Archivist as Detective: Hello, Newman

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist 

After a long hiatus, I’m happy to return to my sporadic series about manuscript mysteries! As I’ve written in previous posts, sometimes the work of an archivist is like that of a detective: we follow clues, narrow searches, evaluate sources, and make educated inferences that hopefully lead us to an answer. Sometimes we’re waylaid and have to backtrack, and sometimes we come up empty, but I for one always enjoy a chance to don my deerstalker cap.

This time, I was looking for the man who wrote a letter, recently acquired by the MHS, dated 5 August 1856 and sent from Buffalo, N.Y. to Leominster, Mass. The text of the letter is interesting, if somewhat verbose. Among other things, it discusses the 1856 presidential election, a three-way race between James Buchanan, John C. Frémont, and Millard Fillmore.

The letter in question

Actually, I started on first base with this one, because I did know the man’s name: William Newman. He signed the letter “Yr devoted Brother Wm” and addressed it to Miss Anna B. Newman.

I could have left it at that, but I was determined to find out which William Newman he was, who Anna was, anything specific to help researchers that may be interested in this letter. After all, the MHS already had three different William Newmans in our online catalog ABIGAIL. The Library of Congress lists over 50 of them.

My first step was to gather clues. The last paragraph of a letter is a good place to look for specific names. A correspondent will often use this space to ask after family members or mutual friends. Besides William and Anna, I found a Luke (cousin), Margaret (possibly sister), and Caroline (no idea). William also mentioned a wife, as well as a son named William Henry who was apparently home for school vacation.

Unfortunately these names were too common for me to find a family genealogy at any of my go-to online sources: Internet Archive, Google Books,, and Anna may have married and changed her surname. And the connection to Leominster was too tenuous; I couldn’t be sure if the Newman family hailed from there. Better to stick with what I knew.

I got my first break from a series of strategic online searches using Newman’s name, Buffalo, and 1856. And not for the first time, it was other archivists that came to my rescue. I found the Henry Newman family papers at the University of Michigan Library. Henry, originally from Boston, had a son named William who settled in Buffalo in the 1820s and established a business there. In our letter, William mentions buying some real estate.

I couldn’t be 100% sure yet, but the Michigan collection gave me a few crucial details. Their William married Lydia Scrafford (a much more distinctive name) and died in 1860. So I tried another search for confirmation. By adding his wife’s name to my keywords, I finally uncovered published records of a very messy court case related to the settlement of William’s will.

This was definitely my guy: died 4 April 1860, wife Lydia Scrafford, son William Henry Harrison Newman born in 1846. The records also included the names of siblings Henry, Jr., Margaret, Caroline, Anna, and Susan. (Interestingly, William was the only one to marry and have children.) The clincher was a passage referring to property on Clinton Street in Buffalo—property William mentioned in his letter.

William was apparently born in 1799 or 1800, assuming his tombstone is correct and he was sixty when he died. I identified his parents, Henry and Deborah (Cushing) Newman, and his wife Sarah Elizabeth née Cole, but found very little about his siblings. Henry, Jr. died in 1861, Susan in 1862, Margaret in 1866, and Anna in 1883.

These are just the dates of which I’m relatively confident. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much conflicting information about a family I was researching! It goes to show how fallible the historical record can be and how important it is to find trustworthy sources.

William Newmans in the MHS catalog

The Double Life of James Wilkinson

By Sarah Hume, Editorial Assistant 

In 1797, a Kentucky merchant named Elijah Waters came forward with an important, yet extreme, claim: Gen. James Wilkinson, second in command in the Northwest Territory, was a spy. He was trading secrets to Spain.

Waters wasn’t the only one to make such allegations. For years, rumors had circulated about Wilkinson’s connection to Spain. Even Gen. Anthony Wayne, his commanding officer, accused Wilkinson of spying and led an investigation against him. Allegations were so widespread that John Adams wrote, “scarcely any Man arrives from that neighbourhood, who does not bring the report along with him.” (John Adams to James Wilkinson, 4 February 1798).

When General Wayne died on 15 December 1796, it seemed time for Wilkinson to escape suspicion. And yet rumors of treason continued and Wilkinson refused to lay low. Instead, he asked John Adams to continue the investigation.

“Prosecution is in the grave with General Wayne,” Wilkinson wrote in his 26 December 1797 letter, “but the Door is still open to investigation, & I most earnestly wish an enquiry into my Conduct Military & political, indeed the vindication of my own aspersed reputation.”

