Take an Armchair Vacation to the Freedom Trail!

By Heather Rockwood, Communications Associate

This past year, as we’ve been staying at home, the archives of historical societies have been delved for content for what is called “armchair vacations,” or travelling digitally. One of the bonuses of “travelling” this way is the ability to see places from a different time period, to see how they were originally used , how people wanted them to be used, or to see places before the buildings were there. I would like to take you on a tour of Boston’s Freedom Trail through the eyes of the Arthur Asahel Shurcliff Collection of Glass Lantern Slides. The Freedom Trail, created in 1951, is a unique collection of sites that tell the story of Boston’s role in the American Revolution and this year is the 70th anniversary of its creation! This collection of glass lantern slides does not contain all of the sites on the Freedom Trail, but it does have a majority.

Arthur Asahel Shurcliff and this collection of glass lantern slides has been written about before (see: Newly Digitized: the Arthur Asahel Shurcliff Collection of Glass Lantern Slides. That blog post goes over Shurcliff’s life, travels and work, over the collection’s breadth and depth of subject matter, and over the reasons for digitizing this particular collection.

This tour of the Freedom Trail is not only for those outside of Boston or Massachusetts but also for locals who may not have seen these historical photographs of the sites before. We’ll go in the order meant by the Freedom Trail map, starting with Boston Common and ending in Charlestown at the Bunker Hill Monument.

You will notice that the lantern slides that I picked mostly have people in view, like in the image of the Boston Common. I think it gives great perspective, information about the time the photograph was taken and reminds us that people lived and experienced the sites in the past. What I like about this particular view is that you can spy the Massachusetts State House in the background!

circa 1914 view of Boston Common
View of part of Boston Common, Boston, Lantern slide possibly taken by Arthur A. Shurcliff, circa 1914.
circa 1910s view of the State House in Boston
View of State House, Boston, lantern slide possibly taken by Arthur A. Shurcliff, circa 1910s.

I like the way these two pictures show how the Massachusetts State House is up on top of a hill.

circa 1910s image of Park Street in Boston
View of Park Street, looking north towards State House, Boston, lantern slide possibly taken by Arthur A. Shurcliff, circa 1910s.

The horse-drawn carriages and the blurred image of people walking across the street makes this view of Park Street Church seem bustling!

Circa 1910s view of Tremont Street, Boston
View of Tremont Street looking south-west from King’s Chapel towards Park Street Church, Boston, lantern slide possibly taken by Arthur A. Shurcliff, circa 1910s.

The columns on the front of King’s Chapel are barely visible on the left side of the photograph. However, in this image you can also see the Park Street Church and how close these two religious buildings are to each other. In between the two is Granary Burying Ground, a site which Shurcliff had not collected or taken an image.

1906 image of Washington Street, Boston
View of Washington Street, looking north from Franklin Street towards the Old South Meeting House, Boston, lantern slide possibly taken by Arthur A. Shurcliff, 1906.

I think this image is my favorite of this post. The Old South Meeting House looks lovely with the climbing ivy present on the building, but it also shows a trolley car going down Washington Street on the right and a street clock on the left. For comparison, I took an image from Google Maps of the present state of Washington Street facing the Old South Meeting House and the clock, although updated, is still in that same spot!

Old South Meeting House
Present-day view down Washington Street towards the Old South Meeting House
circa 1910s view of Scollay Square, Boston
View of Scollay Square, Boston, lantern slide possibly taken by Arthur A. Shurcliff, circa 1910s.

The Old State House is one of my favorite stops on the Freedom Trail and my favorite thing about the Old State House is the lion and unicorn statues on the east façade. In the view from Scollay Square, it may be difficult to make out, but the unicorn statue is just visible, and on the engraving of the Boston Massacre site, the lion and unicorn do not appear. That is because the statues were ripped down the day the Declaration of Independence was read from the balcony of the Old State House in 1776 and burned in a bonfire. The replicas were not put onto the building until 1882 when a restoration project brought the building back to its “colonial appearance.” Read more about the lion and unicorn statues, and the time capsule found there in 2014 in On King Street, the blog of the Bostonian Society. (On King Street: Lion and Unicorn (bostoniansociety.blogspot.com))

19th century view of Adams Square and Dock Square, Boston
View of Adams Square and Dock Square, looking north-east towards Faneuil Hall, Boston, lantern slide possibly taken by Arthur A. Shurcliff, 19th century.

This 19th century view of Faneuil Hall is extremely interesting, mostly because the streetscape and buildings, besides the Hall, have completely changed. The person who took this photograph would have stood in Adams Square, which no longer exists. Present day Adams Square is part of Government Center. There are trolley tracks that travel behind a statue, the trolley probably would have travelled from nearby Scollay Square, and the Old State House would have been off camera to the right.

View of Hull Street, Boston with Old North Church
View of Hull Street, with Old North Church in background, Boston, lantern slide possibly taken by Arthur A. Shurcliff, 19th century(?).

This image of Old North Church may give you an idea of why the lanterns hung in the belfry, or bell tower, could be seen from far away as it is taller than the surrounding buildings.

Proposed Mall Connecting Chelsea Street and Bunker Hill Monument
City of Boston, Park Department: Proposed Mall Connecting Chelsea Street and Bunker Hill Monument, Charlestown, Mass., lantern slide of drawing drawn by Arthur A. Shurcliff, circa 1920s.

Although Shurcliff did not have any photographs of the Bunker Hill Monument, he did design a landscaped park which would have connected the monument to the present day location of the USS Constitution Museum and Park created in 1792. Although this connecting park was never created, it is interesting to see how a landscape designer thought to improve the site.

I hope you enjoyed taking this short “armchair vacation” down the Freedom Trail with me! If you want to see how lantern glass slides work, Brown University has a great guide! (Antique Lantern Slides (by A. Bravo) (brown.edu))


Further reading within The Beehive on the Arthur Asahel Collection of Glass Lantern Slides:

“A Photographic History of Boston’s Back Bay Neighborhood” (A Photographic History of Boston’s Back Bay Neighborhood | Beehive (masshist.org))

“From Fenways Past” (From Fenways Past | Beehive (masshist.org))

Stories to Cheer our Spirits: Horses in the Adams Papers

By Kenna Hohmann, Adams Papers Intern

Diving into the vast collections of documents in the Adams Papers has been one of the best parts of my internship at the MHS. Over the past few months, I have endeavored to identify quotations and stories that allow for a greater understanding of and connection to the historical figures from our nation’s past. My research yielded both lighthearted moments—the Adamses’s comments on the seasons—and serious reflection—the family’s thoughts on education. A few had another theme in common— horses—a subject that because of person interest sparked my curiosity and prompted a deeper dive into the documents.

miniature portrait of Thomas Boylston Adams
Thomas Boylston Adams by Mr. Parker, 1795

The first story I found reflects the hardship that sometimes goes along with riding long distances. In the spring of 1794 Thomas Boylston Adams (1772–1832), the youngest son of John and Abigail Adams, spent five weeks traveling through Pennsylvania. Thomas Boylston was 21-years old at the time and trying his best to establish his legal career, in part by taking “a journey into the interior parts of this State upon a Circuit with the Supreme Court.” Writing to his mother in June, Thomas Boylston provided a detailed description of the country he traveled t, commenting to Abigail “The exercise of riding on Horseback so long a Journey was rather more severe than I have been accustomed to, but tho’ it took away some of my flesh, it contributed much to my health.” Thomas Boylston experienced the physical pain caused by long periods of riding but also the benefits of the trip to his health and wellbeing. As someone who has also ridden horses over long distances, I can appreciate how the soreness of riding could be overlooked due to the joy that comes from being in nature. Thomas Boylston Adams was entering a new period of his life. That excitement, along with the beautiful Pennsylvania spring and a good horse and long ride, was enough to lift his spirits.

In a twist on the theme, the second story I found came from John Adams in a February 1795 letter to Abigail Adams. Then vice president, John Adams had been in Philadelphia since the previous November, while Abigail remained in Quincy. John, along with most Americans, was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Jay Treaty from Britain, although the vice president also feared the treaty might delay his return home. “Oh my Hobby Horse—and my little Horse! I want you both for my Health And Oh my I want you much more, for the delight of my heart and the cheering of my spirits—” John frequently referred to his farm as his “Hobby Horse” and when he wanted a break from the stress of politics he turned his thoughts toward home to lift his spirits. In this selection, his love for Abigail Adams and her importance to him is on full display.

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 1 Feb, 1795
Detail of letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 1 February 1795, Adams Papers

My personal interest in horses and subsequent search for related content yielded these two different but interesting anecdotes. The sweet words between John and Abigail Adams and the humorous yet earnest letter that Thomas Boylston Adams sent to his mother would not have come to my attention without my original interest in the theme of horses. Spending time with the expansive collection of the Adams Papers has been a highlight of my internship, and I would recommend that everyone take a bit of time to read a few letters! To get started, visit the Adams Papers Digital Edition.

Party Men and Congressional Pugilists: The Rise of Party Conflict during the Adams Administration

By Lauren Howard, Adams Papers Intern

“The Accounts We have of the Uneasy State of the Minds of our Countrymen: their innumerable Projects, and fluctuating Politicks are perhaps more distressing to Us, than they are to you who are on the spot… For my own Part I am too old and feeble, to fight— They must put me to death for my neutrality: for I will not be a Party Man.”

John Adams to Richard Cranch, 20 July 1787

Cartoon drawing titled "Congressional Pugilists"
“Congressional Pugilists,” political cartoon of Matthew Lyon fighting with a federalist opponent on the floor of Congress early in 1798

Despite his disdain for party politics, John Adams’s administration began with the country already divided along party and regional lines. He narrowly won the presidency by three electoral votes, although he entered office with a distinct advantage—a Federalist majority in Congress. This majority allowed a bill to be introduced and quickly signed into law. For example, the Nonintercourse Act of 1799 was introduced in the Senate on 1 March 1799 and signed two days later; “An Act to Lay Additional Duties on Certain Articles Imported” was introduced in the House of Representatives on 8 May 1800, passed and transmitted to the Senate later that day, and signed by Adams on the 13th. Despite this Federalist majority, congressional records reveal that it was also a period of increasing partisan polarization and conflict. During my internship with the Adams Papers editorial project, I used the Adams Papers Digital Edition, Annals of Congress, and the House and Senate Journals to construct a legislative calendar of the important bills passed during the Adams administration. Bill by bill, my research revealed the gradual entrenchment of party divisions. “Rivalries have been irritated to madness,” Adams wrote to Abigail Adams in February 1799, and this madness even erupted in a physical altercation in the House.

One line from a letter by John Adams to Abigail Adams
Detail of letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams in February 1799

A prime instigator of this increased factionalism was the breakdown of diplomatic relations with France. In December 1797, Abigail Adams correctly foretold, “Should we be forced into a war, which God forbid, parties would again assume a face of violence.” After initially urging diplomatic restraint and voicing a dedication to “keep the Peace with their high Mightinesses at paris,” Adams called on Congress to create a navy to protect the coast and commerce of the United States. In the wake of the XYZ Affair, the  nation was consumed by war hysteria but found itself split over the French issue. Democratic-Republicans called for a de-escalation of tensions and a halt to war preparations, while Federalists passed numerous bills to prepare the country to fight. “An Act to Provide for an Additional Armament for the Further Protection of the Trade of the United States” and “An Act for the Establishment of the Department of the Navy” passed in the Senate by large majorities and little effectual resistance from Democratic-Republicans.

Members of the House also voted along party lines on related issues. The Sedition Act passed on 10 July 1798 by a vote of 44 to 41, with 21 abstentions. All of the yes votes came from Federalists, although three crossed party lines to oppose the bill. Later, the Sedition Act was used exclusively to arrest and imprison Democratic-Republicans.

The ongoing conflict with France reinforced the party lines drawn several years earlier with Washington’s Proclamation of Neutrality. As factionalism divided Congress, partisan conflict evolved beyond balloting and policymaking. On 15 February 1798, a brawl—complete with a walking stick and fireplace tongs—broke out on the House floor. On 30 January 1798 Federalist Roger Griswold insulted Matthew Lyon’s valor during the American Revolution, after Lyon declared himself a champion of the common man and accused Griswold of corruption. Lyon, a Democratic-Republican from Vermont, spat at Griswold and was charged with gross indecency by House Federalists. However, as an outraged Abigail Adams wrote, “Instead of considering what was due to the Honour of the House, as Legislatures and as gentlemen, they have sufferd narrow party views to operate.” With Federalists unable to secure enough votes to remove Lyon, Griswold took matters into his own hands and beat Lyon with his cane; Lyon defended himself with fireplace tongs. The men later apologized and retained their seats, but the incident provides valuable insight into party conflict during the Adams presidency. The fight was instigated by disagreements over Adams’s militaristic approach to Franco-American relations and debates over which party better served American interests. According to Abigail Adams, the affair also “created more warmth, more wrath more ill will, than the most momentous questions of National concern.” Thus, while Adams despised party politics, his administration further established party identities and fostered partisan conflict so intense that it erupted in legislative violence.

The Diary of William Logan Rodman, Part IV

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

This is the fourth installment in a series on the diary of William Logan Rodman at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Click here to read Part I, Part II, and Part III.

In May 1861, after the attack on Fort Sumter and the outbreak of the Civil War, William Logan Rodman of New Bedford, Mass. volunteered for the Home and Coast Guard. The Home and Coast Guard, a home-front military corps raised for coastal defense, was garrisoned at Fort Phoenix at the mouth of the Acushnet River. Rodman participated in drills and other training and seemed to enjoy it.

But his confidence took a serious hit with the Union loss at the First Battle of Bull Run on 21 July 1861. Rodman was chastened, but refused to despair, writing in his diary on 1 August: “I had not heart to write last week on the Bull’s Run defeat which still occupies my mind. […] We shall be less confident & boastful but not less determined.”

In mid-September, with the war escalating, Rodman wanted to take a more active part, so he traveled to Washington, D.C. in hopes of a commission. His description of the city in these early days of the war is fascinating. Of the trip down, he wrote, “It was exciting and strange to see all along the rail road pickets & other guards.” Unsurprisingly, D.C. was teeming with people: “What with the ever moving crowd of strangers I was as much bewildered as ever in my life.” But he was surprised at how safe it felt, considering Bull Run was only 30 miles away. And he was impressed and heartened on seeing “thousands of horses in pens near the Observatory grounds. Acres of horses. Acres of waggons and ambulances. Acres of Hay & other stores.”

While in the capital, Rodman took the opportunity to play tourist. On 22 September, he watched a reconnaissance flight of the newly formed Union Army Balloon Corps conducted by Chief Aeronaut Thaddeus Lowe. The following day, Rodman went to see the notorious Marshall House inn in Alexandria, Va., which he found closed. It was there that Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth, just four months before, had been killed by the inn’s proprietor for removing a Confederate flag from the building. The proprietor, James W. Jackson, was also killed. Rodman called it “a forlorn looking place to be so famous.”

Image of Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth
Carte de visite of Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth, ca. 1861

Rodman also visited Arlington House, the former home of Gen. Robert E. Lee, “a shabby old mansion surrounded by magnificent trees and commanding a superb view.” This estate is now the site of Arlington National Cemetery.

Arlington National Cemetery in November 1883
Photograph of Arlington National Cemetery by Marion Hooper Adams, Nov. 1883

Finally, on 25 September 1861, Rodman saw the sight he’d most wanted to see: Abraham Lincoln in the flesh. Rodman was in the office of Gen. George W. Cullum, aide-de-camp to Gen. Winfield Scott, when in walked the president himself. Rodman’s description of Lincoln is one for the ages:

While at the latter’s office saw the President who came in to see Gen Scott. Long, lank & round shouldered with tumbled shirt & cravat no waistcoat and a $1.25 brown linen coat Old Abe is no beauty. Looks like a New England stationary pedlar or book agent. He’s a man tho and doing his work well so far. Never mind his garb his heart & head are right.

On his way home from D.C., Rodman stopped for a few days in the Germantown area of Philadelphia, where many members of his sprawling family lived. These included his uncle William Logan Fisher, his cousin Sarah (Fisher) Wister, and her husband William Wister.

Germantown had long been home to many Quaker and Mennonite families and therefore a hotbed of anti-slavery sentiment. Rodman’s family on both sides were Quakers, and this branch were Hicksites, the more “radical” branch of the Society of Friends. Rodman didn’t write much in his diary about his own religious beliefs, but they seemed to align with his Germantown relatives. On 29 September, he attended a Hicksite Friends meeting, where he was lucky enough to hear a “capital sermon” by the remarkable abolitionist, suffragist, and reformer Lucretia Mott.

Lucretia Mott
Photograph of Lucretia Mott by F. Gutekunst, undated

Rodman’s trip had been unsuccessful—he didn’t get a commission. That wouldn’t come until almost a year later. But in the meantime, he was elected to serve as a representative to the Massachusetts legislature, and his patriotic zeal was undiminished. After the Union victory at Port Royal and the occupation of Beaufort, S.C., he wrote:

I think there is a very general feeling that it would be nothing more than justice to utterly destroy Charleston and block up its harbor forever as a monument of our detestation of this vile rebellion. The Negro question is to be presented to us in strong relief now. Beaufort District possess out of a population of 38000, 32000 Slaves. What shall be done with them?

What was “done with them” was what became known as the Port Royal Experiment, an attempt to “create schools and hospitals” for formerly enslaved people “and to allow them to buy and run plantations.” It was, in the words of historian Willie Lee Rose, a “rehearsal for Reconstruction.”

Join me here at the Beehive for the conclusion of William Logan Rodman’s story.

