The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

This Week @ MHS

Here we are, once again, with the weekly round-up of events to come.

- Monday, 30 October, 6:00PM : Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson is the latest work by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gordon S. Wood of Brown University, who will speak about his book and the relationship between these two founding fathers. A reception precedes the talk at 5:30PM and the speaking program begins at 6:00PM. THIS TALK IS SOLD OUT!

- Wednesday, 1 November, 12:00PM : Start off the new month right with a lunchtime Brown Bag talk. Join us as Kabria Baumgartner of University of New Hampshire presents "Equal School Rights: Black Girlhood and School Desegregation in Antebellum Massachusetts." This project looks at some of the integral players in the fight to desegregate public schools in Massachusetts before the Civil War. They authored anti-descrimination pamphlets, helped to organize boycotts, and wrote missives against racial prejudice. As the campaign grew, so did the activist network that bound together African American women, men, and children, as well as their allies across the state. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Saturday, 4 November, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the MHS tour 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: Yankees in the West.

- Saturday, 4 November, 11:00AM : Experience revolutionary politics "indoors" and "out-of-doors" as it would have happened 250 years ago. Participate in a live reenactment at Faneuil Hall of a Boston town meeting; join the discussion as local citizens argue over whether or not to stop importing British goods; and join a rowdy procession of laboring-class Bostonians from Faneuil Hall to the Old State House as they express their disapproval of British trade policies in a rather colorful and intimidating way. The Devil and the Crown is being offered as a joint program of Boston National Historical Park, Minute Man National Historical Park, The Bostonian Society, and Revolution 250, a program of the MHS. Admission is free to all! For more information, please contact Jim Hollister at 978-318-7829 or

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 29 October, 2017, 12:00 AM

Fornication as Crime in 18th-Century Massachusetts

While the MHS is not home to a large collection of court records, I recently viewed two items we do hold relating to fornication in 18th-century Massachusetts. These materials concern judicial proceedings that were separated by nearly sixty years, but provide interesting glimpses into the criminalization of sex in colonial Massachusetts. Through further investigation, I learned more about the ways the judicial system addressed sexuality during this period, including the significance of race and gender within the system.


A small collection of Barnstable County (Mass.) legal documents includes one “memorandum of presentments to the Court of General Sessions of the Peace.” This January 1702 document, which bears the signature of foreman Daniel Parker, notes two cases of unlicensed sale of liquor, one case of profaning the Sabbath, and two cases of fornication. The people accused of fornication are Sarah [Backer?] and [Mercy Chase,] both of whom were married at the time; each supposedly engaged in “fornication some time in 1702.”


A Grand Jury presentment, 1 January 1760, located in our Miscellaneous Bound Manuscripts collection, notes an accusation against Ann Frost, a Boston resident who supposedly engaged in fornication on 1 November 1758. The man involved was “to the jurors unknown.” Frost had a child out of wedlock, “against the peace of our said lord the king and the laws in that case provided.” This presentment bears the signature of foreman John Spooner and was created for a Court of General Sessions of the Peace for Suffolk County-ordered grand jury.

In Regulating Passion: Sexuality and Patriarchal Rule in Massachusetts, 1700-1830 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), Kelly A. Ryan (a former Andrew W. Mellon fellow at the MHS) writes that, during the 18th century, white women became the main targets of fornication charges in the Massachusetts judicial system, while punishment of men for fornication dwindled beginning in the mid-17th century as sex outside of marriage came to be seen as a legal issue for women, not men (13-14, 21-23). Additionally, for much of the 17th-century colonial period, “premarital sex” was the main cause of fornication charges; however, in the late 1600s and early 1700s, men increasingly ceased to face judicial consequences for premarital sex (22-23). Also beginning in the late 1600s and extending through the 18th century, “nonmarital sex” became more common among fornication charges against women, as “the court and communities were especially concerned with remedying the problem of disorderly white women” (23-24). These charges were used to justify patriarchal control of white women; however, women accused of fornication did find ways to push back, including by resisting attempts of justices of the peace to elicit names of men involved (13-15, 30-32).

Engagement with the justice system for sex crimes did not look the same for men and women of color as it did for white people, though. According to Ryan, African Americans faced fornication charges in the 17th century, but African Americans and Indians experienced increasingly fewer such prosecutions during the 18th century (74-75, 77). This lack of prosecutions served to uphold white patriarchy by preventing white men from facing consequences for sexual contact with women who were enslaved while denying women of color agency and preventing African American men from being able to seek paternal rights (74, 78, 82). White women faced legal consequences for fornication with African American men, along with social disapproval for sex with Indian men; these actions were intended to enforce the notion that white women should be with white men (78-79, 82). Ultimately, according to Ryan, “[g]overnment prosecutions promoted white men’s sexual authority, partnerships between white women and white men, and the removal of paternal and sexual rights for men and women of color” (82).


Feel free to visit the MHS library if you would be interested in viewing materials in our collections. The library is open Monday through Saturday!


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 27 October, 2017, 12:00 AM

"The pretty little place was burnt to the ground": The Destruction of Darien, Georgia


We feel very badly that you were compelled to take part, through your men, in the destruction of Darien, & fully sympathize in the sentiments you express. I sincerely hope that as Genl Hunter has been relieved, there may be a modification of the policy which caused the perpetration of such a deed, & that you may not be obliged again to participate in anything so repugnant to you.


This excerpt comes from a letter written by Francis G. Shaw to his son Robert Gould Shaw on 23 June 1863, part of the Shaw-Minturn family papers at the MHS. Twelve days earlier, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the African-American regiment Robert commanded, had participated with other troops in a raid on the town of Darien in southeast Georgia.

Unfortunately, our collection doesn’t include Robert’s original letter, but Francis was probably replying to the one Robert wrote to his wife Annie the day after the raid, which she sent on to his parents. Robert’s letter to Annie has been printed in Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune (1992) and other publications.

According to his account, when Union troops arrived at Darien, they found the place all but deserted. James Montgomery, colonel of the 2nd South Carolina Infantry (another black regiment) and post commander, had the furniture, livestock, and other movable property confiscated, then smiled “a sweet smile” at Shaw and said, “I shall burn this town.” Shaw explained:

I told him, “I did not want the responsibility of it,” and he was only too happy to take it all on his shoulders; so the pretty little place was burnt to the ground, and not a shed remains standing; Montgomery firing the last buildings with his own hand. One of my companies assisted in it, because he ordered them out, and I had to obey. You must bear in mind, that not a shot had been fired at us from this place, and that there were evidently very few men left in it. All the inhabitants (principally women and children) had fled on our approach, and were no doubt watching the scene from a distance. […]

The reasons he gave me for destroying Darien were, that the Southerners must be made to feel that this was a real war, and that they were to be swept away by the hand of God, like the Jews of old. In theory it may seem all right to some, but when it comes to being made the instrument of the Lord’s vengeance, I myself don’t like it. Then he says, “We are outlawed, and therefore not bound by the rules of regular warfare”; but that makes it none the less revolting to wreak our vengeance on the innocent and defenceless.


Shaw called it a “dirty piece of business” and “as abominable a job as I ever had a share in.” He hated “to degenerate into a plunderer and robber. […] There was not a deed performed, from beginning to end, which required any pluck or courage.” He also feared the raid would damage the reputation of black soldiers. Montgomery’s actions were “barbarous” and gratuitous, he thought, and made him no better than notorious Confederate raider Raphael Semmes. But disobeying orders would have meant a court-martial. Shaw lamented, “after going through the hard campaigning and hard fighting in Virginia, this makes me very much ashamed of myself.”

Luis F. Emilio, another officer of the 54th, wrote about the Darien raid 28 years later in his history of the regiment. Emilio also described the beauty of the town, as well as the looting and destruction carried out by Union troops. But while Shaw’s account was thoughtful and conflicted, Emilio’s was a little more clinical and didn’t address the ethical questions.

Robert Gould Shaw and many other men of the 54th Regiment were killed during the assault on Fort Wagner just a few weeks after the destruction of Darien. Another letter in the Shaw-Minturn collection, written by Rev. Phillips Brooks, summarizes Shaw’s legacy. Brooks wrote to Robert’s mother on 17 Nov. 1892: “Indeed, he belongs to all of us, & to the country, & to history.”


comments: 3 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 25 October, 2017, 11:31 AM

This Week @ MHS

It's another busy week here at the Society with a nice selection of public programs happening. Here's what is coming up;

- Monday 23 October, 12:00PM : Pack your lunch and stop by for a Brown Bag talk with Laura McCoy of Northwestern University. "'Let it be your resolution to be happy': Women's Emotion Work in the Early Republic" explores the everyday realities of expressing and managing emotions as a foundation of daily labors - emotion work - and helps us understand women's actions and self-perceptions in the early republic. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Monday, 23 October, 6:00PM : "Advise & Dissent?" is a conversation that examines the role of public history in modern life. This compelling panel discussion is open to the public and registration is required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows). Pre-talk reception takes place at 5:30PM followed by the speaking program at 6:00PM. 

- Tuesday, 24 October, 5:15PM : Join us for the next installment of the Modern American Society and Culture seminar series. Led by Jennifer Way of the University of North Texas, "Allaying Terror: Domesticating Artisan Refugees in South Vietnam, 1956" explores the publication of photographs of North Vietnam refugee artisans in English-language mass print media. They aimed at resettling and domesticating the refugees while diminishing white American middle-class anxieties about the potential spread of communism in South Vietnam, a place Sen. John F. Kennedy pronounced "the cornerstone of the Free World in Southeast Asia." Commen is provided by Robert Lee of Brown University. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers. THIS EVENT IS CANCELED DUE TO ILLNESS.

- Wednesday, 25 October, 12:00PM : The second Brown Bag talk this week is given by Nancy Siegel of Towson University, and is called "Political Appetites: Revolution, Taste, and Culinary Activism in the Early Republic." Culinary activists furthered republican values in the revolutionary era as part of a political and cultural ideology. They developed a culinary vocabulary expressed in words and actions such as the refusal to consume politically charged comestibles, like imported tea, and the celebration of a national horticulture. Through these choices, they established a culinary discourse involving food, political culture, and national identity from the Stamp Act to the early republic. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Wednesday, 25 October, 6:00PM : "Weird and Worrisome" is a special walking tour of Jamaica Plain. All neigborhoods have secrets but some are stranger than others. In this event, participants will stop at sites of anarchist robberies, stuffed elephants, and a nervine asylum and hear tales of trainwrecks and things that lurk beneath the surfact of Jamaica Pond. The tour is hosted in collaboration with the Emerald Necklace Conservancy and Jamaics Plain Historical Society. THIS TOUR IS SOLD OUT!

- Saturday, 28 October, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute, docent-led walk through the public spaces of the Society's home at 1154 Boylston St. The tour is free and open to the public with no need for reservations for individuals or small groups. 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, Yankees in the West

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 22 October, 2017, 12:00 AM

Gertrude Codman Carter’s Diary, October 1917

Today we return to the 1917 diary of Gertrude Codman Carter. You may read the previous entries here:


Introduction | January | February | March | April | May

June | July | August | September


October 1917 is a lean month in Gertrude’s records, possibly because of Gilbert Carter’s return home from his long absence while Gertrude was relocating the family to Ilaro. After a final, hurried day of preparation on October 1st, Gilbert and Wickham -- the household servant who had traveled with him -- arrive and are greeted in fine style by a “grand gala festival.”

The sketch of her son, pasted over the entry for October 28th, has a faint inscription that seems to indicate that the drawing was made on the day of the visit to the photographer -- an inference supported by the fact that John appears to be wearing the same outfit as he wore in the photograph pasted into the September pages of the diary.


* * *

Oct 1.

Paid servants & rushed on with G’s room. Mickey & I moved books, put up curtains, laid down mats.


Oct 2.

Gilbert (and Wickham) arrived.

Grand gala festival.

Mr. Soelyn came up & witnessed my will.


Oct 3.



Sketch of John


Oct 28.

G & I dined with Sir F. & Lady Clarke at the Crane. Festive occasion.


Oct 29.

Tea at the Challums. Laddy drove Mrs Gregg out & me in. 9 the [illegible].

We went to Bleak House.


Oct 30.

4.15 Miss Burton stonework.


Oct 31.

All Hallow’e’en Fete at the MacClaren’s 

Fete in red [illegible.]


* * *

As always, if you are interested in viewing the diary or letters yourself, 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.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 20 October, 2017, 12:00 AM

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