Tag Archives: Phillips Library

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).


The Eminent Antiquarian

I have been meaning to post on the most eminent of Salem’s antiquarians, Henry FitzGilbert Waters (1833-1913) for a while, but I kept finding more information about him and thought I’d wait until I had the total picture: but clearly he is one of those people for whom references will always appear and it will be impossible to draw the total picture unless one is doing so in the form of a longer piece or even a book. His papers are at the Phillips Library in Rowley, so that might be an interesting project for someone, as genealogy is so popular right now and he is clearly one of its pioneering professional practicioners. But for (or from) me, just a little introduction. Salem produced a succession of eminent antiquarians—-Joseph B. Felt, Sidney Perley, George Francis Dow—so calling Henry F. Waters the most eminent is a big statement, but I think he was: his combinantion of intense genealogical research and incessant collecting gave him a very public status in the later years of his life, and after. And he was the New England Historical and Genealogical Society’s first “foreign agent!” In the obituary written by his friend and Harvard classmate James Kendall Hosmer for the January 1914 issue of the NEHGS’s Register, Hosmer calls Waters “the most eminent antiquarian of his time, perhaps of all times,” so I am just following suit.

Waters in his uniform at the beginning of the Civil War (he served with Co. F, 23rd Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers until he came down with rheumatic fever followed by yellow fever and then in hospitals after his recovery) and in the facing pages of his publications; portrait by Salem artist Isaac Caliga in the bottom right corner.

Waters grew up in Salem and went on to Harvard and service during the Civil War, after which he returned to his native city and dabbled according to Hosmer: he “was engaged not earnestly in educational work, collected old furniture, and pored over old documents.” He lived with his parents and unmarried brothers at 80 Washington Square, a c. 1795 McIntire mansion on Salem Common which belonged to his mother’s family (the Townends—who seem to be the reason for his ability to dabble, though his father was a judge). This house was obviously very important to him, as it was his primary residence for his entire long life, but I believe that another “house” was even more important to him: Somerset House in London, a grand classical building on the Strand which is now an arts center, but was the principle probate records repository during Waters’ lifetime—and long after. Waters went to London for the first time in 1879 with his friend Dr. James A. Emmerton (a medical doctor who also preferred to dabble) and they dove into these and other records, looking for anything and everything that might pad the pedigrees of New England families. They were very successful, and published genealogical “gleanings” in both the Historical Collections of the Essex Institute and the Register. Requests for more research were forwarded to both institutions, and in 1883 Waters returned to London as the first salaried “agent” of the New England Historical and Genealogical Society. He remained there (with occasional trips back home) for the next 17 years, during which he traced the lineages of just about every Salem mercantile family and established a national reputation through the continual publication of his genealogical research in journals and books as well as his detailed ancestries of John Harvard, Roger Williams, and George Washington.

80 Washington Square in the 1890s, Frank Cousins Collection at the Phillips Library via Digital Commonwealth; Somerset House in London, Rudolph Ackermann, 1809, British Library; An Examination of the English Ancestry of George Washington: Setting Forth the Evidence to Connect Him with the Washingtons of Sulgrave and Brington (1889).

Waters is credited by his contemporaries with “historical” discoveries as well as genealogical ones: I’m always a bit suspect of archival “discoveries” as that word slights the efforts of archivists, something I am always reluctant to do! But Waters brought several seventeenth-century maps to light, at least over here, including what became known as the “Winthrop-Waters Map” of the coast of Massachusetts c. 1630 and a colored map of Boston Harbor in 1694 which he had copied, as well as Samuel Maverick’s Briefe discription of New England and the severall townes therein: together with the present government thereof (1661) which had been purchased by the British Library several years before his arrival in London. I really think we should term these American discoveries, but they are very much in keeping with Water’s role as a retriever of textual and material heritage.

Copy of “A Draught of Boston Harbor: By Capt. Cyprian Southake, made by Augustine Fitzhugh, Anno 1694;” made for H. F. Waters, Esq., from the original in the British Library, copyright New England Historical and Genealogical Society.

On to the material. Waters’ lifetime closely coincides with the rise of Colonial Revival culture in New England, although he had a headstart on collecting: Hosmer and other observers state that he was able to get the good stuff before antiquing became fashionable and New England became picked over. The authors of the first books on American antiques all referred to him, and Dr. Irving Lyon, the author of the popular and influential The Colonial Furniture of New England is positively deferential, showcasing seventeenth-century chests, a desk and a chair, and other items from the “Waters Collection.” It was clearly all about the seventeenth century for him; I presume he believed that Salem’s Federal-era furniture was appreciated sufficiently in his day.
Furniture from the “Waters Collection” in Irving Lyon’s Colonial Furniture of New England; Essex County cabinet, c. 1670-1710, from the collection of “noted” antiquarian Henry F. Walters, Yale University Art Gallery; An English chair brought to America in the 1630s from Walters’ collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

This was a man who was appreciated during his lifetime, and after, but I think there is still more to discover and emphasize about him. We could embellish his role as Colonial Revival “influencer”: former Peabody Essex Museum curator Dean Lahikainen emphasized this role in relation to Salem artist Frank Weston Benson in the PEM’s 2000 Benson exhibition. Waters had tutored Benson and his brothers who grew up nearby on Salem Common and several of Benson’s paintings featuring interiors included items from the Waters collection or inspired by it. I think that Waters’ educational roles are a bit underemphasized: he was a gentleman tutor for sure: but he also held formal teaching positions at different times in his life and served on the Salem School Committee. His family is very interesting: he proudly served in the Massachusetts Massachusetts 23rd and in the medical corps, but several of his Waters cousins owned and operated plantations in the south—in Georgia and Louisiana (The Waters Family papers at the Phillips Library in Rowley will yield many “discoveries”, I am certain). And there is also more to say about his genealogical methodology, which I think would be of interest to contemporary genealogists. Salem is projecting a strong and rather stodgy heritage profile during the dynamic Gilded Era, and Mr. Waters was one of its most prominent exemplars.


Samuel Chamberlain’s Salem

The Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum, steward of so much of Salem’s printed, written and visual history amongst its many collections, has recently digitized over 5000 images from the “Samuel V. Chamberlain Collection of Photographic Negatives, 1928-1971″ and they are available and searchable at the Digital Commonwealth. Combined with the Frank Cousins images which the Phillips made available several years ago, there is now a very strong visual record of Salem’s architecture and streetscapes in the first half of the twentieth century, or at least some of Salem’s buildings and streets as neither Cousins or Chamberlain were particularly interested in “working Salem”. Cousins was a bit more of a documentarian than Chamberlain, especially as his era (roughly 1890-1920) encompassed the Great Salem Fire of 1914. Chamberlain was a man of the world, a gourmand, and an artist: his Salem photographs encompass only one part of his work, but an important part as he lived in nearby Marblehead for many years so developed quite an intimate knowledge of the city. I’ve always been struck by his perspectives, but I thought that I’d seen most of his Salem shots as he published so many books of photography of New England scenes in general and of Salem structures in particular, including Historic Salem in Four Seasons (1938), Salem Interiors (1950), and A Stroll through Historic Salem (1969). But I was wrong: there are discoveries to be made among the 1600+ Salem images included in the Phillips Library’s Chamberlain negative collection at Digital Commonwealth. The vast majority of these photographs are of the McIntire Historic District in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, but I can see different details and angles in Chamberlain’s images of these perennially-showcased streets and structures—and lots of wonderful TREES.

New perspectives of old streets: and the interior of the depot!

These are images which struck me as “new” for one reason or another, although the first photograph is just the view of Chestnut Street from my window, over a half-century ago, and everything looks pretty much the same! Look at all the amazing elms: on the other end of Chestnut, on Essex, at the intersection of Federal and Washington Streets. A great photograph of the Lindall-Barnard-Andrews house (c. 1740; 3rd from top) and its amazing fence before some serious mistreatment in the later 20th century. Interesting views of Lynn Street, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site with trees, St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church and the Post Office and Washington Street before it became Riley Plaza (What is the white house on Norman?) One of my favorite little buildings on upper Essex Street was a bookstore! The Thomas Sanders house on Summer Street (2nd from bottom) looks much the same, but I want Mr. Chamberlain to turn around: what is behind him? And finally, a rare shot of the interior of the Boston & Maine train depot—rare in general but also for Chamberlain who preferred more timeless and aesthetic perspectives.

Change: Chamberlain was more interested in timelessness and continuity than change, but he couldn’t help but document some changes in Salem over the span of his work, from the 1930s through the 1960s. He was far more interested in urban survival than urban renewal, however: this was a man that sketched French chateaux amidst the destruction of World War I.

Two views of the London Coffeehouse or Red’s Sandwich Shop on Central Street; Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace in its original location and from Hardy Street; The Curwen House rounds the corner from Essex to North Streets; 8 Chestnut Street very hemmed in by the second Second Church; which burned down in 1950, The Richard Derby House also very hemmed in; Charter Street before urban renewal; the cupola from the Pickman-Derby-Rogers House on Washington Street on the grounds of Essex Institute, now gone; the entrance to what Chamberlain called “the Italian Church,” St. Mary’s, built in 1925 and closed by the Archdiocese of Boston in 2003.

A few interiors: Chamberlain’s interior images are lavish and full of architectural and decorative detail; I’ve only included a few shots here but what a resource! All the PEM houses are here, and many Chestnut Street interiors, as well as views of interiors of both public and private homes which are seldom seen. His Salem Interiors has been a favorite book of mine since I was a teenage, and this Phillips/Digital Commonwealth collection includes many shots which are not included in that publication so I’ll going back quite a bit.

Pictorial paper in the Sanders house on Summer Street (see exterior above); much to see in the Northey house parlors, but ships on mouldings—how Salem can you get? Amazing fireplace in the East India House on Essex Street.

Chestnut Street Days! Who knew Chamberlain was such a great photographer of people? Certainly not me. Probably the most charming Salem photos in the Phillips Chamberlain collection are his portraits of Salem residents in colonial dress for the Chestnut Street Days which were held on at least 5 occasions from 1926 to 1976. I think that the photos below are from the 1947 and 1952 Chestnut Street Days, but I’m not entirely sure about the former date. These are wonderful photos of happy people, men, women and lots of children, smiling at the man behind the camera, Samuel Chamberlain. Just delightful. I’m going to post more on these in the future, but I’ve really got to do some oral histories first.

Chestnut Street Day, c. 1947-52. Not a great photograph to close out this wonderful collection, but is this the great man himself? Plus, the dog.


Who’s Counting?

I am right on the verge of completing my manuscript for submission to the publisher, but I had to stop because something is bothering me and I need to “write it out”. That process describes quite a few of my blog posts, actually. Last week the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum posted some pages of the 1810 census for Salem on Instagram, illustrating very well the segregated columns of the census-taker, and the less-detailed entries of African-American households. The post pointed out that census records were “key” for conducting #BlackHistoryResearch and also included a tag for #genealogy. At first impression I was glad to see this post: Salem records for African-American history are limited and largely unavailable to the general public (with the great exception of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society records which are also held by the Phillips, and have been digitized by the Congregational Library) so anything newly revealed is great! But then I started to get annoyed: this is serious business, and the Phillips holds so much of Salem’s history, can’t we have more than an Instagram post? I think I’m speaking not only for myself but for many educators when I express my deep appreciation for the digital resources that many institutions have provided during this pandemic, actually facilitating, or even enabling, us to do our jobs. I have been very dependent on the digital resources and modules of the Newberry Library and the British Library, in particular, but it’s not just those large and well-endowed institutions that have stepped up, much smaller, local institutions have as well: the very day the Phillips posted its census pages, I checked out a great an amazing source-based digital exhibition created by King’s Chapel in Boston for Black History Month and Historic Beverly’s Set at Liberty exhibition has been up for a year. So these three census pages, as interesting and important as they are, did not really satisfy greedy me (but it is always thrilling to see John Remond’s name, and the size of his household in 1810).

The more I thought about this post, the more concerned I became, and it isn’t just because I think the Phillips should be stepping up its education game. I realized that there was an issue with the census itself, and the issue is: the National Archives doesn’t think that a census survey for Salem in 1810 exists. The people whose names you see above, both black and white, are not “represented” beyond the walls of the Phillips Library in Rowley. The National Archives has digitized its census records (Record Group 29: Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790-2007) in partnership with Ancestry, FamilySearch, and other genealogical sites, and if you are a subscriber you can search by state, county, and township: I did so and could not find any Salem data for 1810. Maybe it’s just me: I really am a terrible genealogist. Perhaps those of you out there looking for your ancestors living in Salem in 1810 have had better luck. Let me know! When we were trying to stop the relocation of the Phillips Library to Rowley a few years ago, I though it was the public records that would keep it in Salem: I made lists of all their city and state records and sent them to influential people with high hopes. But I never thought that the Library might be the sole repository of federal records, so this surprised me, and of course, now I’m wondering what else is in there.

Update: I wanted to add an update because there is a lot of interest in this census! It does look like the Phillips might have the only copy, although Heather Wilkinson Rojo, genealogist extraordinaire of Nutfield Genealogy, found a microfilm reference at the National Archives (M252-18) but it is certainly not digitized. I notified Dan Lipcan, the head librarian and Pingree Director of the Library, and he is on the case.

 


Deviation, Discovery and Donors: my Last Word on the PEM’s Phillips Library

A big week—was there an election?—as the official judgement from the Massachusetts Judicial Court came down regarding the movement of the Phillips Library to a remote Collection Center by the Peabody Essex Museum in response to the latter’s petition for approval to deviate from the geographical restriction in one of its charter documents. Deviation is the legal term, as you can see in the judgement below:

JUDGMENT: “This matter came before the Court, Gaziano, J., on a Complaint pursuant to G.L. Ch. 214, §§ 1 and 10B, filed by the Peabody Essex Museum, (“Plaintiff” or the “Museum”), seeking approval of a deviation from a charitable restriction. The Museum asserts that relocation of the Phillips Library collections to the Museum’s collection center (the “Collection Center”), in Rowley, Massachusetts including materials originally held by the Essex Institute, is consistent with equitable deviation from the terms of the founding statutes establishing the Essex Institute, and is necessary to achieve the charitable purposes of those statutes. The Attorney General, an interested party, has filed her Assent. There are no issues in dispute, and this Court makes the following findings:

Pursuant to G.L. Ch. 214, §§ 1 and 10B and the court’s equity powers, the Court determines that the relocation of the Phillips Library collections to the Collection Center in Rowley, including materials originally held by the Essex Institute, is consistent with equitable deviation from the terms of the founding statutes establishing the Essex Institute (the “Founding Statutes”), and is necessary to achieve the charitable purposes of those statutes, because of the steps the Museum has taken to provide better long-term preservation of the Library collections, to increase Phillips Library storage capacity, and to ensure continued public access to the Phillips Library collections at the Collection Center in Rowley, and because of the commitments that the Museum is making in Salem, as set forth in the Complaint in Equity. Accordingly, it is hereby ORDERED that the Museum is permitted to deviate from the terms of the Founding Statutes by relocating the Phillips Library collections to the Collections Center in Rowley. So ordered.

So the Phillips Library, constituting the primary archive of Salem’s history, is enabled legally to remain in Rowley, thus ending a process and a preoccupation (for me anyway) which began back in 2017 when the PEM announced the move at a meeting of Salem’s Historic Commission. This judgement did not came as a surprise to me: in order to make her recommendation (of assent), Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey convened a meeting of interested parties in the summer of 2019: she heard us out, and attorneys from her office regularly followed up, but I could see the writing on the wall. There was never any official objection by the City of Salem.

Even though I was not surprised by this ruling, it still saddens me. So I took advantage of the long election night as well as the anxious day after to focus on a distractive strategy of trying to isolate the precise reasons why. The Peabody Essex Museum does seem like a very different institution than that which made this move three years ago: much more focused on its community and its foundations. There is a new director, Brian Kennedy, who signaled both his community and historical consciousness by returning the storied anchor which sat in front of East India Marine Hall for a century or so very shortly after his arrival. There is much more Salem stuff on display in the expanded museum, in both permanent galleries and special exhibitions. But still, we are at their mercy, are we not? The PEM decides what to show Salem about its own history, when, and how. The powers of historical discovery, revelation and interpretation are in their hands, not ours. Let me illustrate my point with the words of two Directors: Mr. Kennedy and his predecessor Dan Monroe. The blog post previewing the current exhibition Salem Stories by curator Karina Corrigan opens with a quote by Mr. Kennedy: “Wouldn’t it be great if people could learn more about Salem’s and PEM’s history within our own galleries?” which seems like a very sharp contrast to the sentiments of Mr. Monroe, when asked by the Boston Globe to explain the hastiness of the Phillips Library removal. I can’t resist one last opportunity to showcase these words:

One statement is community-minded, the other not so much, but both express the now-confirmed fact that the Peabody Essex Museum owns Salem’s history: it is not ours, it is theirs, to do with what they want as long as they preserve it—and no one has ever cast doubt on their excellent stewardship, certainly not me. Preservation was always the chief rationale for the removal of the Library from Salem and it remains so: it’s right there in the judgement. But in this case, preservation not only trumps but also precludes access for the community: it is simply going to be difficult for Salem’s residents— students, retirees, just plain old history buffs— to experience the pure joy of making historical discoveries for themselves. Instead, their history will be handed to them, or “packaged” for them. I’m probably over-sentimental on this point: I just love local historical societies and want one for Salem desperately but the Phillips Library is quite a bit more than that. Within its collections, however, there are so many community resources: family papers, record books of all sorts of Salem societies, memorials of little local events which might not catch a professional researcher’s eye but are nonetheless fragments of the fabric of a society long gone. I still don’t understand why a suitable—and much more accessible—site for the “Collection or Collections Center” (both terms are used interchangeably, as in the above judgement) could not have been found in Salem, and that makes me sad, as does the emptiness of the beautifully-preserved buildings of the former Phillips Library on Essex Street.

So that’s one source of my lingering sadness; the other is the issue of donor intent. This is the question that I asked at the well-attended forum in January of 2018 at the PEM after its intent to remove the Library  was finally disclosed. Mr. Monroe waved me off and indicated that all was well on that front, but that is not what I have heard here. Several donors have commented on my Phillips Library posts, and I’ve received emails from others, all indicating that either they or their family members believed that they were contributing to a Salem repository and to Salem history. Such sentiments are also expressed in the Annual Reports of the Essex Institute over the years, and even when they are not expressed explicitly, you can infer the intent. For example, look at these large memorial funds from 1966:

Eleanor Hassam, who you can read more about here, came from a very wealthy Boston family, but had deep Salem roots and made bequests with clear geographical and institutional purpose: the Essex Institute received “a handsome and varied bequest” from Miss Hassam, including a legacy of $10,000, many personal and family items, and one-half interest in the the residue of her estate in 1941. The Annual Report from that year announced the bequest with reference to the keen interest in local history and genealogy of both Miss Hassam and her father. Miss Jenny Brooks, a Salem embroidery entrepreneur, established a memorial fund for her father Henry Mason Brooks with the generous sum of $40,000 in 1899: Mr. Brooks served as Secretary of the Essex Institute and was a prolific local historian and author of the Olden Time series. Another generous Salem daughter, Anna Pingree Wheatland Phillips, established an endowment in memorial to her father, Stephen Goodhue Wheatland, who served as Mayor of Salem during the Civil War. Ira Vaughan was a successful Salem inventor, manufacturer, and salesman of tanning machinery. Robert S. Rantoul, esteemed lawyer, politician, and officer of the Essex Institute, was memorialized as a “great student of Salem history” in his 1922 Boston Daily Globe obituary, and by his children with an endowment. Thomas Franklin Hunt was the author of the popular Visitors Guide to Salem and Pocket Guide to Salem issued by the Institute, and yet another prolific local historian. Like many of these memorialized men, Francis Henry Lee (I assume there is a typo in the above report) was actively engaged in Salem institutions and the collection and recording of his own Salem experience: his papers in the Phillips Library are among the most valuable sources of the city’s nineteenth-century history. I can’t speak for the dead, but both the donors and the namesakes of these endowments were all focused intently on Salem with an apparent pride of place, and I can’t imagine they would be pleased with this “equitable” deviation. I’m sorry we couldn’t bring the Phillips Library home for them, and for everyone who is interested in the history of this heritage-stripped city.

One of the PEM Collection Masks from the PEM’s shop, based on a fan donated by Eleanor Hassam; unfortunately it is sold out, as is one featuring the “Witch over Salem”. 


Salem Women of Note, 1939

The very last time I was up at the Peabody Essex Museum’s Phillips Library in Rowley, last February I believe, I requested a folder within which was the transcript of a short paper given at a meeting of the Zonta Club of Salem in 1939 by Annie Balcomb Wheeler entitled “Salem Women of Note”. I thought this would be the beginning of regular trips to the Phillips, but then came the pandemic closures. It is open now, but I just don’t have time to go up there with my book contract and four courses this semester: I won’t for some time, maybe never, unless I decide to take take up another book project, tentatively titled “Dead History: How America’s Most Historic City lost its Past” in my mind (the phrase Dead History is taken from a 1915 newspaper article about Salem’s deteriorating historic sites, but obviously it is a double entendre now). There’s some interest in this, but I’ve got to get through The Practical Renaissance first, and after that it might be better to leave Salem history in my rear-view mirror except for fluffy forays here. I remain rather forlorn about the state of Salem’s historic archives and interpretation, but am happy to see that the Peabody Essex Museum is diving into Salem history headfirst this fall, with two collections-based exhibitions on the Witch Trials and “Salem Stories“. This is quite a change, and I hope not just a reaction to the pandemic, which has reoriented many museums towards local and regional visitors. A renewed and sustained interest in historical interpretation and programming by the PEM could be a game-changer for Salem.

Ropes by Purely SalemA wonderful view of the PEM’s Ropes Mansion on Essex Street by my friend Matt of PurelySalem on Instagram! (He takes the most beautiful photographs). I‘m hoping that PEM’s foray in history involves looking at old things in new light: the Ropes is a great example because there are many stories that remain untold about it. It’s not a GOOD story, but we need to know more about slavery in Salem, and the Ropes Mansion was built by one of Salem’s more prominent slaveowners, Samuel Gardner. 

