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Answers to Questions of Chinese Script, 1801

In a prior blog post, "Chinese Hanzi Characters in 1801," I wondered what message the Chinese script on the verso of the 30 July 1801 letter from Captain Samuel Barrett Edes of the snow Pacific Trader to American merchant Sullivan Dorr expressed. Last month, to my great surprise, I received two separate e-mails regarding the script.

The first correspondent, professional Chinese translator Ye Aiyun, graciously gave me a direct translation of the Chinese characters:


[This letter] is to the Sixin Grocery Store at Stoning Street in Canton, and the store will send it to Dorr of the flower flag country (United States of America). If Dorr writes back, his letter will be sent to Canton in the same way. This letter should arrive at Macao on [September] 22nd and back to Canton on the 23rd.  If the foreigner [does not have a letter to send back in return], the store will just leave it [alone]. The postage is two dollars, and [the people in] Macao have paid one dollar.

Ye's translation confirmed my first assumption about the script.  It definitely gives directions for delivery of the letter to Sullivan Dorr.

Paul A. Van Dyke, professor at Sun Yat-sen University in Canton, China, and former Benjamin F. Stevens fellow at the MHS, also wrote concerning the Chinese script. Van Dyke gave me further context for the letter:

"The address on this envelope is to Sullivan Dorr's residence in Canton, which was in the Thirteen Factories area. It is clear from the Chinese inscription that this [letter] was sent to the Thirteen hong district 十三行。 The confusion comes in the name of the street Zao Shi Street (鑿石街) which does not exist on any maps [of which] I am aware. And the name of the building Si Xing Ban Guan (泗興办館) is also very strange and appears in [none of the] listings of the buildings in this district. In short, we know all of the Chinese names of the streets and buildings in this district at this time and these names do not appear."

Yet another mystery arises from this letter! Van Dyke explained that perhaps this address is a small undocumented alley within the American Factory, a trading post that American Consul Samuel Shaw constructed and Sullivan Dorr, at one time, managed. Responding to my previous post, Van Dyke also addressed my final query concerning who might have written this note. He stated that Chinese compradors (provision purveyors), pilots, linguists, and merchants were generally literate, so any one of them could have written the instructions for delivery.

Thank you to my generous correspondents Ye Aiyun and Paul A. Van Dyke for their answers to my questions. Do you have any additional information to contribute to this conversation? Please leave a comment on the blog or feel free to e-mail me.

comments: 2 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 9 April, 2014, 8:28 AM

Perry-Clarke Collection Guide Online

The guide to the Perry-Clarke collection is now online! Originally acquired by the MHS back in 1968, this collection has been available for research since then, but the old unwieldy paper guide needed a major overhaul. We hope this streamlined, fully searchable online guide will bring even more researchers to these wide-ranging and important materials.

Primarily the papers of Unitarian minister, transcendentalist, author, and reformer James Freeman Clarke (1810-1888) and his family, the collection consists of 64 boxes of correspondence, sermons, lectures, journals, notebooks, and other papers and volumes. Included are papers of Clarke's wife Anna (Huidekoper) Clarke and members of the Huidekoper family, who were involved in the establishment of Meadville Theological School in Meadville, Pennsylvania, as well as papers of James and Anna's children, Lilian, Eliot, and Cora. Much of the collection documents the family's interest in social reform movements.

The Perry-Clarke collection may be best known to our researchers as the home of the 1844 journal and commonplace-book of Margaret Fuller, a close friend of the family. But I found many other items equally interesting. For example, one small manuscript diary entitled “Notes of a Nile voyage by S. A. Clarke, 1873.” S. A. Clarke was James's older sister Sarah Anne, better known, it turns out, by the name she adopted later, Sarah Freeman Clarke (1808-1896). She was an accomplished artist, teacher, and philanthropist, and her Nile diary is that of a well-educated, well-traveled, late-Victorian American woman in an unfamiliar country.

Here's an excerpt from 22 Dec. 1873:

We left Alexandria at ten o’clock A.M. The way was of perpetual interest. The camels pleased us particularly, walking along the embankment. They walk with their long necks stretched out, and their heads well up. They are ugly, but most picturesque, and one never tires of watching their solemn stride. They carry wonderful burdens. Four or five large building stories bound together with ropes, on each side, and which must bruise them at every step, is a common burden. They are the most patient of laborers, and with their backs piled with burdens, and an Arab on the top of all they make a most sketchable mass.

And about two months later inside one of the temples at Karnak:

In the room next to that where is a portrait of Cleopatra, I unfold my easel to make a sketch of some Sphinx heads which lie there. The sun glares in at the door and the noise of the Arabs without is distracting. I close the door and the place is now lighted only from some holes in the roof. There is light enough for me, but if I move the dust rises in clouds. Is this the dust of the Ptolemaic or the Pharaonic dynasty? It is very choky. The flies are also tormenting. They are the direct descendants of the flies that Moses procured to plague Egypt. […] As I sit there working alone the spirit of the past comes over me with much power. I have never been so near the old Egyptians as at this moment. […] I get a Sepia sketch of this suggestive corner. There is no time for more. The door opens, the Arabs scream, my friends come to look me up and we must go on. But I have added something important to my gallery of memories, and also to my portfolio of sketches.


Sarah Freeman Clarke sailed the Nile in a dahabeah like this one (from the Perry-Clarke collection)

To learn more about James Freeman Clarke, Margaret Fuller, and the Clarke and Huidekoper families, see ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the MHS.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 3 April, 2014, 11:26 AM

"He cannot degrade her": Louisa Catherine Adams on Women’s Natural Equality

While Abigail Adams is often cast into the role of proto-feminist based on her famous "Remember the Ladies" letter to John Adams in March 1776, Louisa Catherine Adams also expressed strong feelings about the natural equality of women, particularly in regards to their intellectual capacity, which were grounded in her understanding of Scripture and Christianity.

In a letter to the abolitionist and women’s rights advocate Sarah Grimké in 1838, Louisa wrote:

When God breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of the creatures of his hand, that breath was an emanation of his own nature! I would modestly enquire how in the simple act of inspiring this vitality into the body of Eve, that unchanging and immutable principle, should take a different form in the spiritual existence of the two human beings, who we are told inhabited Paradise!!!

Ere these bodies received the vital inspiration, they were a mere transcript of death; and liable to corruption, but on the instant the divine inspiration was inhaled, these clods became animated in the perfection of human loveliness, so equal in mind, and in the joys of immortality, but the woman so exquisite in her beauty, that Man next to his God even then worshipped at her shrine! and we no where see an evidence of inferiority in the female; but only the sensitive tenderness of Adam, who in the excess of his love spared her from those toils to which he would not expose her beauty. . . .

The Bible repeatedly asserts, “that a virtuous Woman is above all price”; and this was the result of Solomons wisdom— and it was through the Medium of a Woman, in the emblematic purity of her innocence and loveliness, as this being above all price; that the Messiah came into the world to call Sinners to repentance, and to redeem our degenerate race from Sin and death—

Man may subvert woman for his own purposes. He cannot degrade her in the sight of God, so long as she acts up to those great duties, which her Nature and her Constitution enforce; and which enjoins the highest virtues that combine society, in the relations of daughter, Wife, and Mother: from whence originate all the great characteristics which enoble man from the Cradle to the tomb—

This topic would be a recurring one in Louisa’s writings, both in her diaries and letters, in the last twenty-years of her life, and perhaps inspired her to record her “Narrative of a Journey from Russia to France,” which she prefaced:

It may perhaps at some future day serve to recal the memory of one, who was—and show that many undertakings which appear very difficult and arduous to my Sex, are by no means so trying as imagination forever depicts them— And that energy and discretion, follow the necessity of their exertion, to protect the fancied weakness of feminine imbecility.

Louisa Catherine Adams diary

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 19 March, 2014, 1:00 AM

Postcards from Japan, 1916

During a peace mission in Japan in 1916, American physician Morton Prince sent many postcards to his wife who remained at their home on Beacon Street in Boston. While exploring the cities of Yokohama and Tokyo, the doctor wrote short explanatory notes about the scenes on the postcards. Here are two of the many cards in the Morton Prince papers which illustrate the natural beauty of Japan's landscape in stark contrast to the urban development of the Kanto metropolitan area in the early 20th century.

On 21 May 1916, an unidentified member of the peace mission entourage wrote to Mrs. Morton Prince with an update about her husband.

All goes
well. The
Dr. is very
well indeed.

The front image is a beautiful view of Mount Fuji, or as the Japanese call the mountain, Fuji-san, 富士山. Mount Fuji is located approximately 60 miles south-west of Tokyo and 75 miles west of Yokohama. Interestingly, this postcard bears the postal stamp of Yokohama rather than any of the surrounding towns near Mount Fuji.

Mt. Fuji

The delegation continued north-east toward Tokyo. This postcard bears the postal stamp of "Tokio" despite the scenery of Yokohama on the front. Recognized as Tokyo today, "Tokio" was the romanization of the Japanese city at the time.


On 24 May 1916, Morton Prince wrote to his wife about the view of Yokohama, 横浜市:

This is the way
the homes are
crowded in.
The outside of the
natives' homes are
rather squalid or
down at the heel
but inside clean
& neat

The peace mission was successful in engendering diplomacy and friendship. In 1918, Dr. Morton Prince received the Order of the Rising Sun medal for his efforts in Japanese-United States relations. The Order of the Rising Sun was a Japanese Imperial decoration bestowed upon individuals who had rendered distinguished service to the nation and people of Japan. While the MHS does not have Morton Prince's medal in its collections, it does have the medal awarded to William Sturgis Bigelow in 1928.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 28 February, 2014, 11:54 AM

Censorship During Wartime

The MHS recently acquired a small collection of Norma A. Krtil papers that includes nine World War II letters from Krtil’s boyfriend, 23-year-old Donald K. Kibbe of Westfield, Mass. Sgt. Kibbe was an American volunteer with the Royal Canadian Air Force serving in England. Unfortunately, some of his letters arrived in Westfield looking like this:

Kibbe letter 1 Kibbe letter 2

Now, I've seen a number of wartime letters with censorship marks or redacted passages, but this is definitely the most zealous censorship I've come across. Obviously these particular passages were (literally!) excised because they revealed Kibbe's location and information about specific equipment and missions. In fact, the R.A.F. censor enclosed this helpful note in one of the envelopes:

Kibbe letter - envelope note

The content of Kibbe's correspondence—what's left of it—is also interesting. For example, in his first letter after shipping out, he wrote to his girlfriend with disappointment:

Norma, I lost your pin. I ransacked the house for it the morning before leaving but it was such a small thing & the house is so big. They're going to send it to me if they find it. I feel terribly bad about it. I wanted something you wore and held in your hands and gave to me with your hands and I had it & then I lost it. But if I've lost the pin I’ll never lose the memory of you nor the memory of the words you said the night you gave it to me. Norma, just love me half as much as I love you.

Happily this wonderful passage remains intact. (By the way, Kibbe later found the pin and wore it "inside [his] pocket beneath the wings.") But Kibbe's story, like so many others, ended tragically. He was killed on 30 Sep. 1941 in a plane crash on the Yorkshire moors. He had been serving as second pilot on a bombing raid to Stettin, and the plane went down on its return flight. It was his first mission.

Of course, censorship of wartime letters was nothing new. Letters written by soldiers during World War I also had to be approved by censors, and it's not uncommon to see marks or stamps on them, like these on the letters of Alton A. Lawrence and William F. Wolohan, both from 1918:

Lawrence letter  Wolohan letter

But young men, far away from home, placed in frightening situations, and desperate to reach out to their families and friends, often balked at the restrictions. When he arrived in Europe with the American Expeditionary Forces, Wolohan complained:

All the fellows are asking each other what to write as this is about the first time their mail has been censored, and they are having a great time trying to send a decent letter. They have so much to say or would like to say and yet dont know just what they are allowed to write.

Pfc. Brooks Wright, a World War II cryptographer from Cambridge, Mass. serving in India in August 1943, told his family the story of a fellow serviceman's frustration with the censorship.

You will be amused to hear of a letter which Calahan sent home. In it he complained of censorship in no complimentary terms. Between the lines was written "He’s not far from wrong –Censor."

Wright himself didn't suffer much at the hands of the censors, though he did have the occasional phrase or passage cut from his letters à la Kibbe, usually when he was describing something specific about his location. Even a printed program for a concert he attended, enclosed with a letter, was redacted: "The […] Symphony Orchestra."

But Wright was fond of drawing and illustrated many of his letters with scenes from his environment, local architecture, etc. And while he was a careful letter-writer, his sketches revealed more. His botanical sketches were so detailed, in fact, that when his mother took them to Harvard's Gray Herbarium, the experts there were able to identify the species and pinpoint precisely where her son had been posted.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 19 February, 2014, 10:05 AM

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