Abigail Adams’s “curious conversation” with Thomas Jefferson

by Hobson Woodward, Series Editor, Adams Family Correspondence

Volume 14 of the Adams Family Correspondence, published by Harvard University Press, arrived in the Adams Papers offices last month. Spanning the period October 1799 through February 1801, the volume chronicles the final months of Abigail and John Adams’s public service. Among the 277 documents included in the book is one that records a “curious conversation” between Abigail and the family’s former friend and political rival, Thomas Jefferson. The conversation took place at a dinner party in January 1801. A month earlier, presidential electors had cast their ballots. While the official election results would not be announced until 11 February, John Adams’s loss was already widely presumed. Ultimately, it was the House of Representatives that determined the outcome of the election of 1800, casting 36 ballots before breaking the electoral tie between Jefferson and Aaron Burr on 17 February. Thus, the tension of the moment makes the conversation between Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson all the more extraordinary.

25 January 1801 letter from Abigail Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams
Letter from Abigail Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams, 25 January 1801

Abigail enclosed her transcript of the conversation with a 25 January 1801 letter to her son Thomas Boylston, telling him that it “was not heard by any one but ourselves, as we spoke low.” The enclosure relates an impressive exchange on Washington politics, where the president’s wife and one of the contenders for his replacement offered their impressions of a partisan Congress and ruminated on the characters of particular members. The give-and-take was frank, unrestrained. Thomas Jefferson said he avoided attending the House of Representatives, writing, “I am sure there are persons there who would take a pleasure in saying something, purposely to affront me.” Abigail Adams was equally candid, noting, “Some are mere Brutes, others are Gentlemen— but party Spirit, is a blind spirit.”

enclosure, Adams Family Papers, MHS
enclosure, Adams Family Papers, MHS

The conversation then turned to the Senate’s debate over the ratification of the Convention of 1800, an agreement that ended the Quasi-War and resulted from John Adams’s decision to send a second peace mission to France. Thomas Jefferson believed the Senate would not give its advice and consent, a position that surprised Abigail Adams given that mercantile interests favored ratification. If defeat did occur, Abigail claimed the fault would lay with Federalists allied with Alexander Hamilton, who had opposed the president’s diplomatic efforts. “There have always been a party determined to defeat it from the first sending the Mission,” Abigail said, adding, “I Mean the Hamiltonians; they must abide the concequences.”

The conversation came to a close when the vice president attempted to broach the subject of what the House would do about the deadlocked presidential election. There, the First Lady declined to respond. The election “is a subject which I do not chuse to converse upon,” Abigail claimed. Instead, she offered a telling anecdote:

I have heard of a Clergyman who upon some difficulty amongst his people, took a text from these words—“and they knew not what to do”—from whence he drew this      inference, []that when a people were in such a Situation, that they do not know what         to do; they should take great care that they do not do—they know not what.”

To that, Abigail wrote, “he laught out, and here ended the conversation.”

enclosure, Adams Family Papers, MHS
enclosure, Adams Family Papers, MHS

Future volumes of Adams Family Correspondence will include letters between Abigail Adams and Thomas Jefferson both before and after the breach in their relationship that lasted from 1804 to 1813. The letters provide fascinating insight into the friendship between the Adamses and Jefferson, though none reveal quite the same rapport as Abigail did when she took up her quill to transcribe her “curious conversation” with Thomas Jefferson.

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.

“I Never Saw Such Slaughter”: The Civil War Letters of Dwight Emerson Armstrong, Part V

Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

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

Dwight Armstrong letter, 5 July 1862
Dwight Emerson Armstrong letter to his sister Mary (Armstrong) Needham, 5 July 1862

I am well, only some tired. I wish I could tell you what has been done here on this Peninsula for the last ten days but it would fill a volume. Many bloody battles have been fought, and it does seem as if it was about time this was stopped. […]  I wish you could have had one look at that battle field just after dark. It was an awful sight. Great streams of fire bursting from the mouths of these ugly looking cannons; shells screaming, and bursting, all around, and a roar like a thousand thunders, continually filling the air, made such a sight and sound as is seldom seen or heard.

