This Week @MHS

Here are the programs on the schedule for coming week:

  • Monday, 11 February, at 6:00 PM: Lincoln & the Jews: A History
    with Jonathan D. Sarna, Brandeis University. Historian Jonathan D. Sarna reveals how Lincoln’s remarkable relationship with American Jews impacted both his path to the presidency and his policy decisions as president. Expressing a uniquely deep knowledge of the Old Testament, employing its language and concepts in some of his most important writings, Lincoln also befriended Jews from a young age, promoted Jewish equality, and appointed numerous Jews to public office.A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30 PM; the speaking program begins at 6:00 PM. There is a $10 per person fee (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members or EBT cardholders).

  • Tuesday, 12 February, at 5:15 PM: Amputated from the Land: Black Refugees from America & the Neglected Voices of Environmental History with Bryon Williams, Academy at Penguin Hall, and comment by John Stauffer, Harvard University. This paper focuses on dictated narratives from the 1840s and ‘50s, accounts delivered by blacks who fled the U.S. to settle in the wilds of Ontario. These first-person accounts of environmental encounter and expertise are unrivaled in depth, breadth, and detail among black ecological writing of any era. New environmental histories need such accounts that not only counter dominant American environmental and political myths, but offer black-lived stories of environmental belonging and agency. This is part of the Boston Seminar on Environmental History series. Seminars are free and open to the public.

  • Wednesday, 13 February, at 6:00 PM: Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize Ceremony with Douglas L. Winiarski and Stephen Marini. Please join us for a special evening in which Douglas L. Winiarski will receive the 2018 Gomes Prize for Darkness Falls on the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in 18th-Century New England. Winiarski will join historian Stephen Marini in a conversation about religious revivalism and the shaping influence of religious awakenings on faith and culture in eighteenth-century New England.A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30 PM; the speaking program begins at 6:00 PM. W

  • Saturday, 16 February, at 10:00 AM: The History & Collections of the MHS. Join us for a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or abentley@masshist.org.

Fashioning the New England Family is open Monday through Saturday, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The exhibition explores the ways in which the multiple meanings of fashion and fashionable goods are reflected in patterns of consumption and refashioning, recycling, and retaining favorite family pieces. Many of the items that will be featured have been out of sight, having never been exhibited for the public or seen in living memory. The exhibition is organized as part of Mass Fashion, a consortium of cultural institutions set up to explore and celebrate the many facets of the culture of fashion in Massachusetts. 

Please note that the MHS will be closed on Monday, 18 February. Take a look at our calendar page for information about upcoming programs.

Boston to Bombay*: Historical Connections between Massachusetts and India

by Rakashi Chand, Senior Library Assistant

On Saturday, 2 February 2019, 45 people gathered at the MHS for Boston to Bombay: Historical Connections between Massachusetts and India. This special event focused on the historical connections between Boston and India as illustrated by manuscripts and artifacts in the collection of the MHS. After the Revolution, ships from Boston and Salem sailed for India on a regular basis bringing back not only goods but also ideas, fashion, religion and philosophy. These connections continued through the centuries and remain strong today.

Reception for Boston to Bombay program

Reception for Boston to Bombay program

Boston
and India: 18th Century Connections

Several items on display showcased the interactions between Boston and India in the 18th century. A bottle of tea leaves collected after the Boston Tea Party represented the North American role in being forced to fund the British East Indian Company.

Three miniatures portraits were on display. One, from 1818, depicts Major General David Ochterlony, who was born in Boston in 1758. Ochterlony went in India as a cadet by 1777 and rose quickly in military ranks. He was called the “Conqueror of Nepal” for his victorious campaigns and given the title “Defender of State” by Shah Alam. Two others, done in watercolor on ivory, of Emperor Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal by an unidentified 18th century artist were also on display.

Benjamin Joy of Newburyport, Mass. was appointed the first U. S. Counsel to India by President George Washington. Although the British refused to acknowledge him as Counsel he remained as an “agent” in India for three years. Visitors were able to view Joy’s sea chest. It was made in India and accompanied him on his voyage back to Boston.

Sea Chest belonging to Benjamin Joy

The Ice Trade

Boston’s most lucrative trade with India was ice. Ships full of ice cut from the ponds of Massachusetts would sail across the globe to ice houses in Bombay and Calcutta. Frederic Tudor of Boston, known as “the Ice King,’ became very wealthy due to the ice trade. Items on display to illustrate the ice trade included a print of the ice being cut from Spy Pond; a print of the harbor at Calcutta; a copy of Walden; and a letter from Calvin W. Smith, an agent of the Tudor Ice House, to his mother in Boston from Bombay.

John Eliot Parkman in India

John Eliot Parkman, brother of historian Francis Parkman, went to India in 1855. He not only marked his travels on a wonderful 1855 map of India, he also wrote about his travels and excitement in letters home. He even painted some of the people he met along the way. Visitors were able to see a travel map and a watercolor painting by Parkman as well as a letter from Parkman to his mother:

Calcutta February 22nd 1855

“My dear Mother,

“…We have been living there now about a fortnight and like it better and better everyday. The house is about 3 minutes from town, almost on the banks of the river, and in the pleasantest place near Calcutta, we have a large garden and a tank in it almost as large as the Frog Pond, and beside these advantages two dogs and a billiard table. there is one drawback however to a new comes in the shape of jackals who drift about to the house every night and gangs above 50 and howl like so many rampant Devils- , it is unnecessary to add that I slept but little the first three nights but I have since got used to them.

