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.

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

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

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

July 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

July 1, 2015

4th of July at the Old State House!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager