December 22, 2016

New Acquisition: A Map with a Story to Tell

In this season of gift giving, I am featuring a gift that is one of the newest additions to our collection. A former member of our Board of Directors recently donated several items to the museum collection and this month, I have been cataloging those items.

A Chart of Boston Bay. Gift of Peter Kastner, 2016.0001.001
This chart is a representation of Boston Harbor as it looked in the 18th century. The original engraving was created for an atlas entitled The Atlantic Neptune (1777) by the wonderfully named Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres (1721-1824). Des Barres was an English Naval Officer, well known in his day for having surveyed the entire Atlantic Coast from Florida to Labrador. According to Lewis Butler in Annals of the King's Royal Rifle Corps: Vol 1 "The Royal Americans,"  he was also known for his “unfortunate propensity for quarreling with everyone he met.” The framed print that was donated to the Society is a restrike of the original engraving, printed in 1870 by Boston lithographer, Augustus Meisel (1824-1885). Meisel was born in Germany and emigrated to the United States in 1848, originally living in New York, and then moving to Boston, where he became a respected lithographer.

Lydia Withington map,
We are very excited to have this print in our collection, not just because it is a beautiful chart, but also because it is closely related to another object that has been in our collection since 1896, pictured on the right. This sampler was embroidered by a Boston school girl, Lydia Withington, a pupil at Mrs. Rowson’s school, in 1799. Like Meisel’s lithograph, it is a copy of Des Barres original chart, but created in silk thread on a silk background.

Together, these very different charts provide a window into how the people of Boston understood the geography of their city – a geography that has been altered greatly in the intervening years. We are grateful to the donor of the lithograph for filling this gap in our collection.

By Sira Dooley Fairchild, Collections Manager

December 15, 2016

A chair fit for display!

Corner chair, 1944.0012
An impressive corner chair is a new addition to our Revolutionary Characters exhibit! This exhibit highlights the daily lives of colonial subjects as they navigated Boston on the cusp of the American Revolution, and uses artifacts and documents to prompt visitors to draw connections to their own daily lives. The corner chair has recently been installed by Kathy Mulvaney, our Director of Education and Exhibitions, in a case on "Colonial Commuters."

In the 1770s, Boston's population was approximately 20,000 and was also full of men and women traveling from towns near and far for work or opportunities. But how does a corner chair tell the story of these commuters? To answer that question, we need to back up a little and explain Representative's Hall, the room within the Old State House where the exhibit is located. As its name suggests, this is the space that the Massachusetts House of Representatives met in from 1713 until 1774. Over one hundred individuals from towns throughout Massachusetts commuted into Boston to participate in legislative sessions that occurred twice a year. The owner of the chair, Timothy Ruggles, was one such commuter, serving in the House of Representatives from 1754 until 1770.

Ruggles lived in Hardwick, Massachusetts and left the comforts of home behind when he commuted into Boston.  One of these comforts was this fashionable three-legged corner chair, made of mahogany and with a leather seat.  The 18th century chair is in the Queen Anne style, in a design that was imported from England and was popular in the colonies between 1725 and 1760. The Society received the chair as a donation from Mr. S. R. Ruggles in 1945 and we are excited for the opportunity to have it on display.

Stop into the Old State House to see this chair in person, along with the other artifacts in our Revolutionary Characters exhibit.  And stay tuned to the blog - in a future post, Nat Sheidley, our Historian and Director of Public History, will dig deeper into the interesting story of Timothy Ruggles.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

November 30, 2016

A new voice On King Street!

Sira Dooley Fairchild has been working at the Bostonian Society since February as the Finance and Administrative Assistant.  In December, she will begin a new position as the Society's Collections Manager, where she will be a regular contributor to On King Street. Get to know Sira a bit in this introduction post!

Although I have written a few posts on this blog previously, I’d like to take a minute to formally introduce myself as the Society's new Collection Manager. The Bostonian Society's object holdings include some 6,500 artifacts and pieces of art. I am very excited to get started as the Collections Manager and I can’t wait to feature some of the most interesting objects from the collection.

Sira at the Durham Cathedral
I am a broadly-trained archaeologist, with experience digging and surveying on two continents. I received my Ph.D in archaeology from the University of Durham in 2013, where my research focused on early medieval religious change through an historiographical lens. But my very first experience with Collections Management began many years before, when I was just 12 years old and I began to volunteer at the Boston City Archaeological Laboratory, which at that time was located in the North End. Home to thousands of artifacts, many of them from the Big Dig, the lab had recently experienced a flood in one of their collections storage areas and many of the artifacts required cleaning, relabeling, and improved storage conditions.

Since then I have worked as a commercial archaeologist, digging my way across New England and the Deep South, done landscape survey in Iceland, and ground penetrating radar on an Iron Age oppidum in Gloucestershire in England. I have collected soil samples and C-14 samples and conducted GPS mapping. I have sifted through thousands of unnumbered photos from the 1953 excavation at Yeavering in Northumbria. I have written the site report for the site of Scutchamer’s Knob in Oxfordshire, after analyzing the entire collection of objects recovered from the site in earlier excavations. I am excited to be back in Boston, where this adventure began, and excited for the challenge of getting my head around this diverse collection. Please join me in exploring some of the most interesting objects from Revolutionary Boston as I begin to write about them for the blog.

By Sira Dooley Fairchild, Collections Manager

November 23, 2016

Days of Reflection: proclamations on view at the Old State House

Last year, we marked Thanksgiving by highlighting a special item from our archival collection - a Proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer, issued by Governor John Hancock in November of 1783. This year, that proclamation is temporarily on display in the Old State House. It is paired with a Proclamation for a Day of Public Fasting and Prayer, also from 1783. Both of these proclamations were issued by Governor Hancock from the Council Chamber of the Old State House, just a few feet away from where they are currently on display.

A Proclamation for a Day of Public Fast and Prayer, 1783
MS0119/Doc. 394.26 H2343
I have previously written about the Thanksgiving proclamation but it is important to point out that the "Thanksgiving" it references differs from the holiday we know today. In 1783 Thanksgiving was not yet a nationally or a federally celebrated holiday. Instead, the governors of individual colonies would declare days of thanksgiving for various reasons, such a bountiful harvest or the successful completion of a significant event. Even though the exact function of the Thanksgiving proclamation is different from what we know today, we can connect to its intention. The proclamation urged citizens to assemble together and celebrate their blessings, which is something that many of us do this time of year.

Detail of MS0119/Doc. 394.26 H2343
It can be a bit harder for us to draw a connection to a proclamation for a day of fasting and prayer, especially in November and December, when many of us are doing the opposite of fasting. But the Proclamation for a Day of Public Fasting and Prayer is displayed with the Thanksgiving proclamation because the two have similar roots. Historically, days of fasting were typically set in the spring and summer, and days of thanksgiving were set in fall. During the Revolutionary War, the colonies set days of fasting and prayer throughout the year as a means of protest against the British. While similar to days of thanksgiving, a day of fasting called for more somber reflection and set aside a day for religious worship and abstaining from labor and recreation. The proclamation called for citizens to humble themselves, confess their sins, and implore forgiveness.

If you are in the Boston area, be sure to stop by the Old State House to take a close look at these two documents. And we hope you enjoy your day of Thanksgiving, but in moderation so you don't feel like celebrating a day of fasting afterward!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

November 3, 2016

Is Funding Tangible?

Education Associate Jennifer Guerin giving a tour on the Boston
Massacre inside the Council Chamber of the Old State House
On King Street usually features the work of the Bostonian Society's history and education staff, but there are many other departments hard at work here, often behind the scenes.  One of those departments is Development, which does the important job of handling memberships, donor relations, and securing funding for the Society and the Old State House.  In this post our Development Associate, Heather Rockwood, gives our readers a look into one of our funding sources and answers the question "is funding tangible?"

When non-profits raise money, can it be seen, felt? Is it tangible? YES! The Bostonian Society relies on the money raised through ticket sales to the museum, items purchased in our three Revolutionary Boston Museum Gift Shops, through membership and individual and corporate donors, and lastly through grant writing to foundations and the government.

The Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) is a government agency that gives money to Massachusetts cultural non-profits. The people of Massachusetts and visitors from all over the world can see and feel the difference the MCC makes to the Old State House museum through the funds given to the Bostonian Society.

The funding the Bostonian Society receives from the MCC goes toward keeping the Old State House open and available for visitors. Without this vital funding, the Bostonian Society could not keep highly-trained and well-informed professional staff running the museum.  Funding from the MCC also goes towards this beautiful 300 year old building’s utilities costs. As you can imagine, keeping a large (by 18th century standards) building cool in the summer, and warm in the winter, with consideration towards all the important historical artifacts on display within the museum, can be a challenge!

Coming into the Old State House and viewing the galleries, taking a tour, or reading this blog allows everyone to see and feel the difference the MCC makes to the Old State House and the Bostonian Society.

By Heather Rockwood, Development Associate

October 25, 2016

Preserving a legacy: institutional archives at the Bostonian Society

Bostonian Society Charter, 1881
There have been many posts on this blog featuring some of the historical items in our archival collection, but the Society's archives also holds institutional materials. These documents and manuscripts tell the important story of the Bostonian Society, the organization that has cared for and maintained the Old State House since its founding in 1881. I've marked Archives Month this October by installing a display in the Old State House that allows visitors to take a peek into our institutional archives.

Currently on display through the end of the month are a bookplate from the early days of the Society's library, a pamphlet dating from 1882 with information about the Society's history and background, a menu from a celebratory dinner held in 1982 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Society's founding, and the original Bostonian Society charter - which I think is the most notable item on display.

The charter  marks the official incorporation of the Bostonian Society on December 2, 1881 and is the culmination of years of work by devoted Bostonians who were committed to saving the city's historical landscape.  The story begins when John Hancock’s family home on Beacon Hill was demolished in 1863, which served as the rallying call for the need for  historic preservation in Boston.  Consequently, the Bostonian Antiquarian Club was formed in May 1879 as a way to bring together like-minded gentlemen with an interest in history and antiquities. After functioning for two years as a volunteer club, the group felt they would be better able to advocate for the Old State House before city government if they were an incorporated society. Thus, the Bostonian Society was officially incorporated by the city in 1881 and became the steward of the Old State House, charged with maintaining it so that it would not reach a fate like the Hancock Manor.  The aim of the Society was to prevent the “reckless destruction of monuments of the past” and to provide a location to preserve, store, collect, and display artifacts related to Boston’s history.

Though available for use by researchers, some of our institutional records, like our charter and other founding documents, are over a hundred years old and must be handled carefully. We continue to add to the institutional archives on a regular basis, ensuring that the history of the Bostonian Society is accessible for future generations.  In addition to the documents on display this month, our institutional archives includes the Society's meeting minutes, annual reports, scholarly publications, acquisition ledgers, and exhibit plans. The Old State House itself stands as a testament to the work of the Bostonian Society, but our institutional archives share the stories of all that it has accomplished over the past 135 years.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

October 20, 2016

Archaeology Month: Lost and Found

October is Archaeology Month! Sira has previously looked at an item from our archives from an archaeologist's perspective, and today she takes a closer look at an object from our museum collection.

Archaeologists often study things that have been lost, dropped, or discarded. Unlike a painting or document that has been preserved intentionally, these items can tell us about the parts of the past that have been long forgotten.

One object that we hold in the collection has a fascinating backstory that allows us to imagine the lives of everyday people doing everyday jobs.  The card attached to this pin says “At one time while repairs were being made on the organ at Kings Chapel this old pin was found within the organ. This organ was procured from England in 1756 and paid for by private subscription. It cost 500 pounds sterling and was said to have been selected by the great Handel himself though the great master was at that time blind. This pin was found by the Boston organ builder, Mr. Henry E. Holland. 1886”

NN2008.0010 with penny for scale
While we know quite a bit about the life of Handel, for me the more interesting life to consider is that of the person who dropped this pin into the organ. Did it belong to one of the people who made the organ in England? Was it dropped into the organ during production, or afterwards? Did it fall in while the organ was being produced? During transport? After it arrived in Boston? What did it hold? Clothing? Sheet music? Did they notice it was missing, perhaps get down on hands-and-knees to look for it?

In this case, Mr. Henry E. Holland acted as an amateur archaeologist by preserving the pin and telling us as much about the circumstances of its discovery as possible. Knowing where and how it was found gives us a much deeper understanding of the object itself – the pin alone tells us very little, but the pin and the story together give us material around which to imagine a narrative.

By Sira Dooley Fairchild, Finance and Administrative Assistant

October 11, 2016

The archives: an invaluable resource for historians

Page 1 of the March 12, 1770 Boston Gazette
As an intern with the History Department at the Bostonian Society, I have spent a great deal of time researching in the library and archives. Filled with a great variety of sources and information on eighteenth century life in Massachusetts, this is an invaluable resource for historians like me, who want to know what exactly life was like for the people who lived in Boston at that time. Archives are a very important resource for historians, with most if not all scholars undertaking archival research at some point in their lives. By looking through sources from the time, historians can often verify or confirm newfound ideas and arguments.

Here at the Bostonian Society, we have an extensive archival collection. Most recently, I have been using the newspaper collection quite a bit, looking at one document in particular. I am currently working on editing The Proceedings, which is the Society’s scholarly publication, with the next issue focusing on the legacy of Crispus Attucks and other African-Americans from the eighteenth-century. For this reason, I have been looking at an article from the Boston Gazette and Country Journal from March 12th, 1770. This was the first publication issued following the Boston Massacre of March 5th, which happened right outside the Old State House. Attucks is named in this article as the first victim of the Massacre, which also states that he was born in Framingham. As this issue of The Proceedings will be focusing on Attucks’ roots and slavery in Massachusetts at that time in general, it is useful to me both as an editor and as a historian to look at items such as this, in order to uncover how events were portrayed at that time. The version that we have of this newspaper is actually a re-print from the early 1900s, as it was such a popular edition.

Having access to sources such as colonial newspapers and to resources like the archives of the Bostonian Society in general, is very important for historians. Working so closely with such artifacts is often the most exciting part of the research process, as it allows us to feel truly connected to the people and places of the past. Using the archives has been one of the best parts of my internship, and I’m looking forward to continuing to research in them over the coming months. I would encourage anyone interested in archival research to book an appointment with Elizabeth, our Library and Archives Manager, and come in to look at this fascinating collection!

By Laura Gillespie, History Department Intern

October 3, 2016

Kicking Off Archives Month!

Elizabeth checks out a document display
at the National Library in Dublin
October is Archives Month!  Throughout the month, we'll be highlighting the archives by sharing items from our collection and discussing ways in which we use the archives.  I'm kicking off the month by describing some of what I do with the archives at the Bostonian Society. For just over five years, I’ve been the Library and Archives Manager at the Society, overseeing our collection of 200 archival collections, along with our prints, photographs, and books. Sometimes I’ll introduce myself as an archivist, which is not always a term people are familiar with. They often think I mean archaeologist (or anarchist!), and don’t realize that an archivist is someone who cares for and makes accessible records of enduring value. Some of my favorite parts of my job are using these valuable records to answer reference questions and selecting archival items to display in Old State House exhibits.

When the Bostonian Society was founded in 1881 it was charged with collecting artifacts related to all of Boston's history.  That is a large task to undertake, and in recent years the Society has narrowed its mission to focus solely on 18th century Boston and the Old State House.  However, the questions that I answer run the gamut of Boston history; for example, patrons want to know about Boston businesses in the 1900s, what their house or neighborhood was like in the 1800s, or about a Revolutionary event in the 1700s. I turn to our archival collection to assist patrons and regularly use primary sources like letters, ledgers, and financial records.  While most of the reference requests that I receive are through email or mail, I do occasionally assist a researcher on site.  I really enjoy seeing a patron examine one of the unique items in our collection, and the excitement that is evident when they find an answer to their research question.

