The Massachusetts Gubernatorial Election of 1878 – “Honest Money, Honest Men”

By Matthew Ahern, Library Assistant

In 1878, the future of the US currency was on the minds of many American citizens. With America in the middle of an economic depression contributing to anxieties around American monetary policies that had existed since the Civil War, the Greenback party had made considerable gains. Greenbackers saw money not restricted by bullion as being inherently helpful to the lower classes during this economic depression, while traditionally minded gold standard supporters feared what Greenback policy would do to the confidence in the American dollar, both domestically and abroad. In 1878, Massachusetts would be confronted by this debate when ardent Greenbacker Benjamin Butler’s was pitted against businessman Thomas Talbot in the gubernatorial election that year. In a contest that mixed personal reputation with monetary policy, it would be Talbot’s “Honest Money, Honest Men”[1] pitch that would win the day.

During the summer of 1878, Civil War General, and disillusioned ex-Republican congressmen, Benjamin F. Butler found himself as the conductor of a populist movement on a Greenback platform that ultimately led to him receiving the Democratic nomination for Governor. Almost as if in response to Butler and his followers, the Republican party nominated the mild-mannered mill owner Thomas Talbot. A former acting Governor of Massachusetts, Talbot supported the gold standard and took a far more moderate stance to both business and labor reform. This election, with these two contrasting figures would be just as much about personality and personal history as it was about policy.

"Honest Money" ticket
Governor Talbot’s ticket using the phrase “Honest Money” at the top.  “State Ticket. 1878. Talbot and Long.” Collection of the MHS.

Talbot grew up in poverty, receiving only a partial education, and working primarily as a mill worker when he was younger. Eventually he established the modestly sized Talbot Mills in Billerica and had quickly earned himself a strong reputation paying his employees high wages with fair treatment during a time when mill workers were often treated poorly. By the 1850s, he had entered local Republican politics, and was eventually tapped to be Gov. Washburn’s running-mate in his successful 1874 ticket. Only a few months later, Talbot would find himself serving as the acting Governor after Washburn’s electoral victory for the late Charles Sumner’s seat in the US Senate. Though he was generally well liked during his time in office, Talbot destroyed his chances at winning re-election when he vetoed a liquor reform bill due to his temperance convictions (A stance that would be his political Achilles heel). Still a strong voice in the party, he would need to wait until 1878 to get another shot at the office of Governor.[2]

Butler lived a rather different life. Growing up in a family with some means, Butler benefited from an education from Philips Exeter and Colby College. Setting up a legal practice in Lowell, he engaged in speculation and would become a majority stakeholder in the Middlesex Company, a large mill in the city. Entering politics around the same time as Talbot, Butler was originally a Democrat, and first switched party affiliations to the Republican party during the Civil War. As a Major-General for the Union, he was known as an abysmal battlefield commander, but effective administrator. Post-war, he would serve in the US Congress as a Republican, though eventually growing frustrated the Republican platform’s lack of populist policies he had come to favor. Butler switched his party affiliation once more the Greenback Party, and he would carry with him the majority of Democratic party support within the state.

Butler Rally Poster
Butler Campaign Rally, with Butler described as the “People’s Candidate”. “Grand rally! Of the people!” Collection of the MHS.

Talbot and his supporters understood that his reputation would be the key to both challenging Butler and adding validity to his more moderate platform. The Talbot Mills had a strong reputation amongst workers, while Butler’s Middlesex Company did not. Talbot was a loyal party-man while Butler had a history of switching affiliations. Talbot also sought no higher office and disliked public ceremony, while many guessed (and rightly so) that Butler, who thrived in the spotlight, would use the Governorship as a step towards the Presidency. Furthermore, he was aided by rising Republican politician Gen. James A. Garfield, who delivered a speech at Faneuil Hall and lampooned Butler’s monetary policy.[3]

Political attacks continued to rage, with Talbot cast as part of the Republican oligarchy currently in power and Butler labeled a demagogue. Despite Butler’s attempts to soften controversial aspects of his history, he was not able to escape the perception of him as a leader of the “Repudiationists, Greenbackers, and Communists” trying to wrestle for power in the state.[4]

Butler caricature cartoon
1874 cartoon displaying criticisms of Butler in caricature. “Cradle of Liberty in Danger.” Collection of the MHS.

In the end, turnout would be massive, with Butler receiving more votes than any other defeated candidate previously, though he was still beaten handily by Talbot 53% to 43%.[5] Voters appeared to have seen the merit in Talbot’s campaign pitch of “Honest Money, Honest Men” over a controversial and radical Butler. Butler would go on to achieve electoral victory in 1882 and launch his bid for the Presidency in his unsuccessful campaign of 1884. As for Talbot, his term in office was characterized by incremental labor and prison reforms, as well as the implementing of the first piece of limited women’s suffrage in the state. Refusing a run for reelection, Talbot became largely a footnote in Massachusetts’s political history, but the campaign he ran in 1878 demonstrated reputation can matter just as much, if not more, than a politician’s policy platform.

[1] “Regular Republican ticket : honest money, honest men.” Rockwell and Churchill, Printer. Boston Athenaeum Collections.

[2] Thomas Talbot: A memorial. Privately printed, 1886. MHS Collections.

[3] Endicott’s letter : Garfield’s speech on honest money : delivered at Faneuil Hall, Boston, Sept. 10, 1878. MHS Collections.

[4] “Address of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee, 1878.” MHS Collections.

[5] “1878 Massachusetts Gubernatorial Election” Congressional Quarterly Guide to U S Elections, second edition.

“New England Bravery”

By Amy Watson, NEH Fellow, University of Alabama at Birmingham

At four o’clock in the morning on 3 July 1745, Boston’s residents awoke to the firing of guns, the beating of drums, and the ringing of bells. The bleary-eyed Bostonians’ alarm soon turned to delight when they learned the cause of the commotion: New England troops had captured the town of Louisbourg, a French colonial port on the island of Île Royale (in what is now Nova Scotia). For the entirety of the day, Bostonians “laid aside all thoughts of business” to celebrate the victory, participating in a city-wide block party that included fireworks, songs, and “plenty of good liquor.” As one eyewitness wrote, “never before, upon any occasion, was observed so universal and unaffected a joy.”[1]

I began my research at the Massachusetts Historical Society with questions about this victory and the celebrations it sparked. Why had New Englanders volunteered to fight the French at Louisbourg? Why were Boston’s residents so thrilled about winning a fishing port on the frigid waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence? What did they hope to get out of it?

I knew that I would be able to find these answers at the MHS, which has the best collection in America on the Louisbourg expedition, including accounts of military leaders, politicians, and New England soldiers.[2] But my favorite find at the MHS was a simple printed ballad that circulated in Boston immediately following the victory. Entitled “New England Bravery,” this broadsheet describes New England’s capture of Louisbourg in verses to be sung to the tune of the old English song “Chivey Chace.” This ballad gave me not only a glimpse into the raucous celebrations that took place on Boston’s streets in July 1745, but also insight into what Louisbourg represented to the ordinary shopkeepers, merchants, and laborers who sang of its conquest. [Figure 1]

“New England Bravery,” shows the real antipathy that New Englanders held towards their French neighbors in North America. In the ballad’s description of the siege itself, there is the normal lighthearted banter between French and New England soldiers: “Jack Frenchman, cries, you English dogs/ come, here’s a pretty Wench.” But the tone turned serious once the New Englanders successfully captured the port, and decided what to do with their defeated foes: “They all are to be sent to France,/ with all the Islanders,/ Which needs must ease our Countrymen/of many Cares and Fears.” The ballad is therefore advocating for the expulsion of the French-speaking inhabitants of Île Royale, a people whose families had lived in the region for more than a century. [Figure Two]

Why did New Englanders want these French islanders gone so badly? The first motive was commercial: Louisbourg provided access to the cod fisheries of the North Atlantic, a lucrative trade which many Massachusetts colonists hoped to capture for themselves. More pressing, however, were the colonists’ geopolitical concerns. There was a growing political movement on both sides of the British Atlantic in the 1740s to take a more militant stance towards France in order to protect and expand Britain’s imperial hegemony in America.[3]  Île Royale was key to this program: British control of Louisbourg could choke off French shipping to Canada, making it too costly for France to continue its colonial operations in the region. As Massachusetts Governor William Shirley wrote, the conquest of Louisbourg was the first, essential step “to drive the French wholly off the North American continent.”[4] The anonymous writer of “New England Bravery” evidently agreed with Shirley’s aims, and many of the ordinary Bostonians who sang the ballad no doubt did as well.

More than a thousand inhabitants of Île Royale would be deported to France in the months following the conquest of Louisbourg, though some would return home briefly in peacetime, only to be expelled again during the Seven Years War. Ultimately, more than ten thousand French-speaking inhabitants of the greater Acadian region would be forced from their homes in the 1750s-60s, a violent undertaking that historian John Mack Faragher has described as an American example of “state-sponsored ethnic cleansing.”[5] Not all New Englanders supported this cruelty. However, “New England Bravery” suggests that in 1745 there were Bostonians in favor of a forced French expulsion singing out in the streets.

New England Bravery broadside
New England Bravery, Broadside, [Boston] : Sold at the Heart and Crown in Cornhill, Boston, 1745.
Detail of broadside
Detail of New England Bravery, Broadside, sold at the Heart and Crown in Cornhill, Boston, 1745.

[1] Pennsylvania Gazette, 18 July 1745

[2] See William Pepperrell Papers, William Shirley Papers, and William Clarke Journal in Dolbeare Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

[3] For more on this political movement, see Steve Pincus and Amy Watson, “Patriotism after the Hanoverian Succession,” in The Hanoverian Succession in Great Britain and its Empire, eds. Brent Sirota and Allan MacInnes (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2019), 155-174.

[4] William Shirley to Lords Commissioners of Admiralty, 10 July 1745, The National Archives of the UK, ADM 1-3817

[5] John Mack Faragher, A Great and Noble Scheme (New York: Norton, 2005), 473

“I Hope You Will Be Successfull in Your New Home and Luck Well”: Letters of a Black Family in the Early 20th Century, Part IV

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

This is the fourth installment of a five-part series on the Jarrett family letters at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Click here to read Part I, Part II, and Part III.

Today we return to the story of the Jarretts, a farming family in the small town of Shiloh, Georgia. The Jarrett collection at the Massachusetts Historical Society consists of five letters to Homer Clifford Jarrett (1882-1959) from family members, primarily his mother Julia. The fourth letter was written on 17 July 1907. Below is a complete transcription. As before, I’ll retain misspellings but add sentence and paragraph breaks for readability.

Julia Jarrett letter to Homer Jarrett
Letter from Julia Jarrett to Homer Jarrett, 17 July 1907

Shiloh Ga.
July. 17, 1907

Mr. Homer C. Jarrett.

Dear son

I received your letter some time ago. This leaves the family well. Hope when this reach it will find you the same. I just received a letter from Claud. It stated that he was well.

People are slow on crops. We just started back to hoeing the second time Monday. The cotton is looking fine. Corn crop is slow. It is not going to be much corn made this year down here.

I dont think we all went to the district meeting last Saturday and Sunday at Shiloh Ga. It was helt at the A.M.E. Church. It was nice times up thair. On Sunday Shack Barney and Shurn Copeland got in fuss. They shot at one and other. Shurn shot at Shack 3 times. Shack shot at Shurn 2 times. But not one got hurt. Shurn is under a hundred dollar [barn]. They hasent got Shack yet but say they is going to have him.

Homer you must be a good boy and try to prey. The people is got to be so bad nowadays. I hope you will be successfull in your new home and luck well. Grandpa is well and sends his best regards to you often speakes of you. Lizzie sends love to you and many sweet kisses. Charlie eyes is something better. He is plowing evey day. Generous is gone back to cooking again. He is not at home now. Sister Cora and family is well. Brother Wilson and family is well.

I hasent got any ink this time. I will try to get some the next time I write you.

So good bye

Your mother
Julia Jarrett

We’ve met most of the family before. Homer’s brother Claud and sister Lizzie have figured prominently in our series so far, and Grandpa, Charlie, and Wilson have made appearances. Cora, another sister, was married to a man named Levi Whitehead, according to online genealogical sources. I don’t know who Generous was, but it’s a great name!

The handwriting of this letter differs from that of the first three. I believe Claud had previously transcribed for his mother, but since he was away, someone else took over the job. I can only guess who the new transcriber was, but I wonder if it might have been Julia’s young daughter Lizzie. We know she was (or at least had been) in school, and in July 1907 she would have been nine years old.

I hit a number of frustrating dead ends researching the details of this letter. I couldn’t find an African Methodist Episcopal church in Shiloh, but it may have closed, moved, merged with another church, or changed denominations. Today, there are more than 500 AME churches in Georgia alone. I also didn’t locate any contemporary accounts of the confrontation between the two men, Shack Barney and Shurn Copeland, and I couldn’t confirm the meaning of “barn” (or “barm”) in this context. I assume it meant bail or a fine.

But details aside, this letter touches on several interesting themes, particularly the precariousness of the Jarretts’ income from their cotton and corn crops. We also see Julia’s concern for her son Homer, so far away from home—concern not just for his physical, but also his moral well-being.

One thing I like about this collection and other family letters I’ve seen at the MHS is that they really give us a sense of how people talked to each other in their everyday lives. This is something that doesn’t come through as strongly in formal correspondence. Phonetic spellings tell us how Julia pronounced certain words: “helt,” for example. It’s almost as if we can hear her voice. I also love the expression “luck well” instead of “have good luck.”

Homer had been moving steadily northward over the course of the previous two years. By 1907, he had reached New England, and this letter is addressed to him at Farragut House, a resort hotel in Rye Beach, N.H., where Homer was presumably working. Farragut House, according to the 1907 publication New England Vacation Resorts (p. 67), was the largest and priciest hotel at Rye Beach, accommodating 300 guests and costing $5.00 a night. The building has since been torn down, but you can find picture postcards of it online.

In my next post, I’ll be concluding the story of the Jarrett family. I hope you’ll join me!

A Look at Some of Our Online Programs This February

Gavin W. Kleespies, Director of Programs, Exhibitions and Community Partnerships

While we certainly miss seeing our Members  and loyal program attendees, there are some advantages to holding programs online. For one, it is nice to have the ability to host speakers from across the country. The fact that there is no lengthy travel has enabled us to pair people together for great conversations and panel discussions. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we will continue to host online programs for the foreseeable future. Below are some highlights of upcoming programs we will host in February.

We are starting the month off with two great conversations. One 1 February, at 5:30 PM, Gretchen Sorin and MHS President Catherine Allgor will discuss Driving While Black: African American Travel & the Road to Civil Rights. Sorin’s new book explores the important role cars have played in African American households, allowing Black families to evade dangers presented by an entrenched racist society and, when combined with black travel guides including the famous Green Book, presenting opportunities to resist oppression and to enjoy the freedom of the open road. On 11 February, at 5:30 PM, famous Civil War historian James Oakes and renowned legal historian Randall Kennedy will talk about The Crooked Path to Abolition: Abraham Lincoln & the Antislavery Constitution. They will discuss whether Lincoln and the Republican Party can be faulted for moving slowly due to a long standing conservatism on abolition and race or if they were adhering to a clear antislavery strategy founded on the Constitution itself.

We will also have two panel discussions in February. We will hold the first of five programs in a series called Confronting Racial Injustice. The first program is scheduled for 18 February, at 6:00 PMSlavery, Wealth Creation & Intergenerational Wealth, with Nicole Maskiell, Elon Cook Lee, and moderator Jared Hardesty, will explore Massachusetts’s connections to slavery and the slave trade, the wealth–and the poverty–slavery created and bequeathed, and how the legacies of slavery are reflected in injustices that haunt Massachusetts to this day. This series is planned in partnership with Northeastern University Law School’s Criminal Justice Task Force. On 25 February, at 5:30 PM, we will revisit a discussion we had three years ago that explored how marginalized groups have used protest and agitation to advance their rights. Protest & Citizenship: Revisited will feature Crystal Feimster, Hasan Jeffries, Stephen Kantrowitz, and Chad Williams. They will look at the ways in which protest has been used to highlight injustice and change the citizenship rights of certain groups. They will also reflect on how has this conversation has evolved in the wake of the high-profile demonstrations triggered by the murder of George Floyd and what can we take from the past to understand our current political and social climate.

Visit for more information on these and other upcoming programs and to register.

After the Storm

By Sara Georgini, Series Editor, The Papers of John Adams

Campaign token
John Adams campaign token or button coat stud, [1800].
He came home in a whirlwind. His “little bark…oversett in a Squal of Thunder and Lightening and hail attended with a Strong Smell of Sulphur,” outgoing President John Adams fought the five hundred miles from Washington, D.C., to his native Quincy in two weeks flat. Traveling in early March 1801 meant a rough ride. Mud inked along the new, boggy roads, pooling in deep gulches that braked Adams’ path to a crawl. No longer the kind of celebrity who drew feasts, toasts, and fêtes, Adams plodded through dreary tavern stops. Minutes after he reached Peacefield to reunite with wife Abigail and his family, a violent storm splintered the New England sky. Gales of wind shuddered across his farm. Rain whipped down, flooding crops and confining the Adamses for several days. John Adams didn’t mind. It was “So old fashioned a storm that I begin to hope that nature is returning to her old good nature and good humour and is substituting fermentations in the Elements, for revolutions in the moral intellectual and political World,” he wrote on 31 March. Turning the page on his presidency, Adams sensed greater change was in the air.

Back at the capital, Thomas Jefferson pondered the challenge of how to lead that shift. “The storm is over, and we are in port,” Jefferson wrote to Samuel Adams on 29 March. “The ship was not rigged for the service she was put on. we will shew the smoothness of her motions on her republican tack.” The election of 1800 evolved American democracy in big ways. Electioneering dominated the press, as Adams’ Federalist Party supporters continuously clashed with their rivals, Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans. Both camps diverged on domestic and foreign issues; Adams’ unpopularity surged as he enforced the Alien and Sedition Acts and loudly defended the need for peace with France. As voting stretched from September to December, party cleavage ended the Federalists’ hold on a congressional majority. The whole electoral system rebooted, too. States’ methods for choosing presidential electors changed, igniting confusion and popular concern. When Jefferson tied with Aaron Burr for the top seat, the House of Representatives slogged through nearly a week of balloting to break the deadlock in the Virginian’s favor. In all the political chaos, a silver lining glimmered: Adams and Jefferson’s joint commitment to a peaceful transfer of power between parties pointed to the young democracy’s potential.

In its aftermath, citizens like Abigail Adams, Hannah Phillips Cushing, and Margaret Bayard Smith leaned in to private letters where they weighed the election’s role in history. Cushing, wife of U.S. Supreme Court justice William Cushing, lamented Federalists’ waning “judgment and prudence.” And was this election a harbinger, she wondered, of how presidents might stir public unrest through doling out highly coveted appointments? Smith, a Washington chronicler who began as a Federalist and was, in 1800, newly wed to a Democratic-Republican newspaper editor, looked for daylight between the parties’ views. She found it in the crowds at Jefferson’s inauguration, watching opponents unite to agree (at least) that the system worked fine, with a few tweaks. Jefferson, “called by the voice of his country,” still impressed Smith eight years later, when she visited him at Monticello. But what Smith noticed on the morning of Jefferson’s inauguration—the enduring trust of the people who guided the president—helped to solidify her political thought. “The political theory of republicanism, which seated power in a virtuous people, encouraged individuals to evaluate all facets of their lives along the lines of civic-mindedness, and from her earliest writings, Margaret discussed the connections she saw between political ideals and the way that people behaved,” MHS President Catherine Allgor wrote of Smith in 2012. “Intellectual, well educated, and politically aware, she made few decisions lightly.” Often minus a vote but not a voice, early American women offer us an intriguing glimpse of the election’s fallout and the nation’s future in 1801. You can explore their ideas in our free Adams Papers digital editions, available here.

