George Washington Letter Donated to the Massachusetts Historical Society
Published: Friday, 7 December, 2012, 10:32 AM
Washington thanks Lincoln for gift of cheese and cranberries in letter donated to the Society
A letter Pres. George Washington wrote to Gen. Benjamin Lincoln on 5 February 1785 from Mt. Vernon was recently donated to the Society by Dr. Susan C. Scrimshaw in memory of her grandmother, Clara Crosby Ware Goodrich. The letter was published in The Papers of George Washington from a letterbook copy at the Library of Congress; however, the location of the original was not known. In the letter, Washington provides news of recent legislation in the assemblies of Virginia and Maryland regarding efforts to make the Potomac River navigable. Washington was instrumental in getting the legislation passed that led to the formation of the Potomac Company. He also thanks Lincoln for “two cheese’s, & a barrel (wrote thereon Major rice) of Cranberries.”
Dr. Scrimshaw, a Lincoln descendant, notes that the letter was passed down through the women in her family for eight generations. She recollects that it spent much of its time hidden in closets or drawers, and was taken out and admired for special occasions. As a scholar, Dr. Scrimshaw came to realize that the letter should be in a place where it could be cared for professionally and where it would be accessible to scholars. After consultation with her parents and siblings, and careful research on the best home for the letter, Dr. Scrimshaw made the decision to donate it to the MHS, which houses the Benjamin Lincoln Papers. Lincoln served with Washington in the Continental Army and as the first secretary of war under the Articles of Confederation.
“I feel relieved that the responsibility for the stewardship of a piece of our history is now in competent professional hands," explains Dr. Scrimshaw. "In addition, I found the Society a treasure trove of information on my New England ancestors. I know my grandmother would be pleased as well to know that future generations will have access to this letter, no longer a family secret.”
Discovery of Early E.E. Cummings Works at the Massachusetts Historical Society
Published: Thursday, 8 November, 2012, 11:11 AM
Early Childhood Writings and Sketches of E.E. Cummings Uncovered at the MHS while processing Cummings-Clarke Collection
The MHS is delighted to announce the discovery of childhood correspondence and artwork by Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962), better known as poet E.E. Cummings. The writings and sketches, dating from 1900 to 1914, showcase the poet's early experiments with words and illustrations. Uncovered while processing a large collection of Cummings family papers with support from the Peck Stacpoole Foundation, these are likely some of the earliest works by E.E. Cummings.
Among the writings found is a story about life on Joy Farm, his family’s retreat in New Hampshire, a 1907 report on “Our Visit to the Public Library,” and the 1914 poem “From a Newspaper.” A sketch of a rhinoceros and soldier drawn about 1902 also includes several lines of text. Cummings writes, “THIS. RHINOCEROUS. IS. YOUNG. MARCHING BY. A. SOLDIER. He TELLS-TALES TO-HIM”*. Keepsakes include a self-portrait entitled “Edward E. Cummings, the animal emperor, famous importer, trainer, and exhibitor of wild animals”* and three penmanship exercise books from about 1902. Other drawings and paintings include ink blots, watercolors, and sketches in pen and pencil of cowboys and Indians, boats, the “world’s tallest tower,” wild west shows, hunting expeditions, locomotives, zoos, circuses, elephants, and house plans.
The papers of Edward Cummings, a Unitarian minister and champion of social justice in early 20th century Boston, and his family have now been fully organized and described in a collection guide that is available on the MHS website: www.masshist.org/findingaids/doc.cfm?fa=fa0367. The large collection consists not only of the papers of Edward Cummings, including his sermons, writings, and correspondence with family and his mentor Edward Everett Hale, but also those of his wife Rebecca (Clarke) Cummings, and their children, Edward and Elizabeth. The Society received the Cummings-Clarke collection as a gift from the estate of E.E. Cummings in October of 1969, and from the poet’s sister, Elizabeth Cummings Qualey, between 1969 and 1973. Although the collection had previously been available for research, the project to describe the collection in more detail has highlighted the importance of these childhood poems and sketches.
E.E. Cummings was born in Cambridge, Mass. in 1894. He attended the Cambridge Latin High School and received his B.A. from Harvard University in 1915, and his M.A. in 1916. Known for his poetry, Cummings was also an artist and author. He received a number of honors, including two Guggenheim Fellowships, an Academy of American Poets Fellowship, and a Ford Foundation Grant.
