The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

This Week @ MHS

It is the middle of the month and it appears that the lion of March is not making way for the lamb. Below is the round-up of events in the week to come, just be sure to keep an eye on our website to ensure that the event you want to attend is not affected by weather-related closures. 

- Tuesday, 20 March, CANCELED : This week's seminar, "On Fantasy," is canceled due to illness.

- Tuesday, 20 March, 6:00PM : People before Highways: Boston Activists, Urban Planners, & A New Movement for City Making is the new book by Karilyn Crockett, who will be on-hand for this author talk. In 1948, inspired by changes to federal law, Massachusetts officials started to plan highways circling and cutting through the heart of Boston. But when officials began to hold hearings in 1960 the people pushed back. The story of how an unlikely multiracial coalition of urban and suburban residents, planners, and activists emerged to stop a highway is one full of suspenseful twists and surprises. And yet the victory and its aftermath are undeniable: federally funded mass transit expansion, a linear central city park, and a highway-less urban corridor that serves as a daily reminder of the power of citizen-led city-making and has had lasting national implications.

This talk is open to the public, registration required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Fellows and Members or EBT cardholders). 

- Thursday, 22 March, 5:30PM : Often a biographer confronts silences in the record of her subject, when part of the life story is not documented with words. Mute sources—objects in the subject’s archive—can pose a challenge for interpretation, but also offer rich opportunities. How can biographers read objects as eloquent sources? “'No Ideas But in Things': Writing Lives from Objects" is a panel discussion with Deborah Lutz of University of Louisville, Karen Sanchez-Eppler of Amherst College, independent scholar Susan Ware, and moderator Natalie Dykstra of Hope College. 

Seminars are free and open to the public; RSVP requiredSubscribe to receive advance copies of the seminar papers. To RSVP: email or call (617) 646-0579.

- Saturday, 24 March, 10:00AM : The History and Collections of the MHS is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, with no need for reservations. If you would like to bring a larger party (8 or more), please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or

While you're here you will also have the opportunity to view our current exhibition: Yankees in the West.

- Saturday, 24 March, 10:00AM : In celebration of Women's History Month, the MHS is calling for items--pink hats, signs, pins, t-shirts, photographs, written accounts--from the 2017 and 2018 Women's March events. We invite the public to stop by 1154 Boylston Street in Boston to donate 2017 and 2018 Women’s March memorabilia—pink hats, signs, pins, t-shirts, photographs (prints or digital images)—as well as written accounts to its collection. If you do not want to part with your Women’s March items, consider wearing them to the MHS and having your picture taken (a photographer will be on site) to be added to our collection. We also encourage written experiences and accounts of the marches to be shared. These can be e-mailed to or mailed to: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1154 Boylston Street, Boston, MA, 02215, attention Brenda Lawson.

If you are unable to come to the MHS on 24 March but have items you would like to donate, please contact Anne Bentley ( or 617-646-0508) or Brenda Lawson ( or 617-646-0552) to discuss.

Selected items collected on 24 March will be displayed as part of our 2019 exhibition on women’s suffrage.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 18 March, 2018, 12:00 AM

Welcome to Our 2018-2019 MHS-NEH Fellows!

The Massachusetts Historical Society’s Research Department is pleased to announce our two 2018-2019 MHS-NEH Long-Term Fellows, Mara Caden and Brent Sirota. Mara Caden will be researching the mint and early economic conditions in New England, and revising her book manuscript, which comes out of her Yale University dissertation, “Mint Conditions: The Politics and Geography of Money in Britain and Its Empire, 1650-1750.” Brent Sirota is an associate professor at North Carolina State University, and will be researching and writing his second monograph, Things Set Apart: An Alternate History of the Separation of Church and State, examining how people in the 18th- and 19th-century British Atlantic maintained their religion separate from the state after 1689.

Caden and Sirota join a renowned group of current and former MHS-NEH fellows. The long-term fellowship began in 2002, and the National Endowment for the Humanities has helped to support long-term fellows every year since. NEH support has allowed the MHS to have fellows spend four to twelve months as not only researchers, but as part of the scholarly and collegial fabric of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Our 2017-2018 fellows have presented at MHS seminars and brown bag lunches, and prior fellows have presented at MHS conferences and elsewhere in the city of Boston during their tenure here, and often return to the MHS to serve on committees for seminars, conferences, and future fellowship selections. As well as taking the opportunity to share their research and historical expertise in these formal settings, our MHS-NEH fellows—many of whom are established scholars in their fields—also foster an intellectual atmosphere at the Society by taking local graduate students and short-term fellows under their wing. They attend other researchers’ presentations, invite them for coffee, and offer advice on archives to visit, collections to search, and ways to read documents, artifacts, and silences. Our long-term fellows come from History, English, Political Science, Drama, and other fields, and their innovative methods and deep understandings of their field have broadened research horizons for younger fellows and students for over a decade.

Of course, such erudite scholars also use their long-term fellowships to research and write, and have published impressive works on a wide variety of subjects. From the fellowship’s first year in 2002-2003, we had Walter Woodward, who was working on Prospero’s America: John Winthrop, Jr., Alchemy, and the Creation of New England Culture, 1606-1676. There is 2003-2004 fellow Woody Holton’s research project, “Minds Afire,” now the book, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution; Lisa Wilson’s A History of Stepfamilies in Early America; Lisa Tetrault’s The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women’s Suffrage Movement, 1848-1898; Vincent Carretta’s biography of Phyllis Wheatley; Martha Hodes’s Mourning Lincoln; Linford Fisher’s The Indian Great Awakening; and many, many more stellar works produced and forthcoming. (Keep an eye on our fellows’ publications page to read what comes out next!)

In sum, we couldn’t be more excited to have Caden and Sirota join an already prestigious array of long-term fellows in enriching the field with the scholarship they’ll produce here, and enriching the MHS with the expertise that they’ll share with young fellows and researchers during their stay. And we couldn’t offer any of this without the generous support and encouragement from the National Endowment for the Humanities!

(For more on the National Endowment for the Humanities, see their webpage. For more on our long-term MHS-NEH fellowships and past recipients, please visit


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 16 March, 2018, 10:36 AM

From Absolute Monarchy to Absolute Demon: “Identity of Napoleon and Antichrist”

As a newer library assistant in the MHS library, I occasionally peruse different subjects in ABIGAIL in the hopes of further familiarizing myself with topics our collections cover. Often, the search topics pertain to my own historical interests. A few months ago I was looking into our Napoleon-related materials when I came across this leviathan of a title: The Identity of Napoleon and Antichrist completely demonstrated, or, A commentary on the chapters of the Scripture which relate to Antichrist [microform] : where all the passages are shown to apply to Napoleon in the most striking manner : and where especially the prophetic number 666 is found in his name, with perfect exactness, in two different manners. 



This “observation,” as defined by the text, has no attributed author but was published by Ezra Sergeant in 1809, the same year the War of the Fifth Coalition was fought. It is no great secret that Napoleon had enemies, but to realize that he was despised enough to be compared as Antichrist was too thought-provoking a concept to let lie. As soon as time afforded, I pulled out the microfilm to take a peek.

Before diving into the topic of their reflection the author takes a few pages to chastise philosophers like Locke, Rousseau, and Voltaire for furthering the spread of deism and religious tolerance, seeing it as promotion for war against Christianity:

We never ought to use against any body the arms of satire and ridicule, which both reason and Religion disown. But to permit in this way the weakest boldly and openly to make war against the strongest, to tolerate it, and not to take care sometimes to set every one at his proper place, is what I consider as entirely abusive.


Throughout the work, the author notes what they consider to be several blatant parallels between passages from the Bible’s book of Revelations and Napoleon’s reign. They conclude that Napoleon and “the beast” share the same origins as the beast is prophesied to emerge from the sea and Napoleon, being Corsican, comes from an island.

The parallel of second beast is given to Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, a French diplomat known for promoting the nationalization of church property in France during the beginnings of the French Revolution. The description of the second beast reads, “And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.” (Revelation 13:12)

Tallyrand played a large role in foreign ministry under Napoleon and was eventually appointed grand chamberlain. He worked to keep peace with the British and encouraged the signing of the Concordat of 1801 which mended the alliance between France and the Papacy.² Unfortunately, he was also an accessory to the kidnapping and execution of a Bourbon prince and attempted to steal from the French National Archive to hide his involvement.¹ While this was a crime to the outside world, it helped to safeguard Napoleon’s rule. The author attributes a great deal of Napoleon’s success to the tireless work of Talleyrand which earns him the parallel.

After assigning the roles of Revelation to different people and countries, the author interprets the symbolism they perceive in the mark of the beast:

And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. (Revelation 13:16-17)

Given that Napoleon’s rule was arguably one of militant conquest the author argues that this mark in the hand or forehead is materialized by the French cockade, typically worn in hats, and the swords of the French military. To make applicable the hindrance of buying and selling in verse 17, the author alludes to Napoleon’s interference with European trade. In 1806, Napoleon issued the Berlin Decrees forbidding trade between his allies and England in the hopes of wounding England’s economy.³ This was not altogether unsuccessful, however, since England ruled the seas and moving goods over land was rather expensive, many of continental Europe’s economies suffered as well.

One of the final and farthest reaching pieces of evidence our author declares is mentioned in the title, “...where especially the prophetic number 666 is found in his name…” The author uses two different series of numbers aligned with letters of the English alphabet to spell out different versions of Napoleon's name. In each case the numerical values assigned to the letters in his name equal 666. 



One can’t help but wonder just how many combinations of numbers and names the author calculated before getting the desired results.

These are just a few highlights of the connections drawn in this work. If you are interested in reading more parallels or perhaps viewing other Napoleon-related materials, check our online catalog, ABIGAIL, and consider stopping by the library for a Visit!



1. "Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand, prince de Bénévent | French statesman and diplomat". Encyclopedia Britannica, Accessed 2018-03-09 at

2. "Concordat Of 1801 | French Religious History". Encyclopedia Britannica, Accessed 2018-03-09 at

3. "Continental System | European History". Encyclopedia Britannica, Accessed 2018-03-09 at


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 14 March, 2018, 12:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

It is a fairly quiet week ahead, so this round-up will be brief:

- Wendesday, 14 March, 6:00PM : Between 1638 and today, the Browns of Rhode Island have provided community leaders, endowed academic institutions, and transformed communities through art and architecture. However, they also have wrestled with society’s toughest issues slavery, immigration, child labor, inequality and with their own internal tensions. Sylvia Brown, of the family’s 11th generation and author of Grappling with Legacy, explores this story in conversation with Edward Widmer.

This event is open to the public, though registration is required with a fee of $10 (no charge for MHS Members or Fellows, and EBT cardholders). 

- Saturday, 17 March, 9:00AM : "Monuments & Historical Memory" is a teacher workshop that explores how monuments can help students understand history, historical memory, and how national symbols play a critical role in articulating culture and identity. Highlights include looking at WWII and Holocaust commemoration across the globe; learning about the history of Confederate monuments in America; and a tour of Reconstruction-era Boston monuments. 

This program is open to all K-12 educators, and registration is required with a fee of $25 per person. 

- Remember to come in and view our current exhibition, Yankees in the West, before it ends on 6 April. 


There is no Saturday tour this week.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 11 March, 2018, 12:00 AM

“Too many things to do in the cause”

As I looked through the MHS collections for a Massachusetts woman to profile for Women’s History Month, I found myself faced with an embarrassment of riches. Our library holds the papers of female writers, doctors, teachers, artists, war volunteers, and mill workers, not to mention slaves and First Ladies. I decided to go back to a letter acquired by the MHS a few years ago. The letter was written by Lucy Stone on election day 1890, and I remembered her terrifically snarky opening sentence: “This is the day when our political superiors are electing rulers for Women!!”



Lucy Stone (1818-1893) was a suffragist and abolitionist from West Brookfield, Mass., famous for her oratory at a time when public speaking by women was considered scandalous and unfeminine. According to one account, before an appearance by Stone, a certain minister warned his congregation that “a hen will undertake to crow like a cock.” Opponents of her speeches shouted her down, threw hymn books at her, and even once dowsed her with water from a hose. As Sally G. McMillen wrote in her biography Lucy Stone: An Unapologetic Life (2015):

To say that most mid-nineteenth-century Americans deemed this occupation wholly inappropriate for women was a truism. Women were not supposed to have a public persona; they were supposed to marry and spend their lives in the quiet of home. And the two causes that Lucy espoused on which she intended to speak were radical ones. [p. 63]


Stone is also known for her refusal to take her husband’s name when she married—later advocates of this practice were often called “Lucy Stoners.”

This letter was written on the stationery of the Woman’s Journal, a paper founded in 1870 by Stone, her husband, and other like-minded reformers. The recipient, Mrs. Steele, had submitted an article, and Stone wrote back to explain that she couldn’t pay for contributions; the paper “had hard uphill work all the time and as hard now as ever was.” She offered Steele a one-year subscription instead and finished with: “I am sorry not to have said this sooner. But too many things to do in the cause.”

I had hoped to identify Mrs. Steele, but unfortunately came up empty. I did find three possible candidates: Lucy Page Steele of Washington, D.C., who wrote for the Young Woman’s Journal; Anna (Truax) Steele, wife of Colorado’s Chief Justice Robert W. Steele; or Carrie Steele, the “Mother of Orphans,” a former slave and founder of an African-American orphanage in Atlanta, Ga.

Lucy Stone did not live to see the battle for suffrage won for all American women, which wouldn’t happen for 27 more years with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. But less than three weeks after her death, on 7 November 1893, Colorado became the first state to enact women’s suffrage through popular vote.

Lucy Stone, Abigail Adams, and Phillis Wheatley are honored in the Boston Women’s Memorial on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 9 March, 2018, 4:44 PM

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