“The Glamour and Confusion of the Times”: Martha Walker and the Invasion of Quebec[1]

by Catherine Treesh, Yale University

No one in town dared “look at, much less Enter my house, for fear of falling under suspicion of being accomplices in the supposed Treason; every one forbid[den] on pain of Imprisonment to carry a scrip of paper for me to my husband.”[2]

This was Martha Walker’s recollection of Montreal in the summer of 1775. Married to the radical merchant Thomas Walker, Martha suffered alienation and harassment as her husband’s allies — the rebellious Americans — invaded her city.

The Massachusetts Historical Society has one of the only copies of Martha’s account of these months. She recorded her memories of this summer many years later, but her narrative still crackles with emotion and high drama. Not only a compelling story, Martha Walker’s account raises possibilities and questions about how women navigated the political turmoil of Revolutionary North America.

Thomas Walker belonged to a small group of merchants who were angered by Parliament’s recent legislation and wanted to protest with the rebelling Americans. In the winter of 1774-1775, Thomas ran a pro-American information campaign. He disseminated pamphlets from the Continental Congress; he sent his political allies throughout Quebec to convert illiterate French Canadians; and he met with radical emissaries from Boston to coordinate their efforts.[3] For all of this work Thomas gained notoriety:  the governor of Quebec, General Guy Carleton, targeted him as a treasonous rebel who must be stopped.[4]

Martha’s account picks up several months into her husband’s organizing, when Thomas had moved his operations to their country home and the governor had reached his breaking point. She describes how Governor Carleton used Thomas’s absence to terrorize the Walkers’ household for information. Soldiers kidnapped her servant and threatened him “to be hung up immediately if he did not divulge all he knew of [the Walkers’] correspondence (with the Rebels).”[5] A few weeks later, soldiers intercepted a messenger carrying one of Martha’s letters. Martha recalled how soldiers “stript him from head to foot; & even the linings of his shoes were ripped up to search for Letters.”[6]

Martha was traumatized by the governor’s intelligence-gathering and intimidation campaign. Left alone in Montreal to deal with it, Martha met with the governor and demanded to know what crimes she and her husband had committed. She tried to convince Governor Carleton that her husband was a loyal subject and “did not correspond with the Rebels.” Deaf to her many arguments, the governor had already made up his mind. He insisted that Thomas “was a dangerous Man” and that “the safety of the Province required” that they should both leave the colony immediately.[7]

And so Martha fled Montreal, joining Thomas at their country home to “share his fate.”[8]

What a fate it was! After the Americans’ failed invasion of Montreal in September 1775, Governor Carleton ordered Thomas arrested for high treason. When the soldiers came to collect Thomas, they got into an old-fashioned shoot out. The gunfire ended when soldiers set fire to the Walkers’ home, forcing Martha and Thomas to escape out of a second story window. As he dragged Martha away from her burning home, a soldier scolded her: “you have been very forward, in this affair of the Rebellion… We know, what you have done.”[9]

But did the soldiers actually know what Martha had done? And how much can we know now?  Despite all of its captivating descriptions, Martha’s narrative gives us few clues as her involvement with her husband’s organizing. Throughout her account she denies that either she or her husband were in league with the Americans. But historians know that Thomas was indeed the ringleader of rebellious colonists in Montreal, and that the couple ended up under the political protection of the nascent United States. So was Martha lying when she told the governor that her husband wasn’t corresponding with rebel Americans? Was she a brilliant political operative attempting to use her status as a wealthy woman to gain the governor’s sympathy? If Martha was involved, why would she deny it years later in an unpublished manuscript? Martha’s narrative alone can’t answer these questions, but it does give us insight into the many and varied ways women were political players during the American Revolution.

[1] Mrs. Thomas Walker, “The Shurtleff manuscript, no. 153: Being a narrative of certain events which transpired in Canada, during the invasion of that province but the American Army, in 1775,” ed. Rev. Silas Ketchum (Contoocook, NH: The New Hampshire Antiquarian Society, 1876), 35.

[2] Walker, “The Shurtleff manuscript, no. 153,” 44.

[3] For more on Thomas Walker and pro-American organizing in Quebec, see Chapters 3 and 4 in Mark R. Anderson, The Battle for the Fourteenth Colony:  America’s War of Liberation in Canada, 1774-1776 (Hanover, NH:  University Press of New England, 2013).

[4] For Governor Carleton’s official dispatches complaining about Thomas Walker, see CO 42/34, British National Archives, Kew, England.

[5] Walker, “The Shurtleff manuscript, no. 153,” 39.

[6] Walker, “The Shurtleff manuscript, no. 153,” 41.

[7] Walker, “The Shurtleff manuscript, no. 153,” 42.

[8] Walker, “The Shurtleff manuscript, no. 153,” 45.

[9] Walker, “The Shurtleff manuscript, no. 153,” 49. See also Anderson, The Battle for the Fourteenth Colony, 121-122; Thomas Walker, “Mr. Walker’s Statement” in Peter Force, ed., American Archives, 4th Series, vol. 4, 1176-1179.

Letters to William and Caroline Eustis, Part VI

by Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

This is the sixth part of a series about the letters to William and Caroline Eustis at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Click here to read Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V.

Monroe letter to Eustis
Letter from James Monroe to William Eustis, 24 Sep. 1816

On 24 Sep. 1816, James Monroe wrote to William Eustis, U.S. minister to the Netherlands at the Hague, who had recently returned from a trip to Paris. Monroe’s letter contained this wistful passage about the city:

A view of that great metropolis, must be, at all times interesting, by the spectacle it exhibits, of the state of society, the sciences, & the arts; but from the disasters which have befallen it, in these latter years more especially, I fear that it has lost much of its charms. With many men in every party there, I was intimately acquainted. With some I was much connected in friendship; but some of these have disappeard, and others have experienced such changes, that there remain very few, to whom I could address a friend.

I was struck by the passage. Monroe was describing, in a personal way, the cataclysmic transformation of Paris wrought by the French Revolution and its aftermath.

Lithograph of James Monroe
Lithograph of James Monroe, ca. 1828

When he wrote this letter, Monroe was just a few weeks away from his election as the fifth president of the United States. The 58-year-old Virginian and Democratic-Republican had already had an illustrious career: he’d served as a senator, ambassador, governor, Secretary of State, and Secretary of War. Here, he was reminiscing to Eustis about his tenure as minister to France twenty years before.

Eighteenth-century Paris was the heart of the Age of Enlightenment. However, when George Washington appointed Monroe minister to France in 1794, the country was in the throes of the most violent phase of the French Revolution. Monroe arrived, in fact, just after the Reign of Terror and the execution of Maximilien Robespierre, which he heard about on his landing at Le Havre.

Monroe was “an ardent admirer of France and her Revolution,” explains historian Charles Hazen in his 1897 work Contemporary American Opinion of the French Revolution (p. 120). In his speeches and correspondence of the period, Monroe drew parallels between the French and American republics. Hazen describes Monroe as an “optimist” and “enthusiast” on the subject: “There is no passage in Monroe’s papers to show that he anticipated the breakdown of the Constitution, or the advent of a despot. […] He looked at everything with a strong republican bias, and his conviction that republicanism had come to stay in France seems to have remained unshaken” (p. 135-6). Monroe served as minister to France for two years.

In 1816, however, with the Bourbon Restoration in full swing and reactionary royalists and ultra-royalists returned from exile, Monroe was disillusioned. And his reference to friends that had “disappeard” takes on an ominous tone when we consider what happened to many of the revolutionaries.

He still had one friend in France, though, and that was the famous Marquis de Lafayette.

Lafayette portrait
Painting of the Marquis de Lafayette, 1825

William and Caroline Eustis had visited Lafayette, and Monroe eagerly asked after him, his health, his circumstances, “who compose his family?” All three men were veterans of the American Revolution, and as Monroe said, “The friends of our revolution must always take an interest in [Lafayette’s] welfare, especially those who participated with him in that glorious struggle.”

The letter is long, running to four pages. Like much of the correspondence between public figures of the time, it covers a variety of subjects and alternates between official business and personal anecdote. Beginning with Monroe’s memories of Paris, the letter moves on to a detailed discussion of trade relations with the Netherlands, praise of Col. James Morrison of Kentucky, an inquiry into the weather, and news of the Monroe family.

James Monroe died on 4 July 1831. He was, coincidentally, the third U.S. president to die on Independence Day; John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died exactly five years before.

To read Monroe’s letter and the rest of the letters to William and Caroline Eustis at the MHS, which have all been digitized, see the guide to the collection here. Our website also includes a number of other online resources we hope you’ll explore.

I’ll leave you with this photograph of Paris taken in the early 20th century from the top of the Arc de Triomphe.

View of Paris from the top of the Arc de Triomphe
Photo. 6.19.1201, Arthur Asahel Shurcliff collection of glass lantern slides at the MHS

John Wilson & Son, Printers

by Hannah Elder, Reproductions Coordinator

One of my favorite things about studying history is the plethora of perspectives and areas that can be explored. While in library school, I discovered the study of book history. Massachusetts, the location of the first printing press in British North America, is an excellent place to study book history. And where better to study Massachusetts history than the MHS? During our time of working from home, I’ve been compiling a list of resources on the history of books, printing, printers, and booksellers in New England. I’m still working on the list, but I wanted to highlight some of the items from it in the meantime.

One of my favorite pieces of printing history at the MHS is a typewritten manuscript entitled “John Wilson Reminiscences.” Written in 1903, it contains the memories of John Wilson, who worked with his father, also John Wilson, as a printer in Boston and Cambridge in the nineteenth century.

Wilson's Reminiscences
The opening page of Wilson’s Reminiscences

Here is a bit of their story:

The elder John Wilson got his start in printing as an apprentice at a printing office in Glasgow, Scotland. He held positions at printing offices across the United Kingdom and Ireland, eventually opening his own shop in Manchester, England. There, the younger John Wilson joined his father’s shop, working at the hand-powered printing press. After several years of growth, and a succession of larger and larger premises, the elder Wilson decided to move to a larger city. Wilson describes his father’s decision making as such:

In 1846, feeling that Manchester was not a publishing centre, my father thought it would be advisable to move to London. Having, however, some friends in Boston, Mass. and his family being large, he thought that, perhaps, the latter place would be better. To decide the matter, I said to him one day, “Well, father, suppose we toss up. Heads I win, tails you lose.” We tossed and heads won. So we decided to go to America. (Wilson, 2)

Once the Wilsons arrived in Boston, they were met with great generosity from the community. In one anecdote, Wilson recalls a visit from the Rev. Dr. Ephraim Peabody in which the minister offered to assist the Wilsons in expanding their business. Wilson requested funding for an Adams Power Press. This machine powered press would allow the Wilsons to print far more material and expand their business. In a matter of days, Peabody gathered investments from twenty four backers, enough to buy a new press and move into a larger shop. The investors included Rev. Dr. Francis Parkman, Peter C. Brooks, J. Ingersoll Bowditch (who also bought a sign for the shop), N. L. Frothingham, and George Washington Warren. With the success of the new press, the Wilsons were able to pay back their investors within two years.

Over the years, John Wilson and Son printers worked on publications for many prominent Bostonians (including MHS’s own Charles Francis Adams) and Massachusetts organizations. The firm even printed the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society for a number of years. A selection of the more than 350 publications printed by the John Wilson and Son available at MHS include:

The elder John Wilson passed away in 1868, but his son continued in the printing business. In 1879, the University Press in Cambridge was offered for sale and John Wilson purchased it, along with Charles E. Wentworth. They kept the name John Wilson and Son.


University Press Building
The University Press Building, ca. 1870. The caption indicates that John Wilson is standing on the parapet of the building, above the letter “E” in “PRESS”

Also in the MHS collection are three letterbooks from the University Press era of John Wilson and Son. The letterbooks include indices of correspondents, as well as acknowledgements for supplies and manuscripts received, copies of letters sent with proofs and regarding editorial changes, receipts for cash received, and reports of printing prices.

Sample letterbook
A sample letterbook page, dated 17 May 1880

A final item related to John Wilson and Son is William B. Reid’s “My reminiscences covering a period of sixty years with John W. Wilson & son, printers.” Reid was an employee at the printing firm under the younger John Wilson and continued on after Wilson’s death in 1903. I have yet to view this account, but I’m excited to read another perspective on the printing firm.

To find more items related to book history and printing in the MHS collection, take a look through our catalog, ABIGAIL. To learn more about the library and our services during the COVID-19 closure, visit the Reference Services During COVID-19 Closure page of our website.

2020 John Winthrop Student Fellow Ishan Narra: on Researching the French and Indian War

By Kate Melchior, MHS Assistant Director of Education, and Ishan Narra, John Winthrop Student Fellow

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 2021 student fellowships are due on 18 February 2021.  Learn more and apply!

This year, John Winthrop Student Fellow Ishan Narra and his teacher Ed Rafferty of Concord Academy are researching Mashpee resistance and the web of colonizer and indigenous relationships in the conflict known as the French and Indian War.

John Winthrop Student Fellow Ishan Narra, Concord Academy

This summer, I intend to write a research paper on Indigenous and European experiences during the French Indian War. I hope to utilize a variety of primary sources from the Massachusetts Historical Society’s archives in order to analyze the complex network of relationships between Indian nations in the Northeast, French colonists, and English settlers. Due to COVID-19, my research paper will not be completed until later this summer. However, before it became clear as to how I would access the MHS archives in the midst of the pandemic, I continued to conduct research for my paper by reading secondary sources regarding the French and Indian War. Using books such as The Scratch of a Pen: 1763 and the Transformation of North America by Colin Calloway and The War That Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War by Fred Anderson, and articles such as “We, as a tribe, will rule ourselves”: Mashpee’s Struggle for Autonomy, 1746-1840 by Daniel Mandel, I was able to craft an introductory piece of prose that focused on Native American historiography. The unique manner in which the Mashpee resisted British imposition on their culture resonated with me, and in the historiography section of my paper, I emphasize how the Mashpee nation engaged in a legal rebellion rather than a physical one, and employed their knowledge of legal documents to hold the settlers accountable for their wrongdoings. The objective of this section is to counter the common narrative that depicts war and Indian resistance as a unidimensional conflict. Specifically, I highlight the Mashpee Revolt to demonstrate how resistance occurred in many different forms and resulted from protracted animosity between communities. Furthermore, this introductory portion provides the backdrop to the main section of my research paper as it challenges the reader to confront the convoluted tensions between Indian nations and European settlers that had already been established prior to the war, and eventually erupted into a massive conflict that affected every population in North America.

In the primary section of the paper, I intend to elaborate this thesis by bringing to light not only the experiences of individuals during the French and Indian War, but also the systems that were in place that caused Indian communities to make the difficult decision of engaging in the war. One primary source that will provide me with useful evidence is Jeduthan Baldwin’s journal. Because the military official’s account spans over thirty years and begins just one year after the start of the French and Indian War, it details his experience when Indian soldiers first enlisted to help the British and how Indians were treated by newly allied officials. Furthermore, these documents record Baldwin’s experiences while working for the English military as both a military engineer and a commander. As such, the documents will allow me to contrast the ways in which lower ranked soldiers engaged with Indian allies and how highly esteemed officials valued Indian soldiers’ and leaders’ knowledge. Another source from the Society’s collection that would complement Baldwin’s account is Timothy Nichols’ diary. This diary will provide me with another perspective of a British soldier during the French and Indian War that I could compare with Baldwin’s viewpoints. Additionally, as this diary accounts for a more specific time period (one summer), and details a particular battle at Quebec, I can compare Nichols’ descriptions of Indian soldiers when they were the British soldier’s allies and descriptions of Indian soldiers when they were the soldier’s enemies to determine which biases about Indians had been instilled in English soldiers.

The John Winthrop Fellowship has provided me with an opportunity to deepen my understanding of a topic that has intrigued me and to develop my ability to conduct in-depth research. Having the vast collection of the MHS at my disposal will allow me to compare different perspectives and to learn more about Indigenous history and Indigenous people’s interactions with Europeans. Native American history is a subject that is often overlooked and suppressed by White perspectives. I believe that it is critical to understand multiple historical narratives of Indigenous people in order to truly understand the impact of historical events, social factors, and beliefs on present-day U.S. society. I have been fascinated by Native American history since the first course that I took on this topic during my Freshman year. This Fellowship has allowed me to more thoroughly explore this subject and understand how important it is for present and future generations to learn about this history.

James Family Biography: A Virtual Reference Room Display

By Judith Maas, Library Assistant

Each month the Reader Services department at the MHS offers a new display of thematically related books in the library’s reference room. Prior to our closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I had been exploring our collection of materials on the James family for a book display and found a wide assortment of items, both by and about family members. To keep the library’s tradition going, I decided to bring my planned display online, along with brief descriptions of each book. I hope these selections inspire some enjoyable late summer and early autumn reading!

The Jameses
The Jameses : a family narrative / R.W.B. Lewis
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1991

In a New York Times interview (Aug. 7, 1991), Yale scholar Lewis states that he had first intended to create a television series portraying the lives of several generations of a great American family. That idea evolved into this epic family biography, ten years in the making. The story begins in 1789, when William James, the son of a farmer, emigrates from Ireland to Albany, New York, and builds a fortune in real estate, trade, and banking. At the heart of the book is the story of William’s son, Henry, Sr., Henry’s wife Mary Walsh, and their five children (among them Henry, William, and Alice). Lewis not only traces the lives of individual family members but explores how family relationships influenced their literary, psychological, and philosophical outlooks.

The Jameses Family
The James family / by F. O. Matthiessen
Knopf, 1947, 1961

Viewing the story of the James family as “internal rather than external, a biography of minds in action” (v), Harvard scholar Matthiessen incorporates many primary documents into his study—letters, essays, journal entries, and criticism; the work thus serves as both anthology and biography. A review in the journal Modern Language Notes by Quentin Anderson (Feb. 1949) highlights those selections that show how William and Henry viewed each other’s work as well as criticism by family members of the writings of Emerson, Carlyle, and Hawthorne. According to Anderson, “Although the work as a whole does not much enrich our sense of what went on in the family circle, it does give us excellent opportunities to see the members of that circle facing outward and appraising the world about them” (117).

The Father
The Father : a life of Henry James, Sr. / Alfred Habegger
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1994

The elder William James’s fortune granted his son, Henry James, Sr. (1811-1882), the freedom to engage in diverse philosophical and spiritual pursuits, among these the thought of the Swedish theologian Emanuel Swedenborg and that of the French utopian socialist Charles Fourier. In lieu of an ordinary occupation, Henry, Sr., became a self-styled “seeker for truth” (306), writing essays, befriending writers and intellectuals, and tending to the education of his children. He encouraged lively debate at the family dinner table, and the children experienced cosmopolitan, if erratic, schooling, as he shepherded the family back and forth between America and Europe. Habegger, formerly an English professor at the University of Kansas, explores the role of youthful hardships in shaping Henry, Sr.’s, character and ideas; his studies and writings and their intellectual context; and his highly original approach to raising children.

A Stroll with William James
A stroll with William James / Jacques Barzun.
Harper & Row, 1983

Barzun’s study of William James (1842-1910) is multifaceted–part biographical portrait; exploration of James’s thought and writings; cultural history;  and loving tribute, with Barzun viewing James as a friend, inspiration, and teacher: “his ideas, his words, his temperament speak to me with intimacy as well as force….He is for me the most inclusive mind I can listen to….” (4). The eclectic approach seems apt for James, a thinker who distrusted strict classifications and systems.

Barzun, a historian and essayist, recounts James’s slow, difficult journey from aspiring artist, to medical student, to psychologist and philosopher. He examines his essays and major works, considering the Principles of Psychology to be James’s masterpiece and describing his great subject in that work as “thoughts and feelings as experienced” (36); here is where James coined the phrase “stream of consciousness.” Discussing the sometimes misunderstood concept of “pragmatism,” Barzun distinguishes between mere expediency and what James meant by the term: “an attempt to explain how the mind ascertains truth” (83). Seeing James as an “assessor” (184) of his era, Barzun devotes a chapter to the emergence of modernism out of the upheavals taking place during the 1890s and early 1900s.

Henry James
Henry James : the untried years, 1843-1870 / By Leon Edel
Lippincott, 1953

Edel’s scholarship on Henry James (1843-1916) was an act of devotion and a lifetime pursuit. In addition to writing a five-volume biography, Edel edited anthologies of James’s letters, plays, essays, criticism, and stories. The biography, published between 1953 and 1972, has been noted for its scholarly thoroughness, narrative skill, and use of psychoanalytic interpretation.

Volume 1, The Untried Years, takes James from childhood through to his late 20s, when he returns to America from his Grand Tour of Europe. Among the subjects Edel treats are James’s family relationships, his feelings of rivalry with older brother William, his schooling, his early writing efforts, and his relationship with his cousin Minnie Temple, often seen by critics as the prototype for the character Milly Theale in the novel The Wings of the Dove. Writing in the Sewanee Review (Jan.-Mar. 1955), critic Joseph Frank says of volume 1, “…it is good to be reminded of the sheer inexhaustible delight in the complex variety of the human scene that a leisurely and  ample biography often provides” (168). For Edel’s views on what he called the “noble and adventurous art” (WL, 19) of biography, see his Writing Lives: Principia Biographica (Norton, 1984, 1959).

Alice James
Alice James, a biography / Jean Strouse
Houghton Mifflin, 1980
The Diary of Alice James
The diary of Alice James / Edited with an introduction by Leon Edel
Dodd, Mead, 1964

Alice (1848-1892) was the youngest of the James children and the only daughter. At age 19, she suffered the first of many mysterious illnesses. While her brothers William and Henry grew up to achieve glory in the fields of literature and philosophy, Alice settled into invalidism, her day-to-day life private and circumscribed. Yet however confined her world, she desired self-expression and an outlet for her talents and intellect. As Strouse writes in her introduction, when she was able, James held salons in Boston and London and conducted correspondence courses in history for women across the country. She was a devoted letter writer and an observant diarist. In this biography, Strouse places James’s life in its familial and cultural context while treating her particular hopes and struggles as worthy of study and understanding in their own right; though Alice James’s story does not fit our usual notions of success and accomplishment, her “attempt to find something whole and authentic in her own experience,” Strouse contends, “gives her life its real stature and interest” (xvi, 1982 pbk. ed.).

James’s diary, Strouse notes, contains “a wide range of original reflections on society, politics, literature, history, and the people she knew” (xii). It was first published in 1934, and re-issued in this more complete edition, edited by Leon Edel, in 1964. From the outset, the diary was well-received, as suggested by a review in The New Republic (quoted in  Strouse’s biography): “In some of her insights, some of her assessments of nineteenth-century humbug, Alice James went beyond either of her eminent brothers, and her judgements on the social history of her day have now the air of something like divinations” (358).

“Knitting by Hand is Fast Going Out of Date”: A Treatise on the Art of Knitting

By Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services

Teapot turtleneck
Teapot cosy

During the past few months I’ve been knitting tea cosies (or, as friend likes to call them, “teapot sweaters”!) for friends as a way to keep my hands busy through Zoom meetings. Pictured above is a version of the teapot turtleneck, a free and super easy pattern by Suzanne Resaul. As I was looking for something unrelated in our online catalog earlier this week in order to respond to a researcher’s question I happened to notice that the MHS, though we don’t have a large collection of print ephemera related to textiles (and, alas, only one pattern book that I was unable to access remotely), we do have a handful of print items related to knitting, including a pamphlet from 1861 — Treatise on the Art of Knitting, with a History of the Knitting Loom: Comprising an Interesting Account of Its Origin, and of Its Recent Wonderful Improvements —  extolling the virtues of a home knitting machine that, like the home sewing machine, would revolutionize domestic labor for both family necessity and profit.

The pamphlet begins with an account of the invention of the knitting frame, or stocking frame, by a man named William Lee in Calverton, England in 1589. The likely-apocryphal tale suggests that Lee turned to mechanical invention because the woman he fancied cared more about her craftwork than she did about him and this so enraged him that he decided to put her out of work:

Lee made love to a pretty girl in his neighborhood, who received his ardent attentions somewhat coolly. She was an accomplished knitter, and in his visits she was careful to display less devotion to him than to her hosiery. Disgusted at last with this kind of entertainment, he resolved to devote himself to the invention of a machine to supersede her favorite employment. (7)

In true Pygmalion style, Lee then became more infatuated with his invention than with his former crush; the pamphlet has nothing more to say about whether his stocking frame did, indeed, put the young craftswoman out of business.

plans for knitting frame
Stocking frame

In 1861, J.A. Aiken was eager to offer his own (new! improved!) version of the knitting machine. “Knitting by hand is fast going out of date,” reported the Manchester (New Hampshire) Mirror, according to a pull quote reprinted in the pamphlet. “We predict that this Machine will make ordinary knitting needles, a few years hence, a curiosity” (37). Mrs. D.A. Dick of Eaton, Ohio, is reported as providing the following testimonial to the knitting machine’s value in her own home:

I have used one of your machines about ten months and would not part with it for many times its cost, if unable to get another. Beside the care of a large family, it is no uncommon thing for me to make with it a dollar and a dollar and a half a day, and it is no exaggeration to say that with no other cares I could easily make two dollars a day.

I have knit upon it all kinds of cotton and woolen hosiery, and for fancy work it can’t be beat. I have knit shawls, nubias, opera capes, sontags, undersleeves, children’s sacks, comforts, and other articles too numerous to mention.

I can cheerfully recommend any woman desiring pleasant and profitable employment to buy one of your machines. If necessary, borrow the money, and with industry it can soon be replaced with interest. (36)

As knitting by hand has most certainly not gone out of fashion, most readers of this post likely cannot picture (as I could not) the Jonas B. Aiken knitting machine in operation. Happily, the pamphlet provides several illustrations depicting the machine in operation.

illustration of knitting machine
Knitting machine

Aiken offered two models: a foot-powered and portable model. For the price of $65.00 (roughly $2,000 today) one could purchase an Aiken foot-powered machine; the portable model cost $40.00 ($1,240.00). If you’re looking to start a side gig while we socially distance and remain safer at home, perhaps hunt up a knitting machine and you, too, could “easily make” two dollars ($62.00) a day making opera capes and undersleeves!

The full pamphlet can be read online via HathiTrust.

A Look Back At the U.S. Postal Service

By Laura Williams, Visitor Services Coordinator

As America’s first historical society, our institution has had the honor, privilege, and responsibility to build and care for a vast collection of letters and various other correspondences. Through gathering these items over the years, the role of the postal service in keeping citizens connected throughout history is apparent. Though it may be easier to maintain relationships in the digital age, the mail delivery service is still a vital part of society from rural communities to those without reliable access to e-mail or social media. It could also be said that a hand-written note carries a much more lasting impression and warm sentiment! The roots of the U.S. Postal Service as an American institution have played an instrumental part in our nation’s history, growth, and success.

Prior to the establishment of post offices in the colonies, “correspondents depended on friends, merchants, and Native Americans to carry messages.” [1] Mail could typically be left at inns and taverns for pick up and delivery, and eventually the Crown did institute a postal service for the colonies with Benjamin Franklin serving as joint Postmaster General. Franklin was born in Boston and had a knack for gathering and circulating news and ideas through journalism and publishing at an early age. Working under his brother James at The New-England Courant, and writing satirical pieces under the pseudonym “Silence Dogood,” he always pushed the limits on political correctness. Though he had been appointed joint Postmaster by the Crown in 1753, he was ultimately “dismissed in 1774 for actions sympathetic to the cause of the colonies.” [1]

Of course, following the American Revolution the U.S. established its own system as a new country. This establishment of the U.S. Postal Service by the Second Continental Congress took place on 26 July 1775.  Franklin revised the new organization and created an operational system from which our current postal service still functions today. [1]

Following Franklin’s term as Postmaster General was that of Ebenezer Hazard, this time under the U.S. Constitution. Before his appointment, Ebenezer Hazard was a Princeton-educated New York City printer and post office surveyor. In fact, he was a good acquaintance of MHS founder Jeremy Belknap, who described him as his “guide, philosopher, and friend.” In another interesting turn of events, Hazard was the first person elected a corresponding (non-resident) member of the MHS in 1792. Check out a letter between the two of them here. Next, Samuel Osgood, a 1770 Harvard graduate, was President Washington’s Postmaster General from 1789 to 1791. Samuel Osgood also appears in correspondences in both the MHS Adams and Paine Papers collections.

1796 chart displaying the distances between postal towns of the original 13 US colonies
A Geographical View of All the Post Towns in the United States of America and Their Distances from Each Other According to the Establishment of the Postmaster General. [Boston: 1796] 
Many more important historical figures carried the title of Postmaster General and helped the service reach the present day. Without Franklin’s successful design and influence on the postal service in the U.S., it is quite possible that our extensive collections would have been impacted with longer delivery times or lost mail. Explore the Society’s extensive collections of papers and letters.

[1] “Colonial Times; The Postal Service Begins.” The United States Postal Service: an American History, Government Relations, U.S. Postal Service, 2020, pp. 2–4.

Letters to William and Caroline Eustis, Part V

by Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

This is the fifth part of a series about the letters to William and Caroline Eustis at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Click here to read Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

When working with manuscripts at the MHS, I often read something unexpected that makes me stop short. This happened when I processed the letters to William and Caroline Eustis, a remarkable collection of letters by U.S. presidents, cabinet members, a first lady, the Marquis de Lafayette, and others.

The passage that caught my eye was: “The detention of the Indians as hostages is liable to the most serious objections. The most extreme case only would justify it.”

Madison letter to Eustis
Excerpt of letter

These sentences appear at the top of a letter from President James Madison to Secretary of War William Eustis, dated 8 September 1812 and marked “private.”

Madison to Eustis, 8 September 1812
Complete letter

My curiosity was piqued, so I decided to investigate. I found the letter to which Madison was replying at Founders Online, a project at the National Archives containing searchable transcriptions of the papers of founding fathers. William Eustis had written to Madison the previous morning:

By the mail of this day I have only time to submit for consideration a suggestion which has been made of the expediency of detaining the Indian chiefs as hostages. If their tribes should become hostile it is in my mind doubtful whether they may not be useful with their influence among them; if they are not hostile detaining them will give great cause of offence.

To learn more about the historical context of this correspondence, I backtracked through Madison’s papers. I wondered what had prompted Eustis’ suggestion and whether it was carried out. One source led me to another and another, and I finally pieced the story together.

Ask someone what they know about the War of 1812, and you’ll probably hear of naval battles between the United States and Great Britain, the impressment of sailors, and the burning of Washington, D.C. But Native Americans played an incredibly significant role in the war. Many of the indigenous peoples, fearing the further loss of their territories to the expanding United States and encroachments by white settlers, decided to fight alongside Great Britain. The great Shawnee warrior Tecumseh, for example, with his brother Tenskwatawa, led a multi-tribal confederation allied with the British.

When Madison and Eustis exchanged these letters in early September 1812, they were reeling from the devastating loss of Fort Detroit. Gen. William Hull, tricked by British troops and their Native American allies into thinking that his forces were outnumbered, had surrendered the fort on August 16. Hull was reviled as a coward for the act, and President Madison received frantic letters from white settlers who feared that “savages” would sweep through the entire area.

At the same time as the siege of Fort Detroit, an important council was underway about 200 miles south at Piqua, Ohio. Secretary of War Eustis had invited the chiefs of a number of tribes to meet with U.S. commissioners and discuss a possible treaty. Some accepted, but others declined, distrusting the promises of the federal government and fearing the meeting was a pretense for taking more land.

According to the Letter Book of the Indian Agency at Fort Wayne 1809-1815 (p. 170), the Piqua council convened “August 15 and lasted for about three weeks.” That means it was these chiefs Eustis proposed taking as hostages in his letter to the president on September 7. Apparently negotiations weren’t going well.

Madison, quoted at the top of this post, was reluctant, but he didn’t rule it out. He wrote back, “The opinion of Clarke at least ought to [be] in favor of it. Is that known?” Clark was none other than William Clark, of Lewis and Clark fame. He was serving as U.S. agent for Indian affairs at St. Louis, Missouri. Clark may have nixed the idea, or perhaps the risk was considered too great, because the plan was never carried out. I found no other references to it.

The War of 1812 ended with the Treaty of Ghent, which essentially returned the United States and Great Britain to the pre-war status quo. But the territorial rights of the indigenous peoples were abandoned at the bargaining table. The British troops withdrew, and American expansion continued unabated.

I would urge anyone interested in the history of Native American treaties to read this petition I found while browsing the Madison papers online. Submitted to Madison on 5 February 1812 by representatives of the Wyandot Nation, it’s a heartbreaking plea for the preservation of the tribe’s ancestral territory, much of which had already been ceded to the U.S. Hearing that they may lose what little land they had left, the petitioners wrote, “We, the Wyandotts, are now a small nation. Unless you have charity for us, we will soon be forgot.”

The Wyandots were forcibly removed to a reservation in Kansas in 1843.

I’m also reminded of the MHS collection of sketches made by Cheyenne and Kiowa prisoners in 1877. These men were held by the U.S. military at Fort Marion, Florida, for the same reason William Eustis gave 65 years before: to prevent uprisings. Though they arose from tragic circumstances, the drawings are beautiful, and you can view all of them online at our website.

 sketches made by Cheyenne and Kiowa prisoners in 1877
“Sioux and Ute tribes at war” by Making Medicine, 1877


Neoclassical Art and Cupid and the Tortoise

By Angela Tillapaugh

Sculpture of Cupid and the Tortoise
Richard Saltonstall, Cupid and the Tortoise, 1858-1868, marble, 75.3 x 64 x 38.5 cm. From the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

This sculpture, located in the Reading Room of the MHS, shows Cupid sitting on the back of a moving tortoise. His wrists and ankles are bound by a single bolt of fabric and he looks off into the distance.  The artist behind this sculpture is the 19th century sculptor Richard Saltonstall Greenough, who was born in Boston and moved to Italy as a young adult to pursue a career in sculpting. Italy was a popular choice for expatriate sculptors due to the abundance of marble quarries and numerous skilled craftsmen.[i] It was challenging to study sculpting in the United States as most sculptures were utilitarian, such as tombstones and weathervanes. American artists, like Richard Greenough and his older brother, Horatio, were among the early artists who introduced Neoclassical sculpture to the States. Neoclassical art was born in Rome after the discovery of ancient sites like Pompeii in the early 19th century. After these archeological findings, there was a resurgence of interest in classical antiquity and many artists began creating works that emulated the art from ancient Rome and Greece.

This sculpture of Cupid is undoubtedly a Neoclassical work of art, which often used Greek and Roman mythology as subject matter. Greenough usually sculpted portraits. In Cupid and the Tortoise, Cupid is a portrait of Amy Shaw Warren. The portrait is based on sketches Greenough made of Warren when she was three years old. Neoclassical art often mixed portraiture with mythology, presenting someone in the guise of a mythological figure could help convey a story or ideas about them to a viewer. Cupid is an appropriate choice to use for a portrait of a child, as he is usually depicted as a baby or a young boy.

Back side of Cupid and the Tortoise sculpture
Figure 2. Richard Saltonstall, Cupid and the Tortoise, 1858-1868, marble, 75.3 x 64 x 38.5 cm. From the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Cupid is often used in art to suggest the state of love between other figures in the work. A bound Cupid could represent someone’s dominance over love, or a languishing romance between two people. But here, Cupid is alone except for the tortoise. Perhaps Cupid was punished for getting into mischief which is another common story in mythology.  Someone could have tied up Cupid as a punishment and then placed him on the back of a tortoise to be sent home to his mother, Venus. Regardless, Greenough provides the viewer with no visual cues that could explain why Cupid is bound by the wrists and ankles and sitting on a tortoise. Instead, Greenough places the focus on individual elements of the sculpture such as the portrait of Amy Shaw Warren and the beautifully detailed tortoise.  It is the choice of the viewer to fill in their own interpretations of why exactly Cupid is being carried away by a tortoise.

[i] Tolles, T. (2004, October). American Neoclassical Sculptors. Retrieved July 08, 2020, from https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/ambl/hd_ambl.htm


Uniting the States

by Sara Georgini, Series Editor, The Papers of John Adams

The Papers of John Adams, Volume 20, spans a formative era in the development of our federal government, stretching from June 1789 to February 1791. We used 301 documents to tell the legislative story of the first federal Congress, foregrounding John Adams’s creation of the office of the vice presidency amid the nation’s struggle to implement the new U.S. Constitution. With outliers North Carolina and Rhode Island repeatedly delaying ratification of the Constitution, Congress battled through three busy sessions of debates. Meeting for the first time in New York City’s half-built Federal Hall, congressmen tussled over how to collect revenue and where to locate the national capital. They spent weeks filling posts, and setting up the key departments of state, treasury, and war. John Adams’ ever-candid comments reveal firsthand the challenges of that inaugural Congress.

Equally perplexing—and challenging—to John Adams was the scope of his new federal role. The U.S. Constitution said little about what a vice president’s powers were, and so Adams was largely left alone to interpret the charge. Here’s what we learn in his letters: From his earliest days in office, Adams etched out clear boundaries for the vice president’s powers. He forwarded a flood of patronage requests to George Washington. Adams focused his energy on presiding over the Senate, where he broke several major ties amid rising partisan conflict. Overall, Adams found his Senate duties “Somewhat severe—sitting just in the same place, so many hours of every day.” Though he could be petulant about the daily grind of politics, Adams was optimistic about the “National Spirit” of his colleagues, who were constructing the tripartite federal government that he had long envisioned. Whether or not the union would hold, as regional interests repeatedly impeded congressional action, remained Adams’ chief concern. As he told one friend, “There is every Evidence of good Intentions on all sides but there are too many Symptoms of old Colonial Habits: and too few, of great national Views.”

View up Wall Street by Archibald Robertson
Archibald Robertson, “View up Wall Street with City Hall (Federal Hall) and Trinity Church, New York City,” ca. 1798

Volume 20 places John Adams and his family in New York City, and, by the book’s end, in Philadelphia. After a decade in Europe and a few months of semi-retirement in rural Quincy, Adams acculturated to new habits. His trusted circle of regular correspondents changed. For example, in Volume 20, the Adams-Jefferson correspondence recedes. We see more exchanges with Dr. Benjamin Rush, Henry Marchant, John Trumbull, and with the vice president’s son, John Quincy. Busy compiling his Discourses on Davila in the spring of 1790, John Adams renewed old friendships on the page and reflected on his law career. I want to emphasize here that every Adams Papers volume is foundational. We are especially grateful to the editors of the Legal Papers, who have helped us to identify Adams’ allusions, reflections, and rivals at the bar.

Time for a sneak peek! One of the more remarkable letters that we published in Volume 20 is Benjamin Franklin’s last letter, of February 9th, 1790, to his fellow revolutionary and former colleague. For longtime readers of the Adams Papers and fans of American history, this letter is a fascinating bookend to a fractious friendship. Franklin enclosed a 5 February 1790 letter from James Pemberton, a well-known Philadelphia Quaker and antislavery activist, as well as a 3 February 1790 petition from the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. The Society asked Congress for the abolition of slavery and an end to the slave trade. While Adams never replied to Franklin, the vice president did heed the request and laid the petition before the Senate. Despite heated debate, no substantial action was taken by Congress regarding what Adams called “the Quaker petition.”

April 1790 skit by John Adams
John Adams, “Dialogues of the Dead,” ca. 22 April 1790, Adams Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society

But John Adams did pause to reflect on the passing of Benjamin Franklin. Just as his Discourses on Davila began to appear in the American press, Adams’s writing took a more fanciful turn. Following Franklin’s death, Adams memorialized the milestone in a playful skit, titled “Dialogues of the Dead.” We do not see a lot of “creative writing” in John Adams’s papers, so this is a unique treat. Adams’s scene stars a cast of characters in conversation [Charlemagne, James Otis, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Frederick II (the Great)] as they await Franklin’s arrival in the afterlife.

Though it seemed like a quirky choice for the author of serious works like the Defence of the Constitutions, Adams’ sardonic salute showed his Harvard-trained classical roots. In content and style, Adams emulated the Syrian satirist Lucian of Samosata’s Dialogues of the Dead. Adams riffed on Franklin’s science experiments and took a few jabs at his statesmanship. He observed that Franklin “told some very pretty moral Tales from the head—and Some very immoral ones from the heart.” For such a breezy and colorful bit of writing, Adams certainly worked hard to get it right; the manuscript bears plenty of his edits and deletions. We are proud that John Adams’s previously unpublished “Dialogues of the Dead,” along with a previously unpublished draft for a 33rd essay intended for his Discourses on Davila, will both appear in Volume 20.

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.