Happy New Year from all of us at the MHS! Below is a selection of thoughts and wishes from members of the MHS staff.
“My wish is for peace to all beings and places in 2021.”
– Katie Finn, Executive Assistant to the President and Secretary to the Board
“My New Year Wish is that everyone can get vaccinated in 2021, and that this signals the end of the pandemic.”
– Katherine H. Griffin, Nora Saltonstall Preservation Librarian
“I wish that by next winter, at the end of a long workweek and after running holiday errands, I can meet up with my husband at our favorite dive bar, that will be full of people, and thus slightly smelly, cozy up to a few slightly stale beers at the “regulars” corner, catch up with bartenders and others, and listen to an unknown band play some covers with a singer whose voice will transport us out of our conversations and make us wonder at the capacity of human talent. Or, in other words, a widely administered vaccine and a return to equilibrium. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but, hey, it’s my wish.”
– Victoria McNay, Associate Director of Development
“I wish for all humans to find ways to be more empathetic than ever in the coming year and I wish for all U. S. citizens to honor and protect democracy in 2021.”
– Nancy Heywood, Senior Archivist for Digital Initiatives
“May we all be the people our loyal canine friends know we are capable of being.”
– Ondine LeBlanc, Worthington C. Ford Editor of Publications
“My Winter Solstice reflection is May we find Wisdom and Wonder in our Darkness”
– Laura Wulf, Photographic and Digital Imaging Specialist
“A Reading Room full of Researchers in 2021.”
– Dan Hinchen, Reference Librarian
“May 2021 bring all of us the opportunity to begin anew, to dream again and plan a bright future, but let the lessons of goodness, kindness and resilience learned in 2020 always guide us. It has been a long year, but one that has shown us moments of great courage, strength and optimism. Together we survived 2020, and together we will be to make a better world in 2021.”
– Rakashi Chand, Senior Library Assistant
“My wish is for an end to this pandemic and comfort for all who have lost loved ones this year.”
– Anne Bentley, Curator of Art & Artifacts
As 2020 crawls to a close, I’m sure many people will be keeping with the tradition of preparing some hope or goal they intend to carry with them into the coming year while reflecting on the lasting impacts of the year departing. I can imagine after the very unusual toll 2020 has taken on all of us, a few more distinctive resolutions and reflections will be made alongside the typical list of starting a new fitness journey, getting organized, or learning a new skill or hobby. 2020 has been particularly dark for many of us, but with a new calendar year comes new hope. When seeking hope amidst troubled times, I believe much can be gained from remembering that few struggles in this world are unprecedented. And so, I can think of a no more appropriate endeavor than to invoke the ghosts of New Year’s past by diving into our collections and observing the reflections and resolutions of previous years. Come in, and know our collections better, Readers! (Figuratively of course, we are still closed to the public for now.)
Our first New Year’s reflection comes from the Everett-Noble papers which include the diary of Alexander Hill Everett, brother to the famous Massachusetts orator, Edward Everett. In December of 1809, Alexander finds himself in Russia serving as secretary to John Quincy Adams. He writes:
This day brings the year to a close. On casting back a glance, I find it marked for me with events that will probably fix, fortunately or otherwise, the color of my life. As a matter of naked prudence, perhaps it was rather questionable whether I ought to harken such a step as to leave my country for so long a time and sacrifice for the present, the study of a profession. Hitherto, however, instead of repenting I have applauded myself more and more: I have placed myself in a way of distinction; it will only be unfortunate for me if my abilities are not adequate to support the situation.
Reader, have you made any “questionable” decisions this year or maybe taken a great risk? I can ascertain from the rest of this collection that Alexander’s “questionable” decision panned out nicely for him. He continued in the field of foreign diplomacy until his death. So, perhaps there is hope for you. Only time will tell. Keep going.
We move on to our next New Year’s reflection which I can only describe as a big “2020 Mood,” though it was actually written in 1816 which New England historians might recognize as “the year without a summer.” After spending the year in lockdown, I find that phrase to be all too relatable. This excerpt comes from the diary of Hannah Dawes Newcomb, a resident of Keene, N.H. She writes:
The New Year opens upon me with my feelings gloomily impressed. May God grant me strength of mind to endure his chastening with suitable firmness and humility & may it be consistent with his decrees to remove the difficulties which now await me.
Not all resolutions can be cheerful. While we can all be grateful to make it to another year, it can be hard to be hopeful when the “difficulties” of the previous year have no determined end in sight. May we all find the strength to push forward in hopes of happier times.
Many people this year have been forced apart from family and other loved ones. This is of course a burden that is relatable across time. If you find yourself in this predicament, perhaps you will find your own New Year’s hopes reflected in this 1862 letter from Richard Cary to his wife:
My dear wife,
Happy New Year to you & may this day twelve months see us once more together & settled down to a regular hum-drum Darby & Joan which sort of life I look upon now as the most desirable possible existence & may the country be quiet united & contented as we shall be if my hopes might come true.
At the time this letter was written, Richard Cary was serving as a captain in the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, Company G. I take no pleasure in telling you that his hopes did not come true. He was killed at the Battle of Cedar Mountain at the age of 26. Sobering, I know, but more than 300,000 people were permanently separated from their family members in the United States this year, many of them just as young. In this New Year, may we hold our loved ones closer and be so much kinder to one another.
Each of us has had to endure so much this year. But we did just that–endured–and we did it together as many have before us. Thank you for continuing to stand by us, the MHS, and each other as we’ve all learned to adapt and survive. My wish for the New Year is that we would all experience fewer moments of pure survival and more opportunities to thrive. I leave you with this last brief but all-encompassing New Year’s entry from the diary of Andrew Oliver who said simply, “Thus ends the year 1953 with its ups and downs!”
This small, attractive hardcover volume, only 138 pages long, is chock full of terrific illustrations and maps.
It was published in 1879 by D. Appleton and Co., a major New York publishing company run by five sons of founder Daniel Appleton. The company put out a number of targeted guidebooks like this; there’s one about summer resorts, too. In the front and back, you’ll find advertisements for hotels, banks, railroads, steamship companies, and, of course, other Appleton publications.
The book is divided into twelve sections: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Minnesota, Arkansas Hot Springs, Colorado, California, the Lower Mississippi, the West Indies, the Bermudas, and the Sandwich Islands. Sections include general descriptions; descriptions of major cities, towns, rivers, etc.; lists of hotels and boarding houses; and information on climate, history, and points of interest.
As you can tell from its unfortunate title, this book is targeted not only at recreational travelers, but also “invalids,” primarily tuberculosis patients, or “consumptives” in the vernacular of the time. Included are “all the facts as to climatic and local conditions” in each location, as well as testimonials by physicians and even mortality rates!
The largest section by far is the one on Florida, a popular destination for “those afflicted with pulmonary complaints.” The anonymous author waxes almost poetic about the state’s many rivers, including the St. Johns and the Ocklawaha. My favorite illustration, depicting Green Cove Springs, also appears in this section.
The guidebook contains some fascinating factoids that give us a snapshot of what vacations were like in 1879. Travel by train cost 2-3 cents per mile (more in the southern and western United States); steamboats were even cheaper; the going rate for first-class hotels was $4.00-$4.50 per day; and only gold and silver, not U.S. Treasury notes or National Bank bills, were legal tender in California. A train ticket from New York to San Francisco would run you $138.
Speaking of California, I particularly enjoyed the description of a quaint little town called Los Angeles.
Its present population is about 12,000, and the adobe buildings, of which it was originally composed, are fast giving way to larger and more imposing structures. It has a large and varied trade with the interior, and contains three banks, a Roman Catholic college, several public schools, a public library, three daily and two weekly newspapers, churches of the various denominations, and good hotels.
What other tips did the Appletons have for the resourceful tourist or “consumptive” in search of relief?
Our American climate is very changeable, and the traveler had better suffer at noonday from too much clothing than expose himself at night, in storms, or to sudden changes of temperature, with too little. One should wear woolen underclothing, both summer and winter, and always have a shawl or extra wrapper of some kind at hand.
Here’s hoping you are enjoying whatever weather you happen to be in!
On the evening of her tenth birthday, 22 December 1863, María Teresa Carreño García de Sena (1853-1917), known as Teresa Carreño, sat at the grand piano in the Boston Music Hall. She was ending the year much as she’d begun it–performing for large crowds in Boston. That year she had also played throughout New England, in New York City, at the White House for President Lincoln, and in Havana, Cuba.
In addition to playing pieces by eminent composers and virtuoso pianists–on this night the concert program shows that she played pieces by American Louis Moreau Gottschalk, and Europeans Franz Liszt and Sigismond Thalburg–Teresa ended the concert with a work of her own composition. La Emilia Danza was a genre of dance music native to her home country of Venezuela, from which she had emigrated to New York with her family in 1862.
I began learning about Teresa Carreño when I read the picture book Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln , with my five-year-olds. So, I was excited to spot a record of her in ABIGAIL, the MHS online catalog, as I worked from home on my laptop. After a colleague working in the building emailed me scans of the two items, I showed the photograph to my kids. “Look; this is Teresa Carreño the year she played for President Lincoln! She played for lots of people in Boston, too!”
In fact, she found large and appreciative audiences wherever she went.
On December 19, 1863, The Boston Evening Transcript ran an advertisement for the concert:
Theresa [sic] Carreno, the wonderful little artiste, is announced to give a grand concert at the Music Hall, on Tuesday evening next, the 22d inst. Her visit to Boston last season created unusual interest and excitement in musical circles, and she comes now better fitted than ever to astonish by her truly wonderful powers. She has acquired a greater degree of physical force in the meanwhile, and now performs the most difficult compositions of Liszt, Chopin, Beethoven, Thalberg, and Gottschalk. He [sic] has also composed some beautiful pieces, which will be heard in Boston for the first time. 
Many reviewers attributed Carreño’s talent to prodigious abilities and lessons she received from pianists such as Gottschalk, but a fuller picture includes lots and lots of practice at home. Carreño’s father, Manuel Antonio Carreño (1812-1874), played a major role in Teresa’s development as a pianist and composer. Under his tutelage in Caracas, Teresa began studying piano and composing at the age of six. Looking back on her earliest years of lessons, she said she practiced, “two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon, and the rest of the day I played with my doll.”  By the time the family emigrated to New York, she had been playing private concerts for years.
Looking at this carte de visite of nine-year-old Teresa, taken in Boston in January 1863, I couldn’t help but wonder what she was thinking. Wearing a dress and earrings, with a stool placed beneath her feet, she strikes a more restful pose than audiences would have seen while she performed. Referring to her ideal style, she once said, “One should be able to play with a glass of water balanced on the wrist.” ) Is she thinking about her doll? School lessons? Is she itching to travel back to New York, or eager for spring and her upcoming concerts in Cuba? Does she love to play as much as Dancing Hands suggests?
Indeed, some reviewers were skeptical of Carreño, and child pianists as a whole. The reviewer John Sullivan Dwight attended Carreño’s January 1863 performances in Boston. Although he called her “a wonder” he also wrote:
The danger is lest her talent, by such early continual exhibition and exposure, should all run to waste in superficial, showy music; and no less, that such abnormal and excessive tasking of the brain should wear the life out soon.” 
Dwight may not directly call her father a “stage dad” here, but if anyone was responsible for Carreño’s ‘continual exhibition’ it would have been him. In adulthood, however, Teresa Carreño credited her father with seeing her love of piano and teaching her so well:
You see what a foundation I had from my father who, in all his busy life […] found joy in training his little girl in the art which he so dearly loved, and of which he was himself in reality a master. 
Later in life, Carreño taught piano in the style her father had taught her as a child. She also continued to perform around the world for more than 50 years.
I was struck by Teresa’s fond memories of learning the piano from her father. Could her story, I asked myself, inspire my own parenting? Eight months into remote PreK (plus two months of summer learning run by yours truly), the only instruments my kids have played have been made out of recycled materials. One of my kids taught himself to whistle(!), but thus far has been unable to teach me to do the same. Perhaps, in the end, it comes down to sharing what you know and love. After all, we’ve read a lot of great historical books. And, besides, they don’t turn six until next year.
¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Teresa Carreño!
Teresa Carreño’s Archive
Teresa Carreño’s records are split between two institutions. The Teresa Carreño Papers, 1862-1991, are housed at Vassar College Archives and Special Collections Library. A digital exhibit provides access to a few primary source materials housed in the collection. (I personally love the 1886 program to a concert she performed in Caracas that refers to her as “al ilustre Americano.”) The Teatro Teresa Carreño in Caracas, Venezuela also houses a large collection of her personal and professional papers and materials, in addition to concert gowns. 
 Margarita Engle (author) and Rafael López (illustrator), Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln, Simon & Schuster, 2019.
 Laura Pita, Teresa Carreño’s Early Years in Caracas: Cultural Intersections of Piano Virtuosity, Gender, and Nation-Building in the Nineteenth Century, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Kentucky, 2019, p. 382.
 Pita, 412.
 Anna E. Kijas, “The Life of Teresa Carreño (1853-1917): A Venezuelan Prodigy and Acclaimed Artist,” Music Library Association, (Volume 76, No. 1), September 2019, p. 42.
 Pita, p. 374.
 Ronald D. Patkus, “Musical Migrations: A Case Study of the Teresa Carreño Papers,” RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage, (Vol 6. No. 1), 2005.
This holiday season is unlike any other we have experienced in our lifetime. We cannot gather, there are no office parties, and some of us cannot risk seeing our families during the pandemic. So why not use the opportunity to take inspiration from the past and celebrate historically?
Have a cup of punch!
Punch was the thing to do in 1773. On the evening of 16 December 1773, guests gathered at the home of Benjamin Edes. While they waited for darkness to fall, the family punch bowl was filled multiple times. Benjamin’s son Peter later wrote in a letter to his grandson:
“I recollect perfectly well that in the afternoon preceding the evening of the destruction of the Tea a number of gentlemen met in the parlour of my father’s house how many I cannot say as…I was not admitted to their presence. my station was in another room to make punch for them in the bowl which is now in your possession and which I filled several times– they remained in the house till dark…”
Benjamin Edes and his guests made their way to his office on Queen Street to disguise themselves as Indians before joining others on Griffin’s Wharf, where the three ships carrying tea were docked. Young Peter followed the group and related the action to his grandson:
“The Indians worked smartly, some were in the hold immediately after the hatches were broken open, fixing the ropes to the tea chests, others were hauling up the chests, and others stood ready with their hatchets to cut off the binding of the chests, and others cast them overboard.”
Strangely well-orchestrated, in three hours they had disposed of three hundred and forty-two chests containing over 92,000 pounds of tea. John Adams, wrote about it admiringly in his diary entry for 17 December:
“This is the most magnificent Movement of all. There is a Dignity, a Majesty, a Sublimity, in this last Effort of the Patriots, that I greatly admire.”
Now you must be wondering what was in that punch that could launch three hundred chests in to the sea? Sadly, we don’t have that recipe.
But, we do have another infamous punch recipe: Benjamin Franklin’s Milk Punch! Let me introduce you to the strange world of milk punch, popular in 18nth century festivities. While Franklin is famous for his many inventions, such a cosmopolitan man could certainly invent an amazing drink as well. Luckily, he enclosed a recipe for his milk punch in an 11 October 1763 letter to his dear friend James Bowdoin.
For the adventurous, the following is a modern interpretation of Franklin’s recipe, with portions reduced to one quarter of those suggested by Franklin. The flavor is lemony, with a slightly medicinal kick.
6 cups (3 pints) of brandy
2 cups lemon juice
4 cups (1 quart) of spring water
1 freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/8 cups (1/2 lb) of sugar
3 cups of whole milk
Zest eleven lemons.
Squeeze 2 cups of lemon juice.
Steep the lemon zest in the brandy for 24 hours.
Strain out the lemon zest.
Add 4 cups of spring water, 1 freshly grated nutmeg, 2 cups of lemon juice, and 1 1/8 cups of sugar to the brandy.
Stir until the sugar dissolves.
Bring 3 cups of whole milk to a boil.
As soon as the milk boils, add it hot to the brandy mix and stir.
The heat, lemon juice, and alcohol will begin to curdle the milk.
Let the punch stand for 2 hours.
Strain the punch through a jelly bag (or pillow case) until clear. Serve cold.
Naturally, Franklin and Edes were not the only ones imbibing in punch on late December nights. John Hancock certainly enjoyed a glass or two. Here is Hancock’s own punch strainer:
And to fully understand the importance (and popularity) of punch, here is the story of a punch strainer that began with plundering and international conflict. John Vryling, a Boston merchant and member of the Old South Church, was commissioned as an ensign in Col. William Gooch’s “American” Regiment–a unit of the British Army raised in North America in 1740. Vryling sailed for Jamaica with his regiment in October that year. Boston silversmith William Breed crafted this punch strainer from silver captured by John Vryling during the Siege of Cartagena in 1741.
On that note, punch anyone?
Join us for a cup of Holiday Punch by sharing your favorite recipes, or favorite punch stories in the comments below.
The COVID-19 pandemic has touched all of our lives in so many ways, from our everyday routines (I haven’t seen most of my coworkers in person in months) to the once-in-a-lifetime events (multiple friends have postponed or drastically downsized weddings). One thing I’ve missed while doing virtually everything at home is travel. So many of us had big travel plans for the year–when Massachusetts went into lockdown in March, I was in the beginning stages of planning a trip to France, a friend of mine was planning a month-long trip to Turkey and learning Turkish, and my cousin had just gotten a summer internship outside of her home state. Needless to say, those trips didn’t happen.
To satisfy some of my wanderlust, I’ve been turning to the memories and mementos of past travelers. Luckily, the MHS holds many items fitting that description! Since I know many others must be missing travelling and going on adventures, I thought I would share a couple of my favorites.
James Morgan was a long-time reporter and editor for the Boston Globe, who often traveled the country to cover the politics of the day. He also traveled domestically and abroad for pleasure, documenting many of his travels in scrapbooks. Missing out on my European adventure this summer, I was drawn to Morgan’s scrapbook of his 1925 trip on board the SS Lapland, which brought Morgan and his wife from New York to ports around the Mediterranean. They visited Gibraltar, Monaco, Rome, Florence, Gunten, and Paris, among many others, before returning to New York on the SS Lapland in June of 1925.
Along the way, the Morgans picked up mementos of their trip, including notes from family sent prior to their departure, a passenger list for the SS Lapland, programs of entertainment on the ship, letters from other travelers they met, post cards, hotel brochures, receipts, and even some plant life.
Perhaps my favorite item from the scrapbook is a faux passport drawn up for James. It requests that those presented with the passport allow him “unsafe and unfreely to pass and repass” and give him “all unlawful aid and no protection.” It lists his height as “5 kilometers less 50 millimeters,” his eyes as “Soft smiling – Blue Grass brown,” and his nose as “Aquiline.” It is undersigned by what I can only assume are his friends.
Shifting gears to adventures a bit closer to home, I also found great joy in the Eliza Lee Lothrop Homans diaries. While she was also a world-wide traveler (who visited many of the same cities as James Morgan), I was drawn to a diary that recorded her 1871 trip to the Adirondacks with her husband, Charles Dudley Homans. Of the beginning of their trip, she writes:
On Friday morning September 29 ’71 Charlie and I started for ‘the Adirondacks’!!! we couldn’t have known less of our destination if we had been starting for heaven – and certainly have much more definite ideas of the kind of preparations to make for the latter place!
Despite their lack of planning, the Homans seem to have had a spectacular trip. Accompanied by their friend “Shaw,” they made their way to Burlington, Vermont, where they made a chilly evening crossing of Lake Champlain into New York. Eliza describes their drives through soaring mountain passes and past quaint farms, all swathed in magnificent fall colors. I was particularly struck by her description of a morning spent on a lake. She writes:
Oh! Such as day – warm, beautiful beyond compare. We rowed along at our leisure, the poetry of travelling, sitting at ease + floating through the lovely country. At last a man hailed us to watch one side of an island on to which a deer had run . . . we waited there till finally he though it must have got off without his knowing so we rowed on to the end of the lake
Other notable events from the trip were getting caught in a sudden rain storm, spending an evening singing with mountain guides at an inn, sleeping on a most comfortable bed, and many nature walks and explorations of the lakes and rivers of upstate New York. Homans closes her account of the trip with the following entry:
Of Wednesday there is nothing to say save that it was our last day of adventure. The ride down in the cars was through that same beautiful country made more very lovely then with the glow of anticipation – now the more somber shades of memory made it less attractive and the mist of falling rain seemed appropriate to the sobering effect of getting back to the facts and duties of life – but we have had a lovely lime. Charley is better, seems rested and jolly – and I am grateful for all I have enjoyed.
Every year, grade 8-12 students and teachers across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts participate in the National History Day (NHD) contest. History Day students create projects centered around that year’s theme. These projects can take the form of a paper, an exhibit, a website, a documentary, or a performance. Past competition themes have included “Conflict and Compromise” and “Triumph and Tragedy.” This program allows students to learn about history they are passionate about, and develop strong research, argumentation, and analytical skills. The education department at the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) runs NHD in Massachusetts; they organize the regional and state competitions and provide resources for students and teachers to help them along in the process.
For my internship project with the MHS Education Department, I created a teacher’s guide for National History Day in Massachusetts teachers. This guide will provide teachers with materials to help guide students from topic selection through competition. Making the guide involved poring over materials developed by other states across the country to find the most useful worksheets and resources. I also looked at how other states structured their materials and what they included. At the same time, I kept in mind the needs of students and teachers. I wanted to create a guide that wasn’t overwhelming for teachers, but covered each project stage. I tried to prioritize creating a guide that was easy to use because this guide is for teachers who are new to the NHD program. I also wanted to choose worksheets that are useful to students and not overly long or detailed.
I also developed ideas for original materials for the guide. My research revealed that many states have a resource that highlights local history topics for student projects. So I proposed creating a Massachusetts Topic List of people and events related to the state’s history. This resource will help connect students with research materials and sources from the MHS and other local institutions. Local topics can be more accessible than national topics, as students can visit historical institutions to do primary source research. While students may not be able to do that this year because of the pandemic, they may still have some digital access to these institutions and collections. In developing this list, I tried to highlight some lesser-known Massachusetts figures and events and those often absent from larger historical narratives.