Mr Bullard who has just come down from up country is living with us but goes to Paris by the steamer, he has told me such stories about Delhi, Agra and half a dozen other places that I am well-nigh crazed and probably shall remain in that condition till my turns come to travel. (!)

Mr. Lewis has given me $50 a month but you have no idea what an expensive place this is, I was insane enough to think when I was at home that living here was remarkably economical, but I have since learnt better (at my cost of course). I can live in Boston for half the money I am obliged to spend here. Clothes are very cheap but then you have to have so many, that it comes to about as much, if not more than it does in Boston…”

Bostonians Travel to India

William Scollay kept a journal while travelling and studying in India from14 November 1811 to 28 October 1812. The journal includes descriptions of his stay in Calcutta, impressions of the landscape, and most interestingly, Hindi classes taken at the College of Fort William. Scollay fills the pages of the travel journal with vocabulary lessons.

The Log of the Bark Hannah Sprague kept by Horatio Stockton Rotch in 1845 is one of the many ships logs in the collections of the MHS.  The log was kept on a trading voyage from Boston to Madras and Calcutta, India. Entries record longitude and latitude, course, winds, and distance traveled and narratives kept at Madras and Calcutta.

Letters from India

A selection of 19th-century letters focused on social justice and the link between Indian and Boston reformers were on display. Raja RomMohan Roy, known as the “Father of the Indian Renaissance,” wrote to William Ward, Jr. of Medford on 5 February 1824. Roy was a social reformer who criticized the Caste System, polygamy, and the treatment of widows. He also advocated for women’s right to inherit property.

In a 24 September 1887 letter to Mrs. Andrews, Pandita Ramabai indicates that she will stop in Boston on route to Manchester NH, as part of a national tour. A group of Bostonians formed the American Ramabai Association, to support the work of Pundita Ramabai as she tried to create a home and school for child widows in India.

In a letter by K. L. Nulkar to the American Ramabai Association in Boston, he advocates for the rights of the child widows in the care of the home to practice their own religion. He reminds the American benefactors that these schools are secular. Photographs of K. L. Nulkar and his wife and child were displayed alongside the letter.

Letter from K. L. Nulkar to the American Ramabai Association in Boston and photographs of Nulkar and his wife and child

It was a pleasure to welcome so many new visitors to the MHS! If interested in learning more about items related to India in the collection, please contact the Library.

*The use of the name Bombay in the title of the event was derived from historic texts and should be taken in the 19th-century context.

George Hyland’s Diary, February 1919

By Anna Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services

Today, we return to the diary of George Hyland. You can read more about this diary series in the January 1919 post. Today, we follow George through a February that was “very fine weather — (for winter),” punctuated by rain and snow that was quick to melt — not like our own February so far! George’s month is punctuated by running errands in North Scituate, regular visits to his uncle Samuel (with milk for Ellen and chocolate candies for “little Elizabeth”), and chopping wood. He also hitches a ride on the back of an “auto truck” and buys a new pair of rubber boots with felt leggings which he pronounces to be “good ones.”

As readers have probably already noticed, George is a keen and regular observer of the weather. In February he notes the appearance of northern lights and also identifies planets and constellations he sees in the clear night skies. This habit, along with his mention both in January and February of “boxing the compass” — a mariner’s exercise — has made me wonder whether he had been at sea in his younger years, or if not learned to record the weather from a relative who was a mariner.

Without further ado, join George on his daily rounds during February 1919.

* * *

PAGE
322 (cont’d)

Feb 1. Cut wood in swamp 5 1/2 hours. Cold and very windy W.N.W. temp. 16-40. In eve went to N. Scituate — walked down and back (5 miles). Bought some groceries at Mrs. Seavern’s store, also some choc. candy for little Elizabeth. A little warmer in eve. tem. 26 bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s.

2d. (Sun.) Clear; very windy; tem. 18-42; W.N.W. Got some wood in swamp. Fine weather for season. Paul Briggs spent eve.
Here.

3d. Cut wood (in swamp) 5 1/4 hours. Cold. Windy. Clear. tem. 17-42; W.N.W. Fine weather for season. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s early in eve. Fine eve. Wind very light. Clear. Mrs. Cora Vinal at Mrs. Merritt’s — will stay a week.

4th. Cut wood in Swamp 5 1/2 hours. Fair. W.S.W.S.E. tem. 36-45. In eve went to N. Scituate, bought some groceries at Mrs. Seavern’s store — also some choc. candy for Elizabeth – 3 cts. Light rain in eve. Walked to N.S. and back. Boxed compass 4 times forwards and backwards while going to N.S. — N. to right back to N. then to left back to N., then same by E., S., and W.

5th. Cut wood in Swamp 5 hours. Fine weather, cloudy, A.M. 10 A.M. clear; W.N.W. tem 20-42. Early in eve. Went to N.Scituate bought some bread, also bought some choc. Candy for Elizabeth – 2 cts. Eve. clear. Cold. — but fine for season. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s.

6th. Cut wood 5 1/2 hours. Very fine weather — for winter. Clear; W.N.W. tem. 16-36. Eve. clear; tem. 24. Went to N. Scituate early in eve. — walked down and back. Stores all closed when I arrived there. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s, then went to Hwd. Litchfield’s and bought some bread.

