The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Coming Soon: Massachusetts Historical Review, Volume 15

Fractious centennial commemorations reveal ethnic and socioeconomic tensions in Boston!

Daguerreotype of “white slave girl” rocks the North, stirs antislavery fervor!

Radical agrarian thumbs nose at Knox, describes self as “Plaintive worm”!

Real cause of Cape Cod salt industry decline EXPOSED!

So we begin in media res with my unofficial headlines for the four research articles that make up the meat of volume 15 of the Massachusetts Historical Review, a rich and satisfying historical meal with all the trimmings followed by a dessert of three book review articles. But first, readers will enjoy an invigorating apéritif in the form of distinguished professor and writer Gordon S. Wood’s “Remarks on Receiving the John F. Kennedy Medal,” which makes plain his views on the current divide between academic and popular history writing.

“Claiming the Centennial: The American Revolution’s Blood and Spirit in Boston, 1870–1876,” by Craig Bruce Smith

The 1870s—the decade in which Boston held celebrations to commemorate key events of the American Revolution—was fraught with conflict. Classes, lineages, races, and sexes raged in the press, in the streets, and in the meeting venues of Boston for the assumed right to “claim the centennial.”


“The Real Ida May: A Fugitive Tale in the Archives,” by Mary Niall Mitchell

In the mid 1850s, a daguerreotype of a young girl named Mary Botts—a freed slave so light-skinned she “passed” for white—caused a sensation. The image shocked its audience into a kind of empathy for slaves (and generally for African Americans and Africans under the Fugitive Slave Law) that many might not have felt otherwise. Botts’s story and others related in this essay illustrate the power of the early photographic image to speak to hearts and to change minds.


“‘Persecuted in the Bowels of a Free Republic’: Samuel Ely and the Agrarian Theology of Justice, 1768–1797,” by Shelby M. Balik

Follow the adventures of Samuel Ely, a New England minister and agrarian radical who never missed an opportunity to stir up trouble in the name of divine justice. The outspoken Ely railed against what he saw as the unfair distribution of land patents. Eden, he argued, “was a garden containing six acres only, . . . not a Patent, thirty miles square, nor seventy miles long.”


“The Making and Unmaking of a Natural Resource: The Salt Industry of Coastal Southeastern Massachusetts,” by William B. Meyer

The Cape might be coveted real estate today, but before the 20th century, it held very few economic opportunities. One of them was the production of salt by the solar evaporation of seawater. Domestic saltmaking was viable because of heavy tariffs on imported salt—for a time, the duty was the federal government’s main source of revenue. This essay tells the fascinating story of the industry’s rise and decline and offers keen analysis that will make you think twice before using the term “natural resource.”


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permalink | Published: Friday, 1 November, 2013, 1:00 AM