James Family Biography: A Virtual Reference Room Display

By Judith Maas, Library Assistant

Each month the Reader Services department at the MHS offers a new display of thematically related books in the library’s reference room. Prior to our closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I had been exploring our collection of materials on the James family for a book display and found a wide assortment of items, both by and about family members. To keep the library’s tradition going, I decided to bring my planned display online, along with brief descriptions of each book. I hope these selections inspire some enjoyable late summer and early autumn reading!

The Jameses
The Jameses : a family narrative / R.W.B. Lewis
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1991

In a New York Times interview (Aug. 7, 1991), Yale scholar Lewis states that he had first intended to create a television series portraying the lives of several generations of a great American family. That idea evolved into this epic family biography, ten years in the making. The story begins in 1789, when William James, the son of a farmer, emigrates from Ireland to Albany, New York, and builds a fortune in real estate, trade, and banking. At the heart of the book is the story of William’s son, Henry, Sr., Henry’s wife Mary Walsh, and their five children (among them Henry, William, and Alice). Lewis not only traces the lives of individual family members but explores how family relationships influenced their literary, psychological, and philosophical outlooks.

The Jameses Family
The James family / by F. O. Matthiessen
Knopf, 1947, 1961

Viewing the story of the James family as “internal rather than external, a biography of minds in action” (v), Harvard scholar Matthiessen incorporates many primary documents into his study—letters, essays, journal entries, and criticism; the work thus serves as both anthology and biography. A review in the journal Modern Language Notes by Quentin Anderson (Feb. 1949) highlights those selections that show how William and Henry viewed each other’s work as well as criticism by family members of the writings of Emerson, Carlyle, and Hawthorne. According to Anderson, “Although the work as a whole does not much enrich our sense of what went on in the family circle, it does give us excellent opportunities to see the members of that circle facing outward and appraising the world about them” (117).

The Father
The Father : a life of Henry James, Sr. / Alfred Habegger
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1994

The elder William James’s fortune granted his son, Henry James, Sr. (1811-1882), the freedom to engage in diverse philosophical and spiritual pursuits, among these the thought of the Swedish theologian Emanuel Swedenborg and that of the French utopian socialist Charles Fourier. In lieu of an ordinary occupation, Henry, Sr., became a self-styled “seeker for truth” (306), writing essays, befriending writers and intellectuals, and tending to the education of his children. He encouraged lively debate at the family dinner table, and the children experienced cosmopolitan, if erratic, schooling, as he shepherded the family back and forth between America and Europe. Habegger, formerly an English professor at the University of Kansas, explores the role of youthful hardships in shaping Henry, Sr.’s, character and ideas; his studies and writings and their intellectual context; and his highly original approach to raising children.

A Stroll with William James
A stroll with William James / Jacques Barzun.
Harper & Row, 1983

Barzun’s study of William James (1842-1910) is multifaceted–part biographical portrait; exploration of James’s thought and writings; cultural history;  and loving tribute, with Barzun viewing James as a friend, inspiration, and teacher: “his ideas, his words, his temperament speak to me with intimacy as well as force….He is for me the most inclusive mind I can listen to….” (4). The eclectic approach seems apt for James, a thinker who distrusted strict classifications and systems.

Barzun, a historian and essayist, recounts James’s slow, difficult journey from aspiring artist, to medical student, to psychologist and philosopher. He examines his essays and major works, considering the Principles of Psychology to be James’s masterpiece and describing his great subject in that work as “thoughts and feelings as experienced” (36); here is where James coined the phrase “stream of consciousness.” Discussing the sometimes misunderstood concept of “pragmatism,” Barzun distinguishes between mere expediency and what James meant by the term: “an attempt to explain how the mind ascertains truth” (83). Seeing James as an “assessor” (184) of his era, Barzun devotes a chapter to the emergence of modernism out of the upheavals taking place during the 1890s and early 1900s.

Henry James
Henry James : the untried years, 1843-1870 / By Leon Edel
Lippincott, 1953

Edel’s scholarship on Henry James (1843-1916) was an act of devotion and a lifetime pursuit. In addition to writing a five-volume biography, Edel edited anthologies of James’s letters, plays, essays, criticism, and stories. The biography, published between 1953 and 1972, has been noted for its scholarly thoroughness, narrative skill, and use of psychoanalytic interpretation.

Volume 1, The Untried Years, takes James from childhood through to his late 20s, when he returns to America from his Grand Tour of Europe. Among the subjects Edel treats are James’s family relationships, his feelings of rivalry with older brother William, his schooling, his early writing efforts, and his relationship with his cousin Minnie Temple, often seen by critics as the prototype for the character Milly Theale in the novel The Wings of the Dove. Writing in the Sewanee Review (Jan.-Mar. 1955), critic Joseph Frank says of volume 1, “…it is good to be reminded of the sheer inexhaustible delight in the complex variety of the human scene that a leisurely and  ample biography often provides” (168). For Edel’s views on what he called the “noble and adventurous art” (WL, 19) of biography, see his Writing Lives: Principia Biographica (Norton, 1984, 1959).

Alice James
Alice James, a biography / Jean Strouse
Houghton Mifflin, 1980
The Diary of Alice James
The diary of Alice James / Edited with an introduction by Leon Edel
Dodd, Mead, 1964

Alice (1848-1892) was the youngest of the James children and the only daughter. At age 19, she suffered the first of many mysterious illnesses. While her brothers William and Henry grew up to achieve glory in the fields of literature and philosophy, Alice settled into invalidism, her day-to-day life private and circumscribed. Yet however confined her world, she desired self-expression and an outlet for her talents and intellect. As Strouse writes in her introduction, when she was able, James held salons in Boston and London and conducted correspondence courses in history for women across the country. She was a devoted letter writer and an observant diarist. In this biography, Strouse places James’s life in its familial and cultural context while treating her particular hopes and struggles as worthy of study and understanding in their own right; though Alice James’s story does not fit our usual notions of success and accomplishment, her “attempt to find something whole and authentic in her own experience,” Strouse contends, “gives her life its real stature and interest” (xvi, 1982 pbk. ed.).

James’s diary, Strouse notes, contains “a wide range of original reflections on society, politics, literature, history, and the people she knew” (xii). It was first published in 1934, and re-issued in this more complete edition, edited by Leon Edel, in 1964. From the outset, the diary was well-received, as suggested by a review in The New Republic (quoted in  Strouse’s biography): “In some of her insights, some of her assessments of nineteenth-century humbug, Alice James went beyond either of her eminent brothers, and her judgements on the social history of her day have now the air of something like divinations” (358).

Letters to William and Caroline Eustis, Part V

by Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

This is the fifth part of a series about the letters to William and Caroline Eustis at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Click here to read Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

When working with manuscripts at the MHS, I often read something unexpected that makes me stop short. This happened when I processed the letters to William and Caroline Eustis, a remarkable collection of letters by U.S. presidents, cabinet members, a first lady, the Marquis de Lafayette, and others.

The passage that caught my eye was: “The detention of the Indians as hostages is liable to the most serious objections. The most extreme case only would justify it.”

Madison letter to Eustis
Excerpt of letter

These sentences appear at the top of a letter from President James Madison to Secretary of War William Eustis, dated 8 September 1812 and marked “private.”

Madison to Eustis, 8 September 1812
Complete letter

My curiosity was piqued, so I decided to investigate. I found the letter to which Madison was replying at Founders Online, a project at the National Archives containing searchable transcriptions of the papers of founding fathers. William Eustis had written to Madison the previous morning:

By the mail of this day I have only time to submit for consideration a suggestion which has been made of the expediency of detaining the Indian chiefs as hostages. If their tribes should become hostile it is in my mind doubtful whether they may not be useful with their influence among them; if they are not hostile detaining them will give great cause of offence.

To learn more about the historical context of this correspondence, I backtracked through Madison’s papers. I wondered what had prompted Eustis’ suggestion and whether it was carried out. One source led me to another and another, and I finally pieced the story together.

Ask someone what they know about the War of 1812, and you’ll probably hear of naval battles between the United States and Great Britain, the impressment of sailors, and the burning of Washington, D.C. But Native Americans played an incredibly significant role in the war. Many of the indigenous peoples, fearing the further loss of their territories to the expanding United States and encroachments by white settlers, decided to fight alongside Great Britain. The great Shawnee warrior Tecumseh, for example, with his brother Tenskwatawa, led a multi-tribal confederation allied with the British.

When Madison and Eustis exchanged these letters in early September 1812, they were reeling from the devastating loss of Fort Detroit. Gen. William Hull, tricked by British troops and their Native American allies into thinking that his forces were outnumbered, had surrendered the fort on August 16. Hull was reviled as a coward for the act, and President Madison received frantic letters from white settlers who feared that “savages” would sweep through the entire area.

At the same time as the siege of Fort Detroit, an important council was underway about 200 miles south at Piqua, Ohio. Secretary of War Eustis had invited the chiefs of a number of tribes to meet with U.S. commissioners and discuss a possible treaty. Some accepted, but others declined, distrusting the promises of the federal government and fearing the meeting was a pretense for taking more land.

According to the Letter Book of the Indian Agency at Fort Wayne 1809-1815 (p. 170), the Piqua council convened “August 15 and lasted for about three weeks.” That means it was these chiefs Eustis proposed taking as hostages in his letter to the president on September 7. Apparently negotiations weren’t going well.

Madison, quoted at the top of this post, was reluctant, but he didn’t rule it out. He wrote back, “The opinion of Clarke at least ought to [be] in favor of it. Is that known?” Clark was none other than William Clark, of Lewis and Clark fame. He was serving as U.S. agent for Indian affairs at St. Louis, Missouri. Clark may have nixed the idea, or perhaps the risk was considered too great, because the plan was never carried out. I found no other references to it.

The War of 1812 ended with the Treaty of Ghent, which essentially returned the United States and Great Britain to the pre-war status quo. But the territorial rights of the indigenous peoples were abandoned at the bargaining table. The British troops withdrew, and American expansion continued unabated.

I would urge anyone interested in the history of Native American treaties to read this petition I found while browsing the Madison papers online. Submitted to Madison on 5 February 1812 by representatives of the Wyandot Nation, it’s a heartbreaking plea for the preservation of the tribe’s ancestral territory, much of which had already been ceded to the U.S. Hearing that they may lose what little land they had left, the petitioners wrote, “We, the Wyandotts, are now a small nation. Unless you have charity for us, we will soon be forgot.”

The Wyandots were forcibly removed to a reservation in Kansas in 1843.

I’m also reminded of the MHS collection of sketches made by Cheyenne and Kiowa prisoners in 1877. These men were held by the U.S. military at Fort Marion, Florida, for the same reason William Eustis gave 65 years before: to prevent uprisings. Though they arose from tragic circumstances, the drawings are beautiful, and you can view all of them online at our website.

 sketches made by Cheyenne and Kiowa prisoners in 1877
“Sioux and Ute tribes at war” by Making Medicine, 1877

 

Neoclassical Art and Cupid and the Tortoise

By Angela Tillapaugh

Sculpture of Cupid and the Tortoise
Richard Saltonstall, Cupid and the Tortoise, 1858-1868, marble, 75.3 x 64 x 38.5 cm. From the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

This sculpture, located in the Reading Room of the MHS, shows Cupid sitting on the back of a moving tortoise. His wrists and ankles are bound by a single bolt of fabric and he looks off into the distance.  The artist behind this sculpture is the 19th century sculptor Richard Saltonstall Greenough, who was born in Boston and moved to Italy as a young adult to pursue a career in sculpting. Italy was a popular choice for expatriate sculptors due to the abundance of marble quarries and numerous skilled craftsmen.[i] It was challenging to study sculpting in the United States as most sculptures were utilitarian, such as tombstones and weathervanes. American artists, like Richard Greenough and his older brother, Horatio, were among the early artists who introduced Neoclassical sculpture to the States. Neoclassical art was born in Rome after the discovery of ancient sites like Pompeii in the early 19th century. After these archeological findings, there was a resurgence of interest in classical antiquity and many artists began creating works that emulated the art from ancient Rome and Greece.

This sculpture of Cupid is undoubtedly a Neoclassical work of art, which often used Greek and Roman mythology as subject matter. Greenough usually sculpted portraits. In Cupid and the Tortoise, Cupid is a portrait of Amy Shaw Warren. The portrait is based on sketches Greenough made of Warren when she was three years old. Neoclassical art often mixed portraiture with mythology, presenting someone in the guise of a mythological figure could help convey a story or ideas about them to a viewer. Cupid is an appropriate choice to use for a portrait of a child, as he is usually depicted as a baby or a young boy.

Back side of Cupid and the Tortoise sculpture
Figure 2. Richard Saltonstall, Cupid and the Tortoise, 1858-1868, marble, 75.3 x 64 x 38.5 cm. From the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Cupid is often used in art to suggest the state of love between other figures in the work. A bound Cupid could represent someone’s dominance over love, or a languishing romance between two people. But here, Cupid is alone except for the tortoise. Perhaps Cupid was punished for getting into mischief which is another common story in mythology.  Someone could have tied up Cupid as a punishment and then placed him on the back of a tortoise to be sent home to his mother, Venus. Regardless, Greenough provides the viewer with no visual cues that could explain why Cupid is bound by the wrists and ankles and sitting on a tortoise. Instead, Greenough places the focus on individual elements of the sculpture such as the portrait of Amy Shaw Warren and the beautifully detailed tortoise.  It is the choice of the viewer to fill in their own interpretations of why exactly Cupid is being carried away by a tortoise.

[i] Tolles, T. (2004, October). American Neoclassical Sculptors. Retrieved July 08, 2020, from https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/ambl/hd_ambl.htm

 

Uniting the States

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

The Papers of John Adams, Volume 20, spans a formative era in the development of our federal government, stretching from June 1789 to February 1791. We used 301 documents to tell the legislative story of the first federal Congress, foregrounding John Adams’s creation of the office of the vice presidency amid the nation’s struggle to implement the new U.S. Constitution. With outliers North Carolina and Rhode Island repeatedly delaying ratification of the Constitution, Congress battled through three busy sessions of debates. Meeting for the first time in New York City’s half-built Federal Hall, congressmen tussled over how to collect revenue and where to locate the national capital. They spent weeks filling posts, and setting up the key departments of state, treasury, and war. John Adams’ ever-candid comments reveal firsthand the challenges of that inaugural Congress.

Equally perplexing—and challenging—to John Adams was the scope of his new federal role. The U.S. Constitution said little about what a vice president’s powers were, and so Adams was largely left alone to interpret the charge. Here’s what we learn in his letters: From his earliest days in office, Adams etched out clear boundaries for the vice president’s powers. He forwarded a flood of patronage requests to George Washington. Adams focused his energy on presiding over the Senate, where he broke several major ties amid rising partisan conflict. Overall, Adams found his Senate duties “Somewhat severe—sitting just in the same place, so many hours of every day.” Though he could be petulant about the daily grind of politics, Adams was optimistic about the “National Spirit” of his colleagues, who were constructing the tripartite federal government that he had long envisioned. Whether or not the union would hold, as regional interests repeatedly impeded congressional action, remained Adams’ chief concern. As he told one friend, “There is every Evidence of good Intentions on all sides but there are too many Symptoms of old Colonial Habits: and too few, of great national Views.”

View up Wall Street by Archibald Robertson
Archibald Robertson, “View up Wall Street with City Hall (Federal Hall) and Trinity Church, New York City,” ca. 1798

Volume 20 places John Adams and his family in New York City, and, by the book’s end, in Philadelphia. After a decade in Europe and a few months of semi-retirement in rural Quincy, Adams acculturated to new habits. His trusted circle of regular correspondents changed. For example, in Volume 20, the Adams-Jefferson correspondence recedes. We see more exchanges with Dr. Benjamin Rush, Henry Marchant, John Trumbull, and with the vice president’s son, John Quincy. Busy compiling his Discourses on Davila in the spring of 1790, John Adams renewed old friendships on the page and reflected on his law career. I want to emphasize here that every Adams Papers volume is foundational. We are especially grateful to the editors of the Legal Papers, who have helped us to identify Adams’ allusions, reflections, and rivals at the bar.

Time for a sneak peek! One of the more remarkable letters that we published in Volume 20 is Benjamin Franklin’s last letter, of February 9th, 1790, to his fellow revolutionary and former colleague. For longtime readers of the Adams Papers and fans of American history, this letter is a fascinating bookend to a fractious friendship. Franklin enclosed a 5 February 1790 letter from James Pemberton, a well-known Philadelphia Quaker and antislavery activist, as well as a 3 February 1790 petition from the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. The Society asked Congress for the abolition of slavery and an end to the slave trade. While Adams never replied to Franklin, the vice president did heed the request and laid the petition before the Senate. Despite heated debate, no substantial action was taken by Congress regarding what Adams called “the Quaker petition.”

April 1790 skit by John Adams
John Adams, “Dialogues of the Dead,” ca. 22 April 1790, Adams Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society

But John Adams did pause to reflect on the passing of Benjamin Franklin. Just as his Discourses on Davila began to appear in the American press, Adams’s writing took a more fanciful turn. Following Franklin’s death, Adams memorialized the milestone in a playful skit, titled “Dialogues of the Dead.” We do not see a lot of “creative writing” in John Adams’s papers, so this is a unique treat. Adams’s scene stars a cast of characters in conversation [Charlemagne, James Otis, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Frederick II (the Great)] as they await Franklin’s arrival in the afterlife.

Though it seemed like a quirky choice for the author of serious works like the Defence of the Constitutions, Adams’ sardonic salute showed his Harvard-trained classical roots. In content and style, Adams emulated the Syrian satirist Lucian of Samosata’s Dialogues of the Dead. Adams riffed on Franklin’s science experiments and took a few jabs at his statesmanship. He observed that Franklin “told some very pretty moral Tales from the head—and Some very immoral ones from the heart.” For such a breezy and colorful bit of writing, Adams certainly worked hard to get it right; the manuscript bears plenty of his edits and deletions. We are proud that John Adams’s previously unpublished “Dialogues of the Dead,” along with a previously unpublished draft for a 33rd essay intended for his Discourses on Davila, will both appear in Volume 20.

The Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society gratefully acknowledges the generous support of our sponsors. Major funding is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and the Packard Humanities Institute. The Florence Gould Foundation and a number of private donors also contribute critical support. All Adams Papers volumes are published by Harvard University Press.

Letters to William and Caroline Eustis, Part IV

by Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

This is the fourth  part of a series about the letters to William and Caroline Eustis at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Click here to read Part I, Part II, and Part III.

On 30 March 1813, Paul Hamilton wrote to his friend and former colleague William Eustis in Boston. Both men had been serving in the Cabinet of President James Madison at the start of the War of 1812 just nine months before, Hamilton as Secretary of the Navy and Eustis as Secretary of War. But by the time this letter was written, both had resigned.

Letter from Paul Hamilton
Letter from Paul Hamilton to William Eustis, 30 Mar. 1813

I found an extensive biography of Paul Hamilton, particularly his early years, in the History of Higher Education in South Carolina (pp. 127-133). He was a South Carolinian, born in 1762 and the only one of his parents’ three children to live past the age of five. He fought with the state militia in the American Revolution while still a teenager. Beginning in 1785, he served in several public offices, sitting for a few terms in the South Carolina legislature before his election to the governorship in 1804. He was a rice planter and slave holder.

His elevation to the federal government came in 1809, when he was appointed Secretary of the Navy by President Madison. Less than four years later, Hamilton regretted accepting the job. He wrote this letter to Eustis while the resignations of both men were still fresh.

We rejoice at the degree of contentment which your letter discloses as having relation to your retirement to private life, in which state if happiness can ever be found on our earth, there alone is it to be met. Would to God that I had learned sooner the verity of this Doctrine, in which case, I would not have been tempted to leave my peaceful tranquil home for the possession of the place I lately held under the general government, the tenure of which (I have experienced) was but chaff before the breath of calumny whispering in the ear of Timidity.

A tortured metaphor, to be sure, but his bitterness is clear. So what had gone wrong?

According to the National Archives’ Founders Online, Secretary of the Navy Hamilton “was increasingly beset by rumors of alcoholism, lax record keeping, appointment of unqualified persons, and extravagant contracts.” Biographer Raymond Walters, Jr. does not mince his words, either, in his 1957 book about fellow Cabinet member Albert Gallatin. He calls both William Eustis and Paul Hamilton “amiable incompetents” (p. 251). Jeff Broadwater, in his 2012 biography of James Madison, says that “Eustis and Hamilton provided sectional balance in the Cabinet and not much else” (p. 147). President Madison apparently met with Hamilton twice to relay concerns about his management of the department and essentially pressured him to resign.

By all accounts, Madison’s Cabinet was a mess. Even Hamilton seemed to agree. In my favorite passage of the letter, he used another metaphor to describe the dynamics of the group, this one much more robust and eloquent.

In a field in which you and I once held a place, there is not much of Harmony. Ice, Oil, Vinegar & Mustard can never form a wholsome [sic] concrete, for any earthly purpose.

Paul Hamilton letter to William Eustis
Excerpt of Paul Hamilton’s letter

Now Hamilton found himself on the outside, and he resented it. With so much going on in the world, he was no longer entitled to privileged information and could only repeat gossip. Who would be appointed minister to Russia to negotiate the end of the war? His guess was as good as anybody else’s.

Hamilton wrote this letter from Washington, D.C., while he waited for the roads to become passable enough for his trip home. His next steps were uncertain. Madison had nominated him as Commissioner of Loans for South Carolina, but he was reluctant to accept. He’d soured on government, but admitted that the $2,000 salary would help pay for the education of his younger children. (He and his wife had eight children, the youngest of whom was only eight.) As he considered the future, he said: “We are creatures of contingencies, and justly has it been written that, ‘no man knoweth what a day may bring forth.’”

Ultimately, the decision was made for him. The U.S. Senate rejected his appointment, and Hamilton retired to private life after all. He died on his plantation in 1816 at the age of 53.

Hamilton’s tenure as Secretary of the Navy was not a complete failure. He is particularly recognized for the passage of the Act Establishing Navy Hospitals in 1811, which appropriated funds for the construction of the first permanent medical facilities for sailors.

For more on Paul Hamilton, I recommend this small collection of his personal papers digitized by the University of South Carolina Libraries. And of course, you can read the rest of this letter and other letters to William Eustis and his wife Caroline at the MHS website.

The Missing Whydah Treasure

By Laura Williams, Visitor Services Coordinator

It was a sad day for treasure hunters across the U.S.  when on 6 June 2020, millionaire art dealer Forrest Fenn’s legendary treasure was reported as found. Hidden in the Rocky Mountains for 10 years, the only clues to find the chest filled with gold coins and nuggets were a map and a poem. Like most mysteries, this treasure hunt did not come without a fair share of darkness as it is believed that 4 people died on the quest. [1]  As I learned more about this present day treasure hunt, I could not help but think back on other tales of hidden riches that have puzzled treasure seekers and historians alike. From the pirate Blackbeard to the Aztec Emperor Montezuma II, legends of hidden treasures are as old as time. In fact, one such treasure that is still missing is the rumored bounty of the pirate ship the Whydah which sank just off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass..

The Whydah had a dark past before it was captured by pirates, as it was originally a merchant slaver used within the Triangular Trade and the Middle Passage. It was boarded by pirates as it left Jamaica en route to London in late February/early March 1717. The pirate crew was led by Samuel Bellamy, or Black Bellamy, and the ship was soon loaded up with plunder as they made their way across the seas. In addition to weaponry and other valuables, the most intriguing facet aboard was the rumored 20,000 pounds of gold and silver.  Captain Bellamy’s command of the ship was short lived, however, as it sank on 26 April 1717 after storm winds pushed it onto the shoals of Cape Cod. Only a handful of survivors were left and they were taken ashore to face trial in Boston.

Immediately following the wreck, it is known that Cape Cod locals plundered the ship’s valuables. Cyprian Southack, a cartographer, was also hired to note the location of the shipwreck and gather treasures for the crown. More about his voyages and time serving the Mass Bay Colony can be found in the MHS’s Cyprian Southack letters collection. In fact, much of what we now know about the pirates comes from the priest Cotton Mather’s papers and his account of visits with the men in jail to provide them salvation. However, it was never confirmed whether or not the large bounty of treasure that the pirates gloated about truly existed.

Once six out of the seven surviving pirates were sentenced to death and executed in Boston, the Whydah remained buried under 30 feet of water for over 250 years. That is until 1984 when underwater explorer and Massachusetts native, Barry Clifford, found the ship’s remains and the Whydah became the first authenticated pirate ship wreck in North America. The thousands of artifacts discovered in the wreck can be seen at the Whydah Pirate Museum in Cape Cod, and Clifford has continued his search for the legendary treasure. In 2016, Clifford and his team stated that they discovered a large metallic mass off the coast of Wellfleet, MA that may contain most or all of the alleged 400,000 coins hidden below sea. [2]  Further deconstruction of the mass will be needed to verify this claim.

As modern day treasure hunters continue their quests for riches, the journey will always begin with history and the clues that have been left behind. To learn more about the Whydah pirates, notorious Captain Kidd or Boston’s history as the “Port Where Pirates Hang,” take a look at our previous Beehive posts: The End of Piracy: Pirates hanged in Boston 300 years ago | Beehive & Piracy and Repentance | Beehive.

[1] Chappell, Bill. “Hidden Treasure Chest Filled With Gold And Gems Is Found In Rocky Mountains.” NPR.org, accessed on June 10, 2020. https://www.npr.org/2020/06/08/872186575/hidden-million-dollar-treasure-has-been-found-in-rocky-mountains-art-dealer-says

[2] Marcelo, Philip. “Explorer Barry Clifford claims he’s located famous pirate ship Whydah’s treasure.” patriotledger.com, accessed on June 19, 2020. https://www.patriotledger.com/news/20161007/explorer-barry-clifford-claims-hes-located-famous-pirate-ship-whydahs-treasure

Race and Infectious Disease in the 18th Century

By Dr. Talya Housman, Threadable Books

In 1722, Reverend William Douglass attacked the smallpox inoculation efforts of Cotton Mather and Zabdiel Boylston, dismissing inoculation as based on “a silly Story or familiar Interview and Conversation between two black (Negroe) Gentlemen,” and promoted by “an Army of half a Dozen or half a Score Africans, by others call‟d Negroe Slaves, who tell us now (tho‟ never before) that it is practiced in their own Countery.”[1]

Inoculation had been used in Africa prior to its use in Boston and Mather had heard of the process from Onesimus, who was his slave. Mather defended his and Boylston’s experiments noting that inoculation had worked “upon both Male and Female, both old and young, both Strong and Weak, both White and Black.”[2]

The 1721 controversy over inoculation was not exclusively about race. There were myriad issues mixed up in the debate including medical certification and religion. However, as was the case in much of the eighteenth century American history of infectious disease, race played an important and often times unsavory role.

Human bondage is a critical piece of these stories. Though in this case Mather used his voice to amplify an idea he heard from Onesimus, as Mather’s “property,” Onesimus had little choice in the course of events and we have no record of his voice in the story. Unfortunately, Onesimus is hardly the most exploited enslaved person in the eighteenth century history of infectious disease. Numerous physicians in the Americas performed experiments on slaves. For these experiments, physicians would solicit consent from the owners of slaves, rather than the enslaved persons themselves. Physician John Quier, for example, experimented with innoculation on almost eight hundred slaves.[3]

The freed black community was far from unaffected by the interplay between race and infectious disease. In 1793, yellow fever broke out in Philadelphia. Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Indpendence and one of the most prominent physicians in North America, actively worked to combat the disease. After reading Dr. John Lining’s account of the 1754 yellow fever outbreak in Charleston, Rush wrote to his friend Richard Allen, a preacher and founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, who was one of the most influential black leaders of the time.

Richard Allen by Daniel A. Payne
Portrait of Richard Allen by Daniel A. Payne from the frontispiece of History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (1891)

Yellow fever, Rush informed Allen, “infects white people of all ranks, but passes by persons of your color.” While Rush wrote that this “important exemption which God” granted to the black community from “a dangerous & fatal disorder” did not create “an obligation to offer your services to attend the sick,” Rush emphasized that tending to the sick white community would earn the black community gratefulness. (Interestingly, Rush initially wrote that nursing the sick would “render you acceptable to,” but he struck out those words and replaced them.) Allen and the black community of Philadelphia obliged, tending to the sick white community. However, as Rush himself would later discover, they were no more immune to yellow fever than the white community. [4]

In fact, Lining’s research was part of an ongoing myth that black bodies are more immune to all sorts of things than white bodies: disease, heat, pain – the list goes on.

The intersection between infectious disease and race in the eighteenth century is a reminder that infectious disease intersects with and exposes other existing problems in our society – be they racial, socio-economic, religious, or otherwise.

Dr. Housman’s first book project uses digital tools to explore sexual crime in seventeenth century England. She has written on numerous historical topics including slavery, suffrage, religious freedom, industrialization, charitable giving, and pandemics for various public history organizations. 

[1] William Douglass, Inoculation of the Small Pox as Practiced in Boston, Consider‟d in a Letter to A—S– -M.D. & F.R.S (Boston, 1722), 6-7.

[2] Minardi, Margot, “The Boston Inoculation Controversy of 1721-1722: An Incident in the History of Race,” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 61, no. 1 (2004), 58 citing Cotton Mather, The Angel of Bethesda, ed. Gordon W. Jones (Barre, Mass., 1972), 113.

[3] Londa L Schiebinger, Plants and Empire, (Harvard University Press, 2009). p. 175.

Rana A. Hogarth, Medicalizing Blackness: Making Racial Difference in the Atlantic World, 1780-1840. (University of North Carolina Press, 2017), 220, fn. 12.

[4]Ibid, 24-8.

Early American Purses

By Angela Tillapaugh, Library Assistant

Silk purse that belonged to Sarah Leverett
Purse made for Sarah Leverett. Silk. 1840. 20 cm x 15 cm. From the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The image above shows a brown silk purse with floral embroidery owned by Sarah Leverett. Small drawstring purses, sometimes called reticules, became popular in the early 19th century. They were usually made fine materials like silk and velvet, and some decorated with elaborate embroidery or beading to make them stand out. Most were secured by a drawstring on the top and held around the wearer’s wrist. Previously, carrying small fashionable purses was not standard for early Americans.

Dimity pocket
Pocket belonging to Abigail Adams. Dimity with cotton tapes by unknown maker. Late 18th-early 19th century. 36.1cm x 13.7cm. From the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Women used to carry their belongings in pockets, like the one above owned by Abigail Adams. Unlike menswear, pockets were separate garments that would be tied around the waist underneath an outer skirt with slits cut into it so the wearer could easily access the pouch. Unlike the delicate embroidered purses, pockets were large practical garments usually made of sturdy cotton that could fit many of the wearer’s belongings. Reticules replaced pockets around the early 19th century when full dresses with layered petticoats fell out of fashion. Dresses with high waistlines and slim fitting skirts became popular among fashionable women. Slim fitting skirts were not conducive to hiding large pockets, which were considered undergarments and inappropriate to see through a dress.[i] To account for the loss of pockets, many started carrying small purses like the one owned by Sarah Leverett. Some American women fought against the loss of the pocket, arguing that carrying a bag could never provide the same freedom having your belongings tucked away in a pocket. Other women argued that the opposite was true, the reticules gave women more freedom because they were not weighed down by heavy pockets.[ii]

Regardless, the pocket never made a significant comeback in American women’s fashion, but the purse continued to evolve. Luggage manufacturers like Louis Vuitton introduced the early modern purse by making smaller versions of their suitcases and calling them “hand-bags”.[iii] These purses were much more secure than the silk drawstring bags and allowed the owner to carry more belongings with them then the pockets of centuries prior. The purse has certainly stood the test of time, continuing to modernize and change with the times to meet the needs of the wearer.

Further reading on Abigail Adam’s pocket: www.masshist.org/object-of-the-month/objects/abigail-adams-pocket-2009-12-01

[i] Danford, Sara. “The History of the Handbag,” May 31, 2017. https://womensmuseum.wordpress.com/2017/05/31/the-history-of-the-handbag/.

[ii] Trufelman, Avery, host. “Pockets: Articles of Interest #3.” 99 Percent Invisible (podcast). October 2, 2018. Accessed June 04, 2020.

[iii] Danford, Sara. “The History of the Handbag,” May 31, 2017. https://womensmuseum.wordpress.com/2017/05/31/the-history-of-the-handbag/.

Letters to William and Caroline Eustis, Part III

By Susan Martin, Processing Archivist & EAD Coordinator

This is the third part of a series about the letters to William and Caroline Eustis at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Click here to read Part I and Part II.

Letter to William Eustis
Letter from Henry Dearborn to William Eustis, 5 April 1807

Among the many interesting letters to William and Caroline Eustis at the MHS is one written by Secretary of War Henry Dearborn in Washington, D.C. on 5 April 1807. I’d like to take another one of my deep dives and look at this letter in more detail. It’s a great example of what we archivists often see in historical correspondence: a relatively mundane topic juxtaposed with a very dramatic one.

Dearborn began his letter to William Eustis by informing him of the routine appointment of a man named Lemuel Trescott to be collector of customs at the port of Machias, Maine. Dearborn had asked Eustis for advice about Trescott’s character, and what he heard reassured him. He’d been particularly concerned with the question of temperance, “as so many of our old Army friends have failed on that score.”

So far, so good. But what began as a letter on straightforward official business became, on the second page, an account of the escape and recapture of Vice President Aaron Burr before his trial on charges of treason. Here’s how Dearborn described it (I’ll preserve his misspellings):

Col Burr, after forfiting his bonds to the Court at Natchez, by an escape, was taken up in a shabby disguise a few miles from the Spanish boundary on the Mobile, and in that situation conducted by a Citizan and small guard to richmond in Virginia where he has by Judge Marshal, been laid under bonds of $10,000 to abide his trial at some future day.

(An online currency converter tells me that $10,000 in 1807 is the equivalent of approximately $220,000 today.)

Aaron Burr had been Thomas Jefferson’s first vice president, serving until 1805. He had, of course, famously killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804. But this time, he was accused of something quite different: plotting to create a secessionist state in the West and raising troops to invade and annex Spanish-held land in Texas and Mexico. Or something like that. The details and purpose of his enterprise are still contested by historians.

Thomas Jefferson ordered the arrest of Burr, who surrendered to the authorities at Natchez in the Mississippi Territory. As Dearborn explained in the passage above, Burr then escaped and managed to get to within a few miles of the border of West Florida before his recapture in February 1807. West Florida was a Spanish territory consisting of a narrow strip of land along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico from the Florida panhandle to the Mississippi River.

Dearborn also related the story of a second escape attempt by Burr on the way to Richmond.

In passing a small village in S. Carolina where some people had assembled, he leaped from his horse, ran towards the people, announced himself, and claimed protection, but the guard cocking their pins and threatening to fire if he did not immediately return, he returned & proceeded on the journey.

I found references to this story online and confirmed that this incident took place in Chester, South Carolina. It was probably reasonable for Burr to hope for sympathy in that state, since his son-in-law was a prominent landowner there. But he’d clearly taken the people of Chester by surprise, and what might have become a dramatic rescue unceremoniously fizzled out. Interestingly, the rock on which Burr stood as he made his plea to the town is now a designated historical marker carved with the following inscription:

In 1806 [sic] Aaron Burr while passing through Chester a prisoner dismounted on this rock and appealed in vain to the citizens for help.

Burr’s trial at Richmond was a sensation and lasted for months. He was eventually acquitted due to lack of evidence of any overt act of treason. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Marshall presided.

Incidentally, Henry Dearborn and William Eustis had a lot in common. They were both Revolutionary War veterans. They both served as Secretaries of War, Dearborn under President Jefferson, and Eustis right after him under President Madison. And both men knew Burr personally. Eustis in particular was a good friend and frequent correspondent of the vice president, which may have been why Dearborn was keeping him in the loop.

This letter is also fairly typical for another reason: tricky handwriting. With practice, archivists get better at reading old manuscripts, but each correspondent has his or her own quirks. Dearborn’s writing is large, and the letters don’t really connect up well with each other. For example, this word is apparently “pins.”

Detail from letter written by Dearborn
Dearborn’s handwriting: “pins”

Here is “some.”

Letter from Dearborn to Eustis
Dearborn’s handwriting: “some”

And this one, as near as I can tell from context, is “wrong.” Or, that is, “rong” spelled wrong.

Letter from Dearborn to Eustis
Dearborn’s handwriting: “rong”

Stay tuned to the Beehive for more on the Eustis collection.

“How are your nice Feelings affected by the Times?”

By Gwen Fries, Adams Papers

The news is scary. In the midst of global pandemic, an economic crisis, and nightly images of police brutality, we keep hearing the same question over and over: What do I tell my children?

This is not a new question. Every time John Adams sat at his writing desk in Philadelphia, quill in hand, he contemplated what to say to his “little flock.” He knew they had the violence of war on their doorstep, and the smallpox virus was creeping ever closer. “My Anxiety about you and the Children, as well as our Country, has been extreme,” he confided to Abigail on 24 July 1775.

John recognized that his children were exceptionally lucky to have a mother like Abigail to explain, care, and console, but he was still their father. In his letter to Abigail of 2 June 1775, John wrote, “My Dear Nabby, and Johnny and Charley & Tommy are never out of my Thoughts.”

letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams
John Adams to Abigail Adams, 2 June 1775.

Adams encouraged his children to communicate with him, telling them he longed “to share with your Mamma the Pleasures of your Conversation.” Sometimes he invited the children to lead the conversation and tell him what they were experiencing. On 17 March 1777, he asked his son Charles, “What Subject do your Thoughts run upon these Times. You are a thoughtfull Child you know, always meditating upon some deep Thing or other. Your Sensibility is exquisite too. Pray how are your nice Feelings affected by the Times?”

John also reminded his children that God was watching over them, and that they could trust Abigail to keep them safe. “I hope you and your Sister and Brothers will take proper Notice of these great Events, and remember under whose wise and kind Providence they are all conducted. Not a Sparrow falls, nor a Hair is lost, but by the Direction of infinite Wisdom. Much less are Cities conquered and evacuated,” he wrote to John Quincy on 18 April 1776. For the baby, Tommy, John simply wrote, “Be always dutifull and obedient to your Mamma.”

John Adams encouraged conviction and virtue in his elder children, writing John Quincy what books to pull out of the family library to prepare for a life of public service and responsible citizenship. “Public Virtues,” he wrote to Abigail on 29 Oct. 1775, “and political Qualities therefore should be incessantly cherished in our Children.” For Tommy, who was too young to understand what was happening, John focused on love and play. “Tell Tom, I would give a Guinea to have him climb upon my shoulder, and another to chase him into his Jail.”

Letter from John Adams
John Adams to Abigail Adams, 29 Oct. 1775

John Adams, like every parent, had many anxieties and aspirations for his children. He urged Abigail to “elevate the Minds of our Children and exalt their Courage; to accelerate and animate their Industry & activity— to excite in them an habitual Contempt of Meanness, abhorrence of Injustice and Inhumanity, and an ambition to excell in every Capacity, Faculty, and Virtue.”

To his daughter, Nabby, Adams provided his most succinct advice for navigating tumultuous times: “To be good, and to do good, is all We have to do.”

The Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society gratefully acknowledges the generous support of our sponsors. Major funding is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and the Packard Humanities Institute. The Florence Gould Foundation and a number of private donors also contribute critical support. All Adams Papers volumes are published by Harvard University Press.