“Our Splendid Misery”: Louisa Catherine Adams in the White House
By Amanda A. Mathews, Adams Papers
Many Americans have strong opinions about the White House. It is simultaneously a government building housing the executive branch and a private dwelling for the president and his family. As its care and maintenance falls to the public, both public access to and perception of this building, and its inhabitants, has long been a sensitive subject.
In April 1825, Louisa Catherine Adams wrote a colorful letter to her son, Charles Francis, on her impressions upon moving into the White House:
It is and has been ever since I first saw the House a matter of wonder to me how a Lady of so much delicacy as Mrs. Monroe could endure to live in a house in which I declare from what I saw she had not the comforts of any private mechanic’s family and I believe it would be difficult to find such an assortment of rags and rubbish even in an Alms House as was exhibited to the Publick after their departure—
The State of things was such that knowing the impression on the publick mind concerning the general splendour of the Mansion I thought it best to throw open the House and by admitting the people to see it in the real state correct the absurd and preposterous notions which had gone abroad by giving them the opportunity to judge for themselves— Some people pretend I have done wrong but as we are pretty much in the situation of the Man and his Ass in the Fable I do not care at all who likes or who dislikes. I respect my Masters the Sovereign People with great sincerity but I am not so much alarmed at the idea of going out at the end of four yeas as to desire to make any sacrifice of actual comfort for the sake of prolonging my sojourn in this would be magnificent habitation which after all like every thing else in this desolate City is but an half finished Barn— . . . I am obliged to close my Letter with a wish that you had seen our splendid misery which on the subject of Internal improvement certainly would have inspired you to do it ample justice—
Louisa’s lively wit, jabbing at her new residence, the public’s misimpressions, along with a controversial political topic of the day, internal improvements, reveals a political climate not so far removed from our own.
| Published: Thursday, 18 April, 2013, 1:00 AM
Maple Sugaring: Thomas Jefferson’s Sugar Maples
By Andrea Cronin, Reader Services
"The Sugar maple, it appears, is the most delicate of the whole number, for all of them are totally lost," reported son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph to Thomas Jefferson in a letter dated 27 March 1792. While Jefferson spent most of that year in Philadelphia, Randolph managed the Monticello estate and garden including the planting of 60 sugar maples. Jefferson and Randolph must have delighted in this type of letter for they shared an avid interest in horticulture. Thomas Jefferson considered horticulture a refuge from politics. Thomas Mann Randolph would later become a founder and president of the Albemarle Agricultural Society in Virginia. The loss of the sugar maples in 1792 was undoubtedly disappointing for both horticulturalists. Why had Jefferson cultivated such an interest in sugar maples?
Thomas Jefferson’s interest in these trees can be traced to fellow founding father and physician of Philadelphia, Dr. Benjamin Rush. Rush extolled the political advantages of maple sugar over West Indies cane sugar in a letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1791. According to Rush, domestically produced maple sugar would not require the slave labor force used to produce cane sugar, but maple sugar could also be cultivated to supply the domestic demand, lessen dependence on imported cane sugar, and be exported for profit. Resolute in this reasoning despite being a slave owner himself, Jefferson purchased 60 sugar maples in July 1791 from nurseryman William Prince of Flushing, New York, and began his experiment in homegrown maple sugaring. His large order of fruit trees and roses including the sugar maples was completed in November 1791 upon which Randolph began supervising the planting of these specimens.
However, it was not a fruitful year for Monticello according to Randolph. “It gives some consolation however to know with certainty that [the Sugar maple] is abundant about Calf-pasture, & that the hemlock-spruce-fir is a native of [Monticello],” Randolph continued in the letter to Jefferson. “Another unproductive year in y.r orchards of the low country increases the value of the mountains by giving reason to think that their summits in a short time will be the only region of Virginia habitable by fruit trees.” Randolph’s frustration with the meager survival of the trees was evident. Within two years, Jefferson indicates in his garden book that there are only eight sugar maples alive.
Despite Jefferson’s disappointing planting in Virginia, the maple sugaring tradition remains alive and well in New England today. In the Northeast, maple sugaring season starts in February and continues through April. The tapping process collects sap from the trees to be made into maple sugar or maple syrup through boiling. While the neighboring state of Vermont is best known for its quality maple syrup, Massachusetts also produces the sticky pancake accoutrement. Approximately 40-50 gallons of sap are needed to produce one gallon of syrup. Shocking, isn’t it?
If you are not too busy daydreaming about pancakes now, you can find out more about the sugar maples and other fruit trees at Monticello in Jefferson's garden book and correspondence in the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson manuscripts.
| Published: Wednesday, 3 April, 2013, 8:00 AM
Tutankhamon’s Tomb: Connections between Boston and Cairo
By Andrea Cronin, Reader Services
“The inner chamber of Tutankamon’s tomb privately opened today,” Alice Daland Chandler wrote in her diary on 16 February 1923. “Mr. Winlock one of those going in.” Alice Daland Chandler, the wife of Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor of Architecture F. W. Chandler, recorded details of many events occurring in and around Boston in her diaries, which span from 1886 to 1932 with some gaps. The Chandler family resided on Marlborough Street in Boston directly across the river from MIT. Surely it was an easy commute for F. W. Chandler to his work place. But how was it that the news of Egyptologist Howard Carter’s private opening of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb reached Alice Chandler in Boston so soon?
The then associate curator of Egyptian art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Herbert Eustis Winlock was Alice Daland Chandler’s son-in-law. Winlock assisted Carter during the excavations as part of his work with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Winlock had attended Harvard University where he earned Bachelor’s degree in archaeology and anthropology in 1906, and began working at the Met in 1909. In 1912, he married Helen Chandler, one of Alice Chandler’s three adult children. Helen and their daughter Frances were with Winlock in Egypt, and throughout the 1920s Herbert and Helen wrote to F. W. and Alice Chandler from Cairo, informing the family of their excavation endeavors and daily lives.
In April 1923, Alice Chandler made note in her diary of the death of Lord Carnarvon, a sponsor of Howard Carter’s excavations in Egypt. Lord Carnarvon died on 5 April 1923 in Cairo, purportedly of a severely infected mosquito bite. His sudden death, and the deaths of others who had entered the tomb of Tutankhamun, gave rise to the legend of the curse of Tutankhamun. In spite of having entered the inner chamber of the tomb on 16 February 1923, Herbert Winlock, as most of the other men with him that day, would live a long life. He continued his celebrated career in Egyptology and became the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1932.
If you are interested in Egyptology, visit the MHS library to view the Chandler and Winlock correspondence in the Chandler Family Papers. Alice Chandler’s diaries are contained in the Charles Pelham Curtis Papers.
| Published: Friday, 8 March, 2013, 8:00 AM
John Adams on the Case: Untangling Myths of the Massacre
By Amanda A. Mathews, Adams Papers
The basic outlines of the Boston Massacre are well known. March 5, 1770, that fateful and bloody night, led to trials that have become almost as famous. That the British soldiers were successfully defended by staunch patriot John Adams has certainly increased their fame. Myth cloaks the reasons why he took on these cases, but in examining the Adams papers, a different, but far more interesting story reveals itself.
To hear Adams tell it, as he did in his Autobiography written following his bitter defeat to Thomas Jefferson in 1800, he was merely standing up for the principles of law, upholding the great ideal that all men deserved a good defense and a fair trial, even at the expense of his own interests, reputation, and bank account, all three of which suffered for this gallant action. History has generally taken him at his word and heralded his actions as the pure disinterested idealism of a heroic patriot.
But reality was not as picturesque as this portrayal. Adams’s own recollection (he kept no diary at the time), is tainted by a long and often torturous public service that left him feeling unappreciated for his many sacrifices to his country. Moreover, while there may have been some gossip, on the whole Adams did not suffer with the patriot community of Massachusetts. In fact, within three months of taking the case (but before the actual trials) Adams was elected to the Massachusetts provincial assembly; and even immediately after the verdict, continued getting work as an attorney. He was even asked by the patriot leaders of Boston to give the annual oration on the third anniversary of the Massacre, an honor he declined.
So why did he take the case? As are human motives generally, his reasons were complex. It is important to remember that these cases were just two out of hundreds in his career and when put in that larger context, they appear less extraordinary. He mistrusted mob action as a rule and he defended patriots against the crown, and Tories against patriot wrongs. No doubt the knowledge that these cases would be well recorded encouraged him and his ego as well. Finally, the balance of power between the Crown and the colonies was still in flux. Adams was determined to appear neutral until the winds were evident. In 1768, he had been offered the position of the Crown’s advocate general in Massachusetts. He declined. On the other hand, Adams wanted it known that he was not controlled by the Boston patriot leadership. He would be an independent man at all times. It was a theme and standard he maintained throughout his life and one quite evident throughout the Massacre trials.
| Published: Tuesday, 5 March, 2013, 8:00 AM
MHS Painting Featured in Missouri Classroom
By Anna J. Cook, Reader Services
Last semester, students in Professor Norton Wheeler’s Age of Jefferson and Jackson course at Missouri Southern State University (Joplin, Missouri) read a critical edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Blithedale Romance (1852) alongside nonfiction works such as Sean Wilentz’s The Rise of American Democracy (2006). Hawthorne’s novel draws heavily on his own experience at Brook Farm, a short lived utopian community established in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, where he lived in 1841. Wheeler observed to me by email:
My students enjoyed the novel, along with documents detailing connections of Hawthorne, George Ripley, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and others to the historical Brook Farm. They found the social and cultural history embedded in these texts to be a helpful complement to the political history they had been reading.
To help his students visualize the setting of the novel, Professor Wheeler contacted us to obtain a digital image of one of our two paintings of Brook Farm by Josiah Wollcott, Brook Farm with Rainbow, painted by the artist in 1845 and pictured above (his second rendering can be viewed here).
Wheeler sent us a photograph of his students in class, with the painting hung on the wall (right corner of bulletin board), for us to share with you here at The Beehive.
In addition to Wollcott’s two paintings, the Massachusetts Historical Society holds a collection of Brook Farm records and the papers of founder George Ripley, as well as memoirs, pamphlets, and other materials related to the West Roxbury utopian experiment. We also hold several early editions of The Blithedale Romance, the full text of which can be read online through Project Gutenberg, or downloaded in a variety of formats from the Internet Archive.
| Published: Friday, 15 February, 2013, 8:00 AM