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