These words were written by Dwight Emerson Armstrong of the 10th Massachusetts Infantry in a letter to his sister Mary (Armstrong) Needham dated 5 July 1862. Since his last letter, Dwight had fought in several battles and skirmishes near Richmond, Va., one after the other in quick succession, culminating in the Battle of Malvern Hill. This series of engagements became known as the Seven Days Battles. Union troops were now “taking breath” in the relative safety of camp at Harrison’s Landing on the James River.

The MHS collection of Dwight’s letters unfortunately doesn’t include Mary’s replies, but we know she had some questions, which he answered when he wrote next two weeks later. What had the Union gained in those brutal seven days? Dwight replied, “I dont think we have made out much of anything.” Would they attempt to take Richmond again? Not likely, until reinforcements arrived. What were the prospects for peace? Dwight was understandably cynical.

When there is a union between the Powers of Light and Darkness you may look for Union between the North and South and not till then. […] A few weeks more of such fighting as the last week was, will pretty much use up the present generation.

At just 22 years old, Dwight was now an experienced soldier and had learned a lot. For example, he admitted that he’d underestimated the enemy.

The rebels are no cowards, and mean to fight to the last. They are perfectly desperate in battle, and care very little for bullets. Their Generals seem to care no more, for the lives of their men, than they would for the lives of so many flies. […] They would march their men in 5 or 6 great long lines, one behind the other, straight up to our batteries, that at every moment mowed them down by hundreds, I never saw such slaughter.

The 10th Regiment was stationed at Harrison’s Landing from 2 July to 16 August 1862, when it pulled up stakes and headed north. During the summer and fall of that year, Dwight wrote less frequently, only about once a month, due to the regiment’s many relocations and engagements. He was near enough to hear the fighting at Antietam, Md., on 17 September, but by the time the 10th was ordered to the field, that bloody battle was essentially over. Dwight saw only the aftermath, but the scene made a distinct impression.

I went around on the battle field, after the fighting was over, and the sights beat all that I ever saw. Men lay piled up in winrows and dead horses broken cannons, and everything else; covered the ground. […] I suppose this war is to go on until, all the men each side can raise are killed off, and then they will be satisfied.

A new concern cropped up in Dwight’s letters at this time—his brothers. He was disheartened by the news that his older brother, Timothy Martin Armstrong, had enlisted. Another brother, Joel Mason Armstrong—Mason, as he was called—also enlisted on 5 September 1862, according to that invaluable reference Massachusetts Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the Civil War. Mason was a carpenter in Sunderland, Mass., and would serve in the 52nd Massachusetts Infantry until he was mustered out the following summer. You can read a little more about Mason in A Record of Sunderland in the Civil War (p. 14).

However, Timothy never enlisted, as far as I can tell. This is confirmed in a letter from Dwight to Mary on 25 November 1862. Dwight regretted that Mason had gone to war, but was relieved Tim was staying out of it.

I think one out of the three, ought to know enough to stay at home and not come off here to quarrel about politics; that is all the fuss is about any way. It is just like two parties going to town-meeting, and getting into a knock-down fight, about their opinions. Perhaps it was not so when the war first commenced, but it is now.

Both Tim and Mason would live into their seventies, dying in the early years of the 20th century.

It was two days before Thanksgiving 1862, and Dwight found himself even farther from home than the previous year. He realized his earlier optimism was misguided and the war would likely drag on for some time.

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

@JQAdams_MHS Celebrating 1 Decade of Diary Entries on Twitter!

by Alexandra Bush, Digital Production Assistant

Screenshot of JQA Twitter page
@JQAdams_MHS Twitter Page

Today marks the 10 year anniversary of the @JQAdams_MHS Twitter feed, which tweeted its first entry from John Quincy Adams’ line-a-day diary on 5 August 2009! The MHS staff has diligently posted one entry every day since, exactly 200 years after each was recorded by JQA, e.g. posting his 5 August, 1809 entry on 5 August, 2009 and so on. Since then we have accompanied him through all manner of wild weather, meetings, portrait sittings, evening walks, trips abroad, political debates, astronomical observations, and more. While JQA’s line-a-day entries aren’t exactly verbose, they provide an evocative look into his daily life.

The journey began in 2009, or 1809 for JQA, on the eve of his tenure as the United States’ ambassador to Russia, where he dined with Czar Alexander I and negotiated and signed the Treaty of Ghent. Next we followed him to London upon his appointment as envoy and ambassador to Great Britain in 1815/2015, marking the beginning of a years-long string of complaints about the dreary weather. JQA became Secretary of State to President James Monroe in 1817/2017, whereupon he returned to Washington, D.C. These past few years have seen JQA firmly establishing his presence in the capitol; assisting in matters of international relations, helping to formally define the borders of the United States, and baring his soul to the world every summer morning during his nude Potomac swims. What’s in store for the future? Only time—or our meticulously digitized, transcribed, and fully searchable web database of each of his diaries from 1779 to 1848—will tell.

Our followers’ impressions of JQA’s succinct line-a-day entries are one of the best parts of this venture. It is wonderful to see how words written 200 years ago can still be impactful today.

@Loiarchives writes:
@JQAdams_MHS Dear JQA, why do I find your tweets so calming? 

@SpiritbearNY writes:
Huh. He felt about his journal, which consumed his mornings, the way many of us feel about our use of social media. At least he was documenting history, though, not rage tweeting about his political enemies. 🙄

@fararelliott writes:
I love JQA – a bath is essential to celebrating Independence Day.

@k59griffie writes:
Another luscious word from the diary of @JQAdams_MHS : “underwitted.” He has given me two great words:  vagarious and underwitted.  I am happy.

Sometimes, though, the voice of a long-dead historical figure on a modern social media site can be a little confusing.

@AngusDoubleBeef asks:
Is this really John Quincy Adams or like a fan account?

Regardless of your views on the possibility of tweeting from beyond the grave, we encourage anyone with a Twitter account to follow @JQAdams_MHS. Join us as we finish out his Secretary of State years and celebrate his presidency in 2025! None of this would have been possible without the tireless work of the members of the Adams Papers Editorial Project, whose long hours of transcription provide us with a constantly growing source of fascinating JQA writings. You can find images and transcriptions of JQA’s diary including line-a-day entries, long-form entries, drafts, and more, on the MHS website. See full page images here http://www.masshist.org/jqadiaries/php/ and transcriptions of long entries here https://www.masshist.org/publications/jqadiaries/index.php.

George Hyland’s Diary, August 1919

By Anna Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services

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

August if full of fruits and vegetables from the garden: cucumbers, blackberries, apples and pears, “lettuice,” green beans, turnips, beets, and potatoes. George is also offered a peck of clams that he turns down because “I do not do any cooking” (though on another date he mentions making moss pudding). George is winding down his three month tenancy at “the James place,” with its spacious garden, and toward the end of the month begins moving his belongings into new quarters above J. H. Vinal’s store. On August 10th he has his picture taken. On August 16th he takes the train to Boston and — amidst other errands — attempts to learn why he was not called into service during the Great War. On August 24th a “thunder tempest” rolls through that he reports in his diary was “very destructive … in all parts of New Eng.” Throughout the month, George finds an hour or more most nights to play upon his guitar.

Enjoy another month with George as we close out the summer and head into autumn.

* * *

PAGE 339 (cont’d)

Aug 1. rain all forenoon. Spent forenoon at Charles’s. Had dinner there. In aft. worked 3 hours for Fred J. Bailey’s at N. Scituate Beach digging and filling up a trench. Elmer Ramsdel laid and fitted the pipes (tiles) trench about 45 or 50 ft. long. fin. the job. rode down and back in auto. aft. par. clou. to clear. W.S. at the seashore. 3 seaplanes passed there this aft. low down over the water. Mrs. M.G. Seaverns gave me a banana early in eve. I gave her some lettuice [sic] — from my garden. Eve. clear. W.N.W. Charles called here in eve.

2d. In forenoon worked at home (on James place) mowing with scythe, lawn mower, sickle and shears. In aft. went to Rockland via Norwell and Hanover. Charles, Lucy, Ellen, Uncle Samuel, Irene, and I rode there with George Hardwick — in his large auto. Emeline and Henrietta and Ethel also went there — at Edmund’s. Fine weather, W.N.W. clear, arr. home about 4:10 P.M., then worked on the place 2 hours. Sarah rode from Geo. Hardwick’s place with us — to Charlie’s place — and went back with them (Ellen and Irene). Fine eve. clear, cool. Played on the guitar 1 hour late in eve.

3d. (Sun.) Fine weather – clear; W.N.W. Called at Charlie’s in eve. Then went to Francis Hyland’s and spent part of eve.

PAGE 340

August 1919.

