The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

This Week @MHS

This week we have a pair of Brown Bag talks, two evening programs, the first seminar in a new series, and a sold out tour. Details below:

- Monday, 15 October, 12:00 PM: Examining Land Ownership in the Praying Towns of New England with Taylor Kirsch, University of California, Santa Cruz. Across the tumultuous borderlands of 17th-century Southern New England, a diverse indigenous population numbering in the thousands carved out space for themselves via an unlikely colonial project, “praying towns.” This talk explores the complexities of indigenous land tenure within these communities, and its role in shaping the cultural, political, and spiritual landscape of New England.

- Monday, 15 October, 6:00 PM: "All Legislative Powers…" Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution Then & Now with Margaret H. Marshall, Choate, Hall, & Stewart, and former Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts; Jack N. Rakove, Stanford University, and Pulitzer Prize recipient. Join us for a thought-provoking conversation on the history surrounding the issues that are framed by Article 1 of the Constitution, which established the U.S. Congress and defined its powers, including the rights to tax, raise armies, and regulate commerce and naturalization. Marshall and Rakove will discuss the historical context in which the article was drafted in the 1780s, as well as the current meaning and impact of the article in contemporary legal thought and practice. The Massachusetts Constitution will serve as counterpoint to the national story. This event will take place at The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 136 Irving Street, Cambridge, Mass. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:00 PM; the speaking program begins at 6:00 PM. 

- Wednesday, 17 October, 12:00 PM: “Watering of the Olive Plant”: Catechisms & Catechizing in Early New England with Roberto Flores de Apodaca, University of South Carolina. Early New Englanders produced and used an unusually large number of catechisms. These catechisms shaped relations of faith for church membership, provided content for missions to the Indians, and empowered lay persons theologically to critique their ministers. This talk explores the content and the function of these unique, question and answer documents.

- Wednesday, 17 October, 6:00 PM: The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress & the Road to Civil War with Joanne Freeman, Yale University. Joanne B. Freeman recovers the long-lost story of physical violence on the floor of the U.S. Congress. Drawing on an extraordinary range of sources, she shows that the Capitol was rife with conflict in the decades before the Civil War. Legislative sessions were often punctuated by mortal threats, canings, flipped desks, and all-out slugfests. Pistols were drawn and knives brandished in an attempt to intimidate fellow congressmen into compliance, particularly on the issue of slavery. 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). 

- Thursday, 18 October, 5:15 PM: Losing Laroche: The Story of the Titanic’s Only Black Passenger with Kellie Carter Jackson, Wellesley College, and comment by Saje Mathieu, University of Minnesota. Losing Laroche is the first in-depth study of the only black family on board the RMS Titanic. The story of the Haitian Joseph Philippe Lemercier Laroche and his descendants is largely unknown and troubles the assumption of an all-white Titanic narrative.This paper seeks to understand the possibilities of black advancement in the Titanic moment and throughout the Diaspora. This is part of the Boston Seminar on African American History series. Seminars are free and open to the public. 

- Saturday, 20 October, 10:00 AM: The History & Collections of the MHS. Join us for a 90-minute docent-led tour of 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

- Saturday, 20 October, 10:00 AM: Tour of Longfellow Bridge with Miguel Rosales. Please note that this program is SOLD OUT. After five years and over $300 million worth of construction and refurbishment, the beautiful and historic Longfellow Bridge is once again fully operational. Constructed at the turn of the 20th century and designed with an eye towards the greatest infrastructure projects of Europe, the Longfellow Bridge has long been one of the most striking and beloved landmarks in Boston. Architect and urban designer Miguel Rosales has been involved in this restoration project for close to 15 years and will lead visitors on an in-depth tour of this exceptional bridge.

Fashioning the New England Family is open Monday through Friday, 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.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Monday, 15 October, 2018, 1:00 AM

New Transcriptions Released for John Quincy Adams' Diary

Amid his daily whirl of diplomatic duties, John Quincy Adams paused to reflect on his latest dispatch to President James Monroe. After several rewrites, Adams had drafted a course of action that would shape American foreign policy for more than a century, and he was proud of it. “I considered this as the most important paper that ever went from my hands,” John Quincy wrote of his role in formulating the Monroe Doctrine, in which the United States called for European non-intervention in the western hemisphere and specifically in the affairs of the newly independent Latin American nations. This week, you can explore the Era of Good Feelings anew, thanks to our release of the next set of transcriptions on The John Quincy Adams Diary Digital Project covering March 1821 to February 1825 when he served as secretary of state for Monroe’s second presidential term. 

John Quincy also kept a close eye on the American political landscape during these years. Sectional divisions and the personal rivalries between the men seeking to succeed President Monroe made this a particularly contentious period. The campaign for the 1824 election began in 1821, and eventually four viable candidates emerged: Adams, Representative Henry Clay of Kentucky, Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford of Georgia, and General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee. Jackson led the popular as well as the electoral vote; however, no candidate obtained the majority of votes necessary for election. The vote then fell to the House of Representatives where each state, regardless of population, had one vote, and a majority of the states was necessary for election. John Quincy finally won the contest in February 1825.

Throughout this period, John Quincy’s family remained a significant private concern. His three sons—George Washington Adams, John Adams 2d, and Charles Francis Adams—struggled academically at Harvard, and his wife Louisa Catherine Adams suffered from bouts of poor health. He maintained his exercise regimen of swimming in the spring and summer and walking in the fall and winter. He also continued to faithfully keep his diary entries—a difficult task due to his busy work schedule and growing number of daily office visitors: “I never exclude any one. But necessary and important business suffers, by the unavoidable waste of time.” For an overview of John Quincy’s life during these years, read the headnotes for each chronological period or, navigate to the entries to begin reading the diary.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 12 October, 2018, 1:00 AM

A Mother’s Conviction and A Little Girl’s Courage: Cancer Surgery in 1881

In honor of Cancer Awareness month, I would like to share with you the extraordinary story of young Mabel Cabot, who underwent cancer surgery in 1881. Mabel’s story is preserved thanks to the careful and detailed diary entries kept by Mabel’s mother, Elizabeth Rogers Mason Cabot. The diary entries document daily activities and events, providing this unique look at cancer care and treatment in the 19th century. 

On 13 October 1880, Mabel fell, and as described in the diary, she suffered a great deal. The fall caused an undetected tumor to move and created new and painful growth, leading to the realization that eight-year-old Mabel Cabot had Ovarian Cancer.

Extracts from the Diary of Elizabeth Rogers Mason Cabot pertaining to Mabel’s cancer:

13 October 1880

“Mabel fell in afternoon and brought in by Marianne suffering a great deal.”

15 October 1880

“…Mabel very sick. Lizzie and I took care of her.”

11 November 1880

“Miss Russell came as a nurse for Mabel.”

9 December 1880

“Mabel celebrated her first dinner downstairs by drinking champagne- looks as well as ever, but leg stiff – Out to drive.”

29 January 1881

“Dr. Sabine has decided that Mabel’s trouble, apparently unchanged for some time, has begun to increase and with it our anxiety.”

2 February 1881

“Consultation of Dr. Bigelow and Dr. Hodges. No hope.”

21 February 1881

“Went to see Dr. Tom Curtis. -Urged us to go abroad.”

22 February 1881

 “Dr. John Homans came to see Mabel. Considers it Sarcoma – a hopeless case.”

 30 March 1881

“Mabel awake a good deal in night tho’ not in pain. I sat up singing to her sometime. . . 

This morning the medicine I gave the children affected them well, but Mabel complains of tenderness whenever she moves. My heart sinks . . .

She feels pain in walking & moves slowly & carefully.”

[American doctors have declared Mabel’s cancer hopeless, so the family departs for London in an attempt to save her, although it is risky. They leave Brookline on 23 March and arrive in London on 4 April.]

5 April 1881

“Mabel felt badly about another examination, but recovered and was her own smiling little self. Dr. Thornton agrees to the probability of sarcoma but advises an examination with the needle.”

7 April 1881

“Wrote in afternoon and shivered with dread. Mr. C. took the children for an hours walk.- At 5, Mr. Spencer Wells, Sir James Paget, Mr. Thornton & Meredith arrived. Mabel agreed to see the latter without much discomfort and when I told her that I wanted her to smell something which I had taken, & would do her no harm, she put her little hand into mine, & never hesitated. Mr. M administered the Bicloid of Methylene which they use instead of Ether. I remained in the room. The needle seemed as if going thro’ soft bone. Mabel came out from the ether very quietly, with no nausea. Physicians decided that it was ovarian in character but also might be malignant but unanimously & decidedly advised an exploratory opening. Give no hope other wise for life longer than 6 months, and probably attended with much suffering.”

10 April 1881

At 8:30 Mr. Thornton arrived for a last talk. He considers it absolutely sure that this is a solid tumor. He came across substances with the needle that could not be pierced, He considers it equally sure that it will enlarge. If left to itself it causes death by disturbance of all the organs, a slow &very suffering death- the most so he thought of all deaths- if it is malignant, death may ensue at any moment by rupture, piercing, of the bowels or similar injury elsewhere. His diagnosis is that this is a dermoid ovarian tumor, ovarian from the position, as first observed by me, dermoid from its hardness (bone, hair, teeth etc being often found). He thinks the hall may have twisted it on its pedicle in such a way to stop the passage of blood, and so arrested the growth. The renewed growth would come from new attachments. These are at fist very delicate and removable by the finger, afterwards become more tough and must be parted with scissors and tied – later are much harder. He proposes making a small opening in the flesh outside the tumor sufficient to insert the finger and lay bare the surface of the tumor. If he discovers the tumor, (and he expects to be able to ascertain) to be malignant, the wound is easily healed and becomes as sound as before with no painful consequences. If he finds no proof of its being malignant he will make a large opening, sufficient to insert the hand, and ascertain if the attachments are such as can be dealt with with any hope of success. This involves more risk, but the tumor will not be pierced except by accident, and that will probably heal well. If. However, the attachments would give any ground for hope of a successful removal, he would complete the operation at once. Danger would then be from death at the time from the great shock to the system, or from bleeding. If she lived through the operation, there would be a good chance for recovery, and she might be well in three weeks.  -Mr. C. & I both said that we wished the operation proceeded with, if there was any hope of success, we should rather she died in the operation, rather than to recover and die by inches. He told us of a nurse and lodgings and we talked over further arrangements. Did not leave until after ten, & refused a fee. Very gentlemanly and very sympathetic.”

14 April 1881

“Rain. This made it easy to keep Mabel contented in not going out. Had her breakfast, of fish and bread and butter, and milk at 8, and at 11 some beef tea and toast. Dressed her etc., and took her after her lunch into the dining room downstairs. Walter had been out early and bought a bag for Elliot and some breastpins for the women. She busied herself writing the names and hers on all the boxes. Miss Matthews hard at work arranging the room upstairs, the curtains, the beds, the fire, the table and carpets etc.

Sent Rose out for a knit jacket. Got home just in time to send her and Mlle. and Walter off in a brougham at 25 minutes after one, as Mr. Thornton arrived, he in his shirtsleeves with carbolic acid, boiling water etc., etc.

At two Meredith arrived. I told her he wanted to see her upstairs, and without hesitation or objection went up with me into the back room and as undressed. Put her on the bed. When she saw him come in with the bottle and tube for giving the methylene hung round his neck, she looked a little wistful, but said nothing and put her hand in mine. In a few moments she was unconscious, and he took her up and carried her to the other room and put her on the table. There were Sir James Paget, Mr. Spencer Wells, Mr. Thornton, Mr. Meredith, an assistant, and the nurse. I came downstairs at ten minutes after two. At twenty minutes of three Sir James P. came down to say that a large dermoid ovarian tumor had been perfectly and beautifully removed with very slight loss of blood, nothing malignant, nothing extraordinarily difficult. I don’t know what I felt, for when I heard his descending steps so soon, all my worst fears I suppose realized, and that he had come to say nothing could be done. He was wonderfully kind. Sir James Paget and Mr. Wells drove off with their carriages and pairs at 4, the whole being completed. They said they thought the chances were ten to one in her favor.”

