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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Massachusetts Yankee in Queen Charlotte’s Court

By Gwen Fries, Adams Papers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Heather Rockwood, Communications Associate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other resources for further reading on Shays’ Rebellion

Petition from Job Shattucks, Middlesex County Court

Grand Jury Notes, October 1786

Letter from Mary Smith Cranch to Abigail Adams

Letter from Benjamin Hichborn to John Adams



Looking for Digital Volunteers to Help with Transcriptions!

By Nancy Heywood, Senior Archivist for Digital Initiatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The project page for the “Luman Boyden Missionary Journals”

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

Screenshot, journal entrry
The workspace for volunteer transcribers.

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

We would appreciate your help and your feedback!

Quick links:

Digital Volunteers page:  www.masshist.org/mymhs

Projects page: www.masshist.org/mymhs/index.php/projecthub/projects

FAQ page:  www.masshist.org/mymhs/index.php/learn-more

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

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

By Heather Rockwood, Communications Associate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other resources for further reading on Shays’ Rebellion

Petition from Job Shattucks, Middlesex County Court

Grand Jury Notes, October 1786

Letter from Mary Smith Cranch to Abigail Adams

Letter from Benjamin Hichborn to John Adams

2022-2023 MHS Research Fellows Announced

The MHS is pleased to announce the class of 2022-2023 research fellows. Director of Research Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai remarked, “We are excited to welcome this new class of MHS research fellows to our reading room. These projects represent the latest scholarship on a host of topics from poetry and literature to African American and disability history. These researchers and their projects showcase not just the strengths and versatility of the MHS collections but also the creative ways in which scholars can make use of different types of sources. They will all contribute to a better understanding of both American history and society.” Explore the list of recipients and their projects.

MHS-NEH Long-Term Fellows

  • Nathan Braccio, Post-Doc, Utah State University, “Mapping New England: The Algonquian-English Cartographic Struggle, 1500-1700.” (4 months)
  • Juliane Braun, Assistant Professor, Auburn University, “Translating the Pacific: Nature Writing, Print Culture and Transoceanic Empire.” (4 months)
  • Kathryn Lasdow, Assistant Professor, Suffolk University, “Wharfed Out: Improvement and Inequity on the Early American Urban Waterfront.” (4 months)
  • Christy Pottroff, Assistant Professor, Boston College, “Citizen Technologies: The U.S. Post Office and the Transformation of American Literature.” (4 months)


New England Regional Fellowship Consortium (NERFC)
Fellows Visiting the MHS

  • Alexander David Clayton, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, “The Living Animal: Biopower and Empire in the Atlantic Menagerie, 1760-1890.”
  • Katherine Fein, Ph.D. Candidate, Columbia University, “The Garb of Nature: Picturing Nudity, Race, and Ecology in the Nineteenth-Century United States.”
  •  Emily Gates, Ph.D. Candidate, Georgia State University, “Melancholia in Colonial New England and Its Impact on the Early American Novel.”
  • Barry Huff, Associate Professor, Principia College, “Slavery, Suffrage, and Science: Mary Baker Eddy and Biblical Interpretation in Nineteenth-Century New England.”
  • Arthur George Kamya, Ph.D. Candidate, Boston University, “Stranger Unfreedom: Slavery, Slave Trading, and Servitude in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts.”
  • Eva Landsberg, Graduate Student, Yale University, “The Politics of Sugar in the 18th-Century British Atlantic.”
  • Frances O’Shaughnessy, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Washington, “Black Revolution on the Sea Islands: Property, Empire, and the Emancipation of Humanity.”
  • Anne Powell, Ph.D. Candidate, College of William and Mary, “The Antinomian Crisis and the Pequot War, 1636-1638.”
  • Jennifer Reiss, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Pennsylvania, “Undone Bodies: Women and Disability in Early America.”
  • Lea Stephenson, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Delaware, “’Wonderful Things’: Egyptomania, Empire, and the Senses, 1870-1922.”
  • Jeffrey Toney, Professor, Kean University, “From Blackface to Black Genius: Celebrating Cultural Inheritance with Students of Color.”