Well, high hopes for “Salem Stories” but back to Annie Balcomb Wheeler and her notable Salem women of 1939. I certainly didn’t expect this little paper to be my last dive into the Phillips collection for months and I didn’t spend much time with it: I just noted the women whom Annie Balcomb Wheeler found notable, because I wanted to compare her 1939 list with my evolving list of women spotlighted in my #SalemSuffrageSaturday posts. It’s so interesting to me to chart the highs and lows of written history: who or what we deem important now as opposed to who or what was important in 1939 or 1839 or 1739. Right now in Salem I think people are primarily interested in women of color, Charlotte Forten and Sarah Parker Remond in particular, as well as the traditional philanthropists, like Caroline Emmerton, the founder of the House of the Seven Gables. None of these women made it onto Wheeler’s list, which includes the Quaker Cassandra Southwick, poet Anne Bradstreet, accused “witches” Mary English and Elizabeth Proctor, educators Abigail Fowler, Lydia Very, and Ellen Dodge, physicians Sarah Sherman and Kate Mudge, diarist Mary Vial Holyoke and author Maria Susannah Cummins. I’ve posted on all of these women, with the exception of Fowler, Dodge and Holyoke: the educators are new to me but the latter is a definite oversight! It’s very notable to me that there are no artists on Wheeler’s list–nor entrepreneurs—as Salem women’s history is so rich in these categories, but I’m happy to see the emphasis on education and medicine. I wonder why she chose Mary English and Elizabeth Proctor, and not other victims or accusers of 1692? As it happens, I had just been looking at a document of testimony against the former at Yale’s Beinecke Library as I was trying to find some seventeenth-century writing that my students could actually read: here it is, along with the deposition of Mary Walcott against Proctor from the University of Virginia’s Documentary Archive and Transcription Archive, which has been the essential repository of Salem Witch Trials records and resources for more than a decade.

Salem Women Indictment Mary English Yale

Salem Women of Note Elizabeth Proctor1692 Depositions against Mary Hollingsworth English and Elizabeth Proctor, Beinecke Library at Yale and University of Virginia’s Salem Witch Trial Documentary Archive and Transcription Project.

I cannot account for all of Salem’s female schoolteachers: there are so many! Abigail Fowler seems to have had a career which spanned 50 years: upon her death in 1771, her obituary noted that this “noted school dame” had “finished her earthly labors. She was in her 68th year, and began to teach children before she was 18, and continued so to do till her decease”. I wrote about Lydia Very here: she was both an author (or poetry and children’s books) and public schoolteacher for many years, but her legacy has always been overshadowed by that of her brother, Jones Very. Ellen Maria Dodge was a longtime instructor at the Salem Normal School, and she also wrote the School’s history upon the occasion of its move from downtown Salem to its new campus on Lafayette and Loring Streets.

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Salem Women of Note Ellen DodgeA privately printed book of poems by Lydia Very, 1882, Boston Book Company; Ellen Maria Dodge, Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.

I’ve written about Salem women physicians and Maria Susannah Cummins, the author of the incredibly popular Lamplighter, but recently I discovered a connection between Dr. Kate Mudge, who lived in the Bowditch House (currently the offices of Historic Salem, Inc.,) where Cummins was born. Like Bradstreet, I don’t really consider Cummins a Salem girl: her parents moved to Dorchester shortly thereafter. But still, cool connection: Dr. Mudge was certainly aware that she lived in the storied house of Nathaniel Bowditch and Maria Cummins, because her contemporary, photographer Frank Cousins labeled his photograph of the house (then around the corner on Essex Street) as such.

Salem Women Bowditch House (3)The Curwen/Bowditch House, Salem, 1890s. Frank Cousins/Urban Landscape Collection at Duke University Library.

So that brings me to Mary Vial Holyoke (1737-1802), the second wife of Dr. Edward Augustus Holyoke, and her diary. I have never appreciated this text properly, I think: Annie Balcomb Wheeler has convinced me to look at it again. It’s just that Mrs. Holyoke is so matter-of-fact about everything, especially death, including the deaths of her infant children and people all around her. This is certainly not a reflective diary, or a modern diary, but I should try harder to read between its lines, because I think Mary Vial Holyoke deserves her own post.

Salem Women of Note Mary Vial by GreenwoodPhotograph of a Greenwood portrait of Mary Vial Holyoke.


Sarah Symonds of Salem

When I was a perpetual antiques hunter and picker some time ago, I would run into cast iron doorstops and plaster wall plaques with chipped paint depicting houses and gates and various interior details everywhere: they did not appeal to me and I passed them right by, but I remember seeing them often, in Maine, New Hampshire and western Massachusetts. When I moved to Salem I realized they were Sarah Symonds pieces, crafted right here by a very entrepreneurial artist. To be honest, I remained rather immune to their charms, even in my intense Salem collecting phase, and I still don’t really appreciate them, but I see that many other people do as their prices have certainly increased dramatically. I do have deep appreciation for Sarah the businesswomen, though, and the artistic ambassador of “old Salem,” along with her contemporaries Mary Harrod Northend and Caroline Emmerton.

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Screenshot_20200203-095432_ChromeSarah Symonds pieces from the archive of sold lots at Worthpoint; if I was going to purchase one it would definitely be the Gardner Pingree House.

