Tag Archives: Nineteenth Century

Remembering the 54th Regiment

Last year on Memorial Day, I wrote about Civil War remembrance in general; this year I’m following up with a specific focus on the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry Regiment, of Glory fame, and several Salem connections.  Thanks to the film, the story of the 54th is pretty well-known:  formed by Massachusetts Governor John Andrew after the Emancipation Proclamation in December of 1862, it was the first military unit consisting of black soldiers to be raised in the North during the Civil War. Governor Andrew chose Robert Gould Shaw, from a distinguished Boston family, to lead the Regiment, which formed a heroic storming column in an effort to take the Confederate stronghold at Fort Wagner in South Carolina, losing nearly half its soldiers in the process, including Colonel Shaw. Shaw and the 54th Regiment were immortalized long before Glory, most prominently on the bronze bas-relief monument of Augustus Saint-Gaudens (completed in 1897), located across from the State House on Boston Common.

Recruitment broadside for the 54th, Massachusetts Historical Society; the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial on Boston Common by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and a plaster casting at the National Gallery of Art.

Less well-known, in varying degrees, is the involvement of three Salem men with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment: Willard Peele Phillips, a prominent Salem businessman (who happened to live in my house at the time, or I live in his now) served on Governor Andrew’s recruiting committee for the regiment, Luis Fenollosa Emilio was a young captain in the Regiment, and later served as acting commander after he became the only officer to survive Fort Wagner, and Francis H. Fletcher, a clerk in a Salem printing office, enlisted in the Regiment and fought until the end of the war. Those are the bare facts, but the involvement of these three men runs deeper.  Phillips raised money, not only men, for the Regiment, Emilio later became the historian of the Regiment with the 1891 publication of The Brave Black Regiment.  The History of the 54th Massachusetts, 1863-65, and Fletcher protested the army’s unequal (or nonexistent!) pay system while still in service.

Transcription: You take a far more liberal view of things than you could in my situation. Just one year ago to day our regt was received in Boston with almost an ovation, and at 5 P. M. it will be one year since we were safely on board transport clear of Battery Wharf and bound to this Department: in that one year no man of our regiment has received a cent of monthly pay all through the glaring perfidy of the U.S. Gov’t.

Capts. Tomlinson and Emilio (center) with Lt. Speer, all of Company C of the Massachusetts 54th, May 1863, Library of Congress, Letter of Francis H. Fletcher to Jacob C. Safford, Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

The heavy losses sustained by the 54th at Fort Wagner in July of 1863 (272 men were killed, wounded or captured, out of the 600 men who participated in the assault), along with young Colonel Shaw’s heroic death, captured some “glory” for the depleted regiment even in its own time. Harpers Weekly and Currier & Ives prints were disseminated to a national audience, engaged in this terrible war to a degree that doesn’t seem possible today.

Casualty List for the Mass. 54th after Fort Wagner, National Archives & Records Administration, Harpers and Currier & Ives lithographs of the Regiment, Library of Congress, tattered remains of the 54th Regiment’s flags displayed c. 1894, Massachusetts Historical Society.


This poster for the Watch City Festival this weekend in Waltham, a very happening city to the west of us, caught my eye not only because of its fetching image but also because of its reference to the Salem Zouaves, a reference I’ve seen quite a few times in these past few months.  Who or what are the Salem Zouaves, you may ask, a question I’ve been asking myself.  I think I’m going to use this post to try to figure them out.

It’s not too difficult to figure out who the Salem Zouaves are here in the present:  a reenactment group who “recreate the exotic, flashy drill and uniforms of the original Salem Zouaves, including our signature bayonet and sabre fencing.”  But who were the original exotic Salem Zouaves?  Apparently they were a Civil War incarnation of the Salem Light Infantry, and among the first responders to President Lincoln’s call for volunteer militias to defend the capital after hostilities broke out in April of 1861.  They were attached to the 8th Massachusetts Regiment, and spent several months guarding Old Ironsides in Baltimore Harbor before returning home.  I doubt that their sabres or bayonets left their sides. This is hardly heroic service deserving of reenactment 150 years later:  what’s the rest of the story?

I suspect the secret of the Zouaves’ appeal, then and now, lies more in their exuberance than their service.  They looked and acted in a dramatic, romantic, even theatrical fashion, and thus captured the imagination of those who wanted to believe that war was glorious.  The mid-19th century Zouave craze was inspired by the dashing exploits of French soldiers in north Africa who adapted the native attire for their own uniforms before and after the Crimean War (1853-56), which was the first war to be documented extensively by “foreign correspondents” for the major western newspapers, along with photographers like Roger Fenton, who had himself photographed as a Zouave on the front.  The majority of his striking Crimean photographs, including his famous “Valley of the Shadow of Death” can be accessed through the Library of Congress.

Roger Fenton in the Crimea, 1855 (Library of Congress) and a mid-nineteenth-century print of French Zouaves (New York Public Library Digital Gallery).

Roger Fenton did not want to offend early Victorian sensibilities by showing pictures of the dead and wounded, so the contemporary image of the Crimean War that emerged was one of dashing exploits in an exotic locale, symbolized succinctly by the Zouaves.  In America, several voluntary militia companies–still very much in existence after their colonial foundation–transformed themselves into Zouave regiments.  The key figure in the transformation of Salem’s Light Infantry into the Salem Zouaves was clearly Arthur Forrester Devereux, the son of a prosperous Salem family who became commander of the Infantry in 1859.  In his early career, Devereux lived in Chicago, where he became a close associate of the founder of the American Zouave movement, Elmer Ellsworth, a close associate of Abraham Lincoln who would also be the first casualty/martyr of the Civil War (in the process of taking down a confederate flag in Alexandria, Virginia spied from the White House).  Devereux seems to have been more fascinated by the precision drill tactics of the Zouaves than their uniforms, but his company was well-outfitted just the same.  Pictorial envelopes of the era, one of my very favorite visual sources for the Civil War, emphasize both Zouave distinctions:  they stand out among other regional regiments on the first postcard (the Salem Zouaves are #6, at right), and are able to deftly jump confederate cannonballs in one minute and form a human hanging post in the next!

I’m having a hard time reconciling these printed exploits with the reality of the war; the very existence of the dashing Zouaves seems to point to a clash between war expectations and experience. Harem pants just don’t seem to fit into my perception of the Civil War!  And we have seen that the Salem Zouaves did not last long nor did they see any real action:  though Arthur Devereux certainly did, commanding the 19th Massachusetts Regiment at Gettysburg. Perhaps the Salem company is not representative:  there were regiments like the 114th Pennsylvania and the famous 5th New York Volunteer Infantry of Abram Duryée that were thoroughly, and heroically engaged.

The 114th Pennsylvania at Brandy Station, Pennsylvania, in April, 1864 (Library of Congress); the 5th New York Voluntary Infantry in Virginia in the winter of 1862-63 as drawn by wartime illustrator Edwin Forbes (New York Public Library Digital Gallery).

Despite the service of the brave men in these companies, it’s still difficult for me to see the American Zouave movement as much more than fashionable , a perception that is reinforced by contemporary images such as those below:  a page from Godey’s Lady Book (of all places!!!) illustrating the new Zouave jacket in 1860, and Thomas Nast’s 1862 painting The Young Zouave.  But I could be wrong.

Camellia Craze

One associates the camellia more with the South than the North (at least I always have), but in the early and middle part of the nineteenth century there was such intense interest in the flower among the elites of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia that the term craze seems apt. Camellias are far from hardy up here, so the camellia craze coincided with a flurry of greenhouse building.  All around Boston greenhouses popped up in the 1820s and 1830s, each one producing a profusion of hothouse flowers for Yankee homes.  At an exhibition sponsored by the fledgling Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1836, Charles Mason Hovey, a local nurseryman and later a prominent horticultural publisher, showed 12 varieties of Camellia Japonica, one of which was named after him.

Herman Bourne, Flores Poetici, The Florist’s Manual (Boston, 1833); J.J. Grandville, Les fleurs animées (1847).