Fellows Not Visiting the MHS

  • Sopanit Angsusingha, Ph.D. Candidate, Georgetown University, “The Gospel of Civility: Missionary Encounters, Education, and Gender in Iraq (1890s-1950s).”
  • Isobel Ashby, Graduate Student, University of Wisconsin-Madison, “Battling for Babies? The Changing Face of Pro-Life Activism in the 1990s Northeast and Midwest United States.”
  • David Brown, Associate Professor, Ohio University, “A Chain Unbroken: Cultural Transmission in New England College Student Life, 1880-1925.”
  • Thalia Ertman, Graduate Student, University of California-Los Angeles, “Socialist Feminism and Bodily Autonomy in the United States.”
  • Roxanne Goldberg, Ph.D. Candidate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “Selling and Salvaging ‘the Orient’: U.S. Circuits of Islamic Art, 1870–1940.”
  • Karyna Hlyvynska, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Georgia, “Putting the Machine in Motion: How the U.S. Treasury Department Built a Fiscal-Military State.”
  • Yiyun Huang, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, “Medicinal Tea: Global Cultural Transfer and A Vast Early America.”
  • Dana Hughes, Ph.D. Candidate, University of California-Santa Barbara, “Tracking the Colonial Revival in Public Memory: Caroline Hazard and her Activism on Two Coasts in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries.”
  • Alexandra Macdonald, Ph.D. Candidate, College of William and Mary, “The Social Life of Time in the Anglo-Atlantic World, 1660-1830.”
  • Lawrence “Trent” MacNamara, Assistant Professor, Texas A&M University, “Open Sky: Higher Places and Higher Meaning in the United States.”
  • Aaron Moulton, Assistant Professor, Stephen F. Austin State University, “A Dominican Dictator in Washington: Rafael Trujillo and the Politics of U.S. Foreign Relations.”
  • Joseph Nevins, Professor Emeritus, Vassar College, “Banana Capital: How the United Fruit Company and Greater Boston Made One Another.”
  • Sarah Pearlman Shapiro, Ph.D. Candidate, Brown University, “Women’s Communities of Care in Revolutionary New England.”
  • Christine Peralta, Assistant Professor, Amherst College, “Insurgent Care: Reimagining the Health Work of Filipina Women, 1870- 1948.”
  • Trysh Travis, Associate Professor, University of Florida, “Feminists on Drugs: A History.”
  • Kayleigh Whitman, Ph.D. Candidate, Vanderbilt University, “Faith in the World Community: Sue Bailey Thurman and Black Women’s World Reconstruction, 1920-1950.”
  • Hekang Yang, Ph.D. Candidate, Columbia University, “The Making of Fiscal Empire: Frontier Questions and State Borrowing in China, circa 1876-1916.”


Suanne and Caleb Loring Fellowship on the Civil War, Its Origins, and Consequences

  • Paul Polgar, Assistant Professor, University of Mississippi, “An Abolition Peace: Black Rights, the Union Cause, and the Rise of Radical Reconstruction.”


Short-Term Fellowships

  • Aabid Allibhai, Ph.D. Candidate, Harvard University, “Belinda Sutton’s World: Slavery, Legal Activism, and Abolition in Revolutionary New England.” (Samuel Victor Constant Fellowship from the Society of Colonial Wars)
  • Joshua Bartlett, Assistant Professor, Bilkent University, “Arboreal Poetics: The Language, Materiality, and Politics of Trees in American Poetry.” (Mary B. Wright Environmental History Fellowship)
  • Richard Bell, Professor, University of Maryland, “The First Freedom Riders: Streetcars and Street Fights in Jim Crow New York.” (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)
  • Daniel Bottino, Ph.D. Candidate, Rutgers University, “‘By Turff and Twigg’: Oral and Literate Culture in Seventeenth-Century Maine.” (Samuel Victor Constant Fellowship from the Society of Colonial Wars)
  • Armando Chavez-Rivera, Associate Professor, University of Houston, “Alexander Hill Everett, Richard Robert Madden, and U.S. Influences over Cuba in 1835-45.” (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)
  • Theodore Delwiche, Ph.D. Candidate, Yale University, “The Contested Classics: Education in North America, 1635-1800.” (Samuel Victor Constant Fellowship from the Society of Colonial Wars)
  • Daniel Doherty, Ph.D. Candidate, Durham University, “‘Bleeding Massachusetts’: Anti-Abolitionist and anti-Black Violence in the Antebellum North, 1840-1849.” (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)
  • Andre Fleche, Professor, Castleton University, “The American Civil War and the Shaping of the Western Hemisphere, 1848-1877.” (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)
  • Stephanie Gorton, Independent Scholar, “The Icon and the Idealist: The Two Radical Women Who Brought Choice to America.” (Alyson R. Miller Fellowship)
  • Mercedes Haigler, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Virginia, “Settled Out of Doors: Social Life, Everyday Spaces, and the Development of Partisanship in Philadelphia and Washington City (1790-1832).” (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)
  • Barry Huff, Associate Professor, Principia College, “Slavery, Suffrage, and Science: Mary Baker Eddy and Nineteenth-Century New England Sermons.” (C. Conrad & Elizabeth H. Wright Fellowship)
  • Betsy Klimasmith, Professor, University of Massachusetts, Boston, “Staging Ephemerality: The Theatrics of Sedgwick’s Hope Leslie.” (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)
  • Can Mert Kökerer, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Chicago, “The Participatory Foundations of Democracy in Colonial New England: Institutional Innovation, Political Legitimation, and Popular Domination.” (Samuel Victor Constant Fellowship from the Society of Colonial Wars)
  • Jeremy Land, Post-Doc, University of Helsinki, “Trans-Imperial Trade and the American Revolution.” (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)
  • Eva Landsburg, Graduate Student, Yale University, “The Politics of Sugar in the 18th-Century British Atlantic.” (Kenneth and Carol Hills Fellowship in Colonial History)
  • Michael Larmann, Graduate Student, University of Montana, “Monuments and Moderation: Daniel Webster and the Commemoration of Compromise in the Age of Disunion, 1853-1865.” (Benjamin F. Stevens Fellowship)
  • Jessica Leeper, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Oxford, “The Adams and Johnson Women at Court in Early American European Diplomacy, c.1780-1820.” (Marc Friedlaender Fellowship)
  • Brigitte Lewis, Graduate Student, University of Chicago, “The Legend of Neptune: The Life of Nipton – A History of Slavery, Freedom, Land, and Community in Three Centuries of New England.” (African American Studies Fellowship)
  • Leo Lovemore, Post-Doc, Historic New England, “‘Treasurers of God’s Bounty’: Money, Medicine, and Power in Boston, 1785-1865.” (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)
  • Karah Mitchell, Ph.D. Candidate, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “‘The Call of Kind’: Humanizing the Animal in American Literature, 1830-1918.” (Andrew Oliver Research Fellowship)
  • Jennifer Reiss, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Pennsylvania, “Undone Bodies: Women and Disability in Early America.” (Ruth R. Miller Fellowship)
  • Alison Russell, Graduate Student, University of Massachusetts Amherst, “‘On That Shield’: American Identity and the Constitution in the Early Republic.” (Malcolm and Mildred Freiberg Fellowship)
  • Meredith Stukey, Ph.D. Candidate, Purdue University, “The Romanovs on a World Stage: Autocracy, Democracy, and Crisis, 1896-1918.” (Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship)
  • Rachel Trocchio, Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, “Thinking the Instant: A New Reading of the Great Awakening.” (Kenneth and Carol Hills Fellowship in Colonial History and W.B.H. Dowse Fellowship)
  • Christopher Walton, Ph.D. Candidate, Southern Methodist University, “At Home in War: Religion in the Connecticut River Valley during the American Revolution.” (Military Historical Society of Massachusetts Fellowship)
  • Weiao Xing, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Cambridge, “Puritan Narratives of Encounters in Early Eighteenth-Century New England.” (W.B.H. Dowse Fellowship)
  • Tian Xu, Post-Doc, Historic New England, “Representing Minorities in the Civil War Era: Lawyers in Black and Chinese Legal Mobilization.” (Louis Leonard Tucker Alumni Fellowship)
  • Serena Zabin, Professor, Carleton College, “Boston’s Black Refugees.” (Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati Fellowship)
  • Jeanette Zaragoza, Assistant Professor, University of Puerto Rico, “Interpreting a Transatlantic Saga: How Interpreters and Translators Wove The Amistad.” (Louis Leonard Tucker Alumni Fellowship)

“The Company We Keep”: Governing Relationships at 19th-Century Female Academies

By Jessie Vander Heide, Ruth R. Miller Fellowship

Writing to her niece Sarah White Shattuck, who was a student at Bradford Academy in Haverhill, Massachusetts in the 1840s, Sarah Baxter advised her niece to exercise caution when forming new relationships at school: “The company we keep is exercising a constant influence over us, how necessary then is it that it should be good. Cultivate the good will of all, the friendship of few.”[1] Shattuck’s aunt was not the only family member who worried about, and offered advice on, Shattuck’s new social situation at school. Sarah’s father Lemuel Shattuck similarly feared how his daughter’s school companions might influence her. Desiring that his daughter “should have as good a companion, and be under as good influence [at Bradford Academy] as is possible to be,” Lemuel guarded his daughter’s social relations. “Greatly concerned” that some of Sarah’s classmates were a “disadvantage” to her improvement, Lemuel instructed Sarah on how to find a roommate while attending school and advised her that he, along with her teachers, would decide with whom she was to room and befriend.[2]

Sarah White Shattuck was one of many middling-class young women who had the opportunity to receive an academy education in the early republic and whose family was concerned about her social development at school. Beginning in the post-Revolutionary era, young women were newly leaving home to attend female academies, escaping parental authority, and establishing their own extra-familial social relations for the first time. Post-Revolutionary women were raised with newly broadened horizons, but new opportunities also posed, according to many adults, new threats to American womanhood. Many parents and educators especially worried that young women’s school attachments might become too intimate and might distract young women from their future civic duties as wives and mothers. My current project examines both the relationships that young women cultivated with one another at school and how parents and educators attempted to guide students’ intimacies. Collections held at the MHS provide a window into 19th-century worries about schoolgirl intimacies and adults’ strategies to guide and guard academy students’ relationships.

To allay fears about young women forming pernicious relationships at school, educators worked tenaciously to create “safe” and “improving” social spaces for students. Educators at reputable New England academies, including Bradford Academy and Abbot Female Academy, promised that they were as invested in young women’s moral and social wellbeing as they were their intellectual development and they instituted designs, rules, and routines that worked to shape and regulate the social activities and relationships of students.

School catalogues and institutional records show that educators used several strategies to govern young women’s relationships. School rules instructed that students were prohibited from entering one another’s rooms without teachers’ or guardians’ approval, and that students could not talk or congregate in school hallways. This meant that students faced difficulty developing relationships outside of more formal, public settings, such as in the dining room or in class (spaces that teachers carefully surveilled and arranged through seating charts). The location and architecture of academies also worked to limit young women’s ability to move about and socialize. Educators frequently built female academies close enough to urban areas that travel to them was convenient, but distant enough from cities that students were not drawn into dangers that they believed lurked there.[3] Students were only granted permission to leave academy grounds when accompanied by a chaperone. Further, most female academies constituted only one or two large buildings, with each structure having a single main entrance and stairwell, a reality which provided students with little escape from watchful eyes and few places of retreat. Finally, academy leaders designed school schedules in ways that limited female students’ abilities to interact socially and/or in private with one another. Students’ daily lives were regulated by rigorous schedules. Sarah White Shattuck and Katharine Lawrence described their daily routines at academies as being so busy that they had little time to do “anything except reading and studying.”[4] Even when students were granted “recreation” time, it was meant to be spent in writing compositions or doing chores such as cleaning and repairing clothes.[5] With such school designs, educators could stipulate with whom, how often, and in what context young women could build relationships (at least without risking punishment!).

To keep anxious parents informed about their daughters’ social and moral improvement, teachers sent home monthly reports that documented students’ behavior and school standing.

Students frequently complained about how academy rules and schedules inhibited their social lives and female friendships. Frustrated that school rules stunted her social impulses, Hattie, a Bradford Academy student in the 1840s, bemoaned to her friend Jennie: “In the evening we are obliged to keep study hours, we cannot go out of our rooms or speak to any of the girls, if we do, it is a violation and we have to hand it in as such.”[6] Another Bradford student complained about being “bound by Bradford rules” and looked forward to “enjoying freedom” when the term ended.[7] With a sense of humor, some students referred to the academies they were attending as “prisons,” “nunneries,” and “asylums.”[8]

Despite the fact that young women felt academy regulations were sometimes overbearing and restricted student social life, many of them considered their schooldays to be some of the happiest in their lives, and they developed deeply intimate bonds with fellow students. Describing her experience at Bradford, Sarah White Shattuck explained “I think I never attended or ever heard of a school where there were so few young ladies you would dislike and where there were so few that you would not wish to associate with.”[9] Similarly praising her experience at Abbot Female Academy, Mary Elizabeth Jenks wrote home: “I do not think it would be possible for me to enjoy myself better any where than I have here.” “Andover,” Jenks wrote, “is certainly the most delightful place in the whole world.”[10]


[1] Sarah Baxter to Sarah White Shattuck, May 6, 1841, Sarah White Shattuck Papers, MHS.

[2] Lemuel Shattuck to Sarah White Shattuck, September 3, 1841, Sarah White Shattuck Papers, MHS.

[3] Susan McIntosh Lloyd, A Singular School, Abbot Academy 1828-1973 (Andover: Phillips Academy, 1979), 100; A Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Gilmanton Academy, 1849-50 (Concord: McFarland & Jenks, Printers), 23, MHS.

[4] Journal of Katharine B. Lawrence, January 23, 1847, Lamb Family Papers, MHS; Sarah White Shattuck, April 24, 1841, and February 5, 1844, Sarah White Shattuck Papers, MHS.

[5] Delia Warren to Samuel D. Warren, February 16, 1839, Warren-Clarke Papers, Box 1, MHS; Hannah Warren to Samuel D. Warren, October 12, 1842, Warren-Clarke Papers, Box 2, MHS; Delia Warren to Samuel D. Warren, November 4, 1842, Warren-Clarke Papers, Box 2, MHS.

[6] Hattie to Jennie, May 5, 1846, as recorded in Jean Sarah Pond, Bradford: A New England Academy (Bradford, MA: Bradford Academy Alumnae Association, 1930), 152-153.

[7] Hannah to Martha Dalton Gregg, December 22, 1843, Martha Gregg Tileston Papers, Box 1, MHS.

[8] Please see, for example, inscriptions in friendship albums: Nancy Richardson Symmes Remembrance Book, 1834-1839, MHS.

[9] Sarah White Shattuck to her parents, May 20, 1841, Sarah White Shattuck Papers, MHS.

[10] Mary Elizabeth Jenks to her mother, July 30, 1835, William Jenks Papers, Box 37, Folder 8, Mary Elizabeth Jenks, Correspondence from Andover, MHS.

“Born for the Blessing of Others”: The Story of Emeline Goodwin

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

letter, handwriting
Letter from “E” to C. W. Philleo, 26 Oct. 1848

The MHS recently acquired a letter dated 26 October 1848 from a woman who signed her name simply “E.” Based on subject matter alone, the letter was obviously a great find and a natural fit for our collection, but it became even more interesting the more I looked into it. I was able to make a number of fascinating historical connections, and I couldn’t resist sharing the story with Beehive readers.

“E” was Emeline Goodwin, born Emeline Philleo in the small town of Amenia, N.Y. on 13 April 1813. Her mother died when she was a teenager, and in 1834 her father married Prudence Crandall, a remarkable Quaker, abolitionist, and suffragist. Crandall, once imprisoned for establishing a school for young African American women, was named Connecticut’s state heroine in 1995! She deserves a Beehive post of her own, but for now I’ll just include her picture here, from the MHS’s Portraits of American Abolitionists collection.

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Prudence Crandall, Emeline Goodwin’s stepmother (Photo. #81.181)

When she was 19 years old, Emeline married 51-year-old Col. John Marston Goodwin, and the couple had four children: John Marston Goodwin, Jr.; Elizabeth Wheeler Goodwin; Lebaron (or LeBaron) Goodwin; and Francis “Frank” Goodwin. John, Sr. died in 1845, when little Frank was just eight months old.

Now a 32-year-old widow with four young children to support, Emeline quickly got to work. By April 1846, she’d secured a job at the Concord, Mass. home of none other than Ralph Waldo Emerson, apparently through the intercession of his wife Lidian, who was not well enough to take care of the housekeeping. A biography of Emerson explains how the family

“tried the novel experiment of living in their own house as boarders of a Mrs. Marston Goodwin, who was allowed to bring in other boarders, as well as her four children. […] The experiment, lasting apparently from May, 1846, to September, 1847, left Lidian with the conviction that Mrs. Goodwin was “born for the blessing of others” and was “thoroughly tender & self sacrificing.” (p. 311)

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Ralph Waldo Emerson from Portraits of American Abolitionists (Photo. #81.221)

The arrangement ended when Ralph Waldo Emerson left for England, and once again Emeline had to look for work. Her oldest son, 14-year-old John, Jr., was in school, probably at the Connecticut Literary Institute in Suffield (now Suffield Academy). She needed to find a new situation that would not only pay her mounting bills, but also allow her three younger children to live with her.

This is the backstory behind the MHS’s new acquisition, pictured above, a letter Emeline wrote on 26 October 1848 to her brother Calvin Wheeler Philleo. Her primary purpose for writing was to tell him about her new job as matron at what was then called the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts Asylum for the Blind. She described the job as “one of great care, labor [and] confinement” with “many disagreeable features no doubt” but nonetheless “very attractive.”

The position had recently been vacated by another fascinating woman, Eliza W. Farnham, a feminist, author, reformer, and former matron of the women’s prison at Sing. Emeline was flippant about “the celebrated Mrs. Farnham,” calling her “the Mrs. Fry of America.” (Elizabeth Fry was a British prison reformer.) Emeline wrote that Farnham had resigned “from dislike of the situation as not suited to her style of genius.” That may have been true, but it also happens that Farnham’s husband died and left her land in California.

book, letters
Screenshot of a volume of letters at the Internet Archive

While doing my research, I happily stumbled across a bound volume of correspondence of Samuel Gridley Howe, founding director of Perkins, part of the Perkins collection digitized at the Internet Archive. Included is an 1848 letter from Goodwin to Howe asking about the position and describing her circumstances; several letters of recommendation on her behalf, including one from Emerson commending her “intelligence, indefatigable energy, high sense of justice,” and “kind heart”; and other letters by and related to her.

One of the many students Emeline Goodwin worked with during her tenure as matron at Perkins was the renowned Laura Bridgman, another woman worthy of more space than I can give her here. According to a biography of Bridgman, she and Goodwin read together, and Bridgman considered her a “very dear friend.”

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Photograph of Laura Bridgman from the Perkins archive on flickr

Emeline’s letter is four pages long and covers a wide range of other subjects, including her children’s education, Calvin’s career in state politics, the growth of the anti-slavery Free Soil party, even the celebration of the Cochituate Aqueduct. It’s a great addition to the MHS collection.

The letter also introduced me to an amazing network of women who influenced each other’s lives in very profound ways: Emeline Goodwin, Prudence Crandall, Lidian Emerson, Eliza Farnham, Laura Bridgman, and others.

Emeline Goodwin remarried in 1853 to Charles King Whipple, an apothecary and agent of the American Anti-Slavery Society. She died on 5 May 1885 and is buried with her first husband and three of her children at Oak Grove Cemetery in Plymouth, Mass.

Weapons from the Battlefield – The Battle of Bunker Hill

By Heather Rockwood, Communications Associate

A few years ago, the MHS was in the news following the discovery and donation of a historically important sword—the Civil War Sword of Robert Gould Shaw. Shaw carried the sword during the assault on Fort Wagner in South Carolina, where he led the 54th Regiment, the first all-Black regiment, and where he died alongside many of his men. We’ve discussed Shaw’s sword several times; in a Beehive blog, and on episode 2 of The Object of History podcast, so here I’d like to tell you about some of the other interesting swords the MHS holds.

Ninety years before Shaw’s Fort Wagner assault, the Battle of Bunker Hill (or Breed’s Hill) occurred on Saturday, 17 June 1775. In this battle, colonial militiamen used the cover of night to create a redoubt on Breed’s Hill and to fortify lines across the Charlestown peninsula. British soldiers woke to find the colonials positioned exactly where they intended to establish their own fortifications.  Although the colonials lost the battle that followed, they proved that militiamen could fight just as well as trained soldiers, for the British regiment suffered far more casualties than the colonials. The battle demonstrated that the British army needed to plan better for its next attacks.

wooden plaque, crossed swords
Prescott and Linzee Swords

This plaque reads: “THE SWORD of COLONEL WILLIAM PRESCOTT; worn by him while in command of the Provincial Forces at the Battle of Bunker Hill, 17 June, 1775; and bequeathed to the MASS: HIST: SOCIETY by his grandson, WILLIAM H. PRESCOTT,” and “These swords for many years were hung crossed in the library of the late eminent historian WILLIAM HICKLING PRESCOTT in token of international friendship and family alliance. THEY are now preserved in a similar position by the MASS: HISTORICAL SOCIETY in memory of the associations with which they will be inseparably connected,” and “THE SWORD of CAPTAIN JOHN LINZEE, R.N. who commanded the British Sloop of War Falcon while acting against the Americans during the Battle of Bunker Hill; Presented to the MASS: HIST: SOCIETY 14 April, 1859, by his grandchildren, THOMAS C. A. LINZEE, and MRS. WM. H. PRESCOTT.”

This plaque and two swords represent an interesting piece of Bunker Hill history. The two swords never touched in battle, although they were on opposite sides of the war. The colonial’s Col. William Prescott was directed by Gen. Artemas Ward to fortify Bunker Hill, and he led the battle on 17 June. Britain’s Cap. John Linzee, famed for his role in the Gaspee Affair, anchored off Moulton’s Point on the Falcon to cover the landing of the British Troops in Charlestown. Although Prescott’s sword was worn in battle, Linzee’s was his dress sword. After the war, the swords became heirlooms in both families all living in Massachusetts, Linzee had married Susan Inman in 1772. But this story takes a turn! The grandson of William Prescott, William Hickering Prescott and Susan Amory, a granddaughter of John Linzee, met, fell in love, and married. Both swords were left to the Prescotts and they hung them on their library wall as a symbol of American peace. W.H. Prescott was a historian who entertained many of the scholarly elite of the day. The British author William Makepeace Thackeray observed the swords in Prescott’s library during his visit to Boston in 1852 and later immortalized them in the opening lines of his novel The Virginians. The swords were donated to the MHS in 1859, and the plaque was commissioned by the MHS to hold the swords.

Sword said to have belonged to Gen. Joseph Warren.

Although the Battle of Bunker Hill can be told as a hero-making battle of colonial bravery, there is a sad side to the tale. One casualty was a promising young Son of Liberty, recently elected president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Gen. Joseph Warren, a handsome, charming, and powerful speaker, was killed during the Bunker Hill battle. He was poised to rise quickly in what would become a newly created country; however, he was inexperienced in warfare and had commissioned his military title. He placed himself at the battle’s most dangerous point, and although he did succeed in leading most of the colonials in their retreat, a British soldier recognized him and shot him in the head. His death was written about and mourned by many, including Abigail Adams, Samuel Adams, and James Warren, no relation. Public mourning included an elegiac poem broadside with an acrostic specifically about Joseph Warren. However, we can only say that possibly this sword belonged to Warren as his body was left to the mercies of the British troops who abused it with their bayonets, stripped him of anything of worth, and then buried him in a mass grave. Nine months later, the colonials regained control of Bunker Hill and they dug out the fallen militiamen for proper interment. Paul Revere was asked to confirm Warren’s body for he had done some silver dental work for him.

What happened to the sword is debated in history circles, however, the story of this sword held by the MHS is told in Volume 9 of Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, pages 348-350. Written in 1822 by William White, a Justice of the Peace, the tale was sworn as true to the teller’s “best knowledge and belief.” Cornelius Dunham related the following to Justice White:

“After the purchase, he informed me it was the sword taken from “Doctor Warren immediately after he fell at the battle of Bunker Hill.” I had no suspicion of this fact till after I had paid him for it. I asked him if his master would vouch for the truth of what he had alleged… The officer told me that he had taken the same sword from Gen. Warren, when lying dead on the battle ground; and that he gave it to his servant. The officer also informed me that “General Warren fell not far from the Redoubt” — these being the words he used, as I particularly remember; and that after the British entered the redoubt he saw Warren before he fell. The officer remarked that he endeavored to prevent his men from firing, but could not; and that Warren, remaining too long on the ground he had defended, was shot dead in his view. The officer likewise informed me that “Warren was buried in common with the rest of the dead. I had not been in possession of the sword an hour when I was offered a great price for it by a Mr. Robinson, of Philadelphia, who was very desirous to possess it; but I was not willing to part with it for any price… On my return to Plymouth in 1777 I gave general information that I had purchased at Halifax the sword which the late Gen. Warren wore at the battle of Bunker Hill; and hundreds had knowledge of it as such, and frequently saw it…The time of my purchasing the sword was after the British evacuated Boston, and before the fleet sailed from Halifax for New York.

From the information given by the British officer, I then had not, nor have I since had, the least doubt of this being the sword of the late Gen. Joseph Warren; and which is the same sword which I delivered to the Hon. William Davis and William Jackson, Esq. at Plymouth on the 15th August last, at the moment of my departure for this place. — During the period of forty-seven years that this sword has been in my possession, and proclaimed as being the sword of the late Gen. Joseph Warren, it has never been denied as such, and no claims have been made to any other sword as appertaining to him. — When I purchased the sword it was in good order; but during my long absence at sea, it has lost many of its ornaments.”

With this account it is fair to say that the sword held by the MHS is possibly the sword of Gen. Joseph Warren. See below for links for more information on these topics.


News stories of the Robert Gould Shaw sword:

Read more about Joseph Warren:

Read a blog post:

Read about these and more marriages of the grandchildren of the Revolution and a poem about the Prescott/Linzee swords

True Crime at the MHS

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

On 25 December 1907, a shocking crime took place in Hyde Park, Boston, Mass. Dr. Walter R. Amesbury shot and killed his wife Anna (Edwards) Amesbury in front of their two sons and Anna’s mother, just as the family was preparing to sit down to Christmas dinner. Dr. Amesbury was arrested by Hyde Park police officer Robert E. Grant. The MHS holds a collection of Grant’s diaries, which provide a small window into this tragic story.

printed text
New York Times, 26 Dec. 1907

For this post, I’ve done my best to piece together details from the newspaper articles available to me. Unsurprisingly, these accounts differ slightly, but there’s enough consistency to form an idea of what happened that day.

Walter Raleigh Amesbury was born in Harlow, England in 1859. He was the oldest son of Joseph Walter Raleigh Amesbury, a surgeon-major in the Indian Medical Service, and a direct descendant of Sir Walter Raleigh. Many articles about the shooting dwell on his elite ancestry, as if to say “how the mighty have fallen!” As a young man, Walter served as a military officer in the Second Anglo-Afghan War. His first wife, Euphemia (née Inglis), died in 1883, just two years into their marriage, and it was sometime after her death that Amesbury emigrated to the United States.

Anna Edwards, born in Cincinnati in 1867, was an accomplished musician. One article includes some good biographical details about her, so I’ll crib it here.

From Cincinnati had come a talented young musician, Anna Vattier Edwards, who after being graduated from a conservatory at Cincinnati, came to Boston to further cultivate her voice at the New England Conservatory of Music. […] For a time she was soloist at Grace Church, the best known and most fashionable church in Providence. […] Then Mrs. Amesbury became professor of vocal culture at Roanoke College, in Virginia.

Anna and Walter had married on 22 June 1886, and their two sons, Walter, Jr. and Ira, were born in 1887 and 1890, respectively. But the marriage was troubled. Some articles speculate about financial problems or refer to Walter’s jealousy, either personal or professional. Whatever the reasons, Anna and Walter were living apart in 1907. Anna was teaching in Virginia, and Walter lived at Milford, Mass. The family gathered for the Christmas holiday at the home of Anna’s mother, Virginia “Jennie” Rees, a third-floor apartment on Metropolitan Avenue, Hyde Park.

According to one newspaper, this reunion was an attempt at reconciliation orchestrated by Jennie, Walter, Jr., and Ira. Another article states that Walter, Sr. was never invited at all. Either way, Walter wanted to reconcile, but Anna categorically refused. There was a heated argument. Walter fired two fatal shots from a 22-caliber revolver, and the injured Anna tried to run from the apartment, but collapsed and died in the hallway as their sons wrestled the gun from their father.

At first, Walter pleaded not guilty and claimed the shooting was accidental. He later changed his plea to guilty of murder in the second degree.

Now, I’m no lawyer, but if I were, I’d definitely want to know why Walter brought a gun to Christmas dinner. He admitted to buying it that day, which certainly suggests premeditation, especially when we consider one detail that didn’t make into some of the newspaper accounts: he came to his mother-in-law’s home twice that day. The argument began during the first visit. Walter left and returned about an hour later, and it was during this second visit that he killed Anna.

The murder of Anna Amesbury made the front page of the Boston Globe the following day. The headline read: “KILLED WIFE WHO LEFT HIM / Dr. W. R. Amesbury Shot Her in Hyde Park / She Refused His Final Offer to Live With Him Again / Physician Said to Have Been Jealous of His Spouse.” From Boston, the story spread far and wide. The description of Anna that I quoted above comes from an article printed in New Zealand!

printed text
Morris County Chronicle, Morristown, N.J., 31 Dec. 1907
Printed text
The Evening Statesman, Walla Walla, Wash., 26 Dec. 1907
printed text
New Zealand Times, 20 Mar. 1909

Walter R. Amesbury was convicted and sentenced to life in prison on 11 January 1909. Arresting officer Robert E. Grant didn’t write much about the case in his diaries, and his collection doesn’t include a diary for 1907 or 1909. But he did visit Amesbury in prison on more than one occasion over the years and recorded his death from the flu on 17 March 1926. Grant also saved a clipping, probably dated 1923, related to the Amesbury sons and their disagreement on a possible pardon for their father.

text and photos
Unidentified newspaper, ca. 1923

Anna Vattier (Edwards) Amesbury is buried at Fairview Cemetery in Boston. The following is the only image of her that I could find.

newspaper, portrait
Image of Anna Amesbury from the files of the Wood Detective Agency at Harvard University