Time Capsule Opened!

We opened the time capsule yesterday! Materials won't be removed until next week, but in the meantime, we wanted to share some behind-the-scenes photographs from yesterday's event. Amy Nelson, one of our staff members, was buzzing around the studio taking photographs, and we're thrilled to share some of them here - be sure to click on the image to see the larger version!

Watch this space for updates on the contents of the time capsule!

Thou shalt not steal: the Hancock Family Bible

Last month the Society held a special event and for one night only displayed some rarely seen artifacts related to John and Dorothy Hancock. One of the featured items was the Hancock family bible.

The bible was donated to the Society in 1886 by Franklin Hancock. In the Society’s early years, Franklin donated a number of personal Hancock items, such as one of John’s coats and a pair of Dorothy’s shoes. Our membership lists show that Franklin was a lifetime member of the Society, but the donation file for the bible does not provide any further information about him and his place in the Hancock family. John and Dorothy only had two children and neither lived beyond childhood, so Franklin could not have been a direct descendant. With a little digging, I was able to determine that Franklin Hancock was born on November 17, 1818 and died June 1, 1893. He was the son of John Hancock (b. 1774), who was the son of Ebenezer Hancock (b. 1741). Ebenezer was John Hancock’s youngest brother, so that means that John Hancock was Franklin’s great-uncle.

This bible was printed in 1721 in Edinburgh, Scotland and belonged to John’s grandfather, Reverend John Hancock of Lexington. After his father died, John lived with his grandfather for a few years before he was taken in by his uncle Thomas. We do not know if the bible passed to John’s father or his uncle before he received it. According to our donation file, John later lent the bible to the chaplain at Castle Island for use of the troops stationed there.

John made a few notations on the title page of the bible which make it an even more personal item. In the upper right-hand corner, he signed his name with an apostrophe “s” to ensure that everyone knew who it belonged to. In the upper left-hand corner, he inscribed “Thou shalt not steal, saith the Lord” as a reminder to anyone who might be contemplating slipping off with his personal bible. These details illustrate the importance that he placed on the family bible.

According to our files, this oversized bible was sent to the James MacDonald Company in New York for conservation work in 1961. It has been rebound and the backs of the first pages have been reinforced with Japanese paper. Even though the bible has been repaired, it is still one of the more rare and fragile items in our collection and is only taken out of storage for special occasions.

For more information on John Hancock, check out The Baron of Beacon Hill by William M. Fowler, Jr.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

We're in the news!

If you've been following along on our blog, you know that the Old State House is in the middle of a restoration project.  Nearly two weeks ago, the iconic Lion and Unicorn statues were removed from their perch on the east façade of the Old State House.  There was rumored to be a time capsule placed in the Lion's head, and earlier this week Skylight Studios artist Bob Shure and Matt Ottinger, our Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation, were able to confirm its existence by using a special fiber optics camera.

We're thrilled that this news has been picked up by local, national, and even international media outlets.  In case you haven't had a chance to read any of the articles or watch any video, we've included links to some below:


Stay tuned as we finalize plans to open the time capsule!

Restoration Project Update!

The Old State House has been full of activity in the last two weeks. After the scaffolding was finished the first week in September, work immediately began on cutting the old mortar joints. Our contractor, Commodore Builders, had the crew from NER Building Restoration moving at a solid pace throughout the cutting process, even though most of the work is done by hand. The mortar cutting is done with a single saw blade cut through the center of the joint and then the mortar is chiseled out by hand to avoid damaging the historic brick. During the work a very interesting line of lead flashing was found buried in the old mortar joints along the floor level of the second floor. Reviewing historic photos, it is currently believed that the flashing is a remnant of a small balcony located on the west façade during the mid 19th-century.

Last week, the carpentry crew from M&A Architectural was on-site to remove the balcony doors and balustrade for restoration. The removal of the wooden elements from the balcony went smoothly and although deteriorated wood was easily spotted on the removed pieces, the urns that adorned the balustrade posts were in great shape. Over the next two weeks, the carpenters will be back at the Old State House to remove some windows and other building elements for restoration.

The biggest news was the removal of the iconic Lion and Unicorn statues on the east façade. On Sunday, Commodore Builders team from NER and Marr Rigging successfully removed, crated, and delivered the two large animals. Made from hollow copper, the statues are being restored by the staff at Skylight Studios, the same place the statues were restored in 1991. The first step to the restoration of the statues is to find whether there is truth behind the documentation of a 1901 time capsule in the Lion’s head. Finding out if a capsule has been residing in the Lion is not a simple task and the exploration must be done carefully. Skylight Studios and the Bostonian Society will examine the Lion and hopes to have a very exciting announcement in the next couple of weeks.

During the next couple of weeks, the re-pointing of the west façade will begin, more information will be gathered from the wooden elements taken from the balcony, and of course more news on the Lion and Unicorn. Stay tuned to the blog and our website for updates.

By Matt Ottinger, Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation

A Notice to Towns: Committee of Correspondence broadside on display

If you stop by the Old State House this month, you'll have the chance to view an original Committee of Correspondence broadside that was issued in Boston in September 1774. A facsimile of this document is always on display in our Colony to Commonwealth exhibit, but we don't often have the opportunity to display the original due to the sensitive nature of 18th-century documents.

MS0119/DC 973.3116.1774
But first things first - what exactly was a broadside? Broadsides were large pieces of paper that were only printed on one side and were often posted in public places. They were used as a way to pass on announcements and advertisements, and were ephemeral in nature, meaning that they were printed to serve a specific purpose and weren't necessarily meant to be saved. As a result, some broadsides were printed on poor quality paper and it can be difficult to preserve them into the 21st-century.

The Committee of Correspondence of Massachusetts would issue broadsides from their headquarters in Boston and distribute them to towns throughout the area. For example, a few in our collection were sent from Boston to the town of Medway. Committees of Correspondence were organized in each of the thirteen colonies in the years leading up to the American Revolution. As its name suggests, the committees served as a way to maintain communication within Massachusetts as well as with other colonies. The broadside that is currently on display was issued by Boston and surrounding towns on September 27, 1774 and is signed by the clerk, William Cooper. The broadside calls upon citizens to withhold from [British] troops every article except provisions necessary for their subsistence. The notice goes on to urge all citizens to participate, stressing that “unanimity in all our measures in this day of severe trial, is of utmost consequence.” This broadside gives insight into the sentiments of Boston and Massachusetts residents on the eve of the American Revolution. Click on the image above to see an enlarged version of the broadside and read it in its entirety.

As this document turns 240 this month, we are excited for the opportunity to share it with our visitors and blog readers!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

Old State House restoration has begun!

The long wait is over! Our much anticipated West Façade Restoration Project is officially underway. Last weekend Commodore Builders delivered and set up the scaffolding on a busy Saturday. The project includes full re-pointing of the façade, repairs to the chimney, restoration to the windows and some wood elements, and repainting of the woodwork.

While the majority of the work is focused on the west façade, there will be work taking place on the east end of the building as well.
The Society has also been fortunate enough to have raised funds for the restoration of the balcony and the Lion and Unicorn statues. The work on the east façade will be scheduled in the next couple of weeks and will include a crane for the removal of the statues for their restoration at Skylight Studios in Woburn.

The Old State House will be open throughout the work and readers of this blog are encouraged to stop by and see preservation and restoration in action. We will be posting updates here throughout the project, so check back often.

By Matt Ottinger, Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation

The Art of Scrimshaw: pieces from our collection and a how-to guide to make your own

Whale's tooth with view of Amsterdam, MB0282
Sometimes the best part of learning can be getting your hands dirty. That’s exactly what we have been doing on Summer Saturdays at the Old State House! One of my favorite hands on activities is one designed around the art of scrimshaw.