An exhibition highlighting some of these early writings and sketches will be on view in the Society’s Treasures Gallery 13 June through 30 August 2013.
*Used by permission of the Trustees for E. E. Cummings Trust.
Image: Charles Hopkins's 1898 pencil sketch of Edward Estlin Cummings
In Death Lamented: The Tradition of Anglo-American Mourning Jewelry
Published: Monday, 10 September, 2012, 7:25 AM
The exhibition features some of the most exemplary types of mourning jewelry from early gold bands with death’s head iconography to jeweled brooches and intricately woven hairwork pieces
Mourning jewels, tangible expressions of love and sorrow, are the focus of In Death Lamented on view at the MHS 28 September 2012 through 31 January 2013. The exhibition features more than 80 objects representing some of the best examples of this type of jewelry. Drawn from the collections of the MHS and Guest Curator Sarah Nehama as well as loans from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Historic New England in Boston, and the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, exhibition highlights include the Society’s Adams-Winthrop commemorative seal ring containing the braided hair of John Quincy Adams and a gold memorial ring for Queen Caroline of Brandenburg-Ansbach from the collections of Sarah Nehama.
The jewelry included in the exhibition illustrates some of the most exemplary types, from early gold bands with death’s head iconography to bejeweled brooches and the intricately woven hairwork pieces of the Civil War era. Two examples in the exhibition are the Society’s double heart locket made to commemorate the death of Mary (Partridge) Belcher in 1736 and Sarah Nehama’s Jonathan Deare Brooch/Pendant from 1796. Displayed within the larger context of the mourning rites that our New England ancestors brought with them, these relics attest to the basic human emotion of grief and the need to remain connected to those gone before.
Guest Curator Sarah Nehama, a Boston jeweler and mourning jewelry collector, describes her personal connection to the exhibition: “I've been collecting mourning and sentimental jewelry since 2005, focusing primarily on examples from the 18th and early 19th centuries.” She continues, “My experience as a volunteer at the MHS photographing and cataloging its extensive mourning jewelry collection inspired me to propose this collaboration with the Society to showcase both collections and place them in a historical and cultural context.”
A full-color companion book, In Death Lamented: The Tradition of Anglo-American Mourning Jewelry, available for sale at the MHS, will feature photographs and descriptions of all of the Nehama and MHS pieces, along with historical and stylistic backgrounds and essays pertaining to cultural practices around death and mourning in England and America.
About the Guest Curator and Author
Sarah Nehama is a designer/jeweler who works in precious metals and gemstones. She sells her work through galleries, at juried shows, and to private customers. Sarah has a degree in art history and studied jewelry making in Boston and New York. She is a collector of antique mourning and sentimental jewelry and currently resides in Boston.
National History Day Finalist Uses MHS Collections
Published: Friday, 6 July, 2012, 10:36 AM
National History Day (NHD) finals took place at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., from 10-14 June. The staff of the MHS was excited to learn that Isabel Nelson, a junior at Padua Academy in Wilmington, Del., made it to the division finals and won the best overall project at a senior level in the state of Delaware for her paper “Mercy Otis Warren: Foremost Female Patriot of the American Revolution,” which she researched at the Society. Isabel said that she has always been interested in 18th-century history, literature, and politics. Studying Mercy Otis Warren gave her the opportunity to combine all of these interests in researching one person. Her teacher, Carol Anderson, suggested that she visit the MHS to do research.
Isabel writes, “Being able to research Mercy Warren’s papers at the MHS was immensely helpful to my paper. There are too few accessible editions of her correspondence, and I could never get as much from them as I did researching in her complete collection of papers at the MHS.” She continues, “Working with her papers helped me gain a greater understanding of her thought and historical context. Having access to these primary sources, I was able to take notes on the letters I read and quoted them throughout my paper. I even used a picture of the original copy of a letter Mercy Warren wrote to John Dickinson that I was able to handle at the MHS, and chose a quote from that letter as the epigraph to my paper. It was especially exciting for me to hold one of her letters!”
To learn more about the NHD finals from a judge’s point of view, read Massachusetts Goes to Nationals.
