The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

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Work, Community, & the Cranberry Industry in Massachusetts

With Thanksgiving around right around the corner, I decided to explore the story of a fruit that appears in a sauce on many Thanksgiving plates: cranberries. More specifically, I looked through MHS resources to see what I could learn about the history of cranberries and cranberry growing in the state. While Massachusetts is home to a notable cranberry industry, I didn’t know too much about it beyond quick glimpses of bogs I see from the car when I go to Cape Cod. I ended up learning a bit about the practice of growing cranberries as well as the connection of the industry to immigration and the development of Cape Verdean communities in Massachusetts.

An 1891 broadside in the collection, Cranberry crop for 1891, sheds some light on the geographic scope of the cranberry industry in late 19th century Massachusetts, the means of transportation for harvested cranberries, and the general productivity of the crop over the course of the years 1889, 1890, and 1891. The broadside has statistics, put together by a Charles H. Nye, Esq., for barrels and boxes of cranberries shipped from various stations along the Cape Cod Division of the Old Colony Railroad, along with a briefer set of statistics for the Old Colony Railroad’s Central Division. Some stations, such as Tremont, Wareham, West Barnstable, Harwich, seem to have been quite busy during this time. 1891 in particular was a bustling year for cranberry shipments along the Cape Cod Division, as over 130,000 barrels were shipped that year, which “exceeded by over 45,000 bbls., the largest yield of any previous year, that of 1889.”

The Ropes family photographs at the MHS include four photographs of workers harvesting cranberries on Cape Cod, circa 1900-1910. The photographer is unknown, and the exact location does not seem to be clear, but the photos do provide snapshots of cranberry harvesting in Massachusetts at that time.

I read two essays in They Knew they were Pilgrims: Essays in Plymouth History, edited by L.D. Geller (New York: Poseidon Books, 1971), that provide insights into the cranberry industry of the early 20th century and the people who worked in it, from the perspectives of two authors with family connections to cranberry work. In “Life on a Cranberry Bog at the Turn of the Century,” Rose T. Briggs chronicles some of the changes that occurred in the industry in the early decades of the 20th century, drawn from her experience growing up in a cranberry-producing family. She discusses the technological changes that changed the work, the increase of immigrants from Cape Verde in the workforce, and, later, the increase in women working in cranberry bogs. In “Plymouth and Some Portuguese,” Rev. Peter J. Gomes discusses, from his perspective as the descendant of Cape Verdean immigrants, the development of Cape Verdean immigration to Massachusetts, the role Cape Verdean workers played in the cranberry industry after it became a major employer of immigrants from Cape Verde in the early 20th century, and some of the general experiences of Cape Verdean immigrants in southeastern Massachusetts. These essays offer glimpses into the nature of the work on cranberry bogs as well as the groups of people and communities who participated in this work.

Peter J. Gomes, “Plymouth and Some Portuguese” 

“But what was it that made people leave the old country for the New World? One obvious reason was the lust for adventure and the hope for a better life. The islands were overpopulated and one’s future pretty well determined at birth. The New World offered better economic opportunity. Another reason, not so talked about, was escape from military service.” (181).

“Immigration was also prompted by relatives already established in America” (181).

“From New Bedford they spread over the Cape and southeast coastal region, shipping out and tending to agriculture and odd jobs between voyages. As the whaling industry declined during the last two decades of the century, the Portuguese, like his quondam employer, the shipmaster, had to seek out other means of livelihood. “He found it in the cranberry industry.” (182).