Massachusetts as a National Leader in Civic Education Reform: The Impact of the 2018 Legislation

By Kate Melchior, Assistant Director of Education

Want to learn more about the impact of civic education on students in Massachusetts? Join us for the inaugural Civic Learning Week, 24 to 30 April, organized by the MHS and partner organizations belonging to the Massachusetts Civic Education Coalition.

Massachusetts Civic Learning Coalition Presents: Massachusetts Civic Learning Week, April 26-30
Massachusetts Civic Learning Week, April 26-30.

On Tuesday, 27 April 2021, from 3:15 to 4:00 PM, award-winning National History Day student Morgan Gibson will be a featured speaker as part of a panel of Massachusetts legislators, who have championed civic education in the state. Sen. Harriette Chandler, Rep, Linda Dean Campbell, and Rep. Andy Vargas will speak about past and present legislation to improve civic education in the Commonwealth, including the 2018 Act to Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement, which made Massachusetts a national leader in civic education reform.

The legislators are joined by students who are leading or have led civic action projects in their communities. The students will share their experiences of leading civic action projects. Following their individual presentations, the legislators and students will engage in dialogue to discuss what the future of civic education in Massachusetts should look like.  Learn more and register for this online event.

See the full listing of events during Massachusetts Civic Learning Week, 26 to 30 April 2021.

“The most memorable period of my life”: John Quincy Adams in Russia and Great Britain, 1809–1817

By Neal Millikan, Series Editor for Digital Editions

Transcriptions of more than 1,200 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 August 1809 through August 1817 and chronicle Adams’s experiences as a diplomat in Russia and Great Britain.

It was with a heavy heart that John Quincy Adams accepted the role of America’s first minister plenipotentiary to Russia. Taking the position would mean traveling with his wife, Louisa Catherine Adams, and his youngest son, Charles Francis Adams, but leaving behind his two eldest sons, George Washington Adams, then age eight, and John Adams, age six, to continue their education in America. Adams, a born diplomat, utilized his new post in St. Petersburg to keep abreast of the shifting European alliances during the Napoleonic Wars. He was on good terms with Emperor Alexander I, and the two men often ran into each other on their walks around the city. During their time in Russia, John Quincy and Louisa Catherine Adams lost their only daughter, also named Louisa Catherine, to dysentery shortly after her first birthday. He agonizingly recounted her illness in his diary, recording that “Her last moments were distressing to me and to her mother, beyond expression.”

St. Petersburg, Russia
View of St. Petersburg, Russia

When the United States declared war on Great Britain in 1812, owing to issues left unsettled after the Revolutionary War, including the impressment of American sailors, Adams watched from afar. Appointed to lead the peace commission, in April 1814 John Quincy traveled alone to Ghent, Belgium, to help negotiate a settlement with his fellow commissioners and their British counterparts. He noted in his diary: “I commenced my Journey, to contribute if possible to the restoration of Peace to my own Country.” After months of negotiation, a peace agreement was signed on Christmas Eve. As he recorded in his diary on several other occasions throughout his life, John Quincy declared this period in Ghent to be, “the most memorable period of my life.”

Adams next traveled to Paris in January 1815, where he was reacquainted with his wife and youngest son, and then on to Great Britain in May to assume his new role as U.S. minister at the Court of St. James’s. On the 25th, John Quincy had one of the most momentous reunions of his life when he, Louisa, and Charles, were reunited with George and John after almost six years apart. Adams marveled that George had “grown almost out of our knowledge” and noted that John was “yet small for his age.” According to John Quincy, Louisa was “so much overcome by the . . . agitation of meeting so unexpectedly her long absent children, that she was obliged to retire, and twice fainted.” These years in Great Britain were some of the happiest of John Quincy’s adult life; surrounded once again by his entire family, they lived in the aptly named “Little Boston” house in the London suburb of Ealing. Adams traveled into the British capital when necessary for diplomatic work and made many new acquaintances, including the philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham.

John Quincy Adams received notice in April 1817 that President James Monroe had offered him the position of secretary of state. The family sailed for the United States on 15 May and arrived in New York on 6 August. Continuing on to Quincy, on the 18th John Quincy was reunited with “my dear and venerable father and mother,” John and Abigail Adams, recording his “inexpressible happiness” to find them both “in perfect health.”

For more on John Quincy Adams’s life during these years, read the headnote, or, navigate to the entries to begin reading his diary. The addition of material for the 1809–1817 period joins existing transcriptions of Adams’s diary for his early years as a lawyer and diplomat (1789–1801), as secretary of state (1817–1825), and as president (1825–1829), and brings the total number of transcriptions freely available on the MHS website to more than 5,000 pages.

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 is provided by the Amelia Peabody Charitable Fund. Harvard University Press and a number of private donors also contributed critical support.

“Captive of the Confederacy and a Continent Touched by War: Lucy Lord Howes Hooper’s Six Days as a Civilian Prisoner of War”

By Cassy Jane Werking, PhD Candidate, University of Kentucky, Andrew W. Mellon Short-Term Research Fellow at the MHS

The ship in the distance gave hope to Lucy Lord Howes Hooper, passenger aboard the American Southern Cross. Her vessel was not lost at sea because civilization was in sight. The ship, however, served as an unexpected reminder of a civilization fraught with conflict—the American Civil War. The feeling of hope felt by Massachusetts natives Lucy Lord Howes Hooper and her husband, Captain Benjamin Howes, quickly vanished as the approaching Confederate ship, sailing under the disguise of the British flag and taking advantage of Britain’s neutrality, announced that all on board the Southern Cross were now prisoners of war for the Confederacy. Hooper watched the Confederate flag quickly replace the English flag and commented, “I had been standing on deck all this time in the rain, watching the proceedings with an aching heart.” [1] The discomfort of the rain falling on her head may have matched the discomfort she felt in her heart about the situation unfolding in front of her eyes and the uncertainty that would undoubtedly follow. Passengers packed belongings as quickly as possible, evacuated the ship, and boarded the Confederate Florida before their capturers burned the American Southern Cross. Hooper served time as a Confederate prisoner of war for six days in June 1863 alongside her husband who was the merchant captain of the Southern Cross. They were on route from Mazatlán, Mexico with a shipment of brazilwood when the Confederates found them. [2] Hooper left the ship she referred to as home in an unusual way. She stated, “I was wrapped in the American flag and lowered over the side in an arm chair into the boat, with one of my cats in my lap.” [3] This unusual scene highlights the variety of forms the Civil War took and the unsuspecting civilians who were caught in the cross hairs.

The experience of Lucy Lord Howes Hooper shows that the Confederacy took advantage of fluid borders in international waters through Confederate privateers with the goal of destroying Union commerce. Hooper’s story provides a female perspective from the southern end of the North American continent to contrast with northern regions that my dissertation explores—the international border between Canada and the United States.  The Confederacy extended its reach beyond the borders of the South and beyond the United States. Hooper’s diary and my dissertation contribute to the more recent trajectory of Civil War scholarship that has involved “internationalizing” the war’s scope. Historians have examined Europe and South America to broaden our understanding. They have also highlighted the importance of Latin American nations to the Civil War Era. Examinations ranged from the escapades of filibusters before the war like William Walker, who led a private expedition into Nicaragua in order to acquire land needed for the expansion of slavery, to the lives of white southerners who did not want to live in the United States during Reconstruction. Yet, North America on a larger scale remains understudied. Analyzing international borders by land, and by water, adds a new dimension to how the scholarship conceptualizes the geography of war and builds on recent studies of borders as contested spaces.

Confederate Lieutenant John Newland Maffitt treated Hooper less like a prisoner and more like a guest. He offered Hooper his personal room for her to stay in and taught her to play Solitaire. Hooper was from Dennis, Massachusetts and even talked about Cape Cod with Maffitt in which the captain reported that the Cape Cod girls are “great flirts.” [4] Interesting conversations may have briefly diverted Hooper’s attention away from her capricious situation, but she remained uncomfortable because there was no destination or freedom in sight. Hooper demurred, “Still prisoners we are discounted, suffer considerable from ennui, a dull rainy disagreeable day.” [5] Hooper knew that the ticket to her release hindered on the presence of a non-American ship coming in the path of the Confederates. Ultimately, the French ship Fleur De Para unknowingly liberated Hooper, her husband, and a handful of other passengers. The Confederate privateers posing as Englishmen explained that they saved them from a burning vessel, but secretly kept the remainder of the crew as prisoners.

Examining Confederate actions in international waters and the safety of civilians threatened on ships, shows that the Civil War, despite its name, was not a war that transpired only within the borders of the United States, but also on the border, specifically in the “borderlands.” Therefore, a fuller understanding of the war that encompasses all the diverse actors, like Hooper, who were affected and their varied experiences of war requires a reframing of the Civil War that positions it as a fight that played out across North America.

[1] Lucy Lord Howes Hooper, 6 June 1863 [electronic edition], [Page unnumbered; (Page 1 of sequence)], Lucy Lord Howes Hooper diary, 1862-1863,  Massachusetts Historical Society, https://www.masshist.org/database/viewer.php?item_id=2505&pid=25.

[2] This description is from the project: Civil War, Massachusetts Historical Society.

[3] Ibid., [Page unnumbered; (Page 2 of sequence)].

[4] Ibid., 7 June 1863, [Page unnumbered; (Page 3 of sequence)].

[5] Ibid., 10 June 1863, [Page unnumbered; (Page 3 of sequence)].




Virtual Programming at the MHS

By Gavin Kleespies, Director of Programs, Exhibitions  & Community Partnerships

At a recent meeting, a MHS staff member pointed out that it had been 400 days since we closed our doors to the public. While this was a sobering milestone, it gave us pause to reflect on what we have built in this time. The MHS began offering virtual programs the first week of April 2020. Since then we have hosted 64 programs with 11,000 attendees. Attendance has increased and the geographic diversity is truly amazing. Program attendees have joined us from 1,115 different communities across America from Anchorage, Alaska to Zephyrhills, Florida. We have also had people attend from 63 foreign cities in 18 different countries on five continents.

The shift to virtual programing has given us greater access to speakers from far-flung places. In the past, a historian who lived on the west coast would need to commit to at least two days of travel in order to speak at a program. And in many cases the MHS would have been expected to pay a speaker fee or travel expenses. Now, we need only a few hours online. We have been able to have presenters from across the country, and, in one case, the other side of the Atlantic. Virtual programming has enabled us to ask experts to moderate conversations  that would have been impossible before.

The number of recorded programs has increased due to the move to online programs. Previously, we  recorded around ten events a year to make available online. Since we shifted to virtual programs, we have recorded 63 programs, 3 seminars, our biannual conference, the Gomes Prize award ceremony, and our Making History Gala as well as 8 National History Day videos. All of these programs are available on our video page and YouTube channel.

While the advantages of virtual programming can’t be denied, we very much look forward to hosting in-person programs again. In the meantime, take a look at what is planned on our online events calendar.

Patriotic Fervor or a Quiet Life? The Siblings of the Otis Family of Massachusetts

By Heather Rockwood, Communications Associate

Today is #NationalSiblingsDay! To celebrate, I took a look into the collections of the MHS to see if there are any historically significant siblings. What I found exceeded my expectations, as the MHS has collection pieces from the Otis family, one of my favorite Massachusetts families of the 1700’s. Specifically I’ll be talking about James Otis, Jr., Mercy Otis Warren, and Mary Otis Gray, three siblings who lived through very interesting times.

The eldest of the three is James Otis, Jr. who was a lawyer, political activist, and legislator in the Massachusetts Provincial Assembly and a mentor to John Adams. Otis is famous for representing businessmen of Boston during the Writs of Assistance case in 1761 where he argued against invasion of property without cause. This case, and the arguments he made, was the basis for the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, since John Adams witnessed the impassioned four-hour speech made by Otis and helped write the Massachusetts Constitution and the Constitution of the United States. Unfortunately, Otis suffered from mental illness and became much more erratic after he was hit in the head during an altercation in 1769. Although he lived during the time of the Revolutionary War, he did not take part, as his family placed him in a friend’s house in Watertown, where he passed in 1783 after being struck by lightning. His sister Mercy later stated that he had said to her: “My dear sister, I hope, when God Almighty in his righteous providence shall take me out of time into eternity that it will be by a flash of lightning.”

Mercy Otis Warren, the eldest sister, but younger than James, was a Patriot before and during the Revolutionary War and an author. She wrote pamphlets, poems and plays to further the patriotic cause. She published under her own name, unusual for a woman in her social circle, and wrote one of the earliest histories of the American Revolution, the first authored by a woman. Her brothers and father supported her education as a girl, also, unusual for the time and her social circle, as she was a voracious reader, so she studied with her brothers under a tutor. She was a correspondent and advisor to many political men including Samuel Adams, John Adams, John Hancock, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Alexander Hamilton complimented her plays: “In the career of dramatic composition at least, female genius in the United States has outstripped the male”. However, Warren’s sharp wit criticized John Adams in her history of the American Revolution, “History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution” which many contemporaries read after publication in 1805. These criticisms created a breach of the lifelong friendship she enjoyed with Abigail and John Adams. The friendship was reestablished with Abigail in 1812 just two years before Warren passed at age 86. She was a woman ahead of her time, and I’ve always wondered what she could have accomplished had she lived during our time. The MHS holds Mercy Otis Warren’s papers, mostly her correspondence.