Like many Americans adapting to the ebb and tide of the U.S. election cycle, Abigail Adams struggled to take the long view. Party drama would recede as a new generation of lawmakers shouldered their duties, she thought. The contours of political difference that felt so crystalline in the election’s maelstrom would soften, uniting them in common cause. “Before many more years pass away, every candid Republican will be ready to acknowledge the justice and wisdom of many measures, which party Spirit and a distorded view led them to condemn,” Abigail wrote to Hannah Philips Cushing. “They will find more Love of country, more disinterested patriotism in the measures of the federal government than they can produce, public good and not popularity were sought.” With a new president waiting in the wings for 2021, we invite you to join us for a special discussion on contested elections, featuring scholars Joanne B. Freeman, Peter S. Onuf, Rachel A. Shelden, Erik B. Alexander, and Ted Widmer on Wednesday, 6 January 2021, 5:30pm EST via Zoom webinar. You can read all about it and register to join us here.

New Year Wishes from the MHS Staff

Happy New Year from all of us at the MHS! Below is a selection of thoughts and wishes from members of the MHS staff.

“My wish is for peace to all beings and places in 2021.”
– Katie Finn, Executive Assistant to the President and Secretary to the Board

“My New Year Wish is that everyone can get vaccinated in 2021, and that this signals the end of the pandemic.”
– Katherine H. Griffin, Nora Saltonstall Preservation Librarian

“I wish that by next winter, at the end of a long workweek and after running holiday errands, I can meet up with my husband at our favorite dive bar, that will be full of people, and thus slightly smelly, cozy up to a few slightly stale beers at the “regulars” corner, catch up with bartenders and others, and listen to an unknown band play some covers with a singer whose voice will transport us out of our conversations and make us wonder at the capacity of human talent. Or, in other words, a widely administered vaccine and a return to equilibrium. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but, hey, it’s my wish.”
– Victoria McNay, Associate Director of Development

“I wish for all humans to find ways to be more empathetic than ever in the coming year and I wish for all U. S. citizens to honor and protect democracy in 2021.”
– Nancy Heywood, Senior Archivist for Digital Initiatives

“May we all be the people our loyal canine friends know we are capable of being.”
– Ondine LeBlanc, Worthington C. Ford Editor of Publications

“My Winter Solstice reflection is May we find Wisdom and Wonder in our Darkness”
– Laura Wulf, Photographic and Digital Imaging Specialist

“A Reading Room full of Researchers in 2021.”
– Dan Hinchen, Reference Librarian

“May 2021 bring all of us the opportunity to begin anew, to dream again and plan a bright future, but let the lessons of goodness, kindness and resilience learned in 2020 always guide us. It has been a long year, but one that has shown us moments of great courage, strength and optimism. Together we survived 2020, and together we will be to make a better world in 2021.”
– Rakashi Chand, Senior Library Assistant

“My wish is for an end to this pandemic and comfort for all who have lost loved ones this year.”
– Anne Bentley, Curator of Art & Artifacts

Ghost of New Year’s Past

By Viv Williams, Library Assistant

Diary of Sara Gooll Putnam
Doodle of a clock with wings and legs chasing a running man from Sara Gooll Putnam’s diary, entry date January 1, 1863

Happy New Year, Readers!

As 2020 crawls to a close, I’m sure many people will be keeping with the tradition of preparing some hope or goal they intend to carry with them into the coming year while reflecting on the lasting impacts of the year departing. I can imagine after the very unusual toll 2020 has taken on all of us, a few more distinctive resolutions and reflections will be made alongside the typical list of starting a new fitness journey, getting organized, or learning a new skill or hobby. 2020 has been particularly dark for many of us, but with a new calendar year comes new hope. When seeking hope amidst troubled times, I believe much can be gained from remembering that few struggles in this world are unprecedented. And so, I can think of a no more appropriate endeavor than to invoke the ghosts of New Year’s past by diving into our collections and observing the reflections and resolutions of previous years. Come in, and know our collections better, Readers! (Figuratively of course, we are still closed to the public for now.)

Our first New Year’s reflection comes from the Everett-Noble papers which include the diary of Alexander Hill Everett, brother to the famous Massachusetts orator, Edward Everett. In December of 1809, Alexander finds himself in Russia serving as secretary to John Quincy Adams. He writes:

This day brings the year to a close. On casting back a glance, I find it marked for me with events that will probably fix, fortunately or otherwise, the color of my life. As a matter of naked prudence, perhaps it was rather questionable whether I ought to harken such a step as to leave my country for so long a time and sacrifice for the present, the study of a profession. Hitherto, however, instead of repenting I have applauded myself more and more: I have placed myself in a way of distinction; it will only be unfortunate for me if my abilities are not adequate to support the situation.

Reader, have you made any “questionable” decisions this year or maybe taken a great risk? I can ascertain from the rest of this collection that Alexander’s “questionable” decision panned out nicely for him. He continued in the field of foreign diplomacy until his death. So, perhaps there is hope for you. Only time will tell. Keep going.

