “‘The Frailty of Man” because of the way the phrase resonates throughout my research. Looking back, I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to use the resources available at the Massachusetts Historical Society. If I had not had access to these sources, I would not have been able to create such a complex and nuanced paper.
By Lance Boos, MHS Malcolm and Mildred Frieberg Short-Term Fellow and Ph.D. Candidate in History, Stony Brook University
I have been incredibly lucky to spend several weeks during the summer and autumn of 2019 doing research at the Massachusetts Historical Society for my dissertation on the musical marketplace of Revolutionary and Early National America. In course of my work, I came across an unusual request in a 1769 letter from three Boston wardens (Thomas Walley, John Joy, and Henry Hill) to Colonel Alexander Mackey, commanding officer of the British troops stationed in the city. Following what they described as a “Gross affront & insult” toward a citizen of Boston, they urged Mackey to forbid his troops from performing music during the Sunday morning changing of the guard.1
The incident that sparked the request had occurred on the previous Sunday, when, as the the letter described it:
a Young Gentleman an Inhabitant of the Town, appeared at ye relieving of ye Main Guard who being desired by one of ye Wardens to retire showed a willingness to Comply, but Capt. Molesworth of ye 29th Regiment, who was Capt. of ye Guard that was to be relieved, & an other officer Came to him & Insisted upon his tarrying to hear the Musick, Saying he would protect him, & Immediately ordered the fifes to play (in derision, as we Suppose,) what by them is Commonly Called ye Yankee Tune.2
In this account, the soldiers doubly antagonized the young gentleman first by instructing him to leave, and then by summoning him back for an insulting musical performance of what was very likely “Yankee Doodle.” The etymology of “Yankee Doodle” and the origins of its melody have been extensively studied, but the lack of pre-Revolution documentation make definitive answers elusive. However, scholars generally agree that British soldiers used the tune to mock American colonists until Americans defiantly appropriated it during the Revolutionary War.3
The letter gives greater weight to the conclusion that it was deployed mockingly by the British, confirms that this dynamic had developed at least six years prior to Lexington and Concord, and adds an important dimension about the actual use of the song and how the colonists initially responded to that derision. The writers couched their complaint in supplication, both opening and closing the letter by appealing to Mackey’s politeness and magnanimity. They went on to note that it was the music “which draws great Numbers of persons together,” thus alarming or annoying the soldiers. This point frames their request not solely as a concession to the Bostonians, but as a practical method of easing tensions and preventing further disruption. Yet they return to imploring Mackey to “protect us from any Insults from ye officers or soldiers,” reminding him of his soldiers’ antagonistic conduct.
If the letter genuinely sought to quell growing hostilities between Bostonians and soldiers, it simultaneously advanced an argument against military occupation and deflected attention away from the possibility that the soldiers’ behavior had been provoked by unruly Bostonians. Less than a year before the Boston Massacre, this possibility can not be discounted. The letter is, of course, a one-side account of the incident, and while the writers detailed the soldiers’ offenses right down to the song, they provided no information about what precipitated the initial order for the “young gentleman” to depart.
By calling for the cessation of all music during the Sunday morning guard change rather than just banning “Yankee Doodle,” the writers reveal that this was about more than a single song. They very likely understood the importance of the fife and drum to military formalities, and may have seen this as a means of undermining the military’s stature in the city by curtailing its ability to use music as a performance of its authority, tool of insult and intimidation, or vehicle for militaristic sentiment. I have not yet found any sources indicating how, or even if, Mackey responded, although it is unlikely that he acquiesced. He returned to England two months later, and maintained that the troops had been treated quite poorly by the Americans.4
This incident shows that tension between the soldiers and the people of Boston was clearly palpable, and “Yankee Doodle” was an obvious point of discord. Music, more than just the song itself, was a venue of contestation through which Bostonians and royal officials debated the role and behavior of soldiers in the city, and more broadly the relationship between colonial citizens and the empire.
1 Letter to Col. Alexander Mackey [manuscript copy], 17 June 1769. Misc. Bd. 1769 June 17
3 The turning point for the song was likely the British retreat from Lexington and Concord in 1775. However, J.A. Leo Lemay makes a convincing argument that despite its subsequent derisive use by British soldiers, the song was American rather than British in origin and likely dates from the 1740s. See Oscar Sonneck, Report on “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Hail Columbia,” “America,” “Yankee Doodle” (Washington, DC : Government Printing Office, 1909), 79-156; S. Foster Damon, Yankee Doodle (Providence: Brown University Library, 1959); J.A. Leo Lemay, “The American Origins of ‘Yankee Doodle.’” The William and Mary Quarterly 33 no. 3 (1976): 435-464; Kenneth Silverman, A Cultural History of the American Revolution: Painting, Music, Literature, and the Theater in the Colonies and the United States from the Treaty of Paris to the Inauguration of George Washington, 1763-1789 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), 140-144, 275-290; and Henry Abelove, “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Massachusetts Review 49, no. 1/2 (2008): 13-21.