March 25, 2015

From our collection: Phillis Wheatley

1887.0052.000  
March is Women's History Month, and what better way to celebrate than to highlight an item from our collection that pertains to a remarkable woman - Phillis Wheatley. Our library holds a first edition copy of Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, and for the time being, this item is on display as part of our Revolutionary Characters exhibit.

Phillis was about seven or eight years old in 1761 when she was purchased by John Wheatley.  She was named Phillis after the slave ship that brought her from Africa, and was given the Wheatley surname.  Phillis was intended to be a servant for John's wife Susannah, but beginning at a young age, Phillis was tutored by Wheatley's children, Nathaniel and Mary. When she exhibited a literary talent the Wheatley family worked to foster her education by passing domestic duties on to other household slaves, though she was still required to complete light chores. Phillis studied the Bible and subjects like geography and history, but it was her exposure to British literature and classical poets led her to write her own poetry. With the support of the Wheatley family, Phillis became the first African-American female poet to publish a book when Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was published in London in 1773 by Archibald Bell. There are 39 poems in this collection, including "To the University of Cambridge in New England" which is thought to be the first poem she wrote.

PS 866 .W5 1773
The displayed book is currently open to the poem "Ode to Neptune" with a subtitle that it was written during Mrs. W--'s [Wheatley's] voyage to England. The book has been on exhibit for several months, and for preservation purposes, I turn the page occasionally to reduce the risk of light exposure to this 18th century book. Next month, the book will be taken off of display and returned to storage. In its place will go another item from our collection, the matted frontispiece from a different copy of Wheatley's book (pictured above). When the Society received this donation from member James Bugbee in 1887, the frontispiece had already been removed from the book. We feel lucky to have two items affiliated with Wheatley in our collection!


To learn more about Phillis Wheatley, please visit the Poetry Foundation site.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

March 20, 2015

This Week in Colonial Boston

1924.0022
During the colonial era, the Old State House saw multiple periods of transition of executive power.  It was the seat of colonial power for the royal governors of Massachusetts, and then continued to be the center of power after Boston was occupied by British soldiers and placed under martial law by Generals Thomas Gage and Sir William Howe during what became an 11 month siege of Boston.  The British occupation of Boston ended on March 17, 1776 when General Howe evacuated his troops from the town, leaving it open to Patriots waiting just outside its borders.

The British fleet evacuated the town, but lingered in Boston Harbor despite fair sailing conditions.  General George Washington began to grow concerned that the British would return, so he decided that Boston must be occupied again, only this time by the Continental Army. 

On March 20, General Washington departed for New York and left Boston in the command of General Nathanael Greene.  Greene was from Rhode Island, but had visited Boston multiple times, staying at the Bunch of Grapes Tavern only a few steps away from the Old State House on King Street.  One can only imagine what General Greene’s first impressions were when he returned to a familiar town now changed by many months of British occupation.

General Greene placed Boston under martial law, using the Old State House as a rallying point for his troops.  In front of the Old State House, he ordered an encampment of reserve troops to await further orders.  Whether or not General Greene used the Old State House as a headquarters for himself, he viewed the building as a focal point of authority within the town.

While in command, General Greene organized patrols to protect the town from possible attack and also held his men to a high standard of discipline. He warned his men that any reported act of plundering, abusing, or insulting Bostonians would result in heavy punishment.  For the duration of his time in Boston he only reported two claims of suspected looting, neither of which was proven.

General Greene’s command of Boston would only last while the British fleet remained in Boston Harbor.  By the end of March, the fleet had set sail towards Halifax, Nova Scotia to await reinforcements. On April 1, General Greene and his troops set out to rejoin the American forces assembled in New York. 

Although in command of Boston for only two weeks, General Greene had made an impression on the inhabitants of Boston that was not matched by his military successor, Artemis Ward.  Within a month of his departure, a Bostonian wrote to John Adams claiming that Ward needed to be replaced and specifically asked to return command of the town to General Greene.  This sentiment shows that General Greene gained the respect of the people of Boston and proved his ability to protect the town within a short period of time.

By Roberta DeCenzo, Education Associate

February 26, 2015

Oliver Holden and The Winter's Sun

"The Winter's Sun" MS0190, 1/44
Each month, I have the opportunity to select an item from our archival collection to display in Representatives' Hall at the Old State House.  This month, I've chosen to embrace the time of year by selecting a musical score by Oliver Holden titled "The Winter's Sun." This score dates to 1830 and the music and lyrics are handwritten.  Written in December, "The Winter’s Sun" comments on the lack of daylight and the feebleness of the sun's rays, but it ends with a hope of spring, repeating the line “yet know we when it sinks away it rises, it rises on a land of spring.”

Oliver Holden (1765-1844) was born in Shirley, Massachusetts. As a young man, he served as a marine during the Revolutionary War, and afterward settled in Charlestown and helped to rebuild it from damage sustained during the war.  A carpenter and real estate dealer by trade, Holden also served as a town officer and a representative to the Massachusetts State Legislature between 1818 and 1833

Oliver Holden, 1899.0034.001
Though he wore many hats, Holden is best remembered as a Boston clergyman and a prolific composer who specialized in hymns.  Most of his work dates to the late 18th century, but he continued to publish sporadically into the 19th century.  From 1792 to 1807, he taught singing, composed over 245 works, and compiled more than a dozen anthologies.  During George Washington's visit to Boston in 1789, Holden led the chorus in "Ode to Columbia's Favorite Son," which was sung in front of the Old State House. Holden also provided the music for Washington's memorial service in 1800.  A portrait of Holden by Ethan Allen Greenwood (pictured at the left) and his pipe organ and accompanying wooden stool are part of our museum collection. Our archival collection includes manuscript scores and tune-books composed by Holden that date to 1798, 1830, and 1844.  Though the bulk of Holden's music in our collection is of a sacred nature, there are some romantic songs, such as "He's stole my Heart from me" and "What tho' 'tis true I've talk'd of Love."  Of all of these pieces, my favorite is "The Winter's Sun" because I believe it reflects that Bostonians past and present rely on the thought of spring to help get through the cold and dark days of winter.

Boston is blanketed in a layer of snow right now, but we should remember that in just a few short weeks we'll turn the clocks forward to enjoy more sunlight each day - eventually saying goodbye to the winter's sun and welcoming the spring's sun.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

January 28, 2015

Time Capsule Items on Display! (Part IV)

The last day to view the exhibit of items from our 1901 time capsule is this Sunday, January 31 and this post marks our last examination of the displayed artifacts! If you'd like to read about all of the other items on display, please be sure to check out the previous posts.

S.D. Rogers, courtesy of Heidi Grundhauser
A few items in the time capsule were related to the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). The G.A.R. was a fraternal organization for Union veterans of the Civil War. When this time capsule was assembled in 1901 the Civil War was still in recent memory, having ended only 36 years prior. Many of the men who were involved in the restoration of the Old State House may have been veterans themselves, or at least had family members who served. One of these men was Samuel D. Rogers, who included the Roster for Boston Post No. 200, of which he was a member, in the time capsule. Heidi Grundhauser, a descendant of Rogers who first notified us of the possibility of the time capsule in the lion's head, has done research into his Civil War service and she was kind enough to provide us with a picture of him in his Civil War uniform.

The time capsule also included photographs and autographs of many G.A.R. officials, and we choose to display the business card and lapel pin belonging to Edward P. Preble, who served as the Assistant-Adjutant General of the Department of Massachusetts G.A.R. I have not had a chance to do much research into Preble yet, but I have found a letter that was likely written by him during his Civil War service.

Edward Preble G.A.R. lapel pin and business card (front)
(back)
One of the most striking items in the time capsule was the Grand Army Badge, made of captured cannon metal and dating to 1886. This is an official badge of the G.A.R., and includes the seal which shows a handshake between two former adversaries. The badge was wrapped in its original packaging, which listed instructions for use.

G.A.R. Badge packaging
G.A.R. Badge
I hope you have enjoyed learning more about this selection of items from the time capsule. Once the exhibit closes, the items will be moved to our archives where they will be preserved for future generations.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

January 23, 2015

Time Capsule Items on Display! (Part III)

Moses Gulesian cabinet card
The time capsule exhibit will be up for just one more week, so now is the time to visit the Old State House to check it out! If you can't make it into Boston to see these artifacts, I hope you have enjoyed learning more about the displayed items through our blog posts. In this post, I'll showcase the displayed items that pertain to the 1901 restoration of the Old State House, which includes paraphenalia from city officials and skilled tradesmen who worked on the restoration.

In two of the earliest entries on our blog, guest author Donald J. Tellalian shared some of his research on Moses Gulesian, who was the manufacturer of the lion and unicorn statues that were placed on the Old State House in 1901. Back in July, we did not have an image of Gulesian to include with the blog entries, so imagine our happy surprise when we opened up the time capsule and found this well-preserved cabinet card depicting Gulesian. It was a treat to include a photograph of the man who was so important to the restoration of the lion and unicorn in the exhibit.

We also choose to display a photograph that depicts the key individuals connected to the Old State House's restoration project. The group photograph was taken on Waltham Street in Boston on February 18, 1901. When we assembled the new time capsule in November 2014, we made sure to continue this tradition by including photographs of current restoration work teams from Commodore Builders and Skylight Studios, and the Old State Restoration Project team. Also on display are the business card for John A.W. Silver, the Deputy Superintendent of Public Buildings for the City of Boston, and the business card for Samuel D. Rogers, head of S.D. Rogers and Company Carpenters and Builders. There were other personal items related to these two men in the time capsule, so we believe that it is likely that they were instrumental in assembling the contents of the time capsule.

Group photograph of 1900-1901 restoration team
S.D. Rogers and John Silver business cards











Lastly, the display includes a piece of the wooden lion statue that was removed from the Old State House in 1900. The wooden lion and unicorn statues were placed atop the Old State House in 1882, and within less than 20 years they needed to be replaced by the copper ones made by Gulesian and his team.  We do not know where the wooden statues ended up, so we feel lucky that a piece of the unicorn was included in the time capsule.

Piece of wooden lion statue, removed from the Old State House in 1901
Check back next week to learn about the last group of items on display!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager