Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch Diary, Post 21
The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.
Monday, May 11th 1863
I must leave to history the public events of this agitating time; but I have sadly to record that my dear pupil and friend, Frank A. Eliot, was killed in the recent battle at Chancellorsville, near Fredericksburg, Va. He was captain of the Phila [Braves?], - about 35 years of age, - brother of Dawes and William G. Eliot. We hope that an honorable end of this awful strife is near.
| Published: Saturday, 11 May, 2013, 8:00 AM
A Fair Trial for the Boston Massacre Soldiers
By Emilie Haertsch, Publications
In the aftermath of the tragic Boston Marathon bombings, the question remains of how to handle the trial of suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. There has been a public outcry for punishment, and it seems unlikely that the defense will be able to obtain an unbiased jury in a case as high profile as this. But this is not the first time that the desire for punishment has clashed with procedure in Boston’s legal history. On National Public Radio, Cokie Roberts rightly made the connection between this current case and the Boston Massacre trial of almost 250 years ago, when John Adams, in providing legal defense for the British soldiers involved in the Massacre, dealt with similar issues.
In 1768 the British Parliament stationed troops in Boston to protect customs commissioners, since they collected the unpopular taxes on imports and feared for their safety. Bostonians resented the presence of troops in their city and animosity grew between the locals and soldiers over the next year and a half. On March 5, 1770, tensions came to a head. A crowd gathered to harass the sentry posted outside the Custom House, and Capt. Thomas Preston and a small group of soldiers came to his aid. When the crowd refused to leave, the British soldiers fired on them. Three members of the crowd were killed instantly, and two later died from their wounds. The captain and his soldiers were placed in jail.
Following the Boston Massacre deaths, some Patriot leaders used propaganda to enflame feelings of rancor in Boston towards the British. Paul Revere created a famous engraving of the scene with uniformed British soldiers firing at close range into a crowd and a sign that read “Butcher’s Hall” hanging over the Custom House. Many Patriots hoped that the pressure of public opinion would lead to a murder conviction for the soldiers and aid the cause for independence.
The level of outrage in Boston made it very unlikely that the soldiers would get a fair trial. Government and judicial officials delayed the beginning of the trial in hopes that time would calm public opinion. Amidst this tumult, John Adams, Robert Auchmuty, Jr., and Josiah Quincy, Jr., were hired to defend the soldiers. The trial began on November 27, 1770.
The defense could not make the argument that the soldiers fired in self-defense without also hurting Boston’s reputation, so they tread carefully. In addition, since Capt. Preston was found to be not guilty, the soldiers could not claim they were following his orders when they fired. Adams opened his defense dramatically with a quotation from the Marquis Beccaria: “If I can but be the instrument of preserving one life, his blessing and tears of transport, shall be a sufficient consolation to me, for the contempt of all mankind.” He argued that because it was impossible to tell which soldiers fired the fatal shots, finding all of the soldiers guilty would inevitably lead to the wrongful conviction of some innocents.
On December 5, 1770, the jury delivered its verdict: six of the soldiers were found not guilty, and two were found guilty of manslaughter. None were convicted of murder. The soldiers who were convicted of manslaughter were branded on their right thumbs with the letter “M.”
The verdict quieted the mood in Boston and reflected well on the colonies internationally. Years later, Adams wrote in his diary that he believed a “Judgment of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Executions of the Quakers or Witches, anciently.”
The Society has in its collections several manuscripts related to the Boston Massacre; there is a good introduction to them here. Robert Treat Paine prosecuted the soldiers, and you can learn more about his papers here. You can also read more about Adams’s views on the Boston Massacre and trial in this previous post.
| Published: Wednesday, 8 May, 2013, 1:00 AM
Whist & Poetry in 19th Century Brookline
By Andrea Cronin, Reader Services
Of the many social club records held by the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Brookline Whist Club's records are unique. Established in early 1874, the Whist Club's members gathered to socialize with crackers, cheese, and sherry and to play whist. The club's record book curiously holds far more whimsy than winning records; it does not contain proceedings of the organization or lists of appointed officers, but rather a volume of poetry produced during the Saturday evening meetings.
The Brookline Whist Club record book contains many poems created by members of the club, including Thacher Loring, Robert S. Peabody, Moorfield Storey, and Charles Storrow. The poetry was most likely later recorded into the volume by a single unknown individual, but in most cases the individual poets are identified. Boston lawyer and financier Moses Williams recited this small poem as recorded into the volume.
A flight of fancy takes me,
the divine afflatus shakes me,
And I quiver with the thoughts of that thro me thrill,
As before my sight them passes,
Such a group of lads and lasses
That my song with sweetest memoirs of I would fill
For those readers wondering, "what is in the world is whist," whist is a 17th-century English card game closely related to bridge, which was hugely popular in the 19th century. Four people play in two partnered teams, using a 52-card deck. Each player is dealt 13 cards. The object of the game is to win tricks, which is accomplished by playing the highest value card of a particular suit in each round. According to a longtime member of the club, Edward Stanwood in Annals of the Brookline Whist Club, 1873-1907, his club played by the following rules:
Short whist is the game. Five points constitute a game. If more than eight members are present, the waiting member is taken in at the table at which a rubber is first finished, when the players "cut out," "the highest out." At the conclusion of the next rubber the newcomer stays and the other three cut out; then one of the two who have been longest playing retires; and finally the fourth man retires sua sponte. If ten members are present they retire from and enter the game by twos. Each member keeps an account of the number of games he has won and lost.