“The life of the Portuguese on the bogs was harsh. It was bitter and grueling work for starvation wages. Cheap labor was needed and they were it. Uninitiated into the ways of collective bargaining . . . they were easy marks for the speculators and exploiters who were rife.” (183)

Rose T. Briggs, “Life on a Cranberry Bog at the Turn of the Century”

“Those were the days of hand-picking. We used a six-quart tin that had a lovely reverberation when the first berries were dropped into it, but took so long for a child to fill. Then you proudly lugged your tin up to the tally keeper, called out your number, emptied it (another satisfying sound) and returned to begin another. The bog was laid off in rows with section-line, so each picker or family had its own row, and no one could hog the best picking. The man in charge of the gang had an eagle eye for dropped underberries, and for thin spots neglected, and the tally-keeper rejected measures that were not properly full, or had vines stuffed into the middle!” (190)

“In 1900 snap machines were beginning to come in. They took some skill to operate, and of course were much faster than hand-picking. The men that operated them were paid by the hour, not the measure. In 1903 it was twenty-five cents an hour. Scoops were also coming in, and with them the Cape Verde Portuguese, who soon were the characteristic labor force on the bogs.” (190).

“When immigration was put on a quota basis, all this commuting to the Islands came to an end, and settled Portuguese communities grew up in this country. They too came picking.

“During World War II energetic women, Portuguese and others, operated a scoopers which had always been considered strictly a man’s job. The type of picking machine now in use is often operated by women. The big gangs of scoopers have gone. What strikes one now in looking at a picking crew, is the small number of people involved. Sometimes the tenders outnumber the pickers.” (191).

“Where the grower’s team once carted his berries to the railroad, huge trucks now come from outside to transport the crop.” (191)

“Cranberry growing is still a colorful business, but the days of self-sufficiency are over” (191).

If these materials interest you, feel free to visit the MHS library, which is open six days a week!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 9 November, 2018, 8:43 AM

"Ffriends and Neighbors" : Intelligence and allegiance in early Plymouth

Not long after I started working here in the library at the MHS I took an interest in 17th-century topics with the hope that I could better serve those researchers studying the time period by pointing them to specific collections relevant to their search. A specific collection that comes up time and again is the Winslow family papers II*, a small but very fascinating collection for its documentation of the late 17th century in and around Plymouth County, primarily from the vantage point of a family central to the history of that locale and including two of the early governors of the county, Edward and Josiah Winslow. For this post, I look at a single document from that collection which dates to 1675 at the outset of Metacom's, or King Philip's, War. This document came to my attention during a class visit in which it was used as a show & tell item by a colleague, and I have since used it myself. Until now, though, I was ignorant of its contents.

The letter displayed in various class visits, written by Plymouth governor Josiah Winslow to "Weetamoo and Ben her husband," is only half the story, it turns out. Looking more closely, I found that there is an earlier letter contained on the same paper. The first letter is from a man named John Brown, writing to Gov. Winslow from Swansey to inform him about the movements of the local natives and the unrest that is taking hold. The second part is a draft of a letter that Winslow wrote to Weetamoo (Weetamoe, Weetamo), the female sachem of the Pocasset Wampanoag, encouraging her to remain friends of the Plymouth settlers and not be lured into alliance with Philip, her brother-in-law.

N.B. : These are only rough transcriptions. I did my best to retain the original spelling and punctuation (or lack of). Brackets [ ] indicate a best-guess; blank spots filled with underscoring _____ indicate missing text.


 

Swansey June 11: 1675

Sir  some lines of mine I understand came to your hand Unexpected to you and not intended by me the hast & Rudenes whereof I did intend to excuse to the person to whom I did direct it. the matter where of I still beleve for they have bin and are in arms to this day as appears by the witness of Inglish of Credit    yea this day there is above 60 double armed ^men  and they stand upon ther gard on reson is say they is because they heare you intend to send for phillip but they  have sent there wifes to Narrogansent all or some and an Indian told me this day That he saw 20 men came to phillip from Coweset side and they flock to him from Narroganset Coweset pocasset showomet Assowomset from whence ther Came 3 men ye Last nigh well armed after there Coming to phillips town & ower within night they gave us an Alarm by 2 guns & 1 in ye morning before day and ye continued warninge of ye drum and the above said Indian told me that he heard that ye passages betwixt tanton & us were garded by Indians and yt ye younger sort were much set Againts ye Inglish and this day one Indian this day Leift both work and wages saying he wase sent for to fight with ye Inglish within 2 dayes  the truth is they are in a posture of war  there has bin sene above 150 [togeathere at once]  how many in private there be we [kow not   but for] further intelligence ye bearer is able to informe  Sir I reit onely this by my Commision I have not power to set [awash] ye Lawes are unserten  ye providence of god hath prevented me from Weighting uppoun you for inlargement here in . theres not appointed a councell of your war in our town I thought good th to aquaint you^  here with I am in hast And Reit  your and my …  youres to serve

                                                                John Brown

 

On the back side of the folio – or the “back cover” of Brown’s missive is a small note that provides some geographic clarifications:

Narragansett.

Cowesett between ye Narragansett Country (properly so called) and Pawcatuck River

Pocasset – Tiverton

Shawomet – Barrington Warwick 

Assawomsett - Middleboro

 

Inside the folio we have the letter that Winslow addressed to the Pocasset leader based upon the intelligence he received from Brown a few days earlier.

 

To Weetamoo, and Ben her husband

Satchems of pocasset

Ffriends and Neighbors

I am informed yt phillip ye sachem of Mount hope contrary to his many promises and ingagements; and yt upon no ground provocation nor unfairness in the least from us, but meerly from his owne base groundles feare is Creating new trobles to himself & us; And hath [indeavored] to ingage you & your people with him, by intimations of notoriouse falshoods as if wee were secretly designeing mischeef to him, and you, such unmanly treacherouse practices as wee abhor to thinke of, and yt hee hath also _________________against you if you shall deny to help him; I am _____________[hath] prevayled very little [with] you, except it bee to some few of your giddy inconsiderate young men; if it bee fact, as I am willing to believe it may; you shall finde us allwayes redy to acknowledge & incourage your faith fullness, and protect you also so farr as in us lyeth from his pride & tirany; And if you Contynew faithfull, you shall assuredly reape ye fruite of it to your Comfort, when hee by his pride & treachery hath wrought his owne ruine. As a testimony of your contynued friendship I desire you will give us what intelligence you may have, or shall gather up, yt is of concernment, and you shall not finde mee ungratefull, who am and desire to contynew

your reall ffreind

Jos: Winslow

Marshfeild

June 15 ∙ 75

 

Again, there is some additional information on the facing page. First, is a block of text that serves as delivery instructions for Brown’s letter:

These ffor the Honnered Josiah Winslow Esquie Govenor of his Magtis Colony of New plymouth  These with speed at Marshfeild or plimouth

 

Another bit, written to the right of and perpendicular to this, reads:

Mr. Brown to Gove Winslow & the Gove to Weetamo 15th June 1675

 

A last piece of text, apparently added by Winslow, identifies his writing as a draft:

Swansey. June 11 ∙ 75

From Lieut. Jno Browne.

& a copie of mine to Weetamoo

 

Stay tuned for future posts here on the Beehive where I hope to provide more information about the characters involved with this correspondence. In the meantime, you can search our online catalog, ABIGAIL, to see what else we have about the early colonies, and then consider Visiting the Library to do some research!


*The Winslow family papers II, along with many other documents from the MHS Collection, is available digitally from the database "Frontier Life: Borderlands, Settlement & Colonial Encounters" created by the UK-based company Adam Matthew Digital, accessible at the MHS and other participating libraries.

comments: 2 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 7 November, 2018, 1:00 AM

“I like your Letters much, they are so much like you.”: Abigail and John Adams II

He was mischievous and fond of pranks, long walks through the Massachusetts countryside, and nights full of dancing. He was uncommonly handsome, had a mess of brown curls on top of his head, and was exceedingly popular with the young women of Quincy. Abigail often found herself daydreaming of his “rosy cheeks” and “Sparkling Eyes.” His name was John Adams.

No, not the John Adams who signed the Declaration of Independence—his grandson and namesake, John Adams II. If one could handcraft the ideal grandson for Abigail Adams, one could scarcely do better. He shared his grandmother’s passionate enthusiasm for his native land, especially Massachusetts, shared his grandfather’s name, and was even born on the Fourth of July. When he was very young, he thought all the festivities were to celebrate his birthday—to the great amusement of his grandmother. Even by his twelfth birthday, Abigail was not ready to let the joke go. “You notice Your Birth day, and say you are twelve years old. I do assure you Sir, it was celebrated here, not withstanding Your absence as usual; with the ringing of Bells public orations, military parade and Social festivals.”

Abigail and John’s extant correspondence amounts to twenty letters. It is clear from internal references to other letters that they exchanged many more. The richest portion of their correspondence took place between 1815 and 1817, while John was living in Ealing (west London) with his parents, John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Adams. His younger brother, Charles Francis, had spent six of his eight years traveling Europe with their parents, and his older brother, George, appeared to John to be adjusting well. John Adams II, who had only lived with his parents full time for the first two years of his life before they left him in Quincy in the name of public duty, struggled terribly to adjust, as his letters to his grandmother reveal.

If anyone in his family understood what it meant to be stranded in London and longing for Massachusetts, it was his grandmother. There is a striking resemblance between the letters Abigail wrote home during her husband’s tenure as the first American minister to the Court of St. James and the letters she received from her homesick twelve-year-old grandson. Just as Abigail frequently requested local gossip and updates on all her friends and relations when she was abroad, she supplied John with stories and trivialities: “The young Masters and misses had a fine Ball at Hingham, and wanted you, who love dancing so well,” she once reported. 

John gloomily replied, “I do not like England near so well as America nor do I think I should like any country so well as my native Country. Oh how I wish I was in America with my Parents at Quincy with you . . . I should have been very glad to have been at the Ball at Hingham with my old acquaintances.” 

Abigail obviously missed him just as much, writing, “I love the Chamber where you used to play your pranks, Study Your lessons and take Your repose.” She told him that she had preserved the room exactly as he had left it, as if he could walk back into the room at any moment. “The cain You used to take Your walks with from Hingham, I have placed in my closset . . . your military accourtrements are Still preserved as they were.” 

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Poignantly, Abigail often closed her letters to her grandson with concern that, considering her age and health, she would never see him in person again. In 1817, John Quincy Adams was recalled from England to serve as President James Monroe’s secretary of state. Now fourteen, John Adams II, his two brothers, and his parents returned home to Quincy, where they spent the summer living at the Old House with John and Abigail. “Be assured,” John Quincy’s father had written to him before their voyage to America, “it will be the most joyful part of my Life to receive and enjoy you all with open Arms.”In 1818, the final year of Abigail’s life, her beloved grandson was never farther away from her than the eight-mile carriage ride to Boston Latin School. Whether eight miles or 3,300 miles, Abigail reminded John that, “You know not . . . how very near my heart you are.”

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 2 November, 2018, 1:00 AM

Mysterious, Gruesome, and Spooky Aspects of History

This time of year often sparks an interest in the mysterious, gruesome, and spooky aspects of history. New Englanders often flock to Salem and other “haunted” spots with a keen interest in connecting with the people and the events that had transpired long ago. Within the walls of the MHS, you will find a few intriguing items that might even be considered “spooky.” But for those of us who spend our days delighting in the words, thoughts, and mementos of our forefathers and foremothers, these are fascinating pieces of history. Alas, as it is All Hollow’s Eve, I thought I might share a few of the more spooky items with you!

First up is the Salem Witch Bureau.

This rather unassuming bureau greets you on the way into our reading room. In actuality, it has a dark past. Supposedly, the bureau was evidence used in the Salem Witch Trails in 1692! In his will, Gen. William H. Sumner described this chest of drawers as "the Witch Bureau, from the middle drawer of which one of the Witches jumped out who was hung on Gallows Hill, in Salem.” So the next time you walk into the reading room, take a moment to ponder from which drawer the specter had jumped forth. 

While on the topic of the Salem Witch Trials, the MHS houses the papers of Judge Samuel Sewall, one of the Judges who presided over the trials. Sewall kept a diary from 1673 until a few months before his death in 1730.