4th. Cut up boxes and housed the wood — 7 hours for Mrs. M.G. Seaverns — 2.10. Hot weather — tem. 74-90; W.S.W. late in aft. picked the first cucumber from vine in my garden — gave it to Mrs. Seaverns. Played on the guitar 1 hour in eve. also worked in my garden early in eve.

5th. Dug up ground in poultry yards for Mr. S. T. Speare – 5 1/4 hours — 1.65. Hot weather tem. 70-88; W.S.W. Played on the guitar 1 hour in eve. Mrs. Ethel Torrey sent me 2 doughnuts this A.M.

6th. In forenoon — mowed the lawn and bank and other places 2 hours for Mrs. Eudora Bailey (did not charge full price). In aft. dug up ground in poultry yards 1 1/2 hours for S. T. Speare — 45. Began to rain about 2:20 P.M. rain heavy at times all aft. and all night. W.S.W. Played on the guitar 1 1/4 hours in eve. Mrs. Torrey gave me a qt. of milk.

7th. Very wet. rain until about 9 A.M. cloudy all forenoon. aft. par. clou. W.S.W. warm. In aft. cleared Mrs. Eudora Bailey’s trees of Gipsey [sic] moth nests (eggs and millers). She helped me do it. She is 79yrs of age. Mrs. Ethel Torrey sent me a pint of milk. Her daughter margaret brought it here. Eve. clear. Fine weather.

8th. Fine weather, tem. About 68-87; W.W. very wet in forenoon. In aft. Went nearly to Scituate Cen. to see if I could find some blackberries — got 1 1/2 cupfull. Stopped about 1/2 hour at the old house on mile 8 of […] carried 2 cucumbers and some lettuice to Mrs. M.G.Seaverns’ late in aft. She is 80 yrs of age — to-day. Saw Mrs. W. I. Lincoln at store. Fine eve. cool. Called at Mrs. Irene Litchfield’s early in eve. She came here to get me to repair a bucket — could do nothing with it — not worth repairing — she gave me a piece of choc. cake. Played on the guitar 1 hour late in eve.

9th. Worked 1 hour for Mr. Speare — 30. and 3 hours for Mason Litchfield — mowing lawn and bank — 65. Fine weather; W.W. cool. clear. eve. very cool. clear. W.S.W. Played on the guitar 1 1/4 hours in eve. I also worked 4 hours on this place — mowed and trimmed the grass on the whole place — also dug up some ground and transplanted some late turnips — also thinned out the plants in the rows where I planted the seeds.

10th. (Sun.) Very fine weather. Clear. cool. W.N.W. Went to W. I. Lincoln’s about 12:30. Staid [sic] about 2 1/2 hours — had dinner there. We all had our pictures taken in aft. then I went up to Uncle Samuel’s. Had supper there. Sarah and I went to my home. Sarah with me every minute I was up there. We picked a bouquet of wild flowers and carried them to Mt. Hope Cem. fine eve. arr. Back at 9 P.M. — rode there and back with W. I. Lincoln — He went to Mt. Blue Spring to get a load of water. I made a moss pudding late in eve.

11th. Worked 6 hours for Mrs. M. G. Seaverns — mowing and raking grass — 1.80 fine weather, cool sea breese [sic] — W.S.E. fine eve. Played on the guitar 1 1/4 hours in eve.

12th. Worked 6 1/2 hours for Mr. Speare — (mowing grass near the house, and made a path around 3 sides of his woods and a path through the centre — bushes, trees, and briars) — 1.95. Also worked haying for 2/3 hour  Mrs. M. G. Seaverns — 20. Fine weather, clear, W.S.E. Played on the guitar 1 1/2 hours in eve. Mrs. Torrey gave me a pint of milk. Mr. Speare gave me a sythe with snath.

13th. Worked 5 hours for Mr. Speare — made another path in the woods and back of poultry yards — bet. poultry yards and a stone wall — 1.50. Sold 10 cucumbers (to sell in his store and markets) 25. (To Job H. Vinal) Job gave me about a pound of Hamburg steak (meat). Mrs. Torrey gave me a pint of milk […] par. cloudy — damp, W.S.E. a few sprinkles of rain in eve. Played on the guitar 1 1/4 hours in eve. Rain in night.

14th. Cold storm — W.N.E. rain and mod. gale — 30m. Light rain in eve. W.N.E. repaired some of my clothes. Played on the guitar 1 1/2 hours in eve. Kept a fire in stove all day and eve. Cold for season.

