The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Civil War Photograph Collections Online

On 2 October 2014, my colleague Nancy Heywood announced on the blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS): "Just Launched! Nine Fully Digitized Civil War Collections." In addition to these manuscript collections, the MHS holds several photograph collections dating from the Civil War period as well. Six of these have been digitized and are available both on our Civil War commemoration home page, and in our larger list of guides to photograph collections.

The albums contain images of dozens of Massachusetts' sons –some of whom feature in our digitized manuscripts collections, such as Richard Cary and Norwood Penrose Hallowell– as well as battleground areas and significant and anonymous role players in the Civil War. Seeing them adds another layer of context to the letters, newspaper articles, and other memorabilia of lives long ended. Don't forget! Back in 2012, the MHS produced an in-house exhibit "Massachusetts in the Civil War, 1861-1862" and also made a companion website which featured many documents from the show. Since we deal with a lot of death here at the MHS – and really in most archives – I would be remiss without highlighting the second most emotional letter I have ever read, Wilder Dwight's last letter to his mother Elizabeth from the battlefield at Antietam where he was mortally wounded.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 18 December, 2014, 10:43 AM

This Week @ MHS

There is only one item on the schedule this week as we close-in on our winter break. On Saturday, 20 December, join us for a free tour of the building at 1154 Boylston St. "The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society" is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free and 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

Also, our exhibition galleries remain open so you can view both of our current exhibits: "Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country" and "The Father of His Country Returns to Boston, October 24, 1789." The galleries are open to the public Monday through Saturday, 10:00AM to 4:00PM.

Please note that the MHS library will be closed beginning on Wednesday, 24 December and will not re-open until Monday, 5 January. During that time, the galleries will be open to the public on 26-27 December, 29-30 December, and 2-3 January. As always, keep an eye on our Calendar of Events to see what is coming up in January!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 14 December, 2014, 10:00 AM

Collection Data on Collecting Eggs: Having Fun with William Jenks's Diary

comments: 2 | permalink | Published: Friday, 12 December, 2014, 1:00 AM

The Old North Cemetery of Holliston, Mass.

The MHS recently acquired a small volume of records of a cemetery in Holliston, Mass. that contains some fascinating information about this 19th-century town. The volume is not the original record book, which has apparently been lost, but a manuscript copy made by local historian John Mason Batchelder between 1894 and 1916. The loss of the original book makes this copy that much more significant, since it may contain records that exist nowhere else.

The North Burying Yard of Holliston, now known as the Old North Cemetery (or the Old Indian Cemetery), was established on an acre of land bought from Henry Lealand in 1801. Subscribers purchased lots for their families, and the appointed clerk, Samuel Bullard, recorded “the death and age of all persons buried in any of the Lots in said yard.” The burials listed in this volume date from 1803 to 1876. The entries are brief, but include some interesting details.

 Many of the townspeople interred here are members of the Bullard, Eames, and Lealand families. Included is Civil War soldier Emerson Eames of the 22nd Mass. Regiment, who died on 22 Oct. 1862. (His remains have since been moved to the U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.) The cemetery also contains several veterans of the American Revolution, including Aaron Eames (d. 1827), Reuben Eames (d. 1818), Timothy Lealand (d. 1843), Ephraim Bigelow (d. 1834), and Aaron Pike (d. 1848). In recognition of their military service, some or all of these men received new headstones from the U.S. government in 1916, as noted by Batchelder. Pike's story is especially poignant: he was buried as a town pauper at the age of 82 and apparently had no grave marker at all before 1916.

 Also buried in the pauper section is the “child of an Irish family,” who died in 1838 at 16 months. Elsewhere we find 14-year-old Isaac Allard, a victim of typhoid fever in 1860; the unnamed baby daughter of a “single woman”; and poor James Bigelow, who “came to his death by his neckhandkerchief being caught in the turning lathe.”

 Sadly but not unexpectedly, most family lots hold the remains of a husband and wife and any of their children that died young. For example, Eleazer Bullard and his wife Patty are buried with their children: Luke (10 mos.), John (3 days), Peter Parker (3 years), and Martha (4 weeks). Grown children of Eleazer and Patty were presumably buried elsewhere.

 The Old North Cemetery also contains the graves of a few black residents of the town, including Jane Muguet, a state pauper and “colored girl” who died in 1846 at 16. Reuben Titus was another pauper who “lived with Wm Lovering until aged and infirm” and died at about 90 in 1855. The earliest recorded death of a black resident is that of Rose, “negrowoman of Isaac Cozzens,” in 1812.

After copying the records, Batchelder compared his book against the headstones in the cemetery, checking off the names he found there. About half of the names are not checked off, indicating burials recorded by the cemetery clerk but graves unmarked at the time of Batchelder’s visit. (These names are also missing from the Old North Cemetery name index compiled by the Holliston Historical Society in July 2011.) There are several possible explanations for this discrepancy: an error in the original record book or the transcription, a grave that was moved, or one that was never marked in the first place, such as those of the paupers. If the original volume really is lost, this copy may be the only record of the final resting places of Isaac, James, the four Bullard children, Jane, Reuben, Rose, and many others of Holliston.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 10 December, 2014, 1:00 AM

New Web Presentation of Documents & Engravings about the Boston Massacre

What do you remember learning about the Boston Massacre?  Did you learn the event took place outside the Old State House (at that time called the Town House) in Boston?  Was it presented to you as a key event leading up to the American Revolution?  Do you remember learning that five people (including Crispus Attucks) lost their lives?  If you think of a visual image, do you think of the engraving by Paul Revere depicting townspeople being fired upon by an orderly row of British soldiers?  Are you curious to explore how various primary sources describe the chaotic confrontation that took place on 5 March 1770?

It is interesting to read the words of people who were either at the scene or were able to comment on the overall atmosphere of the town after the event. Thanks to funding from the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati, the MHS has created a new web presentation, Perspectives on the Boston Massacre, featuring letters, pamphlets, diary entries, legal notes, and engravings relating to the Boston Massacre. 

Some examples of the manuscripts that are available for browsing and reading include diary entries written by merchant John Rowe who observed, "the Inhabitants are greatly enraged and not without Reason" and a letter dated 6 March 1770 by Loyalist Andrew Oliver, Jr. who wrote, "Terrible as well as strange things have happen'd in this Town."  The website also includes printed materials;  some convey the Patriot perspective of the event (A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston and On the Trial of the Inhuman Murderers) and some the Loyalist view (A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston).

One section of the new web presentation focuses on visual representations of the Boston Massacre.  Seven prints of the event, as well as one painting showing the same location in Boston in 1801, are available for close examination.  Website visitors can use a comparison tool to view any two of the featured images side by side. 


The website also features some selected documents relating to the two legal cases (the trial of Captain Thomas Preston and trial of the eight soldiers).  John Adams served as one of the defense attorneys and the website includes page images of some of John Adams's handwritten legal notes as well as links to the digital edition of  The Legal Papers of John Adams, Volume 3, edited by L. Kinvin Wroth and Hiller B. Zobel, part of the Adams Papers Editorial Project.

The Boston Massacre was recognized as a pivotal event and supporters of the Revolutionary cause organized anniversary commemorations.  The website includes published versions of orations given between 1771 and 1775 by noted figures including James Warren and John Hancock as well as a manuscript copy of an oration given by someone on the opposite side of the political spectrum who ridiculed many Patriot leaders.  

Please visit


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Tuesday, 9 December, 2014, 1:00 AM

older posts