Another prominent Camellia enthusiast was Boston merchant Theodore Lyman, who commissioned Salem’s own Samuel McIntire to design a country house  for his property west of the city in 1793.  The Lyman Estate or “The Vale”, as it was called then and now, included not only the McIntire mansion (later considerably altered and expanded; you can see a great post on its later history and interiors here), surrounding grounds, and a beautiful carriage house, but also a chain of greenhouses.  The Vale remained the country seat of the Lyman family for over 150 years, and was conveyed to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England) in 1951.  Both the house and the carriage house are undergoing significant repairs at present but the greenhouses are open all year long, and I visited them last week, near the end of the annual “Camellia Days”.

The Vale in halcyon days, before its Victorian and Colonial Revival alterations (courtesy Historic New England) and last week, in the midst of roofing work.

There are four greenhouses at the Lyman Estate, the oldest one dating from 1804.  The “Camellia House” was built in 1820, right in the middle of the camellia craze in Boston.  I visit the greenhouses several times a year just to see the very established specimens within or for plant sales.  Even apart from the plants, the infrastructure is also very appealing, as is the juxtaposition of soft russet brick, Victorian steam fittings, and glass.  I have made it for the height of camellia season in the past, which is generally in February, but I was late in this busy year:  some of the camellias you see below are still blooming, but the general ambiance was one of faded glory.

The Camellia House is the last of the chain of greenhouses, so you go through glass rooms of tropical plants, fruit trees, succulents (!!!!), orchids, and then you’re there….

Singular Snowflakes

I woke up this morning to no snow (as usual, this particular winter), but also to a Google homepage “doodle” that told me that today is the 125th anniversary of the appearance (falling?) of the world’s largest snowflake!  During a ferocious winter storm in Montana in 1887, snowflakes were observed as large as “milkpans” and one in particular measured 15 inches in diameter. What a delightful anniversary!  Obviously I can’t let it go by without marking it in my own way, so I’m showcasing one of my favorite images for the second time:  a very early view of snowflakes viewed through a microscope from Robert Hooke’s Micrographia (1665).

Like the images in my last post, this is not only aesthetically pleasing and representative of its historic time and place, but also a great teaching tool:  what better way to demonstrate the pure empiricism of the Scientific Revolution?  Snowflakes were great objects of study in the seventeenth century, beginning with Johannes Kepler’s 1611 essay On the Six-Cornered Snowflake.  Kepler pondered the very essence of the snowflake, which “comes down from heaven and looks like an angel” yet evaporates into nothing. 

The Very Image of Empire?

I’m finishing up my graduate course this month with the British Empire, quite a bit late for my expertise (and comfort) but very essential to understanding our course topic: the expansion of Europe in the early modern and modern eras.  Since I’m not that comfortable in the nineteenth century, I naturally looked for some visual materials to help fill in the gaps.  When searching for photographs of India in the early days of the Raj in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum, I came across this amazing image by Samuel Bourne:

Wow! I though to myself:  this guy is the very image of the multicultural  British Empire:  he’s in India, in some sort of Scottish regiment of the British military, wearing a turban!  But appearances can be deceiving.  It turns out that Colonel Alexander Gardner, the subject of this photograph, is not British at all, but American, born on the shores of Lake Superior in the (now-Wisconsin) wilderness in the late eighteenth century to a Scottish father and Anglo-Spanish mother. He traveled to central Asia in his teens and never looked back, serving successively the Tsar of Russia and rulers of the Sikh Empire, hence the turban.  I can’t explain the plaid suit.  The notation on Bourne’s photograph indicates that Gardner was 79 years old when he sat for this portrait in the 1860s, near the end of what must have been an amazing life, led on the fringes of the British Empire in both the western and eastern hemispheres.  He’s a novel or a movie waiting to happen, and his sensationalistic, posthumously-published memoirs, Soldier and Traveller:  Memoirs of Alexander Gardner, Colonel of Artillery in the Service of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1898), could provide excellent source material. Very Flashman.

Pirate Colors

For various reasons (time spent on an island in the middle of the Atlantic, teaching a lot of maritime history this summer, popular culture, news) I’ve been thinking a lot about pirates lately.  Pirates were (and are) violent outlaws, so it is interesting to trace the increasing romanticization and trivialization of their image over the modern era.  The transformation of the pirate from thug to dashing, colorful rogue began in the nineteenth century, when a succession of Robin Hoodesque pirate representations were embraced by an apparently eager audience.  From Byron’s 1814 poem The Corsair, to the incredibly popular Pirates’ Own Book (1837) by George Elms and  Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance (first produced in 1879), a decidedly less menacing pirate emerged than that of the prior “Golden Age” of piracy (roughly 1650-1730).  This characterization continued in the twentieth century with books (including images) like Howard Pyle’s Pirates Book (1921) and Raphael Sabatini’s Captain Blood (1922).  And so the archetypal pirate emerged, along with his archetypal accessories, including the ” Jolly Roger” flag, with its intimidating  skull and crossbones against a black background.

In an article in the Design section of the New York Times last month (highlighting a new exhibition on Captain Kidd at the Museum of London Docklands), Alice Rawsthorn observes that the adoption of the skull and crossbones was “an astonishingly successful exercise in collective branding design”, but it took western pirates a while to get there, and it seems that there were quite a variety of pirate flags out there on the high seas even as the Jolly Roger took hold.  Before 1700 pirates flew plain black or red (“bloody”) flags, and in the eighteenth century there was an array of emblems out there, many including an hourglass to broadcast the message that your time is limited if you mess with us.  The beautiful 1929 book Scourge of the Indies.  Buccaneers, Corsairs, and Filibusters  by Maurice Besson includes two variant pirate flags among its many illustrations.

I believe that the first Jolly Roger flag appeared in the foundational history of piracy, A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates by Captain Charles Johnson (a pseudonym for Daniel Defoe or perhaps a man named Nathaniel Mist).  This book was first published in London in 1724 and seems to have been almost continually in print for the next century, so the image of the skull and crossbones (below in the background of the illustration of the “gentleman pirate” Stede Bonnet) became very recognizable.

Now-standard pirate flags in a host of images from the  nineteenth and early twentieth century in the Library of Congress:  a theater handbill from 1833 illustrating the actor Billy Campbell in his Blackbeard costume, the title page of an 1845 Boston pamphlet about the female pirate captain Fanny Campbell, a propaganda cartoon from World War One, in which German Admiral Alfred von Turpitz bears down on New York with his Jolly Roger, and a Depression-era playbill for a performance of the Pirates of Penzance.

Finally, some very colorful pirates, fictional and real but equally dramatic, from twentieth-century collectible cigarette cards in the collection of the New York Public Library.  The flag card dates from the last era of this popular genre of ephemera, the 1960s.

Maps Come Alive

In the course of putting together my summer graduate seminar on the expansion of Europe this past weekend  I reacquainted myself with some digital map collections on the web.  Maps provide an accessible entryway into this topic, in every era of European expansion.  The shift from conceptual to more realistic cartography in the early modern era is a very evident and important trend, but early modern mapmakers retained a bit of whimsy when they produced maps in the form of plants, animals and humans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The maps contained in German theology professor Heinrich Bunting’s Travels according to the Scriptures (1581) are very popular with my students and with the blogosphere:  the known world as a clover leaf, part of Asia as the flying horse Pegasus, Europe as the classical virgin Europa.  This is still very conceptual geography; the clover leaf map is merely a new version of the medieval T-O map, in which the world is inhabited by the descendants of Noah dwelling in Asia, Africa and Europe.  Jerusalem is at the center of the world as it has always been.   Even though it is almost a century after Columbus, Heinrich’s “world” map only references the eastern hemisphere.  His Europa map was stolen from one of the most popular books of the sixteenth century:  Sebastian Munster’s Cosmographia, first published in 1544 and issued in many editions by the end of the century.  This is what these new, colorful, fantastical maps are all about:  competition in the new age of print.

Another Europa:  Sebastian Munster’s version from a 1570 edition of Cosmographia:

Another lively early modern map is the “Dutch Lion” map (Leo Belgicus, Leo Hollandicus ) issued in a succession of variations from the late sixteenth century, contemporaneously with the Dutch Revolt against Spain.  The rebellious Dutch provinces are shown in the form of a lion, roaring in the face of the powerful Spanish Empire.

