Daily History: Transcribing JQA’s Diary

By Alyssa Machajewski, Adams Papers Intern

John Adams once suggested to his son, an 11-year-old John Quincy Adams, that he start a journal to record the events of his life. Displaying a level of discipline that must surely be genetic, John Quincy followed his father’s advice consistently for over 68 years. He kept multiple diaries, including a line-a-day version that consists of a single-line summary of each day.

Because of his busy schedule, John Quincy Adams would record this brief summary and then later write out the long-form entry using the line-a-day as reference. I can sympathize with how difficult it would be to keep up with, as I took up bullet journaling only last year (which has a similar organizational idea as JQA’s diary) and I find it exhausting.

Part of my internship experience with the Adams Papers editorial project is to help transcribe some of the 15,000+ pages of JQA’s diary. Luckily, JQA has exceptionally neat handwriting (as long as you can read cursive) and the work is really more like a puzzle that needs solving.

When I first started transcribing the diary, this puzzle was my main interest. I never expected to have anything in common with the journal content or the man behind it. I knew John Quincy Adams as a career politician, the son of a Founding Father, and a president. Surely, his daily life looked nothing like mine, but then I reached about halfway down the line-a-day diary entries for January 1795.

JQA diary
John Quincy Adams diary detail, January 1795

And I laughed; 227 years after writing it, John Quincy Adams made someone laugh. I transcribed this passage in February 2021, just as I and the rest of my home state of Texas were experiencing the coldest winter in living memory. That serendipity changed how I saw the person behind the lines of cursive. JQA became more than a distant historical figure. He was more human somehow—someone who complained about the cold.

We have our obvious differences. I am a recent college graduate and, at the time, he was the U.S. minister to the Netherlands. He lived through an invasion by the French, while I’m living through a global pandemic. However, there were parts of his life that were not difficult at all to relate to. JQA goes on walks (2 March 1795). He sometimes struggles with “Laborious and unsuccessful writing” otherwise known as writer’s block.

JQA diary
John Quincy Adams diary detail

He gets anxious when people don’t answer his letters. And, every two months or so, he buys books (I’m jealous of this frequency!) and will sometimes make a note of what he’s finished reading: “Read the private life of the Marechal de Richelieu; and Voltaire” (22 April 1795). Although we have vastly different bookshelves, I love that buying books is still worthy of a diary entry. “Attended the sale of books the whole day, purchased a considerable number. Walk in the Evening alone. Music at home.” I wonder if he’s ever slightly embarrassed that he has gone and bought more books when he knows perfectly well he has a stack of unread ones at home. Still, I can’t help but imagine him grinning as he walks down the streets of The Hague with his armful of books. It is exactly what I would do.

In the six-month span that I have transcribed so far, I can see the skills that led him to be known as a diplomatic president. He negotiated for the release of an acquaintance and French prisoner of war (14 July 1795). He also “disallowed” (i.e. kicked out) French soldiers from his house when they tried to forcibly quarter there (11 March 1795). It is the sort of thing the U.S. Constitution frowns upon and I would like to have been present for that conversation. His diary recorded the following:

The municipality this morning sent a couple of french soldiers to quarter in the house of Mr: Jehu where I am lodged. They have tried the experiment three or four times; and as often the french Commandant of the City upon my application has ordered them to allow the exemption to which the usage of Nations entitles me.

And of course he also noted important historical events, such as on 17 May 1795: “Weather beautiful. Morning and evening walks . . . The Treaty with France signed at 2. AM.”

Working through the diary now feels less like a puzzle and more like a story and a life unfolding. How lucky that we get the chance to see it. To start your own search, visit the John Quincy Adams Digital Diary!

Building Pathways to Collections for Students and Teachers

By Kate Melchior, Assistant Director of Education

Thanks to our work with the Massachusetts Civic Learning Coalition (MCLC), a collaborative of nearly 40 organizations that implement and promote civic education, the MHS has taken advantage of opportunities to raise our organization’s profile as a vital content provider not only in Massachusetts but also on a national scale.

MHS collections were featured in the Educating for American Democracy Roadmap and Report (EAD), funded by the NEH and the U.S. Dept. of Education and launched March 2, which provides educators a clear pathway to integrate civics into their teaching. The EAD site offers a curated list of civics-related teacher resources, including the MHS online exhibit “Who Counts? A Look at Voter Rights Through Political Cartoons” on its first page. This resource is now in front of thousands of teachers across the U.S., and more materials will be added in the coming months. We were also proud to note that one of our National History Day (NHD) students, Morgan G., and her teacher Jay Peledge, were featured in the nationwide broadcast with PBS NewsHour. Last year, Morgan’s documentary film on Bessie Coleman, the pioneering aviator, won Best Project in African American History at the state contest and advanced to the National competition. You can learn more about the roadmap and view teacher resources from the MHS and many other partners at https://www.educatingforamericandemocracy.org/.

A Look at 19th Century Perfumes

By Angela Tillapaugh, Library Assistant

Glass perfume vial
Hand-blown glass perfume vial, probably owned by Martha Catherine Codman Karolik. Cira 1800s. Collection of the MHS.

While exploring the collections of the MHS I came across a hand-blown glass perfume vial from the 19th century owned by Martha Catherine Codman Karolik. Upon seeing this, a question popped in my head- what kind of perfume would she have worn? I set out to discover what the most popular perfumes were in the late 19th century, that as a wealthy woman she would have likely been familiar with.

Prior to the mid to late 1800s in the United States, fragrances usually came in the form of “toilet waters”. Toilet waters were single note fragrances, diluted with distilled water or alcohol. These sorts of fragrances were usually sold in pharmacies, as fragrant oils were frequently added to cosmetics and medications.[1] Around the end of the 19th century, perfume from fragrance houses in Europe were imported to the United States. In Europe, France most notably, fragrance was considered an art form and a luxury product that was not relegated to being sold within pharmacies. The perfumes were heavier and more complex than the toilet waters, most using animalic ingredients like musk and ambergris that made them much more expensive. The influence of perfumes from overseas led to the emergence of American perfumers, usually with European names to capitalize on the association between Europe and luxury perfumes. An example is E.W. Hoyt of Lowell, who called his first perfume “Hoyt’s German Cologne” even though nothing about it was German. Other perfumers created a sense of luxury by creating increasingly elaborate bottles to house the fragrances, some bottles were worth more than the actual liquid.

Glass vial of lavender water
Willis H. Lowe, Lavender Water, ca. 1889. From the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

The luxury status of perfumes, particularly those from France, made them popular with the wealthy. Wearing expensive perfumes would set people apart from the masses wearing light floral fragrances. As a young wealthy woman, Martha Catherine Codman Karolik likely would have been able to own these extravagant fragrances, which is what I imagine the vial above would have contained. I do not know exactly what perfume Martha would have carried in that small vial, but I imagine it was something powerful and interesting, sure to turn heads.

[1] “Fragrance.” Smithsonian Institution. Accessed May 10, 2021

Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

By Rakashi Chand, Senior Library Assistant

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. Massachusetts played an interesting role in many of the first relationships and cultural exchanges between the US and Asia and the Pacific Islands. Some of these relationships were mutually fruitful while others favored American interests. After the American Revolution, ships from the ports of Boston and Salem sailed across the globe, many entering ports for the first time flying the new and unknown American flag. What these captains and merchants did upon arrival set the tone to cultivate relationships not only with Massachusetts but also for the US–in both good and bad ways. Representatives of the United States entered these negotiations with the intention of establishing trade routes, opening markets, and securing the US as a global player.

The MHS is fortunate to hold treaties, medals, letters, and artifacts documenting trade routes as well as Asian and Pacific Islanders visiting Boston, many seeing the US for the very first time.  Though the narrative found in the archives is often told by white Americans, there are some Asian American and Pacific Islander voices.

Below is a selection of artifacts and documents in our collection that illuminate AAPI history.


This oil painting of the harbor at Hong Kong is attributed to Lam Qua, a 19th-century artist from the Canton province in China. Also known for his portraits of Western and Chinese merchants, as well as medical subjects, Lam Qua was one of the first Chinese painters exhibited in the West. For further reading about this painting and a companion view of the Harbor of Macao, visit www.masshist.org/database/2277.

view of the Hong Kong Harbor
Harbor at Hong Kong, attributed to Lam Qua, [1850s]
John B Trott, an agent for John D. Sword & Company in China during the 1840s, gave the MHS a beautifully detailed manuscript map of China with a Star Chart on top. The combination of the celestial and physical worlds on one map provides wonderful perspective. He also donated The Foreign and Chinese almanac for 1844, Primer of the Shanghai dialect, two copies of the Treaty of Tien Jin, along with other Chinses pamphlets.

There are many collections that center on trade with China housed at the MHS. A description of these collections can be found in the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Manuscripts on the American China Trade at the Massachusetts Historical Society on JSTOR, and many of these items have been digitized and are searchable from home through the online database China, America and the Pacific, a publication of Adam Matthew Digital, Inc.


After Commodore Matthew Perry’s Mission of Peace and Goodwill opened commerce with Japan, an Embassy or mission lead by Iwakura Tomomi visited Europe and America to improve the unequal terms given to Japan by Western countries and to learn about the West. In 1872 Boston, the Boston Board of Trade  hosted a lavish banquet at the Revere House with speakers including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes. The latter composed a poem for the occasion that begins with the line, “We welcome you, Lords of the Land of the Sun!” Take a look at a lovely dinner menu from the grand affair and read more here: MHS Collections Online: Banquet to the Ambassadors of Japan, by Members of the Boston Board of Trade: Bill of Fare.

menu for a farewell dinner held 2 August 1872
Banquet to the Ambassadors of Japan, by Members of the Boston Board of Trade: Bill of Fare, broadside on silk, 2 August 1872.

This, along with many other items on the relationship between Japan and America can be found in our online catalog Abigail. At the time of the banquet there were only an estimated ten men of Japanese origin living in Boston.

By 19 February 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 placing more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans in “Protective Custody” in Internment Camps. Artist Estelle Ishigo documented the hardship of life in the Internment Camps in paintings such as one titled “Mess Hall, Bathroom, Barracks, Japanese Relocation Center, Heart Mt. Wyoming”. Read more about Estelle Ishigo and the Internment Camps: Massachusetts Historical Society: “We searched its gaunt face for the mysteries of our destiny …”: Estelle Ishigo’s Scenes of a Japanese Internment Camp.

Painting of Heart Mountain, Wyoming
“Mess Hall, Bathroom, Barracks. Japanese Relocation Center. Heart Mt. Wyoming.” by Estelle Ishigo, March 1943, 7 P.M.


Although American trade with India preceded the Revolution, it was formalized when George Washington sent Bostonian Benjamin Joy as the first US Council to India in 1794. The British East India Company refused to recognize his status. The MHS holds a fascinating object from that exchange, a Sea Chest, made in India, that accompanied Joy on his voyage back home. Read more about Joy and the Sea Chest here: MHS Collections Online: Sea chest belonging to Benjamin Joy.

Sea chest
Sea chest belonging to Benjamin Joy, circa 1795.

The MHS also houses the Papers of the American Ramabai Association, a charitable organization that helped fund two home for widows in India. The papers are found in two collections and include correspondence both to and from India and America: the Judith Walker Andrews correspondence, 1887-1911 and the Daniel Dulany Addison Collection.

Another fascinating item in the collection is a biography by Caroline Healey Dall.  The Life of Ananabai Joshee: A Kinswoman of Pundita Ramabai (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1888) is about the life of the first Indian women to come to America for the purpose of attending medical School.

There are many items in our collection that illustrate trade and cultural exchange between India and Massachusetts. You can search our online catalog Abigail and read past blog posts: Happy Diwali! and Boston to Bombay*: Historical Connections between Massachusetts and India.

Pacific Islands, specifically Hawai’i

The Pacific Islands were still subject to colonialism by US and European ships into the late 19th century. The arrival of missionaries and merchants endangered the survival of the culture of the Islands. Pamphlets debating the annexation of Hawaii (along with Chinese Immigration in 1878) can be found in the Papers of Congressman George Frisbie Hoar.

Engraving of Hilo, Hawaii
Hilo, Hawaii, engraving by Kepohoni, after Edward Bailey

This engraving of Hilo, Hawaii was made by Kepohani from a drawing by Edward Bailey. Lorrin Andrews successfully created a copper plate printing press in Lahainaluna, and printed the first Hawaiian Language newspaper in 1834. Read more about Andrews, the Hawaiian engravers, and the Lahainaluna Seminary here:  MHS Collections Online: Hilo, Hawaii.

In 1875, the last king of Hawai’i, Kalakaua, visited Boston on a tour of good will to negotiate tarrif-free trade between the Kingdom of Hawai’I and the United States. The visit was strategic as New England sugar interest was at stake. The banquet held on 2 January 1875 was a success for Hawai’I and secured the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875. Read more about the King Kalakaua’s visit to Boston and view a beautiful bill of fare featured at the banquet in this blogpost: King Kalakaua’s Tour of the United States.

These are just a few examples of items in our collection that illustrate the histories of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Look for a companion blog post in the coming weeks that feature more primary sources to bring Asian American and Pacific Islander voices to light.

The Diary of William Logan Rodman, Part V

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

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

William Logan Rodman
William Logan Rodman, from Genealogy of the Rodman Family, published in 1886

In the first four installments of this series on the diary of William Logan Rodman of New Bedford, Mass., I covered events between the election of Abraham Lincoln and the early months of the Civil War. Rodman’s diary ends in June 1862, before his war service, but later that year he was commissioned major and then lieutenant colonel of the 38th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment. He was killed at Port Hudson, La. on 27 May 1863.

In this final installment of the series, I’d like to backtrack a little and look in detail at a few other fascinating subjects Rodman mentioned in his diary.

The Margaret Scott Case

On 15 September 1861, Rodman was summoned before a grand jury to testify in the case of the Margaret Scott, a ship allegedly engaged in the trafficking of enslaved Africans to the U.S. He struck a defensive tone in his diary: “I sold her the water and was an Expert in the water question. My evidence was worth little. I knew nothing about the matter until the water was on board.”

Newspaper clipping from 9-12-1861
Clipping from the New Bedford Republican Standard, 12 September 1861

The Margaret Scott had been confiscated at New Bedford a few days before and its captain, officers, and owner arrested. According to newspaper articles published at the time, ships loaded up with excessive amounts of water and dry crackers aroused suspicion, as this was recognized as the fare of enslaved people. Sailors got whiskey and bread.

The owner of the Margaret Scott, Samuel P. Skinner, was convicted and served time in jail, but Abraham Lincoln later pardoned him “on the ground that the party was used by the government as a witness, & testified fairly.” The ship, meanwhile, was sold and used as part of the Stone Fleet, a fleet of old ships filled with stone and sunk in Charleston Harbor in an attempt to block Confederate shipping channels.

Liberia and Haiti

While he waited for his military commission to come through, Rodman kept busy at home. On 10 November 1861, he was elected to the state legislature. One month later, he wrote,

Sent to Mr Eliot a Memorial which I have had numerously signed urging immediate recognition of Liberia and Hayti. […] This would lead to trade. Our City would engage in it and be relieved from the stagnation that now exists & threatens to increase. Africa presents an immense field for commercial enterprise and letting alone the moral effect of our cordially recognizing these Black Republics, too long delayed, our country will reap immense advantage from diplomatic & commercial relations, and no one of our sea ports would be found more fitted for a prosperous intercourse with Africa than New Bedford. We have capital Ships and just the right sort of men, now unemployed.

It’s clear that Rodman’s support for this policy was far from disinterested, but he does briefly reference the “moral” argument. The following year, the United States would, in fact, formally recognize the independence of Haiti and Liberia and establish diplomatic relations with both countries. It had been 58 years since the Haitian Revolution led by Toussaint L’Ouverture and 15 years since Liberia constituted itself a republic.

Toussaint L’Ouverture,
Toussaint L’Ouverture, Haitian revolutionary

The Great Charleston Fire

On 11 December 1861, a “fearful” and “terrible” fire ravaged Charleston, S.C. Almost immediately, rumors circulated that the fire had been started by enslaved people. Now, Rodman never made any secret of his particular hatred for South Carolina, given that it had been the first state to secede. He not only found these rumors credible, but he greeted them with overt schadenfreude, calling the fire

[…] a significant symptom. What horrors may yet visit those wicked authors of this our severest trial. […] A year ago our sympathies would have been excited and our purses opened to relieve. Now we are almost pleased and regard it as only one part of the retribution justly due from that center of rebellion.

Ft. Sumter and Charleston, SC during the Civil War,
Screenshot taken from Ft. Sumter and Charleston, SC during the Civil War, by Sydney Haskins, Digital Commons @Brockport, Spring 2017

According to the 2016 annual report of the Charleston Fire Department, the Great Charleston Fire of 1861 was the worst in the city’s history and resulted in $7,000,000 in damage. It swept across the breadth of the peninsula and was witnessed by none other than Robert E. Lee himself. My research indicates that there’s still no consensus on its cause.

As Rodman wrote, “Well we are in the midst of history now with a vengeance.”

William Logan Rodman died at the age of 41, survived by two sisters and several nieces and nephews. According to historian Earl Mulderink, he was “New Bedford’s most prominent casualty during the Civil War” (p. 77). The town’s Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) post and Fort Rodman at Clark’s Point were both named after him.

Select Bibliography

Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. “William Logan Rodman.” Harvard Memorial Biographies, vol. 1, Cambridge, Sever and Francis, 1866, pp. 64-78.
This biography includes excerpts from the diary, as well as Rodman’s later correspondence (which is not held by the MHS).

Jones, Charles Henry. Genealogy of the Rodman family, 1620-1886. Philadelphia, printed by Allen, Lane & Scott, 1886.

Mulderink, Earl F. New Bedford’s Civil War. Fordham University Press, 2012.

Rodman family papers, New Bedford Whaling Museum, New Bedford, Mass.

Take an Armchair Vacation to the Freedom Trail!

By Heather Rockwood, Communications Associate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you enjoyed taking this short “armchair vacation” down the Freedom Trail with me! If you want to see how lantern glass slides work, Brown University has a great guide!


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

A Photographic History of Boston’s Back Bay Neighborhood

From Fenways Past

Stories to Cheer our Spirits: Horses in the Adams Papers

By Kenna Hohmann, Adams Papers Intern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Lauren Howard, Adams Papers Intern

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

John Adams to Richard Cranch, 20 July 1787

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Diary of William Logan Rodman, Part IV

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Kate Melchior, Assistant Director of Education

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

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

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

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

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