Portrait of Mary Otis Gray
This portrait of Mary Otis Gray was painted in 1763 by John Singleton Copley, whose own sibling story is also very interesting.

Mary Otis Gray did not have the patriotic fervor of her two siblings, she lived a quieter life, despite being “raised in the midst of revolutionary ideals” which influenced her siblings heavily. She married John Gray, a Boston businessman, collector of customs before the war, and owner of the ropewalks made famous by the brawls between soldiers and civilians leading up to the Boston Massacre in 1770. The Grays married when Mary was thirty-one in 1761, older than was customary for the time, and she bore a son, John, in 1763, the same year she sat for this portrait. However, John passed six days after birth and Mary passed later that year. See the image of Mary Otis Gray along with the mourning jewelry made for her and for her son.

The Diary of William Logan Rodman, Part III

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

This is the third installment in a series on the diary of William Logan Rodman at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Click here to read Part I and Part II.

William Logan Rodman of New Bedford, Mass. began keeping a diary just days before the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. This diary would become an invaluable document containing an up-close and personal account of some of the most momentous events in United States history. In Parts I and II of this series, I’ve described Rodman’s thoughts and experiences during the turbulent aftermath of that election.

So far we’ve seen that Rodman was a staunch Republican who supported Lincoln and opposed slavery. He had also been raised in the Quaker tradition of nonviolence and didn’t relish the prospect of war. But the secession of South Carolina and other Southern states outraged him, and he vented his anger on the pages of his diary, lambasting the “Traitors” and “Devils of SC” and their “mad schemes.”

Even before Lincoln’s inauguration, Northern newspapers reported rumors of a possible attack on federal forces at Fort Sumter, S.C. Rodman dismissed the rumors on 12 February 1861 (incidentally Lincoln’s 52nd birthday), but there was a part of him that dared the rebels to try it.

This is the day consecrated, so says lasts nights Telegram (or as Prentice calls it tel-a-whopper) to the capture of Fort Sumter by the South Carolina Royalists. I dont anticipate any thing of the kind but […] I almost hope the experiment may be tried. I have a fancy to learn what effect the 10 inch Columbiad will have upon the feelings of the rascally rebels.

In fact, as the National Park Service explains in its publication Five Flags Over Fort Sumter, there was a minor incident that night that presaged coming events.

On the night of February 12 a harbor steamer approached a little closer to the fort than the sentinel liked, and he leveled his musket; when the boat came closer still, the private fired into it and drove it away.

Lincoln was inaugurated on 4 March 1861, and Rodman was fulsome in his praise of the new president’s inaugural address, gushing over the “modesty & humility but a determined self reliance” that was evident in both the speech and the man.

Looking back at that address is instructive. In it, Lincoln stated unequivocally that “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” He refused to march federal troops into Southern states to re-order their “domestic institutions” (even when legally permitted to do so) and declared his support of the Fugitive Slave Clause of the Constitution “with no mental reservations.”

Rodman’s wholehearted agreement with the speech tells us that he, too, while professing to oppose slavery and white supremacy, was willing to look the other way to preserve the Union. Rodman believed that “no government exists without the Union is maintained.” He was not, based on the evidence in this diary, an abolitionist.

In spite of his growing anxiety over tensions between North and South, Rodman was shocked when the Confederacy attacked Sumter on 12 April, two months to the day after he’d dismissed it as an improbability. On 13 April, telegraphs from Charleston reported the news, but it wasn’t until two days later that Rodman was sure.

Tis too true Sumpter has fallen and War has commenced. We know the fact now and altho we cannot comprehend the extraordinary details which reach us […] we accept the fact with mortification and anger. There is no mistaking now the feeling of this section and a severe reckoning must follow.

Broadside probably printed post-Sumter, [1861]
It’s hard to imagine in this age of instant communication what it must have been like to wait, unknowing, for word to arrive via telegraph, letter, or printed page. But once the news was confirmed, reaction was swift, and Northern troops were on the move. In fact, some men had been called up months before. William Cushing Paine, for example, had been sent from New Bedford to Fort Schuyler, N.Y. back in January, “perhaps in anticipation of a further destination,” as Rodman had put it.

Now that civil war was upon them, Rodman described the excitement: “We think of nothing talk of nothing but the War. Each day sees [us] devouring newspapers. Reading & Rereading the same bit of intelligence.” And as troops shipped out of New Bedford and other Northern towns, “Tears rolled down many a rough face. […] We may all have to follow.”