March 20, 2017

A change of address

On King Street is on the move! Our blog can now be found on the Society's website. Click here to explore King Street on its new site.

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Thank you for your continued readership and we look forward to sharing new content with you from our new address!

March 8, 2017

One Woman’s Boston Tea Party

1958.0003 Tea Caddy.
Gift of Children of Col. George Woodward Langdon.
In honor of Women's History Month, I'm taking a closer look at the oral tradition that surrounds this 18th century tea caddy. It belonged to the wealthy and powerful Cushing Family who lived on King Street (now State Street), just down the street from the Old State House. Thomas Cushing (1725-1788) was an influential moderate politician both before and after the Revolution. His wife Deborah (née Fletcher) (1727-1790) is said to have asked him to take the tea contained in this tea caddy and dump it into the harbor on the day after the Boston Tea Party. Cushing, being somewhat more staid than his wife, refused. Mrs. Cushing put on her bonnet, walked straight down King Street to Long Wharf, and dumped the two different types of tea contained in the tea caddy into the harbor.

We have no way of verifying if these events actually took place, but the story is so charming that I hope that it is. The idea of the respectable middle-aged wife of a politician marching down King Street in broad daylight to add her small amount of tea to the protest (not forgetting to put on her bonnet) speaks to her strength, agency, and bravery - she didn’t feel the need to conduct her protest in costume or under the cover of darkness!

We gain further insight into Mrs. Cushing’s character in this excerpt from a letter that Mr. Cushing wrote to her from Philadelphia in 1774:

“The Farmer says, if it were customary to choose women into the assembly, he should be heartily for choosing you Speaker of the House – they all wish to see you there”.

Whether or not the story of the tea caddy is apocryphal, it tells us something about how she was perceived. The sense that one gets from both this story and the letter is of an active, opinionated, politically savvy woman – although she isn’t included in the history books, because we care for her tea caddy, we help to keep her story alive.

By Sira Dooley Fairchild, Collections Manager

February 28, 2017

A new strike off an old plate: the 1970 version of Paul Revere's print

Paul Revere's engraving copperplate for The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston, March 5, 1770, by a party of the 29th Regiment is a treasure found in the collection of the Massachusetts State Archives. In 1970, the Imprint Society approached the Secretary of the Commonwealth and the Archivist of the Commonwealth with a request to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Boston Massacre by releasing restrikes taken from that original plate. After consulting with the Massachusetts Historical Commission it was determined that a limited number of restrikes could be produced without causing any damage to the plate. The Anderson-Lamb Company of Brooklyn pulled these restrikes by hand. The Imprint Society then published the restrikes in a beautiful book that included "An Account of a late Military Massacre at Boston, or the Consequences of Quartering Troops in a populous well-regulated Town, taken from The Boston Gazette, of March 12, 1770." The Society is thrilled that we have a copy of one of these limited edition books in our library collection.

Readers familiar with our blog will know that we hold one of Paul Revere's original prints in our archival collection. Click on the images below to see larger versions of the 1970 restrike and the colored-in version from 1770.  The 1970 black and white version truly highlights the detail that Revere included in his original engraving. By seeing the two versions together, we are able to note the liberties that were taken by those who colored it, and especially the details that they chose to emphasize. We are lucky to have both copies in our collection so that we have the rare opportunity to compare the two side-by-side.

1970 restrike from NE 539 .R5 B55 [OVER]

1883.0097, Gift of Miss Eliza Susan Quincy

One way that the 200th anniversary of the Boston Massacre was commemorated was by recreating a tangible piece of history. It leaves us to speculate about the ways that the 250th anniversary, which is just a few years away, will be marked.

To see the entire book, search your local library or special collections for a copy of The Bloody Massacre; perpetrated in King-Street, Boston, on March 5th, 1770, by a party of the 29th Regiment. Together with a print of the event taken from the plate engraved by Paul Revere, the report from the Boston gazette, and a note by Richard Hale (Barre, MA: 1970). If you are in the Boston area, you are always welcome to make an appointment to see the book and restrike in our library.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

February 24, 2017

James Bowdoin and the Boston Massacre

Governor James Bowdoin (1947.0005) 
In honor of the upcoming 247th anniversary of the Boston Massacre, our staff have placed a portrait of James Bowdoin (1726-1790) on view in Representatives Hall. The Society’s painting is by James Carpenter after an eighteenth-century portrait of Bowdoin by Robert Feke, which is in the collection of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

Bowdoin's role was pivotal in shaping public reaction to the shootings on March 5, 1770, but his participation in the events surrounding the Massacre is often overlooked. Born to a wealthy family of French Huguenot extraction, he quickly established himself as a leading Boston merchant and entered provincial politics at a young age. At 30, he was elected to a seat on the Massachusetts Provincial Council (the upper house of the colony’s legislature), where he developed a reputation as a reliable ally to Governors William Shirley and Thomas Pownall. Bowdoin’s politics shifted during the 1760s, however. The passage of the Stamp Act in 1765 and the ministry’s decision to send two regiments of the regular army to Boston in 1768 shook his faith in royal authority and caused Bowdoin to ally himself with leading whigs in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, including James Otis, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock. By 1770 Bowdoin had become an influential leader in the Council and a persistent thorn in the side of acting Governor Thomas Hutchinson.

It was thus not surprising that Boston’s town meeting chose Bowdoin, together with Joseph Warren and Samuel Pemberton, to author “a particular Account” of the events that led to “the Massacre in King-Street.” Bowdoin received his charge on March 12, just one week after the terrible events that had resulted in the deaths of five civilians. The committee set to work immediately, compiling a list of witnesses and deposing more than 100 of them in public during the ensuing week. Using these depositions, the committee produced a detailed written report on the events of March 5 and presented it the town meeting on March 19 as A short Narrative of the horrid Massacre in Boston . . . with some Observations on the State of Things prior to that Catastrophe (Boston, 1770). The report portrayed the tragic events of March 5 as a premeditated “massacre” in which the King’s soldiers had “deliberately” gunned down civilians in the streets of Boston, but the evidence it produced was selective. When Bowdoin’s Short Narrative was printed a few days later, it included as an appendix the text of 96 depositions. Opponents immediately pointed out that the report excluded eyewitness accounts that might support an alternative conclusion about the motives of the soldiers.

But by then it was too late. Copies of the Short Narrative were quickly sent off to leading whigs in Britain and elsewhere, each covered by a letter from Bowdoin’s committee stating flatly that the tragedy was the work of soldiers who had plotted “to take vengeance on the town.” Although royal officials worked to publicize competing evidence, Bowdoin’s report proved decisive in coloring public reaction to the events of March 5, 1770, as a massacre rather than a terrible accident.

For more about James Bowdoin, see Gordon Kershaw's James Bowdoin II: Patriot and Man of the Enlightenment.

By Nat Sheidley, Historian and Director of Public History

February 16, 2017

Honoring the Legacy of a Black Patriot: Jeffrey Hartwell's Plate

Hartwell Plate, 1895.0039.001. Gift of George P. Smith
In celebration of Black History Month, I am featuring one of three pewter plates belonging to Jeffrey Hartwell, a black man who was born into slavery c. 1751 and served at some of the most important battles of the Revolutionary War. Two of Hartwell’s pewter plates can be seen on display in Representative’s Hall and he is one of our Revolutionary Characters.

Hartwell fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill, having been sent to fill the place of his master. He later enlisted of his own accord in September of 1777 and was discharged in November of that same year. He then reenlisted in June of 1778 and is known to have been stationed at West Point, New York in December of 1778. He is believed to have served at the Battle of Saratoga, one of the turning points of the war.

Although it is not clear exactly how he became free, we know that Hartwell was free and living in Dracut, Massachusetts by March of 1779. He married a free woman named Maria, who had also been born into slavery and subsequently freed, and they were given two acres on which to live as a wedding present from Maria’s employer, John Varnum. Jeffrey and Maria had six children, four of whom lived to adulthood. He died in Dracut on 22 July, 1816 at the age of 75 and is buried in the Hamblett Cemetery in Lowell.

Detail of Hartwell Plate
More than 5,000 black patriots fought in the Revolutionary War and many enslaved and free black men joined the British Army. The three plates in our collection are amongst the very few items known to have belonged to a black soldier from the Revolutionary War, and we are honored to care for these important artifacts. Hartwell's well-worn pewter plate bears the scars of many meals. The maker’s mark is also stamped into the bottom of the plate. Please let us know in the comments if you recognize these marks and can help us identify the maker.

To learn more about Jeffrey Hartwell check out George Quintal Jr.'s Patriots of Color ‘A Particular Beauty and Merit’: African Americans and Native Americans at Battle Road & Bunker Hill.

By Sira Dooley Fairchild, Collections Manager