I am also creating a resource for teachers to help students with “difficult history” topics. Students often want to explore complex issues and events to which they have some personal connection. Because of this, students may encounter historical topics that are upsetting and hard to process. So I reviewed materials created by other organizations that focus on helping students understand and process more complicated issues. I also consulted educational materials that focus on social-emotional learning, which are used in classrooms to help students develop self-awareness and emotional maturity. Teachers, who bring experience in these areas, are especially important resources for my work. NHD allows students to grapple with more difficult moments in history–a strength of the program–but tools to help them understand and confront this history are also needed.
I came to this project with some prior experience as an undergraduate, in one of the nation’s biggest NHD programs. In my two years of mentoring students and interacting with teachers, I observed the needs and challenges that arise, and I became invested in the program as I witnessed students’ work on their projects. This background has helped me in developing materials, and in collaborating with my supervisors. Luckily the need to go remote did not impact the structure of my internship, but it has made contacting teachers more challenging since they are currently dealing with a different teaching experience. On the other hand, this remote internship has helped me keep in mind the virtual aspects of learning in today’s classrooms as I assemble the guide. Working on this project has deepened my appreciation and admiration for the NHD program.
This internship has helped me understand how historical institutions can help teachers and students in this remote and hybrid learning era when teachers are dealing with more than ever before. Historical institutions can create materials for classrooms that can support teachers by providing resources for in-depth and meaningful history education. They can also help students understand “difficult history” and connect to their communities’ pasts. As someone with an interest in improving history education from outside the K-12 classroom, this experience has shown me a possible path for my future career.
by Neal Millikan, Series Editor for Digital Editions
Transcriptions of more than 700 pages of John Quincy Adams’s diary have just been added to the John Quincy Adams Digital Diary, a born-digital edition of the Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The new material spans the period January 1789 through August 1801 and chronicle Adams’s experiences as a law student in Newburyport, a young lawyer in Boston, and a diplomat in the Netherlands and Prussia.
“My present situation is not over eligible: how to improve it is the subject which most employs my mind,” Adams wrote on 7 April 1791. “I have much leisure upon my hands, and my own improvement seems to be the proper object of my pursuit,” although he questioned his own “egotism” as he tried and failed to faithfully keep his journal. Adams had completed his legal studies under Theophilus Parsons in Newburyport the previous July and was been admitted to the Massachusetts Bar. Choosing to establish his office in Boston, the 23-year-old struggled to gain ground professionally even as he began to find his political voice.
In the summer of 1791 Adams responded to Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man with a series of articles under the pseudonym “Publicola.” The following year brought pieces by “Menander” opposing the state anti-theater ordinance, and in late 1793 and early 1794 he earned recognition for his “Columbus” and “Barneveld” series, commenting on the behavior of the Antoine Charbonnet Duplaine, the French consul at Boston, and Edmond Genet, the French minister to the United States.
These activities found favor in Federalist circles. In May 1794 President George Washington nominated John Quincy Adams as minister resident to the Netherlands. It was the first of four diplomatic postings Adams held. He and his youngest brother, Thomas Boylston Adams, who served as JQA’s secretary, arrived at The Hague in late October. During an errand to London in 1795, John Quincy met Louisa Catherine Johnson, the daughter of U.S. consul Joshua Johnson and Catherine Nuth Johnson. After more than a year’s courtship, the couple married in London on 26 July 1797 and soon departed for John Quincy’s new diplomatic post at Berlin, where the minister successfully negotiated a new Prussian-American Treaty of Amity and Commerce in 1799. Neither John Quincy nor Louisa relished the demands of court life with its lavish social engagements. Louisa’s frequent ill health during these years weighed on John Quincy, and he noted his feelings in his diary. After Louisa had several miscarriages, she gave birth to their first son, George Washington Adams in April 1801, shortly before John Quincy received his recall and the family returned to the United States.
For more on John Quincy Adams’s life during these years, read the headnotes for his early legal career and early diplomatic career, or, navigate to the entries to begin reading his diary. The addition of material for the 1789–1801 period joins existing transcriptions of Adams’s diary for his years as secretary of state (1817–1825) and president (1825–1829) and brings the total number of transcriptions freely available on the MHS website to nearly 4,000 pages. Thanks to MHS web developer, Bill Beck, the John Quincy Adams Digital Diary also now includes side-by-side viewing capability. By choosing the “transcription + image” dual mode, users can view the transcription alongside the manuscript image; or, they can still view the transcription alone. This dual-mode option appears at the top of each entry. Check it out! And let us know what you think. The tool is still in its beta phase, and we welcome user feedback. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society gratefully acknowledges the generous support of our sponsors. Major funding for the John Quincy Adams Digital Diary is provided by the Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund. Harvard University Press and a number of private donors also contributed critical support.
by Yiyun Huang, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Dr. Thomas Young (1731-1777) was an important member of the Sons of Liberty and a family physician of John Adams. Although he did not participate in the destruction of tea on December 16, 1773, he played a crucial role in rallying against the consumption of tea. Young wrote an essay highlighting the medicinal risks of drinking tea which appeared in the Boston Evening Post in October, 1773. He aimed to make the case that tea was really a slow poison. One of his methods was to present some extraordinary cases: a farmer’s wife from his hometown “lost the use of her limbs” because of continuously drinking strong tea for four years. But there is something else from this essay that is really fascinating.
Dr. Young’s essay reveals a variety of conduits through which colonial American intellectuals could learn about exotic botanicals such as tea. First, they could read the works of the Jesuit missionaries and other Europeans who had traveled to East Asia. To prove his argument that tea was a slow poison, Dr. Young wanted to know what the Chinese had to say about tea’s medicinal properties. So, he turned to Jean Baptiste Du Halde’s The General History of China (Description de la Chine) and Engelbert Kaempfer’s Amœnitates Exoticæ (Exotic Pleasures) for answers. The MHS has a printed copy of the third edition of The General History of China, which included detailed descriptions of the botanical and medicinal properties of tea. Du Halde based these descriptions on the French missionaries’ translation of Chinese materia medica texts and their observations of the cultivation and production of tea in Fujian province.
Engelbert Kaempfer’s work was another source of information for Dr. Young to learn about tea. Kaempfer (1651-1716) did not set foot in China but had stayed in Batavia and Nagasaki as a physician for the Dutch East India Company in the late 17th century. He provided a lengthy description of tea’s cultivation, preparation, preservation, and medicinal effects in Amœnitates. He took advantage of the knowledge compiled by his predecessors, Chinese expat physicians in Japan, and texts exported to the port of Nagasaki by Chinese merchants. Both Du Halde and Kaempfer’s works provided a balanced description of tea’s health benefits and risks. However, Dr. Young focused on what the two authors said about tea’s medicinal vices, i.e. that it contained corrosive qualities.
The works of the armchair British and continental European physicians also provided ammunition for Dr. Young in denouncing tea. He cited the works of Thomas Short (1690-1772) and Samuel Auguste Tissot (1728-1797) to argue that long-time consumption of tea had negative impact on the health of the entire European population. Tissot’s Advice to the people in general, with regard to their health (1771) is in the MHS collections. Both Short and Tissot did acknowledge that tea could render some people ill, but throwing harsh criticism at tea was not their original intention. Instead, they were interested in determining the medicinal properties of tea by situating it within the Galenic framework and conducting new experiments. Short, for example, wanted to use a series of chemical experiments to determine if tea really had the health benefits as claimed by many. He concluded that green tea could cure such bodily disorders as lethargy and headache as it diluted “a thick blood.” He did claim that the Chinese adulterated tea with other ingredients, but these adulterations did not pose serious health risks. Again, Dr. Young ignored Short’s praises of tea but took only the negative side into account.
Dr. Young’s essay was more of a political treatise which aimed to dissuade common people from consuming tea than a scientific study. He took advantage of the global sources available and chose to highlight what these authors said about the negative effects of tea drinking, while ignoring their praises of tea’s health benefits.
 Thomas Young, “Messirs Fleets,” Boston Evening Post, October 25, 1773.
 Jean Baptiste Du Halde, The General History of China (London: 1734).
 Engelbert Kaempfer, Exotic Pleasures: Fascicle III: Curious Scientific and Medical Observations. Trans. and intro. Robert W. Carrubba (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 1998), 141-169. For the original see Kaempfer, Amœnitates Exoticæ (Lemgo, 1712), 605-631.
 Thomas Short, A Dissertation upon Tea (London: 1730), 43-59.
It’s National Novel Writing Month, and particularly in this year of plague, thousands of writers across the country (myself included) are spending their free minutes at their computer or holding a pen, scribbling to reach a goal of 50,000 new words of a creative work. It’s a daunting task. Especially with our souls being bombarded on all sides by what’s going on in the rest of the world, it’s doubly hard to quiet the anxiety and assert your creative voice. To inspire us all, here’s an extraordinary object from the MHS collections.
One of the most precious objects in our collections is Phillis Wheatley’s desk. Wheatley was the first African woman to publish a book in North America: Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, in 1773.
After being stolen from her home in West Africa and enduring the months-long, deadly journey of the Middle Passage, Wheatley was brought to Boston, where she was sold to John Wheatley, a Boston merchant and tailor. She learned to read and write English, and to read Greek and Latin. She began writing poetry, translating her complex struggles into verse.
It’s essential to remember that although Wheatley was an extraordinary woman, she wasn’t “fortunate.” Even though her enslavers supported her education and literary efforts, she was still enslaved. The Wheatleys exploited her labor and her literary talents: they showed her off to friends, and didn’t free her until after she published her book in 1773. She was constantly questioned, actually having to defend that she wrote her poems in court in 1772 to a panel of Massachusetts’ most prominent politicians and slaveholders, who couldn’t conceive that an African woman could write so beautifully.
One of the things that I love most about objects is how they give us the chance to physically connect with history. When I stand in front of Wheatley’s desk, I am in awe that I stand so close to the place where her work took flight. I am able to connect with the history of Black struggle and oppression in the Americas in a different way than reading about the history of slavery. In a time when Africans and African Americans were sold and treated as property, it must have been so powerful for Wheatley to have this piece of furniture—a physical manifestation of the freedom she had eked out for herself, and a place where her mind could roam free. The desk itself is simple, yet so beautiful. I love its distinctive clawed feet, balancing gracefully on wooden balls.
Being in the presence of a historical object encourages us to walk with a person from another time. Approaching a desk is a familiar experience for all writers. When I go to sit at my own desk to work, I feel a complex mix of emotions: fear, that my writing won’t be good; excitement, to discover what happens next in my story; joy, that I get to play with words and create something out of nothing.
Approaching Wheatley’s desk in the MHS, I wonder how she felt when she went to write each day. Relief, that she was walking towards one of the few places she could be entirely herself? Was her mind already so wrapped up in words that she rushed to it, eager to write something down? How did she cope with her fears, her doubts?
Yet Wheatley and I stand in entirely different positions: as a white queer person, I did not have to face the horrors of the Middle Passage or enslavement. The privilege afforded to me by my skin means I live in comfort, without fearing for my life or facing the economic and social inequalities that African Americans do. My world was built on Wheatley’s back, and on the backs of so many others who didn’t get a chance to write their books, because they were robbed of their lives, their chance at an education, their freedom. I have to grapple with that, too.
It reminds me of the words of the lesbian poet Audre Lorde, who said, “Our white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am. The Black mother within each of us—the poet—whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free (“Poetry is not a luxury,” 38).” When I read this quote, I always think of Wheatley: a woman who wrote herself free; a mother who died trying to stave off the poverty she endured in the later part of her life, because the white supremacy of the new United States continued to press her. Still, she wrote. She felt, and wrote, and made beauty out of suffering.
After Wheatley’s sudden death in 1784, from an illness she contracted while out working trying to support herself and her infant child while her husband was imprisoned, the desk was sold at auction. It is a chilling full circle. Her child died soon after her own death, also from illness.
The power of Wheatley’s life and perseverance have long outlived the systems of oppression that shaped her world, and they continue to be a guiding light. I hope Wheatley’s desk gives us all strength as we try to get words on the page, and makes us brave enough to tell more honest and diverse stories.
Whether you’re writing a novel, short story, poetry, screenplay, video game, fan fiction, or non-fiction (perhaps even a history?) I wish you the best of luck. Keep heading to your desk (or wherever you write) each day. Get words on the page. Try not to turn down the voices in your head telling you to stop. Because as Audre Lorde said: “…there are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt—of examining what those ideas feel like being lived on Sunday morning at 7 a.m., after brunch, during wild love, making war, giving birth, mourning our dead—while we suffer the old longings, battle the old warnings and fears of being silent and impotent and alone, while we taste new possibilities and strengths.” (“Poetry is Not a Luxury,” 39)
Lorde, Audre. “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Berkeley: Crossing Press, 1984), 36-40.
If you’re interested in reading more on Phillis Wheatley, check out the following books:
Vincent Carretta, Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2011).
Richard Kigel, Heav’nly Tidings from the Afric Muse: The Grace and Genius of Phillis Wheatley, (St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 2017).
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The Trials of Phillis Wheatley: America’s First Black Poet and Her Encounters with the Founding Fathers (New York: Basic Civitas Books, 2003).
Darlene Clark Hine and Kathleen Thompson, A Shining Thread of Hope: The History of Black Women in America (New York: Penguin Books, 1998).