“You are men, as well as they”: David Walker’s Appeal to Colored Citizens

By Hilde Perrin, Library Assistant 

With Black History Month upon us, I wanted to investigate items in our collection related to the Black experience in Massachusetts. One item is a pamphlet written by David Walker, titled “Walker’s appeal in four articles: together with a preamble, to the colored citizens of the world, but in particular, and very expressly to those of the United States of America.” Walker’s pamphlet addresses his fellow Black citizens, encouraging them to work against slavery, and calls attention to the racism in the abolition movement.  

Walker’s appeal in four articles

Born in North Carolina, David Walker relocated to Boston, where he operated a clothing shop and served as an active member of Boston’s Black community.1 Walker was a founding member of the Massachusetts General Colored Association (MGCA), a Black-led abolitionist organization which argued for equal rights, fighting against slavery and segregation. The MGCA was active in Boston, and later became more broadly known for merging with the New England Anti-Slavery Association in 1833.2 Published in 1830, the abolitionist pamphlet is a powerful piece of writing that exhibits Walker’s and the MGCA’s views on slavery and the need not only for abolition, but for equal rights. 

The pamphlet is divided into four parts, covering the consequences of slavery, the religious aspects of slavery, and the problems of the colonization movement, which was active during this period. Walker wastes no time in airing his grievances, calling slavery the “curse to nations”3 that makes his fellow Black Americans the “most degraded, wretched, and abject” beings4. Grounding himself in his Protestant Christian faith, he asserts the evils of slavery and the humanity of African Americans using his language in the pamphlet. Walker repeatedly refers to African Americans as “citizens.” While Black Americans did not legally possess citizenship until after the passage of the 14th amendment in 1868,5 Walker uses the word to emphasize a key point in his argument – the importance of their humanity. “You are men, as well as they”6 he asserts. He further discusses this by citing the bible and calling out white Christians particularly for their lack of equality. Elaborating on the reluctance of white Christians to accept Black Americans as equal in humanity, Walker challenges white readers to support not just the abolition of slavery for their own consciences, but for the equal rights of their fellow humans.  

The pamphlet showcases Walker’s education and classical knowledge – providing biblical and classical examples against slavery throughout his argument and writing in dialogue with racist founders like Thomas Jefferson and contemporaries like Henry Clay. Using biblical examples of the Israelites enslavement by the Egyptians, he elaborates that even while they were enslaved, they were treated with more humanity than the enslaved in the 19th century United States.7  Not only does he showcase his education through his writing, he also argues for the importance of education, calling to educated African Americans to enlighten their “ignorant brethren.”8 Walker sees the need for education as connected with the need for freedom and encourages his readers to seek it out for themselves and others. 

Walker’s appeal in four articles

Walker concludes the article by printing an excerpt from the Declaration of Independence, and highlights to readers the hypocrisy of the document, asking “Do you see your declaration, Americans!!!!!! Do you understand your own language?”9 He tasks white Americans with raising the enslaved to the condition of “respectable men,” and further stating that they must “make a national acknowledgement to us for the wrongs they have inflicted.”10 With dramatic use of exclamation points and capital letters, Walker crafts his language to display his anger and to emphasize the importance of his argument. His fiery language reminds us today of the weight of slavery, and the responsibility that comes with perpetuating it, and gives us a glimpse into the Black participation in the abolition movement.11 

Walker’s appeal in four articles

Outdoor Education, Part I: The School Gardening Notebooks of Susan Putnam Hill

By Madeline Birnbaum, Library Assistant

Elizabeth Susan Hill (1871-1957) and Susan Putnam Hill (1878-1935) were sisters and teachers with a keen interest in the natural world. The daughters of Mary Susan McIntire and Charles Henry Hill, a farmer and produce dealer, they grew up in Groton, Mass. with six other siblings. Little documentation of their early lives survives, but both went on to become teachers, Elizabeth in Groton and Susan in Lancaster, about fifteen miles from her hometown. This blog post will focus on Susan Hill, and a Part II will focus on her sister.

Around 1907, Susan Hill became the director of a school gardening program, which encouraged children to tend their own small garden plots and carefully observe the cycles of growth and harvest, as well as the intricacies and curiosities of animal life around the gardens. This program was situated within the wider “nature study” movement in the United States, which by the time Hill began to teach was a fully-fledged pedagogical approach. Scientists and educators such as Louis Agassiz, Lucretia Crocker, Wilbur S. Jackman, and Anna Botsford Comstock had been among those at the forefront of the late-19th-century effort to incorporate experiential learning and the study of natural science into American public schools. The desire among members of the cultural establishment to develop an educated voting populace, their anxiety over increased urbanization, and their impulse to Americanize the many new immigrants to the United States all contributed to the educational policy environment in which nature study flourished.[1]

The MHS holds several notebooks related to Susan Hill’s gardening program, most kept by Hill herself. Through these notebooks, we can see the depth of care Hill had for the program and the extent of her knowledge of gardening and botany; it seems likely that much of her expertise and enthusiasm stemmed from her upbringing as the daughter of a farmer. Describing three new school gardens begun in Lancaster, Hill writes,

“The children were very interested and enthusiastic. Each child had a note book and kept a record of his garden – telling when things were planted [–] when up – when blossomed – when first eaten. In this way they find out for them selves how long it takes for the various things to be ready for the table. […]

School gardening does not teach how to grow vegetables merely, but it gives the children a sense of ownership […] He is taught that that little garden is his and he will do his best to make the most of it.”[2]

Hill seems to place equal weight on the knowledge and skills of gardening on the one hand and the lessons of personal responsibility and respect for property on the other, making for an interesting combination of innovative pedagogy and traditionalist, conservative messaging.

The politics of education aside, one doesn’t need to take Hill at her word that the children were enthusiastic about their gardens. Alongside Hill’s eleven extant gardening notebooks, two children’s notebooks are held at the MHS that communicate the students’ investment in learning in their own unique ways.

The first notebook, kept by a child called Mary L., shows how Hill guided younger children in their learning. The back of the notebook contains a series of questions about the basics of botany in what appears to be Hill’s handwriting and their answers carefully written by Mary. The call-and-response nature of the questions, as well as the way they build on and branch out from one another, recalls the form of a catechism.

“1. What is Botany?

Botany is the study of Flowers.

2. What does even the smallest seed contain?

Even the smallest seed contains a Little Plant.

3. What is this Little Plant called?

The Embryo.

4. What are the Leaves of a seed called?

The leaves in the seeds are called Cotyledons.

5. What is the bud between the Cotyledons called?

The bud between the leaves is called the Plumule.”[3]

The majority of Mary’s notebook is comprised of entries for different species of plants and animals, each accompanied by another series of questions written by Hill and (usually) dutifully filled in by her student. In the below entry for a blackberry plant, Mary fills out the required answers to Hill’s many technical questions (Size? Shape? Petals? Sepals?) and then writes in the “Remarks” field, “very prickly.” From what we can tell from her notebook, Mary seems to have been a bright and curious student.

Image showing a handwritten notebook page.
The notebook of Mary L., showing her notes on a blackberry plant.

The other, anonymous child’s notebook appears to have been created by a student a little older than Mary, and whose study of nature was more self-directed. Rather than a structured series of questions written by Hill and responses penciled in by the student, this notebook takes the form of a journal. The student was clearly a dedicated gardener, as an anecdote about visitors to the school plots demonstrates:

“July 22. Two boys from town came to visit our gardens and our teacher asked them to judge our gardens, they were very severe I got 99%, I had one weed in my garden.”

A reader can also tell that the student was keenly observant and had a genuine interest in the natural world. There are several instances in the notebook in which the student describes taking home a moth or leaf with eggs on it to observe more carefully. In one entry, they vividly capture the drama of a flying ant attacking a spider, with intricate drawings of what appear to be the three stages of the flying ant’s life on the page opposite. The student writes,

“I saw a large flying ant trying to carry a live spider away. It was too large and bungling to carry it frontways so he walked backwards dragging it along after him.”[4]

Image showing two pages of a handwritten notebook. The left side shows three large sketches of an insect at different life cycles. The right side shows handwritten, dated journal entries.
The notebook of an anonymous student, showing sketches of the lifecycle of an insect and journal entries pertaining to their garden plot.

Susan Hill’s collection of gardening notebooks allows us insight into a distinctive trend in American education, and also provides a window into the ambitions and projects of a teacher in small-town Massachusetts at the beginning of the twentieth century. My personal favorite aspect of the collection, though, is how it keeps alive the curious minds of Hill’s students and the tiny, intricate details of nature, like a blackberry flower’s five white petals or the mortal struggle of a captured spider, so often unnoticed and even more often unrecorded.

[1] Kohlstedt, Sally Gregory. “Nature, Not Books: Scientists and the Origins of the Nature-Study Movement in the 1890s.” Isis, Vol. 96, No. 3 (2005), pp. 324-352.

[2] Hill family papers, Carton 1, Folder 26, MHS.

[3] Hill family papers, Carton 1, Folder 41, MHS.

[4] Hill family papers, Carton 1, Folder 42.

Born in the USA: Citizenship for Children

By Meg Szydlik, Visitor Services Coordinator

If you are like me, you’ve taken online quizzes that pull questions from the written citizenship tests to see how much you know about your own history. As a historian, I have always done well, so I decided to explore other ideas of what American citizenship means. I choose the 1920 children’s book I Am An American by Sara Cone Bryant as an example. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started to explore the online copy linked in the MHS’ catalog entry. What I found was a highly-propagandized retelling of the history of the United States. The book has a particular focus on WWI, and on ideas of cleanliness. It was interesting to read with the context of another hundred years and knowledge of WWII, the Civil Rights Movement, and even the Cold War. There are countries that did not even exist yet and others that have fallen in the century since this book was published. The world is so different, and yet so similar.

Cover of a book, greenish in color. The text reads “I AM AN AMERICAN” above a girl and boy in uniform saluting with an American flag in the center. Below the flag the text reads “By Sara Cone Bryant” and there is a sticker at the top with a library call number on it.
I Am An American book cover

The particular narrative presented in the text is one that does not match with the experience of every American. One part that really struck me was the chapter about the flag and how the flag had no “black pages” or “marks of tyranny” on it. Elsewhere in the book, Bryant discusses slavery as a bad thing and briefly references its negative reflection on the United States, but stops short of truly engaging with the legacy of enslavement, including sharecropping and rampant racism. It startled me how little the book, published a little over 50 years after the end of the Civil War, discussed abolition. It is interesting to me as well that Birth of a Nation, a 1915 racist film classic screened to much acclaim in Woodrow Wilson’s White House, was less than a decade old. In 2024, I would certainly consider chattel slavery and the protection of the right to own another person to be a black mark on the flag though apparently Mrs. Bryant does not. And I am far from alone in that thought, as discussions about monuments indicate.

Page from a book. The text reads “When we study the histories of the old countries we see that their flags used to be taken out to war for very cruel and unjust purposes. Perhaps people knew no better in those days./Our country was settled after better ideas had come into the world, and by people who thought deeply about right and wrong. The history of our flag has no such black pages./It is a privilege to belong to a brave young country, with a history we need not regret, and a flag with no marks of tyranny on it.”
Detail from chapter titled My Flag in I Am An American

Throughout the text, there is an emphasis on the innate goodness of America that I found ahistorical. Continually insisting that Americans are the best, bravest, and most free people in the world at a minimum suggests an untrustworthy level of bias and propagandizing. It gives off the same energy as my mother insisting that her children are the best, but where I can forgive my beloved mother her love for her children, I have a much more difficult time with Mrs. Bryant. American history is full of fights on the Senate floor, political intrigue, and corruption, none of which is acknowledged in the text. The United States is not perfectly pure! Nor would I expect it, or any country or state, to be. But in the immediate aftermath of what we now refer to as World War I and the Red Scare, it would have made sense to shore up support wherever possible and schoolchildren make excellent targets for what reads an awful lot like indoctrination.

