“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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“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

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.

1891.0056.005
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

The Price of a Fire

MS0119/DC1482
Boston has endured many great fires in its nearly 400 year history, including a number of significant fires in the 1700s.  The Old State House (then known as the Town House) was damaged in fires in 1711 and 1747, and other fires in 1760 and 1787 destroyed buildings and altered Boston’s landscape. From fire buckets and fireman's helmets in our museum collection to Fire Society membership lists and appeal notices in our archives, Boston's fire history is well-represented in our collections. For the next three months, 18th-century documents related to Boston fires will be on exhibit in the library and archives display case in the Old State House. This examination of the fire-related materials in our collection was partly spurred on by a recent blog post by one of our Education Associates.

One of the documents on display is a 1762 petition submitted by William Price to the Boston Town Selectmen.  In the petition, Price references a fire that broke out in Williams’ Court on June 11, 1761.  As a means of preventing the fire from spreading to nearby dwelling houses and buildings, Honorable Judge Hutchinson, Colonel Joseph Jackson, and Captain Thomas Marshall ordered the “pulling down” (destruction) of a building in the court. William Price owned said building, and petitioned the court to reimburse him for the cost of it.  The two-story building, which measured 47 feet long by 16 feet wide, was valued at around 100 pounds.

A second page of this document indicates that the petition was acted upon on April 13, 1763, but unfortunately, there was not a notation or a follow-up document that provided the outcome of the petition.  I was curious to find out if Price received his reimbursement, so I turned to our library collection and located the Records of Boston Selectmen, which included meetings minutes from 1763.  In the April 13 session, I found an entry for William Price.  From the meeting minutes, I learned that after debate and questioning, the Justices of the Peace and the Town Selectmen did not grant the petition and William Price did not receive compensation for his property loss.

The Old State House is closed the first week of February, so be sure to stop by when we re-open on Saturday, February 6 to take a close look at this document.  These fire materials will be on display through April, but if you can't visit, follow along on our blog as we explore more of Boston's fire history.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

To Preserve and Protect

As Collections Manager, I care for boxes of Elizabeth Bull's belongings. From baby caps adorned with microscopic lace and worn by her six children to a metallic embroidered shawl that must have stunned in candlelight to the grandest item - her wedding dress. Young Elizabeth made a wedding dress in 1730 without so much as a potential suitor on the horizon. She was married in 1734 to Roger Price of King's Chapel and set the dress aside until it passed to the bride of one of her sons. And although seams were ripped, hems cut, and drinks spilled in celebration, it was still saved. Bull's wedding dress is an exemplary piece of what is often referred to as school girl embroidery. The term invites us to reflect on the skills affluent young girls were expected to master.

The Bull petticoat, now on display
During conservation of the wedding dress, the petticoat was removed. Hidden for years under a protective layer, the embroidery on the petticoat is even more vibrant and indicative of Bull’s extraordinary talents than the dress. The petticoat, now on display in the museum, allows Elizabeth’s needlework to shine, and shows how even the people who altered the gown still honored her beautiful handiwork.

The Elizabeth Bull exhibit has been supported by the talents of Madelyn Shaw who carved the dress and torso form for the artifacts. Because historic garments were specially made, dress forms in standard sizes definitely wouldn't cut it for exhibit purposes. Etha-foam - an inert foam material - needed to be carved to each garment’s exact dimensions replicating the body of the original wearer. What is more, all exhibit materials that come into contact with historic textiles need to be inert or inactive so that they won’t cause further degradation.

The Bull wedding dress,
packed for storage
For preservation purposes, we have given the dress and the petticoat a separate six month display run in our gallery. The dress and petticoat have been embroidered with a rainbow of colors that can fade when exposed to light. We’ve mitigated exposure through controlling gallery light levels and using specially coated glass on our display cases that hinder exposure to UV light. Thankfully organic dyes are sturdier than synthetic dyes, which became more popular in the 19th century. All of this has eased my mind considerably and has allowed for accessibility to beautiful 18th-century items such as this one.

Despite everything we’ve put in place to protect these items, the mere handling of 300 year old silk increases potential for damage. Collections handling is tricky and although it becomes easier with practice and adhering to basic standards, it is a daunting task. The process usually requires multiple hands to support the garment and collections managers and specialists handle items only when they need to be displayed, conserved, or studied. It is also important to let items rest between these events. Earlier in January, the wedding dress was returned to storage for a good nap and the petticoat was put on display, where it will remain until June. Stop by the Old State House to examine this exquisite artifact in person.

By Tricia Gilrein, Collections Manager


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

My name is Deirdre Kutt and I am an Education Associate at the Old State House. What interested me in contributing to "On King Street" was the opportunity to address some of the exciting, weird, and interesting facts about the Old State House. Prompted by visitors’ questions about the building's fires, I began my research there. What I discovered through my investigation is a fascinating, yet remarkable, story. Follow along as I share the history of three significant fires at the Old State House.

The Fire of 1747


Fire!  Fire! The Town House (now known as the Old State House) has endured many fires over the years.  In fact, it was built in 1713 with a brick facade to replace the original wooden Town House, which burned to the ground in 1711.

On December 15, 1747 The Boston Gazette reported:
“At six in the morning the Watch in the east end of the Town House broke up, and between five and ten minutes after, the rays of the fire first discovered it in the said passage through the great window against it, by glancing into the Chambers of the houses on the north side of the Town House where two or three people were awake, and running to the windows first saw it there. But it quickly broke into the Council Chamber and run up the deal wainscot stairs into the loft and lanthorn above and set them all in a blaze.”
MS0119/DC 352.52 - General Court orders
payment for repairs of the Old State House, 1751
The 1747 fire, which started in one of the many hearths in the building, devastated the Town House. On that fateful night, embers from the hearth located near the entryway between the Council Chamber and the Chamber for Representatives Hall made their way into the woodworking underneath, caught fire, and engulfed the entryway between the two chambers.  The growing flames continued up from the staircase onto the roof until the entire building was ablaze.

This devastating fire left the Town House destroyed with damages to the top two floors, roof, and the tower.  Only the brick exterior walls remained untouched by the fire. Besides the physical damages, records indicate that the Province lost many items including Province records, books, portraits, and “a great Quantity of Wines and other Liquors.”

Massachusetts residents repaired the building in 1748 at a cost of about £3705, which was split between the Province, the County of Suffolk, and the Town of Boston. The rebuilding of the Town House saw changes to the exterior in the design of the tower and roof. In 1748, the former octagonal tower and gambrel roof was replaced with a pitched roof and a three-staged square tower, which is still present on the building today.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we post about the other two fires that devastated the Old State House.

By Deirdre Kutt, Education Associate

Treating the fish to tea

MS0119/DC1013
There is a small exhibit case in the Society's library where I can display a rotating selection of items from our archival collection.  Our library is open by appointment, so the only individuals who get to see this featured document are researchers, staff members, and visitors to our library and administrative offices.  But thanks to the blog, I can share images and information about this featured item with friends near and far.

On December 16 we recognize the 242 year anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.  Over the years, this important event in American history has been commemorated in many ways, including plaques, reenactments, poems, and songs – like “Tea Tax”, the lyrics of which are currently on display in our library.

According to our catalog, this broadside dates to circa 1862.  It published the lyrics to “Tea Tax” with a notation that it was “sung with unbounded applause at the Boston Theatre, by Mr. Andrews.”  While researching this song, I found some references to it being a "Yankee Comic Song." It certainly does not make light of the events that occurred on the evening of December 16, it does present the narrative in a lighthearted tone.  One part of the song describes dumping the tea into the harbor and goes, "And did'nt care a tarnal curse, for any King or Minister / We made a plaguy mess o'tea, in one of the biggest dishes / I mean, we steep'd it in the sea, and treated all the fishes."

If you look closely at the lyrics, you'll also be able to see that they point out locations in Boston that have changed since 1773, specifically that State Street was called King Street and that the bridge to Charlestown had not been built yet.

1899.0022
There are many reprints of this song in existence, the earliest dating to the 1830s.  In some of the broadsides the composer is listed as “a gentleman from Boston” and some state that the song was performed at the Federal Street Theatre, which was another name from the Boston Theatre. 

Besides this broadside, we do not have too many other Tea Party related artifacts in our collection.  But if you are in the area, be sure to stop by the Colony to Commonwealth exhibit at the Old State House to see one of our other important Tea Party artifacts - a vial of loose tea that was allegedly removed from the boots of Thomas Melvill after the Tea Party.  According to the story, Thomas found the tea on his boot when he returned home from the night's activity, and collected it to be saved.  The tea was then donated to the Society in 1899 by Miss Mary Melville, a descendant of Thomas. 

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

A Grateful Heart: Thanksgiving Proclamations in our Archives

Day of Thanksgiving Proclamation
Governor John Hancock
(MS0119, DC394. 26 1783)
Will you be celebrating later this November with a grateful heart, as John Hancock urged citizens of Massachusetts to in a 1783 Proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving? The broadside featured here is from our archival collection, and was issued by Governor Hancock in the Council Chamber of the Old State House on November 8. Under the advice of his Council, the proclamation set Thursday, December 11 as a day of thanksgiving and prayer. Proclamations such as these were published as broadsides, and posted throughout the city to notify citizens of the upcoming day of observation.

Thanksgiving was not celebrated nationally until George Washington issued a proclamation for it in 1789 and it wasn't a federal holiday until Abraham Lincoln declared it as such in 1863. Prior to that, individual colonies would periodically declare days of thanksgiving for various reasons. We are grateful that our archival collection includes many proclamations for days of thanksgiving, prayer, and fasting. For Days of Thanksgiving, in particular, our holdings include more than thirty proclamations issued by Massachusetts Governors dating from the 1700s into the early 1900s. The oldest proclamations in our collection include this one by John Hancock, a 1796 proclamation for solemn prayer and fasting issued by Governor Samuel Adams, and a 1764 proclamation for a general fast issued by Governor Francis Bernard.

Thanksgiving Proclamation
Governor Channing Cox
(MS0119, DC394. 26 1921)
Since Thanksgiving was established as a federal holiday in 1863, the proclamations declared in the late 19th century and 20th century were primarily ceremonial in nature. A 1921 proclamation issued by Massachusetts Govorner Channing H. Cox recalls the 300th anniversy of the landing of the Pilgrims and also reads "Now, therefore, in appreciation of the numerous blessings which have been ours through the past year, in accordance with the custom of my predecessors who have counted it an honor to follow where Governor Bradford led, and with the advice and consent of the Council, I, Channing H. Cox, Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, appoint Thursday, the twenty-fourth day of November, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise." Compare that with John Hancock's 1783 proclamation, which has a more religious tone, and says "I do by and with the Advice of the Council appoint Thursday the Eleventh Day of December next (the day recommended by the Congress to all the States) to be religiously observed as a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer, that all the People may then assemble to celebrate with grateful Hearts and united Voices, the Praises of their Supreme and all Bountiful Benefactor for his numberless Favours and Mercies."

While the function of the Thanksgiving Proclamation changed over the years, the general sentiment remained the same, that citizens of Massachusetts take a moment to reflect on their blessings with a grateful heart.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager