July 23, 2015

£54 for Three Months Service

As part of our Revolutionary Characters program, each visitor to the Old State House receives a card that tells the story of a real person who lived in Boston on the eve of the American Revolution. Revolutionary Characters help visitors to see the Revolution through the eyes of the people who lived it.  When I am selecting a document to go in the special archival case in Representatives' Hall, I sometimes try to find an item that pertains to one of our Revolutionary Characters.  I feel that seeing a letter, legal document, or financial record written in a Revolutionary Character's own hand or bearing their signature helps our visitors to connect to these Bostonians of the past.  For July, I've selected an item that pertains to Richard Gridley.

Colonel Richard Gridley was a veteran of the French and Indian War and was the Chief Engineer of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.  Currently on display at the Old State House is an order to pay him for three months service in April, May, and June of 1776.  For these three months of service, Gridley was due fifty-four pounds (listed in the order as equal to 180 dollars). According to Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors in the War of the Revolution, Gridley "had been appointed Chief Engineer by a resolve of the Provincial Congress of April 26, 1775, and by a later resolve of May 19, 1775 he had been commissioned Chief Engineer and Colonel of Artillery with rank of Major General."  Col. Gridley is remembered as laying the defenses at Breed's Hill in April 1775, and for constructing the fortifications on Dorchester Heights, which led to the British evacuation of Boston in March 1776.  Gridley died in 1796 and is buried in Canton, Massachusetts, and a monument to him there includes a quote from George Washington that states, "I know of no man better fitted to be Chief Engineer than General Gridley."

If you look closely at this order, you can see that it was submitted by major general Artemas Ward to Ebenezer Hancock, brother to John Hancock, who was the Deputy Paymaster-General of the Continental Army. It includes Ward's signature, along with Gridley's signature acknowledging receipt of the payment on July 16, 1776 - 239 years ago this month.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

July 15, 2015

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: the Declaration of Independence at the Old State House

On July 18, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was read by Thomas Crafts from the balcony of the Old State House to the crowds of Bostonians gathered below. After the reading, enthusiastic members of the crowd climbed up to the lion and unicorn statues that sat atop of the Old State House, removed them, and burned them in a bonfire on King Street.

The words of the Declaration stirred the crowd, and we are thrilled to have an official copy of it in our archival collection.  A facsimile of this document is on display in our Colony to Commonwealth exhibit, but due to the large size and delicate nature of the original document, it is very rarely displayed.  Writing about it on our blog is a way to share this important and rare document with our visitors near and far.

The text of the Declaration of Independence was first set in type by John Dunlap of Philadelphia.  It was then quickly spread throughout the thirteen colonies to be shared with the public via broadsides and newspapers.  It appeared in newspapers in Boston on July 18, the same day that it was read from the balcony of the Old State House. John Gill, publisher of the Continental Journal, and Edward E. Powars and Nathaniel Willis, publishers of the New-England Chronicle, printed versions in their respective newspapers, and then they also co-printed a run of broadsides.  The item in our collection is one of these original broadsides; at the very bottom of the broadside you can see the attribution to John Gill, and Powars and Willis.

According to an article written by Christie's Auction House, it is unknown how many broadsides were printed by Gill, Powars, and Willis, but there are only six known copies still in existence. Broadsides were ephemeral in nature, meaning that they were temporary documents that were printed for a specific purpose and were not necessarily meant to be saved.  We feel very lucky that the version in our collection is still in very good condition. 

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

July 1, 2015

4th of July at the Old State House!

The Fourth of July is a busy time at the Old State House!  As we gear up for our Harborfest events, including a reading of the Declaration of Independence from our balcony, we look back on how the Fourth of July has been celebrated at the Old State House over the years.

Photograph by Kim White
In 2012, the New England Patriots went to the Super Bowl, but sadly lost to the Baltimore Ravens.  The city had prepared for a victory parade by stocking up on red and blue confetti cannons, but when the parade didn't happen, the leftover cannons were saved for the Fourth of July.  The confetti was shot off after the reading of the Declaration of Independence and helped to create this festive picture of the Old State House.

(Robert Severy Collection, VW0015)
 This photograph, taken by longtime Bostonian Society member Robert Severy in 1976, shows the Old State House decorated for the Fourth of July and the Bicentennial.  Bunting adorns the building, and an American flag flies from a flagpole atop the building.

This 1934 photograph depicts the crowd gathered for the annual reading of the Declaration of Independence from the balcony of the Old State House.  A large group of servicemen stand on and along State Street, and behind them a group of citizens stand listening to the reading. 

 This 1926 photograph captures an image of people gathered on the balcony of the Old State House before the reading of the Declaration. While we don't know who the people in the photograph are, we can see that one of them, likely the reader, is dressed in a Revolutionary-era costume.  Two men also peek out the second floor windows of the Old State House.

This print from our collection depicts Bostonians celebrating outside of the Old State House after hearing a reading of the Declaration of Independence for the first time in 1776.  At this time, the lion and unicorn statues, which are symbols of the United Kingdom, were removed from the top of the building and burned in a bonfire.  The lion and unicorn were not returned to the Old State House until the building underwent a restoration project in 1882.

If you are in Boston this week, be sure to stop by and take part in the festivities at the Old State House!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

June 23, 2015

One Year on King Street!

Today marks the one year anniversary of the launch of our blog!  When we started the blog last year, we wanted it to serve as a space where we could share information about our archival, library, and museum collections, where we could keep our visitors (near and far) up-to-date on the preservation work undertaken at the Old State House, and where we could provide some insight into what Boston was like in the 18th century.  Looking back on our posts from last year, we've tried our best to cover each of these topics, plus we had the added surprise of writing about the 1901 time capsule that was found during preservation work on the lion and unicorn statues that sit atop the Old State House!

We hope that you've enjoyed reading our posts, and that you'll stay tuned as we continue to delve into these topics, and more, in the coming year.  If you have any suggestions about topics you'd like to see covered in the future, please leave them in the comments.  Thanks for stopping by King Street!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

June 18, 2015

Elizabeth Bull and Roger Price: An 18th Century Love Story

Elizabeth Bull didn’t need to marry for money, but marriage was, of course, in the cards. Such inevitability was central to her education, and her father was invested in the appropriate tutelage. As a merchant working on the family wharf, he was privy to the latest fripperies: sewing patterns from France and bolts of silk and thread from China dyed to match blooms along the Tigris, far from the provincial outpost of Boston. These were the raw materials for a polite education, and a means to an end. When Elizabeth was fifteen - two years before she met Roger Price on a Sunday morning at Trinity Church in 1732 - she began an appropriate assignment: a wedding dress.

Roger was brilliant, if not a bit dour. He didn’t care for his colleagues at Kings Chapel, and after four years as the only commissary to Anglican churches of New England - and almost constant bickering with his Assistant Minister - he booked a one-way fare back to London. On Sunday morning, he found his ship delayed by winds and opted to attend service at Trinity. He was probably not in the best of moods.

That year, Roger’s father wrote to him in Boston warning not to “let his love of a pretty face run away with his decision in choosing a wife.” Clearly, there was something about Elizabeth that cheered him up that morning. It was enough for him to stay and defy his father’s advice. He didn’t return to England for another fifteen years, and then it was with Elizabeth and six children in tow.

The couple married in 1734 after a two year courtship. 1730 to 1734 years is a long time to spend working a wedding dress; a heady preoccupation that surfaces in the garment. It brims with anticipation, recognizable in its precision and steep aspirations; the stitches are perfectly wrought but the ambitious design unfinished. It’s her process which makes the gown so enigmatic. The days spent crafting a vessel for a journey unseen, her dutiful intent to be a good daughter and wife all buoyed by a compulsive talent.

Elizabeth would have been exposed to urban glamor through stores on Kings Street that sold ribbons and high heeled shoes, and the Bull wharf. Prompting her to, in many respects, become a designer. Inspiration was drawn from patterns from Spittafields, cotton palampore from India, and silks from Canton, all indications of a world much larger.

She, most likely, created a robe l’Aiglaise: an open robe style dress with a fitted bodice and a visible petticoat. The style was fit for a French court, hers with wild vines clawing the celadon silk and springing with sunny chrysanthemums and cheerful red buds. Her parents must have delighted in her creativity and commitment. School girl wares were as much of a commodity as all the other trappings of 18th century refinement, even in colonial Boston. Parents proudly hung samplers above mantles and recognized their “educated” daughters as a marker of wealth and sophistication. It would make sense that they would welcome the affections of Roger Price, who was a prestigious figure in town. Elizabeth had already inherited tracks of land after the death of her two brothers, so a good match strictly meant status. This was a lucky circumstance. Money is freedom, and certainly it was liberating for a woman in colonial Boston: Elizabeth could marry for love.

Elizabeth and Roger's daughter, also named Elizabeth, inherited the dress and was probably the first to alter it. She eventually gave it to her niece Olivia Price Hall, and Olivia’s granddaughter, Francis Irving Weston, donated it to the Bostonian Society in 1910. Shortly after, the Society's curator of collections asked an unnamed model to wear it for a Boston Globe photo shoot at the beginning of the 20th century. One wonders if the model knew she would be last to wear it in a string of woman that began with a teenaged girl sewing in a tavern on Summer Street where South Station now stands.

The dress is currently on display in the Old State House, and will be followed by an exhibition of the gown’s petticoat in November. Be sure to plan a visit to see it in person!

By Tricia Gilrein, Collections Manager and Exhibitions Coordinator