The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

This Week @ MHS

It is a very quiet week ahead as we approach a long holiday weekend, with only one event on the calendar. It is:

- Tuesday, 23 May, 6:00PM : The House of Truth: A Washington Political Salon and the Foundations of American Liberalism is the title of a new book, and this talk, by Brad Snyder of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Through the lens of a group of ambitious young men disillusioned with the slow pace of change in the Taft Administration, Snyder looks at how ideas shifted from progressivism into what today we refer to as liberalism. This talk is open to the public and registration is required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows). A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM followed by the speaking program at 6:00PM. 

Remember that our current exhibit, The Irish Atlantic, is open to the public free of charge, Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM. 

The MHS is CLOSED, Saturday, 27 May-Monday, 29 May, in observance of Memorial Day. Normal hours resume on Tuesday, 30 May. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 21 May, 2017, 12:00 AM

Crooked and Narrow Streets: Annie Haven Thwing’s “Old Boston” Scrapbook

I recently received a scrapbook from a friend moving away from Boston who needed to weed out her hefty book collection. She texted me a series of pictures of the books she was giving away, which included a Victorian volume with one word, “Scrapbook,” emblazoned in gold on the cover. The book was large (usually a deterrent for me, since I don’t have much room for books in my apartment either) and I didn’t entirely know what I would find inside, but of course I wanted it. I was happy to add this mysterious book to my collection and excited about flipping through its pages to find out what was tucked away between its covers.

I was similarly excited about looking through the Annie Haven Thwing Scrapbooks. It was the printed collection guide that first piqued my interest, the title list of the scrapbooks indicating volumes on ‘Old Boston,’ ‘Portraits,’ and ‘Friendly letters to A.H.T.’ I decided to pull the volume for ‘Old Boston’ and see what treasures it contained. Inside I found maps of Boston, reviews of Thwing’s book The Crooked and Narrow Streets of the Town of Boston, and a number of cut-out sketches and photographs of Boston.

What I found most interesting about these images, seemingly clipped from her own book as well as other publications, was the view they provide not just of Old Boston, but of lost Boston. A compilation of images depicting areas and buildings later demolished or destroyed, as well as maps of the city’s shifting boundaries satisfied some curiosities I had intended to research (What did Louisburg Square look like in the past?), some I didn’t realize I had (Who owned the pasture the State House was built on?), and raised others I have yet to thoroughly investigate: What’s the story behind Smokers’ Circle on Boston Common? The Water Celebration of 1848? The building replaced by the Boston Public Library? Thwing devotes several scrapbook pages to buildings and locations severely impacted by the Great Fire of 1872, highlighting the extent of destruction, damage, and change that such an event can precipitate. I certainly have enjoyed looking into these topics so far and will continue to do so. 


Map of Beacon Hill with preceding land ownership divisions.



Smoker’s Circle on Boston Common.


The Water Celebration of 1848 on Boston Common, commemorating the introduction of water from Lake Cochituate to Boston. 


The Samuel N. Brown House on the corner of Dartmouth and Blagden Streets, where the Boston Public Library now stands.


Artist’s rendering of Boston after the Great Fire of 1872.


 Annie Haven Thwing’s interest in Old Boston, every crooked and narrow street, is captured in her scrapbooks and writings. Other volumes in the scrapbook collection include personal correspondence, letters regarding the publication of her book, obituaries, and portraits of notable American figures, British political figures, Civil War regiments from New England, and newspaper clippings regarding the activities of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. Visit the library to view the Annie Haven Thwing Scrapbooks and other collections to see what answers you can find to the questions and curiosities her clippings inspire. For a more detailed history of Old Boston from Thwing herself, read The Crooked and Narrow Streets of the Town of Boston online via the Internet Archive.




comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 19 May, 2017, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

- Tuesday, 16 May, 5:15PM : This week's Environemental History seminar is headed by Jason L. Newton of Syracuse University and is rescheduled from 14 March. "The Winter Workscape: Weather and the Meaning of Industrial Capitalism in the Northern Forest, 1850-1950," draws on methods from environmental and labor history and the history of slavery and capitalism to characterize industrial capitalism as a force that will sustain seemingly anachronistic modes of production as long as they remain profitable. Richard W. Judd, University of Maine, provides comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

- Thursday, 18 May, 6:00PM : Join us for the next installment of the Cooking Boston series. This episode, titled Sweet Boston, looks at the unusually strong interest in sweets that has long held in Boston. This panel discussion features Joyce Chaplin of Harvard University Department of History, author Michael Krondl, and Carla Martin, Founder and Executive Director of the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institution and Lecturer at the Harvard University Department of African American Studies. This talk is open to the public, registration required with a fee of $20 (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows). A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM, followed by the speaking program at 6:00PM. 

- Saturday, 20 May, 10:00AM : The History and Collection of the MHS is 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

While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition: The Irish Atlantic: A Story of Famine Migration and Opportunity.

- Saturday, 20 May, 2:00PM : Stop by for a free author talk with Andrew Carroll of the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University, and author of My Fellow Soldiers: General John Pershing and the Americans Who Helped Win the Great War. Registration is required for this event at no cost. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 14 May, 2017, 12:00 AM

The Final Journey of the Thomas P. Cope



A recent acquisition by the MHS details the harrowing trans-Atlantic voyage of the packet ship Thomas P. Cope in 1846 and, like so many other manuscripts in our collections, touches on several other fascinating subjects at the same time. The seven-page account was written by passenger Walter Cran on 10 January 1847, shortly after the events described. I wasn’t able to learn much about Cran, but he was apparently a Scottish immigrant living in St. Louis, Missouri. He, his wife, and their three young daughters were sailing to Scotland on the Thomas P. Cope, but they never arrived at their destination.