An excerpt from James Wilkinson’s letter to John Adams, 26 December 1797. The Adams Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Adams replied to Wilkinson on 4 February 1798, saying he did not believe either Waters’s claim or other allegations.

“We may be nearer than we suspect to another tryal of our Spirits; I doubt not yours will be found faithful,” Adams wrote. “I shall give no Countenance to any Imputations unless accusations should come, and then you will have Room to justify yourself; But I assure you I do not Expect that any Charge will be seriously made.”

Wilkinson never received an indictment from Adams. He went on to be trusted by the next two presidential administrations and died in 1825 having never been confirmed a spy. Only later would historians uncover his treasonous activities.

Like much of Adams’s correspondence in the Papers of John Adams, this brief exchange captures a moment of dangerous precipice. Had Wilkinson been more successful, he may have forever changed the American narrative. Exchanges between Wilkinson and Adams highlight the advantage we have as scholars: we know the end of the story. Reading correspondence allows us to see from an eighteenth-century vantage point instead. And though Elijah Waters may be only a passing reference in correspondence, history ultimately proves him right in the case of General James Wilkinson.

The correspondence between James Wilkinson and President John Adams will be included in the forthcoming volume 22 of the Papers of John Adams to be published Fall 2024.

The Adams Papers editorial project at the Massachusetts Historical Society gratefully acknowledges the generous support of our sponsors. Major funding for the Papers of John Adams is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and the Packard Humanities Institute.

Journey to the South Pole with John Quincy Adams & Charles Francis Adams, Part 2

By Heather Rockwood, Communications Manager

Part 1 of Journey to the South Pole includes an incomplete timeline of pole travel and looks at the diaries of Charles Francis Adams (CFA, 1807–1886), who was reading a book in 1831 about the southern-most expedition toward the South Pole at that time. It also covers John Quincy Adams’ (JQA, 1767–1848) diary mention of James Byers’ application to Congress for funding of an expedition to settle the South Shetland Islands. These are two typical stories of South Pole expeditions. This next story is unusual.

In 1820, a book was published called Symzonia: Voyage of Discovery, by Captain Adam Seaborn, probably a pseudonym. This sci-fi story is about a journey to the poles, and the discovery that they are an opening into the Earth, which is hollow, and inhabitable. Explorer Jeremiah N. Reynolds (1799–1858) heard about the book’s theory from John Cleves Symmes (1780–1829), who is considered to be the real author of the book. Reynolds then made numerous petitions to Congress for funding an expedition to the South Pole, according to The Maritime Studies Program of Williams College & Mystic Seaport, although he and Symmes parted ways soon after his petitions began.  

Sectional View of the Earth Showing the Opening at the Poles from the sci-fi story Symzonia.

CFA notes that he met with Reynolds on 21 April 1827, while Reynolds was in Washington lecturing and lobbying for the expedition to the South Pole: “In the evening, Reynolds, the expedition man, called to see me and drew me out of myself for an hour.” CFA wrote about him again a few days later on 29 April 1827: “Particularly in reading some papers of Mr. Reynolds upon the subject of his expedition. I think him very clever, but without polish to make it tell as it ought.” He did not have faith in Reynolds abilities to convince Congress.

On 22 February 1828, President JQA wrote a note about a ball he attended that evening, at which he met Reynolds: “I met at the Ball, besides other Strangers, Mr Reynolds the projector of an expedition to the South-Pole.” On 13 June 1828, JQA notes that “Mr Reynolds the projector of an Expedition to the South Pole was here— A Bill for that purpose was reported by the Naval Committee to the House of Representatives at their last Session, but the House could not reach it in Season—A Resolution of the House did pass however recommending that one of the Public Vessels should be employed on an exploring Expedition to the South-Sea— Reynolds says that a Merchant brig, will be sent with her upon Speculation.” Following up on this, in JQA’s diary on 17 November 1828, he wrote: “Southard Saml. L. The South Pole Expedition— Jones to command—Instruments to be purchased.” Reynolds’ petition was successful; however, the funding disappeared when JQA lost the presidential election to Andrew Jackson in 1829.

Reynolds then succeeded in gaining private funding for the expedition which started in 1829, with Reynolds aboard the ship. The voyage reached the Palmer Peninsula of Antarctica, but then turned back. When the ship reached Chile, the crew mutinied and left Reynolds behind. He spent two years in Chile until the US frigate Potomac brought him back to the United States.

