The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

The Mysteries of the Elisha W. Smith Jr. Logbook, 1853-1857: Part I

Several questions burn brightly in my mind when I look through the Elisha W. Smith Jr. logbook,1853-1857. If curiosity is a wildfire, this particular logbook sets me aflame in that it contains not one but two ship logs and a scrapbook. Elisha W. Smith Jr., son of Elisha W. Smith and Ruth A. Smith of Wellfleet, Mass., served as a mariner and log keeper for the schooner Flying Dragon in 1853 and the schooner William Freeman in 1857. While these voyages are by no means uninteresting, the myriad mysteries surrounding the physical logbook and its various chroniclers captivate my attention. I will unveil three mysteries I uncovered within this logbook in a series of blog posts.

Inside cover of the Elisha W. Smith Jr. Logbook, 1853-1857

The inside cover of the logbook resembles a communal notebook. The cover contains not only the book plates of the MHS General Fund dated 21 July 1919 but also the book plate of nautical stationer Frederick W. Lincoln Jr. There are several penciled accounting notes as well one fading inked note, but more interesting to me is this message in the top right corner written by a distinctly different hand: “Log book of the Flying Dragon kept by Elisha W. Smith Jr of Wellfleet, Mass. See Aug 11, 1853”.

Immediately I questioned the “see” note. What was important about this particular date in the logbook of the schooner Flying Dragon? The voyage of the Flying Dragon from Boston to San Francisco commenced on 22 July 1853. The log does not, however, confirm that the schooner found safe harbor in San Francisco. The last entry dated 29 September 1853 describes a “Hurricane” during the passage around Cape Horn. The log entry of 11 August 1853 reads:

Commences with light
winds & clear weather
2 P.M. tacked to the East-
ward 6 P.M. furled main
skysail 11 P.M. furled
Royals.
----------------------------------------

12 might tight
baffling winds, with
heavy rain squalls.
----------------------------------------

7 A.M. made all sail
This day ends with light
winds & cloudy weather
All draging sail set
by the wind
No Observation.
Elisha W. Smith jr

A brief glance through the pages of the log confirmed that this entry contains the first date on which the log keeper signed his name. The note on the inside cover refers to this entry by date as proof that the log belongs to Elisha W. Smith Jr. The mystery of the cover note is solved!

However, I wonder who wrote this particular note. Did a member of the succeeding Smith family write it? Was it inscribed on the logbook by an MHS staff member in 1919? The logbook holds such a curious mix of ship logs, sketches, printed poems, engravings, and literary clippings. Here is a sketch of a ship on the back inside cover. In the next post in this series, I will discuss these sketches, poems, engravings, and literary clippings included within the log. Stay tuned!

Back cover of the Elisha W. Smith Jr. Logbook, 1853-1857

 


 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Monday, 18 August, 2014, 1:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

And here we are again for the weekly round-up of events to come. Keeping with the pattern established in previous weeks, we have two Brown Bag lunch talks on offer this week, as well as a free tour. 

First up, on Monday, 18 August, drop by the Society at noon for "Operating Outside of Empire: Trade and Citizenship in the Atlantic World, 1756-1812." In this Brown Bag talk, Mark Dragoni of Syracuse University talks about his examination of merchants operating at the edge of empire and the competing discourses on trade, cosmopolitanism, and neutrality that statesmen, philosophers, and merchants mobilized. Specifically, this project looks at the participation of Samuel Cabot and John & Jonathan Amory in an often illicit, yet highly profitable transatlantic trade during the foundational period for modern citizenship and increasing state regulation. This talk is free and open to the public.

Then, on Friday, 22 August, come in again at noon for "Ten Years of Winter: The Cold Decade and Environmental Consciousness in the Early 19th Century." Come listen as Sean Munger, University of Oregon, discusses his research which attempts to understand ohow people in the English-speaking world understood and evaluated anomolies in global weather ad climate, and what their reactions tell us about the state of scientifid thinking, environmental consciousness, and how their worlds - both global and local - were constructed. This Brown Bag talk is free and open to the public. 

On Saturday, 23 August, stop by the Society for a free tour, The History and Collections of the MHS. This 90-minute docent-led tour explores all of the public spaces in the Society's home at 1154 Boylston Street, touching on the art, architecture, history, and collections of the MHS. The tour begins at 10:00AM and is free and open to the public. No reservations necessary for individuals or small groups. For parties of eight or more, please contact the MHS in advance. For more information, please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or abentley@masshist.org

Finally, remember to come by and see our current exhibition "Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in World War I." Exhibit is on display Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM, free of charge. 

*Please note that the Society is closed 30 August - 1 September in observance of Labor Day.*

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 17 August, 2014, 12:00 PM

Indiana Limestone? At the MHS?

Some mornings, before researchers (and much of the staff) arrive at the MHS, I enjoy sitting out front with a cup of coffee and a book. It’s a good way to keep up on whatever I am reading and to cool down after my morning bicycle commute. A few weeks ago, as I approached my perch, I noticed a letter B located on one of the large stone blocks circling the base of the building. The letter is circled and is raised as if in bas relief. Even though I am now well into my third year of work at the MHS this little feature is something that I never noticed. Carve me intrigued! Sorry, that was a (bad) quarrying joke.

To find out more about this little letter, I first spoke with the MHS’ operations manager to see what he knew. As I learned, a mark such as this is sometimes used to indicate the quarry from which the stone was cut. Next, I went into the MHS’ institutional archives to see what records the Society holds regarding the construction of the building in the late 1890s. As I read through copies of contracts and building specifications, I came across a couple paragraphs about the foundation and stonework. I read mentions of Milton granite, Rockport granite, and Amherst stone. I assumed that the marked block in question must be one of these types of local stone. But in talking with our building manager again, I learned the block was limestone.

So, back to the records I went and, sure enough, what I missed on my first read-through was the statement “All stone-work so indicated on drawings to be of first quality Indiana limestone...all to be hand-tooled…” I took to the mighty Google machine to see what I could find about Indiana limestone quarries and was not disappointed to find several listed that are still operating. But the most potentially useful tidbit came from the Wikipedia entry on the stone which referred to it as Bedford limestone because it is primarily quarried in a section of Indiana that sits between the towns of Bloomington and Bedford.

Is that what the mysterious “B” stands for? I feel like I am almost at the answer but I still want confirmation. I called the Indiana Limestone Institute of America and the Lawrence County Museum of History to see if anyone could help me out. So far, I stumped the gentlemen I spoke with at each institution but I am hopeful that I will get an answer soon. Stay tuned to find out more! 

 

comments: 3 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 13 August, 2014, 8:03 AM

This Week @ MHS

There is rain on the horizon as we start this week at the MHS. Why not duck into the Society to get out of the rain and take part in some of our public programs?

On Wednesday of this week, 13 August, we have a Brown Bag lunch talk beginning at noon. This time around, Serena Zabin of Carleton College presents "Military Wives in Eighteenth-Century Boston." When British troops came to Boston in 1768, hundreds of army wives and children came with them. At the time, Boston newspapers exclaimed in horror at the arrival of these army women, referring to them as the “dregs and refuse of all nations.” Yet tantalizing hints in the diaries of Massachusetts militia and provincial soldiers suggest that during the campaigns in 1745 to Louisburg and throughout the Seven Years War, women may have occasionally also accompanied Massachusetts troops. If so, some Boston women may themselves have once been military wives, a possibility that no historian has ever considered, and one that might explain some of the relationships that came to develop between British regulars and Boston civilians in the months preceding the Boston Massacre. This talk is free and open to the public.

And on Friday there is another Brown Bag talk, again at noon. Bring a lunch and listen to Brenton Grom of Case Western Reserve University as he discusses "The Death and Transfiguration of New England Psalmody, ca.1790-1860." The robust culture of psalm- and hymn-singing that flourished in Revolutionary New England became subject to Europeanizing reforms after the turn of the nineteenth century. Introducing these reform efforts as instances of political and theological ideology operating within a larger discourse of refinement, this presentation focuses on their surprisingly variable reception as revealed in copybooks and marginalia. It furthermore considers Victorian values of home, sentiment, and historical memory as masks for the retention of outmoded musical styles in later years.

Also going on this week is the third in a series of two-day teacher workshops, this time taking place in Falmouth, Mass. on Wednesday and Thursday, 13-14 August. Learn more about "Old Towns/New Country: The First Years of a New Nation" on our website, including information about the final session which will take place in Framingham, Mass. on 26-27 September.

Finally, do not forget about our ongoing exhibition, "Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in World War I," on view Monday-Saturday, 10:00AM-4:00PM. And come in for "The History and Collections of the MHS," a free tour of the Society's building on Saturday, 16 August. 

 

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Monday, 11 August, 2014, 12:00 AM

The MHS as Time Machine

In my work as a manuscript processor here at the MHS, I often come across the diaries or letters of a person I wish I could meet face to face. It’s rarely the well-known movers and shakers of history, just someone with a unique and interesting voice. I’ve introduced you to some of these people (Eliza Cheever Davis & Moses Hill) in previous posts, but my latest discovery is Jacob Newman Knapp (1773-1868), teacher and occasional preacher of Walpole, N.H. I wrote about Jacob before, but I hope you’ll indulge me if I quote from him again. Here he is in a letter to his son Francis on 21 May 1850 (from the Knapp family correspondence):

We are all well and active. When I say active I speak more particularly for others, than for myself. My days of activity have either gone by, or not yet arrived….Well, it is said that it takes a variety to constitute a world! There is certainly a good variety of characters in the world. Life is undoubtedly a serious trust and must be seriously accounted for; but there is so much of the ludicrous, of the absurd extravagant and incomprehensible in the human character, that I feel inclined to cry and to laugh at the same time. What a display, at different times, in the same person, of saint and sinner, of philosopher and fool, of man and monkey, a perpetual, practical antithesis, a combination in one person of the two sons of Leda, mortal and immortal by turns.

His wit, eloquence, and philosophical attitude endeared Jacob to me immediately. Not to mention his obvious affection for his family:

We [Jacob and his wife Louisa (Bellows) Knapp] have many topics of interest for conversation; one never tiring, never exhausted subject is our sons. We follow them every where, and when facts are unknown, we reason upon the probable and the improbable, the possible and the impossible, and at times free the imagination from its cage of logic, and let it fly at large, at liberty to light anywhere, and to sing its wildest notes. We have no dull hours. We have occasionally some silent hours, but no vacant ones, for they are crowded full of reminiscences or compendiums and abstracts of future developments.

Jacob lived to be almost 95 years old. He was born 7 Nov. 1773 and died 27 July 1868. Imagine, a man born a few weeks before the Boston Tea Party, old enough to remember events of the Revolutionary War (he was almost 10 when the Treaty of Paris was signed), who lived to see the end of the Civil War and the ratification of the 14th Amendment! No wonder his letters are full of so much wisdom. How fascinating he would be to talk to.

There’s only so much we can know about the people of the past from the writings they leave behind, but it’s hard not to feel that I have, in a way, “met” Jacob.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 6 August, 2014, 1:00 AM

older posts