A Lesser-Known Massachusetts "First": 1812 Flag-Raising on Catamount Hill
By Elise Dunham, Reader Services
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is home to countless United States “firsts.” Among the most famous Massachusetts initiatives are claims to the first Thanksgiving celebration, the first public park, the first university, and the first public library. The Commonwealth took the lead in these and many other well-known realms, but one quiet act of patriotism that tends not to make the lists is this: In May of 1812 on the top of Catamount Hill, the Loyalists of Colrain, Massachusetts raised the first United States flag to fly over a public schoolhouse.
I had not heard of this Massachusetts first until an MHS researcher brought it to my attention earlier this summer. She was interested in learning more about the 1812 flag-raising to inform her planning of an Independence Day event at Pioneer Village at Friends of the Beaver State Park in East Liverpool, Ohio. Eager to provide the researcher with any information about this event the MHS collections might hold, I immediately took to our online catalog, ABIGAIL, and started down the path toward uncovering the story of the flag-raising on Catamount Hill.
Not hopeful that a search for “First flag-raising” would get me very far--specificity is important for conceptualizing a search, but broadening out is crucial to its success--I began with a “Subject” search for “Colrain (Mass.)”. The search led me to a number of resources that document the history of Colrain. I traversed the MHS stacks to retrieve the materials and parked myself in Ellis Hall for a good dose of reading room research. What ultimately stood out as the most compelling and useful source was A. F. Davenport’s A Sketch of the Origin and Growth of the Catamount Hill Association of Colrain, Mass ( North Adams, Mass.: Walden & Crawley, 1901). The purpose of this publication was to record the proceedings and goings-on of the Association’s various reunion events. Their Sixth Reunion, which took place in 1900, featured discussion and commemoration of the 1812 flag-raising. The momentous event was well-documented in this part of the text, and Mrs. Fanny B. Shippee’s recounting provides perspective on the political context that surrounded it:
Here, on the Hill, the Republicans largely outnumbered the Federalists, but the latter were very loud in maintaining their political views, and made up in noise what they lacked in numbers. At this, the Republicans were naturally incensed, and to show their loyalty to our government, concluded to make and erect an American flag....Those sturdy farmers were showing to the world and to the ‘Feds’ in particular that they were true to this republic.
I was certain that the researcher in Ohio would be happy to learn about the circumstances fueling the flag-raising, but I was personally eager to learn more about the story behind this event’s receipt of the “first flag-raising” accolade. I read on, and found that the MHS itself had a part to play in the construction of this snippet of collective memory:
In a reply to a communication sent to the Massachusetts Historical Society at Boston, for information in regard to the Catamount Hill flag being the first ever raised over a school-house, an answer was received saying that there was no record of any earlier flag, thus giving the Catamount Hill patriots of 1812 the credit of being the first to raise a flag over a school-house in this country.
I wish I could say that a gust of wind blew through the reading room when I read this tale of my late-19th-century counterpart’s response to a reference query about the Catamount Hill flag-raising, so similar to the one I was working on in 2013. The experience did not reach that level of melodrama, but it did bring with it an all-important reminder: “facts” are constructed, interpreted, and re-established over time, and our engagement with them will be best-informed when we manage to bear that in mind.
If you’re inspired to track down the source of another Massachusetts first, Reader Services will gladly welcome you to the library at the MHS!
***Image from A History of Colrain Massachusetts, (Lois McClellan Patrie, 1974): 9.
| Published: Wednesday, 28 August, 2013, 1:00 AM
Advertising in America
By Dan Hinchen, Reader Services
If you are someone who regularly reads Boston newspapers, then you probably have noticed a few advertisements within the pages. In fact, on a given day you might find several pages worth of advertisements in a single issue. And then there is the Sunday edition which comes with an entire section composed solely of ads. Occasionally, these can be useful to inform about upcoming events, special deals at a department store, or penny-saving coupons at the grocery story. More often, though, they can seem a bit of a nuisance and waste of material, taking up space and distracting from the articles.
But did you know that the first time a paid advertisement appeared in an American newspaper it happened here in Boston?