Sarah (1870-1965) was a ninth-generation Salem resident, descended from the John Symonds (c. 1595-1671) who emigrated from East Anglia in the 1640s. He was an experienced joiner who trained his sons James and Samuel in the cabinet-making trade. The Symonds shop excelled and flourished, and its products are among the most valued pieces of early American furniture today: a small valuables cabinet made by James was purchased by the Peabody Essex Museum for nearly two and half million dollars in 2000. Successive generations of the Symonds family turned to other occupations, but they remained in Salem, and a street named after them testifies to their long residence. Sarah seems to have spent her whole life in Salem: she graduated from Emerson College in Boston (to which I assume she took the train) and later vacationed in a summer cottage in Marblehead but other than these forays she seems very bound to Salem, and to her work. I’m not sure exactly when she first started making bas-relief sculptures and plaques—most likely in the 1890s, and perhaps influenced by the careers of the Salem sculptors Louise Lander and John Rogers—but she received several mentions for her Hawthorne pieces in the press coverage of the centennial commemoration of his birth in 1904. And then she was launched, making and selling pieces in the recently-moved John Ward House on the campus of the Essex Institute, at the Snug Harbor Shop adjacent to the House of the Seven Gables, for a gift “shoppe” at the Hawthorne Hotel, and ultimately at the “Colonial Studio” in the Bray House on Brown Street. As you can see below, she also fulfilled orders by mail.

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There are several folders of Sarah’s business records in the Phillips Library and when I started going through their contents I became very fixated on the copyright registration certificates she filled out for each of her sculptures: in my real job I’m a sixteenth-century historian, so I’ve never used sources like these! They are so detailed, written in her own hand, and it occurred to me that seldom do we see artists describe their work so matter-of-factly. No doubt her applications were prompted by the passage of the 1909 copyright law, which extended protections to “works of art; models or designs for works of art”: her first certificates date from just after the passage of this landmark law (which replaced a law made in 1790!)

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I like to blame Daniel Low for the increasing prominence of the Salem witch, emblazoned on anything and everything, but to be fair, Sarah expanded her witch offerings over the first half of the twentieth century consistently: that category grows and only rivals “Salem’s Colonial Doorways” on her price lists. You can kind of feel some of her Colonial Revival contemporaries (especially Mary Harrod Northend) shirking away from the witch, but Sarah ran with it, producing round witches, tall witches, witches on brooms, witches with cauldrons, witch plaques and freestanding “statuettes,” witch medallions, and ink-well witches. Oh well, a lady has to make a living—and give her customers what they want.

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20200121_133608Sarah Symonds papers at the Phillips Library, Rowley:  MSS 0.202; The library also has some price lists. There’s an article about Sarah’s bas-reliefs by Barbara Morse White in the Antiques Journal (1976), and you can also read a short biography by Salem preservation architect John Goff here


Sisters in Arms

I’ve been searching high and low for Salem suffragists, and I have found some, but it’s been a difficult search as there are no extant papers of the “Woman Suffrage Club” of Salem that I can find: newspaper articles, a few flyers, references in diaries and other texts, that’s about it. There are records of many other women’s organizations—charitable groups, religious groups, fellowship groups—which met over different decades of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and among them are the minutes and correspondence of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society (SFASS), one of the country’s earliest female abolition societies. Looking at all these records, I see familiar names turning up again and again, and as I suspect there were concentric circles of female activism in nineteenth-century Salem, most especially among those women advocating for abolition and suffrage, I am especially grateful that the SFASS archives have been digitized through a partnership of the Congregational and Phillips Libraries. I had a student who worked with these records a year ago for her capstone research and she deemed them “boring”, but I find them fascinating in terms of both content and tone: expressions of a sisterhood of mutual aid and activism pervade even the most administrative of notations.

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Records of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society, 1834-66, Phillips Library MSS 34: available at the Congregational Library. Meeting minutes & Correspondence from William Lloyd Garrison.

Before I get into the activities of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society, I need to write about Clarissa Lawrence, again. An African-American schoolteacher who lived on High Street in a house that still stands, Lawrence was committed to what was obviously for her an intertwined mission of aid and abolition: she established the first female Anti-Slavery Society in 1832, the Female Anti-Slavery Society of Salem, which consisted solely of free women of color. This organization was folded into the integrated Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society in 1834, but in the interim year, Lawrence also revived and reformed the dormant Colored Female Religious and Moral Society of Salem. This woman was tireless, and relentless, and on fire. She served in the leadership of the SFASS, and was a delegate to the third Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women in Philadelphia in May of 1839. On the last day of the convention, Lawrence rose to make a memorable speech, recorded in its proceedings and frequently referenced and reprinted. Yet despite her renown among her peers and historians, she is largely forgotten in the Witch City.

Speech-1839

I hope that Mrs. Lawrence felt supported in all of her efforts by her sisters in the newly-formed Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society, all 130 of them, including officers, managers and members. I assume that her election as Vice-President means that she was. The women were very serious about their organization, their meetings, and their minutes. Their first task was to draw up and ratify a constitution, after which they held regular meetings at Mechanic Hall, Creamer Hall, the Masonic Hall, and the Howard Street Church: sub-committee meetings were held at members’ homes. There is one reference to the expenditure of ten dollars for the “privilege of holding our meetings for the enduring year (1837) in the Anti-Slavery Room–occupied by the anti-slavery  gentlemen of this city as a reading and debating room”: I have no idea where this might have been, but it conjures up an image of gentlemen reading and debating while the women are doing. Every meeting started with prayers, and decorum was always observed: one young lady who shall remain nameless was asked to resign for her use of “profane” language and she complied. Most of the work of the Society consisted of fundraising in order to support several missions: the purchase of memberships in the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society for those that could not afford them, sending representatives such as Clarissa Lawrence to conventions, supporting “refugees from slavery”, and underwriting William Lloyd Garrison and The Liberator. There were occasional requests for support of vulnerable members of Salem’s free black population—which were answered—but you can tell that the ladies’ primary focus was on those who had escaped from the South. Fundraising primarily took the form of holding fairs, in which the other female anti-slavery societies in the area—in Boston, Marblehead, and Danvers—would contribute, with reciprocation from Salem: the bonds of sisterhood definitely crossed municipal boundaries as well as state lines.

Female-FairSalem Register, 1841

Recording Secretary Eliza J. Kenny (sometimes spelled Kenney) was a fascinating woman in several ways, and she will get her own Salem Suffrage Saturday post in the near future: her influence, as well as long-serving President Lucy G. Ives, seems to be behind the lecture series sponsored by the SFASS from 1844-1860, which brought many famous abolitionist advocates to Salem: William Lloyd Garrison seems always ready to speak in Salem, but Wendell Phillips, O.B. Frothingham, William H. Channing and others also came to speak at the Lyceum. The lecture that received the most attention in the press by far was that of “fugitive slave” William Wells Brown, who came to Salem on his first tour as an agent of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, at the beginning of a brilliant career. When asked if he could “represent the real condition of the Slave” Brown replied that he could not: your fastidiousness would not allow me to do it; and if it would, I, for one, should not be willing to do it;—–at least to an audience. Were I to tell you the evils of Slavery, to represent to you the Slave in his lowest degradation, I should wish to take you, one at a time, and whisper it to you. Slavery has never been represented; Slavery never can be represented. What is a Slave? A Slave is one that is in the power of the owner. He is chattel; he is a thing; he is a piece of property. A master can dispose of him, can dispose of his labor, can dispose of his wife, can dispose of his offspring, can dispose of everything that belongs to the Slave, and the Slave shall have no right to speak; he shall have nothing to say. The Slave cannot speak for himself, he cannot speak for his wife, or his children. He is a thing. Brown’s words were by all accounts riveting, so much so that his Salem talk was issued in print, with the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society right there in the title, on the cover, a great example of the Society’s increasing focus on communication in its second and third decades.

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Female Anti-Slavery Society 1847Salem Observer, 1847-48; Henry M. Parkhurst’s “phonographic report” of Mr. Brown’s Lyceum Speech.

Eliza Kenny led me to the intersection of abolitionism and suffrage: she was the first Salem woman to sponsor a petition, “that the right of suffrage may be extended to women” to the Massachusetts legislature in 1850, right after she attended the first National Women’s Rights Convention in Worcester. I saw lots of familiar names among the 25 women who signed the petition: her anti-slavery sisters. Eliza went down a spiritualist route that made her a less effective (and committed) advocate for either abolition or suffrage later, but her decades of activism are commendable, as are those of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery, which disbanded in 1866, their objective realized at long last. But there were still battles to be waged.

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Kenny petition for the Harvard Anti-Slavery Petitions of Massachusetts Dataverse; The Female version of  Am I Not A………., first used in George Bourne’s Slavery Illustrated in Its Effects upon Women (1837).


The End of Mill Hill?

Place names are a topic I have not explored much on this blog, which is odd, as they represent a major entry into the local past. There’s a great article in the old Essex Institute Historical Collections (Volume 31, 1894-95; it was also printed separately) by Essex Institute Secretary Henry Mason Brooks about Salem “localities”, featuring many names that are no longer with us and several that still are, including Carltonville, Blubber Hollow, and Castle Hill. Brooks weaves a historic narrative around most of his localities, but even though he references Mill Hill, he doesn’t have much to say about it. In his time, it was a relatively new route connecting central and South Salem, having only been “opened” or laid out in 1873-74. It is really just an extension of Salem’s central north-south thoroughfare, Washington Street, and a very short and shallow hill indeed. Yet despite its unimpressive size and scale, Mill Hill endured as a place name over the twentieth century. When I moved to Salem in the 1990s people would reference it often, and it took me quite a while to figure out where it was. A couple of years ago it was designated the site of a brand new development incorporating a Hampton Inn plus rental housing, but now that that prosaic structure sprawls across its base (and then some) I am wondering if this particular Salem locality has met its end.

Mill Hill Map 1897 (2) (1)

Mill Hill 1890s (3)

Mill Hill 1914 SSU

Mill Hill 1914 PC SSU

Mill Hill 1920s PEMSome different perspectives on Mill Hill beginning with the 1897 Atlas at the State Library of Massachusetts. The first view is looking NORTH, towards downtown Salem, the rest are looking SOUTH towards Lafayette Street. The Phillips Library via Digital Commonwealth (NORTH), two post-fire scenes from the Salem State University Archives and Special Collections, and another Phillips Library view from about ten years later, after considerable post-fire reconstruction. Of course, the old St. Joseph’s–and the new St. Joseph’s–are long gone.

Ok, get ready for the view now, as it is a shocker: first, from my car, trying to take a photograph from the same location as the last photo above. What you see on the left is the side of the sprawling new Hampton Inn. And then: the front, supposedly the best face forward?

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This big boxy building features a conglomeration of materials over all of its facades: it actually looks pretty good from lower Lafayette/ Derby Street and the rear! Salem desperately needs a large commercial hotel to cater to its tourist traffic, but I can’t help but look upon this as a lost opportunity: more proliferation of plastic, or whatever that material is. I can’t understand why the City doesn’t work with chains to conform construction to some semblance of the architecture which made Salem Salem—at least a reflection, or even a nod. Washington Street just seems like a very different place now than when I first moved to Salem decades ago, with generic boxy buildings on every block and an uninspired train station at its head. It’s always been a busy, commercial thoroughfare in transition, but seems increasingly soul-less and place-less: and Mill Hill is clearly no more, as the new hotel is situated (as more than a few people have pointed out to me, so apparently “Mill Hill” does have resonance for Salem natives) at the corner of “Washington and Washington Streets”.

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A Feminine Focus

The Reverend William Bentley’s Diary is justly famous as a detailed source of much of Federal-era Salem’s history, but I think that three memoirs written by Salem women deserve a bit more storied reputation as sources: Marianne C.D. Silsbee’s Half Century in Salem (1886), Eleanor Putnam’s (the pseudonym of Harriet Bates) Old Salem (1886), and Caroline Howard King’s When I Lived in Salem 1822-1866 (1937). Of these three reminiscences, I find myself returning to Silsbee’s Half Century again and again, so I thought I would feature her on my third Salem Suffrage Saturday post. She is of the next generation, and in a much more enviable position, than the Hawthorne sisters of last week’s post: I think she was also a working woman (like all women!), but by choice rather than necessity.

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20200114_111551_20200120094207958A Half Century in Salem, and two photographs of Marianne Cabot Devereux Silsbee from her 1861 photographic album at the Phillips Library in Rowley (PHA 58): the first dated 1851 and the second 1861.

Marianne Cabot Devereux was born in Salem in 1812 to Eliza Dodge Devereux and Humphrey Devereux: I believe that her father, who had been captured by the British during the War of 1812 and imprisoned on Bermuda, was not present at her birth. Upon his release and return, Humphrey eventually moved his family into a Chestnut Street mansion, but Marianne’s early life was spent elsewhere: I’m not sure exactly where her childhood residence was, but she remembered spending a lot of time at her maternal grandmother’s house on Front Street. Around the time that the Devereux family moved to Chestnut Street, Humphrey commissioned a pair of portraits of himself and his wife by Gilbert Stuart: I was thrilled to discover the latter in the collection of the Rehoboth Antiquarian Society, but I could only find a heliotype copy of Mr. Devereux’s portrait in the The Pickering Genealogy. 

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Silsbee Humphrey Devereux Pickering Genaology Vol 1 (2)

Mrs. Devereux looks rosy-cheeked in her Stuart portrait, which apparently pleased her very much (her dress apparently was not as pleasing, so the artist Chester Harding later repainted the ruff and drapery) but she was in fact an invalid, and died eleven years after this portrait, when Marianne was sixteen. I’m on the precipice on the dreaded psycho-history here, but I think that Marianne’s reverence for older women, so apparent in A Half Century as well as other works, might stem from her mother’s illness and death. I’m on stronger ground stating that the early years covered in A Half Century were based on her mother’s letters to Marianne, rather than her own reminiscences. So you kind of get a double feminine focus in this text, which dwells on food, shops, schools, entertainments, dress, homes—the life of women, or should I say relatively wealthy women—as well as “external” events: Lafayette’s visit in 1824, when the first steamship line commenced trips to Boston. The book is much more focused on personalities than events however, and women really pop out: the honorable Elizabeth Sanders (who will definitely be the subject of a later post), the charming Mrs. Remond, who catered all the meals at her beloved Hamilton Hall.

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Marianne Cabot Devereux Silsbee expressed herself a bit more publicly, but she was a traditional woman of her time, focused on her family and friends. She married Nathaniel Silsbee Jr., son of a U.S. Senator and later two-term Mayor of Salem in 1829 and moved into the Silsbee mansion on the Common (now undergoing a major renovation and expansion). They had five children, two of whom, George and her namesake Marianne, died in childhood. The Silsbees left Salem for Boston in 1862 when he became Treasurer of Harvard, and there was another move to Milton following his retirement. Throughout this time she wrote poems and reminiscences, some published, some not. Her first publication, Memory and Hope, a compilation of mourning poems edited and introduced by her, was issued anonymously in 1851 (one can understand her interest in this topic given the early deaths of two children), and thereafter there are published children’s rhymes, a handwritten journal of poetry entitled My Grandmother’s Mirror, A New England Idyll (a reference to her maternal Dodge grandmother, who was a Pickering), a book about the Boston Ladies Club, and finally A Half Century in Salem. 

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20200121_111833The Silsbee Mansion on Salem Common in 1884, George H. Walker; Memory and Hope (1851); Title page of My Grandmother’s Mirror (Essex County Collection, Phillips Library, E S585.3 1878).

Much of her writings dwell on home life, social life, all the little things that surround one’s daily existence: one poem in My Grandmother’s Mirror creates a scene in the old Pickering house, while another is written from the perspective of a woman who dwelt within the border, of the town of peace and order, Our pleasant little Salem, on the margins of the sea surrounded by her children and children’s children. Yet Mrs. Silsbee was also an active and engaged woman: a mayor’s wife who carried on a long personal correspondence with abolitionist Lydia Maria Child and whose personal photograph album compiled in 1861 contains as many photographs of soldiers and politicians as it does her own children and grandchildren. Most of the men in uniform are her own family, including her older brother, George H. Devereux, former adjutant general of Massachusetts, and his soon-to be heroic sons, Arthur F. Devereux, commander of the Salem Light Infantry and later the Massachusetts 19th at Gettysburg, and John F., a Captain in the 11th Massachusetts Infantry, as it was perhaps impossible to separate the private and public spheres at this particular time. Several photographs of President Lincoln are included, but also an image of what I can only presume to be the family cat! When it was over, once can hardly blame Marianne Silsbee for desiring to look back to a dimmer, and thus more pleasant past.

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The private and the public: Mrs. Silsbee’s poetry and President Lincoln in her photograph album: Phillips Library E S585.3 (1878) and PHA 58 (1861).


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