Our story begins a little earlier, though, on 5 October 1846, when the Cran family boarded the steamboat Colorado at St. Louis. As they made their way along the Ohio River, they saw what Cran called “novelties” and “Peculiar things,” including boats that carried sign-painting and glass-blowing establishments and even “a floating saw mill.” Cran also described this chilling sight: “We Passed a steamboat, that had on it a great number of Negros, 8 or ten being chained together like horses, going to Market.” It’s interesting to note that just five years earlier, Abraham Lincoln himself traveled on one of these boats. The MHS holds the letter Lincoln wrote to his friend Joshua Fry Speed on the subject:

In 1841 you and I had together a tedious low-water trip, on a Steam Boat from Louisville to St. Louis. You may remember, as I well do, that from Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio, there were, on board, ten or a dozen slaves, shackled together with irons. That sight was a continual torment to me; and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave-border.

In Cincinnati, Ohio, on 11 October, Cran witnessed another notorious American cruelty: “Saw the soldiers, escorting above 200 of the Miama Indians, to the same boat, for transportation to the west.” What he was watching was the forced removal of members of the Miami Nation from their home in Indiana, and by all accounts the number actually exceeded 300.

The Crans traveled on, met with some logistical and financial difficulties in Pennsylvania, then boarded the Thomas P. Cope at Philadelphia and sailed for Liverpool. Cran may have thought his hardships were behind him, but the worst was still to come. Late on 29 November, the ship was struck by lightning. Cran described a dramatic series of events:

In a sudden, a loud crack, or crash, was heard like that of a cannon, and a man runs down stairs, crying the ship’s on fire, when Immediately, the smoke rushed so on us, as it darkend the lamp light. I hurridly took hold of my two Eldest Children, & rushed them up stairs, & my Wife brought the baby, naked as they were, and we beheld the main mast and riggin, all in a blaze. A widow woman was halooing, my Child, my Child is below. I attempted to go down for her, but a sailor would not let me. The hatches was Imediately closed for to smother out the fire, for the Lightning had struck the main Mast, went down its centre, into the hold between Decks. […] O the confusion of Capt & sailors, hurring, of the boats over the ship, the women screaming; what a strange feeling I had Putting my family under the low deck of the forcastle, among ropes & blocks, chains &c., for to save them from being killed by Pieces falling from the riggen.

The ship’s main and mizzen masts were lost, and the Cope floated helplessly in the storm. The sea was so turbulent that the first rescue boat lowered over the side was immediately swallowed by the waves, so the frightened passengers and crew decided to stay onboard and try to contain the blaze until sighted by a passing ship. By morning, Cran wrote, some women “laying on the quarter Deck […] had their hair froze to the deck.” His own family huddled in the bow: “Hard times they had, for when the waves broke over, they were wet, and the sails of the fore mast, taring to ribbons, cracked over their heads, like thorns, a blazing, the snow & the hail attending.”

Amazingly, the passengers and crew managed to contain the fire and avoid sinking for almost a week. On 5 December, the Thomas P. Cope was spotted by a ship sailing from Liverpool—the Emigrant. Its crew effected a daring rescue, transferring passengers from ship to ship on small boats in the rough seas. Safe onboard the Emigrant, Cran and the others watched the Cope disappear in “a perfect cloud of smoke.” All but one of its passengers had survived—the widow’s six-year-old daughter trapped below deck in the initial chaos.

The Emigrant was sailing in the opposite direction, back to North America, and took their new passengers with them. With the help of that ship and another called the Washington Irving, the Cran family made it to Boston on 20 December 1846. Unfortunately, they had lost all their money and belongings. Walter Cran acquired some supplies from philanthropic individuals and societies, probably including the Scots’ Charitable Society (the MHS holds some material related to that organization). But the devastation of recent events caught up with him, and he wrote that he “could not help washing my face with my tears.”

Cran finally made contact with another Scottish immigrant, the wealthy merchant Robert Waterston. Waterston and his stepsisters, “the Misses Ruthven,” invited the penniless family to their home in Boston’s Fort Hill neighborhood. Cran described their hospitality with gratitude: “When we arrived, the first words the Ladies said to us, was; your welcome here. They set us by a large fire, and gave us breakfast, Plenty of water to wash with, and clean clothes to put on.” The Crans stayed there a week, until the Waterstons found Walter a job and put him “in a fare way, for to Provide for my Family again.”

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 10 May, 2017, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

It is a pretty quiet week here at the Society. This is what is on tap:

- Tuesday, 9 May : The Environmental History Seminar is CANCELED. 

- Wednesday, 10 May, 12:00PM : Join us for a Brown Bag lunch talk with Emily Gephart of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University. "Avian Affinities and Refashioning Roles: Feathers, Millinery and American Bird Protection" examines the storyof how bird death led to rejection of fashion's mandates, a process that was neither swift, nor direct, nor simple, but reveals a complex politics of hybridity, in which roles, refusal, and refashioning play off one another in dynamic exchange. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Thursday, 11 May, 6:00PM : Scars of Independence: America's Violent Birth is the title of a recent publication as well as the title of a talk with the author, Holger Hoock, of University of Pittsburgh. Often portrayed as an orderly, restrained rebellion, Hoock shows that the Revolution was not only a high-minded battle over principles, but also a profoundly violent civil war that shaped the nation and the British Empire in ways we have only begun to understand. This talk is open to the public. Registration is required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows). A pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM followed by the speaking program at 6:00PM. 

There is no tour this week, but you can still come in to view our current exhibition, The Irish Atlantic, anytime during normal exhibit hours, Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 7 May, 2017, 12:00 AM

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