By the start of the 18th century, the New England colonies were thriving and the population was steadily increasing along with its wealth, enterprise, and intelligence. Even foreign countries began to look at Massachusetts with interest, and colonists desired acquaintance with affairs in England, Europe, and the other colonies in British America. “Such increase of population and trade must naturally call for a publication, of the common character of newspapers.”[i]
The Boston News-Letter, the first regularly published newspaper in the British Colonies of North America, began publication on 17 April 1704. This newspaper was “published by authority” and featured all of the latest news from London, though with the time it took to cross the Atlantic, there was usually a delay of three months or so. At the very end of the inaugural issue, publisher John Campbell included a short paragraph announcing that any person could insert a small notice at a “reasonable rate.”
It was only two weeks later in issue number three, dated 1 May – 8 May 1704, 309 years ago this week that the first three paid advertisements appeared. The ads called for the recovery of stolen goods, information about lost anvils, and even information about real estate available on Long Island, New York.
While these ads appear to be regarding fairly mundane matters, readers only had to wait a couple of weeks for this new “social media” to get more interesting. In issue number five, 15 May-22 May 1704, readers looking for adventure got their opportunity.
Sadly, only two weeks later, one would also see two ads that, by today’s standards, are a bit more insidious. In issue number eight, we are reminded that Massachusetts was not always a cradle of liberty and that people were property.
What do you think today's advertisements will look like to researchers in 300 years? Maybe they will wonder how we ever got by driving automobiles relying on fossil fuels or how we kept time with something as simple as a Cartier watch. Will they look at personal ads as a definition of human interaction in our time?
To see more examples of the early days of advertising in American newspapers, consult our online catalog, ABIGAIL, or visit the library at the MHS to see what other early Massachusetts newspaper titles we have in our collections!
[i] Bradford, Alden, History of Massachusetts, for two hundred years: from the year 1620 to 1820, Boston: Hilliard, Gray, 1835.
| Published: Saturday, 4 May, 2013, 8:21 AM
Congratulations! 2012-2013 Graduates Using MHS Materials
By Anna J. Cook, Reader Services
Since July 2012, the Massachusetts Historical Society has granted use permission to a number of scholars utilizing MHS collections in their theses and dissertations. Below are a list of the scholars and their projects.
Many of these projects should be available in the ProQuest database of theses and dissertations. We encourage you to explore the fine work done by our researchers!
“Lost [or Gained] in Translation: The Art of the Handwritten Letter in the Digital Age”
Dallie Clark, University of Texas
“Plain as Primitive: The Figure of the Native in Early America”
Steffi Dippold, Stanford University
“ ‘Rage and Fury Which Only Hell Could Inspire’: The Rhetoric and Ritual of Gunpowder Treason in Early America”
Kevin Q. Doyle, Brandeis University
“Bodies at Odds: The Experience and Disappearance of the Maternal Body in America, 1750-1850”
Nora Doyle, University of North Carolina
“ ‘Deep investigations of science and exquisite refinements of taste’: The Objects and Communities of Early Libraries in Eastern Massachusetts, 1790-1850”
Caryne A. Eskridge, University of Delaware
“Female Voices, Female Action: A Small Town Story that Mirrors the State Struggle to Protect Massachusetts Womanhood, 1882-1920”
Sarah Fuller, Salem State University
“Engendering Inequality: Masculinity and the Construction of Racial Brotherhood in Cuba, 1895-1902”
Bonnie A. Lucero, University of North Carolina
“Trading in Liberty: The Politics of the American China Trade, c. 1784-1862”
Dael A. Norwood, Princeton University
“Het present van Staat: De gouden ketens, kettingen en medailles verleend door de Staten-Generaal, 1588-1795”
George Sanders, University of Leiden
“International Tourism and the Image of Japan in 1930 through Articles and a Travel Journal Written by Ellery Sedgwick”
Katsura Yamamoto, University of Tokyo
Did you, or anyone else you know, author a thesis or dissertation using materials held in the MHS collections in the past year? Please leave a comment on this post sharing the title, author, and the name of the institution to which the work was submitted.