If you would like to read more poetry produced by the Brookline Whist Club, please visit the library to view the Brookline Whist Club record book. You can learn more about the club's background in Edward Stanwood’s Annals of the Brookline Whist Club, 1873-1907.
| Published: Tuesday, 7 May, 2013, 1:00 AM
This Week @ MHS
It is time again for the weekly forecast of events here at the MHS! There are three public programs on offer in the week to come and with spring finally settling into its normal routine, plenty of reasons to take a walk and visit 1154 Boylston.
First up, on Tuesday, 7 May, is the last in the Early American History Seminar series for the season. Sarah Bilder of Boston College Law School and Pauline Maier of MIT present "Madison's Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention." This seminar focuses on the most prominent remnants of the Convention in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787, Madison's Notes with his revisions, and ask what it means to take seriously that Madison's notes on the Convention are notes. Two hundred and twnty-five years after the writing, the use of changing technology allows a revisiting of the original manuscript to suggest that Madison revised his notes far more extensively than was previously understood, demonstrating that Madison's own understanding of the Convention, the Constitution, and his own role change dramatically betwee 1787 and the end of the 18th century. This seminar begins at 5:15pm and is free and open to the public. RSVP required. Subscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar paper. This is the last seminar at the MHS until the fall so come get your fix before the summer!
The following day, Wednesday, 8 May, come to attend the annual Jefferson lecture at the MHS. This year, Susan R. Stein of Monticello discusses "New Perspectives on Jefferson's Monticello: House, Landscape, and Family." This talk uses a wide lens to focus on recent restoration and interpretive efforts including Monticellos' work spaces beneath the house, public rooms, and upper floors, as well as the principal street of the plantation, Mulberry Row. Also included will be description of Monticello's free and enslaved communities. Ms. Stein is the Richard Gilder Senior Curator and Vice President for Museum Programs. Registration is required for this public program at no cost. Please RSVP. Pre-Talk Reception at 5:30pm, program starts at 6:00pm. Contact the education department at email@example.com for more informaiton or to reserve a spot.
And on Saturday, 11 May, after a few weeks off, our public tour resumes. "The History and Collections of the MHS" is a tour of the Society's public rooms that touches on the history and collections of the MHS, including some of the art and architecture on view in the public spaces. Tours are led by an MHS staff member or docent and last about 90 minutes. Tour begins in the lobby at 10:00am and is free and open to the public. No reservation is required for individuals or small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact the MHS prior to attending a tour. For more information please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, the three current exhibitions on view are available six days a week, Monday-Saturday, 10:00am - 4:00pm. These exhibits are only around for three more weeks so be sure to get a glimpse before they go!
| Published: Monday, 6 May, 2013, 1:00 AM
Advertising in America
By Dan Hinchen, Reader Services
If you are someone who regularly reads Boston newspapers, then you probably have noticed a few advertisements within the pages. In fact, on a given day you might find several pages worth of advertisements in a single issue. And then there is the Sunday edition which comes with an entire section composed solely of ads. Occasionally, these can be useful to inform about upcoming events, special deals at a department store, or penny-saving coupons at the grocery story. More often, though, they can seem a bit of a nuisance and waste of material, taking up space and distracting from the articles.
But did you know that the first time a paid advertisement appeared in an American newspaper it happened here in Boston?
By the start of the 18th century, the New England colonies were thriving and the population was steadily increasing along with its wealth, enterprise, and intelligence. Even foreign countries began to look at Massachusetts with interest, and colonists desired acquaintance with affairs in England, Europe, and the other colonies in British America. “Such increase of population and trade must naturally call for a publication, of the common character of newspapers.”[i]
The Boston News-Letter, the first regularly published newspaper in the British Colonies of North America, began publication on 17 April 1704. This newspaper was “published by authority” and featured all of the latest news from London, though with the time it took to cross the Atlantic, there was usually a delay of three months or so. At the very end of the inaugural issue, publisher John Campbell included a short paragraph announcing that any person could insert a small notice at a “reasonable rate.”
It was only two weeks later in issue number three, dated 1 May – 8 May 1704, 309 years ago this week that the first three paid advertisements appeared. The ads called for the recovery of stolen goods, information about lost anvils, and even information about real estate available on Long Island, New York.
While these ads appear to be regarding fairly mundane matters, readers only had to wait a couple of weeks for this new “social media” to get more interesting. In issue number five, 15 May-22 May 1704, readers looking for adventure got their opportunity.
Sadly, only two weeks later, one would also see two ads that, by today’s standards, are a bit more insidious. In issue number eight, we are reminded that Massachusetts was not always a cradle of liberty and that people were property.
What do you think today's advertisements will look like to researchers in 300 years? Maybe they will wonder how we ever got by driving automobiles relying on fossil fuels or how we kept time with something as simple as a Cartier watch. Will they look at personal ads as a definition of human interaction in our time?
To see more examples of the early days of advertising in American newspapers, consult our online catalog, ABIGAIL, or visit the library at the MHS to see what other early Massachusetts newspaper titles we have in our collections!
[i] Bradford, Alden, History of Massachusetts, for two hundred years: from the year 1620 to 1820, Boston: Hilliard, Gray, 1835.
| Published: Saturday, 4 May, 2013, 8:21 AM