Image of the White House overlaid on top of the Capitol building with the words “MY GOVERNMENT” and an eagle underneath. Below that the text reads “IV/I am an American. I am a citizen of the American Republic, first and greatest in the world. My country is a Union of Free States, under one central government which is chosen by the people and in which all have equal rights.”
Detail from chapter titled My Government in I Am An American

The children reading this text in school grew up just in time for World War II, where American nationalism reached a fever pitch yet again. While I do not doubt that there were many factors involved, I suspect that this kind of messaging played a role. The American exceptionalism of the text is still taught in schools today, or at least was when I was an elementary student. That message of exceptionalism is now interwoven with complications – slavery, racism, child labor, women’s rights, and poverty are all part of the story. American history is filled with complications and citizenship should be too, even in times of triumph.

The Immortal Dialogue of the Caroline Healey Dall Papers

By Kathryn Angelica, PhD Candidate in History, University of Connecticut

On December 14, 1899, the Massachusetts Historical Society received a collection of papers donated by Boston-born reformer Caroline Dall. An abolitionist, intellectual, suffragist, educator, and writer, Dall had a formidable reputation for speaking her mind. At the age of seventy-seven and living in Washington D. C., she sealed a number of trunks containing her life’s achievements. “At least I have lived to do this,” she wrote in her journal, “whether I shall finish the autobiography is doubtful.”[i]  She included several volumes relating to her public career, reams of correspondence, copies of her published works, and “three trunks containing typewritten material, of which no public use [was] to be made until fifteen years after her death.”[ii] Plagued by ill-health, tragedy, and uncertainty for the majority of her life, she took an active role in ensuring the preservation of her life’s accomplishments.

Black and white image of two handwritten pages.
Caroline Healey Dall Papers, Correspondence, Reel 1, Box 1, Folder 11

Dall in fact lived another thirteen years until 1912, and although never completing her autobiography, was nonetheless able to curate the archive of her life. The Caroline Healey Dall Papers today span twenty four boxes and eighty-one volumes.[iii] Hidden within the collection are a series of annotations that do much to shape the narrative. On correspondence written between June 1834 and February 1863, for example, Dall made sixty-one annotations ranging from brief notes to paragraph-length reflections. One letter from 1842, written to the students of West Parish School while she taught in Washington D.C., contains notes dated 1878 and 1896. Footnotes on this selection of material are dated from 1856 to 1899, suggesting Dall routinely pored over correspondence from decades past, drawing different conclusions.[iv]

Dall’s careful curation of her personal papers reflects her belief in the historical significance of her activism. She debated writing an autobiography for decades. Referring to Julia Ward Howe’s Reminiscences as evidence of “self-conceit,” she was wary of the potential ramifications of revealing her innermost thoughts.[v] Many of her annotations control the narrative of her life. Dall ripped, destroyed, and crossed out material she deemed “uncharitable parts unnecessarily preserved” but once added to the remainder “may it be used if my life is ever written.”[vi] In July of 1869, she indicated that she had censored a collection of letters from 1843-1844 concerning her marriage. Later, she wrote, “I never want my life written – till it can be written as a warning. I despise long lives in general – don’t ask to have any written – only it must be, truly, if at all.”[vii] Dall believed a biography would be written with or without her consent. The proactive decision to send her papers to Boston herself, rather than trust an executor, illustrates how she inserted herself into the archival process.

Annotations offer insights into Dall’s changing relationships with contemporaries like Ednah Dow Cheney, Paulina Wright Davis, and Theodore Parker. Dall and Cheney met in their childhood years, but by 1878, experienced a rift in their friendship. “No act of mine is the cause of Mrs. Cheney’s late demeanor to me. I am told it is caused by envy & jealousy,” Dall scribbled on the back of a letter from Cheney she ultimately discarded, “Alas! what does she envy?”[viii] On a letter from Davis, she admitted that its contents were “discreditable to Mrs. D” but advocated for its preservation regardless. Dall also marked letters to and from Parker with the date ‘May 28, 1898,’ suggesting her intention to organize, review, or publish her exchanges with the radical abolitionist and lecturer. Her annotations reveal her perspective of the era and serve as guidelines for future biographers. She identified letters of “an historic bearing and interest” and remarked on feminist and reform concerns.[ix] On December 5, 1899, days before she sealed the final trunk bound for Boston, Dall penned, “The letters enclosed throw light on my own life from 1849 to 1869 during many dark & doubtful days, when I stood alone as few women ever do … No one may ever care to read them – but they show how groundless many women have been & I think best to preserve them.”[x]

Historians of the nineteenth century rarely get the opportunity to commune directly with their subjects. The annotations within Caroline Dall’s papers offer a glimpse into what she herself viewed to be the pivotal achievements, tragedies, and challenges of her life. Her commentary transforms her writings into multidimensional documents transcending decades and reflecting both her immediate reactions and retrospective reflections. Furthermore, they create an immortal dialogue with the imagined reader. In this way they are living documents, offering both tantalizing possibilities for historical discovery and stark warnings to the intrepid biographer.

[i] Caroline Dall, Journal Vol. 42, December 7, 1899, Caroline Healey Dall Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

[ii] Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical  Society, Second Series Vol XI 1896-1897 (Boston: Published by the Society, 1897), 333; Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Second Series Vol. XIII, 1899-1900 (Boston: Published by the Society, 1900), 310; Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings October 1909 – June 1910, Vol. XLIII (Boston: Published by the Society, 1910), 38; Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings October 1912 – June 1913, Vol. XLVI (Boston: Published by the Society, 1913), 379. In addition to her personal papers, Dall donated a “rail cut by Abraham Lincoln” and a cabinet table.

[iii] An additional 11.5 boxes, 5 photograph folders, and 1 folio folder of Caroline Dall’s papers are held Harvard’s Schlesinger Library. 

[iv] Caroline W. Healey to the Teachers of the West Parish School, September 17, 1842, Correspondence, Reel 1, CHD Papers.

[v] Caroline Dall, Journal Vol. 42, December 7, 1899, CHD Papers.  

[vi] Note within letters dated July 1869, Correspondence, Reel 1, CHD Papers.

[vii] Note within letters dated August 1869, Correspondence, Reel 1, CHD Papers.

[viii] Ednah L. Cheney to Caroline H. Dall, April 13, 1856 [back page of letter, rest discarded], note dated 1876, Correspondence, Reel 2, CHD Papers.

[ix] Caroline H. Dall to Paulina W. Davis, November 1855, Correspondence, Reel 2, CHD Papers.

[x] Note within letters dated December 5, 1899, Correspondence, Reel 1, CHD Papers.

Paste Jewelry Isn’t Paste

By Maggie Parfitt, Visitor Services Coordinator

What are paste gems made of? Seemingly self-explanatory questions like these pop up all the time in archival research. And this one I’ll bet you haven’t given too much thought, unless you spend a lot of time thinking about historic jewelry. The answer may seem obvious, and in a sense, it is – paste gems are made of paste. (Sorry to have lied to you in the title). But there is a trick! “Paste” in this context is a certain kind of glass. I will freely admit I did not know this until a few weeks ago. I, until then, perhaps embarrassingly, perhaps understandably, thought paste stones were made of some sort of hardened glue or resin compound. (Please don’t tell my archaeology professors.)

Paste jewelry isn’t just made from any glass; the base of paste is always leaded glass, the same as antique and vintage crystal. The lead both softens the glass, allowing it to be hand cut and shaped, and makes it more refractive, so it can sparkle in aristocratic candlelight. While leaded glass has been used jewelry since at least the 1600s, Georges-Frédéric Strass, eventual Jeweler to the King of France, launched paste stones into Western fashion’s mainstream in the 1720s. 1, 2, 3

The origins of the term “paste” are debated, but the process and recipes are known. A trade book printed in Philadelphia in 17954 describes the process in roughly these steps. 1. Put three ounces of lead in water, draw out the water and use it to wet a pipkin. 2. Dry minimum and mix it with the dried lead, calcined crystal, and copper filings. Pulverize them together and put them in the pipkin lined with lead water. Cover and leave in a glass furnace for three to four days. “At the end of that time you shall find you have got a very fine white paste, which you may cut as you like.”5 The book goes on to describe recipes to imitate what must be nearly every type of gem in nearly every color. In this way paste stones absolutely allowed more creative and economic freedom to jewelry designers and makers.

First paragraphs of Chapter 5 in One Thousand Valuable Secrets in the Elegant and Useful Arts which describes the process of creating the base used for paste gems. The images are taken from microfiche, white text against a black background.
Beginning of Chapter V of One Thousand Valuable Secrets in the Elegant and Useful Arts (1795) “Secrets relative to the Art of Glass Manufactory, and the making Compositions to imitate PRECIOUS STONES, commonly known, in this country, by the name of French Paste.”

There’s a modern urge to think of “imitation” jewelry purely in economic terms – of creating a cheaper product for the non-elite. While there’s certainly an economic component to glass stone production, the primary driver of their success seems to be innovation and aesthetic appeal rather than industrialization.6, 7 The King of France doesn’t need cheaper gems – but he does need novelty to impress his peers. (As much as the motivations of the aristocracy can ever be separated from their economic status.)  We now think of paste stones as “imitation gems” or “false diamonds,” relegating them in our minds to the status of knock-offs for non-elite pretenders. In the 18th century these concepts weren’t mutually exclusive. One Thousand Valuable Secrets describes “how to make white sapphires to imitate true diamonds”8 and how “to counterfeit diamonds”9 but also details the rich color and beauty of these paste stones10, likening them to the highest European fashions.11

In the 18th century paste stones were cutting edge, used to experiment with the known forms of jewelry. The softness of paste allowed it to be cut and formed in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, with small, near invisible settings impossible to achieve with real gems. Uses of paste stones were varied, from elaborate necklaces to smaller items like buckles and shirt buttons.

A large mother of pearl and paste necklace against a white background. The mother of pearl shines under the lights. 12 ovular mother of pearl medallions, 10 single, and two doubled in the center. Each medallion is surrounded by small paste gems.
This mid-18th century mother of pearl and paste necklace belonged to Lady Amelia Offley Bernard and is a great example of the more ostentatious uses of paste in jewelry. You can see a contrast here between the large, prong like settings on the mother of pearl, and the delicate scale of the surrounding paste gems.
Small, ovular buckle, slightly curved. A delicate, hammered gold band is encircled by fish scale shaped paste stones of graduated sizes.
18th century paste accessories could also be relatively unassuming, like this 18th century knee buckle in the MHS Collection with 24 paste stones. Notice how tightly packed the stones are, and the almost invisible settings.

While small (this buckle is only around 3 cm square), touches like these were often considered extravagant; especially to New Englanders with Puritan roots. Finery was almost always saved for evening or state events,12 but that doesn’t mean they were unpopular or uncommon for those who had the means. Advertisements for all kinds of paste jewelry from necklaces to buckles appear frequently in 18th century Boston newspapers.

A clipping from a 1771 newspaper advertising John Nazro’s wares for sale. Including descriptions of paste and real stone jewelry, gown buttons, hair pins, stock buckles, ribbons, sewing silks, velvet for collars, etc. At the bottom is printed: “English Goods as usual”
Advertisement for John Nazro’s shop from the Boston Gazette, and Country Journal, 6 May 1771. Goods for sale include a mix of paste and real gems “An elegant assortment of paste necklaces and earrings, real garnet and purl ditto set”
A clipping from a 1771 newspaper advertising Henry Lee’s wares for sale. “Just imported in the last Ship from London, and to be Sold By Henry Lee, Almost opposite the Old Brick Meeting House. A large Assortment of Jewellery.” Advertisement then lists varying kinds of jewelry including paste combs, buckles hoe and knee, paste earrings, etc.
Advertisement for Henry Lee’s shop from the Boston Gazette, and Country Journal, 11 March 1771. “A large Assortment of Jewellery, consisting of Paste Combs, ditto Buckles Shoe and Knee”

I love items like these that give us small glimpses into technology, innovation, and cultural values of given time periods. And I hope next time you encounter paste jewelry you’ll take a moment to give it its due!

  1. Bohm-Parr, Judith. “The Iconography of Colour: Exploring Glass as a Jewellery Medium,” 2008. James Cook University, MA thesis, (James Cook University, 2008). http://eprints.jcu.edu.au/9625. 81
  2. Fales, Martha Gandy. Jewelry in America, 1600-1900. ACC Distribution, 1995, 48.
  3. Friedman, Wendy Ilene. “Exquisite Paste | Who Needs Diamonds?” T Magazine, 21 July 2009, archive.nytimes.com/tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/21/exquisite-paste-who-needs-diamonds.
  4. One Thousand Valuable Secrets, in the Elegant and Useful Arts: Collected From the Practice of the Best Artists, and Containing an Account of the Various Methods of Engraving on Brass, Copper and Steel. Of the Composition of Metals … And a Variety of Other Curious, Entertaining and Useful Articles. 1795. Microform. Massachusetts Historical Society, Evans Fiche: 29242, 2. 76-77
  5. Ibid.
  6. Bohm-Parr, Judith, “The Iconography of Colour,” 15.
  7. Friedman, Wendy Ilene.
  8. One Thousand Valuable Secrets, 82.
  9. Ibid, 91.
  10. Ibid, 78.
  11. Ibid, 87.
  12. Fales, Martha Gandy, Jewelry in America, 45-51.

New Collection: The Algonquin Club of Boston Records

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist 

I’m happy to report that the records of the Algonquin Club of Boston have been processed and are now available for research. The Algonquin Club was a social club founded in 1886 “for the purpose of maintaining a club house and reading room in the city of Boston.” For most of its existence, the club was located at 217 Commonwealth Avenue, a beautiful Renaissance Revival limestone building in Back Bay designed specifically for the club by noted architects McKim, Mead & White in 1888.

Black and white photograph of a 5-story building. The building has ornate decoration. On floors two and three, there is a balcony flanked by two columns in the middle of the facade.
Algonquin Club of Boston, as pictured in 1920

The club served as a gathering place for members (originally only men), including politicians, businessmen, lawyers, judges, financiers, academics, ambassadors, and other movers and shakers in Boston and surrounding towns. The name of the club appears in countless “who’s who” biographies. Prospective members were nominated by existing members, subjected to a vetting process, and approved by the Executive Committee.

The clubhouse offered a number of amenities. Members could play cards or pool; smoke cigars or pipes; read in the library; enjoy a meal in one of several restaurants; attend a talk, party, or other event; and even reserve a bedroom for an overnight stay. Members also had the benefit of reciprocal relationships with similar clubs in other cities and countries.

The Algonquin Club records contain a small amount of older material documenting the club’s early years, such as a book with the signatures of original members, a volume of Executive Committee meeting minutes from 1898 to 1927, a visitors register kept from 1917 to 1921, and a time capsule compiled in 1936 and opened for the club’s centennial in 1986.

Unfortunately there’s a gap in the collection through the middle of the 20th century; most of the extant papers date from about the 1980s to the 2000s. That being said, the collection is a great resource for anyone researching elite Boston clubs, as well as other subjects. For example, foodies might enjoy the specially designed dinner menus printed for club events. And anyone interested in the building itself should appreciate the oversize architectural plans and details.

Processing this collection proved challenging for a few reasons. The first was the sheer size of it. The final collection measures approximately 46 linear feet, and that’s only after I weeded out eight cartons of duplicate documents. The bulk consists of 63 manuscript boxes containing almost 3,000 member files. That’s 3,000 individual folders that needed alphabetization, weeding, refoldering, and labeling by hand. (Because of privacy concerns, these member files have been closed until the year 2041.)

Secondly, the papers came to us with about 70 pieces of digital media, both 3.5 inch floppy disks and CDs. These media and the files they contained—files in a variety of formats, many obsolete—needed to be assessed by the Digital Processing Archivist, reformatted as necessary, then incorporated by me into the arrangement and description of the collection.

It’s not news to any of the archivists out there that repositories are acquiring more and more “born digital” records alongside (or even independent of) paper documents. Just think of your own files: you probably have texts, emails, Word documents, spreadsheets, digital photographs, videos, etc., not to mention social media content. Many files probably exist only in the cloud, but others may be on hard drives or backup drives.

In the fall of 2021, the MHS purchased the digital preservation system Preservica, and the digital preservation team has been developing policies and procedures for ingesting, processing, preserving, and providing access to these records. Each collection will probably require its own unique approach, but when Preservica goes live (eta: spring 2024), researchers will be able to link to digital material directly from a collection guide.

Keep an eye out for Preservica!

The MHS also holds the Algonquin Club of Boston photographs.

Keeping Time, Part II

By Hannah Goeselt, Library Assistant

In my last blog post I introduced one of the grandfather clocks (‘clock 007’) held here at the MHS, as well as its clockmaker, Joshua Wilder. In this next post we will explore some of the other craftspeople that contributed to the creation of this piece.

Color photo showing the top portion of a tall case clock
View of clock’s hood and dial face.

The process that goes into creating the finished piece is complex and involves many distinct types of artisans, of which the internal brass movements is only one contributing piece. The base components themselves involved purchasing brass casts from a local foundry, and sheet iron dial plates imported from Boston. So too the outer casing, iron weights, decorative painting, protective glass, and crowning metal finials must be outsourced and brought together to create the final clock, either by the clock movement manufacturer or as was sometimes the case by the cabinetmaker.

The wood casing that houses the clock movements is one of the more visible qualities in the final product. This particular one was attributed to Abiel White (1766-1844), a cabinetmaker from Weymouth, during the clock’s conservation and restoration in 2011-13. White was a long-time collaborator of Wilder’s, though he also worked with other clockmakers in the region in housing their brass clock movements in mahogany or pine. Attributions to him or his workshop, when not signed, are often based on construction techniques that are peculiar to him, such as using textured paper to seal together board-seams, double “dovetail” notches to attach the hood to the case, and a construction technique that uses numbered pieces fit together in a clockwise pattern. While currently hidden from view, these qualities were uncovered during its conservation and were very helpful in identifying White’s work.

To me, the most eye-catching feature is the mechanism set directly above the clockface. Here, a painted seascape in a semi-circle, or lunette, depicts a coastline with an old stone building situated on a grassy outcrop and what may be a small burying ground with three gravestones. Set in front of the scenery is an articulated three-masted frigate that teeters gently to and fro with the ticking of the seconds, an upper extension of the clock’s pendulum hidden behind the door of the case. The vessel waves a 13-star Cowpens variant of the US flag from its stern, and from its main topmast flies the first Naval Jack (the “don’t tread on me” rattlesnake, an anachronistic addition, is absent). These details seem to indicate that the moving dial is meant to represent a ship from the Continental Navy, though the exact design of both flags have contested histories of their actual use in the Revolutionary War. Rather, this is a 19th century vision of national origin-building, made more within the historical context of the War of 1812.

Color photo showing a painted seascape in a lunette above the dial face of a tall case clock. The painting shows a stone building on a grassy outcrop with rocks at the shoreline. In front of the scenery is a ship (three-masted frigate).
Rocking ship above the dial face, extended from the clock’s swinging pendulum.

Likely imported from an artisan in Boston, the rocking ship dial is seen in multiple other examples from this period and region, with its popularity beat only by a painted disk that rotates through the phases of the moon. A brief look into the Boston ornamental painting business in the 1790s through the first three decades of the 19th century shows a small collection of highly specialist artisans who worked closely with and depended heavily on commissions from the much larger furniture and clock making industries. While much of the work remains unsigned, some individuals may be identified based on the clockmakers they were known to work regularly with. Names of Boston decorative artists such as John Ritto Penniman, John Minott, Samuel Curtis and Spencer Nolen are some of the more researched today, but certainly not the extent of the community in the period.

As for provenance, there is no official recording of when and from where the Society acquired this clock, other than its old MHS artifact number, 0979. Most of the MHS’s clocks were donated in the 1960s and ‘70s, with a couple coming to us in the early 1920s; the earliest recorded purchased from the manufacturer directly in 1857. Checking the piece itself for information proved equally fruitless. Other than a small clipping that outlines Wilder’s biography, no interior markings offer clues to its journey here. If we were lucky, the presence of ephemeral bills of sale or a creator’s name inscription would provide hints as to its past.

Yellowed piece of paper with 8 lines of text.
Slip of paper with biographical info on Wilder affixed to the inner door of the case’s ‘trunk.’

If you are interested in learning more on the inter-related industries at work in creating clocks in New England, a great starting point is Paul J. Foley’s “Biographies of Patent Timepiece Makers, Ornamental Painters, Cabinetmakers, and Allied Craftsmen” pp.207-339, in his monograph Willard’s Patent Time Pieces (2002).


Jobe, Brock, Gary R. Sullivan, and Jack O’Brien. Harbor & Home: Furniture of Southeastern Massachusetts, 1710-1850, University Press of New England, 2009. (Oversize NK2435.M34 J55 2009)

Forman, Bruce R. “The American White Painted Dial”. The Decorator: Journal of the Historical Society of Early American Decoration 50 no. 1 (Fall/Winter 1995-96): 7-24. 1995 Fall.pdf (hsead.org)

Foley, Paul J. “Ornamental Painters” in Willard’s Patent Time Pieces: A History of the Weight-Driven Banjo Clock, 1800-1900, Norwell, MA: Roxbury Village Publishing, 2002. 178-183. (NK7500.B35 F65 2002)

Political Fistfights Are Old News

By Heather Rockwood, Communications Manager

The recent argument that almost became a fistfight on the floor of the US Senate is not something new. There have been many political arguments that have resulted in duels, fistfights, and beatings among elected and appointed officials, as well as among political activists.

One occurrence is recorded in a letter from Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (1850–1924) to Theodore Roosevelt, 4 April 1917. Lodge decided against meeting with a group of pacifists who wanted to keep the United States out of WWI, while he himself supported US intervention. However, he did step outside of his office to speak with them. They exchanged insults, and then blows. He described the scuffle in his letter:

The pacifist crowd I went out in the corridor to speak with was composed of one woman and half a dozen men. They were very violent and very abusive and I was engaged in backing away from them and saying that we must agree to differ when the German member of their party said “You are a damned coward”. I walked up tp hit and said “You are a damned liar” and he hit me and I hit him. Then all the pacifists rushed at me and I thought I was in for a bad time buy my secretaries sallied forth to my rescue and there was a mixup. The pacifist who attacked me got badly beaten up and it all ended very comfortably and without hurt to me. At my age (66) there is a certain aspect of folly about the whole thing and yet I am glad that I hit him.

What occurred next was that the leader of the pacifists, a 36-year-old Alexander Bannwart was arrested, and Lodge became an abashed national celebrity. He continued in his letter:

The Senators all appeared to be perfectly delighted with my having [hit him] and some of them told me today that the further one went from Washington the more complete my action seemed. Watson [James E. Watson (1864–1948) Senator from Indiana] said that in Indiana the general belief was, he gathered, that I had beaten him to a pulp and that when one got across the Mississippi the general belief probably was that I had killed him, – all of which for the moment has made me extremely popular.

Lodge did not press charges against Bannwart, however a year later Bannwart pressed charges against Lodge for slander. Lodge settled by acknowledging that he punched Bannwart first, thereby starting the fight, although by his own hand above, his story, at first, was that Bannwart was the instigator.

Color photograph of a retained copy of a letter, the print is a light blue on paper discolored with age.
Letter (retained copy) from Henry Cabot Lodge to Theodore Roosevelt, 4 April 1917. From the Lodge-Roosevelt correspondence.

The most famous attack on the Senate floor occurred on 22 May 1856. Senator Charles Sumner, (1811–1874), an abolitionist, had given a speech two days before, in which he insulted Representative Preston Brooks’s first cousin, Senator Andrew Butler, who had coauthored the legislation that would bring Kansas into the country as an state allowing enslavement. Brooks attacked Sumner, beating him brutally with his cane, which eventually broke. Even after Sumner had lost consciousness, Brooks kept beating him. Although other senators tried to help Sumner, a Brooks ally prevented them by brandishing a pistol. After the assault, Brooks walked away, leaving the remnants of his cane. He was arrested, tried, convicted, and fined $300 but never spent time in jail. His constituents reelected him that same year, and he spent much of his remaining lifetime making threats of duels and accepting duels that never took place. He died in 1857 of croup before his new term could begin.

Brooks’s attack demonstrated the political polarization in the United States. In the north, Sumner was a martyr, in the south, Brooks was a hero. Sumner’s speech insulting Brooks’s cousin was printed and distributed; Brooks was sent canes to replace his broken one, the remnants of which went on to have two distinct lives. The bottom part was cut into small pieces that Senators sympathetic to Brooks wore around their necks. The top part was eventually donated to Revolutionary Spaces in Boston, and can be viewed here.

Color photograph of a print of a black and white photograph on white paper. The photograph is of an older white man with chin length salt and pepper hair, a clean-shaven face except for long sideburns, wearing a white shirt with a high collar and black bow tie with white polka dots, with a dark vest and jacket. He has a pocket watch hanging from the front of his vest and the watch chain crisscrosses across the vest to under the jacket then to the top button of the vest. He looks to the left  and the background is plain.
Charles Sumner, photograph, year unknown.

Although Sumner was reelected in November 1856, he spent three years away in recovery, his empty chair a symbol and reminder of the assault. He would later be diagnosed with “psychic wounds”—today’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—and severe brain injury, for which he suffered lifelong pain. He returned to the senate in 1859 and gave his first speech in 1860—appropriately, against enslavement.

Despite Sumner’s importance as a Massachusetts senator and his national political status, the collection of his papers at the MHS is surprisingly small. The reason for the shortage is political and personal. Sumner had a lengthy and bitter political feud with his boyhood classmate from the Boston Latin School, Robert C. Winthrop, who was the MHS president from 1855 to 1885. They had disagreed over the Mexican American War (1846–1848), causing Winthrop to block Sumner from becoming an MHS Member. The two enemies eventually reconciled in 1873, the year before Sumner’s death.

Keeping Time, Part I

By Hannah Goeselt, Library Assistant

“My grandfather’s clock was too tall for its shelf, so it spent 90 years on the floor…” Did you sing this nursery rhyme as a child? Written in 1876 by American composer Henry Clay Work (1832-1884), the oddly morbid song told from the perspective of a child observing the tall-case clock owned by his grandfather, is why this style of timepiece today is commonly referred to as a ‘grandfather clock’. In the period they were in fashion, however, they were termed ‘eight-day clocks,’ referring to how many days it ran before you had to wind it again.

Now, if you’ve ever visited the MHS for more than an hour, you may know that it is home to a wide assortment of old clocks, which you can hear chime throughout the day. Each week many are wound by a staff member with their own specialized keys and cranks. In this sense they are both a functional aspect of the building, and a part of the MHS’s collection, with their own individual records in Abigail.

color photograph showing a tall case clock in the corner and a framed portrait of a man on the wall to the left.
C. 1810-12 grandfather clock, aka tall-case clock, located in the MHS reading room.

The tall-case clock in the reading room, cataloged as ‘clocks 007’ is a beautiful example of New England clock design in the early republic, or the “Federal Period.” Southeastern Massachusetts, aka the South Shore, specifically between the years of 1790-1830 became a major center of weight-driven clock movement production in the region. This clock is and was a luxury household item, with its size and use of mahogany wood, the cost of the entire thing would be upwards of 60 dollars, more than a year’s worth of pay for the average American at the time. The trendiness of the grandfather clock was relatively short-lived, its cost being one major factor in its downfall. By 1825, regional manufacturers were struggling to compete with the new availability of Connecticut-made shelf clocks on the market, made with wooden movements rather than brass, and at a fraction of the cost. In fact, even by 1812 the grandfather clock was waning in popularity, in favor of patented banjo clocks and other smaller scale timepieces.

When I sit at the circulation desk, I occasionally feel my eyes slide toward its stately figure in the far corner and listen to the subtle clunk of internal gears several minutes before it prepares itself to ring.

The man responsible for these internal workings, “Old Quaker” Joshua Wilder (1786-1860), was a successful clockmaker in Hingham, Mass. and is today best known for his skill in crafting ‘dwarf clocks’, a scaled-down version of the grandfather clock (an example shown here from Historic New England collections). This was a style pretty much exclusively produced in Hingham and Hanover during the first quarter of the 19th century and was the solution to competing with the banjo clock patented and produced by the Willard family-owned workshops in Boston (the MHS also has an example of a Willard banjo clock, see ‘clock 006’). Within that circle, Wilder stood as one of the most prolific producers of dwarf clocks, though he still continued making movements for tall-case versions to a smaller extent.

Portrait of an older man wearing glasses and a large top hat.
Photograph of Joshua Wilder

Wilder began his career as an apprentice to another prominent manufacturer, John Bailey II, in Hanover, MA and moved to Hingham around 1809-1810 to set up his own shop. We can see that that is where this piece originates- beneath the ornate brass hands the words “Joshua Wilder / HINGHAM” are painted in flowing script across the white dial. Quakers made up a disproportionate number of the clockmaker community, taking on as apprentices the sons of other Quakers and so on. Because of that, I was not surprised to learn that Wilder was involved in Hingham’s Temperance Society and Peace Society. I was, however, pleased to find out that the MHs owns one other piece by Wilder, showcasing his literary skills in addition to his skill in clockwork. The bound pamphlet, printed in Hingham in 1840, is a series of published letters to local Representative Thomas Loring (1789-1863) sharing Wilder’s opinions on forced conscription into military service. It reads more like a religious tract, each letter attempting to reconcile the observance of those who take a vow of non-violence with a duty to the law (both governmental and religious) to take up arms. In essence, he was advocating for a paid, as-needed Volunteer Service. While perhaps not the most exciting piece of writing, I did think it was interesting to have the inner thoughts behind an artifact’s manufacturer, a category of creator that can so easily be relegated to “anonymous” or “once known.”

“A Plea for Liberty of Conscience, and Personal Freedom from Military Conscription.” by Joshua Wilder, printed by J. Farmer in Hingham, January 1840.

Stay tuned for part 2!


Jobe, Brock, Gary R. Sullivan, and Jack O’Brien. Harbor & Home: Furniture of Southeastern Massachusetts, 1710-1850, University Press of New England, 2009. (Oversize NK2435.M34 J55 2009)

Jobe, Brock. “A Tale of Two Clocks.” Historic New England (Summer 2011): 24-26. http://issuu.com/historicnewengland/docs/historic_new_england_summer_2011

Keane, Maribeth, and Brad Quinn. “Call Them Grandfather or Tall-Case, Gary Sullivan Knows Big Clocks.” Collectors Weekly, February 26, 2010. http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/an-interview-with-tall-case-antique-clock-collector-gary-sullivan/

The Dark Side of Republican Motherhood

By Miriam Liebman, Adams Papers

In the period following the American Revolution, Republican Motherhood, or the civic virtue of raising good republican children to serve the new nation as engaged citizens, defined many American women’s roles in the early United States. During his presidency, John Adams received several letters from women embodying this role. While most historians of Republican Motherhood focus on the positive side to that role, the letters to John Adams highlight both a darker side and more complex understanding of this concept: mothers willing to sacrifice their children for the future of the nation.

In one such letter on 11 August 1798, Abigail Cunningham, of Lunenburg, Massachusetts, used examples from both Ancient Greece and the Bible to describe the sacrifice she would make as a mother for her beloved nation. As a mother, she raised her sons to go to the front lines explaining, “if they ware Calld to Action, in defence of their Country, to Count not their Lives Dear in Defience of Foreign influence, and Defence of their Countrys Cause.” And if they were to die fighting for the United States, she would respond like mothers in Ancient Sparta, “who suspended their Lamentations for the Loss their sons, or Husbands till thay examined their clothing, to see wheither the shot went in Behind or Before,” to learn whether they died fighting or retreating. She also proposed responding like Abraham in the Bible, “who Led his Beloved son to the Alter,” calmly and with composure.

Other women took a different approach from Abigail Cunningham. In the summer of 1798, Judith Sargent Murray, author and advocate for women’s rights, wrote to John Adams seeking a position in a government post for her nephew. For Murray, raising virtuous citizens meant actively participating in the government. In the early United States, elite women often wrote with patronage requests for their male relatives. Writing her nephew’s praises, she described him as having “attachment to regularity, good order, the laws and constitution of the United States is unequivocal.” It was also a way to have a steady career. While Murray wrote the letter with this patronage request, she left it to her husband to follow up when he planned to visit John Adams in a few days’ time. She wrote again in March 1799 to inquire further into her request for her nephew that she made the previous summer.

Some women wrote letters advocating on their own behalf and seeking a better life for themselves. For example, Adams also received a letter from Isabella McIntire seeking financial relief. She wrote, “the persuasion I have of your goodness and humanity has tempted me to apply to for a little assistance a Few Dollors will be a relief to a truely distressed Female.”

An excerpt from Margaret Smith’s letter to John Adams, 25 April 1799. The Adams Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

From the opposite perspective, Margaret Smith of Kentucky, a widow, writing on 25 April 1799, decried President Adams’s desire to have a standing army. For her, a standing army was the opposite of republicanism. She called on him to join with her and others for “peace and good order and pray for the anihilation of the army that is already raised and that a stop may be put to such daring encroachments on the liberties of the people.” Her husband died fighting in the American Revolution. For her, raising her children to live as good, stable citizens who could provide for themselves was her version of being a good republican mother. She explained that her greatest wish for her children was that “they live vïrtuous eat and drink and enjoy the fruit of their own labor.” In her eyes, the only reason to have a standing army was for instituting an authoritarian government. She also decried the Jay Treaty with Great Britain and believed many who fought in the American Revolution on the side of the patriots have since become corrupted. She even planned to publish this letter to John Adams in the local newspaper if she did not hear from him by 1 August. The Kentucky Gazette does not appear to have published this letter. It is possible that Smith did not go through with her threat or that John Adams responded to her letter.

Among the many letters John Adams received over the course of his presidency, these are a few from women advocating for their visions, hopes, and wants for the new United States adding to our understanding of women’s experiences in the late 18th-century United States.

The Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society gratefully acknowledges the generous support of our sponsors. Major funding of the edition is currently provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and the Packard Humanities Institute.