May 4, 2016

Preservation Month at the Old State House (Part I)

May is Preservation Month, a chance to celebrate the historic buildings that make up our cultural landscape, and to honor the continued work that is done to maintain this buildings.  At the Old State House, we are taking this opportunity to look back on some of preservation and restoration projects that the Society has completed in the last decade.  Follow along as Matt Ottinger, our Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation, highlights four of the most important projects that have preserved this iconic 300+ year old building.

Restoration of the Northeast Corner 2006


The Old State House during restoration
The Old State House's bricks are the oldest part of the building. This aging masonry has long been subject to water penetration, particularly at the northeast corner, where surrounding office towers focus and magnify the effects of rain and wind off the harbor. This problem escalated in the fall of 2005, when the remains of Hurricane Wilma passed through Boston and brought the water-penetration problem to crisis proportions. Water poured through the walls to the interior, damaging plaster and wainscoting, and threatening the building's structural integrity as well as the priceless collection of historical artifacts housed inside.

During the summer of 2006, the Bostonian Society spearheaded a three-month project to investigate the causes of persistent water damage to the northeast corner, to restore masonry on the east and north fa├žades of the building, interior plaster and wainscoting, and to create a permanent solution to ongoing water penetration. The Society raised nearly $2 million for this and the ensuing phase of the project—more than its entire annual operating budget—within a mere six months.

Water damage at the Old State House
This project won a national award from the American Association for State and Local History and is featured in an episode of the History Channel's Save Our History series.

By Matt Ottinger, Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation

March 21, 2016

Sally Hutchinson: The Misfortunes of a Loyalist Woman (Part III)

Our Women's History Month series concludes with this week's post.  Catch up with Part I and Part II to learn more about Sally Hutchinson.

Marielle Boudreau as Sally Hutchinson
Sally and Peter did not get married until February of 1770, probably due to the upheaval that their families were suffering. Thomas Hutchinson’s expenditures from the beginning of that year contain several references to purchases for Sally: a gown, two separate cakes, seventy pounds to buy furniture. He also notes that he paid six hundred pounds to Peter Oliver, Jr., presumably to help the young couple in their marriage. Peter’s father contributed by building them a house in Middleborough not far from his own.

Unfortunately, things continued to deteriorate for Sally after her father was made governor in 1771. Though she and Peter were not involved in politics themselves, their home in Middleborough was surrounded by angry mobs several times due to their family connections to unpopular Loyalists.

Sally and Peter’s first child, Margaret Hutchinson Oliver, was born in 1771, and two sons, Thomas Hutchinson Oliver and Peter Oliver III, were born in 1772 and 1774. Also in 1774, Sally's father and sister Peggy left for England, and she and her family followed them in 1776.  A series of sad events marked the next few years; Peggy died in 1777, and Sally's brother Billy died in the winter of 1780.   A few months later, Sally gave birth to a son and fell ill, and in June, Governor Hutchinson died.  Sadly, Sally followed him on June 28th and her newborn son died in August.  Peter wrote about his wife: “She died perfectly resigned to the will of Heaven, but in great agony of body...She was one of the most virtuous, amiable, and kindest wives that ever man was blessed with...She is relieved from a deal of misery and distress; she has gone through more than anyone who knew her can have imagined.” Peter lived until 1821, but never remarried.

Sally, who began life as one of the most privileged and fortunate girls in Boston, saw her brief adulthood marred by tragedy due in part to the political associations of her family. She faced the typical troubles of a woman of her time through the loss of her mother’s and ultimately her own life due to complications from childbirth.  But she also faced the wholly atypical trouble of coping with the anger leveled at her family during the Revolution. We only get glimpses of her from the historical record, but her remarkable fortitude in returning to her doomed house to save her father’s life shows that she must have been a strong and loyal person who rose to the unusual challenges of her eventful life.

By Marielle Boudreau, Education Associate and Revolutionary Character

March 14, 2016

Sally Hutchinson: The Misfortunes of a Loyalist Woman (Part II)

Our celebration of Women's History Month continues this week.  Catch up by reading our first post about Sally Hutchinson here

The summer of 1765 was one of the most eventful of Sally’s young life. Peter returned in June, having set up as a doctor in his hometown of Middleborough the previous year.  He began his courtship of her, and mentions that “the family was very agreeable” to it, despite his struggles in establishing himself in medical practice.  In August he asked for and received then-Lieutenant Governor Hutchinson’s permission to marry Sally. We have no evidence for Sally’s feelings about her engagement, but she seems to have known Peter quite well by the time they became engaged, and it’s likely she was at least fond of him.
   
On August 26, 1765, just a few days after Sally’s engagement, a far less pleasant change took place in her life. Tensions had been rising steadily in Boston since the news had broken about the Stamp Act back in the spring. The tax was scheduled to take effect in November, and Sally and Peter’s uncle Andrew Oliver had been appointed as the commissioner charged with issuing the stamps. On August 14, the Sons of Liberty organized a protest where they hung and burnt Andrew Oliver in effigy, then marched to his house and threatened to destroy it unless he resigned as stamp agent. After Oliver’s resignation the next day, a crowd showed up at the Hutchinson house in Boston and demanded that the lieutenant governor denounce the act himself.  They were calmed down and dispersed, and Hutchinson avoided having to make a statement.

Tile from Hutchinson House (1884.0116c)
The whole family moved to Milton for the next few days in order to avoid further trouble, but they returned on August 26. That night, a mob came marching into the North End with the purpose of attacking the Hutchinson house and, if possible, Hutchinson himself.  The family received brief advance warning and made immediate plans to depart. Sally left with her Aunt Grizell and her younger siblings Billy and Peggy to hide at a neighbor’s house, but evidently she could not stop thinking about her father, who had remained behind with the intention of fighting off the mob. Sally returned to the house just as the mob was approaching and begged her father to leave; he attempted to send her away, but she stated that she would not leave until he did, and out of concern for her safety, he escaped with her to the home of their relative Samuel Mather, where they passed the night in safety.
   
When Sally and her family returned to their home the next morning, they discovered that it had been destroyed by the mob.  She lost much of her clothing, including several items belonging to her late mother, and most of the family’s furniture was ruined, as well as the structure of the house itself. They returned to Milton until their house could be rebuilt.

Peter visited the family in Milton and found Sally “most terribly worried and distrest [sic].”  Find out what happened to them when the series concludes in our next post.

By Marielle Boudreau, Education Associate and Revolutionary Character

March 7, 2016

Sally Hutchinson: The Misfortunes of a Loyalist Woman (Part I)

This March we are celebrating Women's History Month by focusing on Sally Hutchinson in a series of posts.  Follow along as Marielle Boudreau, one of our Education Associates and first person interpreters, explores Sally's life during a tumultuous time in Boston's history.

When visitors enter the Old State House, they’re given cards to hang around their necks. In addition to being their ticket into the museum, these cards feature over one hundred different historical figures--real people who lived during the Revolution, known as “Revolutionary Characters.” Some Revolutionary Characters, like John Hancock and Samuel Adams, are well-known public figures, while others led relatively ordinary lives during an extraordinary time. Through the Revolutionary Characters Live program, costumed interpreters take on the roles of some of those real people and give in-character presentations to visitors several times a day. For the past two summers, I’ve played Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s oldest daughter Sarah, known to her family as “Sally.”

Mrs. Peter Oliver (Sarah Hutchinson) (d. 1780)
Courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery
Because Sarah Hutchinson isn’t particularly famous or notable herself, she’s somewhat difficult to trace through history. We have no letters or documents written by Sally herself, so our main sources for her life are the papers of her father and the diary of her husband, Dr. Peter Oliver, Jr. But even though there are large gaps in our knowledge of Sally, we can piece together the details of her life through the documents that we do have, and we can make speculations about her personality.

Sarah Hutchinson was born on November 22, 1744, the third child and oldest daughter of Thomas and Margaret Sanford Hutchinson. Her mother died just ten years after she was born, soon after giving birth to the youngest Hutchinson child, Peggy. When her mother died, Sally’s maternal aunt Grizell Sanford moved in with the family in order to help keep house and raise the children. The family lived in a large house in Boston’s North End on Garden Court Street and they also owned a country estate in Milton on Unkity Hill. Sally was probably educated, like most girls of her class, by private tutors, while her brothers attended Boston Latin School and Harvard College.

In 1757, Peter Oliver, Jr. and his parents visited the Hutchinson family in Milton.  This was the first time that Sally met Peter, whom she would later marry.  Even before this union, the Hutchinson and Oliver families were already connected through marriage; Peter’s uncle Andrew Oliver was married to Sally’s aunt Mary Sanford. Peter was also later the Harvard roommate of Sally’s brother Elisha, and during his college years he seems to have grown close to Sally, writing “She had a very agreeable way in her behavior, which I remember pleased me more than any other of my female acquaintance, though I had not the least thought of any connection with her.” In 1761, Peter graduated from Harvard and moved away to Scituate to begin his medical training.

When the series continues, we jump to 1765 and learn what came next for Sally and Peter.

By Marielle Boudreau, Education Associate and Revolutionary Character


February 22, 2016

“The Vehemence of the Flames”: The History of Three Fires at the Old State House

The Fire of 1832


It was around 4:00 AM, Wednesday, November 21, 1832 when the Boston’s Fire Department responded to an alarm. Opposite the Old State House, which in 1832 was being used as Boston's first City Hall, the brick building numbered 14 and 16 State Street was up in flames. The firemen quickly fell into action, attacking the building with water hoses. While extinguishing the flames, one of the floors of the building suddenly exploded. The resulting blast caused the building to shake and left two people severely burned. It was later found that a canister of gun powder owned by a local businessman, Mr. Center, caused the explosion.

The Old State House in flames, 1832 (1887.0073)
The fire department left the scene that day having successfully extinguished the fire; knowing nothing of the fire slowly billowing next door. The firemen hardly had time to rest before they had to rush to yet another fire on State Street - this time at City Hall! When the firemen returned to State Street, they saw that the fire was burning on the roof of City Hall, presumably started by sparks from the earlier fire across the street. The fire department acted swiftly, and successfully extinguished the flames before the fire reached the lower floors of the building.

The ravages of the flames were minimal in comparison to the 1747 building fire, as only the roof and attic story suffered fire damage. Water used to put out the flames damaged the building; however, the Post Office and the merchants occupying the lower floors had to suspend their businesses temporarily. The Globe (Washington, D.C.) and New-Hampshire Statesman and State Journal reported that the estimated damages to City Hall and its neighboring structure at $5,000 to $8,000 each, as neither building was insured. Boston’s City Council appropriated funds of $3,500 to repair the damages.

Stay tuned for my final smoke-filled post in this series about fires at the Old State House.

By Deirdre Kutt, Education Associate