James Mease and American Sericulture
By Andrea Cronin, Reader Services
“We are striving to promote the Culture of Silk,” wrote Dr. James Mease of Philadelphia to Colonel Timothy Pickering of Salem on 13 November 1826. The wealthy physician dabbled in various interests outside of medicine including geology, agriculture, local history, and something called sericulture.
Sericulture, or silk farming, is the breeding of silkworms for the production of silk. In short, silkworms require white mulberry leaves or osage orange leaves to create liquid silk. These caterpillars then spin the liquid silk into cocoons, using the sticky protein sericin to glue each strand together. The cocoons are collected and boiled before the pupas develop and emerge as silk moths. The silk threads of the emptied cocoons disband as the sericin dissolves in hot water. This “raw silk” is then reeled and woven into the cloth. Sounds easy, right?
Silkworm breeding is exhaustively needy at best and disease-ridden at worst. An adult silk moth cannot eat, drink, or fly. The sole purpose of its existence is to mate (which it relies entirely on human intervention to achieve) and produce the next generation. At odds with the laborious milieu of sericulture, Dr. James Mease remarked in the 13 November 1826 letter:
[We] find that the there is no difficulty in breeding the worms – we have abundance of red or native mulberry trees and also the white sort. I imported an ounce of eggs from Genoa last spring and gave them to three persons, who had very great success with them. The Cocoons were twice the size of those produced from Egg previously here.
With mulberry trees aplenty, Dr. James Mease’s associates and other American silk farmers eagerly produced raw silk throughout the early 19th century.
| Published: Friday, 15 November, 2013, 1:00 AM
Adams, King, and Jack McCoy
By Amanda A. Mathews, Adams Papers
In the forthcoming Papers of John Adams, Volume 17, Massachusetts representative to the Continental Congress and future minister to Great Britain, Rufus King, pens his first letter to the sitting minister to Great Britain, John Adams, in November 1785, describing himself as a “stranger.” While it was true that the two had not met, Adams had represented King’s father, the Tory-learning Richard King, a dozen years earlier.
In March 1766, a mob of self-described “Suns of liburty” broke into King’s home and store, terrifying his family, breaking windows and burning papers in his desk. Although threatening retaliation for legal action, King pursued a civil action against the group. When he did not find the awarded damages satisfactory, he appealed, and it was at this point that Adams joined as counsel.
This trial, Richard King v. John Stewart et al., is a poignant reminder that before Adams was a Founding Father, he was a talented attorney. This case, perhaps even more than the Boston Massacre trials, reveals that Adams neither allowed his personal political sympathies to cloud his legal judgment nor to determine which cases he would undertake. Moreover, Adams did not simply recite dry legal precedents, but tied the law to strong emotionally driven images to encourage the jury to connect with his client, as this Jack McCoy styled closing argument demonstrates:
Be pleased then to imagine yourselves each one for himself—in bed with his pregnant Wife, in the dead of Midnight, five Children also asleep, and all the servants. . . . The Doors and Windows all barrd, bolted and locked—all asleep, suspecting nothing, harbouring no Malice, Envy or Revenge in your own Bosoms nor dreaming of any in your Neighbours. . . .
All of a sudden, in an Instant, in a twinkling of an Eye, an armed Banditti of Felons, Thieves, Robbers, and Burglars, rush upon the House. Like Savages from the Wilderness, or like Legions from the Blackness of Darkness, they yell and Houl, they dash in all the Windows and enter. Enterd they Roar, they stamp, they Yell, they houl, they cutt break tear and burn all before them.
Do you see a tender and affectionate Husband, an amiable deserving Wife near her Time, 3 young Children, all in one Chamber, awakened all at once, ignorant what was the Cause, terrifyd, inquisitive to know it. The Husband attempting to run down stairs, his Wife, laying hold of his Arm, to stay him and sinking fainting dying away in his Arms. The Children crying and clinging round their Parents—father will they kill me—father save me! . . .
It’s of great Importance to the Community that sufficient that exemplary Damages should be given in such Cases. King might have kill’d em all. If a Man has Humanity enough, to refrain, he ought to be fully compensated.
One of the children home that night was then eleven-year-old Rufus King. Nearly two decades later, he had grown to reject his father’s loyalism, become a staunch patriot and later Federalist, and initiate a correspondence with John Adams that led to a friendship with two generations of the Adams family.
| Published: Wednesday, 13 November, 2013, 1:00 AM
Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Post 27
The following excerpt is from the diary of Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch.
Sunday, Nov. 8th
Of military affairs, the rumor is now, - said to be confirmed to-day, - of the taking of Fort Sumter by our forces. We hear of late sad accounts of the treatment of Union prisoners by the rebels, - their suffering from want of food, etc. Their own destitution may partly extenuate this wrong. God grant the end be soon, & the victory of Union & freedom!
