MHS for the Media

George Washington Letter Donated to the Massachusetts Historical Society

Washington thanks Lincoln for gift of cheese and cranberries in letter donated to the Society

Washington letterA 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.”

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Discovery of Early E.E. Cummings Works at the Massachusetts Historical Society

Early Childhood Writings and Sketches of E.E. Cummings Uncovered at the MHS while processing Cummings-Clarke Collection

EE CummingsThe 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: 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.

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In Death Lamented: The Tradition of Anglo-American Mourning Jewelry

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

In Death Lamented - book cover

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.

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Exhibition features original printing of the Declaration of Independence and letters written by John Adams and Abigail Adams

John Adams letter to Abigail Adams July 3, 1776On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress resolved "That these United Colonies are, and of right, ought to be, Free and Independent States." In a letter written to Abigail Adams on July 3, 1776, John Adams reflected on the event and summed up what it meant for Americans of his own time and in the future. He writes that the day will be celebrated with, "Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other." Adams seems to have understood more clearly than any other member of the Continental Congress the momentous importance of the vote for independence on July 2, 1776 and how it should be celebrated. He was right about everything except the date. On July 2, in celebration of America's independence, the MHS will open an exhibition of letters and documents celebrating this important moment in United States history. The exhibition will be on display through August 31. 

The exhibition showcases national treasures including one of the first printings of the Declaration of Independence, Abigail Adams’ most celebrated letter to her husband in which she urges him to "Remember the ladies," and the letter John Adams writes to his wife describing his reaction to the vote for independence. This letter is the cornerstone of the exhibition. Adams writes, “The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.”

Among the highlights of the exhibition are John Adams’ and Thomas Jefferson's handwritten copies of the Declaration of Independence. Also on display is one of only 25 known copies of the first Dunlap printing of the Declaration. On July 4, 1776, the committee that had drafted the Declaration of Independence presented their corrected and approved text to the printing shop of John Dunlap. He printed a limited number of copies that were carried to the army, as well as to the cities and towns of the newly declared United States.

Independence was publically proclaimed in Philadelphia on July 8, 1776, in New York on July 9, 1776, and in Boston on July 18, 1776. Featured in the exhibition is a letter Abigail Adams wrote to her husband on July 21, 1776, in which she describes hearing the Declaration of Independence read in Boston. “Last Thursday after hearing a very Good Sermon I went with the Multitude into Kings Street to hear the proclamation for independance read and proclamed.” She continues, “As soon as he ended, the cry from the Belcona, was God Save our American States and then 3 cheers which rended the air, the Bells rang, the privateers fired, the forts and Batteries, the cannon were discharged, the platoons followed and every face appeard joyfull.”

Additional Information
To complement the exhibition, the Society will present two gallery talks. On July 2 at 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM, Stephen T. Riley Librarian Peter Drummey will talk about the exhibition and explain why John Adams believed July 2, 1776 would be the most memorable day in the history of America. The talks are free and open to the public.

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