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Commemorating War, Promoting Peace

What is the best way to remember our wars? What kinds of public commemorations are appropriate after peace has been achieved? What effect do such commemorations have on our relations with allies who were once our enemies? These were questions that concerned Noah Worcester (1758-1837), Revolutionary War veteran, Unitarian minister, and one of the founders of the Massachusetts Peace Society.


In early 1825, when Worcester heard that newly elected U.S. Rep. Edward Everett would be delivering an address on the fiftieth anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord, he decided to reach out. Of course, 1825 was not only a Revolutionary War anniversary year; it was also just ten years out from America’s more recent war with England.

A draft of Worcester’s 16 March 1825 letter to Everett was recently acquired by the MHS. It reads, in part: “The manner in which Anniversaries of the Revolution have too commonly been conducted, has been to me a source of much regret. The prejudices excited by war are apt to be too strong and durable. When a treaty of peace has been made between two nations, which had been at war, Christianity, prudence and magnanimity unite in requiring that nothing should be done by either party to perpetuate the spirit of animosity. On the contrary, all that can be done should be done, to abate prejudices, and to cultivate friendly feelings between the parties. The practice of rehearsing the wrongs of Britain, and boasting of our own successes in the war, appear to me of a very injurious nature, and perfectly inconsistent with the Christian principles of love, forbearance and forgiveness.”


Most Americans undoubtedly celebrated these Revolutionary anniversaries with patriotic pride, but Worcester was disturbed by their emphasis on triumphalism over reconciliation. While he “sincerely rejoice[d]” in America’s victory, he felt that blame for the conflict “was not all on one side” and that the colonists “had less cause of complaint than we imagined” at the time. He warned against rehashing old resentments and encouraged Everett to promote “a new and pacific character to our Anniversaries of the Revolution,” even quoting some of Everett’s own pacifistic words back to him.

Worcester’s letter definitely made an impression. In his diary, Everett wrote with some contempt: “Shortly after my appointment to deliver the Oration at Concord was announced, Noah Worcester wrote to me to caution me against any thing which could look like encouraging War; said America had no great reason to revolt; that the motives & feelings of the Soldiers (of whom he was one) were not good &c. I did not answer his letter. Today he sends me a number of the ‘Friend of Peace,’ in which he has quoted some remarks from my book[…]; from which sentiment he deduces, by inference, the impropriety of commending & celebrating warlike exploits.”


And Everett’s Concord address was scathing. While he did not name Worcester publicly, he devoted several paragraphs to rebutting Worcester’s arguments in tones of muscular nationalism: “There are those, who object to such a celebration as this, as tending to keep up or to awaken a hostile sentiment toward England. But I do not feel the force of this scruple. […] A pacific and friendly feeling towards England is the duty of this nation; but it is not our only duty, it is not our first duty. America owes an earlier and a higher duty to the great and good men, who caused her to be a nation. […] I am not willing to give up to the ploughshare the soil wet with our fathers’ blood; no! not even to plant the olive of peace in the furrow.”

Everett called “abject” any person who would “think that national courtesy requires them to hush up the tale of the glorious exploits of their fathers and countrymen.” But Worcester hadn’t suggested that we forget the past; he just took issue with the way we remember it. This mischaracterization of his position may have been what Worcester meant when he annotated this draft of his letter: “The above letter was sent to Mr E. soon after its date. The effect it had on his mind, as it appeared in his subsequent oration, was to me a matter of deep regret.”


Next Friday is Bunker Hill Day here in Massachusetts. On 17 June 1825, a ceremony was held in Charlestown, Mass. and the cornerstone laid for the Bunker Hill Monument. Worcester, who had fought in the battle as a teenager exactly fifty years before, did not attend the dedication ceremony and declined to subscribe to the monument. Instead, he wrote a poem called “Solitary Commemoration.” Here’s an excerpt:

In every conflict of the martial kind,

Each party thinks he sees the other blind;

But neither sees how hatred on his part,

Deforms the soul while rankling in the heart.

Hatred to whom he knows not, but to those

Who chance to bear the general name – his foes.

Alas! tho' fifty years have passed away,

Since on that Hill was seen the bloody fray –

On that same ground, lo! myriads celebrate,

Those mournful deeds of horror, death, and hate!

May I, as one preserved in that dread scene,

Ask what these pompous celebrations mean?


comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 8 June, 2016, 12:00 AM

Margaret Russell’s Diary, June 1916

Today, we return to the line-a-day diary of Margaret Russell. You can read previous installments here:






June begins with the Russell household’s seasonal relocation from Boston’s Back Bay to Swampscott. Between 1870-1940, many prominent Bostonian families maintained summer estates north of the city. Dorothy M. Anderson, in her book The Era of the Summer Estates (Swampscott Historical Society, 1985), describes the preparations that took place before summer residents arrived:

“The unpredictable devastation of rugged winters and howling storms along the seacoast often necessitated considerable exterior house repair work such as roofing, shingling, chimney repair, and painting. Copper screening, subject to salt damage, often needed replacement. Also, wooden shutters had to be removed and stored, blinds opened, windows washed, and awnings obtained from storage and set in place. … Room after room, inch by inch, had to be treated appropriately to ensure total cleanliness and attractiveness before the ‘family’ arrived. …This ten-day to two-week indoor and outdoor undertaking using two and often several employees was crowned, as it were, by the arrival of the maids who set the bedding, china, linens, silver, and sundries in readiness. With a midweek arrival of the owner and spouse, the ‘family’ was ‘in residence’ for the season. And of course it was understood that, in many instances, the household would become two or three generations with the closing of schools and the onset of summer itself” (78).

Margaret Russell oversaw the packing (see the end of May), remove, and unpacking as the household shifted, and these activities appear to have taken time and energy -- though did not curtail her amateur botany, afternoon drives, and social appointments. On the 20th she packed once again and was on the train down to Asheville, North Carolina, to visit friends and enjoy the Blue Ridge Mountains. “Splendid view, azaleas wonderful.”

* * *

June 1916

1 June. Had movers for move to Swampscott. Mama less tired than other years. Servants & [illegible] A.M. Me at 2.15.

2 June. Friday. Unpacking. Went to Lynnfield bay & found Bug [illegible] in flower & to Marblehead for S. Stellata which was in flower.

3 June. Saturday - Went over & lunched with the H.G.C’s at Nahant. To salem for errands.

4 June. Sunday. Walked to church & back without fatigue.

5 June. Monday - to town for Hosp. meeting & errands. Lunched at Mariner.**

6 June. Tuesday. [illegible] in my room [illegible]. Moving. Lovely drive to Beverly & Hamilton.

7 June. Wednesday - Arranging my room. Took long drive to Beverly & Hamilton.

8 June. Thursday - To town for Chilton meeting - errands & to see Aunt Emma. Cold & Drizzling.

9 June. Friday - Raining & blowing very cold. To Lynn for errands. Rested after lunch & went to Nahant to see Mrs. L. Leukerman & the H.G.C’s.

10 June. Saturday - Pouring all day. Went to N. Andover to lunch at Mifflins. The H.G.C’s  Mrs. James Lawrence.

11 June. Sunday - Cleaning - Walked to church & back P.M. Raining again.

12 June. Went to town for errands - Mary - last visit to Dr. S. Lunched at Mariner. Pouring again.

13 June. Tuesday - Sunny day. Walked to church & back. Went to see Charlie [illegible] & then to drive. Cold east wind.

14 June. Wednesday--

15 June. Thursday - Town all day - Hosp. to see Murray girl. To see Hattie Loring also.

16 June. Paper says this is the 9th day of rain. Baby went home. Paid calls at Nahant.

17 June. More rain than ever. Lunched at Nahant with H.G.C’s. Down to Marblehead to see Edith & the baby.

18 June. Walked to church. Family to dine - C gone to Canada for fishing.

19 June. Went to town for errands. Lunched at Mariner. Packing in P.M.

20 June. Packed & went to town. Had meeting of E[ar] & E[ye] comm. Then to take 1 o’c to N.Y. spent night at Belmont.

21 June. Wednesday - Took a walk & did a few errands. Lunched at Penn. station. Left at 1.08 for Asheville. Comfortable weather.

22 June. Arrived A-- at twelve. After lunch rested & then took walk up in the woods. Lovely as ever here.

23 June. Friday - Walked up to see the Howington’s [illegible]. All so glad to see us & we them. Stayed on piazza P.M. Looked showery.

24 June. Saturday - Took all day trip in motor with lunch for Mt. Pisgah. Splendid view, azaleas wonderful. Thunder storm & bad roads coming home.

25 June. Sunday - went to St. Mary’s. In P.M. drove to Mountain Meadows. Organ concert in the evening. Lovely weather.

26 June. Monday - I stayed home and Miss A-- went to see Howingtons. P.M. drove to Swann[illegible] valley. Moving pictures every evening.

27 June. Tuesday - All day trip in motor to Hickory Nut Gap. Saw fox & cub. P.M. visiting & then another lovely walk.

28 June. Wednesday - Stayed at home in A.M. Miss Holman arrived about two. Drive her to see Miss H’s eyes. She seems to enjoy seeing the hotel & people.

29 June. Miss H-- left after breakfast. Miss A went again to see Mrs. H-- & I packed. Hot. Left at 2.35 it soon cooled off.

30 June. Arrived in N.Y. hours late so lost our train. Crowds so great that could get no seats. Took 4 o’c & at New Haven got into parlor car. Home about 11.30.


* * *

If you are interested in viewing the diary in person 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.

*Please note that the diary transcription is a rough-and-ready version, not an authoritative transcript. Researchers wishing to use the diary in the course of their own work should verify the version found here with the manuscript original.

**In previous installments of the diary I have transcribed this word as “Marian’s” but in this instance the word looked unmistakably like “Mariner” and I have adjusted my transcription accordingly throughout this entry.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 3 June, 2016, 12:00 AM

Pondering Paleography and Soliciting Transcriptions, p. II

When I published a post last week here on the Beehive (see here) about a medieval document in our collections, I thought that it would be quite some time before we got to the bottom of it. Boy, was I wrong! By chance, my post was picked up by Steve Annear at the Boston Globe and, just like that, we were off and running with many people providing insights. 

To summarize, I was wrong about the language of the document. It turns out that it is medieval Latin, not Middle English. However, to vindicate my assumption ever so slightly, one commenter asserts that it is written using "stereotypically English-looking letter forms." He goes on to note that the document is heavily abbreviated. 

A few people commenting on my post even provided transcriptions and translations of the document, while others provided background on the geographic area and surnames mentioned in the text. All within just a couple of days!

Based on the input from commenters, I think we have a rough transcription here. For anyone that wishes to contest this transcription, please keep a couple of things in mind: all commenters who provided input are working only from a low-resolution image contained in my original post; and that I may have mis-typed some of these Latin terms and so some error may rest with me. 

"Omnibus Christi fidelibus ad quos presens scriptum pervenerit, Willhelmus, filius Agathe de Bromlegh saluten in domino. Novertis me concesse, dimisisse, et in perpetuum de me et heredibus meis qui quietum clamasse Johann de Wylmschurst heredibus suis et assignatis totum jus et damnum quod habui ut aliquo modo habere potui in sexdecim acris terre cum pertinentiis in Bromlegh quas Ricardus de Bylinghurst dedit Agathe filie sue. Ita quod ego dictus Willhelmus heredes mei, nec aliquis per me vel nomine nostro aliquid juris vel clamium in praedictis sexdecim acris terre cum pertinentiis exigere clamare vel vendicare non poterimus in perpetuum. In cuius rei testimonium huic quiete clamntie sigillum meum apposui. Hiis testibus Johanne de Stondebrig, Ricardo de Grimyngfelde, Ricardo de Rykhurst, Johanne de Loxhie, Willelmo Govebrok, et aliis. Datum apud Bromlegh, die Jovis in festo Ascensionis domini, anno regni Regis Edwardi tertii a conquestu undecimo."

This Latin text translates, approximately, to

"To all the faithful of Christ to whom the present writing shall come, William son of Agatha of Bromlegh wishes health in the Lord. Everyone should know that I am conceding, demising, and in perpetuity for me and my heirs quitclaiming to John dy Bylingehurst and his heirs and assigns all the rights and claims I have, or might be able to have at any time, in 16 acres of land with appurtenances in Bromlegh, which Richard de Bylinghurst gave to Agatha his daughter. Therefore I the said William and my heirs, or anyone acting in my name, give up the right to make any claim to the 16 acres and its appurtenences, or any right to sell it. In which statement I posiiton my seal to this quitclaim. These witnesses: John de Stondebrig, Richard de Grummyngfelde, Richard de Rykhurst, John de Leghe, William Govebrok, and others. Dated at Bromlegh, on the Thursday after the Feast of the Ascension of the Lord, in the 11th year of the reign of King Edward III after the conquest."

So, it looks like we have a fairly common land transfer captured in this document. For more about the land in question and the names involved, please refer to the comments in the original blog post to see what our readers have to say. If, at some point, I attempt to summarize all of the information provided, it will show up here on the Beehive.

Finally, thank you to the Boston Globe, and especially to all who showed such quick interest in this little piece of vellum! We now have just a little bit more knowledge about our collections and about medieval writing samples. Stay tuned for more medieval mysteries from the MHS. Cheers!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 1 June, 2016, 12:00 AM

Pondering Paleography and Soliciting Transcriptions

Recently, I was in the stacks retrieving an item from the Charles Edward French autograph collection. The item I was looking for comes from the 17th century in Massachusetts, but when I opened the box that holds it, I was immediately stricken by the first folder, which had a date range written on it of 1337-1545.

While I was aware that the MHS holds some medieval manuscript materials, they are primarily small unidentified fragments, or bound religious texts like breviaries and books of hours. Typically, these manuscripts are done in either Latin or medieval French. Here was something completely different.

The item in question (Hold down Ctrl and press + to zoom in)

This vellum item is small, only about 3.5"x9.5", and contains only about eight lines of text. The writing is neatly ordered and still very clear. I am certainly not any sort of expert when it comes to language, but I can often recognize, at least vaguely, some European languages from the Renaissance period to the modern day. This text, though, I had never seen. 

Written on the back of this little document, at a much later date, is "2d Edward III May 27, 1337". So now I have a date and perhaps even an author. Still, this doesn't translate the material for me so I am left with no context for the item or any understanding of the text itself. 

I did a quick search online to see about the history of the English language and found that the variety of English used during the period covering, roughly, 1150-1500 is considered Middle English.

Now I have an assumed author and date, potentially the language of the text, and still no idea what the document may be about. What to do?

I shared my finding with the researcher whose document I was originally seeking and she clued me in to a couple of places that I might go for help, places where paleography (the study of ancient and historical handwriting) is common practice. Perhaps, even, to get a translation of this item. 

If you are hoping for closure in this blog post, I am afraid that I have to let you down. I started to put feelers out to see what help I can get, and that is where the situation stands at present. 

Are you familiar with Middle English writing? Can you identify anything about the document in the image above? If so, please leave a comment below and help us fill in some gaps!

comments: 20 | permalink | Published: Friday, 27 May, 2016, 12:00 AM

Beyond John and John Quincy: Thomas Boylston Adams’ Letters and Diary

Thomas Boylston Adams, John and Abigail Adams’ youngest son, spent the majority of his life in the shadows of his father and his eldest brother, John Quincy. In part because of this—and much like his other brother, Charles—writers often overlook Thomas Boylston. Yet he might have been the most interesting of all.

In the next volume of Adams Family Correspondence, however, Thomas Boylston is a central figure. Thomas Boylston wrote fantastically detailed letters to family members. He also wrote to prominent Americans, including editor Joseph Dennie Jr. and U.S. diplomat Joseph Pitcairn. He offers detailed commentaries on not only Franco-American relations and the Quasi-War, but also on the French Revolution, the pageantry and partisanship of domestic politics, print culture, George Washington’s deification, and the intricacies of eighteenth-century travel, all of which he does with a certain panache not typically associated with the Adams men. When discussing allegations of Napoleon Bonaparte’s death on 2 March 1799, he noted, “I believe, nor care a whit about it.” In September 1799, after being presented with German documents, he told John Quincy: “I will never decypher a page of German writing without payment or the prospect of it. It begins to cost me money merely to profess myself a lawyer and I should very soon be insolvent if I practised it without reward or the hope of it.”

His diary is similar. It’s neither as comprehensive nor as prolonged as other Adams diaries, but it’s just as detailed and it’s written in the same style as his letters. Taken together, Thomas Boylston’s writings offer readers a unique picture of elite life in late eighteenth-century America.

On February 22, 1799, for instance, Thomas Boylston noted in his diary that he attended an event to commemorate “the birth day of ‘Columbia’s pride & boast,’” that is, George Washington. On 1 March, Thomas Boylston offered his father a brief summary of the event. He described himself as “animated by the glow of patriotism” and noted that he delivered a toast to “Miss Nelly Custis,” who had recently married Washington’s nephew, Lawrence Lewis. His diary, however, contains a far more effusive description, and, unlike in his letter, he detailed how many people were at the event and, more important, where it was held. Adams noted that about 250 people descended upon Concert Hall in Boston for “a Splendid entertainment.” The occasion was so “Splendid,” in fact, that he had “Had two very unaccountable falls in going home from Concert hall.” More than seventeen “national, spirited & well assorted toasts” were delivered that evening; it’s not hard to guess why he twice lost his footing. “Quer. The cause,” he ended the entry.

Most of Thomas Boylston’s letters and diary entries are similar—wonderfully written, full of personality, imagination, and memory. Perhaps upon the publication of the next Adams Family Correspondence volume, someone interested in Thomas Boylston Adams might put him in the spotlight.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 25 May, 2016, 2:08 PM

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