Tag Archives: Commemoration

Recovering Salem’s Hispanic Heritage: a Revolutionary View

September 15 commenced Hispanic Heritage Month here in Salem; as I walked by the flag-raising in Riley Square the other day I wondered, what now? How are we going to recognize Hispanic Heritage Month? And given that Salem has an increasing population of Latino Americans, how are we going to expand “Salem history” to include their stories going forward? If I could offer a suggestion (which I am prone to do), why don’t we take advantage of two dynamic historiographical trends connecting Salem and the Iberian world in the eighteenth-century: the renewed focus on the codfish trade which generated so much wealth (and so many connections) on the North Shore in the eighteenth century and new perspectives on Spain’s role in the American Revolution? The importance of the codfish trade between New England and southern Europe has been emphasized by academics for quite some time (this particular study has been very influential) but I don’t think it has trickled down (or out) to a more general audience. My department co-sponsored an afternoon symposium along with the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, the Marblehead Museum, and Historic Beverly in 2019 entitled Salt Cod for Silver: Yankees, Basques, and the North Shore’s Forgotten Trade organized by the independent scholar Donald Carlton, but I think the trade remains relatively “forgotten,” and overshadowed by the China Trade which flourished after the Revolution. Actually I think the codfish trade is paradoxically both forgotten and taken for granted: the symbolism of the cod is everywhere in late eighteenth century Massachusetts and if not for this lucrative and expansive trade how else could both Salem and Marblehead appear on the list of the ten most populous American towns in the first census of 1790? To its credit, Salem Maritime has been stressing the importance of the pre-revolutionary fish trade almost since its founding, and in myriad ways: the map below is from its Spring 1940 Regional Review (I know it’s a bit hard to read, but Bilbao is definitely in the center of the world) and the “flying fish” from the site’s 2017 virtual reality “exhibition” (experience?) The Augmented Landscape

But neither fish or trade are particularly “sexy” or accessible topics of historical interpretation, especially historic interpretation for a general audience. Believe me, I know, I’ve been teaching pre-modern world history, which is very much about cross-cultural trade, for years: I’ve seen my students’ eyes glaze over many, many times even as I’ve tried all sorts of tricks to keep their attention. You need people, particularly individual stories, and you need a war (or some sort of conflict). So that’s why I’d like to see an interpretive focus on the relationships that were fostered by and through this long and lucrative trade and their eventful revolutionary impact. Material manifestations are helpful too: these are a major hook of the China Trade are they not? I’m not sure that the Iberian Peninsula can compete in this realm, but there was certainly a range of goods with the label “Bilboa” (the 18th century spelling) attached to them which were in demand in the later eighteenth century: most importantly Bilbao handkerchiefs, Bilbao yarn and caps, and Bilbao mirrors, which might or might not have been manufactured on the Iberian Peninsula.

A very typical 1770s shipping report in the Essex Gazette; of course the destinations listed point to the intersection of the fish and slave trades in the Atlantic system; Advertisements from the Salem Gazette, and a “Bilbao Mirror” from Bonhams Skinner. I should say that the only references that I found for “Bilbao caps” in the pre-revolutionary newspapers were in runaway slave advertisements.

The stories of the Salem men (sorry, they were all men when it comes to the maritime trade; manufacturing, processing and retail by-products I just don’t know) who dominated this trade can all be found in the papers of the Peabody Essex Museum’s Phillips Library in Rowley: Samuel Browne early in the eighteenth century, the Derbys, the Ornes, the Cabots, and others later (and there are very helpful appendices to the finding aids for these papers along with a recently-digitized collection of logbooks). These later men, like their counterparts in nearby Marblehead, Beverly, Gloucester, and other New England ports, dealt with Diego de Gardoqui Y Arribuibar, the head of an eminent family merchant house in Bilbao, Joseph Gardoqui & Sons. The Gardoqui firm had been importing salted codfish from the British American colonies since 1763, and because of stiff competition with other Iberian ports, its increasing focus in commercial relations was on the merchants of the North Shore of Boston. Diego de Gardoqui developed relationships with the Marblehead merchants Jeremiah Lee and Eldridge Gerry, and also with members of the Cabot family based in Beverly and Salem and the Derbys of Salem. When the Revolution began, these connections resulted in the Gardoqui firm suppling the Americans with arms, gunpowder and other supplies even before Spain entered the war on the side of America and France in 1779; the first foreign rifles supplied to the colonists were sent from Bilbao to Massachusetts in 1775. Gardoqui committed to the Colonies personally and then officially, assuming the role of a Spanish government official tasked with overseeing military aid during the Revolution and Spain’s first Ambassador to the United States afterwards. He was present at the inauguration of George Washington in 1789. Diego de Gardoqui appears like an Iberian Lafayette to me, and I am not the only one: recent historiography and initiatives (like these sponsored by global utility company Iberdrola, which actually built our new power plant in Salem and recently emerged victorious from a major lawsuit brought by its owner/developer) seek to re-center Spain in the history of the American Revolution, right alongside France. Salem and its region are part of that re-centering story, and could look eastward for inspiration as it approaches the anniversaries of both its founding and the Revolution in 2026. In an interview explaining the Iberdrola project and its mission, the historian José Manual Guerrero Acosta asserted that “I believe that millions of Hispanic people living today in the US are entitled to recognition of the fact that the Hispanic world and its forebears, which made up part of the Spanish crown territories in America, were present in a significant way at the birth of their country.”

Two recent titles, including a stirring study of the namesake of Galveston, Texas, Bernardo de Gálvez; Diego de Gardoqui, Ca 1785. Courtesy Family Cano Gardoqui.

Bilbao was a bit of a free port in the eighteenth century, owing to its customary fueros granting exemption from Spanish taxes and its role as a haven for privateers, including those from Salem. Just offshore in June of 1780, Captain Jonathan Haraden, the “bravest of the brave” and “Salem Salamander,” fought his most spectacular engagement with the British privateer Achilles, ostensibly to cheering crowds in port. The Gardoqui firm reported Haraden’s exploits to Benjamin Franklin, then Minister Plenipotentiary, and Franklin replied on July 4: “Captain Haraden–whose bravery in taking and retaking the Privateer gave me great pleasure.” Haraden is such a hero in nineteenth-century naval histories and twentieth-century boys’ magazines, and currently in Eric Jay Dolan’s Rebels at Sea. Privateering in the American Revolution, but in Salem both he and his profession seem truly forgotten. Cape Cod pirates, some real, some not, rule while Salem’s very real privateers languish in the dusty recesses of Salem’s ever-dimming historical consciousness. We seldom hear of them, despite the facts that 158 privateering vessels originated from Salem during the Revolution, capturing 458 prizes, the largest prize tonnage of any single American port. Perhaps a revolutionary re-focus, inspired by the need to expand our city’s history to include as many of our residents as possible, might also forge a reaquaintenance (and/or re-evaluation) with some previously-aclaimed dead white men too! There’s a lot of ground–or should I say ocean—for exploration, inspiration, and revelation.

Top: Nowland Van Powell’s depiction of Captain Haraden’s engagement with the Achilles, which had stolen his prize, the Golden Eagle, off Bilbao, Eldred’s Auctions.

APPENDIX: Those of you who are familiar with my blog know that I’m not exactly a fan of Salem’s “heritage management,” so I can’t resist this comparison of two Bilbao-connected plaques: one featuring Diego de Gardoqui prominently placed in front of the Jeremiah Lee Mansion in Marblehead and another marking Jonathan Haraden’s very public victory over the Achilles, which is located inside a Korean barbeque restaurant on Essex Street in Salem. Seriously! BonChon, the restaurant in question, was one of my major pandemic take-out spots (it still is actually, as I adore their fried rice) so I became quite familiar with Haraden’s plaque during that time. The plaque was installed by the Sons of the American Revolution in 1909 on a house where Haraden once lived which was later demolished. I seem to recall that its replacement structure had the plaque on the exterior, but when that building was demolished and another built in its place a few years ago it ended up inside—not exactly sure why, but very Salem.


Tattered Flags

The Civil War began with the lowering of a tattered 33-star flag from Fort Sumter in 1861 after which tattered flags defined, symbolized and memorialized the bravery, sacrifices and experiences of its participants on both sides for at least a half century—and likely much longer. There is no more powerful symbol of both commitment and conflict, and no more inspirational object. After surrenduring the Fort on April 12, Major Robert Anderson brought the Sumter storm flag with him to New York City, where it became the focus of a patriotic rally just a week later and then was put on a tour of northern cities to raise funds and rally troops. Almost exactly four years later and after the Confederate surrender of the fort, then Brevet Major-General Anderson returned to Charleston to raise the flag in a momentous ceremony that was overshadowed unfortunately by the assassination of President Lincoln. And in the interim, many flags were reduced to tatters and fragments.

Flag fallout: Edwin Francis Church painted several different versions of Our Banner in the Sky (Fine Art Museums of San Franciso, above), inspired by the tattered flag of Ft. Sumter. Commercial adaptations were printed, along with other Remember Fort Sumter! ephemeral images. Library of Congress.

Ever since I first saw the striking photograph of Sgt. William Carney of the Massachusetts 54th bearing the standard he rescued from the bloody battle of Fort Wagner in 1863 in Luis Emilio’s Brave Black Regiment I have been struck by the visual poignancy of the tattered flag. He just wouldn’t let that flag go, and consequently he became the first African-American recipient of the Medal of Honor in 1900. Just a few years later, Sargeant Samuel Hendrickson Smith bore the colors of the storied 8th Massachusetts in a Salem parade: he suffered permanent damage to his sight, hearing, and speech during the War but lived until 1910.

Newspaper drawing of Sergeant Carney holding the American flag during the battle at Fort Wagner: from an article in the Boston Journal, “Hero of Fort Wagner: Tale of Color Bearer William H. Carney,” published on December 29, 1898; Sgt. Samuel Hendrickson Smith of Salem and the 8th and 19th Massachusetts Regiments, 1905.

It’s easy to grasp the symbolic importance of the tattered flag image, during the Civil War and all wars really, but I never realized it was a distinct photographic genre until fairly recently. The enormous popularity of the carte de visite, the new photographic technology of the mid 19th century, accounts for many images of flags and flag bearers. Louis-Désiré Blanquart-Evrard had invented albumen printing, in which a negative photograph was printed on paper coated with egg whites (albumen) and mounted on thick cardstock, in the 1850s, resulting in a new mass media with expanded access to  photographic images. The Fort Sumter flag tour could be expanded by degrees, and remembrance of individual, regimental, state and national service and sacrifice recorded for posterity. Tattered flags became “relics” of the war, both in the hands of their bearers and simply standing there in their distressed state. Here are a few of my favorite images among the collection of “Tattered Flag CDVs” (actually the their preferred term is “battle-torn”) at the Library of Congress:

19th Massachusetts; 7th Connecticut; 4th New Hampshire; 44th New York; 30th Ohio; 21st Mississippi, Library of Congress.

The images above were public: I’m wondering if war-torn flags confiscated during battles were also made so. The American Civil War Museum has a large collection of confederate flags captured by Union soldiers and the National Archives has an inventory entitled “Records of Rebel Flags Captured by Union Troops after April 19, 1861” (RG 94). Every state historical society or museum or state house has a collection of war-torn flags, “brought home” during or after (sometimes well after) the war. Sometimes there is just an assemblage of scraps and threads, or perhaps just a material outline of what is sometimes referred to as a “ghost” flag: and like any ghost, it is haunting.

Flag of an unidentified unit. Captured at the battle of the Wilderness, Virginia, May 12, 1864 by Lt. Benjamin Y. Draper, 1st Delaware Infantry and scraps of a confederate flag confiscated (and divided) during the occupation of Richmond by troops from Springfield, Massachuesetts, American Civil War Museum. Remnants of the 95th Pennsylvania and 1st Massachusetts flags, Cowan’s Auctions and Morphy Auctions.

Can’t We Copy Concord?

The Concord Museum has been one of my favorite local history museums for some time, but I haven’t been there since the completion of a major expansion and reinterpretation initiative during the Covid years. Late last week I found myself with some free time and so off to Concord I went. I was impressed with the update, but just like the last time I visited, I could only really see the Concord Museum through the prism of a missing Salem Museum: I walked through the exhibits, which manage to be both chronological and thematic, sweeping yet very focused, thinking: Concord had this, but Salem had more of this, and also that! Salem did that first! OMG I can imagine a perfect Salem exhibit just like this Concord one, just change the names. And ultimately: can’t Salem just copy Concord? Why can’t Salem have a Concord Museum?  This is really not fair to the Concord Museum, which should be viewed on its own merits rather than comparatively, but lately (well, not so lately) I’ve become obsessed with the idea of a comprehensive Salem Museum which lays out ALL of Salem’s history in a chronological yet thematic, sweeping yet focused way: from the seventeenth through the twenty-first century, first encounters to Covid. It should be accessible and inclusive in every way, downtown of course, and it must be a collaboration between the City and the Peabody Essex Museum, because the latter possesses the greater part of Salem’s history in textual and material form. Really lately, I’ve come to think of Salem as experiencing an invasion of the body snatchers scenario, in which all of its authentic history has been detached to another town, only to be replaced by stories that are not its own: real pirates from Cape Cod, vampires who could be from anywhere and everywhere. Can’t we tell the real story, and the whole story?

So, with apologies to the Concord Museum, I’m turning it into a sort of template while also (I hope!) presenting its exhibits in some interpretive and topical detail. The museum lays out an essentially chronological view of Concord’s history, while first identifying Concord’s most prominent historical role, as a center of the emerging American Revolution, and both acknowledging and examining its regional indigenous history. Then we stroll though Concord’s history, which is told through both texts and objects, and lots of visual clues asking us to look closely.

Indigenous regions & English plantations: the Concord Museum explores the land negotiations in detail.[Salem also posseses a 17th century land-transfer document, held at City Hall. The 1686 “Original Indian Deed” of Frank Cousin’s photograph below features many more signature marks of Native Americans, testifying to a more complicated negotiation? I don’t really know: it’s not part of Salem’s public history.]

“Original Indian Deed” at Salem City Hall, c. 1890, Frank Cousins Collection at the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum via Digital Commonwealth.

You walk through the Concord Museum viewing exhibits in chronological order, but there are necessary tangents, and the biggest stand-alone exhibit is devoted to the events of one day: April 19, 1775. This is a new permanent exhibit, and it utilizes all the latest technology of visual storytelling while at same time focusing on the personal experiences of those involved. The famous Doolittle images, rendered dynamic, rim the perimeter of the exhibition room and a large digital map illustrates the events of the day. There’s a lot of movement in this room! We also hear from some of the participants and see the texts and objects which highlight their experience. How does one get ready for a Revolution? How does war affect daily life?

[Obviously, in a Salem Museum, one permanent exhibit would have to be devoted to the Witch Trials: interpreted not only as a story but as a collective and contextual experience. Apart from 1692, Salem should be paying a lot more attention to its Revolutionary role(s): not just Leslie’s Retreat, but also its brief role as a provincial capital and those of all of its privateers! Real Salem privateers.]

There is a continuous emphasis on how individuals experienced and shaped their world in the Museum’s exhibits, encompassing both big events, pressing issues, and daily life. We learn about the African-American experience in Concord through both official documents and the lives of two black families in town: the Garrisons and the Dugans, whose members were acquainted with both enslavement and freedom. Thomas Dugan’s probate inventory is posted, alongside a display of the possessions listed thereon. Concord’s dynamic abolitionist movement is another window into the institution of slavery, but it is not the only one. As would certainly be the case with a Salem presentation, abolition provides an opportunity to showcase female agency, and the Museum’s exhibits do not disappoint. But again, all I could think of was: Salem’s Female Anti-Slavery Society predates Concord’s Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society by several years, AND it was desegregated because it was an extension of the first female abolitionist society in Salem, which was founded by African-American women.

The Museum’s exhibits on slavery and abolition: Mary Merrick Brooks was a particularly active member of the Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society, and because her husband did not support its efforts, she sold her own tea cakes; “potholder quilts” were made up of squares like this one, which were also sold at Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Fairs in Concord (as well as Salem).

[The Histories of Slavery and Abolition illustrate the Salem problem really well, as there has been lots of research into both over the past few years by several institutions, including the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, the Peabody Essex Museum, and Hamilton Hall. But their efforts are all SILOED, and this prevents the diffusion of a comprehensive history of both to residents and visitors alike. Salem Maritime has developed walking tours and a research guide into African-American history in Essex County, the PEM is currently exhibiting an examination of school desegregation in Salem, and Hamilton Hall has had lots of materials and texts pertaining to the Remond Family on its website for several years, but are all these resources really getting out there? A common space and place for historical collaboration and exhibition would amplify all of these efforts considerably. We have so much information, from Salem’s 1754 Slave Census entry (below), to the recently-rediscovered 1810 Census for Salem, to the digitized records of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society (credit to the PEM’s Phillips Library for getting both the Census and the SFASS records out there), to the abolition petitions digitized by Harvard: but it’s not being used to tell a cohesive and comprehensive story! The Concord Museum has an Uncle Tom statue which once belong to Henry David Thoreau, but the Salem Museum could display an Uncle Tom’s Cabin card game manufactured by the Ives Brothers in 1852.]

There were 83 enslaved persons in Salem in 1754 according to the Massachusetts Slave Census of that year.

Like Salem, Concord has many heritage sites, so I imagine the Concord Museum serves as an orientation center from which people can go on to visit the Alcott’s Orchard House, Minute Man National Historical Park, or Walden Pond (among other places!) The Museum has reproduced Ralph Waldo Emerson’s parlor—while the actual room is just across the way–and utilized digital technology to enhance its interpretation. There’s also a great exhibit on Henry David Thoreau, but Louisa May Alcott and Nathaniel Hawthorne seem a bit short-changed—maybe there’s an evolving emphasis? A Salem Museum would have a host of public intellectuals to juggle as well. Lots of material objects “made in Concord” or purchased in Concord and we also get to learn about the town’s conspicuous visitors—some of whom stayed at the famous Old Middlesex Hotel. [it would be so much fun to research an exhibition on who stayed at Salem’s equally famous Essex House.]

Details from the Concord Museum’s Emerson and Thoreau rooms—the star is one of several placed by Concord antiquarian Cummings E. Davis, whose collection is essentially the foundation of the Museum, along a trail in Walden Woods to lead people to Thoreau’s cabin. Loved this image of the Old Middlesex Hotel which seems to have played a hospitality role similar to that of the Essex House in Salem, below (an 1880 photograph).

I’m skipping over a lot, as there was a lot to see, so you’ll have to go to the Museum yourself, but I did want to mention its engagement with Concord’s storied history as well as the documented past. Concord is a famous place, just like Salem, and so there is an obligation not only to present the past but also to address how the past has been presented, to take on “Paul Revere’s Ride” as well as April 19th. I really liked how the Museum presented the process of commemorating the Battles of Lexington and Concord a hundred years later, chiefly through the commission of Daniel Chester French’s Minute Man statue. A photograph of a group of disenfranchised Concord women surrounding the statue at its unveiling on April 19, 1875 makes a big statement, especially as Louisa May Alcott, present on that day, later noted that women could not march in the grand parade unescorted or even sit in the stands to listen to speeches of the day (maybe this was a blessing).


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.


In the Thick of It

This weekend is the annual commemoration/celebration of Leslie’s Retreat, a pre-Revolutionary event which could have marked the beginning of the American Revolution, if not for the patience, restraint, and diplomacy of participants on both sides, and one man in particular. On February 26, 1775, British Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Leslie and 240 soldiers of the 64th Regiment, acting upon the orders of General Thomas Gage, landed in Marblehead and began marching to Salem in pursuit of a rumored store of cannon. This was a Sunday, and thus “the Sabbath was disturbed” in both Marblehead and Salem, as patriots from the former town rode ahead and warned residents of the latter. When the British arrived, a stand-off ensued between the assembled crowd and the soldiers, during which the drawbridge across the North River was raised, enabling the not-so-secret cannon on the other side to be carried on field carriages out of town. A frustrated Colonel Leslie was allowed to march his troops across the bridge after the cannon had left the scene, therefore fulfilling his orders from General Gage. Then he and his troops retreated back to Marblehead and their ship, and sailed back to Boston. Things were a little hotter than I am depicting in this brief summary, but fortunately cooler heads prevailed, among them that of the Reverend Thomas Barnard Jr., the minister of Salem’s North Church, which was very much in the thick of things. I’m going to let Edwin Monroe Bacon, author of Historic Pilgrimages in New England (1898) set the scene.

A profile portrait of the Reverend Thomas Barnard Jr. (1748-1814) which looks quite similar to that of his father, the Reverend Thomas Barnard Sr. (1716-1776), above, Skinner Auctions.

I like this description because it conveys a sense of place. Just three years earlier, the North Church had separated from Salem’s First Church and constructed its first meeting house on the corner of Lynde and North Streets, not far from the river and the bridge (and the cannon). Reverend Barnard Jr., the peacemaker of “Leslie’s Retreat,” was actually the cause of the schism: his appointment following his father’s illness divided the congregation. As we can read above, the British soldiers marched past the “old First Church” in Town House Square towards the North Church, where a large crowd had assembled along with their young pastor, whose “counsel prevailed” that late afternoon. This North Church was ephemeral, only in service until 1835 when the congregation built a new and fashionable Gothic Revival meeting house on Essex Street, which became the present First Church after the schism was ended in 1923. The annual commemorations of Leslie’s Retreat take place in and around this church, with good reason, but I wish the old North Church was still standing: its clearly Colonial stature could lend some contemporary ambiance to the proceedings. But it is long gone, replaced first by a grand Victorian house, and then by the parking lot of the adjacent Methodist Church. But what happened to its clock?

“First Meeting House of North Church” by Thomas Davidson (not sure of source, likely the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum, but I found it in the November 23, 1942 issue of Life Magazine); George Francis Dow, Old Wood Engravings, Views and Buildings of Essex County (1908): with caption: “The North Meeting House, Salem, Built in 1772 at what is now the Corner of North and Lynde Streets, Abandoned for Religious Purposes in 1835 and taken down about 1860. Engraved in 1873 after a Drawing made by Dr. George A. Perkins.” Frank Cousins photograph of Lynde and North Streets, 1890s, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum via Digital Commonwealth.

BELOW: Before Salem became Witch-central, Leslie’s Retreat was THE big historic story, especially for children, so there’s several YA books which feature it. I was trying to get that sense of place, running-through-the-snow-on-a- cold-winter-afternoon-through-close-Colonial-streets perspective in this post, and these illustrations by Lynn Ward from Jean Fritz’s Early Thunder (1967) come close. My favorite contemporary account of Leslie’s Retreat is actually from a boy, Samuel Gray, which is recounted in this post from J.L. Bell’s wonderful blog, Boston 1775. While you’re there, you should read all of Bell’s posts on Leslie’s Retreat as he is the absolute authority (and he doesn’t quite trust all of Gray’s details).

Illustrations by Lynn Ward from Jean Fritz’s Early Thunder (1967), set in Salem in 1774-1775.


Salem Sustainability; or the Most Charming Memoir Ever

I came across a delightful short memoir quite by accident yesterday; it was so well-written and charming that I couldn’t stop thinking about it so I decided to write about it today to get it out of my head! It’s not about any BIG thing or event; in fact, it’s about a very little thing, what we might call an accessory today, and something we might not have thought much about at all before the pandemic: handkerchiefs in general, and “bundle handkerchiefs” in particular. “The Bundle Handkerchief ” was published in The New England Magazine in 1896 by Elisabeth Merritt Gosse, a Salem native and emerging newspaperwoman, who would go on to have a very successful career writing principally for the Boston Herald. It must have proved popular as it was issued as an illustrated pamphlet a few years later: I would love to get my hands on this! It’s such a simple story of how people wrapped up their purchases or possessions in the nineteenth-century, in handkerchief bundles of all cloths: gingham and calico sold at Mrs. Batchelder’s or Miss Ann Bray’s shops, the ‘finest white India silk” for ladies’ hats, lawn, linen or muslin for more intimate garments, Madras for new gowns as they made their way home from the dressmakers’, and “pale pink and blue gingham plaids” for shirts and spencers. Yet it is also revealing: of what people are doing and buying and wearing in very specific detail. l learned about all sorts of shops and customs of which I was previously completely unaware in its jam-packed three pages.

The bundle handkerchief as art: Alfred Denghausen, 1936, National Gallery of Art.

Apparently one could not even enter this world properly (or be introduced to it) without a bundle handkerchief! Is this where the stork with the bundled baby comes from? According to Elisabeth, No Salem infant, even without the requisite number of great-grandfathers and grandmothers, could be considered to have been properly introduced to society until it had dangled in a bundle handkerchief from a pair of steelyards, while its weight was recorded in the family Bible at the end of the family pedigree. She also included her own childhood memory of accompanying the family servants, armed with “two great bundle handkerchiefs of coarse blue and white checked gingham” to Mr. Hathaway’s bakery on Sunday mornings after church to retrieve the baked beans and brown bread which had been placed in his cavernous oven the day before. Salem women packed their soldiers’ trunks with prayer books from Mr. Wilde and medicine chests from Mr. (not Mrs.?) Pinkham, as well a selection of fine new bundle handkerchiefs, and three of these, of dark red silk, with the name embroidered in one corner, came home in one soldier’s trunk, brought by a guard of honor; for Salem gave the first of the Essex County heroes who laid down their lives for their country in the war of the Rebellion, as she did in the war of the Revolution. I wonder if she is referring to her own father here, Lt. Colonel Henry Merritt, who was killed at the Battle of New Bern in March of 1862.

Not blue and white, but the best I could do: a recipe card from the 1950s; Mr. Hathaway’s Bakery or the “Old Bakery” (now the Hooper Hathaway House on the campus of the House of the Seven Gables) in its original location at 21 Washington Street, Historic New England; Elisabeth Merritt Gosse in 1905, upon the occasion of the dedication of a boulder commemorating her father’s regiment near Salem Common.

Elisabeth Merritt Gosse recounts her last memory of a bundle handkerchief on the streets of Salem, wrapped around a book and carried by Mr. John Andrews in and out of the Salem Athenaeum, and observes that her title topic is as vivid a bit of color in Salem’s history as is Alice Flint’s silk hood, the frigate Essex, the North Bridge or even the House of the Seven Gables; and to speak of it calls up a long line of Salem’s sires and dames who took pride and pleasure and comfort in its use. [Another Salem memoirist, Harriet Bates or “Eleanor Putnam,” went even further: “The bundle handkerchief is as essential a figure in Salem history as the witches themselves.”] The bundle handkerchief’s time had passed in 1896, however, replaced by paper and string, prosaic, rustling, tearable, and to be quickly thrown aside and thrown away. This is not a good development in Elisabeth Merritt Gosse’s estimation, but as she died at the venerable age of 86 in 1936, we can at least be glad that she didn’t live long enough to see plastic.

Elisabeth Merritt Gosse was referencing the OLD Salem Athenaeum, now one of the Peabody Essex Museum’s empty buildings further up on Essex Street, but as I happened to be walking by the present one today, I snapped this photograph.


A Vexillogical History of Salem

What am I writing about? Flags for the July 4th weekend of course: I had to look up that word and thus am using it, despite the fact that it is somewhat intimidating and I could easily have chosen something easy and alliterative like flags of our forefathers. But once I discover a new word, I want to use it, so here we are: vexillology is the study of flags, and like many other aspects of life (including food, drink, architecture, industry, and myriad forms of material and intellectual culture) Salem’s flag history is so notable that you can almost tell its history through flags: we have a famous colonial flag defacement, a Revolutionary symbol, many claims of “first flags” in foreign ports, a notable expression of Civil War resistance, and lots of other interesting flags which illustrate particular trends and times. Salem’s vexillogical history is a a variation on the device used by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his Grandfather’s Chair, which told the tale of the “Endicott Flag” in vivid detail.

A fanciful view of Endicott ordering the defacement of the English Ensign by cutting out its cross of St. George, Ballou’s Pictorial, 1855; Some flag illustrations from So proudly we hail : the history of the United States flag (1981) by William R. Furlong and Bryan McCandless.

Flag history is often “patriotic history” which of course is a contradiction in terms, so there is a lot of lore and legend that needs to be cut out, just like St. George’s cross. It’s best to stick to the primary sources. John Winthrop reported that on 5 November 1634, “At the court of assistants complaint was made by some of the country (Richard Brown of Watertown, in the name of the rest) that the ensign at Salem was defaced, viz. One part of the red cross taken out. Upon this, an attachment was awarded against Richard Davenport, ensign-bearer (who was ordered to cut out the cross by John Endicott), to appear at the next court to answer. Much matter was made of this, as fearing it would be taken as an act of rebellion, or of like high nature, in defacing the king’s colors; though the truth were, it was done upon this opinion, that the red cross was given to the King of England by the pope, as an ensign of victory, and so a superstitious thing, and a relique of antichrist.” Certainly Endicott was not alone in these sentiments: popery and the cult of the saints were right at the top of the “traditions” or relics which were the focus of intense Puritan opposition in both old England and New England. The “crossless flag” did not really take root, but symbols like the pine tree began to appear on banners in the next century, both within and without the cross, eventually inspiring the famous “Appeal to Heaven” flag of Washington’s Cruisers. There were so many interesting regimental flags used during the American Revolution, but the only one I would find with ties to Salem is that of Major Israel Forster of Manchester-by-the-Sea: there are several extant examples, one in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum (see above) and the other which sold at auction in 2014. There are no references to the Forster flag in the PEM’s digitized catalog and collections, and I’m also curious about a flag with one star and many stripes which was long displayed in the Essex Institute’s Plummer Hall: I don’t know why it is often so difficult to find objects that were in the old Institute in the new PEM!

The Historic Forster Flag at Doyle’s auctions, 2014; 1915 postcard featuring the “mysterious” flag in the Essex Institute.

The history of the recognition of the American flag seems very intertwined with that of Salem’s maritime history: all the old-school maritime historians assert that the first time the US flag was spotted in many Asian and African ports was on a Salem ship. This would be a great topic for an academic paper, perhaps even a dissertation: you can certainly assess how important flying the flag was in all sorts of contemporary images, like George Ropes’ Launching of the Ship Fame (1802). The flag you see here, with its circle of stars, represents a common configuration in the nineteenth century up to the Centennial, but there was no standard, official design for the (expanding) stars and stripes until 1912 so there were all sorts of interesting arrangements up to that time. The Fame flag is very similar to that in a watercolor painting memorializing the American prisoners of the War of 1812 who died in the massacre at Dartmoor Prison in 1815, among them nine Salem sailors. About a decade later, a young Salem sea captain was gifted a flag by a group of Salem ladies for his first overseas voyage in command: this was William Driver, who made his Salem fortune and then retired early to Nashville, where his brothers operated a shop. He brought his flag with him, displayed it proudly until the onset of the Civil War, and then hid it in the attic until Union troops captured the city. His “Old Glory” became the symbol of resistance and triumph, both during and especially after the Civil War. What comes after is a bit more complicated, because there are actually two Old Glory flags: a large banner in the collection of the Smithsonian which is generally accepted as “official” and a smaller one in that of the Essex Institute/Peabody Essex Museum. It is quite clear, however, that a Salem-made flag was at the center of both storms at sea and on land.

George Ropes, The Launching of the Ship Fame, 1802, Peabody Essex Museum; Memorial to the victims of the Dartmoor Massacre, Dowst Family, Skinner Auctions; “Old Glory” at the National Museum of American History.

A few sought-after 13-star flags with Salem provenances have surfaced over the past few decades, including one which belonged to shipmaster Parker Brown and the so-called “Hancock & English” flag from the Mastai Collection, a period flag which was modified by the addition of the 1880 presidential candidates which once graced the cover of Time magazine (July 7, 1980: second from right in top row, below). There was a considerable expansion in the commercial use of the flag over the second half of the nineteenth century, and it was a favorite banner for Salem’s entrepreneurial merchant/photographer/author Frank Cousins, who featured flags and political souvenirs in his shop, and advertised his wares with flag posters and trade cards. From the Centennial on, it’s all about parades as well, which called for a variety of festive flags. Salem excelled at one particular form of July Fourth celebration in the twentieth century—bigger and bigger bonfires—and flags were always on top of these impressive constructions: this has always struck me as a bit problematic as presumably they would burn. A blaze of glory, perhaps.

13-star Salem flag, Heritage Auctions; Frank Cousins Bee-Hive flag, Bonsell Americana; 1896 parade flag, Cowan’s Auctions; July Fourth Bonfire, Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.


A Bush Garden

Last week I spent a day in Kennebunkport, a town long associated with the Bush family because of Walker’s Point, which was purchased by President H.W. Bush’s maternal great- and grandfather after the turn of the last century. The usual congregation of onlookers was there, looking down on the Point compound: summer white house towns seem to have lasting appeal and Kennebunkport is a summer white house town x two. I was thrilled because the gate to St. Ann’s-by-the-Sea, a bit further down the coast, was open and so too was the church itself: I had never been inside and this was my chance! It did not disappoint: what a lovely seaside chapel that actually accentuates its setting, a great achievement as its setting is magnificent.

On the road that connects Kennebunkport harbor and downtown to the coast is a small park owned and maintained by the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust named River Green which is the site of a lovely little garden dedicated to former First Lady Barbara Pierce Bush. “Ganny’s Garden,” referring to the name she was called by her 17 grandchildren, was laid out in 2011 and became a memorial garden after Mrs. Bush’s death in 2018. It is completely charming, and also provides a good lesson about what one can do in a relatively small space. It is packed with plants, including some unusual ones (I was struck by the liberal use of mustardbut also personality and presence: bronze “statues” of Mrs. Bush’s gardening shoes and hat lie adjacent to that of an open book (her favorite Pride and Prejudice) as if she had just been there—or was still there.

The garden is overlooked by another statue dedicated to the seafaring forebears of Kennebunkport: Frank Handlen’s Our Forebears of the Coast, which was commissioned in 1994. Its presence made me wonder, in my compare-everything-to-Salem habit which I am trying to kick this summer: why no monument to Salem seafarers? If ever a settlement was made by the sea, it’s this one!


A Juneteenth Tour

I learned about Juneteenth ridiculously late, from a student! It was about five or six years ago (only!) and I was talking about Salem’s Black Picnic, an old tradition recently revived, with a brilliant African-American student and she said “that sounds like Juneteenth” and that was that. I don’t remember whether I feigned acknowledgement out of embarrassment or not but inwardly I was mortified by my ignorance. Yes, I was trained in European history, but I’m an American too! Since that time, I’ve used my focus on local history here to learn more about African-American history in Salem: I’m still lacking the big picture but fortunately I have wonderful colleagues at Salem State who help me with context and filling in the blanks. I started putting together my own African-American history tour of Salem about three years ago, and it began (and ended) with Hamilton Hall, where the Remond family lived and worked for decades. This was more familiar territory for me, and the Hall remains my main window/entry/initiation and orientation point for Salem’s African-American history; its centrality is particularly marked this year because of a special exhibition on view all summer long: Unmasking & Evolution of Negro Election Day and the Black Vote. The creation of Salem United, Inc., the organization that revived the Black Picnic at Salem Willows in 2014, the exhibition draws connections between the colonial traditions of Negro Election Day, nineteenth-century African-American parades and picnics, and the Civil Rights struggles of the twentieth century. Salem, United Inc. President Doreen Wade’s enthusiasm for this history is so infectious that her history is transformed into ours.

Scenes from the exhibition: our host and guide Doreen Wade, reproduction dress for Negro Election Day royalty & the jelly bean test for voting from the 1960s, the Brick Hearth Room, very much the center of the Remonds’ activity in the Hall.

For me, this exhibition was about the power of place: I was really moved by the exhibits in the Brick Hearth Room (last photo above), where the Remonds, who struggled for personal, professional, racial, and citizenship recognition for so long, worked, adjacent to where they first lived. The connection between past and present also felt appropriate to me: the distinguished historian of slavery Ira Berlin asserted that Negro Election Day “established a framework for the development of black politics” and who am I to argue with that? It was a special day at the end of May, recognized in twenty or more cities throughout the northeast from the mid-eighteenth century, on which resident African-Americans celebrated, made merry and wore dress clothes (sometimes belonging to their masters), elected notable “kings” or “governors” from among their own, and enjoyed a brief interlude of freedom and agency. To me, it looks like the medieval and early modern festivals of Europe, where everything was turned upside down for a day and peasants elected a “Lord of Misrule,” but it had African roots: I guess the drive for those on the bottom to live like those on the top for just a brief spell is universal. Negro Election Day is well-documented in Salem by most of its famous diarists. In 1741 Judge Benjamin Lynde identified May 27 as a day of “fair weather” and “Election: Negro’s hallowday here at Salem; gave Scip 5s. and Wm 2s. 6d.” indicating both recognition and a form of engagement, and William Pynchon seems to have had a similar attitude in 1788 when he went “to election at Primus’s flag,” indulged in the ale and pies offered at the festivities, and watched the dances. In 1817, the Reverend William Bentley noted “the still bewitching influence of what they call election” in his diary, but by the nineteenth century Election Day seems on the wane, replaced by more formal organizations like the Sons of the African Society in Salem with its dignified meetings and parades, and eventually by the Black Picnic at Salem Willows from 1880. While eighteenth-century white observers seem to be bemused by Negro Election Day, the nineteenth-century perspective seems more mocking, as you can see in the political commentary below: like a negro election King to-day but back again to-morrow. Besides the juxtaposition of objects in the Remond space, the most poignant exhibit in the Unmasking & Evolution exhibit for me was a photograph of a minstrel show at Salem Willows: apparently while the Black Picnic was happening, white Salem residents actually organized a performance with children in blackface to mock them. It’s quite an image on its own, but I think we need a bit more information about it. I can’t unsee it, and it reproduces badly here, so you should see it for yourself.

A minstrel show at Salem Willows—the exhibit caption says 1885 but it looks quite a bit later than that?

Obviously there is some rich history—American and African-American, both, together— encased in Hamilton Hall, in general and in particular this summer, so it’s the perfect place to start a Juneteenth tour. Some other suggestions: 8 High Street, where Clarissa Lawrence, fierce educator and abolitionist, lived among a small community of African-Americans, Aborn Street, where Salem’s first African-American teacher, Charlotte Forten, taught, at the former Epes School at number 21R, Oak Street, where Charlotte lived with Caroline Remond Putnam, daughter of John and Nancy Remond and an extremely active entrepreneur, abolitionist, and later suffragist, Higginson/Derby Squares, where the Remonds and other African-Americans had a succession of profitable businesses, and finally Harmony Grove Cemetery, where you can see the very striking and solitary grave of John Remond. And then to the Willows, of course.

Mrs. Nancy Remond was known for her Election Day cakes, which she offered not only during election week (last week of May) but all year long, Salem Gazette; John Remond’s grave stone in Harmony Grove Cemetery; more information about Salem United and the Black Picnic in Salem Willows is here.


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