Perhaps most notable is his diary entry for 19 September 1692. He records:

“Monday; Sept-19th 1692. Abt noon, at Salem, Giles Corey was pressed to death for standing mute Much pains was used with him two days one after another by ye court & Capt. Gardner of Nantucket who had been his acquaintance: but all in vain. 20 Now I hear from Salem that abt 18 years agoe, he was suspected to have stamped and pressed a man to Death. But was cleared. twas not remembered till Ann Putnam was told of it by G Corey’s Specter ye Sabbath-Day night before ye Execution.”

Sewall later repented for his involvement and gained notoriety for his firm antislavery stance when he published The Selling of Joseph in 1700.

The MHS also has an item described as a “Piece of wood from a tree, place unidentified, reported to have been used for hanging witches in the 17th century.” 

And here is a fascinating, yet eerie tidbit: not only do we have the letters, diaries and artifacts of those long departed, we also have pieces of them! (Oh, but yes indeed!) We have a surprisingly large collection of human hair, mostly given as pieces of mourning Jewelry and keepsakes to remember loved ones. Locks of hair would be cut from the deceased and kept, often intricately incorporated into a piece of jewelry, such as a ring or a broach. To learn more about pieces in our collection that contain human hair, visit our “Jewelry Containing Hair” page that is part of our Tradition of Anglo-American Mourning Jewelry, 17th to 19th Centuries online display.

We currently have hair from both Alexander Hamilton and George Washington on display as a part of our Hamilton at the MHS display. Be sure to stop by before 15 November to see it and check out other Hamilton artifacts online at www.masshist.org/hamilton.

Next, I would like to share a nifty hook with you! Not very spooky you say? What if I told you it was carved from human bone?

This fascinating artifact is a hook from the Sandwich Islands, supposedly made from a bone of Capt. James Cook. It is bone carved into a hook with a thin cord wound closely around the top of the shank and extending onto a wrapped and twisted section tied in a slip knot.

Well, enough about human remains! We also have a warbler preserved in arsenic, a death mask, and dolls. One such example is a doll belonging to members of the Codman and Butterfield families. "Rebeccah Codman Butterfield" is a very well preserved doll with an exceptional past.

According to a note penned by the donor's mother, Ellis Phinney Taylor, and pinned to the doll's petticoat, Rebeccah's life began long ago but not too far away:

“My name is Rebeccah Codman Butterfield. I was born in 1841. My mother made me and I was the darling of the Brook Farmers & their children. Brook Farm was called The Transcendentalists. I grew up with the Alcotts, George Ripley, John S [Dwight], Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, William Ellery Channing, Elizabeth Peabody & Nathaniel Hawthorne--no wonder I look a bit cracked!”

Read more about Rebeccah and the Codman and Butterfield families here.

Having worked at the MHS for a number of years, I must admit that we get all sorts of questions! I still recall welcoming a researcher to the reading room on a dark and gloomy December morning who looked at me with delight and asked “Do they talk to you?” I was unsure who she was referring to so she clarified and said “Ghosts! Are you ever approached by ghosts? You must have so many here!” While many hours are spent in the stacks, I am not aware of any archivist or librarian who has encountered a ghost. Though I must profess, the Society is not free from strange occurrences. In the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society (Third Series, Vol. 72  p.417), there is one account from the Annual Meeting in 1957 which has always struck me:

“We have had our trials and tribulations. The janitor on duty when your Director took office lost his mind in this building, here, before our very faces, and had to be locked up until he died;” 

Hmm . . . not what you would expect to find while reading Annual Meeting notes. It continues:

“his very good successor died of a heart attack overnight; his brother and successor suddenly developed a strange illness and had to be relieved; the present janitor lost his wife and sole companion last June and is now desperately ill.” 

The list of interesting artifacts found within our walls goes on and on, and so could I. But I leave you to  browse our online—and fully searchable—catalog, Abigail, for "cool" and "creepy" items that intrigue you from the comfort of your living room . . . or crypt! 

And with that, we wish you a safe, yet slightly-spooky, Halloween night!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 31 October, 2018, 1:00 AM

“As Drowning Men Catch at Straws”: William H. Simpkins and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment

I have now to tell you of a pretty important step that I have just taken. I have given my name to be forwarded to Massachusetts for a commission in the 54th (negro) Regt. Coln. Shaw.

This excerpt comes from a letter written by Civil War soldier William Harris Simpkins on 26 February 1863. Harris was serving with the 44th Massachusetts Infantry at New Bern, N.C. and had been recommended for a post in the new 54th Regiment, the first African-American regiment raised in the North. Simpkins decided to accept and, in this letter to his father, preemptively defended his decision and discussed the possibilities of the regiment.

William Harris Simpkins (1839-1863)

Simpkins was born in Boston, Mass. on 6 Aug. 1839 and worked as a clerk before enlisting in the Union Army. When he got word from Col. Francis L. Lee that he had the chance at a commission with the 54th under the command of Capt. Robert Gould Shaw, he was cautiously optimistic. He recognized the significance of the move and acknowledged what he might be giving up. Portions of his letter have been printed in histories of the regiment, but I think it’s worth quoting at length.

This is no hasty conclusion, no blind leap of an enthusiast, but the result of a considerable hard thinking.

It will not at first, and probably will not be for a long time, an agreeable position for many reasons too evident to state, and the man who goes into it resigns all chances in the new white Regiments, that must be raised; […] and there can be no dispute as to, among which color, the most comfortable & pleasurable position will be.

Simpkins’ friend Cabot Jackson Russel saw things in a similar light. The 18-year-old Russel served with Simpkins in the 44th and was also commissioned a captain of the 54th. Just one day before Simpkins, on 25 Feb. 1863, Russel wrote home to say that he had “given up everything” and was “going under Bob Shaw, as it seems so important to put this measure through.” (Russel’s letters can be found in the Patrick Tracy Jackson and Loring-Jackson-Noble family papers.)

Cabot Jackson Russel (1844-1863)

Despite the risks and the uncertainty, Simpkins still believed in the project. His letter continues:

Then it is nothing but an experiment after all. But it is an experiment, that I think it high time we should try; an experiment, that if successful, will be productive of much good; […] an experiment, which the sooner we prove unsuccessful, the sooner we shall establish an important truth and rid ourselves of a false hope.

Some publications stop quoting him there, but I found the next paragraph particularly moving.

There will probably be some trouble with the white troops in the field, arising from a traditional sence [sic] of honor, too nice for me to understand, which distinguishes between fighting behind earth-works thrown up by black laborers, and allowing a negro soldier to stand in the next field to fire his gun at the common enemy; but once prove the efficacy of black troops and I think they will hail them, as drowning men catch at straws.

To make the test you must have men who are willing for the trial. It is of especial importance, of course, in order to win the people to this movement, that it should be undertaken by the right sort of men, and that the first black Regt. should have everything done for it in the way of officers &c that would tend to make it efficient. If I am one of the persons selected, why should I refuse? I came out here, not from any fancied fondness of a military life, but to do what I could to help along the good cause. Why should I not stretch my patriotism a little further and accept a commission in a Negro Regt?

Simpkins was killed on 18 July 1863 during the assault at Fort Wagner as he kneeled next to his injured friend Russel. The 1864 memorial to Robert Gould Shaw includes a detailed description of Simpkins’ death, which was witnessed and recounted by Sgt. Stephen A. Swails.

Stephen Atkins Swails (1832-1900)

Simpkins, Russel, Shaw, and the black soldiers killed in the battle were buried together in a mass grave.

Simpkins’ letter forms part of the Hooper family papers here at the MHS—his aunt married into the Hooper family, and his cousin Henry Northey Hooper also served as a captain in the 54th Regiment. Unfortunately the document we have is only a copy written by someone else, and the location of the original is unknown. However, the Hooper collection does contain two original letters by Simpkins, written to his mother before he enlisted.

The Massachusetts Historical Society has many resources related to the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, both online and in our library, including manuscript collections, photograph collections, and print material. You’ll find a handy introduction here.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 26 October, 2018, 1:00 AM

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