Sunday, November 15th
The rumor mentioned in my last entry [the recapturing of Fort Sumter] was not corroborated; but successive advantages give good hope for the cause of Union and Freedom. We lament meanwhile, for the sufferings of our brave men, prisoners in Richmond, said to be almost starved. A plot has been revealed through the British authorities, formed by refugees in Canada, for attacks on our lake cities etc.
Monday Nov. 23d 1863
Last week occurred the Dedication of the Battle Cemetery at Gettysburg. An oration by Mr. Everett, & some noble words from President Lincoln.
Sunday Nov. 28th
Of public events, I must name with solemn gratitude the victory granted to the union arms near Chattanooga & Lookout Mountain. Hope is again encouraged that the end of this awful strife is near.
| Published: Friday, 8 November, 2013, 1:00 AM
Fur Trade in the Dorr Family Papers, Part II
By Andrea Cronin, Reader Services
“We desire you to embrace the first favourable Wind and weather and proceed to … any other ports places or Islands where you may think it likely to find seal plenty,” wrote the Boston fur merchants Ebenezer Dorr, Ebenezer Jr. Dorr, Joseph Dorr, and John Dorr to the captain of their snow Pacific Trader, Samuel Edes, on 11 September 1799. The four-page letter details the responsibilities expected of Captain Samuel Edes during his voyage, including those expectations of the crew to capture and skin any available seal for profit.
The letter stipulates instructions on the preservation of seal hides.
...on your arrival at a suitable place for sealing you will immediately secure your vessel and set your people to work killing seal and preserving their hides either by drying or Pickling as the weather will permit, always remembering, that to have them well dried is our wish in Preference to Salting or Pickling.
This preference for dried hides over pickled ones benefited the merchants twofold. Dried pelts were more stable to transport aboard a sailing vessel because pickled ones were subject to putrefaction and other means of deterioration. Dried pelts additionally yielded higher profits than pickled pelts in Canton. If the process of pickling a seal skin seems curious, it may be interesting to know that pickling (preservation of perishables in brine or vinegar) is often part of the tanning process (the conversion of animal skin to leather by use of tannic acid or other chemicals) . The Dorr merchants informed the captain of their preservation preferences to achieve higher profit in market.
| Published: Wednesday, 6 November, 2013, 8:00 AM
Anti-Suffrage Activists Gossip about Emily Balch
By Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, Reader Services
In 1917 Margaret C. Robinson picked up her pen and wrote a note to her friend and fellow anti-suffrage activist Mary Bowditch Forbes. In addition to passing along a pro-suffrage newspaper column a friend had forwarded from Utica, New York, and apprising Mary Forbes about her high hopes for the latest issue of her Anti-Suffrage Notes newsletter, Margaret Robinson gleefully offered up a juicy piece of political gossip:
Emily Balch asked [Henry] Ford to pay her expenses for a year in Christianin [,Egypt] to work for peace. She got leave from Wellesley for last year and had her plans all made to go. He not only refused but told her he wanted nothing more to do with women! Emily Balch told this to the person who told me! She ^(Miss Balch) and other pupils of Rosika [Schwimmer] have started the People’s Council which is openly demanding the overthrow of our government! Isn’t that great anti-suffrage material?
What is the truth behind this second-hand hearsay? A bit of research using the MHS reference resources fills out this story in more detail. Emily Greene Balch (1867-1961) was a professor of sociology and economics at Wellesley from 1896 to 1918. She was a politically active pacifist and a founding member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). In 1915 she stood as a delegate to the International Congress of Women at The Hague, at which female peace activists from North America and Europe attempted to broker an end to the First World War. The following year, while on sabbatical from Wellesley, she took part in the International Committee on Mediation in Stockholm, Sweden, with financial support from industrialist Henry Ford. Ford had supported other women peace activists, including Rosika Schwimmer, in their work before -- so Emily Balch may have had good reason to believe he would be interested in supporting further ventures.
As the United States entered World War I in April of 1917, Balch took an additional year of unpaid leave from Wellesley to pursue anti-war activism. During this year she helped organize the People’s Council of America for Democracy and the Terms of Peace, a group opposed to the U.S. involvement in the war. The pacifist position during wartime was almost universally seen as unpatriotic (as Robinson notes, tantamount to “openly demanding the overthrow of our government!”) and Wellesley was one among many institutions of higher learning to curtail their faculty’s academic freedom by demanding they not speak out against the war. Emily Balch’s resolute anti-war stance led the Trustees of Wellesley to decide not to renew her contract for the 1918-1919 academic year. Margaret Robinson and Mary Forbes likely would have approved their decision. In 1946, Emily Balch was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work -- a recognition that would surely have been a bee in the bonnet of these two fellow New Englanders.
Robinson’s original letter can be found in the Mary Bowditch Forbes Papers here at the MHS; we also hold a small collection of materials related to the Massachusetts Public Interests League, one of Margaret Robinson’s anti-communist organizations. A letter from the MPIL collections was featured as our February 2011 object of the month. Both collections are available for research here in the library.
| Published: Wednesday, 30 October, 2013, 8:00 AM