The Cure for What Ails You

by Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

Last spring, the Massachusetts Historical Society acquired a prescription recipe book kept by Charles Lyman Hubbell from 1880 to 1888. In this book, Dr. Hubbell, a physician of Williamstown, Mass. and Troy, N.Y., recorded his own recipes for prescriptions, as well as those he learned from other doctors and medical journals. It’s a very interesting (and sometimes amusing) window into late 19th-century medical history.

notebook, handwritting
Sample pages from the Charles Lyman Hubbell prescription recipe book

Here you’ll find treatments for a wide variety of conditions, organized alphabetically, including acne, anemia, angina pectoris, asthma, bronchitis, cancerous ulcers, catarrh, constipation, consumption, cough, diabetes, diarrhea, diphtheria, dysmenorrhea, dyspepsia, eczema, emphysema, epilepsy, gonorrhea, hair loss, hay fever, headache, heart disease, hernia, itching, neuralgia, night sweats, psoriasis, rheumatism, sciatica, skin disease, tape worm, toothache, and uterine disease.

I have a few favorites. If I look under “F,” for example, I find that the cure for “Feet – Fetid smelling” involves “a solution of Chloral in alcohol and water applied several times a day” or an “application of equal parts Belladonna ointment and glycerine.” One heading that was unfamiliar to me was “Chelsea pensioner,” which Hubbard apparently used as a euphemism for hemorrhoids. And I was intrigued by the page that seems to describe a treatment for “insanity […] cerebral inability & hysterical affection,” though the handwriting is difficult to make out.

Then there’s this:

notebook page, handwritting
One page from the Charles Lyman Hubbell prescription recipe book

The heading on this page made me do a double take. It reads: “Nervous, exhausted & irritable females. Hysterical headache, insomnia &c.” What, you ask, is Hubbell’s remedy? Well, I tried to make sense of the medical abbreviations and apothecarial symbols, but only got as far as: one ounce of calcium bromide mixed with four ounces of…something else. Whatever it is, I’m willing to bet it doesn’t cure this particular “condition”!

I was curious to know more about Hubbell, and I found a smattering of biographical details in published histories of his family, his wife’s family, and Rensselaer County, New York. He was born in 1827, the sixth of seven children of Louisa and Lyman Hubbell. He graduated from Williams College in 1846 and Berkshire Medical College in 1848. In 1852, he married Juliette Bulkeley (or Bulkley), with whom he had six children. And during the Civil War, he served as a surgeon for the Black Horse Cavalry and the 12th New York Infantry.

When he started recording the recipes in this volume, he was in his fifties and had been a practicing physician for decades, as well as a member of numerous medical societies. But he also had other interests. Appearing among the medical recipes are recipes for pickled cabbage, sausage, fertilizer, and harness polish (he was interested in horse racing and breeding).

I uncovered just one other story about Hubbell in my research: the sad circumstances of his death in 1890. According to correspondence digitized and made available at the Sibley Watson Digital Archive, Hubbell died unexpectedly the day before his daughter’s wedding. That archive includes a newspaper obituary of Hubbell and a letter by Elizabeth Sibley of Rochester, N.Y., the second page of which reads:

I have nothing of special interest to write, except that just as the marriage ceremony of Elbridge Adams and Miss Hubbell was to take place, the guests all arrived and everything in readiness, Dr. Hubbell went to his room, threw himself on his bed, and died, before anything could be done for him with heart disease. The marriage took place, only a very few friends present.

Was it not terrible? I can think of nothing more dreadful that could have happened, unless the Bride or groom had been taken.

Charles Lyman Hubbell was 63 years old. He’s buried with his wife at Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, N.Y.

The Turtle: Submarine Warfare during the American Revolution

By Heather Rockwood, Communications Associate

On 23 October 1775, Samuel Osgood, a militia leader who fought at the Battle of Lexington and Concord, wrote to John Adams with a military update. In one paragraph he mentions:

“The famous Waters Machine from Connecticutt is every Day expected in Camp. It must unavoidably be a clumsy Business as its Weight is about a Tun. I wish it might succeed [and] the Ships be blown up beyond the Attraction of the Earth for it is the only Way or Chance they have of reaching St. Peters Gate.”

What Osgood is referring to as the “famous Waters Machine” was the first submarine with recorded use in battle. It was built in Connecticut and used in New York Harbor against the British Navy and was called the Turtle because of the way it looked. The submarine was designed for a single occupant and would be positioned just below the water’s surface, with a pipe leading to fresh air. When the operator wanted to submerge, he would close the pipe and let the interior’s cavity fill with water, leaving enough space at the top to breathe for a few minutes. Propellers would move the submarine back to the water’s surface. Replicas of the Turtle can be seen in a few museums around the world; one is at the Connecticut River Museum.

The Turtle’s design was the work of two men—David Bushnell, who had graduated Yale College in 1775, and Isaac Doolittle, a clockmaker. While at Yale, Bushnell proved that gunpowder could be ignited and exploded underwater, and he used this knowledge to design underwater mines and torpedoes. With Doolittle, he designed a mechanically triggered time bomb and the first propeller. Combining these designs together, he and Doolittle created and built the Turtle.

Although the original idea was to use the Turtle to force the British out of Boston Harbor, the machine took too long to build, and the British had already evacuated Boston for Canada. Once the Turtle was built and undergoing tests in Connecticut, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin both heard about it, and Franklin was able to tour it. Sergeant Ezra Lee of the Continental Army spent two weeks learning to operate it proficiently. It was then time to deploy it against the British.

