December 21, 2015

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

My name is Deirdre Kutt and I am an Education Associate at the Old State House. What interested me in contributing to "On King Street" was the opportunity to address some of the exciting, weird, and interesting facts about the Old State House. Prompted by visitors’ questions about the building's fires, I began my research there. What I discovered through my investigation is a fascinating, yet remarkable, story. Follow along as I share the history of three significant fires at the Old State House.

The Fire of 1747


Fire!  Fire! The Town House (now known as the Old State House) has endured many fires over the years.  In fact, it was built in 1713 with a brick facade to replace the original wooden Town House, which burned to the ground in 1711.

On December 15, 1747 The Boston Gazette reported:
“At six in the morning the Watch in the east end of the Town House broke up, and between five and ten minutes after, the rays of the fire first discovered it in the said passage through the great window against it, by glancing into the Chambers of the houses on the north side of the Town House where two or three people were awake, and running to the windows first saw it there. But it quickly broke into the Council Chamber and run up the deal wainscot stairs into the loft and lanthorn above and set them all in a blaze.”
MS0119/DC 352.52 - General Court orders
payment for repairs of the Old State House, 1751
The 1747 fire, which started in one of the many hearths in the building, devastated the Town House. On that fateful night, embers from the hearth located near the entryway between the Council Chamber and the Chamber for Representatives Hall made their way into the woodworking underneath, caught fire, and engulfed the entryway between the two chambers.  The growing flames continued up from the staircase onto the roof until the entire building was ablaze.

This devastating fire left the Town House destroyed with damages to the top two floors, roof, and the tower.  Only the brick exterior walls remained untouched by the fire. Besides the physical damages, records indicate that the Province lost many items including Province records, books, portraits, and “a great Quantity of Wines and other Liquors.”

Massachusetts residents repaired the building in 1748 at a cost of about £3705, which was split between the Province, the County of Suffolk, and the Town of Boston. The rebuilding of the Town House saw changes to the exterior in the design of the tower and roof. In 1748, the former octagonal tower and gambrel roof was replaced with a pitched roof and a three-staged square tower, which is still present on the building today.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we post about the other two fires that devastated the Old State House.

By Deirdre Kutt, Education Associate

December 14, 2015

Treating the fish to tea

MS0119/DC1013
There is a small exhibit case in the Society's library where I can display a rotating selection of items from our archival collection.  Our library is open by appointment, so the only individuals who get to see this featured document are researchers, staff members, and visitors to our library and administrative offices.  But thanks to the blog, I can share images and information about this featured item with friends near and far.

On December 16 we recognize the 242 year anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.  Over the years, this important event in American history has been commemorated in many ways, including plaques, reenactments, poems, and songs – like “Tea Tax”, the lyrics of which are currently on display in our library.

According to our catalog, this broadside dates to circa 1862.  It published the lyrics to “Tea Tax” with a notation that it was “sung with unbounded applause at the Boston Theatre, by Mr. Andrews.”  While researching this song, I found some references to it being a "Yankee Comic Song." It certainly does not make light of the events that occurred on the evening of December 16, it does present the narrative in a lighthearted tone.  One part of the song describes dumping the tea into the harbor and goes, "And did'nt care a tarnal curse, for any King or Minister / We made a plaguy mess o'tea, in one of the biggest dishes / I mean, we steep'd it in the sea, and treated all the fishes."

If you look closely at the lyrics, you'll also be able to see that they point out locations in Boston that have changed since 1773, specifically that State Street was called King Street and that the bridge to Charlestown had not been built yet.

1899.0022
There are many reprints of this song in existence, the earliest dating to the 1830s.  In some of the broadsides the composer is listed as “a gentleman from Boston” and some state that the song was performed at the Federal Street Theatre, which was another name from the Boston Theatre. 

Besides this broadside, we do not have too many other Tea Party related artifacts in our collection.  But if you are in the area, be sure to stop by the Colony to Commonwealth exhibit at the Old State House to see one of our other important Tea Party artifacts - a vial of loose tea that was allegedly removed from the boots of Thomas Melvill after the Tea Party.  According to the story, Thomas found the tea on his boot when he returned home from the night's activity, and collected it to be saved.  The tea was then donated to the Society in 1899 by Miss Mary Melville, a descendant of Thomas. 

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

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.

1908.0010
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

September 8, 2015

Adopt an Artifact!

Lydia Withington map, 1896.0053.001
Do you love revolutionary history and want to help preserve it?  Want to know that your well-meaning gift will make a difference to our museum collection and future visitors? The Bostonian Society has an Adopt an Artifact program where you can give directly to the conservation of specific museum artifacts that our Collections Manager has identified as needing conservation.  Your donation will help to preserve these items for years to come.

To learn more about the program, please visit our website.  On this page, you'll be able to see the artifacts that need to be adopted and learn more about their history and the specific conservation work that is needed.  You'll also be able to see some of the previously adopted artifacts.

If you have questions about the Adopt an Artifact program, please leave them in the comments or contact our Collections Manager directly by email.


August 26, 2015

Boston’s Liberty Tree Illuminated (Part II)

In our last post, we examined the events that occurred in Boston on August 14, 1765. This week, we’ll take a closer look at the Liberty Tree lanterns.

1889.0024
When Parliament finally accepted the reality that the Stamp Act could not be enforced and repealed the measure, Bostonians chose to celebrate at the Liberty Tree. News of the repeal arrived in Boston in May 1766. On May 19 and again on May 20, the entire town was illuminated by candlelight and the Liberty Tree itself was hung with dozens of lanterns. According to some accounts, 108 lanterns were hung from the tree—a reference to the margin by which the repeal passed in the House of Commons. “Liberty Hall” was decorated with banners and scrims painted with allegories depicting the story of liberty and the victory of Britannia, and the streets around the Liberty Tree were choked with revelers. In a way, the lanterns marked the opening of a new chapter in the history of the Liberty Tree, as it moved from serving as a site of assembly and political action to a site of memory, where the power of ordinary people to effect change through collective action was celebrated.

Though they have remarkable significance to the history of the American Revolution, not much is known from the surviving written accounts of the May 1766 celebrations about the lanterns that hung from the Liberty Tree. Fortunately, at least three have survived, including one in the Society’s collection.

In many ways the Bostonian Society’s lantern is relatively undistinguished. Like most lanterns of the second half of the eighteenth century, it is made of tin and glass. It is large enough to accommodate two candles, but at just over 20 inches by just under 8 ½ inches it is not oversized. It is painted green, red, and gold, and the tinwork is well executed but not overly ornate.

Detail of 1889.0024
A closer look, however, reveals much that is of interest. The lantern bears a carefully wrought crown of elm leaf finials, a clear reference to the Liberty Tree itself. Importantly, the same finials are found atop all three surviving lanterns that hung from the Liberty Tree in May 1766. This suggests that the lanterns were made as a set, either by a single tin worker or by multiple craftsmen working together. Clearly, the lanterns were not a spontaneous outpouring contributed by Boston residents; instead, they were part of a carefully planned commemoration of the repeal and of the Liberty Tree’s role in the defeat of the Stamp Act.

The materials from which the lantern was made tell us much about the mindset of the celebration’s organizers. During the Stamp Act crisis, Boston merchants had adopted a non-importation agreement - basically, a boycott of goods imported from Britain - and craftsmen and consumers alike were asked to forego goods made in England. With the repeal of the Stamp Act, however, British imports flooded back into the market, and it appears that even the group most committed to defeating the Stamp Act was happy to resume purchasing these goods. We know this because the lantern is made almost entirely of imported wares: the production of both tin and glass were prohibited in the colonies and had to be imported from Britain; even paint was primarily an imported luxury. The lantern suggests, in other words, that those in Boston who most bitterly contested the Stamp Act still considered themselves members in good standing of the larger imperial polity and beneficiaries of the British trading system that brought luxury imports to their small town on the periphery of the Atlantic world. The lanterns they used to commemorate the history of the Liberty Tree thus tell a more complex story than we might expect about the origins of the American Revolution and the place of Bostonians in shaping it.

Replica lantern at the August 14 event
(Courtesy of Heather Rockwood)
What would members of the Revolutionary generation make of Boston’s efforts to commemorate the history of the Liberty Tree 250 years after its birth as both a site of popular politics and a political symbol? The answer is hard to know, but we can be certain that they would recognize the power of memory to shape the world in which we live. When the Marquis de Lafayette visited Boston in 1824, he stopped at the site of the Liberty Tree and declared: “The world should never forget the spot where once stood Liberty Tree.” But the world has forgotten both the spot and the tree. Earlier in August, we invited the public to reflect on the legacy entrusted to us by an earlier generation of Bostonians. As part of the event, 108 replica lanterns were carried through the city to the Liberty Tree site at the corner of Washington and Essex Streets.  We should not forget this spot, and the lanterns that illuminated it.

In an upcoming post, we will tackle a final mystery about the Society’s Liberty Tree lantern: who painted the words that appear on the bottom surface of the lantern?

By Nat Sheidley, Historian and Director of Public History

August 13, 2015

Boston’s Liberty Tree Illuminated (Part I)

This Friday marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Boston’s Liberty Tree on August 14, 1765. An enormous elm whose arched boughs shaded the main road into Boston from the surrounding countryside, the Liberty Tree served as the gathering place for the first convulsive mass protest against Parliamentary legislation during the Revolutionary era and quickly emerged as the most potent symbol of the American cause. Towns and villages across North America identified Liberty Trees of their own and used them, as the people of Boston did, as places to come together, voice their grievances, and call for change. No other place speaks as plainly to the role that ordinary people played in making the American Revolution as does the site of Boston’s Liberty Tree.

Some of the 108 lanterns for Friday's event
(Courtesy of Martha McNamara)
On Friday night, Bostonians will remember this history by coming together where the Liberty Tree once stood, at the corner of Washington and Essex Streets. The event will connect participants and audience members to the American tradition of popular assembly so deeply rooted in this place and invite each person to reflect on the meaning of the American Revolution for our own era, 250 years on. To give shape to this conversation, participants belonging to five community organizations from across Boston will carry 108 lanterns, each decorated with artwork that speaks in its own way to the enduring legacy of the Liberty Tree.

The lanterns themselves tell an interesting story that connects back to both the history of the Liberty Tree itself and the historic Liberty Tree lantern in our museum collection. To unravel it, we must return to the August morning in 1765 when Bostonians first gathered beneath the Liberty Tree. As the sun rose that warm day, carts and foot-traffic passing into town came across two unusual objects hanging from the branches of the well-known elm: an effigy of Andrew Oliver, a high-ranking member of Massachusetts government and the man who had been appointed to oversee enforcement throughout the colony of the hated Stamp Act; and a green-soled boot containing a stylized representation of the devil. This last was a reference to the Earl of Bute, seen as the driving force behind Parliament’s decision to pass the Stamp Act in March 1765.

Bostonians reviled the Stamp Act because it imposed a tax on the colony without their consent. Massachusetts voters elected representatives to their own colony’s legislature, and few people contested that body’s right to enact taxes. However, no one in Massachusetts could cast a vote in Parliamentary elections. The Stamp Act was due to go into effect on November 1, 1765, but already it had been the topic of heated debate about town for more than a year. Everyone knew that the colony’s “humble petition” asking Parliament to repeal the act would be rejected. The congress proposed by the Massachusetts assembly as a means of coordinating the efforts of all the colonies to secure repeal would not take place until October, by which time it would be too late. If something were to be done, it would have to happen soon.

Corner of Essex and Orange Streets in 1774, showing Liberty Tree
(1958.0004.004) 
When Oliver and Bute’s effigies unexpectedly appeared in the arbor above a busy section of street, therefore, it struck a chord that resonated all across town. First hundreds and then thousands of Boston residents turned out to see the spectacle. As they approached the tree where the effigies hung, they could hear speakers exhorting them to stand strong in defense of the liberties that were their birthright as subjects of the British crown. By the hundreds they shouted “No!” when the speakers cried “Stamp!” As the crowd swelled, the royal governor called on the county sheriff to cut down the effigies and disperse the assembly. Sheriff Greenleaf’s deputies were barred from approaching the tree and sent away with a promise that the effigies would be removed at nightfall. And indeed they were. The throng removed the effigies and paraded with the likeness of Oliver up the street to the Town House (i.e., the Old State House). They marched through the building and directly beneath the governor’s chamber, chanting their opposition to the Stamp Act. Next the crowd proceeded to the waterfront, where they tore down a structure on Andrew Oliver’s dock that was believed to contain the stamped paper to be used in enforcing the Stamp Act. Finding no paper, they instead took the rubble from the destroyed building up nearby Fort Hill, where they burned it in full view of Oliver’s private home. Each piece of wood was ceremoniously “stamped” before being committed to the fire. And when the bonfire was sufficiently hot, Oliver’s effigy was sent to a fiery death—a far-from-subtle message to the provincial Secretary, who watched from this window not far off.

Oliver had seen his likeness hung from a tree with a rope about his neck, paraded through town, and consumed by flames. His property had been destroyed, and he surely felt lucky to have escaped with his own health intact. By the next morning, Oliver had resigned his post as stamp distributor for Massachusetts. No replacement could be found. The great mass of ordinary people had made their voices heard, and in one frightful blow the Stamp Act was made a dead letter throughout Massachusetts. Other towns soon followed Boston’s lead, and before long protests had forced the resignation of those charged with enforcing the Stamp Act in every colony but Georgia.

In Boston, the protesters and their sympathizers celebrated their victory by naming the tree where the protest began “the Liberty Tree.” A plaque bearing this title was affixed to the tree in early September, and a new organization calling itself the Sons of Liberty pledged to defend not just the tree but the larger cause of American liberty. As fall turned to winter, thousands continued to gather at the Liberty Tree to voice their opposition to the Stamp Act. Soon the newspapers were calling the space beneath the tree “Liberty Hall”—a reference, perhaps, to Faneuil Hall where the town government met and an indication that the proceedings in this outdoor space were seen by some, at least, as a legitimate part of the political process.

Liberty Tree Lantern in the Council Chamber
(1889.0024)
Check back next week for the continuation of this story and to learn more about the Liberty Tree lanterns. And please come to the Liberty Tree site at the corner of Washington and Essex Streets on Friday, August 14, at 8pm to join in commemorating 250 years of an important American ideal.

By Nat Sheidley, Historian and Director of Public History



August 6, 2015

Commemorating the Liberty Tree and the Stamp Act Riots

1889.0034.001
This month marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Boston's famous Liberty Tree. On August 14, 1765, Bostonians gathered beneath an enormous elm not far from Boston Common to protest the hated Stamp Act, which taxed the people of Massachusetts without their consent. The protest convinced the official charged with administering the tax to resign his office, and the tree where the protest had begun received a new name: the Liberty Tree.

This event is commonly viewed as the start of the American Revolution, while the Liberty Tree emerged as the most prominent symbol of the important role played by ordinary people in creating the new republic. The Bostonian Society will be commemorating the enduring legacy of the Liberty Tree at a number of upcoming events.

Join us at Liberty Tree Plaza (at the intersection of Washington and Boylston Streets) on August 14 at 8:00 pm for a lantern illumination.  Community organizations from throughout Boston will gather at the site of the Liberty Tree to display 108 copper lanterns modeled on the historic lanterns that were hung on the Liberty Tree during the Stamp Act crisis. The lanterns will be decorated with artwork and together will give expression to the meanings that the Liberty Tree holds for the people of Boston today. Nat Sheidley, our Historian and Director of Public History, will be one of the speakers at this event.  This event is a presented by Medicine Wheel Productions and Revolution250, a coalition of historic organizations (including the Bostonian Society) committed to working together to mark the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution.

Almanac Tax Stamp, 1920.0002
Take part in Echoes of the Past, a free, live-action game on August 15 from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm.  Begin your adventure at the Old State House or at the Downtown Crossing Information Cart on Summer Street. Discover riddles, ciphers, grudges, and plots to learn the story of Boston's historic Stamp Act Riot. With the guidebook in hand (or using a web version on their mobile device) players will hunt for ghosts, or "Echoes of the Past." These live costumed interpreters will quickly draw  players into the political intrigues of 1765. After collecting a stamp for their book from each character in the game, players will discover the game's thrilling climax at 4:00 p.m. when they join together with an 18th-century mob to participate in a protest march from the site of the Liberty Tree to the hub of colonial power, the Old State House.

Participate in a reenactment of the Stamp Act Riot on August 15 at 4:00 pm.  Meet at the corner of Washington Street and Winter Street (next to the Downtown Crossing T Station) and join historic reenactors in period costume in a raucous march through the streets of Boston to the Old State House to protest the coming Stamp Act. Can the stamp distributor be compelled to resign his post? This event is co-sponsored by the Bostonian Society and Revolution250.

We hope that you'll be able to join us for these events, and please leave any questions in the comments.
 

July 31, 2015

A look at the Elizabeth Bull wedding dress

A few weeks ago we introduced you to the love story of Elizabeth Bull and Roger Price and the wedding dress that Elizabeth began working on before they even met.  Have you had a chance to stop by the Old State House to see this exquisite dress in person?  Our visitors have delighted in the opportunity to examine this craftsmanship up close, but if you can't stop by, we hope you'll enjoy this virtual look at the wedding dress and an explanation of  the conservation work that went into making it exhibit ready.

The gown is a circa 1730 wedding dress within the collections of the Bostonian Society. It was originally constructed by Elizabeth Bull, who was born in 1717.   It was acquired by the Society in 1910, gifted by Francis Erving Weston who was the granddaughter of Olivia Price Hall, who was the niece of Elizabeth Bull’s daughter, also named Elizabeth.  According to Francis Erving Weston, Elizabeth worked this dress while at school in 1731.

The garment incorporates a variety of embroidery methods, called crewel work which is typically done in wool on domestic items. The resulting work is intricate and beautiful, and the process highly instructional.

The wedding dress was conserved in 2012. It was dry-cleaned meticulously by hand and vacuumed using mesh as a guard and a low pressure machine. Portions of the dress were stabilized with mesh and the sleeves were fitted with a new silk overlay. A specialty mount was hand carved from inert foam for both the dress and the petticoat. The petticoat was removed from beneath the main skirt during conservation.

We chose conservation rather than restoration. Restoration would have dramatically altered the dress returning it to the original 1730’s silhouette. Serving as a palimsest for succeeding generations, the dress indicates the many Bull women who owned, wore, and cherished it, and this was a story we wanted to tell.

The Elizabeth Bull wedding dress will be on display in the Council Chamber of the Old State House until November.

By Tricia Gilrein, Collections Manager and Exhibitions Coordinator

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.

MS0119/DC1199
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

MS0119/DC973.313
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.

(VW0001/004077)
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. 

(VW0001/001139)
 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.

(X0366)
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!

VW0053-005674
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

1910.0050.035
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


June 11, 2015

Ready for the summer - Old State House restoration work wraps up!

Crowds gather in front of the east façade
As many of you may have noticed there was more work being done on the Old State House last month. The return of warm weather at the beginning of May allowed the Society and its contractors, Commodore Builders, to complete the finish work to the balcony and east façade.

Last November the scaffolding on the west façade was removed to reveal the newly pointed and painted west end. At that time, work continued on the balcony and east façade. As the days of the month ticked away, the weather became our biggest enemy. When the calendar finally turned to December, our luck ran out. With all of the major work done, the weather called for the finish work to take a hiatus until the spring.

While no one could have predicted the winter Bostonians went through, the Old State House and its recently repaired façade, statues, and balcony handled it perfectly. Unseasonably cool weather and the large amounts of snow pushed our spring return for the finish work further down the calendar.

As April turned to May, sun and warmth was finally on our side. Commodore Builders came back on site with a lift for the finish coat of paint on all the wooden elements of the east façade. Completing the work in a week, the project which began last fall came to an end. Now on sunny mornings, the lion and unicorn sparkle, the balcony and windows show bright, and by the afternoon the west façade is illuminated to show a bright and sound façade.

The Society would like to thank Commodore Builders, Storeygard Associates Architects, Preservation Technology Associates, and Simpson Gumpertz & Heger for all their hard work.

By Matt Ottinger, Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation

June 2, 2015

An Elegant Address: Henry Knox and the Tontine Crescent

Henry Knox, 1947.0002
Our Revolutionary Characters exhibit explores the lives of Bostonians by using artifacts from the Society's collections to highlight the daily lives, relationships, and aspirations of colonial subjects as they navigated a city forever changed by the conflict with Britain. Visitors have the opportunity to view notable items made by the likes of Paul Revere and Lydia Hutchinson, and a special document case also allows me to select an item from our archival collection that pertains to some of our Revolutionary Characters. By rotating the documents each month, I have the opportunity to share items associated with a number of Bostonians, from the famous to the lesser known.

MS0119/DC1355
I was recently able to display a document related to Henry Knox (1750-1806). Born and raised in Boston, Knox was a bookseller before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, during which he served as a military officer.  After the war, Knox was appointed the first Secretary of War in George Washington's cabinet.

The document from our collection is a deed from July 27, 1797, in which Knox deeded “a brick tenement situated at the easterly end of the Tontine buildings” to William Tudor for the sum of five dollars. This building was part of the Tontine Crescent, which was designed by architect Charles Bulfinch. Completed in 1794, it comprised 16 units arranged in a crescent shape and was Boston’s first row-house complex.  According to the deed, Knox owned building number one.  The crescent also included a central pavilion, flanked by eight units, that housed the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Boston Library Society. Arch Street, which is still a main thoroughfare in Downtown Crossing, ran through a central archway in the pavilion.

Bulfinch's design was influenced by architecture in England and France, and when it was completed it was praised as an example of modern elegance. The crescent, along with an oval-sized park and four double houses, was referred to as Franklin Place.

Tontine Crescent on Franklin Street, ca. 1853
The Tontine Crescent was demolished in 1858, but a few images from our collection capture what it looked like in the early 1850s.  To see more images, please search our photograph catalog and use "Tontine Crescent" as your search term.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager


May 18, 2015

The Exchange: The Bostonian Society's Monthly Newsletter

Have you subscribed to our monthly newsletter, The Exchange? Our blog is a great way to learn behind-the-scenes information about our collection and building preservation, but our monthly newsletter will keep you up to date on all of the fun activities happening at the Old State House.

By signing up for The Exchange you'll learn about our upcoming events - including a beer tasting and pub quiz! You'll also find out information about our current exhibits - like the Elizabeth Bull wedding dress, an 18th century wedding gown that was recently conserved and is now on display. The Exchange also includes information about our educational programing for students and families.  Click here to read the May edition!

Sign up for our mailing list below. Your information will never be shared with any third party.

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April 29, 2015

A letter as old as Boston

John Winthrop (1980.6.2)
For the past month there has been a small and unassuming document on display in our special archival case in Representative's Hall.  Though it doesn't seem like much to examine at first, it is actually one of the most interesting items in our archival collection.  The document is a letter from a father to a son dated September 9, 1630, but what makes it notable is that the father is John Winthrop and the son is John Winthrop, Jr.  Though brief in content, this letter is important because it is one of the oldest items in our collection and includes the signature of a man remembered as a leading figure in the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  John Winthrop served four terms as the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and his son John served as governor of the Connecticut Colony from 1657-1658, and from 1659 through his death in 1676.

Letter from John Winthrop to his son (MS0190, 04/14)
In the letter, Winthrop writes to his son asking him to pay Mr. Robert Parke a debt that the elder Winthrop owed. Transcribed in full, the letter reads:

Son John

I pray pay unto ye bearer Mr. Robert Parke or his assignee ye sum of forty one shillings which I owe unto him so I rest


Below the body of text, a column to the left includes a location and date of Charlestowne in N: England, Sept. 9 1630, and to the right is the closing and signature of yr [your] loving father Jo: Winthrop.  A notation at the very bottom of the letter, written in different handwriting, indicates that the bill was paid on January 28. It is especially interesting to note that this letter is dated September 9, 1630 - only two days after John Winthrop announced the founding of the city of Boston on September 7, 1630.  Learn more about the founding of Boston by checking out The Partnership of the Historic Bostons.

John Winthrop signature (MS0190, 02/54)
Our archival collection includes one other example of John Winthrop's signature, but in this instance the original document has been cut so all that remains is the line "Taken upon Oathe the 8th of the 6: mo: 1639.  Before Jo: Winthrop Gov-" The content of this letter remains a mystery, which makes us especially glad that we have a letter in our collection that includes both Winthrop's signature and his message.

According to the Proceedings of The Bostonian Society, Winthrop's letter to his son was donated in 1980 by Mr. and Mrs. William Osgood in commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the founding of Boston. William Osgood was a long-time President of the Bostonian Society, and he and his wife were both life members of the Society.  We continue to be grateful to the Osgood family for this generous donation to our collection.  When this rare and nearly 400 year old document is not on display, it is kept in a special enclosure in dark storage to preserve it for years to come. 

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

April 23, 2015

A Peek Into Storage

My name is Alli Rico, and I’m a graduate student in Harvard University’s Museum Studies program. Currently, I’m interning at the Bostonian Society where my project is to help Collections Manager Tricia Gilrein document, condition report, photograph, research, and otherwise process a portion of our collection that was, until recently, housed at the Charlestown Navy Yard. In November 2014, the offsite collection was moved from the Navy Yard to a new offsite storage facility that allows us to better access these materials.

More than 20 years ago portions of the museum collections were moved to buildings in the Navy Yard. The National Parks Service provided help in determining preservation measures for certain artifacts, as well as identifying items that would be most useful for interpretation in the museum galleries. They then assisted in moving items that fell outside these criteria to various facilities in Boston. The Bostonian Society continues to assess all the collections for their potential for exhibits and research. As such, it has been a major goal to revisit these artifacts.

Different perspectives have also arisen regarding collections care, for instance: deaccessioning. Deaccessioning artifacts means that the museum will assess our needs against those in Boston’s museum community and heritage sector. Some of these items might better serve the missions of neighboring organizations. We’ve maintained that one of our project goals will be to contribute to our colleague’s goals as well as our own.

A look inside the cornerstone box
Between hands-on observations at the new storage facility and research based on the collections records back at the Old State House, I’ve found some pretty fascinating stuff! We came across a cornerstone box from the old Post Office building, which was given to the Society by the U.S. Sub-Treasury in 1932; it will be brought to the Bostonian Society Archives so that Library and Archives Manager, Elizabeth Roscio, can take a look at it and tell us what’s inside (a future blog post to follow!).

U.S.S. Maine plaque
We also came across quite a few plaques from around the Boston area. One of them is a duplicate of the plaque currently mounted to the anchor at the USS Maine memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. After talking to the cemetery’s Command Historian (they are a military cemetery, after all), we determined that the anchor at the memorial came from the Boston Navy Yard, and so the plaque must have been made here as well and we ended up with a duplicate. It’s a fascinating piece of history and took some detective work to piece together!

Already, we’ve found new homes for several headstones at the Historic Burial Grounds Initiative: a city initiative that deals in conservation and repatriation. A few historic water pipes from Boston’s first water systems were transferred back to the city via its archives where they will inform the study of early Boston infrastructure and public works. While the process will take a while, we are hopeful that by the end of the year, we will be well acquainted with this collection and its interesting and surprising connections to our fine city.

This project will take place over a year, meaning we have plenty of time to become familiar with the collection. Undoubtedly, we’ll find some pretty interesting objects and facts along the way – stay tuned!

By Alli Rico, Collections Intern

April 15, 2015

Off the bookshelf: a look at a favorite item from the library

April 12-18 is National Library Week! The library at the Bostonian Society was founded in 1881, and since then we have collected, preserved, and made accessible for research a wide range of materials relating to Boston. Highlights of our library collection include sources on Boston and New England history, colonial history and the American Revolution, city directories, and Massachusetts Revolutionary War military records. We actively acquire recent publications, but some of the books in our collection date to the early 1800s.

F73.3.T54 title page
I use our library collection to help researchers on-site and with reference questions that are sent to me. From all of the time that I spend back in the stacks, I've found that I have a few favorite library items. I love our almanacs, many dating to the late 1700s, and I use our run of Boston city directories, dating from 1789 through the 1980s, on a frequent basis. My favorite source in the library, though, is Annie H. Thwing's The Crooked and Narrow Streets of the Town of Boston, 1630 - 1822.

Annie Thwing (1851-1940) was an author and historian. In addition to her research into Boston's streets and built environment, she also wrote a re-telling of the children's book Chicken Little with illustrations by Nelly Littlehale Umbstaetter.  And while I don't use Chicken Little for reference very often, I do often find myself reaching for The Crooked and Narrow Streets. The streets of Boston have changed a good deal over the last 385 years, and I frequently receive reference questions about the history of specific streets, some of which are no longer in existence. Thwing's book is one of my go-to sources for these questions, as it give a history of the street, an idea of its physical location, and information about the individuals who lived in or owned property on the street. This source also helps us to imagine the colonial streets that our Revolutionary Characters would have walked down, and the people they would have encountered along the way.

Spurred on by a desire to know where her ancestors lived, Thwing researched early Boston's streets and inhabitants by using a number of resources, including deeds, probate, church, and town records, and diaries. All of this information was indexed on 125,000 catalog cards, that were later donated to the Massachusetts Historical Society, before they were published as The Crooked and Narrow Streets of Boston. The MHS also has a collection of the Thwing Family Papers.

Celebrate National Library Week by finding some great sources at your local library, or by searching our catalog to find some in our collection!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

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