7th. Cut wood 5 1/2 hours. Fine weather, clear; tem. 20-38; W.N.W. Called at S.E. Hyland in eve. Bought 2 loaves of bread at H. Litchfield’s and some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s, called at Uncle
Samuel’s and got some milk for Ellen at Mrs. M’s. Fine eve. Planets and stars bright. Venus in W., Jupiter, Sirius Canis Major and Proceon [sic] (Canis Minor) make an obtuse triangle near Orion.

PAGE
323

8th. Cut wood in Swamp 5 1/2 hours. Fine weather, clear, tem. 25-39. W.W. and S.E. par. Clou. ate in aft. Early in eve. Went to N. Scituate. Bought some groceries at Mrs. Seavern’s store, also at H. Litchfield’s, also bought some choc. Candy for Elizabeth — 3cts. Eve. hazy. W.S.E. 11:30 P.M. W.W.; clou. A large piece of heavy wood fell on my right foot — hurt one of my toes badly this afternoon. Light S. storm late in the night.

9th. (Sun.) Clear to par. Clou. W.N.E. tem. 25-35. Got some wood out of the Swamp and put it in the cellar. A few flakes of snow in aft. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s in eve. Spent eve at. S.E.
Hyland’s — S.E.H. gave ^me a fine Baldwin’s apple — grew on a very small tree. I picked all of his apples last fall. Eve. clear, cold. Fine weather for the season.

10th. Cut wood in Swamp — 4 hours. Snow storm early A.M. W.N.E. — very windy. Fare [sic] par. clou. aft. clear. tem. About 25-32. W.N.E. cold and windy. Early in eve. bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s. Fine eve. clear. wind mod. N.E.

11th. Cut wood 6 hours. Cold. clear. W.N.W., S.E. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s early in eve. tem. To-day 16-28. Eve. clear. frosty. 7 P.M. tem. 12. Cold night.

12th. Cut wood 5 hours in Swamp. Fine weather — clear; W.N.W. — S.E.; tem. 10-36. Early in eve went to N. Scituate — bought some groceries at Mrs. Seavern’s store. Also some choc. candy for
Elizabeth — 3 cts. Walked down and back. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s. Fine eve.

13th. Cut wood 6 hours. Very fine weather, clear, tem. 18-40; W.N.W. early in eve went out to H. Brown’s Store then went to Mrs. Merritt’s and bought some milk. Circle around the moon in eve. 11:30 P.M., clou. Will prob. Snow or rain soon.

14th. Rain all day, W.S.E. tem. 27. Early in eve went to H. Brown’s Store. Bought 2 loaves of raisin bread. 30. Eve. colder, W.N.W., fog and mist, rain.

15th. Snow storm at times. W.N.W. tem. About 33-36. Early in eve. Went to N. Scituate — bought some groceries at Mrs. Seavern’s store — also some choc. candy for Elizabeth — 3cts. Bought some
milk at Mrs. Merritt’s. eve. clou. to partly clou. W.W.

16th. (Sun.) Par. clou. To clear, tem. About 32-40. W.N.W. Cold and very windy in eve. bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s in eve.

17th. Cut wood in Swamp 6 3/4 hours. Clear; W.N.W.; tem. 20-38; windy. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s in eve. — also got some for Ellen. Fine eve.

18th. Cut wood in Swamp 6 3/4 hours. Cold and windy. N.W. tem. 18-38. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s and some bread at H. Litchfield’s in eve. eve. cold, very windy. clear. 11 P.M. par. clou.

19th. Cut wood 6 3/4 hours — in Swamp. Clear. cold. windy — N.W. Eve. windy. cold. clear. tem. to-day — about 16-38. In eve. bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s and some bread at H. Litchfield’s. Cold night.

20th. Cut wood in swamp 5 1/2 hours. Very fine weather — (for winter) tem. 16-36; W.N.W. clear. Early in eve. before supper went to N. Scituate bought some groceries at Mrs. Seavern’s Store — also at Jos. H. Vinal’s store. Also bought some choc. candy for Elizabeth — 3cts. Walked down and back. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s. Northern lights in eve.

21st. Cut wood 5 hours in the Swamp. Cloudy, very chilly, wind S.N.S.E. tem. 24-36. Began to snow about 3:50 P.M. W.S.E. light snow storm all eve. Early in the eve went to N. Scituate — rode down with Willard Litchfield — on the rear end of auto truck, walked back. Bought some groceries at Jos. H. Vinal’s store, and a pair of rubber boots with felt leggings at Mrs. Seavern’s store. 3.92 — also some choc. Candy for Elizabeth — 3cts. Then went to H. Litchfield’s and bought 2 loaves of bread — 30. Very light snow storm all eve.

22d. In forenoon hauled wood (over 1/2 cord) out of the Swamp. 1 1/4 hours; in aft. cut wood in —

PAGE
324

— the Swamp 3 1/2 hours. Snow storm early A.M. — about 1 inch of snow — all melted in aft. Clou. to-day; tem. 34-40; W.S.E. early in eve. Went to H. Litchfield’s and bought some bread, then went to Mrs. Merritt’s and bought some milk. Eve. clou. W.S.E. to E. 10 P.M. light rain. Called at Uncle Samuel’s on way back from Mrs. M’s. Wore my new boots in aft. Good ones.

23d. (Sun.) rain until about 3:30 P.M. W.N.E. then W.N.W. Colder. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s early in the eve. Very wet all around here. Eve. par. clou. 11:30 P.M., clear. Windy. W.N.W.

24th. Clear; W.N.W.; tem. 34-45. Windy. In aft. cut wood in Swamp 2 1/2 hours. Very wet in swamp. Early in eve. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s. Also bought some for Ellen. Fine eve. Paul Briggs spent eve. here.

25th. Cut wood in Swamp 6 1/2 hours. Fair to cloudy; tem. 32-41; W; S.W., N.W., S.E. In eve (before supper) went to N. Scituate bought some groceries at Mrs. Seavern’s store — also choc. candy for Elizabeth – 2cts. Walked down and back. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s. Eve. clou. 12:05 (mid.) began to rain. W.S.E. will prob. be a storm. Rain all night.

26th. Rain until about noon. W.N.S. and N.W. Clear, very windy in aft. (max. wind about 36 n.) Called at Uncle Samuel’s in eve. Eve. clear, windy, cold.

27th. Cut wood in Swamp 5 1/4 hours. Clear; W.N.W. to S.W.; tem. 17-34. Eve clear.

28th. Cut wood in Swamp 4 hours — finished cutting 7 1/2 cords of hardwood (maple and yellow birch — also a few sticks of white birch) 225 per cord at $16.87 also have finished out 1/2 cord on a
sled — 25. Clear in forenoon. Warm. W.S.W. tem. 30-48. Frost this A.M. Light rain 1 P.M. to 1:30 P.M., then clou. to par. clou. Eve. clear. to par. clou. Bought some milk at Mrs. Merritt’s early in eve. Called at Uncle Samuel’s. L. H. Hyland has paid me for cutting the wood. Began to rain about 11:40 P.M. Light rain.

* * *

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

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

This Week @MHS

Here is a look at what is going on at the MHS this week:

  • On Monday, 4 February, at 6:00 PM: Mentioning Unmentionables: An Exploration of Victorian Underclothes with Astrida Schaeffer. Nineteenth century fashion shaped and added to the body in a variety of ways. This inside tour of the myths and realities of Victorian corsets, crinolines, bustles and more introduces ladies who challenge our stereotype of the tiny-waisted, fainting Victorian woman, shares what critics thought of these fashion trends, and reveals the clever illusions that made waists seem smaller than they really were. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30. There is a $10 per person fee (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members or EBT cardholders).
  • On Tuesday, February, at 5:15 PM: Colonial Mints & the Rise of Technocratic Expertise in the British Atlantic, 1650-1715 with Mara Caden, MHS-NEH Fellow, and comment by Penelope Ismay, Boston College. Governors, assemblies, and inhabitants of Britain’s American colonies routinely tried to set up mints to coin money during the seventeenth century, including in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This paper explains why every effort to establish a mint in British America failed, with the exception of the Boston mint, and why the mint in Boston was shut down in the 1680s. It explores the ways in which the Officers of the Royal Mint employed technical knowledge to curtail monetary autonomy in Britain’s overseas dominions. Finally, it examines the rise and fall of a strategy that colonial governments used to try to attract foreign coins to their shores in lieu of minting their own money. This is part of the Boston Area Seminar on Early American History series. Seminars are free and open to the public.
  • On Wednesday, 6 February, at 12:00 PM: To Make a Breathing Picture: John Singleton Copley’s Disturbingly Vital Portraits in Enlightened Boston with Caroline Culp, Stanford University. This talk uncovers a peculiar desire of mid-18th century art: to make pictures so realistic they seemed to live and breathe. Focusing on Boston artist John Singleton Copley and poet Phillis Wheatley, among other cultural figures, it explores superstitious beliefs that lingered in an enlightened, empirical, and rational citizenry. This is part of the Brown-bag lunch programBrown-bags are free and open to the public.
  • On Saturday, 9 February, at 10:00 AMThe History & Collections of the MHS. This is a 90-minute docent-led walk through of our public rooms. The tour is free and open to the public. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or abentley@masshist.org.

 

Fashioning the New England Family is open Monday through Saturday, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The exhibition explores the ways in which the multiple meanings of fashion and fashionable goods are reflected in patterns of consumption and refashioning, recycling, and retaining favorite family pieces. Many of the items that will be featured have been out of sight, having never been exhibited for the public or seen in living memory. The exhibition is organized as part of Mass Fashion, a consortium of cultural institutions set up to explore and celebrate the many facets of the culture of fashion in Massachusetts.

Take a look at our calendar page for information about upcoming programs.

The Elm Hill Private School and Home in Barre, Mass.

By Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

lithograph of campus
Institution for Feeble Minded Youth. Barre, Mass.

The Elm Hill Private School and Home for the Education of Feeble-Minded Youth in Barre, Mass. was the first school of its kind in the United States. It was founded in 1848 by Dr. Hervey B. Wilbur, and Dr. George Brown took over as superintendent three years later. The MHS holds a small collection of George Brown papers, including correspondence, financial documents, and printed items related to this ground-breaking school. Here’s a picture of Dr. Brown from the George Brown family photographs.

photograph
Photograph of George Brown

A promotional broadside from 1864 declared that the Elm Hill School “offers the best educational advantages for children and youth, whose different phases of mental infirmity unfit them for receiving instruction by the ordinary methods, and at the same time provides a permanent home for those who desire it, where every comfort which wealth can procure is furnished.” Of course, only families with means could afford to send their children to this exclusive and remote private institution, and some students came a long way to attend.