By that time the British Navy was occupying New York Harbor. On 6 September 1776, Sergeant Lee deployed the Turtle to attack the HMS Eagle, commanded by Admiral Howe, a move that might have delivered a decisive blow to the British Navy. The plan was to launch the Turtle at night and get as close to the HMS Eagle as possible, then submerge the submarine to go under the ship and attach a bomb to its underside by use of a hand auger. However, once Lee was under the ship, his auger hit metal, not wood as planned, and the bomb would not attach. As dawn approached, he abandoned the mission, and although the submarine had worked, the mission failed.

The Turtle was used in two more missions, both of which also failed, and then was lost during the Battle of Fort Lee in New Jersey, when the British sunk the sloop transporting it. Although the Turtle’s missions failed and the submarine was lost, it marked the beginning of an age of innovation in the newly formed United States at a time when the former colonists were eager to find a new identity.

The Journals of Luman Boyden

By Laura Wulf, Photographic & Digital Imaging Specialist

As you may have read in a previous post, the MHS created a new tool for volunteers to crowdsource manuscript transcriptions with the goal of making our content more accessible. We’re still looking for volunteers and invite you to set up an account and start transcribing!

When we started developing and testing this crowdsourcing tool, we first transcribed letters written by Charles F. Morse during the Civil War as well as some diaries of John Rowe, a prominent merchant living in Boston in the late 18th century. Most recently we have been working with a collection of journals kept by Luman Boyden, a Methodist clergyman hired by the Boston City Missionary Society to visit and assist the city’s poor and immigrant families in East Boston in the mid-19th century. This is the collection I’d like to focus on here. Below are some of the people and stories that we’ve run across in our work.

The Boston City Missionary Society was originally known as the Boston Society for the Moral and Religious Instruction for the Poor. Still in existence today, it is now known as City Mission—the oldest multi-service agency in New England and the second oldest in the United States. Founded in 1816, the organization was started by members of Old South Church and Park Street Church. According to the society’s By-Laws, it’s mission was to further “the religious and moral instruction of the poor in the city of Boston.” [1] Boyden and his fellow missionaries were hired to go door-to-door distributing religious material, offering some financial and legal assistance, and promoting temperance, Sunday schools and summer youth programs, all of which laid the groundwork for the establishment of Boston’s first primary schools as well as the founding of the Boston YWCA.

Boyden often found himself in heartrending and unusual situations during these home visits and he wrote about them in the journals that he kept between 1854-1863. Sometimes his notes are short and list-like, while other times he includes vivid descriptions and even follow-up information. Boyden approached his missionary work zealously. His desire to help those in need, while admirable and sometimes effective, can also sound, to our modern ear, judgmental and narrow-minded. His work does seem to take a toll on him, and some entries can sound impatient and exasperated.

First let me introduce Luman Boyden to you in his very own words, written on his birthday, 12 November 1854:

“My birth day, 49 years old, I am led to inquire is it possible? I am compelled to answer yes! My head is grey, my eyes about 2 years since began to fail & within a few days have used [glasses] some in the day time. I can walk as rapidly as ever & perhaps feel but little more fatigued. The Lord has greatly blessed for which I think I feel thankful.”

His missionary work takes him to places such as the “Insane Asylum” on 1 November 1854:

“It was a most solemn sight.  The inmates appeared calm, some quite gloomy — some smiled & apparently happy — some started back with fear & all were objects of great compassion.

And he visits a State Prison the very next day:

“…went into the State Prison.  about inmates.  They are not allowed to speak or even look to each other or to strangers & no one paid us the least attention.  about 7 in for life —  One man about 40 years of age, has served one term at Concord, one at Charlestown, & about three days since returned to Concord for 7 years.  How different from the scene of yesterday.  The contrast between the Maniac & the convict is great still the sight of both must excite the sympathy of those who behold them.”

But mostly he visits people in their homes. One home belongs to a Mr. Pickles, whose name appears regularly in the journals, and seems to be a tailor who lives with his children and his chickens all under the same roof and even in the same room:

1855 June 27

“My visit at Mr Pickles was rather peculiar… As I entered I found him at his work, three children & a flock of chickens in the room & one hen shut up in a closet. He appeared quite solemn &… was at work on a nice coat.”

Sometimes the people he is trying to help are also trying to help others in even worse circumstances. On 4 May 1855 Boyden describes a man who,

“Tho very poor…has opened his door for a blind woman who for months [has] been aided by city missionaries & others. She will not go to the almshouse but prefers sleeping on the floor in that or some other wretched mansion and subsists by begging.”

One day earlier, on 3 May 1855 Boyden seems a little less compassionate.

“Today an Irishwoman expressed a strong desire to have her children brought from Ireland…She said one was going on 27 — another 25 and another going on 17. I…told her that her children I thought were old enough to help themselves.”

Boyden writes often about his temperance work. He is much disturbed by the use of alcohol and the effects it has on those he meets.

On 15 September 1855 he writes about a visit to a family and ends his description with a succinct expression of exasperation:

“… the woman was nursing an infant & said that her husband had been sent to Deer Island for 8 months — Crime getting drunk & beating her. They have seven children, she said the oldest was 10 years old — So much for Rum.”

handwritten text
Luman Boyden journal entry, 15 September 1855

The entry continues and we get more of a sense of the relations between neighbors.

“In another tenement, an american woman formerly lived in Paris Street She said that the woman just mentioned was as bad as her husband & that they owed her 3 dollars for food, crackers & herring. I saw a bar in another room & that seemed to tell the story. Last winter this woman had a bar & I asked her if she sold intoxicating drink She then said no she only kept candy.  A number of tumblers behind the bar appeared unnecessary to affect the sale of candy.  O the misery produced by intemperance.”