Reynold’s tale does not end here. Watch for Journey to the South Pole, Part 3, where Reynolds tale will end and JQA meets a man with a scientific theory about the pole’s magnetism. Further reading: Tales of a Hollow Earth: Tracing the Legacy of John Cleves Symmes in Antarctic Exploration and Fiction, by L. I. Chaplow, 2011, a thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the Degree of Masters of Antarctic Studies at the University of Canterbury.

Journey to the South Pole with John Quincy Adams & Charles Francis Adams, Part 1

By Heather Rockwood, Communications Manager

John Quincy Adams (JQA, 1767–1848), world traveler that he was, never visited either of the Earth’s poles, nor did his son, Charles Francis Adams (CFA, 1807–1886). In their diaries, they noted reading books about such travels, meeting people who journeyed there, and speaking to others who had scientific theories about the poles. Come with me on an expedition through JQA’s and CFA’s diaries to find out what the poles meant to early 19th century thinkers.

Map of the Southern Pole from 1606, courtesy of the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center, Boston Public Library. Note that Antarctica’s coastline had not yet been charted. Such mapping would begin in the 1800s.

First, an incomplete timeline of US pole expeditions:

  • 1819–1823: Several voyages by seal hunters
  • 1829–1831: James Eights and the Palmer-Pendleton Expedition
  • 1838–1842: US Exploring Expedition (also known as Wilke’s Expedition)
  • 1928: Admiral Richard Byrd’s Expedition

From 1822 to 1824, James Weddell (1787–1834) was on his third seal hunting voyage in the South Orkneys and South Shetland Islands. Because hunting had been disappointing, Weddell turned his ship south toward the South Pole. The season was unusually mild, and on 20 February 1823, his ship reached 532 miles farther south than any other ship previously. Although a few icebergs could be seen, no land was in sight. He turned the ship around and sheltered at South Georgia. Because he had gone slightly farther south than James Cook in 1773–1774, Weddell wrote a book about the journey. The first edition of A voyage towards the South Pole: performed in the years 1822–24, containing an examination of the Antarctic Sea… was published in 1825, but was enlarged in 1827 with new information from the companion ship on the voyage. On 1 April 1831, CFA was reading this book, “began Weddel’s Voyage to the South Pole. He went farther than any body and says he saw a clear Sea, which is extraordinary enough.” He finished it that weekend on Sunday, 3 April 1831, “Finished Weddell’s Voyage. It is the Account of a Man not much versed in Science who made a daring Voyage in pursuit of Commercial Speculation. He gives An Account of the South Seas somewhat varying from that of his predecessor Cook. And he says he penetrated to 74 degrees South with a clear Sea. I see no reason to disbelieve him. If so however, the question of land might easily be settled.”

On 20 September 1820, General Daniel Parker (1782–1846), then the Inspector General of the US Army, spoke with JQA about a seal expedition application he had received when serving as Secretary of State to President James Monroe. The application was from the New York ship owner James Byers. JQA wrote in his diary: “General Parker came with a new application from Mr Byers of New-York, for a public vessel to protect their Sealing Settlement expedition to the South-Pole—I told him of Homans’s objections but promised to mention the affair again to the President.” Byers wanted the US government to fund a settlement in the South Shetland Islands, off the coast of Antarctica, and for the US to send a warship with the settlers to take possession of the area. His application was denied, but the trip and settlement still happened. The settlers built dwellings and were visited mainly by seal hunters from Britain, New England, and New York. The settlement’s peninsula was named Byers Peninsula in 1958.

In Journey to the South Pole, Part 2, we will look at JQA’s and CFA’s interactions with a man obsessed with reaching the South Pole to prove a theory that the Earth is hollow.

MHS Undergraduate Library Residency

By Lauren Gray, MHS Reference Librarian, and Erin Olding, 2022-2023 MHS Undergraduate Library Resident

In September 2022 the MHS launched an undergraduate library residency program, aimed to introduce students who might not otherwise consider professional paths in public history or library science to the work of those fields.  Erin Olding, then a student at Cape Cod Community College, was one of the inaugural residents, working at the MHS from September 2022 through May 2023.  At the end of her tenure, Erin drafted this blog post to help spread the word about the program.  Knowing that we would be taking a year to evaluate and adjust the program, we held onto Erin’s draft.  Now that the call has gone out for our next pair of library residents, we share Erin’s words with you.  If you know anyone that could benefit from participating in this program, please share the link ( 


One semester, I volunteered at the little archive housed in the library of the small community college I attended. Through this slow-going but very insightful work, I gained firsthand experience processing and creating a finding aid for a collection. While I was working there, the archivist saw a posting for a pilot undergraduate library residency program at the Massachusetts Historical Society and forwarded it my way. The prospect of working at such a storied archive and library—not to mention having a paid internship – enticed me to apply. 

