Tag Archives: African-American History

An Array of Amazing Caterer-Abolitionists!

I’m starting to work on the proposal for a book on Salem history to be published for the city’s 400th anniversary in 2026. This would be a joint enterprise: I have a colleague (and collegial) co-editor, Brad Austin, and we hope to have contributions from as many members of Salem State’s History Department as possible. Brad came up with the tentative title, Salem’s Centuries: 400 Years of Culture, Conflict, and Contributions, and we already have chapter proposals on topics ranging from the material culture of witchcraft in the seventeenth century to Catholic women in the nineteenth century to initiatives in support of Jewish refugees in the twentieth. As usual, I’m kind of in an odd spot: I’m not an American historian and my academic expertise is winding down just when Salem’s history is beginning! But I do think I have learned some things here, and so I’ve committed to chapters on the Remond family in the nineteenth century and urban development/preservation in the twentieth. I’m going to trust my co-editor and my colleagues who have more authority in these eras to prevent me from embarassing myself! For the Remond chapter, I want to use the family’s hospitality and provisioning roles as avenues into civic life in Salem during the early Republic. I’m fascinated with the idea that John and Nancy Remond, in particular, were catering events for institutions which excluded them. I always thought they were exemplary (and I still do, in many ways), but it turns out that there were actually many African-American caterers working up and down the Atlantic seaboard under similar conditions, pursuing their professional careers in civic settings while at the same time working to advance their civil rights. Despite the identification of African-American caterers in Philadelphia as “as remarkable a trade guild as ever ruled in a medieval city… [who] took complete leadership of the bewildered group of Negroes, and led them steadily to a degree of affluence, culture and respect such as has probably never been surpassed in the history of the Negro in America” by no less than W.E.B. Du Bois in his Negro in Philadelphia: A Social Study (1899), I know very little about these powerful purveyors. This is a perfect exemple of the potential pitfalls I am confronting with this project: I know a lot about the Remonds and their Salem world, but very little about the national context in which they lived and worked.

The Remond menu for the 200th Anniversary of the Settlement of Salem Dinner at Hamilton Hall in September of 1828 (I’m not sure why this was not held in 1826?), Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.

Clearly I’ve got to up my game, but this effort will not be a hardship if I get to learn about people like these amazing caterer-abolitionists:

Joshua Bowen Smith (1813-1879): a Pennsylvania native who became a prominent Boston caterer and abolitionist, and later a Massachusetts state senator. Smith catered for Harvard University and many prominent Boston families including that of Robert Gould Shaw, with whom he was reportedly quite close. He was also a close friend of Massachusetts Senator Senator Charles Sumner (along with George T. Downing, below). Smith employed African-American refugees from the South in his business, and aided them in numerous ways through his membership in Boston’s Vigilance Committee, his participation in the Underground Railroad, and his foundation of the New England Freedom Association. Neither his abolitionist activism or his connections aided him when he was stiffed by his fellow abolitionist Governor John Andrew, who refused to pay a $40,000 bill submitted for catering services for the 12th Massachusetts Regiment of Volunteers. Andrew claimed that the legislature had not appropriated the funds, but managed to pay other provisioners without appropriations. Smith was consequently in a financially-vulnerable situation for the rest of his career, but this did not stop his public service.

Joshua Bowen Smith, Massachusetts Historical Society; Bill of Fare for the 75th Anniversary of the American Revolution Dinner for the Boston City Council, 1851. Boston Athenaeum Digital Collections.

Thomas Downing (1791-1866): I think I’ve called John Remond an “oyster king” a few times, and he certainly earned that title in Salem, but his contemporary Thomas Downing was the original Oyster King of a bigger kingdom: New York City. Downing was a native of Chincoteague Island off Virginia (one of my favorite places as a child because of my love for Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague: my pony’s name was Chinka), the son of enslaved and then freed parents. He made his way north as a young man, spending some time in that foodie mecca Philadelphia, and then came to New York where his skills as both an oysterman and an entrepreneur enabled him to open the ultimate oyster establishment in 1825. By all accounts, Thomas Downing’s Oyster House was a cut (or several) above all the other oyster “cellars” in New York City, and so it attracted a more genteel, monied, and political crowd. Downing expanded the scale of both his establishment and his business over the next decade, filling mail orders for an international clientele (including Queen Victoria!). Just like John Remond in Salem and Joshua Bowen Smith in Boston, he was also very active in several abolitionist efforts: he founded the Anti-Slavery Society of New York as well as the refuge aid Committee of Thirteen, and worked for both school and transportation desegregation. I’m sure he and John Remond would have heard OF each other, but I’m really curious if they knew each other: they seem to be moving forward on tandem tracks. Downing was definitely the king of PICKLED oysters, which Remond also offered, but I don’t think the New Yorker moved into the latter’s lobster territory.

A stoneware pickled oyster jar from Thomas Downing’s Oyster House (New York City Historical Society) and a handbill for John Remond’s pickled oysters (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum).

George T. Downing (1813-1903): followed in his father’s footsteps in both his profession and his activism, though primarily in a different setting: Newport, Rhode Island. It’s difficult to discern the difference between a restauranteur and a caterer in this period, but Downing Jr. seems to have operated as both with his establishments in Newport and his role as manager of the Members’ Dining Room at the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington from 1865 to 1877. This position was preceded by a long struggle to desegregate the Newport schools: the Remonds had removed to Newport during their own struggle for school desegregation in Salem in the later 1830s, so I’m pretty certain there is a connection here. Both before and after the Civil War, Downing Jr. was active in all of the abolitionist and equal rights organizations which his father and circle supported, always striving for more equality, more access, and more opportunities for African-Americans.

George Thomas Downing and his family, Rhode Island Black Heritage Society. What I would give for a photograph of all of the Remonds!

Robert Bogle (1774-1848): the first of the emerging Philadelphia African-American “caterers’ guild” referred to by Du Bois above; in fact, Bogle is often credited as not just the first African-American caterer but the first caterer, period (although the term was not used until after his death). He merged the professions of caterer and funeral director in Philadelphia for several decades, inspiring Nicholas Biddle to pay tribute to Boggle in 1830 as one whose “reign extends oe’r nature’s wide domain begins before our earliest breath nor ceases with the hour of death.” Bogle’s Blue Bell Tavern opened in 1813, and soon became famous for its meat pies and terrapin creations as well as a gathering place for Philadelphia’s political leaders: this is the hospitality entrée that accomplished caterers of any color could obtain, but perhaps one of the few avenues of access for African-Americans in the nineteenth century. Indeed, the wonderful digital exhibition on the life and work of an enslaved Charleston cook presented by the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative at the College of Charleston observes that the multi-faceted role of caterer was “one of the few, and most lucrative, prominent public positions that could be acceptably filled by an African American during slavery.”

Nat Fuller (1812-1866): It must have been difficult enough to be an African-American caterer in the North during this period, just imagine what that role would entail in the south! Fortunately we don’t have to imagine because we have this great digital exhibition: Nat Fuller’s Feast: the Life and Legacy of an Enslaved Cook in Charleston. As an enslaved teenager in Charleston in the 1820s, Nat Fuller was apprenticed to a remarkable free African-American couple who seem to be playing the same culinary and catering roles in Charleston that John and Nancy Remond were occupying in Salem, at the exact same time: John and Eliza Seymour Lee. Charleston John was the event manager for several venues; his wife Eliza the famous cook and pastry chef. After Nat Fuller completed his culinary training under Eliza, he worked as an enslaved cook for his slaveholder William C. Gatewood, an ambitious man who entertained frequently, for the next three decades under “evolving” conditions: in 1852 Gatewood agreed to let Fuller live outside of his household with his wife Diana (another famous pastry chef) under the so-called “self-hire” system. The Fullers began to operate independent provisioning and catering businesses in Charleston, paying Gatewood a percentage of their profits. By the later 1850s, though still enslaved, Fuller was Charleston’s “well known” and go-to caterer, staging elaborate events like the Jubilee of Southern Union dinner celebrating the completion of a railway between Memphis and Charleston in May of 1857 for 600 guests. In the fall of 1860, though still enslaved, Fuller opened his famous restaurant, the Bachelor’s Retreat, operating it throughout the war except for a few periods of illness and relocation, and at which, as a newly-free man, he hosted a dinner celebrating the end of the war and slavery in the spring of 1865. Abby Louisa Porcher, a white Charleston lady, documented this momentous event in a letter soon afterwards: “Nat Fuller, a Negro caterer, provided munificently for a miscegenation dinner, at which blacks and whites sat on an equality and gave toasts and sang songs for Lincoln and freedom.” Perhaps Fuller could not operate as a caterer-abolitionist like his colleagues in the North, but he emerged as an advocate for racial equality as soon as he was enabled. He died in the next year.

 

Appendix: you can read all about the “reenactment” of Nat Fuller’s Feast on the occasion of its 150th anniversary in 2015 here; Invitation below. Another prominent southern African-American caterer, John Dabney of Richmond, was born into slavery, is the subject of a beautiful documentary, The Hail-Storm. John Dabney in Virginia, which you can watch here.


Pirates Plunder Charlotte Forten Park

What do place names mean? Whenever I’m walking around a town or city I look at the names of streets and spaces and assume that they are clues to the history of said town or city but what if these names mean nothing? What if they are just slapped on there to give an impression, rather than as a form of remembrance—and honor? Taking its cue from our long-serving Mayor, Kimberley Driscoll, Salem’s municipal government sees itself and sells itself as progressive, and loses no opportunity to broadcast that message, often in reference to “history”. Actually, this public relations policy predates Mayor’s Driscoll’s reign: Salem had to become a City of “toleration” to compensate for its famous Witch Hunts and enable those who profit from that tragedy to do so with a clear conscience. It seems to me that the virtue-signaling has been switched on to hyperdrive more recently, however. The Trump era afforded Mayor Driscoll many opportunities to expound upon the lessons of real witch hunts as the Mayor of Salem, a tolerant (and hip, never forget hip) city which nevertheless showcases a statue of a fictional television witch in the midst of its most historic square, Town House Square. Two relatively new Salem parks have been named after prominent African-American residents of Salem, even though their locations bear no relation to their namesakes. To my knowledge, Remond Park, on the outskirts of town far from where that family lived and worked, has been the scene of no commemoration or education apart from a sign bearing incorrect information since its naming a few years ago. The name represents the extent of the City’s commitment to the Remonds’ memory. Charlotte Forten Park, once a muddy vacant lot bordering the South River along Derby Street, was created in 2019 and named for Forten (Grimké), the African-American abolitionist, poet and educator who came to Salem in 1854 to live with the Remonds while receiving her education in the city’s recently-segregated public schools and later Salem Normal School, the founding institution of Salem State University. Forten became Salem’s first African-American teacher upon her graduation, and went on to live an active life of advocacy, instruction, and reflection. Salem residents had a rare moment of enfranchisement in that they were actually able to VOTE on the name of the park upon its completion, and Sarah won by a mile, I think! It was a rather rigged election with only a few choices and I can’t even remember what the other names were, but still, it was a somewhat public process, a rarity for Salem. I will share my guilty secret that I didn’t vote for Charlotte (I think I wrote in Luis Emilio). It’s not that I don’t admire her, or believe that she deserved such recognition: it’s rather that I thought that the finished space, which was more modern concrete than timeless green, did not reflect her interests or her character in design or location. You just have to read a few snippets of Charlotte’s Journals to discern her love for nature, and calmness: she was always ready to engage with the world but she needed respites from it as well. The new park, with its limited green space and its mission to be a happening place with a plaza for programs and performances and built-in percussion features, seemed rather disconnected to Charlotte for me, but the City pledged to pay tribute to her life and legacy with more than a name.

Charlotte Forten Park in Salem, shortly after it opened in 2019 in two pictures from my post from that year and a photograph from the City’s facebook page (tables and chairs; the photographer wasn’t identified, sorry! It’s a great photo: this space always looks nicer at night); An excerpt from Charlotte’s Journal: she loved to walk in Harmony Grove Cemetery, which is very close to the house of Caroline Remond Putnam, with whom Charlotte lived for a while.

There’s been talk of a statue of Charlotte for the park: not sure what the status is of that project. I think that would be great, but as of this weekend, I really don’t see how this space can be crafted into anything evocative of Charlotte, because “her” park has been plundered by PIRATES! Real Pirates. The Real Pirates Museum (as opposed to the New England Pirate Museum, just across Derby Street) has opened up adjacent to the park, with a broad walkway carved out of the park and an entryway into and out of the park. This new business advertises its location as “on Charlotte Forten Park” and paintings of pirates embellish its walls, thus framing the park. Charlotte Forten Park appears to have been transformed into Real Pirates Park. And so I guess the answer to my opening question what do place names mean is “not much” in reference to this poor park, even nothing. Perhaps it could be relocated to a more meaningful space with room for remembrance and reflection: that section of Mack Park across from Harmony Grove Cemetery?

Charlotte Forten Park (or Real Pirates Plaza?): April 10, 2022.


John Remond’s Struggle for Citizenship

I’ve written about the Remonds, the African-American family who lived, worked, and strove for a succession of causes in nineteenth-century Salem quite a bit, but I think there is more to write, and more to learn. I live right next to Hamilton Hall, which was the center of many of their activities, and it’s really difficult for me NOT to think of it as their hall, their place. Rather intimate spaces in our home, including my study, the kitchen, and our dressing room (I know, who has a dressing room? Well, we live in a town house with interconnected bedrooms so that’s what we call the room adjacent to our bedroom as that’s pretty much all we do in there), look out to the Hall and so I feel like I am constantly in its presence or their presence. Charles Lenox and Sarah Parker Remond are the famous Remonds, as they were both very active speakers for the Abolitionist movement here in America and also (in the case of Sarah) in England, but it is their father, John Remond (1788-1874), who captivates me. He was an incredible man in so many ways and I am constantly trying to understand the historical landscape which he navigated so successfully. He arrived in Massachusetts from Curaçao in 1798 as a lone ten-year-old and over the next decade established himself in several occupations, married Nancy Lenox of Newton, and became settled in Salem’s newest assembly house, Hamilton Hall. During the following decades, his primary occupational identity as caterer and manager of the Hall was supplemented by a succession of provisioning roles: restauranter, grocer, wholesaler. He acquired properties in Salem and supported the various entrepreneurial and activist pursuits of his eight children. “Venerable” and “famous” are the adjectives employed in his 1874 obituaries, indicating that he attained a high level of respect for the accomplishments of his long life. In retrospect, his career looks like the proverbial American success story, unencumbered by race (I’m sure this is not true, but it looks that way from afar). Those most “American” of commemorators, the Daughters of the American Revolution, even included several items associated with John Remond items in their 1897 exhibition at Copley Hall in Boston , including the bottle of Schiedam gin given to him by his mother, Marytelia, on the day he disembarked for the United States.

Undated photograph of John Remond, Collection of Hamilton Hall; advertisement in The Salem Literary & Commercial Observer, 1827 January 13; Catalogue of a Loan Exhibition of Ancient and Historical Articles, Daughters of the American Revolution, 1897; John Remond’s gin bottle on display in the “Salem Stories” exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum.

I saw John Remond’s gin bottle—his sole childhood possession!—at the Peabody Essex Museum the other day, where it is featured in the “Salem Stories” exhibition (see above): I think he would be pleased with its display both in Copley Hall at the end of the nineteenth century and here in Salem in the twenty-first. While his professional struggles are not immediately apparent and overwhelmed by his achievements, his personal struggles to claim the identity and rights of an American citizen are manifest, so I think he would have been particularly pleased by his inclusion in the DAR exhibition. There were several moments during his life where we can see his strong desire for citizenship: his naturalization in 1811, his son John Lenox’s acquisition of a Seaman’s Protection Certificate in 1839 (even though he was not, to my knowledge, a seaman), his own acquisition of an American passport in 1854, and his obvious frustration with his daughter Sarah’s inability to leave Britain five years later when the U.S. Department of State failed to recognize the passport that it had issued her in 1858! In the interim the Dred Scott decision had invalidated the paper trail of citizenship he had so carefully crafted for himself and his children, placing them all in a terrible limbo.

The paper trail records the paper trail: The National Era, The New York Times, and the Salem Register cover the passport paradox, 1858-1860. Sarah’s middle name was incorrectly presented as Lenox rather than Parker in the rather haughty Times!

Sarah Remond ultimately obtained a visa which enabled her to travel to Italy and back home for brief periods: she became a British citizen in 1865. From the vantage point of 1860 however, her father was in evident distress. In a long article published in the Salem Register in July of that year, he asked the reporter, or the readers, or the government: if we cannot be citizens either home or abroad, what is going to become of us?

 

Transportation segregation was another issue confronted by the eldest Remond son, Charles Lenox Remond: Elizabeth Stordeur Pryor’s Colored Travelers. Mobility and the Fight for Citizenship before the Civil War presents essential context for the restricted mobility of African-Americans both home and abroad. School segregation was an issue for all the Remonds, who moved to Newport for a lengthy period of time in 1835 after Sarah and her sister Caroline were expelled from Salem High School, only to keep fighting and return once the public schools were desegregated. This struggle will be the focus of an exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum later this spring!


Venus Rising

As we enter/endure that season where hordes of tourists come to the Witch City for ghost tours, I’d like to celebrate some dynamic local history initiatives: over the past five years or so, there’s been a virtual Renaissance of African-American history, and consequently we know much more about how some REAL people lived and worked in Salem. Charlotte Forten, our city’s first African-American public school teacher, remains the focus of continuing commemoration at her alma mater, Salem State University, and is now the namesake of a relatively new city park. Her hosts in Salem, the Remond Family of Hamilton Hall, also have a park named after them, and a variety of real and digital resources documenting their entrepreneurial and advocacy activities is available at both the Hall and its website. Hamilton Hall was also the site of an exhibition on African-American enfranchisement by Salem United, Inc. this summer (soon to be on view at the Lynn Museum). The Salem Maritime National Historic Site has made a substantive commitment to regional African-American history in its recent interpretive initiatives, which include a general “History of Slavery in Salem” walking tour as well as more focused “Pathways in Freedom” and “Business of Slavery” digital tours.

The West India Goods Store, one of the “stops” on the “Business of Slavery” tour of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site.

This is all very exciting; such cross-institutional initiatives almost compensate for Salem’s lack of a historical museum, at least in reference to this one aspect of the city’s history. With so much focus on African-History in general, and in the immediate pre- and post-emancipation periods in particular, discoveries will doubtless be forthcoming. Another initiative is both a literal and metaphorical expression of this rising interest in African-American history: the restoration of several graves long neglected in the Howard Street Cemetery. The graves of Prince Farmer and his wife Mary, Samuel Payne, and Venus Chew have been lifted up and repaired, so that the lives of these three distinguished Salem African-American residents are once again marked. This important work was a pro bono, close-to-the-heart project of the two gravestone conservators who make up Epoch Preservation, Rachel Meyer and Joshua Gerloff. As far as I know, the only thing that the Farmers, Mr. Payne, and Mrs. Chew have in common besides their final (segregated) resting place is the fact that they all died in the 1850s. Farmer and Payne were both respected businessmen and by all accounts quite wealthy; Chew died in the Salem Almshouse at the very end of 1852, despite a life of hard work. She was the victim of marital misfortune, despite her very public attempts to defend herself and her property. Venus Thomas Chew was born in nearby Lynn to Peter Thomas, “a free Negro man” and Lavinia/Lucretia Trevet, “a mulatto girl,” in 1779 (The Marblehead Museum has a wonderful history of her famous tavern-keeping sister and brother-in-law here). She married Henry Chew, a mariner, in 1801 and they had at least three children before they separated, by her account, in 1819. They never lived together again, but remained married and thus entangled: this was problematic for Venus as she was clearly the most consistent wage earner. She “declared her independence” in September of 1841 but lost a legal case brought on my her husband’s creditors’ attempts to empty her bank account a year later. She wouldn’t be free of Henry until his death in 1848, and over the next few years her moves from Lemon to Dearborn Street and finally to the Salem Almshouse indicate that she was never completely free.

Notices in the Salem Gazette, 28 September 1841; the segregated listing in the Salem Directory, 1842; “Caleb M. Ames vs. Henry Chew & Trustee, November 1842, in Reports of Cases Argued and Determined by the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts, ed. Theron Metcalf, Volume V (1858); Salem houses associated with Venus: 198 North Street, built for Henry Chew and apparently financed by Venus, 15 Dearborn St. and 18 Lemon Street; Massachusetts Report of the Commissioners of Alien Passengers and Foreign Paupers (1852; I have no idea why Venus was considered “Alien” or “Foreign”).

I went over to see Rachel and Josh of Epoch Preservation and a few other history-minded people on this rainy afternoon for a toast to Venus, and the Farmers, and Samuel Payne (“once a slave, but the last 17 years a resident of Salem. He was an industrious, honest man, and by strict attention to business had acquired a good estate, and a full share of the confidence of the citizens of Salem” in the words of his touching obituary) upon the completion of the restoration of their graves. We toasted with Joe Froggers, the famous molasses, rum and seawater cookie invented by Venus’s sister Lucretia for visitors to the Marblehead tavern which she and her husband Joseph Brown operated for many years. Cheers to these hardworking people that came before us, as well as to the historians, educators, preservationists and restorers whose hard work sustains their memory and memorials.

Venus T. Chew, Died December 31, 1852, Aged 73. Josh Gerloff and Rachel Meyer stand behind their work. Joe Froggers (made by Josh!)


The Howard Street Church

The Howard Street Church was a short-lived institution, but it had an enormous impact on Salem’s nineteenth-century social and political life, far beyond the brevity of its existence or size of its membership. It is also a great example of how Salem’s history has been distorted by the exploitation and commodification of the Witch Trials: today the Church is little-known, and the adjacent Howard Street Cemetery is significant primarily as the place where accused victim Giles Corey was pressed to death upon his plea of “standing mute” and the imposition of peine forte et dure.

The Howard Street Cemetery in 1949 by Life photographer Nina Leen: it looks much the same now and the vantage point is approximately the location of the Howard Street Church.

The Church was founded out of a schism, and it too experienced schisms during its brief existence, from 1803-1864: both it pastors and its membership were active and engaged citizens, often to the extreme. As its last pastor, the Reverend C.C. Beaman, concluded in his 1861 history (Essex Institute Historical Collections, Vol. 3): “the Church has been likened in reference to its trials to the bush that was in the fire and yet not consumed. On the slavery question and on temperance it has been a marked church, having early spoken boldly upon them;—and if the being cast into prison is a proof of regular descent from the apostles, this church has a strong claim, inasmuch as one of its ministers died in prison and another was confined there.” The men in question were the Reverends Charles T. Torrey and George Barrell Cheever. The latter was a passionate proponent of temperance, who targeted one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in town, John Stone, Deacon of the First Church and simultaneously Salem’s largest distiller (who also built my house), in The Dream, or, The True History of Deacon Giles’ Distillery and Deacon Jones’ Brewery: Reported for the Benefit of Posterity, which was first published in Salem in 1835 and later in New York City for national distribution. After its publication, Cheever was accosted in the streets, horse-whipped, and sued, convicted, and imprisoned for slander, but his campaign for temperance, waged from the pulpit as well as in print, did not cease. I wrote about this story way back in 2011, and now we have a distillery named after Deacon Giles (a perfect Salem story).

One of Deacon Giles’ Distillery’s great illustrations, from an edition at Boston Rare Maps.

So the Howard Street was a center of a temperance storm in the 1830s, but it was the center of Salem’s abolitionist activities from its foundation to its end. Its first pastor, the Reverend Joshua Spalding (sometimes spelled Spaulding) had welcomed African-Americans into his new congregation from the beginning, after his dismissal and his flock’s “separation” from the Tabernacle Church in 1802, and with each successive pastor the commitment to abolition became stronger. Spalding was an early advocate of public education for Salem’s African-American children, and he appointed an African-American man, Israel Freeman, as one of his new church’s deacons. A short-lived successor of Cheever, Charles Turner Torrey clearly could not stand to just talk about the evils of slavery in somewhat-enlightened Salem: he went south and became a conductor on the Underground Railroad, dying in a Baltimore jail of consumption after facilitating the freedom of some 400 enslaved persons. In jail, he wrote his memoirs to support his family back in Massachusetts: Home or The Pilgrims’ Faith Revived was first published in Salem in 1845; following his death in the following year, Torrey “returned” to Massachusetts and was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery with considerable ceremony. One of Salem’s most eminent educators and abolitionists, William B. Dodge, was a long-time member and Elder of the Howard Street Church: he first taught Salem’s African-American students in its vestry, where the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society (among whose founding members were Dodge’s wife Sarah Dole Dodge and daughters Lydia and Lucia) also met frequently. The whole congregation, and indeed the city, was summoned to the Howard Street Church on occasions for prayer services for the end of slavery, as was the case in June of 1835.

There is ample evidence that the Howard Street Church served as a hub for abolitionist activities in Salem over the first half of the nineteenth century, but it’s hard to pay tribute to a site that is no longer there. I can’t even come up with a photograph (well, there is a semblance, see below), which is really frustrating as the Church was the creation of Samuel McIntire! It had a tower, and a very famous bell, which might have ended up the adjacent Central Baptist Church on St. Peter Street after the Howard Street congregation was dissolved (but the City of Salem had a claim, so I’m not sure). The Church was almost in constant flux: it started out as the Branch Street Church, named for the lane that connected Brown and Bridge Streets, later called Howard, and assumed the name Howard Street Church in 1828. Its denomination changed too: from Congregational to Presbyterian and back to Congregational. It’s the individuals that stand out in the history of this church, though: Spalding, Cheever, Torrey, Dodge and more, It seemed to draw men and women of great conviction. And if Howard Street’s abolitionist history was not illustrious enough, there is the role that the Church played in one of the most deadly battles in pre-20th century naval history: the defeat of the USS Chesapeake by the HMS Shannon on June 1, 1813. The former ship’s crew was annihilated in the 12-minute battle, which was watched by North Shore residents from atop Legg’s Hill. The Chesapeake‘s captain, James Lawrence of “Don’t Give up the Ship” fame, died shortly after that famous plea, along with several of his officers. The Chesapeake was sailed to Nova Scotia by the British with its dead and wounded aboard, and Salem’s George Crowninshield retrieved the remains of Captain Lawrence and Lieutenant August Ludlow from Halifax at his own expense and returned them to Salem for a formal funeral at the “Rev. Mr. Spauldings Meeting-house” in late August 1813. And thus the Howard Street Church became the center of national attention.

Massachusetts State Library; Newburyport Reporter and Country Gazette, August 24,1813.

The Howard Street congregation began to dissolve in 1864 and the end of the material church (in Salem) came in 1867 when everything was auctioned off. The McIntire Church building was removed, not destroyed: it was floated (I assume) over to Beverly, where it became the new Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church in 1869, with some adjustments and alterations at that time, and more in the 1880s, so I don’t think that the photograph below represents what the Howard Street Church looked like—though perhaps some semblance. Its former location became the site of a new Salem public school, the Prescott School, but not for long: the growing Polish Catholic community represented by the Church of St. John the Baptist purchased the closed Central Baptist Church in the first decade of the twentieth century, and expanded its property to Howard Street in the 1960s. The history of Salem’s churches is indeed quite dynamic!

Salem Gazette; 1874 Salem Atlas @State Library of Massachusetts; photograph of the Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, Historic Beverly. The displaced congregation of St. Alphonse began worshipping in this Church after the Great Salem Fire of 1914, and it was destroyed by arson in 1963.


Caroline Remond Putnam

Faithful readers of this blog will know that I am captivated by the Remonds, an African-American family of ten who lead exemplary lives of advocacy, activism and entrepreneurialism in Salem in the nineteenth-century, often centered around Hamilton Hall, the Federal reception hall right next door to my house. I feel very connected to them and I’m interested in everything they did. The parents, John and Nancy, clearly raised their children to be independent and assertive, and were both independent and assertive themselves. The most public, and therefore most well-known, Remonds were the abolitionist speakers Charles Lenox and Sarah Parker, and while I have the utmost admiration for them they have their historians, while their siblings do not. There are also no photographs (in the public realm anyway) of the other Remonds, so we don’t “see” them. So I’ve been collecting as much information as possible about the “invisible” Remonds, and I thought I would cap off my year of #salemsuffragesaturdays with a spotlight on the amazing life of the youngest member of this distinguished family, Caroline Remond Putnam (1826-1908).  She’s one of the most impressive women I have ever encountered. The closest I can get to her is her signature, sadly: on a petition against capital punishment signed when she was a teenager, on a letter addressed to Wendell Phillips sent from London (both from the digital collections of Harvard), on her passport application in 1865.

Even without an archive of personal papers to elucidate her life, it’s easy to see that Caroline was a very engaged woman: the advertisements for her businesses fill the pages of the Salem Register; her efforts towards abolition are referenced in successive issues of The Liberator. As the youngest Remond child, she had several examples to follow as every family member was busy: in business and in reform causes, or both. Her parents managed to enroll her older sister Sarah and Caroline in the Salem public schools, from which they were expelled for no cause other than their race, prompting the relocation of the family to Newport, Rhode Island. The Remonds returned to Salem when the girls’ schooling was complete, and to their several businesses. Caroline began working in hairdressing in partnership with several of her sisters, and on her own, and in the late 1840s she married Joseph H. Putnam of Boston, whose family was part of the African-American network of entrepreneur activists which extended to Philadelphia. Caroline never stopped working: as a personal hairstylist, as the owner of a Salem salon and wig factory called the Ladies Hair Work Salon with her sisters, and as the manufacturer of the popular “Mrs. Putnam’s Medicated Hair Tonic” for hair loss. She and Joseph had two children, Edmund and Victoria, but tragedy struck in 1859 when Caroline lost both her husband and her baby daughter within three months. Her reaction was to leave: she booked passage for Britain for herself and her young son Edmund to join her sister Sarah, and there are no indications that she planned to come back to the United States. But she did: back and forth across the Atlantic she went over the next 20 years or so, sometimes with a sister, often with Edmund. She came back because she had a lot to do: she had her businesses, and had assumed major leadership roles, chiefly in the realm of fundraising, for the American and Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Societies. After the Civil War she shifted her efforts towards the suffrage movement and the American, New England, and Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Associations, and was always recognized as a “well-known advocate” of the cause. Caroline clearly had many obligations in the United States, but she returned to Europe several times in the 1870s and eventually joined her sister Sarah in Italy (where she managed a hotel in Rome!) in the mid-1880s and then made a permanent move to England, where she died in 1908.

Abolition, Suffrage AND Pacifism: Caroline had big goals, and that characteristic Remond mix of activism and pragmatism regarding business matters.

It’s rather sad to see someone work so hard for the greater good in a country, and be so eager to leave it: after Frederick Douglass visited the Remond sisters (Caroline and Sarah, plus Maritcha) in Rome he reported that “they detest prejudice of color and say they would not live in the U. States, if you could or would give them America!” These sentiments were grounded in experience. Caroline experienced at least three cases of very public discrimination: she was with Sarah at the Howard Athenaeum in Boston in 1853 when they were ejected from their seats, on her first Atlantic crossing in 1859 she and her young son were barred from the first-class cabins in the Cunard liner Europa for which she had purchased tickets, and on a trip to New York City in 1870 her reservations for rooms at the Metropolitan Hotel were not honored. I’m sure these were just three public instances out of many more private ones. But still she pressed on, always trying to create a better world for herself, her family, her gender, her race, and pretty much everyone else.


Mother Harriet Maxwell

This entire year of posts exploring the experiences and achievements of Salem women on #SalemSuffrageSaturdays has not featured a single immigrant: a big slight given the important role of immigration in our nation’s, and city’s history. It certainly wasn’t deliberate: I’ve been working with the sources available to me and so far no émigré has emerged from them. But today, finally, I am spotlighting an amazing woman of Irish origin and, at the same time, opening up a window into turn-of-the century race relations: what one life, or even one episode in one life, can tell us! Mrs. Harriet Maxwell was born in Ireland in 1849 and lived in England for a decade or so following her marriage to James R. Maxwell, a sergeant in the Scots Fusilier Guards. After her husband’s death in service she emigrated to the United States in 1879, and to Salem: I’m not sure what the precise draw was. In 1886 she graduated from the Salem Hospital’s training school for nurses, and she worked in private service and at the hospital until the spring of 1898, when the call went out for nurses for the quarantine camps established during and after the Spanish-American War, the first war in which the U.S. Army relied on contract nurses in addition to those from the Red Cross and religious orders. Mrs. Maxwell immediately resigned her position at Salem Hospital and signed up: she was sent to the “city of tents” at Montauk, Long Island: Camp Wickoff, where over 21,000 soldiers were sent for quarantine to lessen the spread of yellow fever and malaria in the wake of the war.