An Oath of Allegiance from 1778
currently on display in our library
On a recent trip to Dublin, I was excited to discover an exhibit in the lobby of the National Library that not only included copies of documents in its panels, but a case with drawers that held actual documents related to the exhibit.  When I visit museums, I always connect to the exhibit's message the most through its use of documents and manuscripts.  Seeing someone's letters and diaries, an annotated record, or even a broadside printed from that time period puts the exhibit in context for me, and helps me to relate to the exhibit on a personal level.  I try to keep this feeling in mind when I am planning for an archival display in the Old State House or writing a blog post about a collection piece.   By sharing items from our archival collection, I hope that our museum visitors and blog readers will both learn something about the 1700s and feel connected to it in a significant way.

As the Library and Archives Manager I strive to make our archival collection accessible through blog posts, reference requests, and exhibits.  I love sharing the neat things in our collection with researchers and the general public.  Please follow along on our blog, Facebook, and Instagram to "virtually" explore our archives as we celebrate Archives Month!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

September 6, 2016

“Where are you from?" and other questions asked during tours

My name is Laura Gillespie, I am an Education Associate (EA) and History Department Intern at the Old State House. Having worked as an EA in the museum over the summer months, I have been asked many interesting questions. For me, the main one has been “where are you from?”

Laura hard at work researching in our library
It is understandable that people are interested in my background, as I am an American History graduate from Ireland. I completed a Masters in American History at Queen’s University Belfast last year, and am now interning at the Old State House for a year to gain hands-on experience in public history. Many of our museum visitors are surprised to find a person from Ireland educating them on their own country’s history, and so I usually get asked some variation of this question at the beginning or at the end of each tour. This is then often followed up with “why American history?”

I have always been very interested in American history, and when I was trying to decide where to come on my graduate visa, Boston really stood out to me as a city that was abundantly rich in history. The concept of the Freedom Trail, a pathway connecting many of the historic sites in the city, seemed like an innovative way to get the public interested in the history of both the country and of the Revolution. I started my internship with the History Department in February and became an EA in April, so I now know more about the Revolutionary War, and particularly Boston’s role in it, than I ever thought I would.

My time as an EA has been very beneficial, and I really enjoy interacting with the many visitors that come through the museum. The tour that we give on the Boston Massacre often leads to questions like “where exactly did the soldiers fire on the civilian crowd?” or “they called five deaths a massacre?” The “Massacre” took place March 5, 1770 outside the Town House on King Street, (as it was known in colonial times), which is now the Old State House on State Street.  Teaching people that Paul Revere's engraving "The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston, March 5, 1770, by a party of the 29th Regiment" could be seen in some ways as one of the first pieces of propaganda produced by the Sons of Liberty in the lead up to the Revolution is always an interesting part of the tour. 

On the Old State House Tour, which goes through the history of the building, I often get asked questions like “did Samuel Adams speak in this chamber?” and “where was the Declaration of Independence first read to the people of Massachusetts?” Informing people that Adams spoke many times in Representatives’ Hall as a member of the Massachusetts Assembly and that the Declaration was first read from the balcony in the Council Chamber on July, 18 1776 are always fun topics to discuss with visitors. Many people seem to really appreciate the fact that they are standing in the space where these major historic events happened. This has impressed upon me the value of making history accessible to the public through spaces like the Old State House. I’m looking forward to seeing what interesting questions the coming months will bring!

By Laura Gillespie, Education Associate and History Department Intern

August 24, 2016

A Lasting Inscription

If you are browsing through someone's personal library, it is pretty common to come across at least a few books that have a nameplate, a signature, or a personal inscription scrawled on the first pages.  You may have even written some of those in your own books or in gifts to others.  But when you are signing or inscribing a page, do you think about the lasting impression that you are making to the book?  I was digging around in the archives recently and came across a handwritten orderly's book from 1775 that had been inscribed by the author.  This got me thinking about other items in our collection that have personal inscriptions. Bibles, pamphlets, newspapers, and books - these are items commonly found around a home or office that someone has laid claim to by signing their name on it.  I feel that these inscriptions add a personal connection to the items in our archives, and decided to take a closer look at some of them.

Inscription on inside cover of MS0176
I started with the orderly's book; the inscription reads, "James Bennett is my name and that is enought [sic] for you whoever you be that ownes [sic] this book. Ashby." I noted that the book's catalog entry doesn't include an author listing and he is not identified by name within the text of the book, so without the inscription on the first page his identity would have remained a mystery. This orderly book provides information about the men and supplies in Capt. Abijah Wyman's company in Col. Prescott's regiment, and lists the company's general orders from June 20 through August 29, 1775. I also found James in Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War and learned that he was from Ashby, Massachusetts and marched on the alarm of April 19, 1775.  While informative, James's  military listing and the contents of the orderly book don't give much insight into his personality, whereas I think his inscription does  - he seems a little bit cheeky!  Faded names can also be seen elsewhere on the page and on the front and back covers, presumably they are signatures of the other men in the company.

Signature on title page of MS0023
Another example that I found was in the Friendly Fire Society rules, regulations, and membership lists, 1774. This pamphlet lists the rules and orders of the Society, as well as a membership listing of each individual’s home and business address, details that Society members were required to know so that they could assist each other in the event of a fire.  We know which member owned this pamphlet because written on the title page is the name Wm. Dawes, Junior. William is best remembered as one of the men who rode from Boston to Lexington on the night of April 18, 1775 to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams that the British were coming.  Curiously, on the opposite page, William seems to have written "Freedom" but provided no further explanation. While we can assume that he was commenting on his feelings of living in Boston in the turbulent years leading up to the Revolution, we don't really know for certain - it's important to remember that an inscription that might make sense or have meaning to you could be a mystery for future generations!

I've written about the John Hancock family bible before, but it includes one of my favorite inscriptions in our collection. John Hancock not only signed his full name with an apostrophe "s" to indicate that he was the book's owner, but he also wrote "thou shalt not steal, saith the Lord" perhaps as a warning to keep someone from walking off with an item from his personal library.  That saying seems to be one of his favorites, as he wrote the same inscription in a psalm book also in our collection.

These inscriptions were all written in the late 1700s and remain boldly visible almost 250 years later. I'm sure that the next time I inscribe a book, I'll pause and think about the message that I am recording for posterity! 

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

August 2, 2016

Step back in time on August 13

For the second year in a row, the Bostonian Society is proud to present Echoes of the Past, a one-day interactive mystery game in the streets of Boston that will send players into the city's past to search for clues while immersing them in the story of Boston’s famous Stamp Act protest.

Mark your calendar for Saturday, August 13, 2016 when free sessions of the game will be offered at 1:00 p.m., 2:00 p.m., or 3:00 p.m. At 4:00 p.m., the game will culminate with a reenactment of the Stamp Act Riots. And new this year is the opportunity to experience an 18th-century marketplace. Starting just before 1:00 p.m., the plaza beside the Old State House will be transformed into a marketplace, giving our visitors the chance to talk with living historians about the many industries that made 18th-century Boston tick.

Echoes of the Past is a fusion of interactive theater and puzzle solving where participants will unravel the compelling true story of politics and intrigue and leave feeling excited about Boston’s history. Players are invited to begin their adventure at the registration table beside the entrance to the Old State House where they will receive an introduction and a guidebook. With the guidebook in hand players will hunt for ghosts, also known as “Echoes of the Past.” These live costumed interpreters will quickly draw players into the political intrigues of 1765. With riddles, ciphers, secret societies, grudges, and plots, every interaction will entertain and enlighten, and every player’s choices will make their experience unique. 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.

To participate in the Stamp Act Riot reenactment, 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?

We hope you will join us for a full day of activities on August 13! Please leave any questions in the comments.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Boston Cultural Council, a local agency which is funded by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, administrated by the Mayor’s Office of Arts + Culture.

July 22, 2016

An 18th Century Cure for What Ails You

My name is Sira Dooley Fairchild and I have worked in the finance department of the Bostonian Society since February. My background is in archaeology, which means that I am fascinated by the daily, mundane lives of ordinary people in the past. The administrative offices for the Bostonian Society are located in the library and my desk is not far from the case in which we display a rotating exhibit of interesting items from the archives. When Elizabeth was changing out the case the other day, the small almanac that she was putting in caught my eye.

Bickerstaff's Boston Almanack, 1774
AY 201 .B7 B52
The small pamphlet is called Bickerstaff’s Boston Almanack for the Year of our Redemption 1774 and it lists the phases of the moon, tides, sunrise and sunset, as well as providing a seasonal verse for each month. We have several volumes from this series, dating from between 1768 and 1803, published by various Boston printers. This particular issue was in printed by in 1774 by John Hicks and Nathaniel Mills at their office on School Street, only a short walk from the Old State House. It originally cost seven coppers for a single issue, or £3 and 4 pence for a dozen.

What caught my eye were the home remedies that were printed on the back of the almanac. The first one may be useful to those of you spending your summer vacations on the beach:

To remove sunburn or tan
Take half a pint of milk, with the juice of a lemmon and a spoonful of brandy. Boil the whole, skim it well, and keep it for use. Add white sugar and rock allum.

List of remedies on the back of the almanac
The second remedy sounds as though it might make acne worse – even in my worst teenage years, I never tried rubbing butter on my face.

To take away little red pimples from the face
Take two ounces of lemmon juice, two ounces of rose-water, two drams of silver sublimed, and as much cerus; put all this together, and mix it up in an ointment: With this anoint your face going to bed; the next morning, when you get up, anoint it with fresh butter, and then rub it clean off.

And lastly, this cure for “the itch”, which involves wearing wool gloves and rubbing your hands with sulfur and lard. At least you only have to do it for three days.

A receipt for the care of the itch
Make an ointment of equal parts of flowers of sulpher and hog’s lard, and oint the hands only three days, twice a day, and wear woolen gloves, he will be effectually cured.

Although our archives contain many documents relating to the American Revolution and the founding of the country, for me, the glimpse into the daily lives of 18th century Bostonians provided by this small almanac is equally interesting. It allows me to think of figures from the past as complex individuals living full lives, worrying about the same details we worry about today.

By Sira Dooley Fairchild, Finance and Administrative Assistant

July 12, 2016

Boston - running on coffee since the 1600s

When you're in Boston, you won't go far without seeing a Dunkin Donuts and you'll notice more than a few people ambling around town with their cups in hand. But coffee and coffeehouses as an integral part of daily life is not a modern condition, they were an important part of early Boston, too. In the late 1600s, coffeehouses began to rise in popularity in London. By as early as 1688, coffeehouses modeled after those could be found in Boston and continued to grow in number in the 1700s. Throughout the summer months, stop by to see documents related to early coffeehouses in the library and archives exhibit case in the Old State House. For those of you that can't make it downtown, I've highlighted two of the displayed documents in this post.

Petition from Joseph Ballard for a liquor
license, 1754 (MS0119/DC1137)
Early coffeehouses and taverns were somewhat similar in nature, though coffeehouses specialized in coffee, tea, and chocolate and originally banned gambling and alcohol.  As they evolved, coffeehouses did begin to serve alcohol, but they remained a meeting place for men to conduct business and discuss current events, politics, and commerce. One of those coffeehouses was the British Coffee House, which was located on Long Wharf at the end of King Street (now State Street), just down the road from the Old State House.  As its name suggests, in the 1760s and 1770s it was a place where those who were loyal to the king would feel welcome to gather.  On display is a petition to Boston selectmen in support of Joseph Ballard’s request for a license to sell “spirituous liquors” at the British Coffee House.  The petition notes that the house is a meeting spot for societies and it would be of public benefit for it to sell liquor.  The line between taverns and coffeehouses was sometimes blurry, but generally speaking, coffeehouses were gathering places to discuss business while taverns were a venue for fun and entertainment.

Indenture agreement, July 21, 1812 [page 1]
A bit later, the Exchange Coffee House was a hub of activity in Boston, though it was only in existence from 1809 through 1818, when it was destroyed in a fire. However, in the early 1800s, the seven-story building was one of the largest and tallest in the city.  The Exchange Coffee House was more than just a coffeehouse; its public rooms included a large hall, topped with a dome, which served as a merchant’s exchange, and it was also one of the only hotels in Boston in the early 1800s. Another distinguishing feature of the Exchange Coffee House was that it maintained a reading room.  The 1812 document on display is an indenture agreement between the proprietors of the Exchange Coffee House and John Jones, the innkeeper.  The agreement established that a certain room in the building should be furnished and appropriated to be a reading room, which had a selection of political and commercial documents, journals, and newspapers.  Local merchants and patrons of the Exchange Coffee House who paid a yearly subscription were welcome to use the reading room.  Much like today’s coffeehouses, the reading room and coffeehouse at the Exchange served as a place where people could gather to exchange ideas and discuss current events.

There is much more to the story of the Exchange Coffee House, to learn more, check out The Exchange Artist: A Tale of High-Flying Speculation and America's First Banking Collapse by Jane Kamensky.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

June 2, 2016

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

For the past few months, one of our Education Associates has been exploring the history of fires at the Old State House.  Her final installment is on the 1921 fire, but you can catch up by reading about the 1747 fire and the 1832 fire

1921 Fire

In its history, the Old State House has been ravaged by three separate fires.  The third and final fire burned through the building on April 13, 1921. A pedestrian passing by the Old State House noticed smoke billowing from the upper floors and alerted authorities. The fire department acted swiftly to extinguish the flames.  As the Old State House served as a museum to Boston history in 1921, more than just the structure was at stake.  The museum housed hundreds of irreplaceable objects. While no objects were harmed, the building was not so lucky.  It suffered injury to the third floor, roof, and wooden laths at an estimated cost of $10,000. Water devastation to interior walls and the ceiling exacerbated problems.

In the aftermath of this third fire, the Fire Protection Department recommended that the Bostonian Society add fire protection to the building. The Society added fire stop blocks between the interior brick walls and improved housekeeping procedures. Sprinklers, however, were not installed as the water could potentially harm the priceless objects exhibited in the museum.

The Old State House has endured fires, storms, and natural disasters that could have destroyed the building entirely, but happily for the people of Boston it still stands as a testament to the rich 18th century history of Boston and the founding of the United States.

By Deirdre Kutt, Education Associate

May 25, 2016

Preservation Month at the Old State House (Part IV)

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 building. At the Old State House, we are taking this opportunity to look back on some of the preservation and restoration projects that the Society has completed in the last decade. Matt Ottinger, our Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation, concludes his series this week with a look at work that was done from 2012-2015 but read his previous posts here

West Façade, East Balcony, and Lion & Unicorn Restoration


West Façade

In 2012, the Society convened a team that included Judy Selwyn, a historic preservation consultant; David Storeygard, an architect; Mark Webster, a structural engineer; and myself, to review conditions of the west façade. Using a man-lift the team inspected the Old State House with a strong focus on its west façade. By viewing the conditions up close, the group found major deterioration issues.

The team concluded that the building had been hemorrhaging moisture, leading to decay and ice-damage. The OSH, built in 1713, was not designed to have a modern HVAC system and the wood and masonry of the building had not responded well in the 25 years since its installation.  During cold months, positive air pressure maintained inside the building had pushed warm humid air out, through cracks and openings in the façades.  Where the humid air encountered the cold surfaces of windows, walls, and sheathing, it condensed and froze on the building, forming ice-dams and causing cracks in masonry and rot in the wood.  Water drip marks are visible on the windows and balustrades. The Society installed a relief fan and ventilation in the building’s tower to alleviate the HVAC concerns.

Brick work at the Old State House
The Society then focused its efforts on restoration of the west façade. The preservation team recommended rebuilding the upper chimney section, salvaging and reusing fully-sound bricks, and supplementing those with new, matching bricks. Cast stone elements were replaced with Portland Brownstone, and exterior lighting fixtures were replaced with smaller LED fixtures.  On the parapet, sealant was applied to the step-flashing on the rear side and ‘L’-shaped lead caps will be added at the coping wall transition where the scrolls sit. All mortar joints of the entire west façade were cut out and repointed. This work included the resetting of loose bricks and the replacement of any isolated, deteriorated bricks. The cement wash of the two belt courses was replaced as necessary.

Windows on the west façade were in various states of deterioration. All of them required sanding, feathering, and spot-priming of their surfaces, as well as replacement of defective putty. The two ox-eye windows needed to be removed, so that they could be stripped, repaired, and painted off-site, before they were reinstalled with new flashing and sealant. The center window on the second floor needs a new wood sill and sealant.

East Balcony

The restored balcony, ready to be assembled and reinstalled
The iconic balcony, from which the Declaration of Independence was read to Bostonians in 1776, was in need of restoration. Due to exposure to severe weather conditions in Boston's historic center, wood and masonry throughout the building had deteriorated significantly over the years. The Society executed the following work in 2014-15:
  • Replacement of the decayed wooden corner posts and rails;
  • Repair of the doors and surrounds;
  • Re-flashing and sealing of areas connecting the masonry and wood;
  • Repainting of all woodwork. 

Lion & Unicorn Restoration

In the fall of 2014 the Society teamed with Skylight Studios to regild the lion and unicorn statues that sit atop the building on the east façade. Using a man-lift and crane, the two statues were carefully lowered into specially constructed crates for transportation to Skylight Studios. Once on-site and unpacked, the statues received much needed care. First the remaining gilding had to be stripped from the statues and the copper cleaned. Next, the statues were covered in a special primer and a clear material called size. The size is a tacky substance that gold and platinum leaf adheres to.  The process was complete once the many individual sheets of gold or platinum were layered on the statues. The lion and unicorn statues were then returned to the Old State House and revealed during a small ceremony before being reinstalled on their individual perches.

Preservation and restoration work at the Old State House is on-going.  For information on how you can help preserve this national treasure, please call 617-720-1713 ext. 16, or send us an email.

By Matt Ottinger, Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation

May 19, 2016

Preservation Month at the Old State House (Part III)

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 building. At the Old State House, we are taking this opportunity to look back on some of the 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 our most important projects to maintain this iconic 300+ year old building. Catch up by reading Matt's first post and second post.

Restoration of Whitmore Hall

During the 18th century the first floor of the Old State House was largely an open hall, with a row of columns down the middle and two stairways with small offices beneath them, dividing the expanse approximately into thirds. Now known as Whitmore Hall, this space served as a merchants’ exchange, and in this capacity also served as a place to exchange news and political views, particularly about the actions of the legislature and the Royal Governor upstairs. During the 19th century, two partition walls were erected to divide the space on the east end of the first floor. There was a wall crossing north to south dividing the space in half, and then an east-west wall on one side of the north-south wall. Those walls, however, were shortened in 1903, after construction of the subway station beneath this part of the building required that the first floor be raised.

Whitmore Hall, looking NE before restoration
A 2007 National Endowment for the Humanities panel of scholars and community members proposed opening up the first floor as much as possible, in order to restore some sense of the merchants’ exchange. Contributing to the 18th century feel of the building would be the primary goal, but the panel also suggested that removing the walls in Whitmore Hall would aid in setting the building in a place.

After receiving approval, the project got underway in early 2009. We opened up a few exploratory holes in the ceiling of the space, and what we found surprised us. On one hand, we confirmed that the partition walls definitely were not load-bearing. On the other hand, we found that the ceiling had pulled away from the joists by as much as four inches.

Whitmore Hall, looking NE after restoration
In the next few days, in addition to the engineer and our architects, we had several professionals consult on this problem. The consensus was that the entire ceiling in this section of the building was not structurally sound and should be replaced. The outermost layer of plaster dated to the 1980s, with metal lathe. Above that was a horsehair plaster layer with wood lathe, dating to 1882. While it was not possible to retain the horsehair plaster and wood lathe without compromising structural integrity, we did retain the ceiling framing, and added additional support. We were also able to retain the 1882 plaster molding running along the perimeter of the room.

Removing the old plaster allowed us to examine and document the ceiling’s support system, including four 13” x 13” wooden girders spanning about 34 feet, dating to 1748. One is spaced between each window, spanning from the north wall to the south wall, throughout the first floor. The girders are among the building’s oldest surviving architectural elements, and the four in this section of the building were in quite good shape. One girder had to be repaired and sistered with steel I-beams as it had been previously cut and patched with wood. As part of the project, we installed a viewing panel to allow visitors to see one of these massive old beams for themselves.

We even left clues as to how the room had been previously divided:
  • The Douglas Fir floor boards that run perpendicular to the rest of the floor to signify the wall that once ran east-west through the space.
  • The furthest east column was left unique and does not match the others, as it was installed at a later date and is a reminder of the division.
  • We chose not to continue the center beam that runs along the column line in Whitmore Hall, but the termination of it will be a trace of the former division.
  • The “floor rail” in the old Preservation Room was retained along the east and north walls as a reminder of the space having once been used for an office.
At this time we also undertook the restoration of the medallion in Representatives Hall. Water damage to the ceiling had prompted an investigation of the historic medallion, and it was found to be in need of some minor repairs and securing. Conservator Louise Freedman of L.H. Freedman Studios (a division of Boston Creative Inc.) was brought in to restore the medallion. Originally thought to be plaster, the medallion was actually found to be made of carved wood. Dating to the 1882 renovation of the Old State House by George Clough, the medallion was covered in multiple layers of paint. The paint was scraped off by hand over the course of three days. The wood was then sealed and an epoxy was injected behind the medallion to re-secure it to the ceiling. It was then primed and painted. The final step was to spread a tinted glaze over the medallion to highlight the carving.

Check back next week for our final installment of our Preservation Month series!

By Matt Ottinger, Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation

May 11, 2016

Preservation Month at the Old State House (Part II)

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 building. At the Old State House, we are taking this opportunity to look back on some of the 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 our most important projects to maintain this iconic 300+ year old building. Catch up by reading Matt's first post here.

Restoration of the Tower 2008

Old State House with tower scaffolding
During the 18th century, the Old State House tower was one of the highest spots in Boston and an excellent place to watch the ships come and go in the harbor. Eight years ago it was an excellent place to get wet during a nor-easter. Much of the tower’s wood siding had become so rotted that water streamed inside during bad storms, then seeped down to the lower floors of the building. The damage also threatened the still-functioning 1831 Simon Willard clock, the face of which is located in between the lion and unicorn statues on the east façade.

The Tower Restoration Project took place from April to July 2008, and included replacement of wood siding on all four faces, repair and reglazing of the tower windows, installation of new flat-seam copper roofing, and selective repair or replacement of wood balusters and other deteriorated architectural features.

The last piece of new siding is installed on the tower
Over the course of the project, I was up on the scaffolding every day, coordinating the work with the preservation crew and investigating the tower’s history. The architectural elements that make up the tower do not all date to the same time period; some are as old as 1748 and others are as new as 1990. Dating these elements and determining how they fit together was an important part of the project. The crew made some interesting discoveries, including: an intricate system of angled beams, dating to 1748, which serve as framing for the dome; what are likely to be 18th-century boards, held in place with hand-wrought nails, underneath the tower's copper flashing; and charred wood from the building's last major fire, in 1921.

To find out what else was discovered, see more pictures, and learn more details about the tower project, visit the project blog.

By Matt Ottinger, Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation

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 building.  At the Old State House, we are taking this opportunity to look back on some of the 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 façades 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

February 16, 2016

The Coroner's Report on Crispus Attucks

The Bostonian Society is preparing for one of its biggest events of the year, the Boston Massacre Commemoration and Reenactment.  This year, the event will occur on March 5 and will mark the 246th anniversary to the day.  In honor of this upcoming anniversary, we're sharing an important document from our collection that is associated with this event - the Coroner's Report on Crispus Attucks.  Little is known of Attucks, but he is remembered as one of the victims of the Boston Massacre. This document is the original coroner's jury report on the body of Crispus Attucks, who is referred to as Michael Johnson in the report.

A facsimile (copy) of the coroner's report is currently on display in the Colony to Commonwealth exhibit in the Old State House, but in 2003 the original was returned the archives.  After being on display for many years, the ink on the paper had started to fade as a result of being exposed to light.  To mitigate any further deterioration, the original is now kept in dark storage and only taken out for special occasions.  In previous years, the report has been on display around March 5, as a special way to commemorate the anniversary of the Boston Massacre.  This year, however, it will remain in storage, so writing about it our blog is a way to share its history while preserving its future.

When violence broke out in front of the Old State House on King Street, Attucks was the first casualty.  On March 12, 1770 the Boston Gazette and Country Journal published an account of the incident and described
Attucks as "a mulatto man, named Crispus Attucks, who was born in Framingham, but later belonged to New Providence and was here in order to go to North Carolina, also killed instantly; two balls entering his breast one of them in special goring the right lobe of the lungs, and a great part of the liver most horribly."  After lying in state for three days at Faneuil Hall, Attucks was buried at the Granary Burying Ground in downtown Boston, along with the other victims of the Boston Massacre. 

The coroner's report was filed on March 6, 1770 - only one day after the Boston Massacre occurred.  The full text reads as follows:

"An Inquisition Indented, taken at Boston within the said county of Suffolk, the sixth day of March in the tenth year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord George the Third by the Grace of God, of Great-Britain, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, &c. Before Robert Pierpont, Gent. one of the Coroners of our said Lord the King, within the county of Suffolk aforesaid; upon the View of the Body of Michael Johnson [Crispus Attucks] then and there being Dead, by the Oaths of William Palfrey, William Flagg, William Crafts, Enoch Rust, Robert Duncean, William Baker Junior, Samuel Danforth, Benjamin Waldo foreman, Jacob Emmans, John McLane, William Fleet, John Wise, John How[illegible], Nathaniel Hurd

State Street Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770 (1890.0042)
By W.L. Champney, lithographed by J.H. Bufford

good and lawful Men of Boston aforesaid; within the Country aforesaid, who being Charged and Sworn to enquire for our said Lord the King, When by what Means and how the said Michael Johnson came to his death: Upon their Oaths do say, that the said Michael Johnson willfully and feloniously murdered at King Street in Boston in the County aforesaid on the Evening of the 5th instant between the hours of nine & ten by the discharge of a Musket or Muskets loaded with bullets, two of which were shot thro' his body by a party of soldiers [illegible] known then and there headed and commanded by Captain Thomas Preston of his Majesty's 29th Regiment of Foot against the peace of our Sovereign Lord the King [illegible].

In Witness whereof, as well I the Coroner aforesaid, as the Jurors aforesaid, to this Inquisition have interchangeably put our Hands and Seals, the Day and Year aforesaid."

It was then signed by each member of the coroner's jury, and a square of paper was affixed next to each signature.

The coroner's report came to the Society as a donation in 1891 as part of the Leffingwell Collection.The Indictment of Captain Preston (MS0119/DC973.3113) was donated at the same time. Both of these documents are important additions to our archives, because they shed light on the aftermath of the events of March 5.

Though the coroner's report will remain in storage this March, another special document will be displayed.  Stop by the Old State House from March 4 - 7 for the rare opportunity to see Paul Revere's print The Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street, Boston, March 5, 1770, by a party of the 29th Regiment.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager