November 18, 2015

A Grateful Heart: Thanksgiving Proclamations in our Archives

Day of Thanksgiving Proclamation
Governor John Hancock
(MS0119, DC394. 26 1783)
Will you be celebrating later this November with a grateful heart, as John Hancock urged citizens of Massachusetts to in a 1783 Proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving? The broadside featured here is from our archival collection, and was issued by Governor Hancock in the Council Chamber of the Old State House on November 8. Under the advice of his Council, the proclamation set Thursday, December 11 as a day of thanksgiving and prayer. Proclamations such as these were published as broadsides, and posted throughout the city to notify citizens of the upcoming day of observation.

Thanksgiving was not celebrated nationally until George Washington issued a proclamation for it in 1789 and it wasn't a federal holiday until Abraham Lincoln declared it as such in 1863. Prior to that, individual colonies would periodically declare days of thanksgiving for various reasons. We are grateful that our archival collection includes many proclamations for days of thanksgiving, prayer, and fasting. For Days of Thanksgiving, in particular, our holdings include more than thirty proclamations issued by Massachusetts Governors dating from the 1700s into the early 1900s. The oldest proclamations in our collection include this one by John Hancock, a 1796 proclamation for solemn prayer and fasting issued by Governor Samuel Adams, and a 1764 proclamation for a general fast issued by Governor Francis Bernard.

Thanksgiving Proclamation
Governor Channing Cox
(MS0119, DC394. 26 1921)
Since Thanksgiving was established as a federal holiday in 1863, the proclamations declared in the late 19th century and 20th century were primarily ceremonial in nature. A 1921 proclamation issued by Massachusetts Govorner Channing H. Cox recalls the 300th anniversy of the landing of the Pilgrims and also reads "Now, therefore, in appreciation of the numerous blessings which have been ours through the past year, in accordance with the custom of my predecessors who have counted it an honor to follow where Governor Bradford led, and with the advice and consent of the Council, I, Channing H. Cox, Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, appoint Thursday, the twenty-fourth day of November, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise." Compare that with John Hancock's 1783 proclamation, which has a more religious tone, and says "I do by and with the Advice of the Council appoint Thursday the Eleventh Day of December next (the day recommended by the Congress to all the States) to be religiously observed as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer, that all the People may then assemble to celebrate with grateful Hearts and united Voices, the Praises of their Supreme and all Bountiful Benefactor for his numberless Favours and Mercies."

While the function of the Thanksgiving Proclamation changed over the years, the general sentiment remained the same, that citizens of Massachusetts take a moment to reflect on their blessings with a grateful heart.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

October 27, 2015

The Mystique of the Cursed Figurehead

My name is Heather and I am the Development Associate for the Bostonian Society, but before that I was an Educator at the Old State House for several years. That is when I learned about the building's history, and the Bostonian Society’s collections.

My favorite object in the museum collection is the cursed figurehead, which was a gift of John Lynch to the Society in 1908.  Edward Rowe Snow, an author and nautical historian from Massachusetts, said that this figurehead was known to bring bad luck to its owners. The story of the figurehead was one of my favorites to tell on my tours around Halloween - I love dark and mysterious stories and this item’s story is interesting to me.

A figurehead is the carved figure of a person or an animal that can be found on the front of ships. This painted lady was on the bow of a ship called the Caroline that wrecked off the coast of Maine. Then she was put on a ship called the Maritana. The Maritana is a famous ship in Boston. In November 1861 she ran into some jagged rocks in Boston Harbor in what is now called the worst wreck to ever occur in Boston Harbor! The New York Times published an account of the shipwreck the day after it occurred.

The figurehead survived that wreck with no damage.

She was now deemed unlucky and no ship’s captain wanted her aboard. She was sold and placed in a shop on Lincoln’s Wharf in Boston and became a curious attraction. The wharf promptly caught on fire and burned!

Later she was donated to the Bostonian Society, who put the unlucky lass on display inside the galleries of the Old State House. A fire in 1921 started, some say, near the cursed figurehead, and yet she survived it! That was the last fire in the Old State House. The cursed figurehead is not currently on display, but she lies in wait for her next victims.

By Heather Rockwood, Development Associate

October 21, 2015

Digging deeper into the time capsule!

It's hard to believe that it has been just over a year since we discovered the 1901 time capsule in the lion statue that sits atop the Old State House! As the anniversary of the time capsule approached, I began to think about one of my favorite items from the capsule and I was curious to learn more about it.

When I was examining the items that were found in the time capsule, I was able to organize them into four categories: materials associated with the 1901 restoration of the Old State House, materials that pertained to Boston newspapers, items representing the Grand Army of the Republic, and items that related to local and national politics.  However, there was one item that didn't fit into any of these categories - a bill for tuition and one piece of music, dated January 1, 1901 and addressed to John A. Silver.  When the news picked up the story of the time capsule last year, this seemingly random document didn't get any coverage and it wasn't included in our temporary exhibit of time capsule items.

John Silver cabinet card
John Silver was well represented in the time capsule, he was listed on a parchment scroll of city employees and he was included in a group photograph of men who worked on the restoration of the Old State House.  There were also eight cabinet cards in the time capsule, including one of Silver.  Cabinet cards were a type of portraiture where a photograph was mounted on a board, which allowed the sitter to autograph the back of the portrait.  The back of Silver's cabinet card helpfully included the following inscription "Boston, Feb 20 / 1901, John Aaron Webster Silver, Deputy Superintendent, Public Buildings, City of Boston, Builder by Trade, 36 years old last December the 28th 1900." Many of our visitors have asked if we know who was responsible for assembling the time capsule.  While we don't know the answer for sure, there are few clues that lead us to make a guess. Though many men were represented in cabinet cards and published portraits, there were only four business cards in the time capsule, two for men who worked for the Boston Herald, one for Samuel Rogers, and one for John Silver.  Samuel Rogers seemed to have also included a brief biography and a roster of his G.A.R. post in the capsule.  Due to these personal items, we guessed that he was likely one of the men who assembled the contents. The inclusion of the bill of tuition made out to John Silver, along with his business card, lead us to speculate that he was also one of the men who put together the time capsule in February 1901.  The bill for tuition is a far more personal item than anything else that was found, and it's my guess that Silver tucked this random item into the capsule while he was putting other items in as well.  Or maybe it was accident and he later scoured his desk looking for the missing bill!

Bill for tuition and one piece of music, 1901
But why is this bill for tuition important?  Besides providing a clue that John Silver was one of the men who assembled the time capsule, it made me curious to learn more about the document itself and John Silver as a person.  By looking at the bill, we can see that it is for one term, beginning on October 31 and costing $15.00, and that one piece of music cost 25 cents.  The bill is issued by A. de Andria, of 45 Hemenway Street.  I checked the 1900 Boston city directory and found a listing for Alcide T. De Andria, who had an occupation listing of music teacher.

It seems likely that this would be a tuition bill for one of Silver's children, but confirming that would require additional research.  As such, I searched the 1900 Federal Census and found a listing for a John A. W. Silver, with a birth date and occupation that matched the man I was researching.  From the census, I learned that he was born in Maine, his father was born in England and his mother was born in Pennsylvania.  His wife, Cora, was born in New Hampshire in June 1862.  John and Cora were married in 1884, and the census also confirmed what I suspected, that they had one son, Earl, born in November 1888.  As a twelve year old at the time that the tuition bill was issued, it seems very likely that the music lessons were for him to study under Alcide de Andria.

My co-worker joked that this additional information about the Silver family has made "history come alive!" and I have to agree with her.  Learning more about the men who assembled the time capsule reminds us that these were real people, who had families, went to work, supported their children's extracurricular activities, and essentially, were not all that different from Bostonians today. October is Archives Month, designated as such by the Society of American Archivists to raise awareness about the value of archives.  Celebrate by using primary sources to learn more about your own family history, or by delving deeper into a topic that interests you.  I might be slightly biased, but I believe that it's really through archival materials that we can connect to history to make it truly come alive.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

October 6, 2015

Out of storage and into the library!

Like most museums, our collection includes a number of beautiful paintings that spend most of their time in storage.  As a way to share these items with the public, we recently decided to move three paintings over to the library!

View of Boston Harbor (1884.0209)
One of the paintings that is now hanging in the library is View of Boston Harbor by John White Allen Scott (1815 - 1907).  Painted in 1853, this painting has been part of the Boston Society's collection since 1884.  It is an oil painting, but was originally done with the intention of being engraved. Scott was a Boston painter and lithographer, known for portraits, landscape, and marine images. He was a friend of fellow artist Fitz Henry Lane (also known as Fitz Hugh Lane). According to The Handbook of the Bostonian Society, Scott and Lane "served an apprenticeship together in the Pendleton shop, and were partners from 1845 to 1847 in a lithographic firm of there own."  (The Pendleton shop refers to the lithographic print shop that was run by brothers William and John Pendleton.)  In the 1853 Boston city directory, Scott is listed as an artist with studio space at 265 Washington Street, but he had previously held space in the Tremont Temple, until it was damaged in a fire in April 1852.

View of Boston Harbor is a large painting that depicts Boston's waterfront in the mid 1800s.  It shows a bustling seaport with horse-drawn carts moving merchandise up and down Broad Street.  A group of men are shown on scaffolding in the right foreground of the image, constructing a new building out of bricks.  Only a few of the buildings in the painting are identified by name, one has a sign reading "Arch Wharf Sail Loft" and the other reads "George H. Gray and Danforth Hardware."  Broad Street was laid out and named in June 1805 and it still exists today, but over the years it has been expanded and cut in places.  This painting provides insight into how the street looked in the 1850s, and the building under construction gives a hint to the changes yet to come to the street.

Our newly refurbished library, with Silva's painting on view
The other paintings on display in the library are Schooner Passing Castle Island by Francis Augustus Silva and Sovereign of the Seas by James Edward Buttersworth. With new items on the walls, we decided that it was about time to freshen up the library a bit. Thanks to a generous donation from one of our long-time members, we were able to paint the walls, install new carpet, and mount special UV window shades that will protect the paintings from light damage.  We're excited about the changes in our library, and hope that our visitors and researchers enjoy the new space as much as we do.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

September 24, 2015

Sharing two treasures from our collection

Staff members Amy Nelson and Elizabeth
Roscio show collection pieces to Colin Meloy
Our library had a special guest earlier this week!  Grammy-nominated band The Decemberists were in town for a show on Wednesday, September 23 and singer/songwriter/guitarist Colin Meloy stopped by the Old State House for a tour of our galleries, a trip up to the tower, and a visit to the library to see some of our 18th-century archival treasures.

Colin had limited time at the library, so I pulled two of our most important items out of storage to share with him.  The first was our copy of the Declaration of Independence, which I wrote about in a previous post.  The other was our copy of Paul Revere's famous print, The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston, March 5, 1770, by a party of the 29th Regiment.  This print is one of only about 25 versions still in existence, and we are thrilled to have a copy in our collection.  Revere engraved and distributed this print which depicts the event that would become known as the Boston Massacre.  Revere’s interpretation takes a patriotic approach, and below the image are eighteen lines of verse beginning with "Unhappy Boston! See thy Sons deplore, Thy hallowed Walks besmeared with guiltless Gore."

Colin takes a close look at Revere's print
This 1770 print is from the second state, in which the clock on First Church reads 10:20 rather than 8:10 as in its first state.   Even though it is 245 years old, it is in great condition!  There has been some paper repair in the corners, but the colors are still very vivid. One of my favorite things to point out about this print is that since they were hand colored, each version differs slightly from the others.  For example, there is a small dog in the foreground of the print, standing amidst the fray.  In our version, the dog is very detailed but it has not been colored in.  In most versions, the dog is painted brown, and in some versions it also has spots!  

Our library and archives are open by appointment only, but you don't need to be a famous musician to conduct research in our collection.  Appointment requests can be sent to me by email. If you can't visit us in person, be sure to follow along on our blog, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to see glimpses into our collection!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager