Political Fistfights Are Old News

By Heather Rockwood, Communications Manager

The recent argument that almost became a fistfight on the floor of the US Senate is not something new. There have been many political arguments that have resulted in duels, fistfights, and beatings among elected and appointed officials, as well as among political activists.

One occurrence is recorded in a letter from Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (1850–1924) to Theodore Roosevelt, 4 April 1917. Lodge decided against meeting with a group of pacifists who wanted to keep the United States out of WWI, while he himself supported US intervention. However, he did step outside of his office to speak with them. They exchanged insults, and then blows. He described the scuffle in his letter:

The pacifist crowd I went out in the corridor to speak with was composed of one woman and half a dozen men. They were very violent and very abusive and I was engaged in backing away from them and saying that we must agree to differ when the German member of their party said “You are a damned coward”. I walked up tp hit and said “You are a damned liar” and he hit me and I hit him. Then all the pacifists rushed at me and I thought I was in for a bad time buy my secretaries sallied forth to my rescue and there was a mixup. The pacifist who attacked me got badly beaten up and it all ended very comfortably and without hurt to me. At my age (66) there is a certain aspect of folly about the whole thing and yet I am glad that I hit him.

What occurred next was that the leader of the pacifists, a 36-year-old Alexander Bannwart was arrested, and Lodge became an abashed national celebrity. He continued in his letter:

The Senators all appeared to be perfectly delighted with my having [hit him] and some of them told me today that the further one went from Washington the more complete my action seemed. Watson [James E. Watson (1864–1948) Senator from Indiana] said that in Indiana the general belief was, he gathered, that I had beaten him to a pulp and that when one got across the Mississippi the general belief probably was that I had killed him, – all of which for the moment has made me extremely popular.

Lodge did not press charges against Bannwart, however a year later Bannwart pressed charges against Lodge for slander. Lodge settled by acknowledging that he punched Bannwart first, thereby starting the fight, although by his own hand above, his story, at first, was that Bannwart was the instigator.

Color photograph of a retained copy of a letter, the print is a light blue on paper discolored with age.
Letter (retained copy) from Henry Cabot Lodge to Theodore Roosevelt, 4 April 1917. From the Lodge-Roosevelt correspondence.

The most famous attack on the Senate floor occurred on 22 May 1856. Senator Charles Sumner, (1811–1874), an abolitionist, had given a speech two days before, in which he insulted Representative Preston Brooks’s first cousin, Senator Andrew Butler, who had coauthored the legislation that would bring Kansas into the country as an state allowing enslavement. Brooks attacked Sumner, beating him brutally with his cane, which eventually broke. Even after Sumner had lost consciousness, Brooks kept beating him. Although other senators tried to help Sumner, a Brooks ally prevented them by brandishing a pistol. After the assault, Brooks walked away, leaving the remnants of his cane. He was arrested, tried, convicted, and fined $300 but never spent time in jail. His constituents reelected him that same year, and he spent much of his remaining lifetime making threats of duels and accepting duels that never took place. He died in 1857 of croup before his new term could begin.

Brooks’s attack demonstrated the political polarization in the United States. In the north, Sumner was a martyr, in the south, Brooks was a hero. Sumner’s speech insulting Brooks’s cousin was printed and distributed; Brooks was sent canes to replace his broken one, the remnants of which went on to have two distinct lives. The bottom part was cut into small pieces that Senators sympathetic to Brooks wore around their necks. The top part was eventually donated to Revolutionary Spaces in Boston, and can be viewed here.

Color photograph of a print of a black and white photograph on white paper. The photograph is of an older white man with chin length salt and pepper hair, a clean-shaven face except for long sideburns, wearing a white shirt with a high collar and black bow tie with white polka dots, with a dark vest and jacket. He has a pocket watch hanging from the front of his vest and the watch chain crisscrosses across the vest to under the jacket then to the top button of the vest. He looks to the left  and the background is plain.
Charles Sumner, photograph, year unknown.

Although Sumner was reelected in November 1856, he spent three years away in recovery, his empty chair a symbol and reminder of the assault. He would later be diagnosed with “psychic wounds”—today’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—and severe brain injury, for which he suffered lifelong pain. He returned to the senate in 1859 and gave his first speech in 1860—appropriately, against enslavement.

Despite Sumner’s importance as a Massachusetts senator and his national political status, the collection of his papers at the MHS is surprisingly small. The reason for the shortage is political and personal. Sumner had a lengthy and bitter political feud with his boyhood classmate from the Boston Latin School, Robert C. Winthrop, who was the MHS president from 1855 to 1885. They had disagreed over the Mexican American War (1846–1848), causing Winthrop to block Sumner from becoming an MHS Member. The two enemies eventually reconciled in 1873, the year before Sumner’s death.

Keeping Time, Part I

By Hannah Goeselt, Library Assistant

“My grandfather’s clock was too tall for its shelf, so it spent 90 years on the floor…” Did you sing this nursery rhyme as a child? Written in 1876 by American composer Henry Clay Work (1832-1884), the oddly morbid song told from the perspective of a child observing the tall-case clock owned by his grandfather, is why this style of timepiece today is commonly referred to as a ‘grandfather clock’. In the period they were in fashion, however, they were termed ‘eight-day clocks,’ referring to how many days it ran before you had to wind it again.

Now, if you’ve ever visited the MHS for more than an hour, you may know that it is home to a wide assortment of old clocks, which you can hear chime throughout the day. Each week many are wound by a staff member with their own specialized keys and cranks. In this sense they are both a functional aspect of the building, and a part of the MHS’s collection, with their own individual records in Abigail.

color photograph showing a tall case clock in the corner and a framed portrait of a man on the wall to the left.
C. 1810-12 grandfather clock, aka tall-case clock, located in the MHS reading room.

The tall-case clock in the reading room, cataloged as ‘clocks 007’ is a beautiful example of New England clock design in the early republic, or the “Federal Period.” Southeastern Massachusetts, aka the South Shore, specifically between the years of 1790-1830 became a major center of weight-driven clock movement production in the region. This clock is and was a luxury household item, with its size and use of mahogany wood, the cost of the entire thing would be upwards of 60 dollars, more than a year’s worth of pay for the average American at the time. The trendiness of the grandfather clock was relatively short-lived, its cost being one major factor in its downfall. By 1825, regional manufacturers were struggling to compete with the new availability of Connecticut-made shelf clocks on the market, made with wooden movements rather than brass, and at a fraction of the cost. In fact, even by 1812 the grandfather clock was waning in popularity, in favor of patented banjo clocks and other smaller scale timepieces.

When I sit at the circulation desk, I occasionally feel my eyes slide toward its stately figure in the far corner and listen to the subtle clunk of internal gears several minutes before it prepares itself to ring.

The man responsible for these internal workings, “Old Quaker” Joshua Wilder (1786-1860), was a successful clockmaker in Hingham, Mass. and is today best known for his skill in crafting ‘dwarf clocks’, a scaled-down version of the grandfather clock (an example shown here from Historic New England collections). This was a style pretty much exclusively produced in Hingham and Hanover during the first quarter of the 19th century and was the solution to competing with the banjo clock patented and produced by the Willard family-owned workshops in Boston (the MHS also has an example of a Willard banjo clock, see ‘clock 006’). Within that circle, Wilder stood as one of the most prolific producers of dwarf clocks, though he still continued making movements for tall-case versions to a smaller extent.

Portrait of an older man wearing glasses and a large top hat.
Photograph of Joshua Wilder

Wilder began his career as an apprentice to another prominent manufacturer, John Bailey II, in Hanover, MA and moved to Hingham around 1809-1810 to set up his own shop. We can see that that is where this piece originates- beneath the ornate brass hands the words “Joshua Wilder / HINGHAM” are painted in flowing script across the white dial. Quakers made up a disproportionate number of the clockmaker community, taking on as apprentices the sons of other Quakers and so on. Because of that, I was not surprised to learn that Wilder was involved in Hingham’s Temperance Society and Peace Society. I was, however, pleased to find out that the MHs owns one other piece by Wilder, showcasing his literary skills in addition to his skill in clockwork. The bound pamphlet, printed in Hingham in 1840, is a series of published letters to local Representative Thomas Loring (1789-1863) sharing Wilder’s opinions on forced conscription into military service. It reads more like a religious tract, each letter attempting to reconcile the observance of those who take a vow of non-violence with a duty to the law (both governmental and religious) to take up arms. In essence, he was advocating for a paid, as-needed Volunteer Service. While perhaps not the most exciting piece of writing, I did think it was interesting to have the inner thoughts behind an artifact’s manufacturer, a category of creator that can so easily be relegated to “anonymous” or “once known.”

“A Plea for Liberty of Conscience, and Personal Freedom from Military Conscription.” by Joshua Wilder, printed by J. Farmer in Hingham, January 1840.

Stay tuned for part 2!


Jobe, Brock, Gary R. Sullivan, and Jack O’Brien. Harbor & Home: Furniture of Southeastern Massachusetts, 1710-1850, University Press of New England, 2009. (Oversize NK2435.M34 J55 2009)

Jobe, Brock. “A Tale of Two Clocks.” Historic New England (Summer 2011): 24-26. https://issuu.com/historicnewengland/docs/historic_new_england_summer_2011

Keane, Maribeth, and Brad Quinn. “Call Them Grandfather or Tall-Case, Gary Sullivan Knows Big Clocks.” Collectors Weekly, February 26, 2010. https://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/an-interview-with-tall-case-antique-clock-collector-gary-sullivan/

The Dark Side of Republican Motherhood

By Miriam Liebman, Adams Papers

In the period following the American Revolution, Republican Motherhood, or the civic virtue of raising good republican children to serve the new nation as engaged citizens, defined many American women’s roles in the early United States. During his presidency, John Adams received several letters from women embodying this role. While most historians of Republican Motherhood focus on the positive side to that role, the letters to John Adams highlight both a darker side and more complex understanding of this concept: mothers willing to sacrifice their children for the future of the nation.

In one such letter on 11 August 1798, Abigail Cunningham, of Lunenburg, Massachusetts, used examples from both Ancient Greece and the Bible to describe the sacrifice she would make as a mother for her beloved nation. As a mother, she raised her sons to go to the front lines explaining, “if they ware Calld to Action, in defence of their Country, to Count not their Lives Dear in Defience of Foreign influence, and Defence of their Countrys Cause.” And if they were to die fighting for the United States, she would respond like mothers in Ancient Sparta, “who suspended their Lamentations for the Loss their sons, or Husbands till thay examined their clothing, to see wheither the shot went in Behind or Before,” to learn whether they died fighting or retreating. She also proposed responding like Abraham in the Bible, “who Led his Beloved son to the Alter,” calmly and with composure.

Other women took a different approach from Abigail Cunningham. In the summer of 1798, Judith Sargent Murray, author and advocate for women’s rights, wrote to John Adams seeking a position in a government post for her nephew. For Murray, raising virtuous citizens meant actively participating in the government. In the early United States, elite women often wrote with patronage requests for their male relatives. Writing her nephew’s praises, she described him as having “attachment to regularity, good order, the laws and constitution of the United States is unequivocal.” It was also a way to have a steady career. While Murray wrote the letter with this patronage request, she left it to her husband to follow up when he planned to visit John Adams in a few days’ time. She wrote again in March 1799 to inquire further into her request for her nephew that she made the previous summer.

Some women wrote letters advocating on their own behalf and seeking a better life for themselves. For example, Adams also received a letter from Isabella McIntire seeking financial relief. She wrote, “the persuasion I have of your goodness and humanity has tempted me to apply to for a little assistance a Few Dollors will be a relief to a truely distressed Female.”

An excerpt from Margaret Smith’s letter to John Adams, 25 April 1799. The Adams Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

From the opposite perspective, Margaret Smith of Kentucky, a widow, writing on 25 April 1799, decried President Adams’s desire to have a standing army. For her, a standing army was the opposite of republicanism. She called on him to join with her and others for “peace and good order and pray for the anihilation of the army that is already raised and that a stop may be put to such daring encroachments on the liberties of the people.” Her husband died fighting in the American Revolution. For her, raising her children to live as good, stable citizens who could provide for themselves was her version of being a good republican mother. She explained that her greatest wish for her children was that “they live vïrtuous eat and drink and enjoy the fruit of their own labor.” In her eyes, the only reason to have a standing army was for instituting an authoritarian government. She also decried the Jay Treaty with Great Britain and believed many who fought in the American Revolution on the side of the patriots have since become corrupted. She even planned to publish this letter to John Adams in the local newspaper if she did not hear from him by 1 August. The Kentucky Gazette does not appear to have published this letter. It is possible that Smith did not go through with her threat or that John Adams responded to her letter.

Among the many letters John Adams received over the course of his presidency, these are a few from women advocating for their visions, hopes, and wants for the new United States adding to our understanding of women’s experiences in the late 18th-century United States.

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.

New Year’s Resolutions: Lilian Freeman Clarke’s Extensive List

By Hilde Perrin, Library Assistant for Reproductions

Every time the new year rolls around, I find myself feeling the obligation to make a resolution. New Year’s resolutions are supposed to give us the chance to finally try things we always wanted to do or set lofty goals that will make our lives better. And yet, every year I find myself either failing to choose a resolution in the first place, or starting one, only to forget about it by the time we reach February (or earlier, if I’m being honest).

One person who was not afraid to set goals for the new year was Lilian Freeman Clarke (1842-1921), a Boston native and the daughter of James Freeman Clarke, a unitarian minister heavily involved in social reform, from the abolition movement to women’s rights. Following the example of her father, Lilian was actively involved in social reform, particularly working to establish and run the Society for Helping Destitute Mothers and Children. The MHS collections hold several documents from Lilian herself in both the Perry-Clarke Collection and the Lilian Freeman Clarke correspondence. One of these, from the Perry-Clarke Collection, is her pocket diary from 1864. Written when she was 18 years old, it contains entries of her daily activities, from visiting friends to attending church events, weather reports, and musings. On January 3, she recorded a list of resolutions for the new year. They are as follows:

Color image of an open journal showing lines of handwritten text.
Lilian Freeman Clarke Pocket diary, 1 Jan.-31 Dec. 1864, Perry-Clarke Collection, MHS


  1. Not to speak sharply to any one
  2. Practice on the piano 2 hours a day
  3. Draw for two hours a day
  4. Read German one hour a day
  5. To walk out of doors 2 hours every day
  6. Exercise with dumb bells
  7. Eat no supper
  8. Not to speak evil of any one
  9. Rise at seven
  10. Read a sermon every day”

Her list is slightly imposing for people trying to come up with their own resolutions. How was she able to fit in her schedule two hours of piano, two hours of drawing, and an hour of German, and also stay active by walking and exercising with dumbbells? While some of her resolutions are admirable, and I would love to be able to also read German an hour a day and not speak sharply to anyone, I don’t think I would adopt the resolution to “eat no supper” and probably wouldn’t even attempt to devote two hours a day to practicing an instrument. Such a long list of resolutions makes me wonder whether she kept them up.

The very next entry in her diary records that she “rose about 7.30,” already breaking the resolution to rise at 7, if only by 30 minutes. While I was not able to find any more mentions of her list or updates on the resolutions in the diary, I think we can assume that she probably attained some of her resolutions and gave up on others. She kept up her diary entries regularly until about August–recording things like teaching her younger sister, visits to friends, and dreams she had–when she drops off and only includes a few entries here and there for the remainder of the year. Though “journal everyday” was not one of her resolutions, she did not keep up the habit. Whether she successfully completed a year following her New Year’s resolutions or not, we might be able to find inspiration in her list to create our own resolutions for the coming year.

Crossed Letters, Crossed Eyes

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

You hear a lot of discussion nowadays about whether schools should still be teaching students to write in cursive. Less than half of U.S. states require it, usually sometime between third and fifth grade. I don’t know about writing cursive, but reading it is certainly a requirement for my job. And sometimes it’s especially challenging.

One of the things we see in almost every manuscript collection here at the MHS is cross-writing. Your garden-variety cross-written letter looks something like this.

Letter of William B. Gerry, 16 June 1843

This is the first page of a four-page letter, written on folded stationery. As you can see, the writer got to the end of the fourth page and had a little more to say, so went back to the front, turned the paper on its side, and finished the letter there. The idea was to save paper and postage.

MHS archivists see pretty much every variety of cross-writing. The kind pictured above is very common. Here it is again in a letter from Margaret Fuller to Mary Peabody.

Letter of Margaret Fuller, 17 April 1836

Letter writers have also been known to snake their writing around the margins of a letter or even to turn a written page upside down and write in the gaps between the lines. Sometimes they’ll change the color of their ink for the cross-written portion to make it easier for their correspondent to read.

Then there’s this madness.

Letter of William B. Gerry, 17 August 1843

What you’re seeing here is a triple cross-written letter. It starts in the usual way, from top to bottom. The second pass goes from left to right, and the third is diagonal down the page. I don’t know about you, but trying to read this makes my eyes cross. With a lot of time and some fancy Photoshopping, I might be able to figure out what it says, but it would be tough!

This letter comes from the papers of William Blackler Gerry of Marblehead, Massachusetts. Gerry (pronounced “Gary”) was a master mariner in the China and India trade and commanded a number of ships, including the Charlotte, Beeside, Sappho, Farwell, Akbar, Cohota, and Noonday. The collection consists mostly of his correspondence with Mary Susan “Sue” Bartlett between 1841 and 1856, before and after their marriage. Included are letters written from Manila, Philippines; New Orleans; Liverpool, England; Pazhou (Whampoa) and Guangzhou (Canton), China; New York; Baltimore; Kolkata, India; Indonesia; and San Francisco.

If his surname sounds familiar, that’s because his grandfather’s brother was Elbridge Gerry, U.S. Founder, Congressman, governor, vice president, and inspiration for the word “gerrymander.”

William B. Gerry’s papers are chock full of cross-written letters. He even joked about it to Sue on 14 January 1843, when he wrote, “I fear your eyes will not like to behold a single letter now that you have been so used to those cross ones but I am afraid I shall have to close this without doing that for you.”

When it comes to reading handwriting, we all get better with practice. But every once in a while, something like this comes along to keep us from getting too confident.

John Quincy Adams and the Diary of Christmas Past

By Jessica Lynn Leeper, DPhil Candidate in History, University of Oxford

Whenever we think about Christmas in the 19th century, we think of the rich aesthetics of the Victorian age which began in the late 1830s. Scrooge’s ghosts made their debut appearance in 1843, President Franklin Pierce introduced the Christmas tree to the White House in the early 1850s, and so many of the carols we associate with the season were being written throughout the 19th century. In the 1820s, John Quincy Adams was at the height of his career, having been inaugurated as the Sixth President of the United States in 1825 after serving as President Monroe’s Secretary of State. St. Nicholas had just begun to appear in children’s literature in the 1820s, after his famous introduction in poems like Clement Clarke Moore’s ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, yet John Quincy Adams – like most of his contemporaries – was entirely unaware that the holiday season was about to be revolutionized over the course of the 19th century. To him, it was a quiet point in his year. It was a time for reflection in his diary; for long hours of fireside reading; and unending (and often political) social visits. He rarely took the day off from his work at the office, but he almost always found time each Christmas for games of chess and whist, for lavish oyster dinners, and sleigh rides with his wife Louisa Catherine.

John Quincy’s diaries throughout the 1820s reveal a deep insight into how he and his family celebrated the Christmas season in the often-forgotten decade between the Early Republic and the Victorian age. Adams wrote daily in his diary throughout his life, and thanks to the digitization efforts of the MHS’s Adams editors, we can easily discover how this fascinating past president celebrated the Christmas season, and how his Christmas entries varied over the course of the 1820s. No Christmas at the Adams house was the same, and it is clear that John Quincy established no family traditions during that decade. There was no exchanging of gifts, but the season was remarkably social and cheerful nevertheless. Most of his Christmas entries read like political newspapers of information and congressional gossip, but there are glimpses into his family life throughout each page.

In the 1820s, John Quincy and Louisa Catherine’s three sons were, at different times, enrolled at Harvard, and the family’s celebratory season began once George, John, and Charles Francis arrived to Washington D.C. after their long and often treacherously icy journey from Massachusetts. For the boys it was an exciting escape from their studies, yet John Quincy interpreted their “winter vacation” as bonus study time. It was hardly a festive way to enjoy the holidays, but it was to some degree a way that John Quincy could connect with his children and measure their educational and personal progression with each passing year. For him, the holidays were a time to review on the year that was ending, much as we create montages of our achievements at New Years. It was important to him that his sons were exposed to an edifying and scholarly holiday, and scholarship was John Quincy’s greatest love. To him, the ideal leisurely day was one spent in his study, pouring over books of great moral poetry or statistics about weights and measures. His perfect holiday was a day of uninterrupted reading. Unfortunately, his family did not quite share his love of perpetual study! On Christmas day 1820, John Quincy subjected his sons to a tediously long reading of Pope’s Messiah, as he put it, “a poem suited to the day, and of which my own admiration was great at an earlier age than that of my Son Charles, the youngest person now in my family. Not one of them excepting George appeared to take the slightest interest in it, nor is there one of them who has any relish for literature.” Perhaps he realized that his sons needed their holiday to be a day of joy, and reading moral literature was not quite what they had in mind.

In the following few years, as his life became busier and busier, his Christmas entries reveal that he had become less interested in the festivities of the day, and far more interested in the social meaning behind the day, that is, the morals that one could learn from the Christmas season. In both 1822 and 1828 he wrote on Christmas day about the importance of religious toleration in American society. Though he was a Unitarian, he used the occasion of Christmas day to attend other denominational services, including in two different years mass at the Catholic church near the White House. For him, Christmas day was a day that first and foremost signified universal peace and friendship: “On Christmas day of all others, [those] of every denomination should forget all their animosities and dissensions, and adhere to the Law of Love.” For him, Christmas was not so much about the merriment of the season, the balls and feasts and garlands, but that it was a time to reflect on the morals of his beliefs and what it meant to be a friend to all in the 19th century. The sermons he attended soberly preached Revelations on the day of Christmas, rather than the more uplifting Nativity story, and he returned home from the services clearly eager to write introspective yet hopeful paragraphs in his diary.

Though John Quincy Adams did not celebrate the holiday season quite the way that we do today – there was of course no talk of Rudolph or commercial shopping in his diary each year – we can all perhaps take a cue from his diary entries from each Christmas. He spent each holiday thinking through how best to improve himself and the world around him; how to strengthen his friendships and his relationships with his family; and how to find peace and reflection at the end of each passing year. And, as John Quincy might wish for, we could all use an hour or two after opening presents and feasting to enjoy a good book!

A Student’s Guide to the Galaxy

By Meg Szydlik, Visitor Services Coordinator

In a previous blog post I wrote about an astronomy book from the MHS collection called The Mysteries of Time and Space. I enjoyed that experience so much I decided to dig into another book to celebrate the winter solstice and clear winter skies. This time, I decided to tackle a children’s school primer called An astronomical and geographical catechism: For the use of children and selected the 2nd edition, published in 1796. I thought it would be interesting to compare it with what I learned in grade school in the early 2000s after over 2 centuries of exploration and advancement in both astronomy and geography.

cover page that reads “Astronomical and Geographical Catechism for the use of children/By Caleb Bingham, A.M./The Second Edition/Published by an act of Congress”
Cover page for Astronomical and Geographical Catechism

Despite being written in the 18th century, the astronomy section was shockingly similar to what I remember learning. Reading through the question-and-answer style text, I was thrown back to 4th grade, learning about stars and planets again. Precise measurements of the distance between the planets and the sun, the length of different planetary years, and even information about moons matched up with what I remember from my grade school days. The one thing that didn’t was the fact that there were 7 planets, indicating that Neptune (and Pluto) had not been discovered yet. The 7th planet, which we call Uranus today, was named but some quick googling told me that William Herschel discovered Uranus so presumably Caleb Bingham, the author of the text, just used his name. It was also so interesting to see Bingham encourage the possibility of life on the other planets in the solar system, as I was certainly taught that there was no life outside of earth. All in all, it was strikingly similar to what I learned as a child. I love knowing that while scientific discovery does grow and expand, that does not mean that all knowledge is new.

Page from Astronomical and Geographical Catechism from the astronomy section with information about planets

Geography, however, was a more complicated section. While there was certainly some overlap (I also learned that a peninsula is land mostly surrounded by water, for example), there were a lot of very 18th century, Early Republic aspects as well. Some of this is inevitable, since the borders of the world have changed substantially since 1796, including the introduction of 34 additional states, but some of it was a bit more surprising. When Bingham is talking about longitude, I was surprised to see no reference to the Prime Meridian which goes through Greenwich, England. It turns out that the Prime Meridian was not established until 1884, long after this book was published. Instead, Bingham says to count longitude “from a certain meridian.”

Page from Astronomical and Geographical Catechism from the geography section looking at state capitals

The section on continents was perhaps even more fascinating. Today of course, we consider there to be 7 continents–Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America. However the text only offers up 2 continents: the “eastern” continent with Africa, Asia, and Europe, and the “western” of North and South America. Australia makes a surprise appearance as “New-Holland” and a potential 3rd continent. And Australia is not the only place with a new name. There are references to Prussia and Persia, neither of which exist in the same form today. It was also really startling to realize that so many states in the U.S. moved their capitals at one point or another. While the capital of Massachusetts has always been Boston, 8/15 of the states had different capitals in 1796 than they do now. There was also an extreme bias in the descriptions of the states. There was a clear preference for the Northern states over the Southern, New England over other Northern states, and Massachusetts over other states in New England. No wonder we have multiple copies of this book here at the Massachusetts Historical Society! I loved the opportunity to take a peek into what students were learning over 200 years before I entered the classroom myself. So much was the same and even the things that were different were interesting windows into 18th century exploration.

The Mysteries of Time and Space
An astronomical and geographical catechism: For the use of children

“What a Sweet Morsel”: Shared Meals and Affective Bonding among Massachusetts Provincials during the Seven Years’ War

By Russell L. Weber

You are what you eat.

Many of us have heard this common axiom at least once in our lives. For me, it was my grandmother’s constant teasing that one day I very well may transform into a “Sour Patch Kid” myself. But there is a more truthful version of this colloquialism that, if applied to historical research, unveils new avenues for the study of political gastronomy, popular culture, and identity. You bond with whom you eat.

Popular media has done an excellent job of illustrating the bonds of affection that emerge from sharing a meal – from the cacophonous, rowdy, politically charged feast held at New York City’s Life Café in Rent, to the quiet, somber dinner at The Royal Dragon, during which Matthew Murdock, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Danny Rand reluctantly formed an alliance to combat an ancient, apocalyptic evil in Marvel’s The Defenders. Such bonds, however, are not limited to modern fiction.

When I arrived at the Massachusetts Historical Society in July 2018 to research the relationship between affective rhetoric and political identity in revolutionary British America, I did not expect to be struck by the meals which Massachusetts provincials consumed during the Seven Years’ War.

As I combed through hundreds of pages of journals and diary entries, I found a common trend. Most Massachusetts provincials greatly detailed the violence which they participated in or witnessed (be it formal combat or traumatic episodes of corporal punishment, often overseen by British regulars), but otherwise many entries – such as those recorded in Samuel Greenleaf’s journal – contained a single, repetitive phrase which described the day’s events: “Nothing Remarkable.”[1]

Samuel Greenleaf’s Journal Entry: July 10, 1756. Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Imagine my surprise when I came across Greenleaf’s entry for August 19, 1756, when he recounted a singularly important moment for himself and his fellow provincials: “we had a Very good huckleberry Pye of which I eat harty…”[2] As a shameless fan berry pies myself, this passage struck me as a meaningful expression of acute joy. Struggling to reconcile his incessant boredom with a chronic fear of impending combat with French soldiers and their Indigenous allies, Greenleaf experienced not simply physical gratification, but rather delightful comradery by devouring such a tasty dessert with his fellow soldiers. Despite his “I” statement, it is safe to assume that Greenleaf’s fellow provincials consumed their portions of huckleberry pie with equal heartiness and conviviality. As I read further into the experiences of Massachusetts’ Seven Years’ War veterans, I became aware that such collective pleasures formed combat communities, whose members felt a sense of intimate affection as deep as, if not deeper than, their allegiance to colony or empire.

Samuel Greenleaf’s Journal Entry: August 19, 1756. Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The joy that arose from feasting on fresh bread, meat, or sweet treats provides a stark contrast to one of the greatest struggles and anxieties for Massachusetts provincials: food scarcity.  To avoid starvation the afternoon of February 8, 1758, Rufus Putnam and seventy other provincials reluctantly slaughtered a “large dog,” giving “every man his equal share.”[3] “None can tell what a sweet morsel this dog’s guts and feet were,” Putnam observed, “but those that eat them as I did…”[4] For only those provincials who had felt the desperation of hunger and the subsequent relief of its abatement, Putnam argued, might truly comprehend the deliciousness of such canine nourishment. Albeit a repulsive meal born from unimaginable struggle, this winter dinner only intensified the heartfelt wartime tethers of understanding, sympathy, and affection that Seven Years’ War veterans had developed for one another.

Rufus Putnam’s Journal Entry: February 8, 1758. Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Through Putnam and Greenleaf’s journals, I realized that food – as much as rhetoric – was an essential tool to foster lasting, intimate bonds of both personal and political affection. By devouring such a “sweet morsel” – be it a dog’s feet, a slice of huckleberry pie, a plate of dumplings, or even “thirteen orders of fries” at New York City’s Life Café – strangers and friends alike had the opportunity to cultivate the affective sameness required for forging a shared political identity.

[1] Samuel Greenleaf, July 10, 1756, in “The Journal of Samuel Greenleaf,” MSS; Massachusetts Historical Society.

[2] Greenleaf, August 19, 1756, “Journal of Greenleaf.”

[3] Rufus Putnam, February 8, 1758, in Journal of Rufus Putnam: Kept in Northern New York during Four Campaigns of the Old French and Indian War, 1757-1760 (Albany: Jouel Munsell’s Sons, 1886), 56.

[4] Ibid.

Massachusetts During the Great War: A Kass Teacher Fellowship Project (Part 1)

By Michael Khorshidianzadeh, Kass Teacher Fellow, and Kate Melchior, Associate Director for Educator Engagement and Outreach

Every year, the MHS awards the Kass Teacher Fellowship to a K-12 educator to offer them an opportunity to do a deep-dive into a research topic of their choice. Fellows spend 20 days researching in the MHS archives, receiving a stipend of $3,000 and delivering a final report on their findings. Applications for 2024 Teacher and Student Fellowships are now open: learn more and apply at www.masshist.org/teacher-and-student-fellowships

In 2023, Michael Khorshidianzadeh of the Victor School in Acton, MA was awarded a Kass Fellowship to pursue research into the Massachusetts home front during World War. Michael discovered so many amazing primary sources that we will share his findings in several blog posts. Read excerpts from Michael’s research experience and his findings at the MHS:

Massachusetts During the Great War: Pacifists, Activists, and People

A collection of record papers, diaries, journals, ephemeral memos, and a scrapbook meant to lend a hand to the future gathered together from the archives of the Massachusetts Historical Society all combined into a time machine for me during this research process. I felt part time-traveler and part detective. […] Knowing the larger story sometimes filled me with immense grief because I knew some of their hopes for the future would not come to fruition. Other times, I took joy in just reading about their daily lives as they happened.

Homefront Diaries

I explored 4 journals by Lady Gertrude Codman Carter and they are wonderful in terms of scope, detail, and arrangement. Lady Carter was an architect, artist, and feminist. She was born in Boston on February 6th, 1875 to a well-established moneyed Boston family and died there on November 12th, 1953.

The first journal I reviewed begins with newspaper articles from the beginning of the war. She clipped an article from the Daily Mail titled “General Nogi’s Prophecy” which states the war “will be the last in Europe for many a day, perhaps forever. German states will emerge from this so exhausted and so terrified that they will have no other object than to form some sort of condition that may in the future obviate the recurrence of any such catastrophe.” 

Lady Carter’s journals are full of heartfelt, humorous, and tragic observations about life in Massachusetts during the World War I era. Often she would draw her family in cartoon form to illustrate what she was writing about or feeling at the time[:]

Lady Carter attended many lectures to raise money for those who were impacted by the war.

A series of images of her family traveling to the cape. Her dog was named Mrs. Codman and she wrote she was a “Suffrage Dog” which indicates she was for the Women’s vote.


[Here Lady Carter] detail[s the] story of the death of Gilbert Carter. She states that his mother knew almost by telepathy before the message came that her son was hurt and that she also knew he was going to die soon. […] She wrote under the “In Memory” card “ To-day should have alas had a dark cloud had I known it for the war was to cast yet another shadow on our lives.

[Another woman,] Clara Currier’s diaries, provided me with a day-to-day account of what a seemingly everyday young woman experienced while living in Massachusetts. […] Currier spent a lot of time during the war canning vegetables and fruits and knitting or sewing for the Red Cross.null

I looked for when the war ended to see if she wrote anything […] The entry surprised me because it started simply “A pleasant day World War ended at 6 a.m and peace declared. Big celebration but couldn’t go out. Went to a bean shelling at Bert Merrills (sp?) and had a nice time. 40 were there and we had coffee, sandwiches, cake and pickles for treat. John+Mabel’s 10 wedding anniversary.” The next entry was about her crocheting. I don’t know what I was expecting […]  to some people, major historical events are just another Monday. She was glad the war was over and that was about it.”

Stay tuned for Part II of Michael’s research findings, where he explores competing advocacy for peace and military preparedness efforts, and how agencies collected supplies to assist those in need.


Carter, Gertrude Codman Lady. 1914. “Lady Gertrude Codman Carter diaries, 1915-1920.” Call Number Ms. N-2246 Vol. 1.

Carter, Lady Gertrude Codman. n.d. “Lady Gertrude Codman Carter Diaries 1915-1920.” Call Number # Ms. N-2246 Vol. 2-3.

Currier, Clara E. n.d. “Clara E Currier Diaries, 1918-1932.” Call number # Ms. N-2570 3 Vols. in 1 narrow box.

The Frances E. Willard Settlement in Boston

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

When processing a collection, I almost always find interesting little pockets of material that I wasn’t expecting. It happened again recently while I was processing the Hill family papers and came across a few folders related to an early 20th-century settlement house in Boston.

Black and white photograph showing 20 people. All three rows. Most are wearing white tops and dark bottoms. A woman in a dark dress sits to the right side of the photo in front of a fireplace.
Residents of the Frances E. Willard Settlement, ca. 1910

One member of the family, Nellie Frank Hill, was very active in the settlement house movement. I couldn’t find a lot of biographical details about Nellie, but I know that she was born in 1876, the fifth of eight children of farmer and produce dealer Charles Henry Hill of West Groton, Mass.

Nellie’s portion of the Hill family papers relates primarily to the Frances E. Willard Settlement, a home for working women in Boston. Nellie served variously as vice president, secretary, head resident, and general manager of the organization and worked closely with its founder and president, Caroline Matilda “Tillie” Caswell.

The Willard Settlement began in 1894 in a tenement house at 422 Hanover Street, where three rooms were set aside for women who worked at local factories to relax and socialize. The organization grew over the years and was officially incorporated in 1903, later moving to 44 Chambers Street in the West End of Boston. Urban renewal in the mid-20th century dramatically changed the area, and the street doesn’t even exist anymore, but you can find it on this map posted by Historic New England.

Black and white photo of a 5-story brick building. The photo is taken at an angle. A rooftop garden can be seen at the top of the building.
44 Chambers Street, Boston, ca. 1910

The Willard Settlement’s stated mission was: “providing, maintaining and supporting a home or homes for young working women or women earning very low salaries or those training for self-support who need temporary aid, and helping in any possible way those who are strangers and need assistance.” You can learn a lot about what that assistance looked like by reading this 1910 pamphlet, which contains photographs and details about the organization’s membership, activities, finances, etc.

Women earning $5.00 a week or less paid $3.00 for room, board, and laundry. Meetings and classes for residents—and for others in the community—were held at the neighboring clubhouse. Two classes specifically mentioned in the pamphlet included cobbling (for boys) and housekeeping (for girls). The clubhouse had an auditorium, gymnasium, library, pharmacy, assembly hall, and “sloyd” (craft) room. There was even a camp in Bedford, Mass. for 12-to-20-year-old girls that was named after Nellie.

The settlement house also boasted a truly impressive rooftop garden, which is where I would undoubtedly have spent most of my time if I’d lived there.

black and white photo taken from within the rooftop garden at 44 Chambers Street. A woman dressed in a white shirt and long, dark skirt sits on a bench in the photo. There are 4 full columns visible holding horizontal beams (a pergola). Several plants are also visible.
Rooftop garden at 44 Chambers Street, Boston, ca. 1910

Of course, settlement houses and affiliated clubs had a darker side, as instruments for Christian proselytizing and “Americanization.” A 1911 book called Handbook of Settlements describes the Willard Settlement neighborhood this way: “A highly congested quarter of the West End. The people are largely Jews, with a sprinkling of Americans, Irish, Italians, and Negroes.” According to a 1919 issue of the Union Signal, published by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), the settlement provided social services to a population that was “nine-tenths Jewish and one-tenth Italian.” The WCTU admitted that so-called Americanization was the “main work” of the movement.

The Willard Settlement was “avowedly temperance and Christian.” Daily prayers were mandatory for house residents, who were expected to maintain “good moral character.” Meanwhile, at the clubhouse, local immigrant and Jewish families—“neighbors of alien race and faith,” per the WCTU—could learn to speak and read English or improve their elocution (I presume to lose their accents). Their children were inculcated with “patriotism and loyalty.”

I couldn’t determine when the Willard Settlement officially closed its doors. I did find Nellie Hill and Tillie Caswell in the 1930 U.S. census. The two women were living together and running a health resort for women in Lake Maitland, Florida. After Tillie’s death in 1938, Nellie returned to Groton, Mass.