National History Day (NHD) finals took place at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., from 10-14 June. The staff of the MHS was excited to learn that Isabel Nelson, a junior at Padua Academy in Wilmington, Del., made it to the division finals and won the best overall project in the state of Delaware at a senior level for her paper “Mercy Otis Warren: Foremost Female Patriot of the American Revolution,” which she researched at the Society. Isabel said that she has always been interested in 18th-century history, literature, and politics. Studying Mercy Otis Warren gave her the opportunity to combine all of these interests in researching one person. Her teacher, Carol Anderson, suggested that she visit the MHS to do research.
Isabel writes, “Being able to research Mercy Warren’s papers (http://www.masshist.org/findingaids/doc.cfm?fa=fa0235) at the MHS was immensely helpful to my paper. There are too few accessible editions of her correspondence, and I could never get as much from them as I did researching in her complete collection of papers at the MHS.” She continues, “Working with her papers helped me gain a greater understanding of her thought and historical context. Having access to these primary sources, I was able to take notes on the letters I read and quoted them throughout my paper. I even used a picture of the original copy of a letter Mercy Warren wrote to John Dickinson that I was able to handle at the MHS, and chose a quote from that letter as the epigraph to my paper. It was especially exciting for me to hold one of her letters!”
To learn more about the NHD finals from a judge’s point of view, read Massachusetts Goes to Nationals (http://www.masshist.org/blog/763).
Mr. Madison's War: The Controversial War of 1812
Published: Friday, 8 June, 2012, 9:42 AM
In 1812, Massachusetts was bitterly divided along partisan political lines and a wave of popular protests greeted the declaration of war on 18 June. The MHS is commemorating the bicentennial with the exhibition Mr. Madison’s War: The Controversial War of 1812.
In Massachusetts there was strong opposition to the war, which had a profound effect on the region’s maritime economy. Seaports had suffered through a financially disastrous trade embargo during Thomas Jefferson’s presidency, and now Jeffersonian Republicans, under Pres. James Madison, had started a war with the world’s most powerful navy. The development of the controversial political strategy of gerrymandering added to the strife within Massachusetts. Federalists coined the term “Gerrymander” to describe the Republican attempt in Massachusetts to retain power through redistricting, a scheme they attributed to Republican Gov. Elbridge Gerry. A political carton of the salamander-shaped Essex County will be featured in the exhibition.
The failure of the American invasion of Canada in 1812 was offset by dramatic victories at sea by the tiny United States Navy. Midshipman Frederic Baury served on the USS Constitution during victorious cruises early in the war, and in 1814 sailed to glory—and into legend—on the sloop Wasp. Among the many treasures on display is a log from the Constitution kept by Baury describing the ship’s first great victory on 19 August 1812.
When the British raided the coast of Massachusetts in the summer of 1814, Gov. Caleb Strong called a special session of the Massachusetts legislature. Antiwar sentiment was so strong that the Union appeared to be in danger. Massachusetts invited the other New England states to send delegates to a meeting in Hartford on 15 December, to draft constitutional amendments that would protect New England interests. Supporters of the war suspected that the convention, meeting in secret, was a secessionist plot. However, a number of the delegates to the convention were political moderates who hoped to forestall the secessionist movement by obtaining concessions from the U.S. Congress. After the Convention adjourned, Governor Strong sent a committee to Washington in an attempt to obtain federal funds for the defense of Massachusetts. The delegation was ridiculed in a Republican cartoon that will be on display. The cartoon depicts the three men sailing to Washington in a vessel resembling a chamber pot.
Almost from the moment that war began, President Madison attempted to end hostilities through diplomacy, but both sides were reluctant to make concessions until after they suffered military setbacks. Great Britain rejected a Russian offer to mediate in 1813, but early in 1814 both sides agreed to send envoys to Ghent in Belgium. John Quincy Adams led the team of delegates from the U. S. Although the negotiators were unable to fully resolve any of the issues that had led to war, both sides signed a peace treaty on Christmas Eve 1814. Visitors will be able to examine a letter Adams wrote to his mother on the very same day informing her of the end of the war.
Because of the slow pace of communications in the early 19th century the conflict continued into 1815, with the American victory at New Orleans on January 8 and the last naval engagement in the East Indies on June 30, 1815.