The collection includes a few folders of letters from students’ family members, and these can be mined for some tantalizing details. For example, one 1865 letter relates to Elm Hill student Gouverneur Heiskell. Gouvy, as his family called him, was born in 1847 or 1848, and his great-grandfather was none other than President James Monroe. After the Civil War, Gouvy’s family found itself in tough financial circumstances, so his mother wrote to Dr. Brown.

first page of handwritten letter
Letter to George Brown from mother of Elm Hill student Gouverneur Heiskell

In your recent letters to my Father you said that you did not think my poor afflicted child Gouvy was capable of deriving any benefit from further instruction, & that his mind was rapidly giving away, if this is the case it is hardly worth my while to keep him at school at heavy expense, which money might be expended upon my other children to greater advantage. I am therefore making every effort to find some respectable family living in the country who would be glad to take him for a moderate sum, & take care of him treating him kindly & giving him good food & lodging. I find myself in a fair way of doing this in some German families, but before they make any arrangements they require a statement of his case, that is if he is harmless easily managed &c &c […] I never shall forget yours & Mrs Browns kindness & shall always number you among my friends […] I should like very much to have a Photograph of Gouvy.

One particularly interesting story is that of the Kollock family. Charles Kollock was an Elm Hill student from a large Philadelphia family. His father, Rev. Shepard Kosciusko Kollock, died in 1865, leaving his children $14,000 in ready money. At that time, the reverend’s oldest son Matthew was serving with the army in California, so brother John agreed to act as estate administrator. However, by late 1867, the family’s account with Elm Hill was in serious arrears, and John wrote anxiously to Dr. Brown that he was having trouble coming up with the money.

I am aware, that your patience with me, is well nigh exhausted, and that you feel that you cannot keep my brother any longer unless your bills are paid. I have been trying very hard to get Charles’ money in such a shape, that there will be no further difficulty […] It is the desire of all my family, as well as myself, that Charles should remain with you, if you will keep him.

Eventually oldest brother Matthew, somewhat confused, contacted Dr. Brown directly.

I have heard nothing from my brother Charles for more than two years, and feel anxious to hear from you direct, how he is, and also whether his board and tuition is paid promptly, when it is due by my brother John. I do not like to ask him questions about it as he seems to dislike to answer them.

Dr. Brown replied immediately, and just five days later Matthew wrote again, “astonished” to hear about the unpaid debt amounting to hundreds of dollars. He explained that fully $4,000 of their father’s $14,000 had been designated for Charles’ support, and he suspected that John had lost the entire sum in “rash speculations.”

first page of handwritten letter
Matthew Kollock letter to George Brown

Matthew asked Dr. Brown to send him the outstanding bills and resolved to bring a case against his brother for “breach of trust.” He also called John out for lying about an army appointment. Eventually sister Mary reached out to other relatives, who helped with Charles’ expenses.

James Reynell, an India merchant, also lived in Philadelphia, and his sister attended the Elm Hill School. Here’s an excerpt of an 1877 letter to Dr. Brown.

first page of handwritten letter
James Reynell letter to George Brown

I wrote to you with a little present to my Sister last Christmas and have not heard whether the little Trunk arrived safely or how my Louisa is. Please write and let me know by return that she is well as something inclines me to fear she is poorly. […] My Little Loo must not think her brother has deserted her and you must kindly keep me in her memory even if I do not write so often as I ought. Please tell her I send kisses & love […]

The Elm Hill School was known by many names over time, reflecting the evolution of its mission and probably changing sensibilities. Some of Elm Hill’s previous (and very unfortunate) names included the Institution for the Education of Idiots, Imbeciles, and Children of Retarded Development of Mind (ca. 1851) and the Private Institution for the Education of Idiots, Imbeciles, and Backward and Eccentric Children (ca. 1853-1855). “Imbecile” was dropped sometime after 1858, and “Children” became “Youth” before 1870.

George Brown superintended the school for 40 years, until his death in 1892. At that time, though other schools for the “feeble-minded” had since been established, Elm Hill was the largest private institution of its kind in the country. Dr. Brown’s son George Artemas Brown succeeded him as superintendent, followed by his son George Percy Brown. The institution closed in 1946, 98 years after its founding.

The George Brown papers fill only one document box, and these letters represent just a fraction of Dr. Brown’s overall correspondence. They give us a fascinating glimpse into his work in Barre, but tell us very little about the students themselves or their education. Interested researchers will find additional material in a collection of Elm Hill School records at the Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. That library also holds some Brown family papers, primarily those of later generations.

This Week @MHS

Join us for a program this week! Here is a look at what is going on:

– Tuesday, 29 January, 5:15 PM: Better Teaching through Technology, 1945-1969, with Victoria Cain, Northeastern University, and comment by Heather Hendershot, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Uncertainty about media technology’s affective and political power plagued post-World War II efforts to expand media use in schools around the nation. Would foundations or federal agencies use screen media to strengthen participatory democracy and local control or to undermine it? Was screen media a neutral technology? This paper argues that educational technology foundered or flourished not solely on the merits of its pedagogical utility, but also as a result of changing ideas about the relationship between citizenship and pictorial screen media. This is part of the Boston Seminar on Modern American Society and Culture series. Seminars are free and open to the public.

– Wednesday, 30 January, 12:00 PM: Superannuated: Old Age & Slavery’s Economy with Nathaniel Windon, Pennsylvania State University. Plantation owners demarcated elderly enslaved laborers as “superannuated” in their logbooks. This talk examines some of the implications of locating the origin of old age on the antebellum American plantation.This is part of the brown-bag lunch program. Brown-bags are free and open to the public.

– Thursday, 31 January,  6:00 PM: The Great Molasses Flood Revisited: Misremembered Molasses, with Stephen Puleo; Allison Lange, Wentworth Institute of Technology; Gavin Kleespies, MHS; and moderator Rev. Stephen T. Ayres. The Great Molasses Flood of 1919, when remembered, is often interpreted in a dismissive, comical manner. How does this case compare with other incidences of historical events that are interpreted or “curated” at the expense of accuracy and respect for human experience? How can we bring complexity back to events that have long been relegated to the realm of local folklore? Local scholars will discuss the question of misunderstood history by looking at the Great Molasses Flood, the fight for women’s suffrage and Leif Erickson. This program is a collaboration between the MHS and Old South Meeting House and is made possible with funding from the Lowell Institute. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30 PM; the speaking program begins at 6:00 PM. This program will be held at Old South Meeting House.

Fashioning the New England Family is open Monday through Saturday, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The exhibition explores the ways in which the multiple meanings of fashion and fashionable goods are reflected in patterns of consumption and refashioning, recycling, and retaining favorite family pieces. Many of the items that will be featured have been out of sight, having never been exhibited for the public or seen in living memory. The exhibition is organized as part of Mass Fashion, a consortium of cultural institutions set up to explore and celebrate the many facets of the culture of fashion in Massachusetts.

Take a look at our calendar page for information about upcoming programs.

Founder to Founder

By Sara Georgini, The Adams Papers

Like so many good stories here at the Historical Society, it began with a reference question. Jeremy Belknap, hunting through his sources, asked Vice President John Adams for some help. Belknap, the Congregationalist pastor of Boston’s Federal Street Church, had spent the past few years amassing manuscripts for several major research projects. By the summer of 1789, he was deep into writing the second volume of his History of New Hampshire, a sprawling trilogy that he built, slowly, with meticulous footnotes. The clergyman, who honed his narrative skill as a Revolutionary War chaplain and biographer, felt thwarted by a lack of access to key documents.

John Adams, 1735-1826.

 


Jeremy Belknap, 1744-1798.

 

After poring over George Chalmers’ Political Annals of the Present United Colonies from their Settlement to the Peace in 1763 (London, 1763), Belknap wrote to Vice President John Adams to see if he knew more about the Scottish antiquarian’s research methods. Mainly, Belknap wanted to see how Chalmers pieced together his saga of America as a “desert planted by English subjects” and made fruitful by the flourishing of English liberties. On 18 July, Belknap wrote: “When I observe his having had access to the papers in the plantation Office, I feel a regret that an Ocean seperates me from such a grand repository. how necessary to form a just judgment of the secret springs of many American transactions!” Jeremy Belknap’s query – and Adams’ detailed reply – form one of the most significant exchanges that we will feature in Volume 20 of The Adams Papers’s The Papers of John Adams (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2020).

Though the nation was new, Americans like Belknap hungered to capture their history in print. While British scholars flocked to the Society of Antiquaries of London and dug through government office records, early American scholars lacked similar institutions and resources to conduct historical research. Across Massachusetts, precious family manuscripts and rare artifacts piled up in private homes and flammable steeples. When Belknap looked around Boston in 1789, he lamented how fire and plunder had ravaged materials held in the city’s courthouse (1747), the Harvard College Library (1764), Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s home (1765), the Court of Common Pleas (1776), and Thomas Prince’s cache at the Old South Church (1776). Belknap began sketching out what became the Massachusetts Historical Society: a scholarly membership organization (of no more than seven!) that collected materials and published research. He found a fellow visionary in John Pintard, who led efforts to found the New-York Historical Society.

 

Jeremy Belknap to John Adams, 18 July 1789, Adams Family Papers.

 

Adams and Belknap had traded letters before, and they would continue to do so until the pastor’s death in 1798. This one touches directly on his plans to create the Society. Founder to founder, Belknap put the problem plainly:

The want of public repositories for historical materials as well as the destruction of many valuable ones by fires, by war & by the lapse of time has long been a subject of regret in my mind. Many papers which are daily thrown away may in future be much wanted, but except here & there a person who has a curiosity of his own to gratify no one cares to undertake the Collection & of this class of Collectors there are scarcely any who take Care for securing what they have got together after they have quitted the Stage. The only sure way of preserving such things is by printing them in some voluminous work as the Remembrancer—but the attempt to carry on such a work would probably not meet with encouragement—

 

John Adams to Jeremy Belknap, 24 July 1789, Belknap Papers.

