The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Archivist as Detective: Francis Parkman's Spurs

The MHS recently acquired this letter by Mary Ware Hall about spurs belonging to famed historian Francis Parkman, possibly worn during his expedition on the Oregon Trail in 1846. To catalog the letter, I had to identify its writer, recipient, date, and subject. But not only is the letter undated, it didn’t come to us as part of a larger collection, so I had no context to help me. Fortunately, researching the people and the stories behind our manuscripts is all part of the fun.



The letter itself is fairly mundane. It reads:

Dear Mr. Coolidge

Among my cousin, Mr. Hall’s books we found this which it seemed to me should go back to the Parkman family and I thought it might be of some value to you.

The spurs I found among Mr. Hall’s army outfit, labelled “F.P.[”] as you see, and we wondered if by any chance they could have been worn by Mr. Parkman on his “Oregon Trail” journey. It is of course only a guess, but certainly F.P. could only mean Mr. Parkman and Miss Lizzie might have given them to Mr. Hall as a keep-sake. If they were his, possibly your son Jack would like them. If not, you can of course do as you please with them.

Hoping that all goes well with your scattered children and grand-children, believe me,

Very sincerely yrs.

Mary Lee Ware


Mary Lee Ware (1858-1937) was a noted philanthropist who lived at 41 Brimmer Street, Boston. She was easy enough to find. And Francis Parkman (1823-1893) is definitely a known quantity here at the MHS—not only do we hold books by and about Parkman, we also have collections of his papers (here, here, and here) and photographs.

Our cast of characters also includes Mr. Coolidge (the recipient), Mr. Hall (Ware’s cousin), Miss Lizzie, and Jack. My first step was to put together a family tree to trace the connections between the Wares, Halls, Parkmans, and Coolidges. The spurs had somehow made their way from Francis Parkman to Mr. Hall to Mary Lee Ware. Who was this mysterious Mr. Hall that connected Parkman and Ware? Ware’s aunt Harriet had married a Hall and had several sons, but most of them died as children. Francis Parkman’s mother Caroline had also been a Hall.

I found a clue in Parkman’s 1865 book Pioneers of France in the New World. He dedicated that book to the memory of three relatives “slain in battle”: Theodore Parkman, Robert Gould Shaw, and Henry Ware Hall. Henry Ware Hall (1839-1864), Parkman’s cousin, had served in the 51st Illinois Infantry Regiment and was killed in action at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, Ga. This military connection would explain Hall’s “army outfit,” where the spurs had been found.

Henry Ware Hall and Francis Parkman shared an uncle, Edward Brooks Hall—the same Hall who had married Mary Lee Ware’s aunt Harriet. So Henry, Francis, and Mary were all first cousins. Still with me?

So who was Mr. Coolidge, the Parkman family member to whom Ware sent the letter and the spurs? That question was a lot easier to answer. John Templeton Coolidge (1856-1945) was Parkman’s son-in-law. (Coolidge had a son with the same name, but he was undoubtedly the “Jack” mentioned in the letter.)

Identifying the letter’s recipient also helped me to assign an approximate date. Not only did the reference to Coolidge’s grandchildren confirm it was written later in his life, but if Ware was sending the spurs to him, I could probably make the assumption that he was the last (or oldest) surviving relative of that generation. Parkman had had two daughters who lived to adulthood—Coolidge’s wife Catherine and her older sister Grace. Most likely they had both already died, as well as Grace’s husband Charles P. Coffin, or else Ware might have sent the spurs to one of them.

Catherine died in 1900, Charles in 1927, and Grace in 1928. Mary Lee Ware herself died in 1937. So the letter was apparently written sometime between 1928 and 1937. The style of stationery and writing seem to correspond to that time.

I can only guess at the story behind the spurs. If I’m right that Mr. Hall is Henry Ware Hall, they may have been found among his things long after his death in the Civil War. Ware speculates that “Miss Lizzie” gave them to Hall. She is probably Francis Parkman’s unmarried sister Eliza Willard Shaw Parkman (1832-1905)—“Lizzie” to her brother—who lived with him at 50 Chestnut Street for the last twenty years of his life, just a few blocks away from Mary Lee Ware.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 8 March, 2017, 12:37 PM

This Week @ MHS

The coming week will see the opening of a new exhibit as well as a few public programs to take in. Here is what's on the calendar:

- Tuesday, 7 March, 5:15PM : Come in for the next installment from the Early American History seminar series, "A History of Violence: The Harpe Murders and the Legacies of the American Revolution." Kate Grandjean of Wellesley College shares information about this project which looks at a series of murders in Appalachia in the 1790s committed by former Loyalists. By following the lives of the Harpe borthers, who left a trail of blood through early Tennessee and Kentucky, it explroes the violent legacies of the American Revolution - especially in the southern borderlands. Eliga Gould of the University of New Hampshire provides comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

- Wednesday, 8 March, 12:00PM : "Inventing Citizens: Patents, Investors, and Civil Rights" is a Brown Bag lunch talk with Kara Swanson of Northeastern University. Swanson's project examines the foundational relationship between the growing republic and its accessible patent system by demonstrating how the patent system became a resource for marginalized groups making claims to full civil rights, particularly women and African Americans. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Thursday, 9 March, 6:00PM : SOLD OUT"The Irish Atlantic" Fellows & Members Preview Reception. MHS Fellows and Members are invited to a special program, reception, and chance to preview The Irish Atlantic. The exhibition explores 175 years of the Irish in Boston. Guest curator William Fowler will give an overview, beginning with a look at the Irish community in Massachusetts stretching back into the 18th century, through famine relief efforts led by Capt. Robert Bennet Forbes at the helm of the Jamestown, to a mass migration movement, decades of community and institutional building, and a rise in political power.

- Friday, 10 March, 10:00AM : The Irish Atlantic begins. This exhibit is open to the public free of charge, Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM, through 22 September 2017.

- Friday, 10 March, 12:00PM : Stop by for the second Brown Bag lunch talk of the week, this time with Stephen A. West of the The Catholic University of America. "A Constitutional Lost Cause: The Fifteenth Amendment in American Memory and Political Culture, 1870-1920" examines how Americans - across lines of race, region, and party - placed the voting rights amendment at the center of their memores of Reconstruction, and how those memories shaped their debates about citizenship and the very nature of the Constitution. This talk is free and open to the public. 

- Saturday, 11 March, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute, docent-led walk through the public spaces of the Society at 1154 Boylston St., providing information about the historic building, collections, artwork, and architecture of the MHS. This event is free and open to the public with no need for reservations for individuals or small groups. Larger parties (8 or more) should contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley in advance 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.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 5 March, 2017, 12:00 AM

Gertrude Codman Carter’s Diary, February 1917

Today we return to the 1917 diary of Gertrude Codman Carter -- artist, wife of Sir Gilbert Thomas Carter, a British colonial official, and mother to a young son, John Codman Carter. In February of 1917 the family resided in Barbados where Gertrude spent her days overseeing the construction of Ilaro Court, the family residence she had designed, and participating in a wide variety of social engagements.

Although physically far removed from the war raging in Europe, the family and their neighbors were intimately connected to the violence across the Atlantic. On February 18th, Gertrude interrupts the short-form structure of her typical diary entries to give an account of the injury and later loss of a neighbor’s son in battle.

While diaries invite us to see the world through the eyes of the diarist, that perspective is not always a comfortable one. On February 17th, she notes that she took her son John and a friend to a carnival dressed as a pirate and an “Indian Chief.” Toward the end of the month, between describing social calls and an afternoon playing tennis, Gertrude sees fit to remark that she received a call from “a dreadful little Jew. These casual displays of racism and anti-semitism remind us of the larger British and American imperial hierarchies within which this white New England woman was embedded.


*** February 1917 *** 

8 Feb. Ilaro. Mr. Carter seems to be doing well.



The Harold [Whytes?] gave us a jolly little lunch at the Bridgetown Club. The Harrells, & Lady Challum, Mrs. Ball Greene from [illegible] & ourselves.

9 Feb. Plans for theatre. Called Evelyns.

10 Feb. Another engagement (doesn’t say what - so I imagine it was a [illegible]).

11 Feb. Ilaro. Took  [illegible].

Lady Clark’s [illegible]. She is much better.

12 Feb. Ilaro. Called Skeet.

13. Ilaro. John in nursery window.


14 Feb. Women Self-Help Committee Meeting.

15 Feb. (What did I do all this time? Calendar says nothing). Government House at home.

16 Feb. Ilaro. 3 [illegible] Called [illegible] Mrs. Cullen. 9. Hall Clarks. Personal [illegible].

17 Feb. Auction at Mandon. Children’s carnival at [illegible] Park. John as a Pirate walked with Lyall as an Indian Chief. Took Hamilton.

18 Feb. E.F.S. Bowen to see house.

To Wm. Mannings to tea. A lovely afternoon & I took the Hamiltons to see the place. Mrs. Manning was very cheery having just received a letter from her son John saying “The Germans seem to be out of the stuff they need to kill me!” After tea on the verandah we went out on the lawn. The telephone bell rang & Mrs. Manning trotted off to answer it. I saw her coming back with her head up like a brave soldier. “Bad news,” she said, “John is wounded. They are sending up the cable. I walked up and down with her while the others melted away. Presently a boy on a bicycle came wheeling up the drive & the butler with a tragic face brought the orange envelope across the lawn. The sun was savagely bright & the yellow and blue macaw shrieked as he swung on his perch. I opened it & read it to her.

“Regret to inform you Lieutenant John Manning brought in dressing station severely wounded. 17th instant.”

Mr. Sam Manning came across the lawn: his face was impassive & he still held a fossil shell in his hand. Mrs. Manning was sobbing in my arms. She raised her head & said, “Sam. Wasn’t it odd? You remember yesterday afternoon?” “Indeed yes,” said the husband to me. “Mrs. Manning was sitting in her room & she looked up & saw John come in.”

(There seems to have been no doubt that this was a real case of telepathy, that the dearly loved son appeared to his mother of whom he thought constantly to say goodbye. It does not to me [impair?] the example of telepathy the fact that the man who came in to Mrs. Mannings room was her other son Herbert. She saw the face of John later form upon the face of Herbert for only a few moments.)

I sat with Mrs. Manning for an hour, trying vainly to give comfort. “He isn’t missing dear Mrs. Manning, he’s comfortable. They are taking care of him, he is at the dressing station. They’ll do everything for him.” But the mother shook her head. “He will die,” she said slowly. It was to say goodbye that he came yesterday.”

And indeed I was not surprised the next day to see the flags of the town at half mast for the boy who had gone. It was to me significant that his farewell should have been to his mother rather than the graceful little wife who married him in a rush & repented it afterward.

19 Feb. A nice swim. Called [illegible] etc. etc. in P.M.

Lady Godfrey & Mrs. Austin [illegible]. Dined at the Hamilton who have moved into [illegible].

20 Feb. Tea at Mrs. Burton’s. Stone carving.

21 Feb. Took John to make calls.

22 Feb. Another nice swim. [illegible] at 11. Mrs. Clifton [Whyte’s?] party [for?] Edna

23 Feb. Took Mrs. Burton to Ilaro. Some nice [gossetts?] to Lewis. Colonel G’s son’s [fiancee?] (he was killed at Ypres) a Miss [illegible].

 [illegible] on theatre plans.

24 Feb. [illegible] Tea at the Felix Hayley’s. Theatre plans.

25 Feb. Meet Mr. Bowen & Mr. Carlin at Ilaro about sash weights. Called Wilkinson’s & Laws.

[illegible] round plan.


26 Feb. Burtons at 9. House at 10. 2 o’clock a call from Mr. R. Davis the theatre promoter. Very full of excitement. A dreadful little Jew. Hamiltons to tennis.

27 Feb. Electricity at 11. At Ilaro.

2 o’clock meeting of the Theatre Committee. [illegible] outside plan of theater for model. Worked rest of p.m.

28. Feb. Worked on [illegible] for theater. 4.30 Civic [illegible] at the Budges.

Dined at the Hamilton & played Pirate [illegible].


If you are interested in viewing the diary 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.

These transcriptions are preliminary and not meant to be authoritative. In all cases where a word could not be contextually surmised [illegible] has been inserted in its place.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 3 March, 2017, 12:00 AM

Spend your Summer with the CTH

The calendar has turned to March, which means here at the Center for the Teaching of History we are thinking of summer! Every K-12 teacher knows that it’s never too early to begin planning your upcoming professional development activities. If you teach the American Revolution, nineteenth-century immigration, or the Civil Rights movement, we have a program for you. Participants can earn professional development points at each workshop, as well as graduate credits (for an additional fee) at most events. We are continually adding new programs to our line-up, so we hope you will bookmark our website and visit us often: In the meantime, take a peek at some of the workshops we will be hosting this spring and summer.

April 20: Boston to the Rescue: Robert Bennet Forbes & Irish Famine Relief
On April 12, 1847 Boston merchant Robert Bennet Forbes arrived in Ireland aboard the U.S.S. Jamestown. The ship carried more than 8,000 barrels of food and provisions to the island inhabitants at the height of the Great Famine. Learn more about this venture and the history of Irish immigrants in Boston at this one-day workshop, offered in conjunction with the upcoming MHS exhibition, The Irish Atlantic.

April 29: Civil Rights in America
Offered in conjunction with the Ashbrook Institute, this program will explore the tumultuous path of the Civil Rights Movement. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in the United States, and the Fourteenth Amendment should have guaranteed freedoms, equality, and civil rights for all men. Instead, it would take many generations of struggle, court cases, and additional legislation for this reality to be achieved. Join Dr. Peter Myers for a discussion on the complicated road endured by African Americans after the Civil War.

July 19-20: The American Revolution in Art & Artifacts
How were the growing tensions between great Britain and her American colonies depicted in art here and abroad? In this workshop we will explore portraits, artifacts, songs, plays and other art forms created during the era of the American Revolution. We will also investigate how the Revolution has been portrayed in art forms over the last 250 years, from epic poems to Broadway musicals!

July25 & 27: America in World War I
Massachusetts men and women joined the war effort long before America entered the conflict in 1917. Using first-hand accounts, we will follow the work of Red Cross volunteers, soldiers, pilots, and medical professionals. We will also take a closer look at America’s conflicted approach to WWI though an examination of propaganda posters, political cartoons, government documents, and other primary sources,

August 9-11: Food in American History
Experience the connections between food and history through historical accounts and field trips to local producers and providers!  There will be opportunities to consider the importance of food items such as coffee, tea, and chocolate; Boston’s role in the creation of American food culture; and the role of cookbooks, television, and other media in creating the myth of the American melting pot.

All programs will be offered at the Society’s headquarters at 1154 Boylston Street. For more information, or to register, contact or 617-646-0557.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 1 March, 2017, 10:05 AM

This Week @ MHS

Here is what's on tap at the MHS as we enter a new month:

- Monday, 27 February, 6:00PM : Self-Evident Truths: Contesting Equal Rights from the Revolution to the Civil War is a new book by Richard Brown of University of Connecticut. This book offers a much-needed exploration of the way revolutionary political ideas penetrated popular thinking and everyday practice. In this talk, Brown discusses how the ideal that "all men are created equal" was tested in struggles over race and ethnicity, religious freedom, gender and social class, voiting rights and citizenship. He shows how high principles fared in criminal trials and divorce cases when minorities, women, and people from different social classes faced judgment. This talk is open to the public and registration is required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members and Fellows). Pre-talk reception begins at 5:30PM, followed by the program at 6:00PM. 

- Tuesday, 28 February, 5:15PM : "Vietnamese Political Prisoners and the Politics of Family, 1975-1996" is a seminar featuring Amanda C. Demmer of the University of New Hampshire and is part of the Modern American Society and Culture series. This project dispels the myths that American involvement in Vietnam ended abruptly after the fall of Saigon and that U.S. servicemen listed as prisoner of war/missing in action were the only exception to American disengagement. Arissa Oh of Boston College provides comment. Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers.

- Wednesday, 1 March, 12:00PM : Bring a lunch and join us for "Ask Carol Lane!: Imaginaries of Safe Travel in the 1950s." As post-war traffic fatalities rose, so did the concern to create safe communities and roads. Some of the work done by organizations involved creating imaginary personas, mostly of women, to perpetuate the rules of safe travel and normalize traffic and travel safety during a period of increased vehicle use, recreational travel, and fatality risk on the roads. This talk examines these personas and their place in the larger safety context of the 1950s. Renee Blackburn of MIT presents this Brown Bag talk which is free and open to the public. 

Thursday, 2 March, 6:00PM : In 2014, the Brookline Historical Society received a tiny photo album with postage stamp-sized photos of 48 Brookline and Boston children. In this presentation titled "A Children's Photo Album," Ken Liss of Boston University Libraries tells the tale of this ablum and the people inside it. This event is open to the public and registration is required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Fellows or Members). Pre-talk reception starts at 5:30PM followed by the speaking program at 6:00PM. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 26 February, 2017, 12:00 AM

older posts