exhibitions

The enduring legacy of the Boston Massacre

The enduring legacy of the Boston Massacre

Currently on display in the Old State House are artifacts that represent two hundred years of the enduring legacy of the Boston Massacre. Take a peek into the case in this post about one of those items, Joseph Warren's anniversary oration from 1772.

A Formal Introduction

A Formal Introduction

For just a few more weeks, the archives exhibit case in the Old State House will feature a display of letters of introduction. Nowadays, an introduction is easy to facilitate but in the 1700s and 1800s, the process was a bit more formal, at least for the upper class.

James Bowdoin and the Boston Massacre

James Bowdoin and the Boston Massacre

In honor of the upcoming 247th anniversary of the Boston Massacre, our staff have placed a portrait of James Bowdoin (1726-1790) on view in Representatives Hall.

A look at the Elizabeth Bull wedding dress

A few weeks ago we introduced you to the love story of Elizabeth Bull and Roger Price and the wedding dress that Elizabeth began working on before they even met.  Have you had a chance to stop by the Old State House to see this exquisite dress in person?  Our visitors have delighted in the opportunity to examine this craftsmanship up close, but if you can't stop by, we hope you'll enjoy this virtual look at the wedding dress and an explanation of  the conservation work that went into making it exhibit ready.

The gown is a circa 1730 wedding dress within the collections of the Bostonian Society. It was originally constructed by Elizabeth Bull, who was born in 1717.   It was acquired by the Society in 1910, gifted by Francis Erving Weston who was the granddaughter of Olivia Price Hall, who was the niece of Elizabeth Bull’s daughter, also named Elizabeth.  According to Francis Erving Weston, Elizabeth worked this dress while at school in 1731.

The garment incorporates a variety of embroidery methods, called crewel work which is typically done in wool on domestic items. The resulting work is intricate and beautiful, and the process highly instructional.

The wedding dress was conserved in 2012. It was dry-cleaned meticulously by hand and vacuumed using mesh as a guard and a low pressure machine. Portions of the dress were stabilized with mesh and the sleeves were fitted with a new silk overlay. A specialty mount was hand carved from inert foam for both the dress and the petticoat. The petticoat was removed from beneath the main skirt during conservation.

We chose conservation rather than restoration. Restoration would have dramatically altered the dress returning it to the original 1730’s silhouette. Serving as a palimsest for succeeding generations, the dress indicates the many Bull women who owned, wore, and cherished it, and this was a story we wanted to tell.

The Elizabeth Bull wedding dress will be on display in the Council Chamber of the Old State House until November.

By Tricia Gilrein, Collections Manager and Exhibitions Coordinator

Elizabeth Bull and Roger Price: An 18th Century Love Story

1910.0050.035
Elizabeth Bull didn’t need to marry for money, but marriage was, of course, in the cards. Such inevitability was central to her education, and her father was invested in the appropriate tutelage. As a merchant working on the family wharf, he was privy to the latest fripperies: sewing patterns from France and bolts of silk and thread from China dyed to match blooms along the Tigris, far from the provincial outpost of Boston. These were the raw materials for a polite education, and a means to an end. When Elizabeth was fifteen - two years before she met Roger Price on a Sunday morning at Trinity Church in 1732 - she began an appropriate assignment: a wedding dress.

Roger was brilliant, if not a bit dour. He didn’t care for his colleagues at Kings Chapel, and after four years as the only commissary to Anglican churches of New England - and almost constant bickering with his Assistant Minister - he booked a one-way fare back to London. On Sunday morning, he found his ship delayed by winds and opted to attend service at Trinity. He was probably not in the best of moods.

That year, Roger’s father wrote to him in Boston warning not to “let his love of a pretty face run away with his decision in choosing a wife.” Clearly, there was something about Elizabeth that cheered him up that morning. It was enough for him to stay and defy his father’s advice. He didn’t return to England for another fifteen years, and then it was with Elizabeth and six children in tow.

The couple married in 1734 after a two year courtship. 1730 to 1734 years is a long time to spend working a wedding dress; a heady preoccupation that surfaces in the garment. It brims with anticipation, recognizable in its precision and steep aspirations; the stitches are perfectly wrought but the ambitious design unfinished. It’s her process which makes the gown so enigmatic. The days spent crafting a vessel for a journey unseen, her dutiful intent to be a good daughter and wife all buoyed by a compulsive talent.

Elizabeth would have been exposed to urban glamor through stores on Kings Street that sold ribbons and high heeled shoes, and the Bull wharf. Prompting her to, in many respects, become a designer. Inspiration was drawn from patterns from Spittafields, cotton palampore from India, and silks from Canton, all indications of a world much larger.

She, most likely, created a robe l’Aiglaise: an open robe style dress with a fitted bodice and a visible petticoat. The style was fit for a French court, hers with wild vines clawing the celadon silk and springing with sunny chrysanthemums and cheerful red buds. Her parents must have delighted in her creativity and commitment. School girl wares were as much of a commodity as all the other trappings of 18th century refinement, even in colonial Boston. Parents proudly hung samplers above mantles and recognized their “educated” daughters as a marker of wealth and sophistication. It would make sense that they would welcome the affections of Roger Price, who was a prestigious figure in town. Elizabeth had already inherited tracks of land after the death of her two brothers, so a good match strictly meant status. This was a lucky circumstance. Money is freedom, and certainly it was liberating for a woman in colonial Boston: Elizabeth could marry for love.

Elizabeth and Roger's daughter, also named Elizabeth, inherited the dress and was probably the first to alter it. She eventually gave it to her niece Olivia Price Hall, and Olivia’s granddaughter, Francis Irving Weston, donated it to the Bostonian Society in 1910. Shortly after, the Society's curator of collections asked an unnamed model to wear it for a Boston Globe photo shoot at the beginning of the 20th century. One wonders if the model knew she would be last to wear it in a string of woman that began with a teenaged girl sewing in a tavern on Summer Street where South Station now stands.

The dress is currently on display in the Old State House, and will be followed by an exhibition of the gown’s petticoat in November. Be sure to plan a visit to see it in person!

By Tricia Gilrein, Collections Manager and Exhibitions Coordinator


The Exchange: The Bostonian Society's Monthly Newsletter

Have you subscribed to our monthly newsletter, The Exchange? Our blog is a great way to learn behind-the-scenes information about our collection and building preservation, but our monthly newsletter will keep you up to date on all of the fun activities happening at the Old State House.

By signing up for The Exchange you'll learn about our upcoming events - including a beer tasting and pub quiz! You'll also find out information about our current exhibits - like the Elizabeth Bull wedding dress, an 18th century wedding gown that was recently conserved and is now on display. The Exchange also includes information about our educational programing for students and families.  Click here to read the May edition!

Sign up for our mailing list below. Your information will never be shared with any third party.

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A letter as old as Boston

John Winthrop (1980.6.2)
For the past month there has been a small and unassuming document on display in our special archival case in Representative's Hall.  Though it doesn't seem like much to examine at first, it is actually one of the most interesting items in our archival collection.  The document is a letter from a father to a son dated September 9, 1630, but what makes it notable is that the father is John Winthrop and the son is John Winthrop, Jr.  Though brief in content, this letter is important because it is one of the oldest items in our collection and includes the signature of a man remembered as a leading figure in the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  John Winthrop served four terms as the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and his son John served as governor of the Connecticut Colony from 1657-1658, and from 1659 through his death in 1676.

Letter from John Winthrop to his son (MS0190, 04/14)
In the letter, Winthrop writes to his son asking him to pay Mr. Robert Parke a debt that the elder Winthrop owed. Transcribed in full, the letter reads:

Son John

I pray pay unto ye bearer Mr. Robert Parke or his assignee ye sum of forty one shillings which I owe unto him so I rest


Below the body of text, a column to the left includes a location and date of Charlestowne in N: England, Sept. 9 1630, and to the right is the closing and signature of yr [your] loving father Jo: Winthrop.  A notation at the very bottom of the letter, written in different handwriting, indicates that the bill was paid on January 28. It is especially interesting to note that this letter is dated September 9, 1630 - only two days after John Winthrop announced the founding of the city of Boston on September 7, 1630.  Learn more about the founding of Boston by checking out The Partnership of the Historic Bostons.

John Winthrop signature (MS0190, 02/54)
Our archival collection includes one other example of John Winthrop's signature, but in this instance the original document has been cut so all that remains is the line "Taken upon Oathe the 8th of the 6: mo: 1639.  Before Jo: Winthrop Gov-" The content of this letter remains a mystery, which makes us especially glad that we have a letter in our collection that includes both Winthrop's signature and his message.

According to the Proceedings of The Bostonian Society, Winthrop's letter to his son was donated in 1980 by Mr. and Mrs. William Osgood in commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the founding of Boston. William Osgood was a long-time President of the Bostonian Society, and he and his wife were both life members of the Society.  We continue to be grateful to the Osgood family for this generous donation to our collection.  When this rare and nearly 400 year old document is not on display, it is kept in a special enclosure in dark storage to preserve it for years to come. 

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

Oliver Holden and The Winter's Sun

"The Winter's Sun" MS0190, 1/44
Each month, I have the opportunity to select an item from our archival collection to display in Representatives' Hall at the Old State House.  This month, I've chosen to embrace the time of year by selecting a musical score by Oliver Holden titled "The Winter's Sun." This score dates to 1830 and the music and lyrics are handwritten.  Written in December, "The Winter’s Sun" comments on the lack of daylight and the feebleness of the sun's rays, but it ends with a hope of spring, repeating the line “yet know we when it sinks away it rises, it rises on a land of spring.”

Oliver Holden (1765-1844) was born in Shirley, Massachusetts. As a young man, he served as a marine during the Revolutionary War, and afterward settled in Charlestown and helped to rebuild it from damage sustained during the war.  A carpenter and real estate dealer by trade, Holden also served as a town officer and a representative to the Massachusetts State Legislature between 1818 and 1833

Oliver Holden, 1899.0034.001
Though he wore many hats, Holden is best remembered as a Boston clergyman and a prolific composer who specialized in hymns.  Most of his work dates to the late 18th century, but he continued to publish sporadically into the 19th century.  From 1792 to 1807, he taught singing, composed over 245 works, and compiled more than a dozen anthologies.  During George Washington's visit to Boston in 1789, Holden led the chorus in "Ode to Columbia's Favorite Son," which was sung in front of the Old State House. Holden also provided the music for Washington's memorial service in 1800.  A portrait of Holden by Ethan Allen Greenwood (pictured at the left) and his pipe organ and accompanying wooden stool are part of our museum collection. Our archival collection includes manuscript scores and tune-books composed by Holden that date to 1798, 1830, and 1844.  Though the bulk of Holden's music in our collection is of a sacred nature, there are some romantic songs, such as "He's stole my Heart from me" and "What tho' 'tis true I've talk'd of Love."  Of all of these pieces, my favorite is "The Winter's Sun" because I believe it reflects that Bostonians past and present rely on the thought of spring to help get through the cold and dark days of winter.

Boston is blanketed in a layer of snow right now, but we should remember that in just a few short weeks we'll turn the clocks forward to enjoy more sunlight each day - eventually saying goodbye to the winter's sun and welcoming the spring's sun.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

Time Capsule Items on Display! (Part IV)

The last day to view the exhibit of items from our 1901 time capsule is this Sunday, January 31 and this post marks our last examination of the displayed artifacts! If you'd like to read about all of the other items on display, please be sure to check out the previous posts.

S.D. Rogers, courtesy of Heidi Grundhauser
A few items in the time capsule were related to the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). The G.A.R. was a fraternal organization for Union veterans of the Civil War. When this time capsule was assembled in 1901 the Civil War was still in recent memory, having ended only 36 years prior. Many of the men who were involved in the restoration of the Old State House may have been veterans themselves, or at least had family members who served. One of these men was Samuel D. Rogers, who included the Roster for Boston Post No. 200, of which he was a member, in the time capsule. Heidi Grundhauser, a descendant of Rogers who first notified us of the possibility of the time capsule in the lion's head, has done research into his Civil War service and she was kind enough to provide us with a picture of him in his Civil War uniform.

The time capsule also included photographs and autographs of many G.A.R. officials, and we choose to display the business card and lapel pin belonging to Edward P. Preble, who served as the Assistant-Adjutant General of the Department of Massachusetts G.A.R. I have not had a chance to do much research into Preble yet, but I have found a letter that was likely written by him during his Civil War service.

Edward Preble G.A.R. lapel pin and business card (front)
(back)
One of the most striking items in the time capsule was the Grand Army Badge, made of captured cannon metal and dating to 1886. This is an official badge of the G.A.R., and includes the seal which shows a handshake between two former adversaries. The badge was wrapped in its original packaging, which listed instructions for use.

G.A.R. Badge packaging
G.A.R. Badge
I hope you have enjoyed learning more about this selection of items from the time capsule. Once the exhibit closes, the items will be moved to our archives where they will be preserved for future generations.

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

Time Capsule Items on Display! (Part III)

Moses Gulesian cabinet card
The time capsule exhibit will be up for just one more week, so now is the time to visit the Old State House to check it out! If you can't make it into Boston to see these artifacts, I hope you have enjoyed learning more about the displayed items through our blog posts. In this post, I'll showcase the displayed items that pertain to the 1901 restoration of the Old State House, which includes paraphenalia from city officials and skilled tradesmen who worked on the restoration.

In two of the earliest entries on our blog, guest author Donald J. Tellalian shared some of his research on Moses Gulesian, who was the manufacturer of the lion and unicorn statues that were placed on the Old State House in 1901. Back in July, we did not have an image of Gulesian to include with the blog entries, so imagine our happy surprise when we opened up the time capsule and found this well-preserved cabinet card depicting Gulesian. It was a treat to include a photograph of the man who was so important to the restoration of the lion and unicorn in the exhibit.

We also choose to display a photograph that depicts the key individuals connected to the Old State House's restoration project. The group photograph was taken on Waltham Street in Boston on February 18, 1901. When we assembled the new time capsule in November 2014, we made sure to continue this tradition by including photographs of current restoration work teams from Commodore Builders and Skylight Studios, and the Old State Restoration Project team. Also on display are the business card for John A.W. Silver, the Deputy Superintendent of Public Buildings for the City of Boston, and the business card for Samuel D. Rogers, head of S.D. Rogers and Company Carpenters and Builders. There were other personal items related to these two men in the time capsule, so we believe that it is likely that they were instrumental in assembling the contents of the time capsule.

Group photograph of 1900-1901 restoration team
S.D. Rogers and John Silver business cards











Lastly, the display includes a piece of the wooden lion statue that was removed from the Old State House in 1900. The wooden lion and unicorn statues were placed atop the Old State House in 1882, and within less than 20 years they needed to be replaced by the copper ones made by Gulesian and his team.  We do not know where the wooden statues ended up, so we feel lucky that a piece of the unicorn was included in the time capsule.

Piece of wooden lion statue, removed from the Old State House in 1901
Check back next week to learn about the last group of items on display!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

Time Capsule Items on Display! (Part II)

Did you have a chance to visit the Old State House over the holidays and the exhibit of items from our 1901 time capsule?  It will be up through the end of January, but if you can't make it in, then please follow along on our blog to learn more about the displayed items!

Thomas Hart cabinet card
As I wrote in a previous post, the contents could be organized into four categories.  This post will focus on the items that are related to local and federal government.  There were many items that fell into this category, but we chose to exhibit some of the best preserved and most visually interesting pieces. 

W. Murray Crane cabinet card


The time capsule included a significant number of cabinet cards, which was a style of portraiture that was popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Cabinet cards were usually 4" x 6" and were a thin photograph mounted on a cardboard backing. We chose to display the cabinet cards depicting W. Murray Crane, who served as the Governor of Massachusetts from 1900-1903, and the card depicting Thomas Hart, the Mayor of Boston from 1889-1890, and then again from 1900-1902. Both of these men were in office at the time that the capsule contents were assembled in 1901.

McKinley/Roosevelt campaign button
There were also a few campaign buttons included in the time capsule. The first was a button for the William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt 1900 Presidential campaign, against William Jennings Bryan and Adlai Stevenson. McKinley was running for a second term, but this was the first time that he and Roosevelt were on the ticket together; they were victorious, though McKinley was assassinated in September 1901 and Roosevelt was sworn in as President. This campaign button is small, but the colors are so vivid that you can even make out McKinley's and Roosevelt's rosy cheeks.

Samuel L. Powers campaign button
The other two campaign buttons were for Samuel L. Powers for Congress and John D. Long for Vice-President, both from 1900 elections.  Powers was a U.S. Representative for the 11th and 12th districts of Massachusetts from March 1901 through March 1905. He was a resident of nearby Newton, Massachusetts.  Long's campaign button dates to the 1900
John D. Long campaign button
Republican National Convention, when he ran for Vice-President but lost to Theodore Roosevelt. He had previously served as Governor of Massachusetts from 1880-1883, and was also the Secretary of the Navy from 1897-1902. These men were both accomplished Bay Staters, and we are excited to have their campaign buttons as part of our collection!

I'll be posting about the other items on display in the coming weeks, please be sure to check back or sign up to follow our blog by email!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

Time Capsule Items on Display! (Part I)

While Boston's "New" State House recently unearthed a time capsule from 1795, we at the Old State
House just began displaying some of the items that were included in the 1901 time capsule that was found in our lion statue earlier this fall.  Due to the sensitive nature of these materials, the temporary exhibit will only run through the end of January. 

The contents of the time capsule fall into four categories: Boston newspapers, Grand Army of the Republic paraphernalia, government photographs and ephemera, and artifacts associated with the Old State House restoration in 1901.  In addition to the copper capsule and the red book, I selected 17 other items from these categories to display.  In the coming weeks, I'll use our blog to provide some additional information and photographs of these items for history fans who can't make it to the Old State House to see this display in person. The first category that I'll feature is Boston newspapers.

A few years ago our library staff found a reference in the February 24, 1901 edition of the Boston Daily Globe that listed the items deposited in the time capsule to be placed in the head of the lion atop the Old State House.  Given that much of the information we knew about the contents of the time capsule prior to opening it came from this newspaper article, it was only fitting that we found a number of items pertaining to Boston newspapers in the capsule.

The items that we selected to display are the February 19, 1901 edition of the Boston Transcript, donated by Edw. G. Richardson, City Hall Representative; the Boston Herald "Herald Boy" electrotype; an envelope labeled "A Message to Posterity from the Daily Newspapers at City Hall"; and "The Outlook for the Twentieth Century," a letter written by George Litchfield, Business Manager of the Boston Traveler. I've written about the Litchfield letter and the message to posterity envelope in a previous post, but I've included some larger pictures of them below, and have also provided some additional information about the other two items on display.

When opened, this sealed envelope was discovered to be empty - perhaps a joke from journalists in 1901!

George Litchfield outlines his thoughts for the future, touching on technology, communication, and travel.

The February 19, 1901 Boston Transcript was one of five newspapers included in the time capsule, but this was the only one that was labeled and folded; given the space constraints of our display case, this made it the perfect size to include.  One of my concerns about newspapers in the time capsule was that they would be in poor condition.  Have you ever tried to save an important newspaper article, only to find out that after a few weeks it has yellowed and become brittle?  We were lucky that the time capsule was airtight and watertight, meaning that the capsule contents didn't have interaction with oxygen or moisture and thus they remained in surprisingly good condition.  Note that this newspaper is only slightly yellowed, but beyond that it is in good condition and does not look like it is 113 years old.  At this point, we don't know very much about the newspaper donor, Edw. [Edward] G. Richardson, who is listed as "City Hall Representative."  The 1900 and 1901 Boston city directories have only one entry for Edward G. Richardson, and list him as a reporter with a business address of 324 Washington Street, which was the headquarters of the Boston Transcript.  It seems likely that Richardson was one of the reporters detailed to City Hall in 1901.


Also on display is an electrotype of the Boston Herald's "Herald Boy."  There were a few items related to the Boston Herald in the time capsule, including business cards, a newspaper from February 21, 1901, and a die cut for printing of the Herald building at 255 Washington, but this electrotype was the most visually stunning.  The headline on the newspaper that the Herald Boy is holding reads, "The Boston Herald Circulation Nov. 9, 1892, 533,140."  Electrotyping was used in printing beginning in the 1830s and its usage continued until the late 1900s.  Some newspapers in the early 1900s had entire electrotyping departments.

Be sure to check back in the coming weeks to learn about the time capsule items on display!

By Elizabeth Roscio, Library and Archives Manager

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

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.

VW0053/005910
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.

VW0053/005958
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