His wry and understated comment about the tumblers made me chuckle. Boyden’s use of the term “american” is also noteworthy. He uses other descriptions such as “Irish”, “Irish Catholic” or “colored”, so “american” may be used to mean “white”, this at a time before the European immigrants were accepted as either “white” or “american”.

Handwriting, paper
Luman Boyden journal entry, 15 September 1855

I opened with Boyden’s own words and I’ll end with this surprising entry from the teetotaling author himself:

1855 Septr. 16

“Was quite unwell & came to Chelsea and took a swett, by drinking some gin in hot water. It is nearly twenty five years since I have drunk any before & now used it for want of other medicine. Where I believe it kills hundreds when it helps one I view it as almost wrong to use it under any circumstances”

I’ve only shared a small selection from these fascinating diaries. There’s much more to be discovered in these journals. Vareoloid smallpox? Poisoned pond water? An incident of cayenne pepper being purposefully blown into the eyes of children? All this and more awaits your discovery at Consider joining the transcription efforts.


Recovering Massachusetts’s Radical Free-Trade Tradition

By Marc-William Palen, University of Exeter, MHS-NEH Long-term Research Fellow

On the evening of 3 June 1904, the opulent Hotel Vendome in Boston’s Back Bay hosted a now-forgotten gala. The members of the American Free Trade League were celebrating the centenary of the birth of Richard Cobden. As the diners finished their meals, Charles Francis Adams, Jr. (1835-1915), took to the podium. The great-grandson of John Adams, the grandson of John Quincy Adams, and the president of the Massachusetts Historical Society proclaimed that “as Americans,—citizens of the United States,—to Richard Cobden we owe a debt of political gratitude than which we owe none greater to any European. . . . I am here also as a Free-trader; one who believes in the economic dispensation of Adam Smith, as developed by Richard Cobden.”

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Charles Francis Adams Jr.’s speech at the Richard Cobden Centennial, Boston, 1904. Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Now you might be asking yourself who was this Richard Cobden character? And why were Boston’s leading liberal lights like Charles Francis Adams, Jr. singing his praises at the turn of the twentieth century?

The name of Richard Cobden (1804-1865) is now largely a forgotten one in American history. Briefly, he started a radical free-trade movement in Britain in the 1830s and 1840s that had long-lasting repercussions for Britain and the world. He helped overturn Britain’s Corn Laws–high tariffs on foreign grain—ushering in nearly a century of the island nation’s adherence to the ideology of free trade. Cobden was a Liberal radical, a staunch opponent of British imperialism, an antislavery advocate, and a leader of the mid-century international peace movement. Cobden and his disciples believed that protectionism was a policy designed to prop up the aristocratic landed elite at the expense of the British workingman; high tariffs also led to trade wars, and trade wars to military conflict. Free trade instead promised democratization by undermining the power of the aristocrats; cheap food to Britain’s poorest; and friendlier relations with Britain’s trading partners.

In other words, when Cobden was alive, and when Charles Francis Adams, Jr. was giving his homage forty years after Cobden’s death, free trade was an important ideology of transatlantic leftwing radicalism. This ideology went by a variety of names at the time. One was the “Manchester School” owing to the ideological movement’s home base of Manchester, England. The other was, of course, “Cobdenism.”

Cobdenism’s importance has been ably traced within British history.[1] But what about Cobdenism’s radical influence within American history? As it turns out, beyond Britain, this free-trade ideology had its most numerous disciples within the United States, who set their sights on turning the protectionist nation into a free-trade nation like Britain.[2]

To understand this, we need to look to Massachusetts’s leftwing radical past.

The first American subscribers to Cobdenism were among the most radical abolitionists. Freeing trade was, for them, the next logical step after ending slavery on the road to emancipating mankind.

Reverend Joshua Leavitt deserves due credit, and ably highlights the radical confluence of the antislavery and free-trade movements. The Massachusetts-born Congregationalist minister, founder of the antislavery Liberty Party, and editor of the abolitionist periodical Emancipator sought a resolution at London’s 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention condemning the Corn Laws. Their repeal, he argued, would enable Britain to import free-grown wheat from the American northwest rather than slave-grown cotton and tobacco from the south. In 1842, Leavitt next went to the US Congress to lobby for them to pressure the British to repeal the Corn Laws. He brought a similar case to the 1843 London antislavery convention, before undertaking a free-trade lecture tour with Richard Cobden. Upon returning to the United States, Leavitt founded anti-Corn Law organizations across the American northeast and west to keep up the grassroots pressure and as a sign of solidarity with his British free-trade allies.[3]

Leavitt would thereafter become one of the first honorary (non-due paying) members of London’s Cobden Club upon its creation in 1866, a year after Cobden’s death. Its motto was “Free Trade, Peace, and Goodwill Among Nations.” Other early US Cobden Club members included Boston abolitionist firebrand William Lloyd Garrison, Boston transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner, Boston economist Edward Atkinson, as well as various members of the Adams family, including Charles Francis Adams, Sr., Henry Adams, and Charles Francis Adams, Jr.

After the Civil War and the end of US slavery, the Republican Party rebranded itself as the party of protectionism and imperial expansion.[4] As a result, the GOP became the main target for many of these same Massachusetts radicals, who became leaders of the late nineteenth-century free-trade, peace, and anti-imperialist movements. For them, as for Cobden, these were all one and the same cause.

A new generation of even more radical Massachusetts free traders joined the fray at the turn of the century under the auspices of the Anti-Imperialist League (AIL), which was most active in Chicago and Boston. The AIL was created in 1898 in opposition to the US war with Spain during the Republican presidency of William McKinley, “the Napoleon of Protection.” The AIL’s officers were predominantly American Cobdenites, many of whom would go on to spearhead the peace movement during the First World War.[5]

Leaflet, printed document
AIL officers William Lloyd Garrison Jr. and Edward Atkinson writing on behalf of the American Free Trade League of Boston in 1902. Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

As Boston AIL officer Erving Winslow put it at the outset of the Great War in his pamphlet Tariffs After the War, “there is one simple and solid foundation for world harmony . . . the foundation of economic peace, a firm and straightforward movement towards free trade.”

Printed text
Erving Winslow, Tariffs After the War, n.d. 1916? Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The leftwing leaders of the US free-trade movement, many of them from Massachusetts, counted among the most pro-active actors within the US peace and anti-imperial movement. After 1898, these included William Lloyd Garrison’s children—William Lloyd Garrison Jr. and Fanny Garrison Villard—as well as Morefield Storey, AIL president, and Erving Winslow, AIL secretary, both of whose papers are held at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Fanny Garrison Villard would go on to co-found the Women’s Peace Society in 1919. Its motto was “Immediate and universal disarmament. Abolition of mob violence. Free trade, the world over.” Another Garrison child, Frank Garrison, would become the president of the Boston-based International Free Trade League upon its founding in 1918, a radical leftwing peace organization dedicated to undermining protectionism in the United States and across the globe.

Massachusetts’s leftwing free-traders—its Cobdenites—thus played a central part within the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century US peace and anti-imperialist movements. And this was the radical backdrop Charles Francis Adams, Jr.’s forgotten speech in Boston’s Back Bay in early June 1904.

[1] See, especially, Anthony Howe, Free Trade and Liberal England, 1846-1946 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1998); Peter Cain, “Capitalism, War and Internationalism in the Thought of Richard Cobden,” British Journal of International Studies 5 (Oct. 1979): 229-247; Anthony Howe, “Radicalism, Free Trade, and Foreign Policy in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Britain,” in William Mulligan and Brendan Simms, eds., The Primacy of Foreign Policy in British History, 1660-2000 (London, 2010): 167-180; Oliver MacDonagh, “The Anti-Imperialism of Free Trade,” Economic History Review 14 (April 1962) 489-501; Anthony Howe and Simon Morgan, ed., Rethinking Nineteenth Century Liberalism: Richard Cobden Bicentenary Essays (London: Routledge, 2006); Frank Trentmann, Free Trade Nation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

[2] Marc-William Palen, The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle over Empire and Economic Globalisation, c. 1846-1896 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).

[3] Palen, The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade, 16-19; Marc-William Palen, “Free-Trade Ideology and Transatlantic Abolitionism: A Historiography,” Journal of the History of Economic Thought 37 (June 2015): 291-304.

[4] Marc-William Palen, “The Imperialism of Economic Nationalism, 1890-1913,” Diplomatic History 39 (Jan. 2015): 157-185.

[5] Marc-William Palen, “Transimperial Roots of American Anti-Imperialism: The Transatlantic Radicalism of Free Trade, 1846-1920,” in Jay Sexton and Kristin Hoganson, eds., Crossing Empires: Taking U.S. History into Transimperial Terrain (Duke University Press, 2020): 159-182.

A Saint in the Archives

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

One of my colleagues at the MHS has made an fascinating discovery within our collections that I’m very happy to tell you about.

The massive collection of Sedgwick family papers at the MHS includes a small diary donated to us by Sedgwick descendant Elizabeth Gaskell Norton in 1924. The author of this diary was not Miss Norton, but a woman identified on its first page as “Mrs. Wm. Seton.” So this is how the volume was originally attributed in the MHS catalog.

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First page of Mrs. William Seton diary
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Record for Mrs. William Seton diary in the MHS catalog

Now, the MHS has been around for 231 years, and many women are identified this way in legacy descriptions (“Mrs. Husband’s Name”), particularly those donated to us so long ago. Unfortunately, an archivist processing such a large collection—in this case, about 70 linear feet—doesn’t usually have time to do the kind of in-depth analysis necessary to identify the unknown author of a single item.

But staff members at the MHS have recently spent a lot of time updating descriptions in our catalog, collection guides, and online presentations to bring them in line with modern standards. These efforts include, whenever possible, restoring a married woman’s full name. And fortunately for all of us, my colleague recently found the time to look more closely at this item. What she discovered surprised us both.

Mrs. William Seton was none other than Elizabeth Ann Seton, a.k.a. Mother Seton, the first American to be canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church!

I won’t attempt to recap Seton’s life story here, but I would like to describe this volume in a little more detail. Coincidentally, the circumstances in which it was written are strikingly relevant today.

The bulk of the diary was kept between 19 November and 27 December 1803. Seton’s husband William suffered from tuberculosis, and the couple, hoping that a different climate might restore his health, had sailed from New York to visit friends in Italy. Their eight-year-old daughter Anna Maria traveled with them. When they arrived at the port of Livorno, however, they received a nasty shock.

Due to a yellow fever epidemic in New York , the family was forced to quarantine for an entire month in a lazaretto, basically a centuries-old coastal prison once used to segregate individuals with bubonic plague.

The lazaretto was bleak, and Seton described her surroundings in suitably dramatic language: “high arched ceilings, like St. Paul’s – brick floor, naked walls & a Jug of water”; “a single window double grated with iron” with an armed guard outside; “a view of the open sea, & the beating of the waves against high rocks”; “bells for the dead” ringing at sunset.

She also described a kind of physical distancing that will sound familiar to us today, more than two years into our own pandemic. The Setons could speak to visiting friends through the barred door, but physical contact was prohibited. Items they had touched could not be touched by anyone else. One day, “an order from the Commandant was sent from our Boat which was received on the end of a stick – and they were obliged to light a fire to smoke it before it could be read.”

The details are terrific. My favorite image is Mother Seton, future saint, keeping warm in her cell by jumping rope! Her faith in God also sustained her. She passed the time reading, praying, singing hymns, and nursing her husband William. The diary is an amazing document of her religious beliefs shortly before her conversion to Catholicism in 1805.

Unsurprisingly, William’s tuberculosis grew worse during his confinement, and he lived just eight days after the family’s release, dying in Pisa on 27 December 1803. The diary breaks off at this point and skips to the middle of 1804, with entries by Seton about the death of her sister-in-law and intimate friend (her “soul’s sister”), Rebecca.

The provenance of the volume is confusing. During my research, I learned that the extant papers of Mother Seton are housed in a number of different repositories and were published in 2000 as part of the Vincentian Heritage Collections at DePaul University. Included is the text of this very diary. Apparently, there are several versions in Seton’s handwriting.

Unfortunately, a sample of her handwriting published in that journal proves that our copy was not written by her.

handwritten page
Sample of Elizabeth Ann Seton’s handwriting, published in Vincentian Heritage Collections

My best guess is that the volume held by the MHS was copied sometime in the early 19th century from the original, judging by omissions and errors in the text. Seton’s handwriting may have proved difficult to read in places. Our copy comes from the version held by the Sisters of Charity in Riverdale, New York (pp. 251-276, 307-310).

But who copied it and why? The Sedgwick family included many authors and historians, so it’s possible one of them conducted research on Seton. Perhaps it was copied by Jane Minot Sedgwick (1821-1889), who converted to Catholicism in 1853 and founded a Catholic school in West Stockbridge, Mass.

Whatever its provenance, we’ve grateful to have this volume as part of our collections, and we hope the improvements we’ve made to its description will help more researchers find it here.

table of text
New and improved catalog record for Elizabeth Ann Seton diary

“My life has been spent in the public service”: John Quincy Adams’s Final Years, 1843–1848

By Neal Millikan, Series Editor for Digital Editions, The Adams Papers

Transcriptions of more than 1,700 pages of John Quincy Adams’s diary have just been added to the John Quincy Adams Digital Diary, a born-digital edition of the Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The new material spans the period January 1843 through February 1848 and chronicles the final years of Adams’s life, including his continued service in the United States House of Representatives.

Slavery was the political issue that continued to vex John Quincy Adams. He reflected on the subject in his diary in August 1843: “Before my lamp is burnt out, I am desirous that my opinions concerning the great movement throughout the civilized world for the abolition of Slavery should be explicitly avowed and declared— God grant that they may contribute to the final consummation of that event.” One of his major contributions to this cause was his work to defeat the House’s Gag Rule, which prevented petitions regarding slavery from being discussed in that legislative body. On 3 December 1844 Adams introduced a resolution to repeal the Gag Rule, thereby restoring the freedom of petition and debate in the House. After an eight-year battle, he triumphed; the House finally adopted the resolution that same day.

For years, Adams had also opposed the annexation of Texas, rightly believing that its admission to the union would tip the balance of power between slave and free states. He watched morosely in February 1845 as a joint resolution on annexation passed in Congress. Texas subsequently joined the Union as a slave state. The following year, when fighting broke out along the contested U.S.-Mexico border, Adams voted against the declaration of war in the House, describing the conflict as “this most unrighteous War” and asserting that the “lying preamble” to the bill that claimed Mexico initiated the conflict was “base, fraudulent and false.”

painting, portrait, man
Portrait of John Quincy Adams, painted by Nahum Bell Onthank (1823-1888)

More satisfying, Adams’s life-long pursuit of knowledge received just reward during this period. His “aspirations of Science, limited only by the scanty spark of ethereal fire” in his soul were realized in 1843 when he traveled to Ohio to support of one of his long-standing passions—astronomy. He spent months preparing the speech he was invited to give at the laying of the cornerstone for the Cincinnati astronomical observatory. “My task is to turn this transient gust of enthusiasm for” astronomy “into a permanent and persevering national pursuit which may extend the bounds of human knowledge.”

Since 1836 John Quincy Adams had championed the preservation and protection of the bequest James Smithson left to the United States, having either chaired or been a member of the select congressional committee on the Smithsonian fund. He ultimately hoped those funds would be utilized for a national research institution. In August 1846 he elatedly noted the signing of the Smithsonian Bequest Act “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men” by President James K. Polk.

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Carte de visite of daguerreotype of John Quincy Adams by Brady’s National Photographic Portrait Galleries

Adams easily won re-election as the representative of the 8th Massachusetts congressional district in November 1846. On the 20th he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage while walking in Boston. For the rest of the year, he convalesced at his son Charles Francis Adams’s home. He returned to Washington, D.C., on 12 February 1847 and was greeted by a standing ovation when he resumed his seat in Congress the following day. A year later, on 21 February 1848, John Quincy Adams collapsed on the floor of the House. He was moved to the office of the speaker, where he died two days later. Adams aptly described the trajectory of his life when he wrote in July 1845 that it had “been spent in the public service.”

By the time of his death, Adams’s diary encompassed 68 years of entries and contained over 15,000 manuscript pages in 51 diary volumes. Adams himself best explained the importance of his diary in the following entry: “There has perhaps not been another individual of the human race of whose daily existence from early childhood to four score years has been noted down with his own hand so minutely as mine.”

For more on John Quincy Adams’s life, read the headnote for the 1843–1848 period, or, navigate the entries to begin reading his diary. The addition of material for the 1843–1848 period joins existing transcriptions of Adams’s diary for his legal, political, and diplomatic careers (1789–1817), his time as secretary of state (1817–1825), his presidency (1825–1829), and his previous service in the House of Representatives (1830–1842). It brings the total number of transcriptions freely available on the MHS website to 11,600 pages. The Adams Papers editorial project continues to work toward making more of the diary accessible online.

The Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society gratefully acknowledges the generous support of our sponsors. Major funding for the John Quincy Adams Digital Diary was provided by the Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund, with additional contributions by Harvard University Press and a number of private donors. The Mellon Foundation in partnership with the National Historical Publications and Records Commission also supports the project through funding for the Society’s Primary Source Cooperative.

A Massachusetts Yankee in Queen Charlotte’s Court

By Gwen Fries, Adams Papers

In 1815, when John Quincy Adams began his tenure as U.S. minister at the Court of St. James, King George III had for several years past been declared unfit to rule, and his eldest son was serving in his stead. The Regency Act of 1811 had vested the power of the Crown in the Prince of Wales, but in terms of etiquette—essential to a diplomat—Queen Charlotte was still the one to impress.

On 8 June 1815 Adams contacted the assistant Master of Ceremonies, Robert Chester, to get a refresher on royal protocol and court presentations. Adams was no stranger to court life, but with an indisposed king, his not-quite-widowed queen, nine surviving princes and princesses, and a Prince Regent and his daughter to consider, the protocol was perplexing. “I asked whether it was usual for the foreign Ministers to be presented separately to the Princes of the Royal family,” Adams recorded in his diary, “and when and to whom visits of form were to be paid— He said that after having an Audience of the Queen, and not until then, it would be proper to call at the Residences of all the Princes.” Chester guessed that Charlotte would return to London in the course of a week and would give the Adamses an audience then.

Adams was barred from visiting the other princes’ residences until he had presented himself to the Queen, but he was invited to Carlton House for an audience with the Prince Regent. Chester added that should Adams run into any of the Regent’s brothers at Carlton House, he was permitted to make a personal presentation.

painted portrait
George, the Prince Regent, by Sir Thomas Lawrence. National Portrait Gallery, London

After waiting an hour and a half, Adams was introduced into the Prince’s closet. “He stood alone; and as I approached him, speaking first, said, ‘Mr Adams, I am happy to see you.’” Adams presented him with a letter from the U.S. government. “The Prince took the Letter, and without opening it, delivered it immediately to Lord Castlereagh.” The Prince Regent asked about the elder John Adams as well as John Quincy’s impressions of Ghent. Castlereagh tactfully drew the conversation to a close, and they withdrew from the chamber. Adams was then introduced to the Duke of Clarence—the future William IV—making that two future kings in one levee.

But it was not kings he needed, it was the Queen. Nearly five months later, John Quincy and his wife Louisa were still waiting for an audience. On 26 October, Adams knocked flat with a painful inflammation in his eye, Queen Charlotte finally held a drawing room. Adams had to beg out due to his infirmity.

At the close of 1815 and the start of the new year, John Quincy was still waiting for an audience. On 31 January 1816, Adams heard that Charlotte was in London, “but not for the transaction of business.” His hopes were raised on 1 March when the newspapers announced that the Queen would hold a drawing room within the week. John Quincy immediately reached out to Lord Castlereagh, seeking an introduction for himself and for Louisa to Her Majesty. Castlereagh dashed his hopes, revealing that the announcement was mere gossip. To add insult to injury, later that week John Quincy was passed on the road by Queen Charlotte on her way back from Windsor.

Two weeks later, the happy news finally arrived: “The Queen will hold a Drawing-Room, next Thursday, the 21st. at 2. O’Clock at Buckingham House.” Preparation began immediately.

Early in the morning on 21 March, John Quincy and Louisa traveled to London to dress for their presentation. There was one final hitch. John Quincy discovered his audience was scheduled after the drawing room, meaning he could not attend with his wife. “Mrs: Adams would have been obliged to go alone, would be a stranger there,” Adams recorded in his diary. “I concluded to go with her and wait.”

John Quincy waited downstairs for more than two hours. “While I was there, the Duke and Duchess of York, passed through it, going by a private passage, to the drawing-room, and the Duke of Sussex, and the Duke and Princess Sophia of Gloucester, in coming from it. The Duke of Sussex stopped and spoke to me.” Adams had heard positive things about Sussex and was favorably impressed, even sharing a laugh with the Queen’s sixth son.

Queen Charlotte, by Samuel William Reynolds, after Henry Edridge. National Portrait Gallery, London

Finally Adams’s moment had come. “The Queen was standing about the middle of the Chamber. Just behind her at her right hand stood the Princess Augusta, at her left the Princess Mary—further back several Ladies in waiting, and the Duke of Kent in Military Uniform.” Adams performed his prepared speech. Charlotte asked after John Quincy’s health, and ever the keen botanist, inquired about the climate of the United States. “She asked me whether I was related to the Mr Adams who had been formerly the Minister to this Country, and appeared surprized when I answered that I was his Son,” Adams wrote. “She forgot that I had given her the same answer to the same question twenty years ago; and had apparently no recollection that I had ever been presented to her before.”

The introduction made, Adams could perform his diplomatic duties unhindered. He immediately visited the residences of the Duke of York, the Duke of Cumberland, the Duke of Gloucester, and the Duke of Clarence. He routed his carriage past Kensington Palace so he could also call at the apartments of the Duke of Kent and of the Duke of Sussex.

A few weeks later, on 4 April, John Quincy was able to attend his first drawing room. “The forms of this presentation are different from those of the Circles on the Continent,” Adams noted. “The Queen does not go round the Circle. She takes a stand, before a Sopha— The persons attending the Drawing Room, go in from the adjoining Hall; go up to her and are spoken to her in succession, after which they pass onto the Princesses and Princes who stand at her right hand, each of whom speaks a few words, and then the person files off by another door, and goes down Stairs to go away.”

His first drawing room done, Adams returned to his lodgings, changed out of his fancy clothes, and settled down to something much more to his taste—a stack of Boston newspapers.

The Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society gratefully acknowledges the generous support of our sponsors. Major funding of the edition is currently provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and the Packard Humanities Institute.

Shays’ Rebellion: Just Cause, or Just a Nuisance? Part Two

By Heather Rockwood, Communications Associate

In Part One of this story,  we discussed John Quincy Adam’s (JQA) diary entry from 1 December 1786, in which he described an altercation along a snowy riverbank between militiamen and a leader of the Regulators, a force of men formed to fight back against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, as a result of heavy taxes on the financially burdened citizens of Western Massachusetts.

Going back several days in the diary to 23 November 1786, JQA writes about the “insurgents” coming to Cambridge where he is attending Harvard:

Whitney arrived in the evening; he comes from Petersham, in Worcester county, and says the insurgents threaten coming to prevent the setting of the court of common pleas, in this Town, next week.

On 27 November 1786, he writes in a more excited manner:

This evening, just before prayers about 40 horsemen, arrived here under the command of Judge Prescott of Groton, in order to protect the court to-morrow, from the rioters. We hear of nothing, but Shays and Shattuck: two of the most despicable characters in the community, now make themselves of great consequence. There has been in the course of the day fifty different reports flying about, and not a true one among them.

In the days that followed, it is clear this excitement is not JQA’s alone. On 29 January 1786, he reports that:

Lovell, a classmate of mine, is half crazy, at hearing so much news. He wants to be doing something, and is determined by some means or other to fight the insurgents. He says he is no politician, he was made for an active life, but he cannot live in a place, where there is so much news.

It is also clear that JQA has no inclination to join the militia, only the urge to record the news in his diary, which he writes with as much enthusiasm as the dinners, dances, classes, and meetings he’s attending.

The sentiment towards the insurgents is not positive in Cambridge and elsewhere, as is noted in the original diary entry: “The gentlemen, were not molested however in bringing him off; but had every where every assistance given them, that they were in want of, and the apparent good will of every one, wherever they went,” as well as in his classmates wanting to fight the insurgents. On 30 November 1786, JQA reports that two militias moved through the area to try to chase down the insurgents who had turned around when they learned of the militia in Cambridge, and he records his own sentiments on the news:

There seems to be a small spark of patriotism, still extant; it is to be hoped, that it will be fanned, and kindled by danger, but not smothered by sedition.

Job Shattuck, the man who was captured in the diary entry, had an interesting past and had been against the burdensome taxes since 1782. Twice he had been a war hero, first as a soldier in the Seven Years’ War, and then during the Revolutionary War. He was a farmer with a large house and more land than anyone else in Groton. His family, including his wife Sarah who detained a Tory courier during the Revolutionary War, were champions of liberty and wholeheartedly stood behind the Sons of Liberty. Shattuck felt that the taxes were excessive and the same as the taxes imposed without representation by Britain’s parliament. At fifty years old, his age, war experience, and local respect made him a natural leader. He and his Regulators successfully shut down the Concord court in September 1786.

In November 1786, Governor Bowdoin issued a warrant for Shattuck’s arrest, which brings us back again to JQA’s diary and its tale of Shattuck’s capture. During the altercation, his knee was wounded by a sword, and once brought to jail his injury was not tended to for four days. He was held for five months before his petition to be released was granted, but only on account of his still festering wound and his persistent community support. He returned home to Groton. It may be that the rebellion’s last effort in January 1787—when Shattuck was in jail—made Governor Bowdoin more willing to grant clemency.

Shattuck was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to hang, but a pardon from the governor could save his life. Fortunately for Shattuck, John Hancock was reelected governor and postponed the hanging. By July, Shattuck was pardoned. He walked the rest of his life with a crutch and died in 1819 at the age of 83.

However, the rebellion’s story ended much sooner for JQA. By 2 December 1786, he wrote:

The Court adjourned from hence this afternoon, and Cambridge is not at present in danger of being the immediate scene of action. These rebels have for these three months, been the only topic of conversation all over the Commonwealth.

Other resources for further reading on Shays’ Rebellion

Petition from Job Shattucks, Middlesex County Court

Grand Jury Notes, October 1786

Letter from Mary Smith Cranch to Abigail Adams

Letter from Benjamin Hichborn to John Adams



Looking for Digital Volunteers to Help with Transcriptions!

By Nancy Heywood, Senior Archivist for Digital Initiatives

Can you read cursive? Do you want to time travel to Massachusetts in 1855?

Are you interested in learning more about the Boston area and learning about the lives of past residents?

Maybe you’re curious about the day-to-day activities of an urban missionary in a busy 19th-century city environment?

If you answered yes to any of these questions you might be just the person we’re looking for. We need volunteers to help the MHS test a pilot transcription project running now through 30 June 2022 featuring the journals of Luman Boyden, a Methodist missionary who worked in East Boston in the 1850s.

The collection is significant because it includes names of and details about impoverished, marginalized, and immigrant populations. Boyden’s perspective is the lens into people’s lives and some of his comments are judgmental and harsh. He is zealous, very sure of his own perspective, but does seem to want to help (in the way he thinks is appropriate).  You will have the chance to decide for yourself how empathetic he is as he ministers to people in the East Boston neighborhood.

Many organizations offer this type of transcription crowdsourcing activity. We hope you find it interesting to look closely at some of our manuscript collections and contribute to a long-term goal of improving discoverability–eventually the transcribed manuscript pages will be searchable and more accessible.

MHS’s transcription tool is integrated into the web presentations of selected digitized collections. It’s easy to get started. Visit, create an account, and try your hand at transcribing a document from our collection. The project page for the “Luman Boyden Missionary Journals” includes a dropdown menu that helps you find a page to work on. [See screenshot below.]

The project page for the “Luman Boyden Missionary Journals”

The workspace for volunteer transcribers includes a text box and a zoomable image of the manuscript page.  [See screenshot below.]

Screenshot, journal entrry
The workspace for volunteer transcribers.

The FAQ page has lots of tips and suggestions.  Questions? You also have the option to send an e-mail to:

We would appreciate your help and your feedback!

Quick links:

Digital Volunteers page:

Projects page:

FAQ page:

Read a blog post by Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist, about the Luman Boyden journals.

Shays’ Rebellion: Just Cause, or Just a Nuisance? Part One

By Heather Rockwood, Communications Associate

Last month I wrote a story about swords in the MHS collection and while researching that topic, I came across a compelling diary entry by a 19-year-old John Quincy Adams (JQA) in 1786. He wrote the following on Friday, 1 December 1786:

They proceeded a little further, and saw in the snow the tracks of a man, going from the common road. They suspected them to be his, and followed them. Mr. Sampson Read, first saw him, on the opposite bank of a small river, and immediately cross’d it on the ice; Shattuck then came to a stand, and said to Read: “I know you not; but whoever you are you are a dead man.” Read ascended the bank; a scuffle between them ensued. Read fell over the Bank, and the other, in making a violent push, at him, lost his sword, and fell upon him. He recovered his sword however, and was just about to pierce his antagonist with it, when Dr. Rand of Boston, arrived, and drew the sword from his hand, backwards by the hilt; at the same time Fortescue Vernon aimed at Shattucks arm, but the sword glanced, and wounded him dangerously in the knee, upon which he immediately surrendered himself; but said he should be rescued in half an hour: the gentlemen, were not molested however in bringing him off; but had every where every assistance given them, that they were in want of, and the apparent good will of every one, wherever they went.

The men relaying the tale caught Job Shattuck, who was one of the leaders of some of the preliminary actions leading up to Shays’ Rebellion, in particular, preventing courts from meeting. Reading JQA’s diary entries on the previous days reveal his interest and excitement on hearing this news, with a small bit of reflection on 30 November:

A republic must very frequently be called back to the principles of its government, and so long as it has sufficient virtue for that, its constitution will stand firm.

I didn’t know too much about Shays’ Rebellion, so I did some reading, and here is what I gleaned. After the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, soldiers returned home to Massachusetts where hard currency was scarce, and a barter economy became more popular in the western hills of Massachusetts. Creditors, however, demanded to be paid in hard currency. Soldiers had been paid little, if at all, during the war, and many returned home impecunious. The financial situation was so dire that the only assets for some farmers were their land and their animals. Despite Great Britain’s ban on all trade with the colonies (and John Adams was in London trying to restart that trade during this period)― Massachusetts’s coastal towns were faring much better with their markets based on hard currency. This was the economic situation when Massachusetts started levying land and other taxes to help pay for its war debt and a portion of its foreign debt.

These taxes also had to be paid with hard currency, which was easily accomplished in the coastal towns but presented a heavy burden to the inland communities. Tax collectors began seizing property—usually farm animals—to sell at auction for a fraction of their worth to pay off the tax. Standoffs between tax collectors and citizens began as early as 1782. In 1783, mobs formed to take back the property brought to auction. Dissenters wrote petitions to the state legislature, calling for the state to print and distribute money to reduce the worth of the currency in circulation, but these petitions were denied or ignored. In addition, citizens without land still owed taxes, but could not vote, and thus were not represented in the Massachusetts legislature that was deciding on the tax laws. To these citizens, the circumstances were the same as just before the Revolutionary War. Some citizens even said that life was better under British rule!

In 1785, John Hancock, who did not enforce tax collection where it was a burden, resigned as the first governor of Massachusetts, and James Bowdoin replaced him. Bowdoin aggressively pursued both current and back taxes. In August of 1786, the state legislature adjourned without considering the many petitions sent that year addressing the burdensome taxes. That month, a force of men called Regulators formed to take direct action to force the leaders of the Commonwealth to do something.

The group prevented the courts from meeting in Northampton, Worcester, Great Barrington, Concord, and Taunton but were stopped by militiamen in Springfield. Courts in larger towns and cities were able to meet without conflict but had the protection of militia outside the building for protection. Samuel Adams, a member of the state legislature, drew up a Riot Act, which suspended citizens’ right to habeas corpus, allowing them to be jailed for long periods without being accused of a crime. Adams also proposed that rebels to the republic should be punished by execution.

This is when we return to JQA’s diary entry and what had occurred to cause him to write with such fervor and interest. Come back to this column next week to read part two!

Other resources for further reading on Shays’ Rebellion

Petition from Job Shattucks, Middlesex County Court

Grand Jury Notes, October 1786

Letter from Mary Smith Cranch to Abigail Adams

Letter from Benjamin Hichborn to John Adams