“Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land” Opens at the Massachusetts Historical Society
Published: Friday, 22 February, 2013, 12:00 AM
Manuscripts, broadsides, artifacts, and portraits from the Society’s collections illustrate the role of Massachusetts in the national debate over slavery
In the decades leading up to the Civil War, Boston became a center of the national antislavery movement, and in 1831 William Lloyd Garrison, "all on fire" for the cause, began publication of The Liberator, the country's leading abolitionist newspaper. There was strong resistance to the radical movement not only in the slave-holding South, but among Northerners as well. Open at the MHS through May 24, "Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land": Boston Abolitionists, 1831-1865, features manuscripts, broadsides, artifacts—including the imposing stone for The Liberator—and portraits of key players to illustrate the role of Massachusetts in the national debate over slavery, and to demonstrate how the movement was communicated and followed.
While Garrison played a central role in the abolitionist movement in Boston, his efforts were part of a larger—sometimes uneasy—alliance of black and white Bostonians in a crusade for freedom and equality that already was underway when The Liberator first appeared. Even in the “cradle of liberty,” abolitionists faced the hostility of fellow citizens who did not share their egalitarian ideals, or thought that antislavery agitation would lead to civil war. The Society’s recently acquired maquette of a sculpture of Garrison by Anne Whitney is on display as well as the first issue of the paper in which Garrison wrote, “—but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch.—AND I WILL BE HEARD.”
Through the pages of The Liberator and other local antislavery publications, and lecture tours by visiting American and English abolitionists, Boston became the hub of the national and international antislavery movements. A year after the 1834 New York anti-abolition riots, Garrison was mobbed and almost lynched when he attempted to address the Female Anti-Slavery Society in Boston. In a letter dated October 24, 1835, Garrison wrote to Samuel E. Sewall, one of his closest allies, and pondered whether he could continue to live in Boston and edit The Liberator.
Photography, introduced to America in the 1840s, was quickly enlisted in the abolitionist cause. A daguerreotype by Southworth & Hawes shows the right hand of Captain Jonathan W. Walker, an ardent abolitionist. He was branded with the letters, "S.S.," for slave stealer, for attempting to help Florida slaves escape to freedom. In 1850, as the national debate over slavery became ever more intense and angry, Harriet Beecher Stowe began composing what would become arguably the most influential work of fiction in American history—Uncle Tom’s Cabin. On March 2, 1852, she wrote to educator and reformer Horace Mann and announces that she completed the novel.
The Fugitive Slave Law, part of the Compromise of 1850, left it to federal magistrates to determine whether slaves who had escaped to free states should be returned to bondage. Massachusetts had a personal liberty law—the “Latimer Law”—to protect runaway slaves, but when it proved ineffective, Boston abolitionists prepared to take direct action. Visitors can examine a diagram showing the drill developed by the secret Anti-Man-Hunting League to run off slave catchers.
While some slaves were liberated, others were captured and returned to bondage. In 1854, the rendition of Anthony Burns, a fugitive from Virginia, galvanized Boston. In a letter to her father, Benjamin Seaver, Mary Blanchard described the crowds gathered in Boston on June 4, 1854 to watch the procession that marched Burns from the courthouse to the waterfront and back to slavery in Virginia. After his return to bondage, Burns wrote an anguished plea to Richard Henry Dana, Jr. asking for help in securing his freedom. Visitors can read this letter and see two checks totaling $1,300 used to purchase his freedom.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 broke the Missouri Compromise by leaving it to a vote of the inhabitants whether a state formed from the Kansas territory would be slave or free. Boston emigrant aid societies publicly appealed for colonists who would win the battle for the territory at the ballot box, but in secret members shipped “special supplies”—Colt revolvers and Sharps rifles—to Kansas. The legend of “Captain” John Brown, murderous fanatic and/or heroic defender of the antislavery cause, was born in “Bleeding Kansas.” By 1859, with financial support from Northern abolitionists Brown began to plan direct action against the South—an attack on the arsenal at Harpers Ferry.
After the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified—and 35 years of publication—Garrison printed the final issue of The Liberator at the end of 1865. He set some of the type himself on the same imposing stone used in 1831 when the paper began. Though many of his readers and supporters thought the battle for civil rights was just beginning, they flooded the paper with congratulatory messages forcing Garrison to print an “extra” final issue.
Visit www.masshist.org/features/boston-abolitionists, a companion website featuring manuscripts, photographs, and artifacts of the antislavery movement from the Society’s collections.
The MHS Commemorates the 150th Anniversary of the Signing of the Emancipation Proclamation
Published: Friday, 21 December, 2012, 1:26 PM
Pen used by Abraham Lincoln to sign historic document will be on display
To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Society will open two exhibitions on January 1, 2013.
Opening in the Society’s Presidential Gallery, Forever Free: Lincoln & the Emancipation Proclamation will focus on this momentous undertaking that changed a nation and will feature the pen Lincoln used to sign the document. The exhibition will also display a bronze cast made from a plaster study model of the Lincoln statue Daniel Chester French made for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. as well as broadsides, engravings, and manuscripts that tell the story of how the city of Boston celebrated Emancipation.
In the Treasures Gallery, Abraham Lincoln in Manuscript & Artifact will display documents and artifacts related to Abraham Lincoln including his famous 1855 letter to Joshua F. Speed explaining his evolving views on slavery. The exhibition will also feature casts of the life mask and hands of Lincoln made by Leonard Volk in the spring of 1860.
At 2:00 PM on January 1, MHS Stephen T. Riley Librarian Peter Drummey and MHS Curator of Art Anne E. Bentley will present "The 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation" and explain how this epochal event in American History became an extraordinary moment in Boston history.
The galleries will be open on January 1 from 12 PM to 4 PM. The exhibitions will be open through May 24, Monday through Saturday from 10 AM to 4 PM.
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.