15th. Worked 8 3/4 hours for William Carter (he paid me for 9 hours work) — 2.70. Forenoon misty, very damp, W.N.W. aft. par. clou. (clearing) eve. Clear very fine eve. Played on the guitar 1 1/4 hours in eve. Mrs. Carter gave me some tea — enough for several meals. I had none, and worked so late that the stores had all closed when I finished the work — dug up and repaired their driveway — about 300 feet in length.

16th. Went to Boston on 7:55 A.M. tr. Paid $15.00 on a Victory Loan Bond at the State St. Trust Cos. Bank — 33 State St. Also went to the U.S. Custom House to see if I could find out the reason I was not taken into the service of the U.S. Merchant Marine when the country was engaged in the Great War — I signed an application (blank) and filled it out and thought I was to be put into active service but I was not. The officer who had charge of the recruiting is not there now, and I could find out nothing about it but the chief officer who has charge now told me to go to the shipping office at No. 20 Atlantic Av. and prob. they would put me in the service in some capacity, but the war is ended and I do not take much interest in it now, but perhaps I may later on. Returned on the Stm. “Mayflower” to Nantasket. Spent aft. there — Band concert by Carter’s Band of Boston. Went to Hingham on Elec. Car — then tr. to N. Scituate. Fine weather, fine eve. W.S.E. Played on the guitar 1 1/4 hours in eve.

17th. (Sun,) Par. cloudy; W.S.E. Mr. Bullard called here in forenoon, gave him some lettuice. Cloudy. Mrs. Eudora Bailey called here this A.M. to see if I would like to have some clams — her daughter, Sarah, sent her a half a peck. She said I could have them if I wanted them but I do not do any cooking.

18th. Mowed lawn and raked up apples 1 3/4 hours for E. Jane Litchfield. Had dinner there. Walked up and back. Very damp. Began to rain about 1:45 P.M. Got wet. Staid at Uncle Samuel’s in aft. Sarah and Hester Fish came and played housekeeping. I gave them some choc. candy (5cts). Sold 5 cucumbers to J. H. Vinal this A. M. — to sell in his store. Bought a quart of milk at Mrs. Merritt’s. Ethel got it for me. Rain all aft. W.E. eve. clou. Played on the guitar 1 1/2  hours in eve.

19th. Fair. W.S.E. Went up to Uncle Samuel’s — staid 3/4 hour. Had dinner there. In aft. worked 3 1/2 hours for E. Jane Litchfield — mowing and raking grass. 5 hours in all — 1.00. Walked up and back. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s. Ethel got it for me. Played on the guitar 1 1/2 hours in eve.

20th. Mowed lawn and around the house. 2 1/3 hours for Mason Litchfield — 70. and mowed lawn and trimmed bank 2 3/4 hours for Mrs. Eudora Bailey (6th time) — 2.00. Clear. Warm. W.S.W. tem. About 68-85. I have hired a house to move into when I leave this place. Fine eve. Played on the guitar 1 1/4 hours in eve. Sold 11 beets and 1 qt. of green beans to Mrs. M.G. Seaverns this A.M. — 10. Also 4 cucumbers for Sarah — 20. She will have […].

PAGE 340

August 1919

21st. Mowed 5 hours for Mrs. Caroline Litchfield — 1.00. Walked up and back. Had dinner at E. Jane Litchfield’s. Gave Sarah the money (20cts) I got for the 4 cucumbers I sold for her. Hot weather — tem. about 67-86; W.N.W., E., S.W. stopped at Geo. Crosby’s to see his well — over 20 feet of water in it. Played on the guitar 1 h. 20 m. in eve. Late bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s.

22d. Mowed and trimmed grass and did other work for Mrs. M.G. Seaverns — 4h — 1.20. Also mowed a place in a great field — near a very large elm tree (for the young friends of Mrs. E. to have a picnic) for Mrs. Bayley Ellis — 1 3/4 hours — 50. Mrs. Ethel Torrey gave me a pint of milk early in eve. I got a pail of water there. Hot weather — tem. About 67-87. W.W. clear. Played on the guitar 1 1/4 hours in eve. Made a moss pudding and boiled some turnips. Sold about 2 qts of apples for Sarah (got 15cts for them) I sold 7 of my cucumbers to J. H. Vinal — 10. and 12 turnips to Mrs. Bertha Bates (nee Hobson) — 10.

23d. Worked 3 hours for Wm. Carter. 90. 2/3 hours for Mrs. M.G. Seaverns, 20. 4 1/2 hours for Mr. Bullard, 1.35. Gave Mrs. Bailey Ellis some lettuice in eve. Hot weather, W.W. clear. Tem. 68-87. Played on the guitar 1h. 20m. in eve

24th. (Sun.) Very hot and muggy, W.S.W. tem. 75-95. Thunder tempest and rain began at 4:45 P.M. continued for 5 hours — 11 P.M. rain has stopped but tempest still continues E. of here. Thun. storms always go from the N.W. to S.E. Boiled some turnips, beets and potatoes (from my garden) in eve. The thunder storm was very destructive. Was in all parts of New Eng.

25th. Rain until about 3 P.M. Eve. clear. Played on the guitar 1 1/4 hours in eve. Cut wood 1/2 hour for Francis N. Hyland in forenoon — in woodhouse.

26th. Worked 6 hours for J. H Vinal — 2.00. Had dinner there. J. H. V. and I mowed with sythes — I also trimmed with sickle and shears. Emma V. mowed with lawn mower. I sharpened it. Fine weather. Fine eve. tem to-day about 65-83. Rode 1/2 mile with [blank space] in auto this A.M. (He works for F. J. Bailey) walked back. Played on the guitar 1h. 20m. in eve. Worked haying ¼ hour A.M. for Mrs. Seaverns.

27th. Worked 6 1/4 hours for J. H. Vinal — mowing — 2.00. Had dinner there. Fair in forenoon. Very damp and clou. in aft. Showers at times. Played on the guitar 1 1/4 hours in eve.

28th. In forenoon moved some of my things into Scott Gannett’s tenement over the store — J. H. Venal’s store. In aft. picked pears 1 hour for Mrs. Eudora Bailey and picked pears 1 1/4 hours for Mrs. M.G. Seaverns — also worked haying 1/2 hour — 45. Played on the guitar 1 1/4 hours in eve. Stayed in new house to-night.

29th. Worked 3 1/2 hours for Mrs. Ethel Torrey — improving walk — and trimming grass. — 1.05. In aft. went up to Uncle Samuel’s. Gave Sarah the money (15cts) I got for some apples I sold for her. Rode 1 1/4 miles with Clinton Bates. Walked back. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s. E. got it. Played on the guitar 1 1/4 hours in eve. Staid in new place to-night.

30th. Worked 2 ¼ hours for Mason Litchfield — mowing lawn and trimming around the house — 65. Very muggy and damp. Light showers in forenoon. Rain all aft. Windy — W.S. Ellen and Sarah called here a few min. in forenoon — Sarah came into the house — to see where I live. They went over to Charlie’s. I called there late in aft. They came back with me — were going to stay this eve. but they got a chance to ride home with Margaret Brown and went back to Uncle Samuel’s. I bought a cone of ice cream for Sarah (7cts). Margaret Brown got it for her. M. B. worked at the Drug Store — where I bought it. Rain until 5 P.M. then began to rain again about 7: 15 P.M. Light rain all eve. Played on the guitar 1h. 25 min. in eve. in my new home — ten. over J. H. Vinal’s store.

31st. Rain in forenoon. aft. and clear 10:30 P.M. cloudy; W.N.W. My lease of the James place (3 mos.) expires to-day, and the rent for this place (ten. Over J.H. Vinal’s store and market) begins tomorrow. (Sun.)

* * *

If you are interested in viewing the diary in person in our library or have other questions about the collection, please visit the library or contact a member of the library staff for further assistance.

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

Have You Curd? The MHS has Grate Collections, Gruyere-nteed!

Ashley Williams, Library Assistant and Processing Assistant

This past weekend saw the anniversary of the Mammoth Cheese, a 1235 lb. ball of cheese created by the farmers of Cheshire, Massachusetts as a gift to Thomas Jefferson! In an effort to pay fromage to such a lactiferous Massachusetts moment in history, I’ll be briefly highlighting some of the Society’s creamier collections.

Wooden Screw from Mammoth Cheese creation
Wooden Screw from Mammoth Cheese creation

The first and most relevant of these collections is a segment of the wooden screw that once belonged to the cider press used to create the legendary Mammoth Cheese. Our records indicate this screw segment was donated to the Society anonymously around 1960. Our repository also houses a copy of Lyman H. Butterfield’s paper, “Elder John Leland, Jeffersonian Itinerant.” This paper includes a detailed account of the reasoning and planning behind the cheesy gift to Jefferson. The account boasts of a vat, six feet in diameter and twenty-one inches thick, holding “fourteen hundred weight of curd.” According to the account, 900 cows were milked for the creation of the Mammoth Cheese. It’s safe to say the citizens of Cheshire were beside themselves with pride in regards to this whey/ty accomplishment. The publication also includes a cute little ditty titled, “Ode to the Mammoth Cheese.” The opening lines read, “Most Excellent– far fam’d and far fetch’d Cheese! / Superior far in smell, taste, weight and size, /To any ever form’d neath foreign skies…” As extravagant as these initial assertions are, I found myself most tickled by the closing lines. “All that we want or wish for in life’s hour, / Heaven still will grant us– they are only these, / Poetry–Health–Peace–Virtue–Bread and Cheese.” Forget life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness! Let them eat cheese!

Ode to the Mammoth Cheese
Elder John Leland, Jeffersonian Itinerant by L.H. Butterfield

But my cheese puns don’t stop there, and neither do the collections. I couldn’t possibly highlight MHS collections without mentioning the Adams family. Turns out Charles F. Adams II had an eye for gouda cheese. The photograph below was taken in Allemaar, Holland in 1898. It features a sharper than cheddar Charles observing the operations of a cheese market weighing house.

Cheese market weighing house
C.F. Adams II at cheese market weighing house

The next item on the list may find particular interest with any silversmithing enthusiasts. It is a mysteriously unidentified cheese knife. It was found in a safe along with several other pieces of mystery silverware back in 1974. You’ll notice from the photos that there are traces of gilt on both the blade and handle.

cheese knife
Cheese knife

Cheese Knife

The final two collections I have to discuss are intriguing because they are cheese related in name alone, the first being the records of the Belmont, Massachusetts Cheese Club. The Cheese Club is a men’s intellectual and social club revolving around the presentation of scholarly papers. The records include meeting minutes, correspondence, member lists, papers read at club meetings, and financial material. I searched through the club’s documented history hoping to locate some witty and humorous explanation as to why this group would name themselves the “Cheese Club” but could only come up with a few lines that indicated large amounts of cheese and ginger ale being consumed for refreshment at earlier meetings. In fact, the group that began meeting in 1895 did not begin referring to themselves as the “Cheese Club” until 1940.

Elizur Wright, the Legend of Cheese Rock
Elizur Wright’s “The Legend of ‘Cheese Rock’”

The final item in our cheese round lends a shout out to environmental conservationists. It’s a printed broadside of a poem called “The Legend of ‘Cheese Rock’” written by Elizur Wright. Elizur is often recognized as the “father of life insurance,” but he had several reform interests throughout his life such as abolitionism and conservation. In the midst of bustling New England urban development in the mid-19th century, Wright pushed for the preservation of forests and parks, particularly in places like Blue Hills and Middlesex Fells. He helped organize the Middlesex Fells Association which pushed for legislation to the preserve forests in the area. In order to gain support, the group hosted “Forest Festivals” throughout the area, and the aforementioned poem was written for one such occasion. The poem alludes that the hill now referred to as Winthrop Hill or “Mount Winthrop” was previously christened “Cheese Rock” after the trio, “Winthrop, Nowell, [and] Eliot” shared a meal of “simple cheese” there.

I hope I’m not provolone in being fascinated by these cheese related objects. In queso you are interested in viewing any of these items in person in our library or have other questions about the collection, please visit the library or contact a member of the library staff for further assistance. You won’t raclette it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Archivist as Detective: At Sea on the Paulina

by Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

George Hyland’s Diary, July 1919

By Anna Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services

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

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

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

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

* * *

PAGE 335 (cont’d)

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

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

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

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

PAGE 336

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAGE 337

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAGE 338

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAGE 339

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

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

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

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

* * *

If you are interested in viewing the diary in person in our library or have other questions about the collection, please visit the library or contact a member of the library staff for further assistance.

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

Henry Davis Minot and His Birds

by Hannah Elder, Library Assistant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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