Category Archives: Current Events

Trial by Combat

Like most Americans, I am outraged by the pillaging of the Capitol on Wednesday by a mob incited by the President of the United States and his personal lawyer, once a serious figure, now a joke, who called for “Trial by Combat”. Tears and despair reigned on Wednesday and Thursday, but yesterday I was just mad: mad at so many things, but I think principally upset about the misuse of history by everyone on the wrong side of it. It’s really clear that there is massive ignorance of history in our country, enabling its constant exploitation. When you look at the scenes of the Capitol riots what do you see? Flags, so many flags: the Confederate flag was the most conspicuous, of course: we had never seen it in that building before. But there were several Revolutionary War flags as well, outrageously displayed in an ignorant attempt to establish some sort of equivalency or legitimacy. I’m used to the quasi-“medieval” emblems used by white supremacists, and I saw them on display as well: of course the Vikings never wore horned helmets—they are a Victorian creation—but these people don’t read so they don’t know. Anything medieval is just Game of Thrones fantasy to them, but how dare they use the “Appeal to Heaven” flag of the nascent U.S. Navy or the Gadsen “Don’t Treat on Me” flag.

A flag hangs between broken windows after President Donald Trump supporters tried to brake through police barriers outside the U.S. Capitol, Wednesday, Jan 6, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

That casual reference to trial by combat, which was archaic in the sixteenth century at the very least! As it evolved into the duel, monarchs wanted a monopoly on warfare, and so it was disdained, not celebrated, as it was on Wednesday (by the cowardly “generals” who of course did not accompany their “army” to the Capitol). And we’re supposed to be more civilized? I hardly think so. Trial by combat is already depicted as “orderly” and idealized in the fifteenth century: it’s on its way out then, only to be resurrected in the twenty-first.

Trial by combat as depicted in two late medieval manuscripts (British Library MS Royal 15 E VI and Royal 14 D I) and a Victorian reimagining.

Maybe it’s because I’m writing about the Renaissance now and completely focused on its messaging, but I feel like we can only move forward by looking back. We’ve got to learn our history, our real history. I think I’m also a bit concerned about this now because the Liberal Arts are being challenged across our nation at institutions of higher education, particularly public ones like the one at which I teach. I’m worried we are going to be transformed into a vocational school by our administration with its “bold” plan: offering instruction primarily in social service rather than social science. We excel at teacher education in several fields (including history, of course) because that is our history, and nothing is more important than that now. How can we move forward if we don’t know where we’ve been?

Oh, and those “backward” medievals always distinguished between trial by combat and pillage: that’s what happened on Wednesday.

Pillaging, BL MS Royal 14 D I


The Dance Will Go On!

There is no contest for me: my favorite Salem event has always been the Christmas Dance at Hamilton Hall: I have never missed it in all the years I’ve lived in Salem, even in the one year I had to go alone. Last year I was in terrible pain from sciatica, but I still hobbled over there and stayed for as long as possible. It’s just that important to me. Anything related to Hamilton Hall is a women’s history topic, very appropriate for my #SalemSuffrageSaturday posts, as women have worked in the Hall, danced in the Hall, held fairs and other fundraising events in the Hall for a variety of causes, and supported the Hall in myriad ways for its two+ centuries. Women continue to support the Hall through two major fundraising events which date to the period right after World War II, when the Hall was in dire need of repairs: the annual Christmas (now Holiday) Dance and Lecture Series, traditionally held on Thursday mornings in February and March. I served as President of the Hall for six years, and on its board before and after, so I know how very, very important the funds from these events are: when we received the checks from the Dance Committee (all ladies) and the Ladies’ Committee which runs the Lecture Series, we breathed a sign of relief. The Hall was built by subscription, and incorporated only in 1986: at that time it had a very small endowment, and it still does: events have always supported it, making an event-less 2020 a very precarious time. But as always has been the case, the ladies rose to the occasion: the Lecture Series will be virtual, increasing accessibility for many people as it always sold out in a week or so, as will the Holiday “Dance”, with some very special patronesses.

I’m so happy about this invitation and event! It combines two endeavors which are very important to me: the preservation of the Hall and its traditions and the showcasing of some remarkable women of Salem who have not received the attention they deserve. There’s a long tradition of naming patronesses for dances at the Hall; these hostesses ensured the success of everything from military balls to debutante assemblies. When the Christmas Dance began, patronesses (and now patrons) became as integral to its popularity as the famous bourbon punch (which I am now realizing that I’ve referred to as rum punch in posts past. What can I say? It always knocked me out). I was a patroness about ten years ago and it was not only an honor but also great fun: waiters with silver trays of champagne kept coming over and people bow and curtsy to you—what could be better? When the chair of the Dance Committee notified me that this year’s dance would go on virtually with patronesses from the past , I was thrilled: what a perfect way to recognize the Suffrage Centennial in this challenging year! I was happy to put forth some candidates, but the ladies of the Dance Committee made their choices, and it was all their idea. I’m just thrilled to see Margery, Mary, Elizabeth, Sarah (Symonds), Nancy, Louise, Clarissa and Sarah (Sherman) get their Salem due! Especially Nancy, whom I think of whenever I step inside the Hall, toiling away in the hot downstairs kitchen on the Rumford Roaster, while everyone was dancing in the ballroom upstairs.

Post-war Patronesses in a photo belonging to my friend Becky Putnam: staring directly into the camera, while in a perfect curtsy, third from the left, is her lovely mother Rosamond Putnam; Debutantes in 1969 in curtsy—-sorry for the quality but I wanted you to see the extended-front-leg curtsy which I found difficult to do when I was a patroness—they do too, although they really had to go low! My two favorite Hamilton Hall dresses: left is vintage Ceil Chapman from the late 1950s which I wore in 2004; right is from 2017. For some reason I cannot find a photo of myself as a patroness–if anyone has one, let me know! Even though there will be no dance IN the Hall this year, it is still as dressed up for Historic Salem’s virtual Christmas in Salem tour. Here is Jetsan, who belongs to current Hall president Michael Selbst, exhausted from his decorating efforts. 

Hamilton Hall Holiday Dance link: a video will be uploaded for ticket-holders on December 19 featuring the patronesses and dance history. To the Ladies!


Voting Matters

I am very, very anxious about the election and can think of little else. I have enough of a historian’s sensibility, of a human’s sensibility, to know that this is the most momentous election of my life. Of course there is little that I can do–other than donate and vote–so I have been appeasing my anxieties in my usual way: by reading about elections past. It has also helped me to read and listen to Boston College history professor Heather Cox Richardson, who has been putting the current situation in a comprehensive historical context for months now: talk about commitment! I have learned a lot about American history during this whole blogging experience, but I think I’ve learned more in the last 6 months than the past ten years: the problem is, I’ve been looking for the comfort of we’ve been here before but I seem to be surmising that many aspects of our current situation are truly aberrant! Apart from the search for context, there is just something very interesting about the logistics and detritus of elections past: in this digital age, we don’t have enough electoral texture. So here are just a few items that caught by eye.

Early Election Ballots: I love browsing through the early election ballots at the American Antiquarian Society: if you don’t understand the Electoral College—they are rather clear illustrations: also of the evolving concept of the ticket. Plus it’s interesting to see the emergence and disappearance of various political parties.

Mass Appeal: I love this flyer for Nathaniel Prentice Banks (also from the American Antiquarian Society), who was running for a Massachusetts congressional seat in the election of 1852. I don’t know if you can read it all, but he is appealing to all different sorts of men—mechanics, young men, middle-aged men and veterans! Plus he courts the ladies, and exhorts them to “stir up” their men!

 

Voting by Mail: since 1864. Very American. Poll Book from the Smithsonian Institution.

 

Poll Taxes! Who knew? I associated poll taxes with the segregated South, but in fact, people had to pay them right here in Massachusetts, and in other states as well, right up to the ratification of the 24th amendment in 1964! Imagine paying to vote. Imagine being an active suffragist, working your whole life for the voting rights of women, all women, and even after enfranchisement this barrier is still there! There were a few snarky articles published in the Boston papers right after the ratification of the 19th amendment in which the theory was put out there that perhaps women wouldn’t want to vote as they would have to tell the poll tax assessor their true ages! Unbelievable!

 

A Salem Parade Flag. Just because it must have been fun to see election parades, which I assume must have brought people together, but perhaps not. 13-star flag used in 1896 Salem parade, Cowan’s Auctions.

Pinback Buttons! Never can get enough of these: most are Roosevelt and McKinley, 1900 & 1904, from the Smithsonian; the Citizen pin is from 1915-20 and the Ann Lewis Suffrage Collection. I love the sentiment of Vote as you please but please vote.

 

A flyer from Margaret Chase Smith’s presidential campaign, 1964 (Smithsonian Collection). Because Margaret Chase Smith. And that’s as close as I am getting to our present time.


Eat, Drink & Be Merry

For the most part, I’ve managed to avoid dwelling on the pandemic and I must admit that I haven’t been that affected by it either, apart from the radical reconfiguration of my work environment! My struggle is to improve my online communication skills so that I can convey my passion for history through the screen—and that really isn’t much of a struggle, relatively speaking. I feel grateful as I’ve been fortunate: fortunate in my profession, which enables me to work in isolation reading and writing about a distant time and place, and fortunate in my residence—Massachusetts was hard hit in March and April but the steady leadership of our Governor and the responsible compliance of (most of) our citizens has enabled us to contain the spread of the Covid. Most days I am in a sixteenth-century fog writing my book, but headlines from the radio and the television intrude, and of course, the numbers of the infected and the dead keep climbing. I can’t believe that the President would hold rallies in this environment, and I am fearful of the maskless merrymakers I see whenever I do get outside and happen to find myself near a body of water, which is often, because I live on the coast. These “mask slackers” (a great term that comes from the last epic pandemic, when an Anti-Mask League formed in San Francisco) do not in any way remind me of a proverbial and patriotic “live free or die” movement but rather another, older, proverbial expression of selfishness: “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we shall die”. This is a biblical reference, of course, and as such it does not imply selfishness on the part of those partaking in the joys of daily life; rather it began to acquire its modern meaning at the time of the Black Death, or shortly thereafter. One of our best sources for the plague’s impact is the Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio, who set the scene for his tales of the Decameron by giving us a first-hand account of plague-time Florence, where

Some thought that moderate living and the avoidance of all superfluity would preserve them from the epidemic. They formed small communities, living entirely separate from everybody else. They shut themselves up in houses where there were no sick, eating the finest food and drinking the best wine very temperately, avoiding all excess, allowing no news or discussion of death and sickness, and passing the time in music and suchlike pleasures. Others thought just the opposite. They thought the sure cure for the plague was to drink and be merry, to go about singing and amusing themselves, satisfying every appetite they could, laughing and jesting at what happened. They put their words into practice, spent day and night going from tavern to tavern, drinking immoderately, or went into other people’s houses, doing only those things which pleased them. 

Boccaccio’s description echoed the late medieval Danse Macabre (“Dance of Death”) allegory, an expression of the egalitarian and universal nature of all-conquering Death found in poetry, music, and images both before, and especially after, the Black Death. Late medieval people heard (or saw) the message as a reminder to be ready for Death, which could strike at any time, in a spiritual sense, not just as a call to indulge. Over the next centuries the hoarding isolationists and the dancing fools converged and the focus on sinfulness and salvation was diminished and forgotten, leaving us only with self-centered indulgence in the face of things we can’t, or won’t control: eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine).

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Screenshot_20200401-081302_TwitterAre we in a crisis? Death is just outside the door in The Feast of Dives, Master of James IV of Scotland, c. 1510-20, from the Collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum; I took this screenshot of Governor Kevin Stitt’s tweet back in March because I could not quite believe it: it was later taken down. I’m sad to say that Governor Stitt has recently announced that he is the first Governor to test positive for Covid and I hope he makes a speedy recovery. He attended the President’s rally in Tulsa on June 20 (without wearing a mask) but does not believe that it was where he was infected.

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Detail of a photograph of  the Danse Macabre frieze at St. Mary’s Church in Lübeck painted by Bernt Notke in 1463; it was destroyed during World War II.  Ink & watercolor Dance of Death by anonymous German artist, 16th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art; inset of 17th century oil painting of the Dance of Death, Wellcome Library.


Women on a Pedestal

Obviously statues have been in the news of late, so I thought I would tap into the national (and international) focus by looking at some of our country’s more notable monuments to women, either striving for the franchise or striving in general, for this week’s #salemsuffragesaturday post. It doesn’t matter what your political inclination is, everyone seems to agree that there are not enough statues of women anywhere and everywhere, and corrective measures are being taken, along with initiatives associated with this Suffrage Centennial year. The husband and wife team who constitute Statues for Equality have established that statues of women represent less than 10% of public monuments in several American cities, and far less in most. In Salem we have only one statue to a woman: Samantha Stevens from Bewitched, situated in our city’s most historic square. She never accomplished anything (because she never actually existed) and her prominent situation and whimsical depiction mocks the real victims of the 1692 trials who were falsely branded “witches”, but nonetheless she is deemed worthy of monumental representation in Witch City. There are so many more women (real women) that deserve to be put a pedestal in Salem—that’s what this year has been all about for me.

pixlrSamantha is currently wearing an ensemble by local artist Jacob Belair, which I think is lovely on its own but also because it covers part of her up! I wish it extended to her unfortunate pedestal. I’m not in Salem now, so I asked my stepson ©Allen Seger to take the photos of Samantha in crochet.

Let’s turn to some more serious representations. Ever since it’s installation 15 years or so ago, the Boston Women’s Memorial has been one of my favorite monuments: not only is it aesthetically pleasing and immediately engaging, but it represents a spectrum of women who shaped Boston’s history (as well as that of Massachusetts and the nation): Abigail Adams, Phillis Wheatley, and Lucy Stone. These women are not just on pedestals (actually they have come off their pedestals) but depicted by sculptor Meredith Bergmann in the process of thought and activity, with their words accompanying them. Monumental women are in large part, active women, the feminine counterpart of all those masculine equestrian statues.

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Screenshot_20200612-082234_ChromeThe Boston Women’s Memorial by Meredith Bergmann; photographs from her website.

Meredith Bergmann was also commissioned to create the most anticipated installation of this Suffrage Centennial Year: the Women’s Rights Pioneers Statue in Central Park in New York City, which will be unveiled on August 26, the date on which the ratification of the 19th Amendment was certified in 1920. This will be the park’s first statue honoring real women, and it also focuses on their activity: Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton are gathered around a table, intently focused on drafting a document. The statue had a controversial conception in that Truth was originally excluded, but public discussion and debate resulted in a more inclusive—and representative—monument.

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Screenshot_20200612-082623_ChromeModel and Mock-up of the first and final monument to the Women’s Rights Pioneers by Sculptor Meredith Bergmann, to be unveiled in Central Park on August 26, 2020.

As the state which ultimately ratified the 19th Amendment in August of 1920, Tennessee takes its suffragist history very seriously and has produced two notable monuments to the women who worked so hard to make it happen (because it’s really not all about a wavering state senator is it?) There is the Tennessee Woman’s Suffrage Memorial (2006) in Knoxville, depicting Lizzie Crozier French, Anne Dallas Dudley, and Elizabeth Avery Meriwether, and the Tennessee Woman Suffrage Monument (2016) in Nashville’s Centennial Park, featuring Dudley along with Abby Crawford Milton, J. Frankie Pierce, Sue Shelton White and Carrie Chapman Catt. Even more recently, the Commonwealth of Virginia—always the site of so much statue furor—dramatically increased its commemorative depictions of accomplished women with its Virginia Women’s Monument: Voices from the Garden initiative, honoring the “full scope” of women’s achievements with twelve representative statues.

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Screenshot_20200612-072336_ChromeThe Knoxville and Nashville Suffrage statues—both by Tennessee sculptor Alan LeQuire—and the unveiling of seven statues of prominent Virginia women last fall: former Virginia First Lady Susan Allen points to a statue of Elizabeth Keckley, dressmaker for Mary Todd Lincoln, and suffragist Adele Clark among the crowds (Bob Brown/ Richmond Times-Dispatch).

I like the fact that so many of these monuments are collective, featuring women engaged with each other. Sometimes they are working, sometimes they are simply “conversing”—or meeting for the first time like one of the most famous Suffragist monuments, the “When (Susan B.) Anthony met (Elizabeth Cady) Stanton” statue in Seneca Falls, New York, portraying the moment when these two icons were introduced by Amelia Jenks Bloomer in 1851. My very favorite “conversation piece” is the lovely statue of two prominent Rochester, New York suffragists, Anthony and Frederick Douglass, having a cup of tea: I would love to have been a fly on the wall (or the bench) for that conversation!

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Screenshot_20200613-080112_ChromeThe Anthony-Stanton-Bloomer statue (1998) by Ted Aub in Seneca Falls; Ira Srole’s “Let’s Have Tea” (2009) in Rochester.

The most official Suffrage statue of all, Adelaide Johnson’s “Portrait” monument to Anthony, Stanton, and Lucretia Mott completed (and dedicated) in 1921, is also a collective representation but the women don’t seem particularly engaged with each other: it’s not my favorite statue but that doesn’t mean I think it should have been hidden away for most of the twentieth century! The “unfinished” appearance of the work also engulfs the women in their “pedestal” rather than placing them on it, but rumor has it that Johnson was making room for at least one more prominent woman—perhaps the first female president—to be carved out of that raw marble in the back at some point in time. Clearly not 2020.

Capitol StatueOffice of the Architect of the Capitol.


How do You Re-open a Tourist Town?

After a pandemic—or in the midst of one? Obviously the answer is very carefully. I grew up in a summer tourist town, York, Maine, and have lived in a seasonal–going on all-year tourist town, Salem, Massachusetts, for several decades, so the question is very interesting to me, and obviously far more than interesting to the residents and business owners of both communities. I’m in York now, so I thought I would start with some observations of what is going on here, and then follow up with Salem (whose many restaurants started opening up yesterday—in the streets) when I return in a few weeks. The policy in Maine is self-quarantine for two weeks for all people coming from outside: I am following that policy I believe: I came up with two weeks’ worth of groceries and supplies and am going to no public places, with the exception of parks and walkways near our home which are open. Self-quarantining in Massachusetts allowed daily exercise as well as essential shopping, so I was assuming that the former is allowed here: I found some contradictory information, but if I am the wrong let me know, Maine authorities! I stay far away from everyone on my daily walks and wear my mask at all times. We have the perfect situation here, as we have a big family house where my husband, stepson and I are staying, and my parents–who are Maine residents—are in their condominium less than a mile away. So if we run out of anything they can go and get it for us! The one time I was walking in rather public place, with my Maine parents and mask on, they insisted on going to the walk-in counter of Rick’s All-Season Restaurant for Bloody Mary’s: I stayed far away from the window and we imbibed at home. There is an ice-cream take-out window in Salem, but I don’t know if we have a Bloody Mary one—-yet.

IMG_20200607_120623_791The Take-Out Window at Rick’s Restaurant in York Village

I was quite accustomed to seeing masks on the streets of Salem as well as inside public places: here in Maine there seems to be less mask-wearing outside, but as I haven’t been inside anywhere but our home I’m not sure what’s going on there. Obviously Maine is a much larger state than Massachusetts with a much smaller population, so there is less concern about population density: in York the population typically swells in the summer, but with this two-week self-quarantine policy in effect I would guess that this would not be the case this summer. That is the pressure point. York is a really large town, geographically, with a lot of public outdoor space: three major beaches, a mountain with trails, parks, ponds, pathways—lots of room for social distancing. The beaches are open for active use: no sunbathing, but walking, swimming, fishing are allowed. In York Harbor, where we live, there are two coastal paths: the Cliff Walk and the Fisherman’s Walk. I grew up walking on the former in four seasons: but there have been some access issues over the past decade or so, and the owner of one abutting property has built a fence to block pedestrian access to part of the walk. It has been Covid-closed, but the nearby Fisherman’s Walk is open so that is where I will be taking most of my harbor walks. As you can see, it’s lovely, and very uncrowded: we’ll see what happens as June progresses.

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20200609_101139Fisherman’s Walk, York Harbor, Maine, with a new house (next-to-last photo) rising over the Harbor.


Quarantines in Salem

I’m pretty familiar with the origins of the quarantine, having taught classes on or in the era of the Black Death for twenty years: quaranta (40) days that ships were required to anchor in the harbor off Venice before they could unload their passengers and cargoes to prevent the passage of plague in the fourteenth century. The Black Death came to Europe by sea, in ships: it was external. The circumstances in which we find ourselves prompted me to look at Salem’s quarantines, as Salem was a mini-Venice in its day, an entrepôt for worldly goods coming from far, far away. And by the time of Salem’s heyday, everyone knew that deadly germs could accompany those precious commodities. The plague was over (until its reappearance in the later nineteenth century) but other plagues persisted: smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, influenza, scarlet fever.

Quarantine-Venice Puck Magazine drawing from 1883, showing the NYC Board of Health attempting to ward off the arrival of Cholera.

Disease operates like war in history: it dramatically intensifies the size, scale and power of the government in reaction. Quarantines are evidence of the government’s powers and/or ability in the face of crisis, and they leave a record. Massachusetts experienced several smallpox epidemics in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, provoking both quarantine measures and medical relief in the form of inoculation. In Salem, smallpox was still considered threatening enough to provoke the establishment of a designated hospital and committee to deal with it in the eighteenth century, but it was by no means as frightful as the disease which was often simply referred to as the “pestilence”: yellow fever. Maybe I’m wrong, but the public discourse at the time seems to imply that smallpox is containable, yellow fever, not at all.

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Quarantine-Salem_Gazette_1794-09-16_4Salem Gazette

Strict maritime quarantines were implemented as soon as any news of yellow fever was reported, particularly after the dreadful epidemics in Philadelphia in 1793 and New York in 1795, and the concurrent epidemics in both cities and Boston in 1798. The last two years of the eighteenth century marked a turning point in Salem’s public health history, with the appointment of a new inspector of police: apothecary Jonathan Waldo. In several long articles in the Salem Gazette, Waldo asserted that the dreadful pestilence was not only an external threat, but one that was festering right in Salem, and thus a series of quarantine and hygiene regulations must be implemented as soon as possible. Salem needed to clean up its act.

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First, a new Board of Health, the Overseers of the Poor, or some other body should be empowered with the mandate to enforce the necessary regulations, which included: confiscation of “corrupted” properties for the “public good”, with compensation to the owners, the establishment of a “pest house”(another one: Salem already had two by my count), “suitable” privies, “so situated as to incommodate their next neighbor as little as possible”, proper cisterns for butchers, docks and flats to be kept clean, no dead animals are to be thrown into the streets or the river, no storage of hides, fish, and beef for prolonged periods of time, and “the public streets, wharves and enclosures should be kept in a good wholesome state of cleanliness, especially during the hot season.” And so you see, we can learn a lot about societies in the midst of, or facing, a contagion! Once the hot season arrived, the city imposed a maritime quarantine on all incoming vessels. Another apothecary (who interests were even more wide-ranging than those of Waldo), Scottish exile James Tytler, published his Treatise on the Plague and Yellow Fever in Salem in this same, fevered, year of 1799.

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KeithFeverDistrictsUSA1856Library of Congress

As the map above (from Alexander Keith Johnston’s Physical Atlas: a Series of Maps & Notes Illustrating the Geographical Distribution of Natural Phenomena) depicts, I always associated yellow fever with the south: the Caribbean, and New Orleans, in particular. But this was not strictly the case. I have no access to the City of Salem archives—some seem to be up in the Phillips Library up in Rowley; some remain here in Salem, in City Hall I presume—but fortunately a predecessor of mine from the Salem State History Department, Charles Kiefer, created an inventory and finding aids for the municipal records from 1681-1832 in the 1970s which is preserved in the Salem State Archives. According to Kiefer’s notes, most of Waldo’s recommendations went into effect in the first decade of the nineteenth century, with the additional improvement of paved streets. These notes also reference the first outbreak of what would be the new threatening disease of the nineteenth century, cholera, with a very early outbreak for Salem in 1812. I was surprised to read of the implementation of a maritime quarantine against cholera by the Salem Board of Health as late as 1885: I thought it was all about railroads at this point. There were influenza alerts (but not quarantines as far as I can tell) in 1890 and (of course) 1918, a late smallpox scare in 1912 which brought out police guards, and several scarlet fever quarantines in the twentieth century. Despite the fact that it was revealed to be contagious in the 1880s, I don’t see any quarantine measures used by Salem authorities to combat the most endemic of nineteenth- and early-twentieth century diseases: tuberculosis. There was clearly increasing concern and focus on preventative public health, hygiene, and housing, an updated Waldo regimen if you will, but no extreme measures.

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Witness to the Massacre

This week is filled with events in commemoration of the Sestercentennial  (or Semiquincentennial?) of the Boston Massacre on March 5: the usual reenactment, and much more. For a full calendar check out this post on Boston 1775, one of my very favorite history blogs. For my commemoration, I am focusing on a Salem witness for the prosecution in the ensuing trial of Captain Thomas Preston of the 29th Regiment of Foot, the commander of the soldiers who fired on the crowd on that dark, cold night, killing five colonists. William Wyatt, a Salem coaster, happened to be on the scene, and was consequently called to provide testimony on several occasions. He is one of two notable Salem people connected to the Massacre and its aftermath: the other, Judge Benjamin Lynde, is arguably more “notable”, but I’d like to experience the event through the eyes of an average bystander, and Lynde was neither average nor a bystander.

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A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston, Perpetrated in the Evening of the Fifth Day of March 1770, by Soldiers of the XXIXth Regiment, Which, with the XIVth Regiment, were then Quartered There, with some Observations of the State of Things Prior to that Catastrophe. Printed by Order of the Town of Boston: London: Re-printed for E. and C. Dilly, and J. Almon, London, 1770.

Though their separate trials did not take place until seven months later (so that tempers might simmer down), Captain Preston and the eight soldiers under his command were taken into custody and indicted immediately, as the Town of Boston put together a committee to investigate, gather evidence and depositions, and get the narrative (and the Pelham/Revere image) out there. Wyatt’s deposition is included among many in the appendix of A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston, perpetuated in the Evening of Fifth Day of March 1770. It is quite detailed, and he is firm in his conviction that Captain Preston, referred to as the said officer below, ordered his men to load and fire: damn your bloods, fire, be the consequence what it will. And then, after the “consequences” were all too apparent, the said officer waved his sword in front of his men and said damn ye, rascals, what did ye fire for? This characterization of Captain Preston’s character, or lack thereof, caused John Adams, the defense attorney for the accused soldier, to challenge Wyatt in court several months later, asserting that his “diabolically malicious” portrayal of the Captain was in contradiction to all of the other testimony presented.

Wyatt Testimony Horrid (2)

William Wyatt testimony 2 Horrid (2)

William Wyatt testimory 3 Horrid (3)

Wyatt Testimony Horrid 4 (3)

I am always fascinated to find instances of regular people going about their business and then bumping into HISTORY: this seems to be the case with Wyatt. He was not a dashing Salem sea captain or wealthy merchant, but rather a “coaster”, plying his trade along the coast between Salem and Boston in his sloop Boston Packet. He seems to have supported himself and his family doing this quite well: he had a house on lower Essex Street as well as some land in Northfields that he sold a year after the Massacre. But there’s not much more to tell than that.

Wyatt Boston Harbor (3)

Wyatt 1775 Intrenchments Map 1775 (3)

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William-Wyatt-Salem_Gazette_1796-12-13 A coaster’s approach to Boston Harbor and its wharves: John Hills, Boston Harbor and Surroundings, c. 1770-79 & A plan of the town of Boston with the intrenchments &ca. of His Majesty’s forces in 1775 : from the observations of Lieut. Page of His Majesty’s Corps of Engineers, and from those of other gentlemen, Boston Public Library Leventhal Map Center; Essex Gazette, 1771-1774; Salem Gazette, 1796

Given the importance of the Massacre and the remembrance which was almost immediately assigned to it, this must have been a huge event in William Wyatt’s life. I wonder if he was disappointed—or angry—that Captain Preston was acquitted. I wonder if he felt that he bore some responsibility for this acquittal, given the fact that Adams made such a point about his contradictory characterization of Preston as well as his display of some confusion about the color of the Captain’s “surtout” in his trial testimony:

I heard the Bell, coming up Cornhill, saw People running several ways. The largest part went down to the North of the Townhouse. I went the South side, saw an officer leading out 8 or 10 Men. Somebody met the officer and said, Capt. Preston for Gods sake mind what you are about and take care of your Men. He went down to the Centinel, drew up his Men, bid them face about, Prime and load. I saw about 100 People in the Street huzzaing, crying fire, damn you fire. In about 10 minutes I heard the Officer say fire. The Soldiers took no notice. His back was to me. I heard the same voice say fire. The Soldiers did not fire. The Officer then stamped and said Damn your bloods fire be the consequences what it will. Immediately the first Gun was fired. I have no doubt the Officer was the same person the Man spoke to when coming down with the Guard. His back was to me when the last order was given. I was then about 5 or 6 yards off and within 2 yards at the first. He stood in the rear when the Guns were fired. Just before I heard a Stick, which I took to be upon a Gun. I did not see it. The Officer had to the best of my knowledge a cloth coloured Surtout on. After the firing the Captain stepd forward before the Men and struck up their Guns. One was loading again and he damn’d ’em for firing and severely reprimanded ’em. I did not mean the Capt. had the Surtout but the Man who spoke to him when coming with the Guard. 

This is confusing and apparently Adams made the most of it, as Preston’s blazing crimson overcoat was universally acknowledged. But Wyatt corrected his statement—as you can see above— and was in good company in his descriptions of the unruly crowd and the general confusion over competing cries of fire. Perhaps he did see the Captain in back of his men at one point, while others saw him in front at another, indicating that he would not have given such an order in the interest of self-preservation. At the very least, I hope that William Wyatt felt heard and the records of the Boston Massacre and its aftermath indicate that he was.

For more views and sources, check out the Massachusetts Historical Society’s online exhibition Perspectives on the Boston Massacre.


Salem Suffrage Saturdays

In honor of all those women who struggled for decades to become enfranchised, here in Salem and across the United States, I am dedicating Saturdays in 2020 to stories of Salem women as my own personal commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment. I am going to follow the example of the Salem Woman’s Suffrage Club, which met both monthly and annually in the second half of the nineteenth century: the monthly meetings were reserved for newsworthy speakers and expedient strategy, but the annual meetings were all about highlighting women’s contributions to many realms, over time: culture and even “daily life”, not just politics. So on Saturdays I will be featuring some prominent suffragists, but also artists, authors, businesswomen, educators, housewives, and socialites and women who defy simple characterization. I’ve already written about quite a few women on the blog over the past nine years (just click on the “Women’s History ” category in the lower right-hand corner) but there are many more whose stories remain untold. I don’t think I’ll have any problem filling my Saturday posts (although please forward suggestions!) and today’s post is a preview of what (or who) is coming.

US-ENTERTAINMENT-ROSE PARADE2020 Suffragists in the Rose Bowl Parade, Getty Images.

Artists & Artist-Entrepreneurs: I’ve posted about quite a few women artists, including the famous Fidelia Bridges, but there are more to be discovered. I am on the trail of a Salem silhouette artist, a Salem miniaturist, and an early Salem photographer, and I already have all I need to write about a succession of early twentieth-century artist-entrepreneurs, including furniture restorer and stencilist Helen Hagar, the very successful Sarah Symonds, and Jenny Brooks, who taught embroidery and sold “ye olde” cross stitch patterns at the turn of the century. Like Mary Harrod Northend, these women were selling Salem craftsmanship and artistry, in sharp contrast to their near-contemporary Daniel Low, who was peddling witch wares.

Women Helen Hagar

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Women of Salem Jenny Brooks 1910 Hagley (2)Helen Hagar in 1915, courtesy the Local History Resource Center at the Peabody Institute Library.  After her graduation from Peabody High School that year, Miss Hagar moved to Salem and lived there until her death in 1984, working for the Society of the Preservation of New England Antiquities and then the National Park Service to live in and conduct tours of the Derby House. She became an expert on traditional stenciling, and lectured and taught on its history, as well as producing some of her own stenciling work on tole and wooden objects and partnering with various antique dealers like Ethelwyn Shepard (flyer courtesy Historic New England). A cross stitch pattern by the Jenny Brooks Company, located at One Cambridge Street, Hagley Museum & Library.

I’ve written about several Salem female novelists (notably Katherine Butler Hathaway and Maria Cummins) but no authors of nonfiction I believe, or diarists. Right now I am fascinated by the formidable Elizabeth Elkins Sanders, who was surely the most vocal critic of Andrew Jackson and defender of Native Americans in 1820s Salem. She was at the forefront of an emerging progressive tradition in Salem, and more than that, she was an early feminist: her Conversations Principally on the Aborigines of North America (1828) is written in the form of a dialogue between mother and daughter.

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So many Salem businesswomen! In the seventeenth century, the eighteenth century, the nineteenth century, and the twentieth (and now, of course). It will be hard to showcase them all; I’ll just have to follow my sources. Many dressmakers and milliners, laundresses, bakers, and shopkeepers. I’ve just scratched the surface of the entrepreneurship of the amazing Remond family: while the famous abolitionist Sarah (who gets all the attention, understandably, but still) was in England and Italy her hardworking sisters (and her mother) were back here, baking, catering, hairdressing, completely dominating the wig industry in Massachusetts, all while serving on abolitionist and suffrage committees. So they need more attention, for sure—and I really hope to illuminate Caroline Remond Putnam’s particular role in the suffrage movement. There are a succession of female tavern-keepers I’m trailing, and also the various enterprises of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s unmarried cousins, one of whom died in possession of an estate valued at $40,000 by the Reverend William Bentley.  Famed female shopkeepers appear in memoirs from the later nineteenth century—Mrs. Bachelder’s, Mrs. Harris’s, Miss Plummer’s (the social center of Salem in the 1890s according to James Duncan Phillips) and in the early twentieth century, there seems to have been a significant subset of women antique dealers. And of course we must not forget Salem’s first woman printer, Mary Crouch, short-lived as her time in Salem might have been.

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Women of Salem 269 Essex StreetGoldthwaite & Shapley, Dressmakers, 269 Essex Street, Salem. Andrew Dickson White Architectural Collection, Cornell University Library.

Educators: another huge category, incorporating teachers in private dame schools, public schools, and of course the “Normal School” for teacher education established in 1854, now Salem State University. I’ve posted on the first African-American educator in Salem, Clarissa Lawrence, and on Lydia Very, but I still don’t have a full grasp of all the private schools for women that existed in Salem in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, overseen by a succession of widows and spinsters: Mrs. Rogers, Mrs. Higginson, Mrs. Dean, Miss Savage, Miss Oliver, Miss Draper. There were the very “select” schools of Sarah Fiske Stivours on Essex Street and the “Misses Phillips” on Chestnut Street. Charlotte Forten, a graduate of Salem Normal school and the first African-American teacher of white children in the Salem public schools, has a whole committee and park devoted to her so I don’t think there is much I could add: a nice summary of her life and accomplishments is here. A traditional career for women, teaching could also open up other opportunities: after a very successful career teaching in the Salem Public Schools, Martha L. Roberts went on to earn both law and Ph.D. degrees, and became one of the first women to be admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1897. She also lived very openly with her partner Martha O. Howes, who worked in the City Clerk’s office in Salem. Together, they built one of my favorite houses in South Salem: Six Forest Avenue.

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20200109_144027Needlework Sampler by Naby Dane (b. 1777), Sarah Fiske Stivours School, Salem, Massachusetts, Dated 1789, Sotheby’s; 6 Forest Avenue, Salem.

As is always the case with me, things lead me to ask questions and seek stories: a sampler, a house, a dress. There are two wedding dresses in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, that will yield some interesting stories for sure: an actual dress made of Spitalfields silk worn by Mary Waters of Salem for her wedding to Anthony Sigourney in 1740 and then remodeled for their daughter, also named Mary, to wear to her wedding to James Butler in 1763. Like so many things in the mid-18th century, this robe à l’anglaise seems so trans-Atlantic to me: the Spitalfields silk industry in London was established by French Huguenot émigres in the later seventeenth century—and perhaps members of the Sigourney family were among them. The photograph (daguerreotype really) shows Martha Pickman Rogers of Salem in her more conventional (to our eyes) wedding dress worn for her marriage to John Amory Codman of Boston in the 1850s. She was the great-granddaughter of Elias Hasket Derby, and the mother of Martha Codman Karolik, the collector and philanthropist.

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screenshot_20200109-141058_instagramWaters-Sigourney Dress and Southworth Hawes Daguerreotype, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Then there are stories about the suffrage movement itself, so intertwined with the struggle for abolition and other reform movements in Salem as elsewhere. Three very different Salem women went to the first meeting of the National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester in October of 1850: Eliza Kenney, a very passionate reformer who later became an equally passionate spiritualist, and housewives Delight (yes, that was her name!) Hewitt and Sarah Wilkins. Their stories are easy to access, but a lot of women’s history falls into a “black box” which can never be opened unfortunately: there just isn’t any evidence. For example: I’d love to find out about two very different Salem women, who lived at two very different times, but all I have are brief mentions in newspapers, centuries apart. The first story relates the tragic death of an African woman who wanted to return to her country in 1733, and in a desperate attempt took her own life. The second refers to an anonymous German sympathizer during World War I whose name I have not been able to uncover. Just two anonymous Salem women, each part of Salem’s long history.