You will be relieved to know, as I was, that Mabel does indeed survive, and goes on to live a full life. In fact, in 1904 Mabel Cabot marries Ellery Sedgwick, the future Editor of the Atlantic Monthly. Mabel Cabot Sedgwick wrote The Garden Month by Month in 1907, a revered guide to garden plants. At their Long Hill Estate in Beverly MA, Mabel began planning Gardens in 1916; Preserved by the Trustees, those same gardens, The Gardens at Long Hill, can still be seen today:

Elizabeth Rogers Mason Cabot was a woman of great conviction, and thankfully for future generations, a fabulous diarist. She documented much of her amazing life, starting when she was only nine years old. Her most captivating and detailed diary entries are from her youth and newlywed years, full of vibrant and extensive detail. Her thoughts on the Role of Women in society and in the home are intriguing, inspiring and insightful. The diaries to which Elizabeth turned to keep her most intimate thoughts, greatest sorrows, fears and speculations, are an incredible look into the lives and times of nineteenth century Bostonians. Elizabeth was born into wealth, and married into wealth, so her daily life is a testament to the lifestyle of the Boston ‘Brahmins’. Elizabeth’s diaries are part of the Rogers-Mason-Cabot Papers held at the MHS. 

The entirety of Elizabeth’s diaries are fascinating and intriguing, and I encourage you to read them fully, as I am only sharing this one part of Elizabeth’s life. The diary is full of descriptions of Concerts, the theatre, friends coming to call, vacations in Newport and New Hampshire, and luxurious shopping excursions… and then the entries when Elizabeth realizes that her young daughter has cancer. I was so touched by these diary entries that I found myself on the verge of tears while consulting them in the Reading Room. Dear little Mabel and her mother heroically fought cancer together in 1881, and against all odds, they won!

Many of Elizabeth Rogers Mason Cabot’s dairy entries can be found transcribed in More than Common Powers of Perception : the Diary of Elizabeth Rogers Mason Cabot edited by P.A.M. Taylor(Boston : Beacon Press, c1991).

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 10 October, 2018, 1:00 AM

This Week @MHS

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

- Monday, 8 October, 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM: MHS Open House in conjunction with Opening Our Doors celebration in the Fenway Cultural District. Please note that the library will be closed for the day.

- Tuesday, 9 October, 5:15 PM: Panel: Native American Environmental History with Lisa Brooks, Amherst College; Strother Roberts, Bowdoin College; Ashley Smith, Hampshire College; Thomas Wickman, Trinity College, and moderator Cedric Woods, University of Massachusetts--Boston. This panel will explore the intersections of environmental history and indigenous studies—the questions that each field engenders in the other, as well as the perspectives that native and non-native scholars bring to their research as they traverse both fields. Questions of race, gender, geography, and sources enliven this growing body of scholarship. This is part of the Boston Seminar on Environmental History series. Seminars are free and open to the public. 

- Thursday, 11 October, 6:00 PM: Writing Presidential Biographies with Evan Thomas. The author of 9 books and a former writer and editor for Time and Newsweek, Evan Thomas is the first speaker in our new MHS Speaker Fund annual lecture series. Having published books on Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Nixon, Clinton, and Obama, he will offer his insight into writing presidential biographies. A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30 PM; the speaking program begins at 6:00 PM. There is a $20 per person fee (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members or EBT cardholders).

- Saturday, 13 October, 10:00 AM: The History & Collections of the MHS. Join us for a 90-minute docent-led tour of 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

Stop by to see our new exhibition Fashioning the New England Family.  

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Monday, 8 October, 2018, 1:00 AM

A Yankee in Virginia, 1864

The MHS recently acquired a fascinating manuscript volume by Lt. Henry L. Estabrooks of the 26th Massachusetts Infantry describing his six weeks as a fugitive in Virginia during the Civil War. Estabrooks was captured by the Confederate Army in September 1864, but escaped from a transport train and made his way back to Union lines with the help of a number of slaves and free blacks along the way. These men, women, and children not only hid Estabrooks—at great risk to themselves—from plantation owners and Confederate soldiers, but also gave him food, shelter, clothing, and comfort.

There are too many terrific passages to quote, but here’s what Estabrooks wrote on 17 October 1864.

When it came dark a negro came in and told me to come out to one of the cabins, it was a real neat pleasant one. The old woman looked, dressed, and spoke very much like a nice old quaker lady. Her son was a great jovial fellow of about 20 yrs. He had a spelling book and I, judging from his actions that he wished to make a display of his learning, took the book which opened of itself at the page commencing with “Baker.” He knew the whole page when I asked him the words in regular succession but failed a few times when I skipped about. He was as black as a coal but there was something real good and noble about him.

The next day, he saw something very different on another plantation.

He led me into a squalid cabin where half a dozen wretched looking negroes were crouching over a fire. They were very poorly clad and degraded looking, by far the worst looking negroes I saw in the South. They said their master’s name was Skipper, and that he was a very hard one. […] The negroes were not allowed to leave the island. One young fellow lay on the floor, sick, from the effects of a severe whipping which he had received for going to Clarksville the past Sunday. He showed me his back, still raw from the cuts of the lash. I was too weary to notice much and what I do remember of that night seems like some heavy night mare.

Estabrooks’ account was written shortly after his return home to Dorchester, Mass., then published in 1866 as Adrift in Dixie; or, a Yankee Officer Among the Rebels. 

The man responsible for shepherding the manuscript to publication was Northern abolitionist James Roberts Gilmore, who wrote under the nom de plume Edmund Kirke. According to the introduction to Adrift in Dixie, Estabrooks’ brother brought the story to Gilmore and said it demonstrated “how faithful and kind the Southern negroes were. […] We owe my brother’s life to the negroes.” Gilmore insisted on its publication, arguing that it would prove to readers that black Americans deserved not only freedom, but suffrage.

There are two things in particular that make this volume so fascinating. First, Estabrooks’ original account was revised for publication, probably by Gilmore, and the original text has never been in print. These revisions included not just editorial changes, but also pseudonyms. Many of the names of slaves, free blacks, and white Southerners were changed or removed entirely. For example, here’s how one passage reads in the published version.

Entering [the house], I saw several men; and the sight of one of them made me for the moment think I was betrayed. I turned to fight my way out: but the kindly, amused looks of the negroes re-assured me; and, as I hesitated, the man in question—who was as white as I am, and dressed in a Confederate uniform—took off his hat, and bade me good-evening in a manner which at once satisfied me that he was a slave. A poor white he certainly was not; he was too well-bred and good-looking for one of that class: […] he was the son of the deceased planter by a quadroon house-servant.

But Estabrooks’ original, unrevised manuscript identifies the planter by name.

On entering I saw several men, at sight of one of whom I thought I was betrayed, and turned to fight my way out, but the kindly, amused looks of the negroes stopped me and as I hesitated, the man in question who was dressed very much like some of the Confederate soldiers and who was as white as myself, took off his hat and bade me good evening in a manner which at once assured me he must be a slave. A poor white he certainly was not, he was too well bred and good looking for one of them. […] He was the son of the defunct Bragsley by a quadroon house servant.

Last but definitely not least, Estabrooks was a talented amateur artist, and his manuscript includes six pencil illustrations of scenes in the story. None of these illustrations has been published. Here is Estabrooks’ drawing of his initial escape from the prisoner transport train. You can see him crouching behind a bush in the foreground.

And this drawing shows two young black men who, after guiding Estabrooks to the Dan River, prayed for him on the bank as he rowed away.

Henry L. Estabrooks dedicated this volume to his wife Minnie. He died in 1919 at the age of 77.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 5 October, 2018, 1:00 AM

older posts