Scrimshaw is pieces of carved and colored whale tooth or bone. Although whale tooth and bone were the most common materials for scrimshaw, examples can also be found of tusk, ivory or bone from other sea or land animals. Carving animal tooth and bone is a practice that goes back centuries, but the term scrimshaw came into use in the 19th century- as the whaling trade was exploding worldwide. Whaling ships would embark on trips that lasted years and the whalers often had ample time on their hands. The act of creating scrimshaw, called scrimshandering, was a detailed art that could easily occupy many hours and whalers could then bring the finished products home to their families and friends as souvenirs from their time abroad.

Scrimshaw clothespin, MB0070
These examples from the Bostonian Society’s collection show how diverse scrimshaw can be. Some show familial scenes, while others are more artistic or depict places the men traveled to. The shape of the scrimshaw can vary. Frequently scrimshaw took the shape of the original tooth, but sometimes it would be shaped into useful tools like this cribbage board and clothespins.  Busks were also common scrimshaw gifts, brought home to wives and sweethearts. Busks were a component of the corsets worn by women in the 19th century, the vertical piece lying against a woman’s sternum. A very intimate souvenir!

Whale's tooth with
family scene, MB0036

Whalers used whatever tools they had at their disposal, such as jackknifes, files and India ink. As scrimshaw became well known some men brought special tools with them on the ship in anticipation of the pieces they would work on. Tools that resembled a dentist kit were some of the most popular tools! The small picks worked well on the tooth and bone. Our hands on activity uses materials that are more readily available in the 21st century. We are doing this activity in the museum this summer, but it can easily be done at home as well, or even in the classroom.

Scrimshaw Activity

  • Block of white soap
  • A ball point pen
  • Black washable poster paint
  • Wooden carving tools (such as this one available at craft stores)
  • Sponge, cut into small pieces
  • Paper plate
  • Newspaper or craft paper to cover work space

  • Smooth off soap surface with wooden tool
  • Use point of wooden tool or the point of the pen to carve image (the pen will not make any marks on the soap). Carve whatever image you want. It can be a meaningful representation of something you love or a beautiful design. It’s up to the artist!
  • When carving, be careful not to press too hard, the soap may split.
  • If the soap is dry, the soap particles can irritate your throat, so don’t breathe too deeply!
  • Use sponge to apply paint. Use enough to get into the carving to make the entire image appear. Wipe away excess paint, using the sponge as well as paper towels to get the desired look.
  • Let the paint dry.
  • Share your art with friends and family- regaling them with tales of your time on the high seas!
Resource note: A great resource for more information on scrimshaw (and the history of whaling) is Leviathan, by Eric Jay Dolin.

By Alexa Drolette, Museum Programs Manager

Not that Samuel Adams! -- Chasing a Revolutionary Patriot across Boston (Part II)

As we learned in last week’s post, Samuel Adams bounced from job to job, but his engagement with radical politics was a constant in his life and his political inclinations likely influenced his steady resolve to preserve the flag. Adams always involved himself in local politics and was an outspoken fixture at town meetings. He supported Thomas Jefferson and the Whigs, and he was written about on one occasion as a great orator of Boston. He was a regular attendee at the anniversary celebrations of Thomas Paine’s birthday, where he made toasts decrying political and religious tyranny. Like Thomas Paine, he was an atheist. In his later years he became a radical abolitionist, allying himself with men like William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips.

Liberty Tree, Boston Common.  1983.0003.011.144

In the 1850s, newspapers recognized him as one of the last surviving “relics” of the Revolutionary period and reported that he had an incredible memory of those times. At the 75th anniversary celebration of the Declaration of Independence in 1851, he was one of three Revolutionary veterans riding in a carriage for the procession. By his own account, he witnessed the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, the battles of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, the British departure from the town, and Washington’s entrance into Boston. He claimed to have been one of the “Boston boys,” young men who acted as sentinels for the Sons of Liberty when they had their secret meetings, and that he even served as the confidential messenger of the patriot Samuel Adams. He stated that he served as a privateer during the Revolution. Thus far it is difficult to confirm these impressive stories.

Adams began displaying the flag for various public occasions in the 1850s, including the anniversary celebration of Thomas Paine’s birthday in 1851 and a meeting of the Free Soil Club in 1852. He evidently wished that the flag continue to be used to support radical politics. In his will, he left it to his granddaughter, and then intended it to pass to Abby Folsom, another abolitionist and women’s rights advocate. He called it the “Flag of Freedom of yore hoisted over Liberty Tree so called in Boston,” though one wishes that he might have mentioned how he came to own it. This question still remains to be answered.

The impression that emerges from the details of Adams’s life is that of a man who lived through an incredible period of American history: from the last years of British colonial rule to the years leading up to the Civil War. He preserved the Liberty Tree Flag as a living emblem of the radical politics he was caught up in as a young man, and of the reforms he still hoped to bring about. In this effort he had a strong sense of history, evinced by his remarks at Boston’s last town meeting before it became a city:

“ ‘Names is nothing. Only let us have Boston, and I care not what you call it.’ ”

By Kathryn Griffith, History Department Intern

Not that Samuel Adams! -- Chasing a Revolutionary Patriot across Boston (Part I)

The Bostonian Society has on display at the Old State House what at first appears to be a rather unassuming textile. Unfurled, however, it is an enormous flag (8’ by 13’) with nine red and white stripes, and it came into the collections with a remarkable story: that it hung from the great Liberty Tree in the early days of the Revolution, and even a few years before, when the Sons of Liberty began opposing British rule in Boston.

Liberty Tree Flag, 1893.0093

Before coming to the Old State House, the flag was displayed at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. When Bostonian John C. Fernald donated the flag to the Society in 1894, it was noted that the flag had first belonged to Mr. Samuel Adams, a Boston wire-worker, who died in 1855 at age 96. For decades very little was known about this Samuel Adams or how he came into possession of the flag; sources often only repeated his name and occupation.

The flag is currently being prepared for an exhibition about the Liberty Tree, so I have been researching Adams to learn more about him and the flag. Following a centuries-old paper trail, I have tried to connect the dots between the appearance of a flag on the Liberty Tree (documented in Boston newspapers in the 1760s and 1770s) and the death of Adams in 1855. Why did an obscure wire-worker hold fast to the flag for more than seven decades? What did it mean to him?

I found a man who, far from being an anonymous Bostonian, was a well-known local character and who led a very long and interesting life. Samuel Adams was born in 1759, reportedly in the North End, to a book-binder named Benjamin Adams and his wife Abigail. Samuel had an older brother, Abraham, who became a leather-dresser and a well-respected citizen. Samuel married Catharine Fenno in Boston in 1781. They had 8 children together, including a son named for Benjamin Franklin, and a daughter, also Catharine, who married William Fenno, and through whose descendents the flag passed to John Fernald.

Adams moved around quite a bit according to the Boston city directories and the advertisements he placed in newspapers. He had several occupations during his lifetime; in fact it seems he came late to wire-working. In the 1790s Adams owned a wharf at the end of Cross Street from which he sold various goods. In the early 1800s he became the town crier, and printed a number of interesting advertisements announcing things he had found throughout the town. As a wire worker, his business was known as the Sign of the Flying Man and Fender Manufactory, and his advertisements included beautiful designs of his work. His work in wire also earned him the nickname, “Rat-Trap Adams,” by which he was known affectionately (or not, depending on the source).

The story of Samuel Adams and the Liberty Tree Flag will continue next week . . .

By Kathryn Griffith, History Department Intern

Historical Postcards on Display

Did you know that the Society’s archives includes a large holding of historical postcards? For the summer months, we selected five of these cards to display in the Old State House, each one portraying an iconic Boston site. Purchasing and sending postcards first became popular in America after the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, and this display will give our visitors and blog readers a glimpse into the history surrounding these souvenirs.

The oldest postcards in our collection date to 1898 and depict the Old State House, Old South Meeting House, Faneuil Hall, and scenes from the Public Garden. As you can see from the image to the left, these postcards were printed in gray scale with a color image of the seal of the City of Boston on the left-hand side of the card. The back of the card includes the line “Private Mailing Card (authorized by Act of Congress, May 19, 1898)” which is referring to the Private Mailing Card Act of 1898. Prior to this date, only the Postal Service was permitted to produce and sell postcards. When the Act was established, it allowed private companies to distribute cards; however, they could only refer to them as souvenir cards or correspondence cards, and it was also required that the line “private mailing cards” was printed on the back. This practice ended in December of 1901 when private companies were allowed to start using the term postcard.

One of my favorite postcards on display is a 1904 card of Old South Meeting House. This postcard was sent to Miss Hester Johns of Pittsburg, PA and is one of the few in our collection that includes a personal message, which reads, “We are having a very nice time. Going to the beach tomorrow.” From the picture to the right, you can see that the message was written right below the image of Old South. In the early 1900s, the back of postcards could only include the recipient’s address, so personal messages had to be written on the front of the card. It was not until 1907 that the Postal Service allowed postcards to have a divided back, which provided space for both a personal message and address.

The Society continued to collect postcards of Boston Proper through the 1970s and over the years we have accumulated quite the collection of cards depicting famous Boston sites. The cards illustrate the ways that the city has both stayed the same and changed over the past century.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

Building an 18th Century Wardrobe: Dorothy Hancock

With the recent opening of two new exhibitions at the Old State House - The Council Chamber, 1764 and Revolutionary Characters - a variety of 18th century artifacts have moved into the spotlight, including examples of imported textiles and accessories.

1887.0093 A-B
The purchasing and selling of imported goods became a contentious matter in the 1760s when boycotts were encouraged to urge the repeal of various taxes. In the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, Bostonians understood the implications of dealing in British trade, from selling sundries to wearing imported fabric. Style-wise, wearing imported items such as London-made shoes and Chinese silk was de rigueur and exemplified a refined urban look often difficult to procure from artisans in a provincial colony. To the left are a pair of shoes from our collection that features embroidery and a cut out design on the vamp, which became increasingly popular in the 1790s.

Detail of 1887.0093 A-B
Some of these luxury items have fallen into my care at the Bostonian Society, namely elements of Dorothy Hancock’s closet. At a time when buying local was a patriotic virtue, Dorothy Hancock owned imported garments that exemplified the latest in European fashion. In the late 18th century, she purchased some Bragg and Luckin shoes in an enviable London style made specifically for export.  As you can see in the label affixed to the foot-bed of the shoes, they indicate that they were made specifically for export to the colonies.

Stay tuned for future posts with more from Dorothy's closet . . .

By Tricia Gilrein, Collections Manager and Exhibits Coordinator

From our collection: Colonial Currency

Revere engraved currency, MS0119 DC1219
Every month I select an item from the archival collection to display in a special document case in the Old State House. Throughout most of July, two pieces of Massachusetts paper currency engraved by Paul Revere, dating to 1776 and 1779, are on display. Most people know Revere from his famous midnight ride, but he is also well known as a blacksmith and engraver. The Society is lucky to have a few of his items in our archival and museum collections.

Hole cancelled currency, MS0047
Each of the thirteen colonies issued their own paper money during the American Revolution, and those pieces were not easily transferable for use in other colonies. Paper currency in the colonies was different from how we think of money today; these pieces were used as bills of credit, issued by the government. Some of the currency in our collection includes what looks like a hole-punch in the center, which is referred to as “hole cancelled.”

Though the bulk of the paper currency in our collection is from Massachusetts, we also have pieces from Rhode Island and New Jersey as well as a few pieces of Continental currency printed in Philadelphia by Hall and Sellers. The first Continental currency, referred to as Continentals, was issued in June of 1775 after a resolution was passed by the Continental Congress.

NJ currency, MS0047
As you can see from the Revere currency pictured above, paper money included elaborate designs and ornamental motifs. Of the two that are on display, the four shilling and six pence piece has an engraving of a codfish at the top center and the five shilling and six pence piece has an engraving of a pine tree. It was typical of engravers of colonial currency to try to prevent counterfeiting by designing intricate typefaces and ornaments that would be difficult to reproduce. Additionally, Continentals were printed on special paper that included thin blue threads and mica to prevent counterfeiting. Though it seems like a harsh punishment, the line “To counterfeit is Death” was included on some pieces of paper currency, like the New Jersey currency pictured to the right.

There is much more to say about colonial currency than can fit in a blog post, so please don’t hesitate to comment with any questions and I’ll try my best to find the answer!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

King Street in the 1700s

The Old State House was built at the head of King Street, now known as State Street. As its grand name implied, King Street was the most important street in Boston for government and commerce.

Using a variety of historical documents we can reconstruct a mental image of what it might have been like to walk out of the Old State House 250 years ago. It would be apparent that you were no longer in 21st century Boston as soon as you stepped out of the door. The salty sea air blowing in from Long Wharf was pungent with the aromas of horse manure, rum-soaked taverns, musty bookstores, hot forges, coffee house kitchens, and more. The calls of seagulls carried over a town as noisy as modern Boston, alive with the clattering of iron-clad cartwheels clattering over rough pebblestone streets, the cries of merchants barking their wares, ships bells chiming, children playing, and craftsmen and sailors hard at work.

The Little Admiral, 1916.0024
18th century newspaper advertisements reveal the goods that were bought and sold on this street. The fashionable shopped here for "All sorts of goldsmith and Jewelry wares," "women's fine horse-hair & beaver hats," "black bone lace, fine white cap lace, gimp and snail trimming," which the advertisers assured were "suitable for the season." For the hungry, shops sold "Chocolate, Bohea and Green Teas, raw and roasted coffee," "Choice Connecticut pork," "Choice Butter by the tub" and "The best Jarr Rasins." And for the scholarly, bookstores here sold "A large assortment of books on Law, Divinity, Gardening, Paper books and Pocket books… at the lowest prices."

Still, one of the main reasons to come to King Street was to socialize and drink. A block from the Old State House, on the corner of Kilby Street, stood the Bunch of Grapes, the Marlborough Arms, and the Queen's Head; three of Boston’s oldest Taverns. There was also the Admiral Vernon Tavern on Merchant's row. “The Little Admiral,” pictured above, is a a shop sign from a few doors down which is thought to portray Vernon, and is now part of our museum collection. King Street also had a number of coffee houses. In spite of their name, these genteel establishments served mostly alcohol rather than coffee.

Studying the shops on King Street gives us a richer picture of the thriving and lively town that Boston was on the eve of the American Revolution.

By Daud Alzayer, Revolutionary Characters Manager

Old State House Lion and Unicorn: An Unfolding Story (Part II)

To most who have heard of Moses Gulesian, he is remembered as the one who rescued the USS Constitution, ‘Old Ironsides’. In 1908, he had read that the U.S. Secretary of the Navy considered the deteriorating Constitution no longer needed and might possibly be towed out of Boston Harbor and used as target practice, ultimately to be scrapped.

Gulesian had become a passionate student of U.S. history. To him, Old Ironsides was an icon, launched in Boston in 1797, built with the timbers of a Boston shipwright, gun carriages built in South Boston, sails made in Boston and copper bolts and spikes made by Paul Revere.

USS Constitution, 1975.0006.010
His offer of $10,000 via telegram to Navy Secretary Bonapart drew a prompt response that the sale of a commissioned ship would require Congressional authorization. Word of this leaked to the Associated Press and an ensuing article in the Boston Evening Transcript created a public furor, forcing the Navy to back down and Congress approving the restoration of the vessel.

Publicity and controversy was also to emerge regarding the authorized copper fabrication of the Lion and Unicorn. Editors of The Boston Pilot condemned them as “relics of royalty” that patriots had burned in their opposition to British rule. Yet in 1882, the Common Council of Boston had those “emblems of royalty” replaced. The Pilot argued for their permanent removal.

In contrast, The Boston Transcript viewed the Lion and Unicorn as merely “orphaned emblems of British Sovereignty.” The Transcript’s position was that their replacement was appropriate to the “completion of the old building as an antiquity.” Despite the passion concerning another replacement, Gulesian’s new copper and gilt Lion and Unicorn were ultimately installed.

Although the golden Lion and silver Unicorn had been restored once since that time, their coats of gold leaf and aluminum have now been weathered away by nor’easter winds blowing through the urban canyon of State Street. Undergoing restoration this year, further discoveries may emerge. From old records left by the Superintendent of Public Buildings, a “box” was placed inside the head of the Lion in 1900 – its contents to be revealed this summer!

This article is written by guest author Donald J. Tellalian, AIA, founding Principal of Tellalian Associates Architects & Planners, LLC. He may be reached at donaldt@taap.com. Don has worked on preservation projects at the Old State House with the Bostonian Society since 2005.

Old State House Lion and Unicorn: An Unfolding Story (Part I)

The restoration process of an historic landmark often yields surprising discoveries – old newspapers and handwritten notes buried in walls, names and initials of workmen carved into timbers. This summer, the anticipated restoration of the iconic copper Lion and Unicorn that grace the top of the east façade of Boston’s Old State House, promises such discovery.

The Old State House, constructed in 1713, has offered us a veritable odyssey of reincarnation. In 300 years it has lent itself to changes in use and appearance: site of colonial government, then town hall, then state house, then physical reconfigurations to house commercial offices and retail establishments.

Lion and Unicorn, photo by Nick Trainor
Since 2006, restoration/renovation efforts, commissioned by the nonprofit Bostonian Society, have been ongoing. This year a key initiative is the removal, inspection and restoration of the copper Lion and Unicorn. The originals, in polychrome wood, symbols of British rule, were removed and burned during the passion of the American Revolution. In 1882, when the building was restored to its “colonial appearance” replacements were carved and installed. In 1900, during a period of restoration/renovation, those two rotting wood figures were removed and a Boston coppersmith, Moses H. Gulesian, was commissioned by the Commonwealth to replace them in copper.

Moses Gulesian? Here a story unfolds!

Motivated by a utopian vision of America and fearful of the repression and dangers of late 19th Century Ottoman Turkey, Moses Gulesian, a 17 year-old Armenian, left his family for a long and dangerous passage, arriving in New York City in May 1883. He survived with a few Turkish coins in his pocket and slept on a park bench. After many days, with limited ability in English, he found work winding bobbins in a fellow-countryman’s carpet shop, and eventually secured an apprenticeship in a Worcester sheet metal factory.

Ultimately this almost storybook saga of the penniless, yet hardworking immigrant, would seek citizenship, thrive and achieve fortune in late 19th century Boston.

While personal security, substantial wealth and entrepreneurial opportunities were realized in Gulesian’s adopted country, his commitment to good works and philanthropy was not forgotten. He not only sponsored the immigration of his extended family, but sponsored scores of refugees from the ‘old country’, giving many employment and transitional lodging in his Waltham factory building. In the process, he developed longstanding relationships with a number of progressive figures of the day, including Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison.

Check back next Monday for the continuation of Moses’ story . . .

This article is written by guest author Donald J. Tellalian, AIA, founding Principal of Tellalian Associates Architects & Planners, LLC. He may be reached at donaldt@taap.com. Don has worked on preservation projects at the Old State House with the Bostonian Society since 2005.

Conservation of the Thomas Barnard Sermon

Our new exhibit A British Town: The Council Chamber in Boston before the American Revolution features two items from our archival collection, including one item that needed some conservation before it was exhibit ready; a sermon preached by Thomas Barnard in honor of the anniversary of the election of Francis Bernard as the governor of the province of Massachusetts Bay, a document that was printed in Boston by Richard Draper in 1763.  To our museum visitors, this item looks like it is in good condition, but that was not always the case.  When we were considering this item for inclusion in the exhibit, I pulled it from storage and noticed that the paper was dirty, the edges ragged, and the binding in poor condition.   Anne Bentley, Curator of Art and Artifacts at the Massachusetts Historical Society, graciously conducted an assessment of the document and determined that it just needed some cleaning and mending before it would be ready to exhibit.  Anne also determined that this was work that could be done in house, and I was eager to undertake this task with her continued assistance.

The title page before (left) and after (right) conservation
Individual pages air drying after soaking
The sermon is 45 pages, which are separated in 6 signatures (a signature refers to a number of sheets of pages that are stacked and folded together, it can also be called a section).  To work on the individual pages, we began by separating each of the signatures from one another, which required that we removed any adhesive or string that was binding them together.  Once the signatures were separated, we were able to detach each individual page which was then soaked in distilled water to remove any surface dirt or remaining adhesive.  The pages were then laid out and air dried after the soaking.  The next step was to reinforce any tears and creases in the pages with Japanese paper, which was adhered to the original paper with wheat paste.  Japanese paper was also used to fill in any large gaps where the original paper had been torn away.  These repaired pages were then pressed for a few days to give them the smooth appearance they have today.  After the pages were mended and pressed, they were folded and nested back together into their original signatures.

Since this is a printed document from 1763, it can only be on display for a limited time before it is replaced with a facsimile.  Once the sermon is removed from display, it will be rebound using a pamphlet stitch and returned to storage.

Being able to do a bit of paper repair was an exciting opportunity for me, and I hope to learn more about it and work on other items from our archival collection in the future!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

Preservation Work at the Old State House

Mortar deterioration below the southwest scroll   
This summer visitors to Boston’s Old State House will see restoration taking place to the building’s West Façade. Preserving and maintaining a 300 year old landmark is no easy task, but one that the Society gladly accepts. Lead by a dedicated Preservation Team and working with an experienced contractor in Commodore Builders, the restoration work to the building will occur over the summer as the entire west façade is re-pointed, deteriorated woodwork is replaced, windows preserved, and water infiltration is stopped. At the same time this work is taking place, visitors will notice the missing statues of the lion and unicorn on the east façade. The statues represent England and Scotland respectively and will be removed for re-gilding.  Work will also be done on the east balcony. Watch this blog for project updates and information!

By Matt Ottinger, Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation

King Street?

The Old State House sits at the intersection of Washington Street and State Street in downtown Boston, so why is the title of our blog On King Street?  What Bostonians know of today as State Street was called King Street when the Old State House was built in 1713.  During and after the Revolutionary War residents of Boston did not want to have one of their main city streets named after a King that they no longer supported.  In 1784 King Street was changed to State Street, though there are references to Bostonians referring to the street by other names before the official name change. 

Detail of 1775.3 BOS
In the 1700s, King Street was populated with businesses, taverns, and coffee houses.  It is one of the oldest streets in Boston, and the view from the Old State House’s balcony down the street to Long Wharf remains one of the few views in Boston that has not changed drastically in over three hundred years. 

Keep an eye out for an upcoming post with more details about King Street and interesting facts about the Old State House’s 18th century neighbors that Revolutionary Characters Manager, Daud Alzayer, has discovered after extensive research on the history of King Street.

For even more information about the history of Boston streets, check out The Crooked and Narrow Streets of Boston by Annie Thwing.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager


Welcome to the inaugural post of the Bostonian Society’s blog, On King Street.  Since 1881, the Society has maintained and preserved the Old State House, the oldest public building surviving from British colonial America, one of the two most historically significant sites from our nation’s founding era, and one of the historic sites on Boston’s Freedom Trail.  The Society has used the restored interiors of the building to house a museum dedicated to Boston’s revolutionary history, and has amassed a large museum, library, and archival collection over the years.

Photo by Peter Leavitt
Each year approximately 100,000 visitors enter the Old State House to view exhibits, take tours, learn about the building, and participate in programs and events. This blog will allow us to open our virtual doors and share our news with visitors near and far.  We’ll use this space to highlight items from our museum and archives; provide a behind the scenes look into the continued preservation of the Old State House and our artifacts; and give information about the special events and programs that occur in our building.

Various staff members of the Bostonian Society will post to this blog, but the main contributors will be Tricia Gilrein, Collections Manager and Exhibits Coordinator; Matt Ottinger, Director of Facilities and Historic Preservation; and Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager.  Always feel free to comment on our posts, or contact the post author directly with any questions!

To find out more about the history of our building, please visit our website.