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