Scenes from Camp Wikoff, Long Island, August and September 1898: the arrival of the 24th infantry, the “city of tents”, men of the 71st infantry regiment,Teddy Roosevelt in camp, camp “street” and nurses, Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Harvard Libraries and  Library of Congress.

Far more soldiers died from disease, principally yellow fever, malaria, and typhoid, than combat during and after the Spanish American War, including Salem’s own William Huntingdon Sanders. The American military seemed unprepared for the biological threat, both during and after the war. Camp Wikoff, named for the first American casualty of the war, was hastily constructed and insufficiently prepared or “manned”, in terms of medical staff, for the onslaught of troops which began arriving in August of 1898, including Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders. Following a succession of deaths (there would be 340 in all), and the outbreak of fever in the camp and surrounding community, Wikoff became the focus of sharp criticism in the national newspapers: the finger was pointed at Secretary of War Russell Alger in particular, and by extension, President William McKinley, who visited the camp in September. Julian Hawthorne, Nathaniel’s son and father of John, a soldier in the 71st Infantry whom he and his wife found emaciated when they visited the camp, expressed an opinion that seems to have been shared by many in the early fall of 1898:

From the great portfolio of contemporary Camp Wikoff texts and images by Jeff Heatley at Art and Architecture Quarterly.

So this is the situation Harriet Maxwell of Salem found herself in when she arrived at Camp Wikoff in August. She was not assigned to nurse the famous Rough Riders but rather one of the “colored” regiments in residence in the camp, in segregated quarters of course: the 10th U.S. Cavalry which had fought right alongside Roosevelt’s troops at the Battle of San Juan Hill. Many of its members were fevered when they arrived at Wikoff, and Mrs. Maxwell nursed them continually, forming the close relationships that were captured in an article first published in the Boston Globe and then in regional newspapers: the story of how she became a “mother” to these troops, a lasting designation that also ended up in her 1931 obituary in the Globe: 

The Boston Globe, 4 December 1898; the 10th U.S. Cavalry at Camp Wikoff, US National Archives.

It’s an endearing story, if a bit “matriarchal” and all too illustrative of the perceived boundaries of the time. Mrs. Maxwell’s time at Wikoff was brief but impactful, as everyone’s seems to have been. She went off to another fever hotspot, Ft. Monroe in Virginian, and then back to Salem, where she continued her practice and became a highly-respected member of the U.S. Spanish-American Veterans group and the namesake of its auxiliary. Mrs. Maxwell died in September of 1931, and her obituary (September 22 Boston Globe) notes that her two grandfathers were at the Battle of Waterloo. Two uncles were fatally wounded at the Crimean War. Again, what a life-span.


Not so Ephemeral

I was a casual collector of ephemera for years, so I’ve always been impressed with the more serious seekers and crafters of entire collections, most prominently Eric C. Caren, founder of the Caren Archive of paper Americana. With its tagline “History Unfolds on Paper”, the collection extends to about a million items I believe: Mr. Caren has culled it down with a series of auctions over the last decade or so–at Bonhams, Christie’s, and Swann’s among other houses–but I suspect that he continues to buy with feverish enthusiasm. The eighth Caren collection auction is now ongoing online at Sotheby’s, and I have really enjoyed perusing the lots: ephemera can really take you into an era, by offering intimate, “everyday” or administrative perspectives on the events of the day: often it’s surprising how weighty these little strips of paper can be. A serious collection of ephemera makes such items less ephemeral and more evidential, and with digitization, the ephemeral is also transformed into a lasting testimony. My browsing was edifying as well: who knew, for example, that the famous Gerrymander, spawned right here in Essex County in 1812, died in the following year? Certainly not me! This skeletal monster is just one of several intriguing items in the auction: here are my picks.

Dead Gerrymander

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Gerrymander cartoon in the Columbian Centinal via the Salem Gazette, 1813; Horatio Gates’ Recruiting Instructions, 1775; Benjamin Harrison, Governor of Virginia, grants land to Daniel Cumbo, and African-American soldier, in return for his service in the Revolutionary War (quite a contrast to the Gates document, which prohibits the recruitment of “any Stroller, Negro or Vagabond”; John Paul Jones mezzotint, 1779; Alfred Swaine Taylor, early “photogenic drawing” photograph of a fern, 1839; Brochure for “Bloomer Girls”, a touring baseball team, from the Young Ladies’ Athletic Journal, 1889; Stop Lynching, Shame of America poster, 1937; US House of Representatives Calendar No. 61: Impeachment of Donald John Trump.


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