We move on to our next New Year’s reflection which I can only describe as a big “2020 Mood,” though it was actually written in 1816 which New England historians might recognize as “the year without a summer.” After spending the year in lockdown, I find that phrase to be all too relatable. This excerpt comes from the diary of Hannah Dawes Newcomb, a resident of Keene, N.H. She writes:

The New Year opens upon me with my feelings gloomily impressed. May God grant me strength of mind to endure his chastening with suitable firmness and humility & may it be consistent with his decrees to remove the difficulties which now await me.

Not all resolutions can be cheerful. While we can all be grateful to make it to another year, it can be hard to be hopeful when the “difficulties” of the previous year have no determined end in sight. May we all find the strength to push forward in hopes of happier times.

Many people this year have been forced apart from family and other loved ones. This is of course a burden that is relatable across time. If you find yourself in this predicament, perhaps you will find your own New Year’s hopes reflected in this 1862 letter from Richard Cary to his wife:

My dear wife,

Happy New Year to you & may this day twelve months see us once more together & settled down to a regular hum-drum Darby & Joan which sort of life I look upon now as the most desirable possible existence & may the country be quiet united & contented as we shall be if my hopes might come true.

At the time this letter was written, Richard Cary was serving as a captain in the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, Company G. I take no pleasure in telling you that his hopes did not come true. He was killed at the Battle of Cedar Mountain at the age of 26. Sobering, I know, but more than 300,000 people were permanently separated from their family members in the United States this year, many of them just as young. In this New Year, may we hold our loved ones closer and be so much kinder to one another.

Each of us has had to endure so much this year. But we did just that–endured–and we did it together as many have before us. Thank you for continuing to stand by us, the MHS, and each other as we’ve all learned to adapt and survive. My wish for the New Year is that we would all experience fewer moments of pure survival and more opportunities to thrive. I leave you with this last brief but all-encompassing New Year’s entry from the diary of Andrew Oliver who said simply, “Thus ends the year 1953 with its ups and downs!”

Happy New Year!

Dreaming of Greener (or At Least Warmer) Pastures

by Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

I don’t know about you, but just two days after the official start of winter and six days after Winter Storm Gail, I’m already dreaming of tropical climes. To whet my appetite, I turn to a fun old travel guide in the Massachusetts Historical Society’s collection, Appleton’s Illustrated Hand-book of American Winter Resorts; for Tourists and Invalids.

Appleton’s Illustrated Hand-book of American Winter Resorts; for Tourists and Invalids
Front cover

This small, attractive hardcover volume, only 138 pages long, is chock full of terrific illustrations and maps.

Appleton’s Illustrated Hand-book of American Winter Resorts; for Tourists and Invalids
Description and illustrations of Savannah, Ga.

It was published in 1879 by D. Appleton and Co., a major New York publishing company run by five sons of founder Daniel Appleton. The company put out a number of targeted guidebooks like this; there’s one about summer resorts, too. In the front and back, you’ll find advertisements for hotels, banks, railroads, steamship companies, and, of course, other Appleton publications.

Appleton’s Illustrated Hand-book of American Winter Resorts; for Tourists and Invalids
Advertisements for tours

The book is divided into twelve sections: Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Minnesota, Arkansas Hot Springs, Colorado, California, the Lower Mississippi, the West Indies, the Bermudas, and the Sandwich Islands. Sections include general descriptions; descriptions of major cities, towns, rivers, etc.; lists of hotels and boarding houses; and information on climate, history, and points of interest.

As you can tell from its unfortunate title, this book is targeted not only at recreational travelers, but also “invalids,” primarily tuberculosis patients, or “consumptives” in the vernacular of the time. Included are “all the facts as to climatic and local conditions” in each location, as well as testimonials by physicians and even mortality rates!

The largest section by far is the one on Florida, a popular destination for “those afflicted with pulmonary complaints.” The anonymous author waxes almost poetic about the state’s many rivers, including the St. Johns and the Ocklawaha. My favorite illustration, depicting Green Cove Springs, also appears in this section.

Appleton’s Illustrated Hand-book of American Winter Resorts; for Tourists and Invalids
Green Cove Springs on the St. Johns River

The guidebook contains some fascinating factoids that give us a snapshot of what vacations were like in 1879. Travel by train cost 2-3 cents per mile (more in the southern and western United States); steamboats were even cheaper; the going rate for first-class hotels was $4.00-$4.50 per day; and only gold and silver, not U.S. Treasury notes or National Bank bills, were legal tender in California. A train ticket from New York to San Francisco would run you $138.

Speaking of California, I particularly enjoyed the description of a quaint little town called Los Angeles.

Its present population is about 12,000, and the adobe buildings, of which it was originally composed, are fast giving way to larger and more imposing structures. It has a large and varied trade with the interior, and contains three banks, a Roman Catholic college, several public schools, a public library, three daily and two weekly newspapers, churches of the various denominations, and good hotels.

What other tips did the Appletons have for the resourceful tourist or “consumptive” in search of relief?

Our American climate is very changeable, and the traveler had better suffer at noonday from too much clothing than expose himself at night, in storms, or to sudden changes of temperature, with too little. One should wear woolen underclothing, both summer and winter, and always have a shawl or extra wrapper of some kind at hand.

Here’s hoping you are enjoying whatever weather you happen to be in!

A Birthday Concert

By Heather Wilson, Library Assistant

On the evening of her tenth birthday, 22 December 1863, María Teresa Carreño García de Sena (1853-1917), known as Teresa Carreño, sat at the grand piano in the Boston Music Hall. She was ending the year much as she’d begun it–performing for large crowds in Boston. That year she had also played throughout New England, in New York City, at the White House for President Lincoln, and in Havana, Cuba.

Program for 22 December 1863 concert
Boston Music Hall: Teresa Carreño’s First Grand Concert, Tuesday evening, December 22, 1863

In addition to playing pieces by eminent composers and virtuoso pianists–on this night the concert program shows that she played pieces by American Louis Moreau Gottschalk, and Europeans Franz Liszt and Sigismond Thalburg–Teresa ended the concert with a work of her own composition. La Emilia Danza was a genre of dance music native to her home country of Venezuela, from which she had emigrated to New York with her family in 1862.

Cover of Dancing Hands
The author’s photo of Dancing Hands by Margarita Engle

I began learning about Teresa Carreño when I read the picture book Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln [1], with my five-year-olds. So, I was excited to spot a record of her in ABIGAIL, the MHS online catalog, as I worked from home on my laptop. After a colleague working in the building emailed me scans of the two items, I showed the photograph to my kids. “Look; this is Teresa Carreño the year she played for President Lincoln! She played for lots of people in Boston, too!”

 In fact, she found large and appreciative audiences wherever she went.

On December 19, 1863, The Boston Evening Transcript ran an advertisement for the concert:

Theresa [sic] Carreno, the wonderful little artiste, is announced to give a grand concert at the Music Hall, on Tuesday evening next, the 22d inst. Her visit to Boston last season created unusual interest and excitement in musical circles, and she comes now better fitted than ever to astonish by her truly wonderful powers. She has acquired a greater degree of physical force in the meanwhile, and now performs the most difficult compositions of Liszt, Chopin, Beethoven, Thalberg, and Gottschalk. He [sic] has also composed some beautiful pieces, which will be heard in Boston for the first time. [2]

Many reviewers attributed Carreño’s talent to prodigious abilities and lessons she received from pianists such as Gottschalk, but a fuller picture includes lots and lots of practice at home. Carreño’s father, Manuel Antonio Carreño (1812-1874), played a major role in Teresa’s development as a pianist and composer. Under his tutelage in Caracas, Teresa began studying piano and composing at the age of six. Looking back on her earliest years of lessons, she said she practiced, “two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon, and the rest of the day I played with my doll.” [3] By the time the family emigrated to New York, she had been playing private concerts for years.

Photo of Teresa Carreno
Photograph of Teresa Carreño, January 31, 1863, Boston, MA

Looking at this carte de visite of nine-year-old Teresa, taken in Boston in January 1863, I couldn’t help but wonder what she was thinking. Wearing a dress and earrings, with a stool placed beneath her feet, she strikes a more restful pose than audiences would have seen while she performed. Referring to her ideal style, she once said, “One should be able to play with a glass of water balanced on the wrist.” [4]) Is she thinking about her doll? School lessons? Is she itching to travel back to New York, or eager for spring and her upcoming concerts in Cuba? Does she love to play as much as Dancing Hands suggests?

Indeed, some reviewers were skeptical of Carreño, and child pianists as a whole. The reviewer John Sullivan Dwight attended Carreño’s January 1863 performances in Boston. Although he called her “a wonder” he also wrote:

The danger is lest her talent, by such early continual exhibition and exposure, should all run to waste in superficial, showy music; and no less, that such abnormal and excessive tasking of the brain should wear the life out soon.” [5]

Dwight may not directly call her father a “stage dad” here, but if anyone was responsible for Carreño’s ‘continual exhibition’ it would have been him. In adulthood, however, Teresa Carreño credited her father with seeing her love of piano and teaching her so well:

You see what a foundation I had from my father who, in all his busy life […] found joy in training his little girl in the art which he so dearly loved, and of which he was himself in reality a master. [6]

Later in life, Carreño taught piano in the style her father had taught her as a child. She also continued to perform around the world for more than 50 years.

I was struck by Teresa’s fond memories of learning the piano from her father. Could her story, I asked myself, inspire my own parenting? Eight months into remote PreK (plus two months of summer learning run by yours truly), the only instruments my kids have played have been made out of recycled materials. One of my kids taught himself to whistle(!), but thus far has been unable to teach me to do the same. Perhaps, in the end, it comes down to sharing what you know and love. After all, we’ve read a lot of great historical books. And, besides, they don’t turn six until next year.

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Teresa Carreño!

Teresa Carreño’s Archive

Teresa Carreño’s records are split between two institutions. The Teresa Carreño Papers, 1862-1991, are housed at Vassar College Archives and Special Collections Library. A digital exhibit provides access to a few primary source materials housed in the collection. (I personally love the 1886 program to a concert she performed in Caracas that refers to her as “al ilustre Americano.”) The Teatro Teresa Carreño in Caracas, Venezuela also houses a large collection of her personal and professional papers and materials, in addition to concert gowns. [7]


[1] Margarita Engle (author) and Rafael López (illustrator), Dancing Hands: How Teresa Carreño Played the Piano for President Lincoln, Simon & Schuster, 2019.

[2], Documenting Teresa Carreño, an open-access website compiling primary source materials related to Carreño’s career, Anna E. Kijas.

[3] Laura Pita, Teresa Carreño’s Early Years in Caracas: Cultural Intersections of Piano Virtuosity, Gender, and Nation-Building in the Nineteenth Century, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Kentucky, 2019, p. 382.

[4] Pita, 412.

[5] Anna E. Kijas, “The Life of Teresa Carreño (1853-1917): A Venezuelan Prodigy and Acclaimed Artist,” Music Library Association, (Volume 76, No. 1), September 2019, p. 42.

[6] Pita, p. 374.

[7] Ronald D. Patkus, “Musical Migrations: A Case Study of the Teresa Carreño Papers,” RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage, (Vol 6. No. 1), 2005.

Have a Cup of Cheer

By Rakashi Chand, Senior Library Assistant

This holiday season is unlike any other we have experienced in our lifetime. We cannot gather, there are no office parties, and some of us cannot risk seeing our families during the pandemic. So why not use the opportunity to take inspiration from the past and celebrate historically?

Have a cup of punch!

Punch was the thing to do in 1773. On the evening of 16 December 1773, guests gathered at the home of Benjamin Edes. While they waited for darkness to fall, the family punch bowl was filled multiple times. Benjamin’s son Peter later wrote in a letter to his grandson:

“I recollect perfectly well that in the afternoon preceding the evening of the destruction of the Tea a number of gentlemen met in the parlour of my father’s house how many I cannot say as…I was not admitted to their presence. my station was in another room to make punch for them in the bowl which is now in your possession and which I filled several times– they remained in the house till dark…”

Punch bowl
Edes family Tea Party punch bowl, by an unidentified maker in China, circa 1760-1773

Benjamin Edes and his guests made their way to his office on Queen Street to disguise themselves as Indians before joining others on Griffin’s Wharf, where the three ships carrying tea were docked. Young Peter followed the group and related the action to his grandson:

“The Indians worked smartly, some were in the hold immediately after the hatches were broken open, fixing the ropes to the tea chests, others were hauling up the chests, and others stood ready with their hatchets to cut off the binding of the chests, and others cast them overboard.”

Strangely well-orchestrated, in three hours they had disposed of three hundred and forty-two chests containing over 92,000 pounds of tea. John Adams, wrote about it admiringly in his diary entry for 17 December:

“This is the most magnificent Movement of all. There is a Dignity, a Majesty, a Sublimity, in this last Effort of the Patriots, that I greatly admire.”

Now you must be wondering what was in that punch that could launch three hundred chests in to the sea? Sadly, we don’t have that recipe.

But, we do have another infamous punch recipe: Benjamin Franklin’s Milk Punch! Let me introduce you to the strange world of milk punch, popular in 18nth century festivities. While Franklin is famous for his many inventions, such a cosmopolitan man could certainly invent an amazing drink as well. Luckily, he enclosed a recipe for his milk punch in an 11 October 1763 letter to his dear friend James Bowdoin.

Milk punch recipe
Benjamin Franklin’s milk punch recipe, 11 October 1763.

For the adventurous, the following is a modern interpretation of Franklin’s recipe, with portions reduced to one quarter of those suggested by Franklin. The flavor is lemony, with a slightly medicinal kick.


6 cups (3 pints) of brandy
11 lemons
2 cups lemon juice
4 cups (1 quart) of spring water
1 freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/8 cups (1/2 lb) of sugar
3 cups of whole milk


Zest eleven lemons.
Squeeze 2 cups of lemon juice.
Steep the lemon zest in the brandy for 24 hours.
Strain out the lemon zest.
Add 4 cups of spring water, 1 freshly grated nutmeg, 2 cups of lemon juice, and 1 1/8 cups of sugar to the brandy.
Stir until the sugar dissolves.
Bring 3 cups of whole milk to a boil.
As soon as the milk boils, add it hot to the brandy mix and stir.
The heat, lemon juice, and alcohol will begin to curdle the milk.
Let the punch stand for 2 hours.
Strain the punch through a jelly bag (or pillow case) until clear. Serve cold.

Naturally, Franklin and Edes were not the only ones imbibing in punch on late December nights. John Hancock certainly enjoyed a glass or two. Here is Hancock’s own punch strainer:

silver punch strainer
Punch strainer belonging to John Hancock, silver, [England, 17–]
And to fully understand the importance (and popularity) of punch, here is the story of a punch strainer that began with plundering and international conflict. John Vryling, a Boston merchant and member of the Old South Church, was commissioned as an ensign in Col. William Gooch’s “American” Regiment–a unit of the British Army raised in North America in 1740. Vryling sailed for Jamaica with his regiment in October that year. Boston silversmith William Breed crafted this punch strainer from silver captured by John Vryling during the Siege of Cartagena in 1741.

Punch strainer
Punch strainer by William Breed, [Boston, ca. 1741]
On that note, punch anyone?

Join us for a cup of Holiday Punch by sharing your favorite recipes, or favorite punch stories in the comments below.