After making a successful application, I prepared for the interview. I scoured the Society’s website, finding as many articles, videos, and other resources as possible. Discovering more about the historically rich collections housed in the MHS was like finding diamonds in a goldmine. I most enjoyed stumbling upon a beautifully painted WWI propaganda poster featuring Joan of Arc, encouraging patriotic women to buy war bonds. 

Receiving news that I landed the job made me ecstatic.  I found the prospect of working in a professional environment after my previous employments in retail and fast food very exciting. But admittedly, that meant I also felt out of my element. From the first second of my first shift, all my coworkers, including fellow library resident CJ, acted generously and graciously. They understood that working just a few shifts a week meant that I wouldn’t get the hang of things as quickly as the other staff and offered much support.   

Retrieving items from the stacks felt familiar. I had stocked new merchandise and pulled old merchandise when working retail. The motor functions are the same. Working in the stacks, slowly committing call numbers and locations to memory, and the sense of accomplishment that came with recalling both left a deep impression on me in my first handful of shifts. Sitting behind the circulation desk, however, felt like an alternate reality. A lifelong lover of libraries, I had spent so much time on the patron side of the circulation desk; now I sat on the other side of the desk.   

Readings and field trips supervised by Senior Reference Librarian Anna Clutterbuck-Cook differentiated the residency from a part-time staff position. During the first semester of the residency, Anna brought CJ and I to various archival and historical institutions in the Boston area. Seeing different places, meeting different people, learning different practices, and listening to different stories— Boston is chock full of stories—provided deep insight into the library and information science (LIS) field. CJ and I also completed assigned readings, excerpts from books pertaining to the LIS field with topics from the MHS itself to the institutional biases within established LIS systems.  

In the second semester, CJ and I began work on special projects.  For these projects we each partnered with a non-library department at the MHS.  I worked with Cassandra Cloutier and Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai on the MHS’s podcast, The Object of History, producing an episode about medieval books in the Society’s collections. I examined the books in the reading room, drafted interview questions, conducted interviews with experts, and cut the raw interview audio. Being able to speak to three knowledgeable individuals (Curator of Art & Artifacts Anne Bentley, Stephen T. Riley Librarian Peter Drummey, and medievalist Agnieszka Rec) about medieval books and book collecting provided much insight. What a pleasure to learn history on the job! 

Completing the yearlong library residency at the Massachusetts Historical Society, working in both the Library and Research departments, was a wonderful experience. Through this residency, I’ve had the opportunity to constantly—and sometimes unexpectedly—learn about historical Boston, American, and even medieval life. I look forward to applying these learned lessons to my future. 

A note about Anna Clutterbuck-Cook 
The undergraduate residency program would not have been possible without the work and passion of Anna Clutterbuck-Cook. A few weeks after the first semester ended, Anna passed away after a long battle with cancer. I found Anna inspirational.  She taught me so much in a very short time. Her intelligence and activism bled into her work. I can only aspire to have a tenth of her spirit. With the anti-trans legislation passing in the United States, I hope to become an archivist for LGBTQ+ history, especially the history being made right now.  

Science and Suffrage at the MHS

By Susan Martin, Senior Processing Archivist 

On this first day of Women’s History Month, I’d like to tell you about a remarkable woman who makes a brief appearance in one of our collections: Florence Bascom.

One of the things I enjoy about working as an archivist—and writing for the Beehive—is the opportunity to research a wide variety of interesting people from all eras of American history. Bascom’s name was familiar to me, but I didn’t know much about her.

The collection in question is the Benjamin-Owen family papers, which consists primarily of letters to Mary Curtiss (Benjamin) Owen and her son from family members and friends. Included are four letters from Bascom to Owen, written between 1912 and 1929. The two women were distant cousins; their great-grandfathers were brothers.

Mary Curtiss Benjamin, who went by the nickname May, was born in 1860 in Egremont, a small town at the southwestern edge of Massachusetts. In 1889, she married George F. Owen and moved with him to Colorado Springs. May Owen was an active suffragist there, and just four year later, Colorado became the first U.S. state to pass women’s suffrage by popular referendum.