Thank you all for your excellent work!
| Published: Friday, 5 April, 2013, 1:00 AM
The Joy of Discoveries: Answering a Visitor's Question
It is always fun to make a connections in surprising places. It is even more fun when those connections are made as a result of a question asked by a visitor to the MHS.
Last week, a visitor to our current exhibition The Purchase by Blood: Massachusetts in the Civil War, 1861-1862, asked a simple question that I could not answer. The question, was Stephen Perkins -- a soldier featured in the exhibition -- related to the Perkins that was the namesake of the Perkins School for the Blind.
Unable to answer the questions off the cuff, I promised to research the relationship and provide an answer via email. This lead me on a serendipidious mission.
Thomas Handasyd Perkins (1764-1854) -- one of Boston's most successfull China trade merchants -- was an early benefactor of the the school, selling his own home (which had housed the school for a year) and donating the funds so that the school could be moved to a larger location as enrollment grew. The MHS holds a large collection of Perkins' personal and business papers (see a guide to the collection here), which is where I started my search. But I was unable to determine a clear familial connection between Thomas Handasyd Perkins and Stephen Perkins there. So I changed my search strategy and turned to our online catalog, ABIGAIL, for assistance.
Through ABIGAIL I discovered that the photograph of Stephen Perkins featured in our exhibtion was the only item we held credited to Perkins himself. So I kept digging through the entries for the various Perkins family members until discovering the generic subject heading "Perkins Family" which brought me to a catalog record for an item that seemed to have promise in terms of revealing a clear answer to the question at hand: a large broadside title The Perkins Family of Boston. Dashing to the stacks to view the broadside, I was delighted to see that it was a large genealogical chart which revealed there was a connection between Thomas Handasyd Perkins and Stephen G. Perkins, killed at the Battle of Cedar Mountain in the Civil War.
Looking at the chart I could see that Thomas had a brother named Samuel, who was born in 1767. Samuel had a son, who he named Stephen, in 1804. That Stephen also had a son named Stephen, born in 1835. That Stephen, the grandson of Thomas Handasyd Perkins' brother Samuel, was the Stephen pictured in our exhibition.
I was happy to be able to reveal the answer to the exhibition visitor as well as to build for myself a little extra knowledge to share with future visitor to the MHS.
| Published: Wednesday, 11 January, 2012, 12:09 PM
The Darian Expedition
Welcome to a new Beehive series, “Readers Relate,” in which we hope to bring you a variety of examples of the type of research being done here in the MHS library by researchers who visit in person, and also by researchers who contact us from across the globe.
We developed a set of five questions for our researchers to respond to via email and will forward the questionnaire to researchers nominated by members of the MHS staff. If you are yourself a researcher and are interested in participating, please contact me at email@example.com and I will be happy to forward the questionnaire to you.
Our first response comes from Julie Orr, a Colorado native who recently spent some time at the MHS on her way home from a year in residence at the University of Dundee, Scotland.
Can you briefly describe the research project that brought you to the Massachusetts Historical Society?
The research seeks to expand the multinational historiography surrounding the attempt by the Company of Scotland to establish a colony on the isthmus of Panama in 1698-1700.
What specific material in our collections made coming to the MHS important to your research?
The Francis Russell Hart Collection contains his notes, transcriptions and translations of varied documents addressing the Spanish perspective of the Scottish initiative.
While you were working here, was there something you examined that surprised you?
Hart´s material contained the first documentation of both torture of prisoners and the reaction of the general population of Spanish America to the Scottish incursion.
Is there a particular quote (or visual image) from the material that you consulted that stands out for you?
The visual image of masses being celebrated in response to the Scottish capitulation.
If you brought a visitor to the MHS and you had a chance to show them ONE item from our collections, what item would it be?
Hart´s translation of the interrogation of the translator for the expedition, who was abandoned on Cuba.
Orr writes of her work, “Following a career with the U.S. Public Health Service in environmental health, I have returned an academic setting to further my education in history, specifically to examine and expand the story of the Darien Expedition and its impact not only in Europe but also in the Americas.” We wish her good fortune with her project, and thank her for taking the time to answer our questions.
| Published: Friday, 23 September, 2011, 12:00 AM