 

In Adams, Belknap found a high-profile ally. A longtime supporter of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the statesman had championed the new nation’s intellectuals abroad. He approved wholly of Belknap’s instinct. Despite his duties presiding over the Senate in the first session of the federal Congress, John Adams prioritized Belknap’s query, firing off a reply on 24 July. He shared a few thoughts on Chalmers’ work and filled in details of Revolutionary War history. Then John Adams lingered happily on Belknap’s dream of a historical society. He had a very personal stake in how the national story was told, after all, and he was eager to impart advice. Adams wrote:

Private Letters however, are often wanted as Commentaries on publick ones.— and many I fear will be lost, which would be necessary to shew the Secret Springs… some of these ought not to be public, but they ought not to be lost.— My Experience, has very much diminished my Faith in the Veracity of History.— it has convinced me, that many of the most important facts are concealed.— some of the most important Characters, but imperfectly known—many false facts imposed on Historians and the World—and many empty Characters displayed in great Pomp.— All this I am Sure will happen in our American History.

 

Encouragement from John Adams and others led Belknap to dedicate the following months to drafting a concrete plan for the organization’s future. On 24 January 1791, Belknap invited nine colleagues to join him in creating the Massachusetts Historical Society, following up with a detailed circular letter ten months later. John Adams and his family, all ardent advocates of Belknap’s mission to preserve history, have supported the Society ever since, in word and deed.

“Great sights upon the water…”: unexplained phenomena in early Boston

By Daniel Tobias Hinchen, Reader Services

I hear you haue great sights upon the water seene betweene the Castle and the Towne: men walking on the water in the night euer since the shippe was blowen vp or fire in the shape of men. There are verie few do beleeue it yet here is a greate report of it, brought from thence the last day of the weeke.*

 

The above excerpt is from the letter shown, dated 29 January 1643/4, written from John Endecott in Salem to Governor John Winthrop in Boston. In the weeks preceding this letter, a series of strange occurrences took place in Boston, and Winthrop recorded the events in his journal. It seems that the entries were written after the fact since Winthrop relates a couple of happenings in the same entry. The first event, though, was said to have taken place on January 18th of that year.

About midnight, three men, coming in a boat to Boston, saw two lights arise out of the water near the north point of the town cove, in form like a man, and went at a small distance to the town, and so to the south point, and there vanished away. They saw them about a quarter of an hour, being between the town and governour’s garden. The like was seen by many, a week after, arising about Castle Island and in one fifth of an hour came to John Gallop’s point.

 

Winthrop continues his entry recording matters pertaining to maintenance of Castle Island and defense of the town of Boston. But after just a paragraph, he returns to the topic of strange sights in the sky.

The 18th of this month two lights were seen near Boston, (as is before mentioned,) and a week after the like was seen again. A light like the moon arose about the N.E. point in Boston, and met the former at Nottles Island, and there they closed in one, and the parted, and closed and parted divers times, and so went over the hill in the island and vanished. Sometimes they shot out flames and sometimes sparkles. This was about eight of the clock in the evening, and was seen by many. About the same time a voice was heard upon the water between Boston and Dorchester, calling out in a most dreadful manner, boy, boy, come away, come away: and it suddenly shifted from one place to another a great distance, about twenty times. It was heard by divers godly persons. About 14 days after, the same voice in the same dreadful manner was heard by others on the other side of the town towards Nottles Island.

 

Writing after the facts, Winthrop made very little attempt at providing explanations for these occurrences. In the immediate journal entries there was only one bit that gave anything in the way of reasoning for what people saw:

These prodigies having some reference to the place where Captain Chaddock’s pinnace was blown up a little before, gave occasion of speech of that man who was the cause of it, who professed himself to have skill in necromancy, and to hav done some strange things in his way from Virginia hither, and was suspected to have murdered his master there; but the magistrates here had no notice of him till after he was blown up. This is to be observed that his fellows were all found, and others who were blown up in the former ship were also found, and others also who have miscarried by drowning, etc., have usually been found, but this man was never found.

 

Interested in finding out more? Consider visiting the MHS Library to work with the sources cited, or see the suggestions below for further reading. 

 

*The transcriptions of the documents in this post appear as they do in the published volumes cited below, typically with original spelling and punctuation intact.

 


 

Sources

Endicott family papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Winthrop, John, The journal of John Winthrop, 1630-1649, Cambridge, Mass.: the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1996.

Winthrop papers, vol. IV, Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1944.

 

Further Reading

Hall, David D., “A World of Wonders: The Mentality of the Supernatural in Seventeenth-Century New England,” Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Vol. 63 (1984), pp.239-274.

McKeown, Adam N., “Light Apparitions and the Shaping of Community in Winthrop’s ‘History of New England’,” Early American Literature, Vol. 47, No. 2, BETWEEN LITERATURE AND HISTORY (2012), pp.293-319.

 

This Week @MHS

Please note that the Society is CLOSED on Monday, 21 Janaury. Normal hours resume on Tuesday. Here are the programs on the schedule for coming week:

– Tuesday, 22 January, 5:30 PM: How to Be an American Housewife: American Red Cross “Bride Schools” in Japan in the Cold War Era with Sonia Gomez, University of Chicago, and comment by Arissa Oh, Boston College. In 1951, the American Red Cross in Japan began offering “schools for brides,” to prepare Japanese women married to American servicemen for successful entry into the United States. This paper argues that bride schools measured Japanese women’s ability to be good wives and mothers because their immigration to the US depended on their labor within the home as well as their reproductive value in the family. This is part of the Boston Seminar on the History of Women, Gender, & Sexuality series. Seminars are free and open to the public. 

– Thursday, 24 January, 5:30 PM: Writing Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom with David Blight, Yale University, and host Carol Bundy, author of The Nature of Sacrifice. Join us for a conversation with David Blight about the challenges of writing his biography of Frederick Douglass, the fugitive slave who became America’s greatest orator of the 19th century. Blight, a prolific author and winner of the Bancroft Prize among other awards, has spent a career preparing himself for this biography, which has been praised as “a stunning achievement,” “brilliant and compassionate,” and “incandescent.” Carol Bundy, author of The Nature of Sacrifice, will host. This is part of the New England Biography Seminar series. Seminars are free and open to the public.

Fashioning the New England Family is open Monday through Saturday, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The exhibition explores the ways in which the multiple meanings of fashion and fashionable goods are reflected in patterns of consumption and refashioning, recycling, and retaining favorite family pieces. Many of the items that will be featured have been out of sight, having never been exhibited for the public or seen in living memory. The exhibition is organized as part of Mass Fashion, a consortium of cultural institutions set up to explore and celebrate the many facets of the culture of fashion in Massachusetts. 

Take a look at our calendar page for information about upcoming programs.

Images of the 1925 bombing of Damascus

By Adam Mestyan, Duke University and 2018-2019 MHS Andrew W. Mellon Fellow

These images are part of a series of 24 photographs of the October 1925 bombing of Damascus found at the MHS in the papers of Sheldon Leavitt Crosby,* a professional American diplomat in the interwar period. He was chargé d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Istanbul from 1924-1930 and Acting American High Commissioner in Turkey in 1925. It is very possible that he acquired this series of astonishing photos from Damascus while acting in this capacity.


Damaged building in Damascus
Photograph by Luigi Stironi, circa 1925


Smoke rises over Damascus
Photograph by Luigi Stironi, circa 1925

Historians have recently begun to discuss the “greater war,” positing that the period of the First World War extended beyond 1914-1918. Indeed, after the Ottoman armistice, conflict and occupation continued in the Ottoman provinces well into the 1920s. In Damascus, the famous Emir Faisal (in fact, a general military governor appointed by the British) could not stop local notables and his own soldiers from proclaiming an independent kingdom with Faisal as king in March 1920. This desperate move was a pre-emptive strike against the implementation of the League of Nations mandates handed down at the San Remo conference in April of 1920, which gave France the mandate over Syria. It also came just a few weeks after the still-existing Ottoman assembly proclaimed their National Pact in Istanbul. Despite negotiations, the French government decided to put an end to the Syrian kingdom, and French soldiers occupied Damascus and other inland cities in July of 1920. Faisal was expelled from Syria and departed for the United Kingdom. But the Syrians stayed. From 1920 on, small groups engaged in guerilla actions and rebellions throughout the region.

In the summer of 1925, the series of events known as “The Great Revolt” in English scholarship and “The Great Syrian Revolution” in Arabic took place. In July, the mountain Druze population revolted against the French troops. Next, Damascus and Hama rose up against the French. There was also internal pillage and cross-ethnic-religious violence. On 18 October, the French army deployed tanks and airplanes around Damascus in retaliation. From six in the evening until noon the next day the French intermittently shelled the city. They did not warn the civilian population. The exact number of casualties is still debated but several hundreds died, including women and children. Although resistance continued in Ghouta (interestingly, also the last rebel-held location around Damascus in 2018) and the north, the massacre caused the recall of the French general in charge and a new Civil High Commissioner arrived to finally create a civil government.

Street scene in Damascus
Photograph by Luigi Stironi, circa 1925


Rubble in Damascus street
Photograph by Luigi Stironi, circa 1925

The photographs collected by Sheldon Crosby depict the destruction and casualties in Damascus and were taken by Luigi Stironi, an Italian in residence in Damascus active between 1921 and 1933. Some of these photos are clearly intended to evoke horror in the viewer and many were published in European newspapers and distributed as private propaganda. The American businessman Charles Richard Crane describes in his diary how a friend showed him very similar (if not the very same) images in Jerusalem in 1926. According to Daniel Neep’s Occupying Syria under the French Mandate, Stironi claimed in 1926 that his images were bought by an American diplomat. Although many of these photographs are well-known, it is rare to find such a comprehensive set among private papers. Is it possible that Crosby was the American diplomat to whom Stironi referred?  


Soldiers in front of the Pharmacy building
Photograph by Luigi Stironi, circa 1925


Soldiers in front of the French Bank of Syria
Photograph by Luigi Stironi, circa 1925


Selected literature:

Gelvin, James L. Divided Loyalties: Nationalism and Mass Politics in Syria at the Close of Empire. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Khoury, Philip S. Syria and the French Mandate: The Politics of Arab Nationalism, 1920-1945. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987.

Neep, Daniel. Occupying Syria under the French Mandate: Insurgency, Space and State Formation.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Provence, Michael. The Last Ottoman Generation and the Making of the Modern Middle East. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017.

The Routledge Handbook of the History of the Middle East Mandates. London: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, 2015.

 

MHS catalog records:

*The photographs were removed from the Sheldon Leavitt Crosby papers, and are now shelved and cataloged as the Sheldon Leavitt Crosby photographs.

Sheldon Leavitt Crosby photographs

Sheldon Leavitt Crosby papers