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Thanksgiving in War-time, 1862-1864

The life of a Civil War soldier was difficult even at the best of times, but holidays were particularly poignant. Many of the men were very young and away from home for the first time. Edward J. Bartlett of Concord, Mass. had been just 20 years old when he enlisted in August 1862. In his letters home in November of that year, written from New Bern, N.C., he described his first Thanksgiving as a soldier, the elaborate preparations, the decorations, and especially the food:

First we had oysters then turkey and chicken pie then plum pudding then apple raisin & coffee with plenty of good soft bread & butter. After we had all eaten a little too much, people usualy do on Thanksgiving days and we who had lived so long on hard tack did our best[,] we had a fine sing.

The meal was followed by songs (including “Auld Lang Syne”), speeches, toasts to President Lincoln and the troops, games, and a dance. Deep in hostile territory, the men were determined to celebrate “in the true home style.” Bartlett concluded that:

The whole day was very succesfull every thing went of[f] pleasently, not a thing went wrong. We were surprised that such a dinner could be got up in this God forsacken country. Twas pleasent to celebrate Thanksgiving in such a way.

The next year, his letters were more sober. Writing on 15 November 1863 from Nashville, Tenn., Bartlett reflected:

Our company Thansgiving in the barracks last year is a day that I can never forget. Six of those boys are now dead. Poor Hopkinson, the president, in his address, [said] “that he hoped the next year would see us all at our own family tables.” He died two months after.

Bartlett spent Thanksgiving 1864 stationed at Point Lookout, Md., guarding Confederate prisoners-of-war. He wrote to his sister Martha about his homesickness on the evening before the holiday:

Thankgiving eve. I sat over the fire, thinking of what you were doing at home, and what I had done on all the Thanksgiving eve’s, that I could remember.

The day itself, however, proved to be a rousing celebration that included music and dancing (“It was fun to see them kick thier heels about.”), horse races, sack races (“Such a roar of laughter I never heard before. Most of them were flat in the dirt before they had gone three steps.”), wheelbarrow races, a turkey shoot, greased-pole climbing, and greased-pig chases (“This made more sport than all the rest put together.”). Bartlett again, unsurprisingly, lingered over his description of the meal: oysters, turkey, duck, beef, chicken, vegetables, apple pie, pumpkin pie, mince pie, etc., finished off with cigars.

Edward J. Bartlett survived the Civil War and lived to 1914. To learn more about Bartlett, visit our Civil War Monthly Document feature for November 1863 or visit the MHS Library to read more of the papers in his collection.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 12:00 AM

Lovers’ Tiff in Turkey

Sometimes you come across the completely unexpected when searching the MHS collections. Initially I hoped to highlight the food of the season, and began a search for an interesting menu from any date in the month of November. If turkey had been on any of the menus, that would be the subject of today’s post. Not finding a satisfactory menu  and determined to have some sort of turkey in this post -- be it fowl or country -- I started searching for descriptions of Turkey. With a subject search for “Istanbul (Turkey) – Description and travel” a collection finally caught my eye. 

What I found was a letter, written in 1830, containing a beautiful yet brief description of Constantinople in the Henry K. Loring papers. However, the depiction of mosques, minarets, and palaces was not the most intriguing excerpt from this letter. A lovers’ tiff revealed in the very same letter entirely captivated my attention!

Captain Loring’s passenger ship arrived in Constantinople (now Istanbul) on 27 November 1830. As a sailor abroad, Loring often wrote to his sweetheart Sarah Hichborn in Boston from his various destinations, including the Greek Islands, Italy, and Turkey. During this stop in Constantinople, he wrote to Hichborn on 18 December 1830 responding to a situation that she addressed in a prior letter, which is not among this collection of correspondence. She seemingly accused him of intentionally impressing ladies other than herself while he was last in Boston. The captain addressed the issue with such ostentation I am uncertain whether his sentiments are flirtation or vainglory:

Dear Sarah, as you observe, distance, does not seperate minds. May ours, never be seperated. But be always, united according to your good Wishes, I cannot recollect, were I took Tea, excepting it was at your house, I do not remember, any ladies, that I could possibly, have impressed them, with any Particular regards for me. I suffer it was on account, of my beauty, Gentlemanly appearance &c. I think you aught to have gratified me, by telling me who they were, Now by way of retaliation I shall not tell you, how near I come, loosing my heart, at Constantinople. The Turkish and Armenian ladies, are certainly very beautifull.

Ooh, trouble! I would advise the captain that retaliation is not always the best course of action in matters of the heart.

Dear readers, if you are worried about their relationship, let me reassure you. Captain Loring and Sarah Hichborn married on 21 March 1833.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Saturday, 23 November, 2013, 1:00 AM

The Real Gettysburg Address

On November 19, 1863, when Abraham Lincoln spoke to an immense crowd at the consecration of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Edward Everett of Massachusetts, the greatest orator of the day, was the primary speaker.  In his diary, Everett omitted any reference to the president’s remarks except for his praise of Everett’s speech.  The next day, however, after they had returned to Washington together, Everett and Lincoln exchanged letters concerning their respective addresses:

I should be glad [Everett wrote to Lincoln], if I could flatter myself, that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes. 

Lincoln replied the same day:

In our respective parts yesterday, you could not have been excused to make  a short address, nor I a long one.  I am pleased to know that, in your judgment, the little I did say was not entirely a failure.

On Tuesday, 19 November, the Historical Society will mark the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address by displaying this extraordinary exchange of letters—and other materials related to the respective roles of Lincoln and Everett that day at Gettysburg—from 10:00 AM until 4:00 PM.

 Come and help us decide what was the “real” Gettysburg Address.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Monday, 18 November, 2013, 10:00 AM

James Mease and American Sericulture

“We are striving to promote the Culture of Silk,” wrote Dr. James Mease of Philadelphia to Colonel Timothy Pickering of Salem on 13 November 1826. The wealthy physician dabbled in various interests outside of medicine including geology, agriculture, local history, and something called sericulture.

Sericulture, or silk farming, is the breeding of silkworms for the production of silk. In short, silkworms require white mulberry leaves or osage orange leaves to create liquid silk. These caterpillars then spin the liquid silk into cocoons, using the sticky protein sericin to glue each strand together. The cocoons are collected and boiled before the pupas develop and emerge as silk moths. The silk threads of the emptied cocoons disband as the sericin dissolves in hot water. This “raw silk” is then reeled and woven into the cloth. Sounds easy, right?

Silkworm breeding is exhaustively needy at best and disease-ridden at worst. An adult silk moth cannot eat, drink, or fly. The sole purpose of its existence is to mate (which it relies entirely on human intervention to achieve) and produce the next generation. At odds with the laborious milieu of sericulture, Dr. James Mease remarked in the 13 November 1826 letter:

[We] find that the there is no difficulty in breeding the worms – we have abundance of red or native mulberry trees and also the white sort. I imported an ounce of eggs from Genoa last spring and gave them to three persons, who had very great success with them. The Cocoons were twice the size of those produced from Egg previously here.

With mulberry trees aplenty, Dr. James Mease’s associates and other American silk farmers eagerly produced raw silk throughout the early 19th century.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 15 November, 2013, 1:00 AM

Adams, King, and Jack McCoy

In the forthcoming Papers of John Adams, Volume 17, Massachusetts representative to the Continental Congress and future minister to Great Britain, Rufus King, pens his first letter to the sitting minister to Great Britain, John Adams, in November 1785, describing himself as a “stranger.” While it was true that the two had not met, Adams had represented King’s father, the Tory-learning Richard King, a dozen years earlier.

In March 1766, a mob of self-described “Suns of liburty” broke into King’s home and store, terrifying his family, breaking windows and burning papers in his desk. Although threatening retaliation for legal action, King pursued a civil action against the group. When he did not find the awarded damages satisfactory, he appealed, and it was at this point that Adams joined as counsel.

This trial, Richard King v. John Stewart et al., is a poignant reminder that before Adams was a Founding Father, he was a talented attorney. This case, perhaps even more than the Boston Massacre trials, reveals that Adams neither allowed his personal political sympathies to cloud his legal judgment nor to determine which cases he would undertake. Moreover, Adams did not simply recite dry legal precedents, but tied the law to strong emotionally driven images to encourage the jury to connect with his client, as this Jack McCoy styled closing argument demonstrates:

Be pleased then to imagine yourselves each one for himself—in bed with his pregnant Wife, in the dead of Midnight, five Children also asleep, and all the servants. . . . The Doors and Windows all barrd, bolted and locked—all asleep, suspecting nothing, harbouring no Malice, Envy or Revenge in your own Bosoms nor dreaming of any in your Neighbours. . . .

All of a sudden, in an Instant, in a twinkling of an Eye, an armed Banditti of Felons, Thieves, Robbers, and Burglars, rush upon the House. Like Savages from the Wilderness, or like Legions from the Blackness of Darkness, they yell and Houl, they dash in all the Windows and enter. Enterd they Roar, they stamp, they Yell, they houl, they cutt break tear and burn all before them.

Do you see a tender and affectionate Husband, an amiable deserving Wife near her Time, 3 young Children, all in one Chamber, awakened all at once, ignorant what was the Cause, terrifyd, inquisitive to know it. The Husband attempting to run down stairs, his Wife, laying hold of his Arm, to stay him and sinking fainting dying away in his Arms. The Children crying and clinging round their Parents—father will they kill me—father save me! . . .

It’s of great Importance to the Community that sufficient that exemplary Damages should be given in such Cases. King might have kill’d em all. If a Man has Humanity enough, to refrain, he ought to be fully compensated.

One of the children home that night was then eleven-year-old Rufus King. Nearly two decades later, he had grown to reject his father’s loyalism, become a staunch patriot and later Federalist, and initiate a correspondence with John Adams that led to a friendship with two generations of the Adams family.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 13 November, 2013, 1:00 AM

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