January 20, 2017

Coming soon: new special tours!

Here at the Bostonian Society, our educators are hard at work on new specialty tours that will debut in the Old State House over the next few weeks!

 Jennifer Guerin prepares for a new tour.
In addition to our daily talks about the history of the Old State House and the Boston Massacre, Education Associates (EAs) also present specialty tours and talks on various topics related to Boston in the 18th century.  Over the past few years, many of our EAs have written and produced their own tours on topics that are of particular interest to them, such as the Royal Governors of Massachusetts, Women in 18th century Boston, Colonial Food and more. Two new tours are in the works and will debut in the museum in the next few weeks:

Popular songs in the American Revolution
By Jennifer Guerin
A tour that will focus on three of the most popular songs from the American Revolutionary period: William Billings’ “Chester”,  John Dickinson’s “The Liberty Song” , and “Yankee Doodle”.  This tour will discuss the history behind these pieces of music and will take a look at why these songs became so popular.

By Robin Donovan
A tour that will follow the history of tea in Boston and how tea influenced the outcomes and decisions in Boston during the American Revolution. This tour will include an up close look at three types of tea popular in 18th century Boston and tea-related pieces of our collection.

Our special tours are given daily at 3:00pm - keep an eye out for these new tours!

By Katie Drescher, Museum Education Manager

January 9, 2017

An Adams Family Autograph

New year, new document!  This week, I rotated out the document that is on display for patrons and visitors to our library. When trying to decide which item to feature, I went through boxes of materials in our Document Collection (MS0119) looking for inspiration to strike.  I repeatedly came across items that were either described as an autograph letter, or just as an autograph. From these, I selected a letter written by Abigail Adams to her son Thomas Boylston Adams and his wife Anne (Harrod) in 1806. At the time, all three were living south of Boston, in Quincy, Massachusetts.

Abigail Adams letter, MS0119/DC921.1806
Our holdings include just the last page of the letter, where Abigail comments on daily mundanities, such as washing for "Mr. Adams" and asking whether or not specific items need to be sent from one household to the other. The fondness that Abigail felt for her children is evident in the closing of her letter, as she writes, “my love to your sister, your affectionate, Mother Abigail Adams.”

As previously mentioned, this item is described in our catalog as an autograph letter. The term autograph refers not just to the signature of a famous person, but also to a document that was written entirely by the hand of the signer (rather than a document that has been type written or dictated and then signed).  In some instances, the full context of the letter is lost if only the page that included the signature was saved, as is the case with our letter from Abigail to her son and daughter-in-law.

Letter from Wightman to
Fogg (MS0119/DC921.1875)
Autograph collections of notable citizens are often found in historical societies and libraries. Abigail's partial letter is just one of many autographs in our collection; among others, we also have the signatures of Josiah Quincy, Jr., Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Dickens, and Edwin Booth. Sometimes these signatures are found on the last page of a letter, but they are also frequently found on a slip of paper that just includes the signature, and maybe a quote. Autograph collecting has its roots in Ancient Greece, and a resurgence of the hobby occurred among the leisure class in Europe in the the 1700s. The trend made its way to America in the early 1800s, where it grew in popularity throughout the century. We can speculate that many of the Society's earliest members were autograph collectors, and that is likely how some of these items came to our collection. To complement these autographs, our archives also includes a letter from 1875 where Joseph M. Wightman writes to Dr. John S.H. Fogg  to report on his efforts to acquire autographs for him. Click here to read a transcription of that letter.

I'll close with a reminder that if there is a notable figure that you're curious about, you can always search our catalog or send me an email to see if we have their autograph in our collection!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

December 22, 2016

New Acquisition: A Map with a Story to Tell

In this season of gift giving, I am featuring a gift that is one of the newest additions to our collection. A former member of our Board of Directors recently donated several items to the museum collection and this month, I have been cataloging those items.

A Chart of Boston Bay. Gift of Peter Kastner, 2016.0001.001
This chart is a representation of Boston Harbor as it looked in the 18th century. The original engraving was created for an atlas entitled The Atlantic Neptune (1777) by the wonderfully named Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres (1721-1824). Des Barres was an English Naval Officer, well known in his day for having surveyed the entire Atlantic Coast from Florida to Labrador. According to Lewis Butler in Annals of the King's Royal Rifle Corps: Vol 1 "The Royal Americans,"  he was also known for his “unfortunate propensity for quarreling with everyone he met.” The framed print that was donated to the Society is a restrike of the original engraving, printed in 1870 by Boston lithographer, Augustus Meisel (1824-1885). Meisel was born in Germany and emigrated to the United States in 1848, originally living in New York, and then moving to Boston, where he became a respected lithographer.

Lydia Withington map,
We are very excited to have this print in our collection, not just because it is a beautiful chart, but also because it is closely related to another object that has been in our collection since 1896, pictured on the right. This sampler was embroidered by a Boston school girl, Lydia Withington, a pupil at Mrs. Rowson’s school, in 1799. Like Meisel’s lithograph, it is a copy of Des Barres original chart, but created in silk thread on a silk background.

Together, these very different charts provide a window into how the people of Boston understood the geography of their city – a geography that has been altered greatly in the intervening years. We are grateful to the donor of the lithograph for filling this gap in our collection.

By Sira Dooley Fairchild, Collections Manager

December 15, 2016

A chair fit for display!

Corner chair, 1944.0012
An impressive corner chair is a new addition to our Revolutionary Characters exhibit! This exhibit highlights the daily lives of colonial subjects as they navigated Boston on the cusp of the American Revolution, and uses artifacts and documents to prompt visitors to draw connections to their own daily lives. The corner chair has recently been installed by Kathy Mulvaney, our Director of Education and Exhibitions, in a case on "Colonial Commuters."

In the 1770s, Boston's population was approximately 20,000 and was also full of men and women traveling from towns near and far for work or opportunities. But how does a corner chair tell the story of these commuters? To answer that question, we need to back up a little and explain Representative's Hall, the room within the Old State House where the exhibit is located. As its name suggests, this is the space that the Massachusetts House of Representatives met in from 1713 until 1774. Over one hundred individuals from towns throughout Massachusetts commuted into Boston to participate in legislative sessions that occurred twice a year. The owner of the chair, Timothy Ruggles, was one such commuter, serving in the House of Representatives from 1754 until 1770.

Ruggles lived in Hardwick, Massachusetts and left the comforts of home behind when he commuted into Boston.  One of these comforts was this fashionable three-legged corner chair, made of mahogany and with a leather seat.  The 18th century chair is in the Queen Anne style, in a design that was imported from England and was popular in the colonies between 1725 and 1760. The Society received the chair as a donation from Mr. S. R. Ruggles in 1945 and we are excited for the opportunity to have it on display.

Stop into the Old State House to see this chair in person, along with the other artifacts in our Revolutionary Characters exhibit.  And stay tuned to the blog - in a future post, Nat Sheidley, our Historian and Director of Public History, will dig deeper into the interesting story of Timothy Ruggles.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

November 30, 2016

A new voice On King Street!

Sira Dooley Fairchild has been working at the Bostonian Society since February as the Finance and Administrative Assistant.  In December, she will begin a new position as the Society's Collections Manager, where she will be a regular contributor to On King Street. Get to know Sira a bit in this introduction post!

Although I have written a few posts on this blog previously, I’d like to take a minute to formally introduce myself as the Society's new Collection Manager. The Bostonian Society's object holdings include some 6,500 artifacts and pieces of art. I am very excited to get started as the Collections Manager and I can’t wait to feature some of the most interesting objects from the collection.

Sira at the Durham Cathedral
I am a broadly-trained archaeologist, with experience digging and surveying on two continents. I received my Ph.D in archaeology from the University of Durham in 2013, where my research focused on early medieval religious change through an historiographical lens. But my very first experience with Collections Management began many years before, when I was just 12 years old and I began to volunteer at the Boston City Archaeological Laboratory, which at that time was located in the North End. Home to thousands of artifacts, many of them from the Big Dig, the lab had recently experienced a flood in one of their collections storage areas and many of the artifacts required cleaning, relabeling, and improved storage conditions.

Since then I have worked as a commercial archaeologist, digging my way across New England and the Deep South, done landscape survey in Iceland, and ground penetrating radar on an Iron Age oppidum in Gloucestershire in England. I have collected soil samples and C-14 samples and conducted GPS mapping. I have sifted through thousands of unnumbered photos from the 1953 excavation at Yeavering in Northumbria. I have written the site report for the site of Scutchamer’s Knob in Oxfordshire, after analyzing the entire collection of objects recovered from the site in earlier excavations. I am excited to be back in Boston, where this adventure began, and excited for the challenge of getting my head around this diverse collection. Please join me in exploring some of the most interesting objects from Revolutionary Boston as I begin to write about them for the blog.

By Sira Dooley Fairchild, Collections Manager