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Pilgrims of Pompeii

The skeletons and the state representative first met on a warm fall afternoon in West Medford, 1862. Two day-laborers, sifting the topsoil with an ox-shovel, nearly hit bone. They ran to alert landowner Francis Brooks, a well-known lawyer and amateur naturalist. Peering over the pit in his backyard, Brooks saw raw history sewn into the earth below: five skeletons, some loose iron arrowheads, a costly-looking soapstone and copper pipe. The Brooks family had held the land—once as vast as 400 acres, now 50—since 1660, and the Native Americans lying before him all dated from the early seventeenth century.

The largest skeleton, as Francis thought, might even be that of Wonohaquaham (d. 1633).

A sachem better known as “Sagamore John,” Wonohaquaham once governed the swath of settlement that spanned Charlestown and Chelsea. Within Boston’s circle of gentleman scholars, Francis Brooks’ local find made a ripple of news. The Massachusetts Historical Society published a detailed account of the “Indian necropolis” found near Mystic Pond.

“I admit. I am all excitement for more bones,” Brooks wrote in his farm journal on 21 October. “I have now two baskets full which ornament the entry table. By and by they shall be put back to rest. With some stone over them in the old place.” Exercising “intelligent care,” he and wife Louise bundled up the bones and carried them across the Charles to a Harvard friend, Louis Agassiz, for use in his new museum of comparative anatomy. Unfazed that his ancestral estate was planted squarely in the half-hidden heart of a Native American burial ground, Francis Brooks quietly returned to farming and law.

But, when he could, Brooks (1824-1891) dabbled in digging around for ancient history. Growing up in Boston, Brooks read the eclectic popular science offerings in the antebellum press. Newspaper squibs of archeological finds and snippets of scientific lore laced through his daily headlines, alongside word of abolition, women’s rights, secession, and Civil War. Many of the articles that he saw dealt with gauging the earth’s age, by tweaking geology to conform with Protestant Christianity. Headlines included the race to decode Egyptian hieroglyphics, and the rise of learned societies to stir up “science talk.” Like many Victorian Americans who spent the century rooting around in the distant past, Francis Brooks’ first efforts were amateur but diligent. He joined a vanguard of “citizen scientists” who kept weather diaries, went on naturalist hikes, funded new museums, lingered in private “bone rooms,” and marveled at “wonder shows” of ancient mummies.

To men and women like Francis Brooks, modern science served as spectacle and oracle. Armed with the private money and public momentum needed to launch new institutions, urbane Americans like Brooks made popular science thrive, on and off the printed page. The Boston Society of Natural History opened its doors in 1830 and evolved into the modern Museum of Science. The Society swept up human crania, skeletons, botanical specimens, and a glittering array of raw minerals. At Ford’s Theatre, a floor above the box where John Wilkes Booth shot President Abraham Lincoln, curators lined shelves with specimens in 1866, forming the Army Medical Museum . But as the war claimed lives within Francis Brooks’ hometown ranks, his gaze moved past backyard finds. With Civil War America encased in ashes daily, Brooks’ focus pivoted to ancient Pompeii.

What did early Americans know of Pompeii’s history and story? From afar, Brooks and his antebellum peers savored the historical snapshot of a lush city, frozen in fallen glory. In August 79 A.D., the eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum, swiftly burying residents and homes in 13 to 20 feet of volcanic ash. Such a sudden loss ripped at the ancient region’s heart. Staring hard through the toxic smoke barreling across the Bay of Naples to his evacuation point, Pliny the Younger said that it was “as if the lamp had been put out in a closed room.” Centuries’ worth of writers, ancient and modern alike, wrote and reframed the tragedy. By 1599, archeologists began excavating the towns’ riches. Looters followed. Overall, they found stray wine bottles, an aqueduct, bath-houses, and villas packed with papyri. Rose-red and evergreen-tinged frescoes filled the halls where 11,000 Pompeiians had lived and loved, worked and died.

For Americans like Francis Brooks, who studied Latin and Greek classics, Pompeii was a scientific goldmine. Hiking the partially excavated city was a “must” on the grand tour of fashionable gentlemen and adventurous debutantes alike. Pompeii’s fossils of vice–brothels, pagan temples, slave chains–intrigued Victorian reformers championing temperance, Protestant values, and abolitionism. In the early 1870s, as part of a philanthropic mission through Europe, Francis Brooks finally made it to see the distant past in person. At home, he kept farm journals documenting crop growth, his children’s birthdays, and the Brahmin party circuit. Once abroad, Brooks started (briefly) a thick sketchbook, “Views of Pompeii,” held here in the Massachusetts Historical Society. There, Brooks copied foreign frescoes in precise, vivid gouache. Under his brush, the city’s half-eaten columns again soared up to a calm sky. Brooks posed his travel companions in parlor-room vignettes, making 80 paintings in total. Pompeii’s exotic panorama of pagan altars, opal sunsets, and fantastic beasts, supplied Francis Brooks with a rich backdrop for his art–and a new way to see how monuments can embody memory.

Early in autumn 1882, the skeletons and the state representative met for one last time. Several of Francis Brooks’ workers, busy digging a cellar on the West Medford estate, came upon roughly 18 Native American skeletons, including that of “Sagamore John.” Brooks’ rage for “more bones” had quieted a bit after seeing Pompeii. When he gazed out over the family grounds, Francis Brooks saw rows of potatoes and corn, plus a 70-foot-long brick wall built by slaves 200 years earlier. He added a plain granite monument, inscribed, “TO SAGAMORE JOHN AND THOSE MYSTIC INDIANS WHOSE BONES LIE HERE.” Lessons from ancient history, as Brooks learned in Pompeii, still guided modern steps. 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 2 December, 2016, 3:04 PM

1815: the Year Without a Summer

As November wears on and the weather grows colder, many Bostonians are digging their coats and sweaters out of storage in anticipation of the long winter ahead. As if winter isn’t long enough already, imagine for a moment that temperatures started to drop in May instead of November. In April of 1815, the eruption of the volcano Mount Tambora rocked modern-day Indonesia. The blast, nearly 100 times as large as that of Mount St. Helens in 1980, sent a massive cloud of miniscule particles into the atmosphere. As the particle cloud blew its way around the globe it reflected sunlight, causing a meteorological phenomenon to which we now refer as the “year without a summer.”

From May to August of 1816, weather across the globe was unseasonably cold. It regularly snowed in New England and London was pelted with hail. It was during this freezing volcanic winter that Mary Shelley drafted the dark tale Frankenstein while on holiday in Switzerland. In his daily diary entry from July 4th of 1816, John Quincy Adams complained that he was confined to his house in London all day due to freezing rain showers and thunder. Many of his subsequent entries that summer contain similar lamentations.

There was Thunder at intervals, and Showers of rain almost incessant through the whole day… I attempted a walk; but was twice overtaken with Showers ingoing to Ealing Church and returning.

 

While scientists are now nearly positive that the “year without a summer” and Mount Tambora’s eruption are connected, it took until the 1970s to piece together the clues. Many people at the time blamed the volatile weather on sunspots, having seen more than usual leading up to the cold snap. By looking back at patterns in sunspots, scientists now hypothesize that while Mount Tambora’s eruption happened to coincide with the appearance of several large sunspots, the two phenomena were not connected. It is also possible that the eruption’s resulting haze allowed for easier viewing of the sun without the aid of eye protection, which led more people to notice the spots and connect them to the odd weather.

Hannah Dawes Newcomb, who endured the freezing summer weather with her family in Keene, New Hampshire, kept a diary with short daily reports on her everyday life. Starting in around May, her daily comments on the weather start to reflect the strange weather patterns of 1816.

May, 1816

13 - Cold but pleasant.

14 - Cold weather.

15 - Very cold.

16 - The weather remains very cold.

17 - Very cold, have to keep a large fire in the parlor to keep comfortable.

18 - Very hard frost last night, very cold this morning.

19 - Very cold for the season.

 

By July, things only get worse for the family. Newcomb seems especially concerned with the constant need to keep a fire going in the hearth. Throughout June and July, she complains of crops freezing on the vine and farm animals dying from the cold. In late July, she mentions seeing sunspots after attending church with her family.

July 6 - “Weather continues very cold - all nature appears encircled in gloom - Grass very thin.  Corn so backward it does not appear probably there will be food sufficient for man or Beast.  Our only hope arises from the promise of seed time and Harvest.  We daily keep fire in the parlor.”

 

Elsewhere on the East Coast, the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture held an October 1816 meeting following the destructively cold summer. The Society’s curators resolved to compile and distribute a newsletter that would aid farmers in selecting and cultivating crops that could best survive the cold, as well as provide instructions in the event of future “uncommon occurrences.”

In performing this useful service, [the Curators] will designate the Trees, Grasses, and other Plants, and especially those cultivated, on which the Season has had either beneficial or injurious influence, and the local situations in which it has operated more or less perniciously, with the view to ascertain, (among other beneficial results,) the hardy or tender Grains, Grasses, or Plants, more proper for situations exposed to droughts, wet, or frost.

 

Relevant MHS materials:

Hannah Dawes Newcomb's diary

At a Special Meeting of the ”Philadelphia Society for promoting agriculture” October 30th, 1816

John Quincy Adams’ diaries

Other sources

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/25/science/mount-tambora-volcano-eruption-1815.html?_r=0

The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano That Darkened the World and Changed History, by William K. Klingaman and Nicholas P. Klingaman

 

 

 

comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Friday, 25 November, 2016, 12:00 AM

Six Degrees of Paul Revere

While processing the Fay-Mixter family photographs, I came across this small tintype.

 

 

A note on the back of the photograph, probably written by a relative, identifies the subject as “Joseph W. Revere / about 18 yrs old.” I wondered if he was one of the Reveres, so I did a little genealogical research.

The Fay-Mixter photograph collection contains 277 photographs depicting members of several interrelated families, including Fays, Mixters, Spooners, Galloupes, Torreys, and others. (The MHS also holds a collection of Fay-Mixter family papers.) After building multiple family trees and tracing the intersections, I finally hit on a Revere.

There have been several Joseph W. Reveres, but this particular one is Joseph Warren Revere (1848-1932) of Boston and Canton, Mass. He was connected to the Fays, etc. through his mother, Susan Tilden (Torrey) Revere, who was the first cousin of Elizabeth Elliot (Torrey) Spooner. Elizabeth’s daughter married Henry Howard Fay.

And yes, Joseph was a direct descendant—a great-grandson—of the legendary Paul Revere. The MHS holds a portrait of Paul Revere, painted ca. 1823 by Chester Harding after a Gilbert Stuart original.

 

What I find remarkable is not the connection itself (eleven of Paul Revere’s sixteen children survived to adulthood, so he’s bound to have descendants far and wide), but that the connection is so recent. Joseph was the grandson and namesake of Paul’s eleventh child, Joseph Warren Revere (1777-1868). Two centuries but only four generations separate Paul’s birth in 1735 and Joseph’s death in 1932. Paul was born 20 years before the French and Indian War, and his great-grandson died in the midst of the Great Depression.

Tintype photographs were first introduced in the 1850s, soon after daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, and reached the height of their popularity in the 1860s-70s. If Joseph Warren Revere was 18 years old when he sat for this portrait, it was taken around 1866. The tintype measures 9 cm x 6 cm, although the image above is cropped. If you look closely, you’ll see that some color has been added to his cheeks.

Joseph became a mining engineer and worked with the Dominion Coal Company in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. He married Anna Peterson in 1893, and the couple had four children, the last of whom died in 1988 at the age of 92.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 23 November, 2016, 12:15 PM

Margaret Russell’s Diary, November 1916

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

January | February | March | April | May | June | July | August | September | October

As winter approaches, Margaret Russell’s activities shift from the north shore back to Boston, where she attends lectures and concerts on a regular basis as well as noting a regular round of visits to family and friends.

On November 8th she notes that she spent time packing in the morning and then left for New York City on the five o’clock train. Her destination was ultimately Hot Springs, North Carolina where she found “pleasant rooms” waiting for her, “lovely weather,” and “very pleasant people.” She stayed for almost two weeks enjoying the balmy weather and sunshine before returning to the “bitter cold” of Boston via New York. On the 29th she attended the theatre, seeing the romantic comedy The Great Lover which had had its run on Broadway from November 1915 to June 2016. “Very amusing” our diarist notes.

As we round out this year in the life of Margaret Russell, I have begun exploring my options for a 1917 diary to transcribe; stay tuned for a December blog post introducing our 2017 diarist and diary before we see what the year 1917 brings for our chosen Bostonian.

In the meantime, without further ado, here’s Margaret in her own words.

 * * *

November 1916*

1 Nov. Wednesday - All Saint’s Service. Mrs. Ward’s opening talk. First Holman meeting at Mrs. Allen’s. Ward reception for Perkins girl.

2 Nov. Thursday - Shopping. Went to Swampscott. Dined at Mrs. Bell’s.

3 Nov. Friday - Went to Milton & called at Sarah Hughes & Hester Cunningham. Dined at S. Bradley with Mr & Mrs Locke.

4 Nov. Saturday - Errands. To see Aunt Emma, Stephen Wild’s [sic] & Mrs. Walcott. Country still very beautiful.

5 Nov. Sunday - Church - Lunched at H.G.C’s.

6 Nov. Monday - Mary. Lunched with Marian.

7 Nov. Tuesday.

8 Nov. Wednesday - Packing. Went H. Cushing’s memorial exhibition. Left for N.Y. on five o’ck. Went to Colony Club.

9 Nov. Shopping - Lunched at Mary Amory’s. Met Mrs. [illegible] on five oc to Hot Springs.

10 Nov. Arrived 9.30 (hour late) Pleasant rooms. Have cold so kept quiet. Mrs. S. busy with baths - Movies in the evening.

11 Nov. Saturday - Lovely weather keep out as much as possible. Very pleasant people.

12 Nov. Rainy - Went to church. Most of P.M. in my room.

13 Nov. Monday - Walked up Delafield Path. Warm & lovely. Took beautiful drive round mountain.

14 Nov. Tuesday- Cloudy & cold. Wrote letters & rested. Walked with Mr. Chapin to dairy.

15 Nov. Wednesday - We walked to Boone Cabin & lunched [...] sun on ground. Feeling better.

16 Nov. Thursday. Still very cold. Took long walk. We drove to Flag Rock in P.M. but it was too hazy to see far.

17 Nov. Friday - Warmer. Took walk in the morning. Drove to Dunn’s Gap.

18 Nov. Saturday. Drove to Healing Springs & walked through Cascades, home to lunch. Sat out in the sun.

19 Nov. Sunday - Church & then walked to Tall Gate. Took the jungle drive. Concert in the evening.

20 Nov. Monday - Walked up Sunset Hill. Sat in piazza in the sun with pleasant people.

21 Nov. Tuesday - Drove to [illegible] for lunch, took Miss Newell.

22 Nov. Wednesday - Took a long walk in morn. After lunch sat in sun. Movies in the evening. Like early autumn.

23 Nov. Packing. Heavy showers so did not go out. Tea at five with Mrs. Berwind & all our friends. Left at 6.30 for N. Y.

24 Nov. Friday - Arrived in N. Y. 9.30. Mrs. Sibley drove me to Colony Club but had no room. Took walk & left on 1 oc for home.

25 Nov. Saturday - Shopping & doing errands. Drove to Swampscott, bitter cold. Lovely concert in the evening.

26 Nov. Sunday - Church. Lunched at HGC. Short walk still cold. Family to dine.

27 Nov. Monday - Mary, lunch with Marian. Went out to see Aunt Emma & leave flowers for Mrs. J. M. Cadman.

28 Nov. Tuesday - Errands on foot & meeting at E&E. Took long drive & dined at C’s. Meeting of new opera co.

29 Nov. Wednesday - Went to see the Great Lover with the Parkmans. Very amusing.

30 Nov. Thursday. Church then to dine at Sallie A’s. Raining so drove back with Marian. Dined at HGC’s. Four Neilsons came.

 

* * *

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.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 18 November, 2016, 12:00 AM

Clearing the Seas with Fire and Steam

In the spring of 1787, two men wrote to America’s representative in London recommending naval inventions that they thought would help the United States fight the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean. One of those writers was Andrew Quin, a gunner aboard the Dutch warship, Batavier; the other was Patrick Miller, a Scottish banker and inventor who experimented with cannons, water wheels, and steam power. The American representative just happened to be John Adams, then serving as American minister to Britain.

In his 30 May letter, Andrew Quin recommended that American warships use “burning shot” as effective ammunition against the Barbary pirates, and offered his assistance:

“Sir I am of oppinion if any force was sent out to protect the trade I could be of great service to them. by making a burning shot That whould disstroy them or put them to the flight.”

“Burning shot,” more commonly known as “red-hot shot,” or simply “hot shot,” refers to cannonballs that were heated in a furnace before being loaded into the cannons and fired. These cannonballs not only damaged a ship, but threatened to set it on fire.

Quin also told Adams about his two sons, his financial troubles, and the challenge of emigrating to America. He wrote with a legible hand, and although the words do not rhyme and the sentences flow across the page, he imitated the poetic convention of capitalizing the first letter in each line.

 

Adams was familiar with the Batavier and with her former captain, Wolter Bentick, who died from the wounds he sustained during the 1781 Battle of the Dogger Bank between the Dutch and British navies. But he had probably never heard of Quin, and this letter appears to be the only letter Quin wrote to John Adams. We have no reply from Adams, and found no evidence that Adams took any action beyond retaining the letter.

In contrast, there are two letters to John Adams from Patrick Miller, who was experimenting with steam propulsion for navigation. With his 14 April 1787 letter, Miller included an essay on naval architecture: Elevation, Section, Plan, and Views of a Triple Vessel (Edinburgh, 1787); and on 30 April, Adams wrote a short note to him:

“I have received the elegant volume you did me the honor to address to me, and shall take the first favorable opportunity to transmit it to Congress at New York, in conformity to your desire.”

Adams took action, forwarding the essay to Congress. On 19 Nov. 1787 Miller wrote to Adams again, and included a report describing his experiment in the Firth of Forth, near Edinburgh, Scotland, on 2 June, when a ship reached speeds of over four miles per hour as five men operated a winch connected to his water wheel. In further experiments, Miller employed a steam engine and achieved speeds of 8 miles per hour.

Miller had already made improvements to a light and effective cannon, the carronade, and wrote that ships outfitted with paddle wheels, and thus capable of propulsion regardless of the lack of wind, were America’s answer to the Barbary pirates:

“Five or six such Ships would clear the Seas of all the African Cruizers.— In Calms or light Winds, very frequent in the Mediterranean Sea during the Summer Months, they would be superiour to any number of Ships of the present Construction of whatever force—”

Adams forwarded Miller’s report to Congress too. Based on Adams’ interactions, Miller’s letters will appear in the Papers of John Adams, volume 19 (Belknap Press, HUP, 2018), and Andrew Quin’s will not. But omitting the letter does not mean that we discard it. Andrew Quin’s original letter remains in the Adams Family Papers archive. You can view the manuscript on the Adams Papers microfilm, reel 370. A rough transcription is freely available on Founders Online.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 9 November, 2016, 10:58 AM

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