Women of Salem Slavery Suicide Boston Gazette May 29 1733 (3)

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2020: the Commemorative Year

One of the major themes of this blog has been how we remember history: what we choose to remember, what we choose to celebrate (or exploit), and what we choose to forget or ignore. This year promises to be very interesting in the realm of “anniversary history”, with two big commemorations crowding the calendar: the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower in Massachusetts and the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment enfranchising American women after a long, long struggle. I don’t think anything else—certainly not the 200th anniversary of the Missouri Compromise (1820) or the 300th anniversary of the South Sea Bubble (1720)— can compete with these epic events. Yet looking ahead at the succession of initiatives and events designed to commemorate these two markers, I am struck by one notable difference: the Suffrage Centennial seems to be a truly national movement, with major events in Washington, D.C., every single state, and many localities as well, while the Mayflower anniversary seems much more restricted: to Massachusetts, and even to the descendants of the Pilgrim passengers. This might just be my American perspective: the Mayflower commemoration certainly has a broader geographic scope, incorporating Great Britain, the Netherlands, and the Wampanoag Nation, encompassing the Aquinnah and Mashpee tribes. My perception might also shaped by the fact the Suffrage Centennial is already very much in full swing, so we shall see.

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Plans for the Suffrage Centennial have clearly been in the works for years, and their most dramatic manifestation was three major exhibitions in Washington: Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote at the National Archives Museum (May 10, 2019- January 3, 2021), Shall Not be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote at the Library of Congress (June 4, 2019-September, 2020), and Votes for Women: a Portrait of Persistence  at the National Portrait Gallery (March, 2019-January 5, 2020). As you can see, the last exhibition ends this weekend, but there is a companion catalog with wonderful essays and images. These exhibitions are just the beginning of a wave of suffrage remembrance and interpretation, washing over the nation: the website of the Women’s Vote Centennial Initiative is a great place to go for events and resources but every state seems to have its own central site as well, linking to institutional and local initiatives. Here in Massachusetts, Suffrage100MA, the Women’s Suffrage Celebration Coalition, sponsors features like the “Suffragist of the Month” at the Commonwealth Museum, but is hardly the extent of commemorative activity: the Massachusetts Historical Society had a very visual exhibit entitled “Can She Do It?” Massachusetts Debates a Woman’s Right to Vote up over last summer, the Boston Athenaeum has an ongoing “Eye of the Expert: (Anti) Suffrage program focused on items from its collection, the Schlesinger Library at Harvard will feature Seeing Citizens: Picturing American Women’s Fight for the Vote from March 23 to October 3, 2020, and there are local events all around me commencing next month. This very layered exploration of the coming of universal suffrage has been extremely comprehensive, examining the complexities of the struggle, divisions of class and race, and all sorts of attendant aspects (and materials!)—and there’s a lot more to learn and see.

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pixlr_20200101133156977Ace of Spades card (verso and recto) from a c. 1915 deck published by the National Woman Suffrage Publishing Co., Boston Athenaeum.

By contrast, the coming commemoration of the Mayflower’s arrival doesn’t seem very layered or very national: there are no events in Washington that I could find. The official US website for the commemoration is Plymouth400, Inc., which reports that the April 24 Opening Ceremony will be a two-hour event of historical content, musical headliners, interpretive readings, choreographed movement, original productions, and visual narratives to create a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle. The Plymouth 400 Legacy Time Capsule will be introduced, and the first items will be placed inside by special guests. Honoring the past and celebrating the future, each of the commemoration themes – exploration, innovation, self-governance, religious expression, immigration, and thanksgiving – will be presented in creative ways. Invited participants include state and federal officials, representatives of the UK, The Netherlands, colony partners, and many more. Besides this extravaganza, it’s all about the ship: the Mayflower II (1957), which has been under repair in Mystic, Connecticut for several years. The newly-restored ship will sail to Boston for a maritime festival in May (docking right next to the Constitution, which should look cool), and then proceed home to Plymouth via Provincetown for more festivities in both ports. I do see references to attendant exhibitions on Pilgrim women and the Wampanoags on the Plymouth400 site, but nothing like the diffusion of inspired initiatives associated with the commemoration of suffrage.

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screenshot_20191231-154733_chromeThe Mayflower II seemed to be more of a national story in 1957; on the stop in Provincetownfrom Boston to Plymouth, there will be a “reenactment of the signing of the Mayflower Compact and VIP reception”.

The Plymouth400 website might not be comprehensive but it is all we have to go on; it is also, very decidedly, not a resource, with minimal effort toward edification. When compared to the much more impressive official British commemoration website Mayflower400 it is exposed for just what it is: a Chamber of Commerce production. After watching all of the poignant expressions of remembrance associated with the commemoration of each and every phase of World War One over the past few years, I am not surprised to see the sophistication, earnestness, and creativity of the British commemoration of the Mayflower voyage, which will include the opening of a Mayflower Trail through and outside Plymouth, multiple exhibits, public art and music projects, living history events, a muster, festivals, illuminations, a religious history conference, and even sporting events. The website links to resources and is itself a resource, with digital maps exploring the sites associated with the Mayflower itself and every single passenger and crew member. It brings all these people to Plymouth and then to America ( some via Leiden): why can’t we have something similar that shows where they went once they got here? As I am not a Mayflower descendant, I am forming the opinion that if I want to feel a real connection to those who left England in 1620 I had better make my way to Plymouth in Devon rather than Plymouth in Bristol County.

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screenshot_20200101-153517_chromeThe official British program and interactive maps on the Mayflower400 website, which also includes artwork that has been seldom seen (over here, at least), like Anthony Thompson’s 1938 painting The ‘Mayflower’ Leaving Plymouth, 1620 @Essex County Council.


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