"Leo Hollandicus", JC Visscher, 1648

Anthropomorphic and zoomorphic maps continue on into the modern era; they seem to be quite popular in the nineteenth century as a forms of political commentary and expressions of public opinion.  These satirical maps are especially prevalent after 1870 and the unification of Germany:  French and English versions definitely contain an alarmed awareness of the potential of the new empire to dominate the Continent, as these examples( L’Europe Animale, 1882 and Angling in Dangerous Waters, 1889) from the huge collection of such maps at the University of Amsterdam illustrate:

In L’Europe Animale, Germany is a sly wolf waiting to pounce, while the Angling map personifies the nation with its militaristic ruler, Kaiser Wilhelm II, who is looking over the horizon.  The great big Russian bear and Tsar Nicholas are pretty intimidating as well.  The end result of all this animosity was of course World War I, and BibliOdyssey has a great post on the jingoistic satirical maps of the Great War here, including the English map “Kill that (German) Eagle” from 1914.

On the lighter side:  plates from William Harvey’s Geographical Fun.  Being Humourous Outlines of Various Countries, an atlas (presumably for children but quite sophisticated in its humor) first published in 1869.  The entire text can be found at the Library of Congress, and it has also been republished.  Here, from a very British perspective, are France and Prussia (it’s just before the unification of Germany):

Finally, I can’t resist adding an elephant to this group even though he’s not quite a map:  a World Wildlife Fund advertisement by Ogilby and Mather from our own time:

An Execution at Winter Island

Today, Salem’s Winter Island (which at present is not really an island but more of a neck) is a recreational park, the site of camping, sunbathing, biking, and kayaking. But 190 years ago TODAY, it was the site of an infamous execution at its highest point, “Execution Hill”.   The convict executed on May 10, 1821, reportedly before a crowd of thousands, was Stephen Merrill Clark, who was only 16 years old.  Clark had been convicted of arson, a crime that was on a par with murder in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Library of Congress

The execution of a juvenile for a crime involving mere property damage can only be (partially) explained by the fact that Clark set fires up in Newburyport, which had experienced a devastating fire which destroyed over 250 buildings only a decade before.  Yet along with their guilty verdict, the jury recommended that Clark’s sentence be commuted, perhaps taking to heart the defense counsel’s argument that his client was “scarcely beyond the period of childhood, coming to the bar friendless and alone, and cast upon the mercy of the Court and upon the kindness of strangers.” (A Report of the Evidence, Arguments of Counsel, Charge, and Sentence, at the Trial of Stephen Merrill Clark for Arson, before the Supreme Judicial Court, T.C. Cushing, Salem, 1821)

The Governor’s Council of Massachusetts ignored the jury’s recommendation (citing public safety concerns) and so the execution proceeded.  As Clark had been convicted in Salem and languished in Salem Jail (recently restored and converted to apartments, which I wrote about in an earlier post), he was taken to Winter Island, the site of a succession of executions dating back to at least the mid-eighteenth century.  Why Winter Island became Salem’s execution locale I do not know; perhaps because of its remoteness and disciplinary function.  The island was home to miliary installations dating back to the seventeenth century, including Fort Pickering, which had been operational during the War of 1812 and would be pressed into service again during the Civil War.

"Execution Hill" today

The circumstances of Clark’s trial and execution, including his age and the facts that no one was injured by his crime, a rather disreputable woman named Hannah Downes was the primary witness for the prosecution, and the jury’s recommendation of leniency, caused a great deal of debate in Massachusetts legal and political circles after 1821.  Consequentially arson was eliminated from the list of capital crimes in Massachusetts by 1852, and Stephen Merrill Clark was the last person executed at Winter Island.
Comparative Context:  Below is another crime broadside(an extremely popular genre in the nineteenth century, and well before) from the Harvard Law School Library’s digital database Dying Speeches & Bloody Murders:  Crime Broadsides.  Clearly arson was an equally serious crime on both sides of the Atlantic in the first half of the nineteenth century, as here we have a British boy even younger than Clark executed for it.  Proceed with caution when venturing into these texts:  lots of graphic images!

Brick-ended Houses

There are several houses in Salem which have brick sides or ends, even though the majority of the house is constructed of wooden clapboards.  Sometimes there is brick on each end of the house, sometimes on the front facade, sometimes along a rear wall.  I’ve always found the aesthetics of the brick and clapboard combination very pleasing, but never took the time to wonder about the utilitarian reasons behind the design.  The buildings below were all built between 1805 and 1820, in the central residential and commercial districts of an increasingly congested town.  The first two are located on lower Essex Street, Salem’s main street then and now, and the latter two are situated off Derby Street in the (then busy) Wharf area and on more residential Federal Street, respectively.

As these houses were built concurrently with and just after Chestnut Street, with its grand display of brick merchants’ mansions, I thought perhaps there might be a socio-economic explanation for these single brick walls:  showing a bit of brick to keep up with the China Trade Joneses.  However, the architects and preservationists whom I’ve consulted say it’s all about fire prevention.  And as you can see from the pictures above, the brick side is generally built around the chimney and proximate to another building.  It’s hard to imagine the constant danger of fire in these mostly wooden, clustered towns; in the same decade that these buildings were built, there were devastating fires just up the coast in Newburyport, Massachusetts, (1811)  and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, seaport cities very similar to Salem.  Portsmouth actually experienced three terrible fires in the first decades of the nineteenth century:  in 1802 (see below), 1806, and 1813–this last fire destroyed over 270 buildings.  With only a bucket brigade and a rudimentary hand-pumped water pump to protect them, it is easy to see why Salem’s householders might have put up a brick wall or two.

Wharves destroyed in the 1811 Newburyport Fire, Custom House Maritime Museum

Demon-made Rum in Salem


It is no coincidence that in the 1830s and 1840s Massachusetts was both a leading producer of rum and an early center of the Temperance movement.  A third-generation Salem distiller named John Stone built our house in 1827, and 8 years later he found himself at the center of a storm whipped up by a pro-Temperance pastor named George Barrell Cheever, a classmate of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s at Bowdoin College who had recently taken up the pulpit at the Howard Street Congregationalist Church.  Cheever was a passionate Northern reformer, equally zealous about banning alcohol and slavery.  For both theological and moral reasons, he was also quite opposed to the Unitarian Church, which was very well established in Salem.  So John Stone was a perfect target:  not only was he Salem’s largest and wealthiest distiller, but he was Deacon John Stone of the Unitarian First Church in Salem.  An attack on him would be like killing two birds with one stone!

Reverend Cheever in the 1850s, NYPL Digital Gallery

a mid-nineteenth-century Tree of Temperance, producing all good things

In 1835 Cheever published an article in the religious newspaper The Salem Landmark entitled “Inquire at Amos Giles’ Distillery”  about an allegorical dream featuring a deacon/distiller, “a man who loved money, and was never troubled with tenderness of conscience”, whose employees were devils who manufactured not only rum (or “liquid damnation”) but also diseases, murder, insanity and all the evils of the world.  All hell broke out with the publication of this article:  Deacon Stone immediately recognized himself as Deacon Giles (Cheever had inserted many obvious clues in his “dream” story), his foreman attacked Cheever in the street, and a mob descended on the offices of the Salem Landmark.  Cheever was sued for libel, found guilty, and ordered to spend a month in jail (where Nathaniel Hawthorne apparently visited him) and pay a $1000 fine.  There was no sympathy in Salem for Cheever, who was referred to as the “Lord’s Annoited” by The Salem Gazette, but he moved on to bigger and better things: a new post in New York City and a national stage for his pro-temperance, anti-slavery advocacy.  His little story fled Salem as well, and was reprinted as a broadside and pamphlet in New York and elsewhere under variant titles of Deacon Giles’ Distillery.  


Scenes from “Deacon Giles”:  demons in the distillery & dispensing damnation, from Building the Nation:  Events in the History of the United States  from the Revolution to the Beginning of the War between the States, by Charles Carleton Coffin (1882)

And what role does our house play in this story?  Not much of one, except for the fact that we have lots and lots of storage compartments in the basement, including a “secret” one that actually extends under part of the street (or at least the sidewalk; I’ve never ventured into it–too scary).  All of this storage space could have been used for supplies and stores, as Deacon John Stone operated our house as a rooming house while he lived across the street, or just maybe it housed all that rum.