The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Descriptions of Eclipses: "Every body was looking and little was done"

On Monday, 21 August 2017, a solar eclipse will occur!  Many people in Boston are looking forward to 2:46 pm when they will (weather permitting!) experience what  it is like when the sun is about 60% eclipsed.

Staff of the MHS have located a few items that convey descriptions of other solar eclipses.  Please enjoy this sampler (arranged in reverse chronological order):



A description and illustration of the eclipse that was visible 29 July 1878 from Snake River Pass, Colorado appeared in Harper's Weekly.

At 3 hours 12 minutes 0 seconds the great orb looked only like the newest of new moons, and the wonderful light over all the grand landscape was not of sunlight, or moonlight, or starlight, or twilight, and an adequate description, beyond stating the tint as a peculiar lilac, is impossible.

During  totality the sharp breeze sweeping over the elevated ridges became so intensely cold that we actually suffered, and the re-appearance of the sun was hailed with pleasure.1

"The Great Solar Eclipse."  Engraving from Harper's Weekly, 24 August 1878. Vol. XXII, Number 1130, page 673.


Charles Francis Adams wrote about the eclipse he witnessed in Boston on 12 February 1831.

But as there must always be something or other to distract my attention, so today it was taken off by the eclipse of the Sun which took place about noon.  I spent some time in observing this phenomenon. The Sun was not entirely darkened as the eclipse was not total, consequently the light was but partially affected. The cold however was considerable, and the temperature did not recover it throughout the day. The sight is a splendid one…. Every body was looking and little was done. The appearance of the Streets was certainly curious. Men, Women and Boys all gazing at a spectacle the nature of which there were not many to comprehend.2



John Davis (1761-1847) describes the total solar eclipse that happened on 27 October 1780.  Davis was part of an expedition led by Samuel Williams that was so motivated to observe the eclipse they traveled to a part of Maine that was under the control of the British army.  Only a fragment of his Davis's diary survives.

Five of the company were furnished with telescopes for observation.  A few minutes before 11, we sit down to the instruments.  The seconds are counted & the minutes pronounced as they advanced….All [was]…expectation and suspense--the initial moment at length arrives, & soon after 11, the shadow is observed to touch the western limb of the sun.  The several phases of the eclipse as they appeared to the different observers were carefully noted…

The eclipse was nearly total. Objects cast no perceptible shadow. Venus appeared bright in the west.3




The eclipse of 5 August 1766 is described in a newspaper.  A Boston newspaper published on 11 August 1766 includes a short piece about the eclipse. As was common at the time, newspapers would republish news from other locations, and the heading on the piece about the eclipse is: "Portsmouth. August, 8."

Last Tuesday being fair Weather and very Hot we had a distinct View of the remarkable ECLIPSE of the SUN--At the Time of greatest Observation, it appeared larger than is represented in the Almanack--the Air was considerably darkned, so that some who did not know of the Eclipse, were surprised.4


1. "The Great Solar Eclipse," by St. George Stanley.  Harper's Weekly, 24 August 1878. Vol. XXII, Number 1130, page 675. 

2. From Charles Francis Adams diary, 12 February 1831.  The transcribed entry is available online as part of the Adams Papers Digital Editions:

3. From John Davis diary, 1780. From the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

4. From: The Boston Gazette, and Country Journal, 11 August 1766 supplement.  Online version is available within The Annotated Newspapers of Harbottle Dorr, Jr.:  (see column 1)



comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 20 August, 2017, 12:00 AM

Gertrude Codman Carter’s Diary, August 1917

Today we return to the 1917 diary of Gertrude Codman Carter. You may read the previous entries here:


Introduction | January | February | March | April | May

June | July


Gertrude spends the month of August preparing to move her family -- son John, husband Gilbert (“G.” in the diary), and the family servants -- to Ilaro Court, the mansion she designed and oversaw the construction of that today serves as the official residence of the Prime Minister of Barbados. 

On August 8th Sir Gilbert departs Barbados for the neighboring island of Trinidad, taking with him one of the household servants, Wickham to serve as his valet and necessitating the temporary loan of a young man, Cyril Toppin, from the Law family residence to serve as under butler in Wickham’s absence. The sixty-nine year old Sir Gilbert was, it seems, more interested in being spared the fuss of moving than he was in assisting his younger wife (twenty-seven years his junior) with the logistics of household relocation.

Gertrude, who seems used to daily life on her own, carries on with her social life, her work, and her volunteer commitments even as she travels to Ilaro on a regular basis to unpack, supervise final construction -- “So now the thing is to rush along & get the top story done -- anyway the windows and side of it”! It is perhaps with pride and relief that she can sit down and report on the final day of August that “all our trunks went up to Ilaro today.” They would be able to begin the month of September in their new home.

* * *

Aug 1.

Ilaro, unpacking boxes.

1pm Improvement Society.

Ilaro again.


Aug 2.


Women's Self Help.

Civic Circle here at [Charleston?]

G. paid calls.


Aug 3.

Theater meeting.

Took John [to] band at the rocks.


Aug 4.

[Illegible] in the garden. [Showering?].


Aug 5.

Hurricane Sunday. All to church.

Wet p.m.

Dined at B[illegible]. Majors [illegible]. Delightful evening with new victrola "Chant des Belges!"


Aug 6.

Mrs. Law sent a boy to me for an under butler -- someone must act for Wickham. G. is going away while we move in & taking Wickham as valet. This seemed a very young little person but his mother is the Laws waitress & he is a boy scout. Name Cyril Toppin.

Mr. Eustace came to lunch & discussed theater.

Colm Davies came to tea & Mr. Fell.


Aug 7.

Plans finished -- at least they should have been but I found I had more work on them than I expected.

I called at Government House. Out.

Sunset at "Chan Chan" 's as Baby Manning calls Charlie Sealys.


Aug 8.

G. left today with Wickham for Trinidad to stay with Sir Norman Lamont & then to go to Tobago with him. He said he did not intend to return until we were settled. So now the thing is to rush along & get the top story done -- anyway the windows and side of it.


...who had for the first time in history conceived a dinner party for the Bishop of [Devonshire?] who proved to be a most interesting man. Mr. Fell & [illegible] were there and the chairs & glass were lovely & old & the [illegible] dinner very good. The Claret too was irreproachable. I went & returned with Mr. Fell in his [illegible].


Wednesday 22nd & Thursday 28th

But today I spent at Ilaro & found its upper [illegible] rooms a solace & a place to think. I began to realize that not only was [illegible] gone but that in all probability I would never see Basil Blackwood again. I tried to imagine England & especially London without them & I felt I never wanted to see it again. How good they had both been to me & I must try to be thankful for the past.


Aug 24. 

To [illegible] party at the Ashtons -- only eight of us, very nice. Her baby is such a darling, so friendly. I walked there & back. Oh how hot it was!


Aug 25.

Car came back but not itself quite. To Ilaro in the morning.


Aug 26.

To Mrs. Manning’s.

Mr. Fell came in late.


Aug 27

Took Small up to Ilaro to rub horses. Clarissa & Sarah are serving there.

To Self Help with Mrs. Carlin; planning alternations.


Aug 28.

John to dentist.

Laddie drove me to Spikestown & back a [illegible] dreary time.


Aug 29.

Again to Spikestown to a [illegible] meeting with Mr. Leslie & Lady Probyn & Mrs. Luce. A shower arose & got up to put my parasol over Lady Probyn; when it exploded & left only ribs we got quite merry over it. Also over Mr [illegible] who proposed “a [illegible] heart of thanks to H. E. the Governor.”


Aug 30.

[Torn paper] party at the Cove. L. drove me out. The Charlie Sealys & Clarence Hayes, Mr. & Mrs. Carpenter, Frank Austin & a nephew. We had tea at the Clarence Hayes’ first & quite fun. Clarence Hayes & I sat on the Cove beach & pretended to have a desperate flirtation to the [illegible] of Mrs. Carpenter above.


Aug 31.

To Charlie Sealys for [illegible].


All our trunks went up to Ilaro today.


* * *

As always, if you are interested in viewing the diary or letters yourself, 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.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 18 August, 2017, 3:55 PM

Politics of the Plate: Food Propaganda from the World Wars

In the summer of 2017, the Center for the Teaching of History at the MHS offered several professional development workshops for educators, including a program on World War I, and a three-day event that explored food in American history. While researching primary sources to share with teachers, intern Adam Berk, a student at Roxbury Latin School, discovered some fascinating items in the Society’s collection.


I was going through the MHS database, looking for potential resources for teacher workshops when I came across something that caught my eye:


This is a propaganda poster from World War I illustrated by Paul Stahr (1883-1953). As was discussed in several teacher workshops this summer, the influx of propaganda posters in America during the Great War played a very significant role in galvanizing the American people to serve their country, either by enlisting in the military or by embracing methods of service at home. Perhaps the most popular and accessible method was the movement to conserve food, especially anything consisting of wheat or meat.

Amongst all the propaganda posters from World War I that I saw, the above Stahr poster immediately piqued my interest, because to me, it is extremely reminiscent of this famous poster:


The “I Want You” poster is an iconic poster in American history. It was painted in 1917 by James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960), one of the most successful artists of the time. The message behind the Flagg poster is a simple one: like so many other propaganda posters, it instructs Americans to join the army in order to serve their country. This poster enjoyed immense success and popularity, not because of the content of its message, but because of the unique and memorable way the message was conveyed. In my opinion, the direct and personal nature of this poster is what made it so popular. The pointed finger and the emboldened “YOU” must have struck a chord with many Americans.

I immediately saw a connection between these two posters because they both employ the same method of communicating their messages: both are directed right at the viewer. Just as Flagg’s Uncle Sam orders his audience to enlist in the army, the woman in Stahr’s poster is imploring her audience to conserve as much food as possible. Such a visible connection between these two posters could represent the incredible importance of food in the time of World War I.

One poster is a call to arms, and the other is a call to conserve. The posters use the same image of outstretched arms to convey two very different messages, and at first glance, the latter may not appear to hold the same gravity as the former.

But the U.S. desperately needed the support and loyalty of its citizens; countless lives of soldiers literally depended on the food conservation effort back home. Indeed, just as the United States entered World War I, the U.S. Food Administration was created, with future president Herbert Hoover in charge. Hoover’s task was to oversee the conservation of important foods, like wheats and meats. Besides frugality with groceries and consumption, Hoover also encouraged alternative diets, consisting mostly of food like fruits, vegetables, and eggs. Hoover never implemented a mandatory rationing system, instead depending on the conscience, morality, and voluntarism of the American people. Despite the strictly voluntary nature of the program, “food shipments to Europe were doubled within a year, while consumption in America was reduced 15 percent.” (Schumm) The positive results of Hoover’s program are a victory of American patriotism, compassion, and teamwork in an extremely difficult time.

The Stahr poster represents the important role that the American civilians played in the war: saving food at home meant saving lives on the front; food was of as much importance as guns. Flagg’s “I Want You” poster was iconic, and it is still famous today. But Stahr’s poster is a quiet reminder that food was crucial to World War I, and that without begging with outstretched arms, the outcome of the war might have been different.



Schumm, Laura. “Food Rationing in Wartime America.”, A&E Television Networks, 23 May 2014,

John Allen, “The Food Administration of Herbert Hoover and American Voluntarism in the First World War,” Germina Veris, 1/1 (2014). Available at



comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 17 August, 2017, 2:18 PM

A Revolutionary Reunion: Lafayette and John Adams

On August 15, 1824, the General Marquis de Lafayette, one of the great heroes of the American Revolution, returned to the United States for the first time in forty years, kicking off a nearly thirteen-month tour of the entire country. After Lafayette’s arrival in Massachusetts, John Adams greeted him via his grandsons on August 22, “There is not a man in America who more sincerely rejoices in your happiness and in the burst of joy which your presence has diffused through this whole continent than myself.” “I would wait upon you in person,” Adams lamented, “but the total decrepitude and imbecility of eighty nine years has rendered it impossible for me to ride even so far as Governor [William] Eustis’s to enjoy that happiness.” He instead requested that Lafayette spend a day with him in Quincy. Lafayette in turn noted his regret that he had not been able to go straight to Quincy “on [his] Arrival at this Beloved place . . . and Embrace You.”

John’s grandson Charles Francis Adams was present for the meeting of the old revolutionaries in Quincy on August 29 and recorded his impressions in his Diary:

The Marquis met my Grandfather with pleasure and I thought with some surprise, because really, I do not think he expected to see him quite so feeble as he is. It struck me that he was affected somewhat in that manner. Otherwise the meeting was a pleasant one. Grandfather exerted himself more than usual and, as to conversation, appeared exactly as he ever has. I think he is rather more striking now than ever, certainly more agreable, as his asperity of temper is worn away. . . . How many people in this country would have been delighted with my situation at this moment, to see three distinguished men dining at the same table, with the reflections all brought up concerning the old days of the revolution, in which they were conspicuous actors and for their exertions in which, the country is grateful! It is a subject which can excite much thought as it embraces the high feelings of human nature. . . . My grandfather appeared considerably affected and soon rose after dinner was over.

A few weeks after their reunion Lafayette thanked Adams for the visit: “I Have Been Very Happy to See You, and altho’ I Regretted The shortness of My Visit . . . I Have Cordially Enjoy’d, More indeed than I Can Express it, the pleasure to Embrace My old Respected friend and Revolutionary Companion.” A French brass and marble mantle clock that Lafayette gifted to his old friend in honor of this visit now sits in the office of the Editor in Chief of the Adams Papers Editorial Project at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Monday, 14 August, 2017, 8:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

The only things on the calendar for the week ahead are a full teacher workshop and a free tour:

- Wednesday, 9 August, 9:00AM : Participants in "Food in American History" - a three-day workshop, August 9-11 - will taste their way throguh 400 years of American history while discussing ways to share this (mostly) delicious past with students. Offsite sessions will provide opportunities to consider Boston's contributions to American cuisine and dining habits. This workshop is FULL. Please contact the Center for the Teaching of History at MHS for more information: or call 617-646-0570.

- Saturday, 12 August, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, 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

While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition: The Irish Atlantic: A Story of Famine Migration and Opportunity.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 6 August, 2017, 12:00 AM

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