Florence Bascom, two years younger than Owen, was herself the daughter of a suffragist. She was born in Williamstown, Mass., and distinguished herself early by earning a Bachelor of Arts, a Bachelor of Science, and a Master’s degree in geology from the University of Wisconsin. In 1893, she became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University. (She was required to sit behind a screen in classrooms to separate her from the male students.)

Bascom taught at the college level both before and after her doctoral studies and, in 1895, was asked to found and head the geology department at Bryn Mawr College, where she would go on to teach for over three decades. Bascom also published dozens of papers on geology, worked for the U.S. Geological Survey, and belonged to many professional geological and scientific organizations.

When I came across Bascom’s letters, the first thing I noticed was how hard it is to read her handwriting. See for yourself!

Letter from Florence Bascom to May Owen, 2 Jan. 1926

The substance of the letters is fairly mundane. Bascom primarily discusses news of mutual family members and asks after Owen’s son. As for her scientific work, she occasionally mentions fieldwork and conferences, but only in passing. She also references her love of horseback riding.

The spiciest passage relates to her opinion on smoking, apparently in response to a question from Owen about women’s use of tobacco: “I am for women’s right to use it every time but I hate to see it used in excess by man or woman. It is after all a self-indulgent, somewhat inconsiderate-of-others, doubtfully hygienic and expensive habit.”

Slight though their content is, these letters are enough to give us a sense of Bascom’s thoughtfulness. I particularly like the way she asks Owen, “Are you fairly comfortable in your surroundings, May, and happy in your daily life? Please let me know frankly if you need what I could give you…”

Even though I wasn’t very familiar with her, Bascom’s accomplishments did not go unnoticed by her contemporaries. I found a number of notices about her published during her lifetime. The American Geologist reported on her in 1893 when she earned her Ph.D., remarking that her work had “attracted much attention,” and again in 1895 when she accepted the position at Bryn Mawr.

In 1898, The Chautauquan was already listing the 36-year-old geologist in an article on “Some American Women in Science,” alongside other illustrious names. She was also profiled in The Key (1916), a publication of Kappa Kappa Gamma, and later included in a book called Famous Women (1926), which ranks her with the likes of Marie Curie and Maria Mitchell.

Bascom died in 1945. Her namesakes have included a glacial lake in Massachusetts, a building at Johns Hopkins, a Venusian crater, and an S-type asteroid.

As far as I can tell, these letters are the first Florence Bascom manuscripts acquired by the MHS, but both Bryn Mawr and Smith College have significant collections of her papers.

Knocking It Out of the Park: The Fenway Victory Gardens

By Meg Szydlik, Visitor Services Coordinator

February is the part of winter that always feels drearier than any other time of year, at least for me. With that in mind, I wanted to do research on something lighter to counter the snowy days and bitter cold. So I decided to pull out the Fenway Victory Gardens’ collection to explore. The history of the organization and the gardens, founded in 1942 and located in the beautiful Emerald Necklace, can be gleaned from both official statistics and tantalizing pieces of decades-old drama, which peak through the information about plots and plant growth. It tells a small piece of the story of the Fenway area–an area that’s been home to the MHS for more than a century.

What a difference February to April makes! Pictures of the MHS plot taken by Laura Wulf

The Fenway Gardens’ website explains their origins as a victory garden, which was a WWII movement to increase access to fresh food grown by citizens, with the goal of stretching ration coupons and increasing food sent overseas to troops. There were victory gardens all across America, but the Fenway Gardens of Boston are one of the few that are still around. The records held at the MHS span from 1944 to 2011 and include details of the gardens themselves as well as memberships, board communications, and gardening paraphernalia. The maps of the gardens demonstrate that in many ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same. While many new gardeners appear each year, I noticed over the decades people maintained their gardens year after year, contributing to green space in the city, many assisting other gardeners with their plots as well. The records are a charming peek into the kind of neighborly relationships that sustained the Fenway Gardens for more than 80 years.

Then and now! A map of the area in 1978 and the current map on the website.

The Fenway Victory Gardens were not always assured of success, however. Many documents describe the vandalism that took place in the area and requests for police protection of the Gardens. The safety of the site was frequently called into question by gardeners. Despite these concerns, there was an emphasis on inclusivity, with the 1981 anti-discrimination policy reading “this society shall not discriminate on the basis of race, ethnic origin, religion, or sexual preference” and the 1975 release of a booklet offering community resources for all types of groups, including the elderly, students, and “gay individuals.” The focus on accessibility for all also extended to disabled people, according to an undated report on improving the space for access, which included feedback from real disabled individuals. The Gardens were under constant threat however, and one of the letters by a long-term gardener recalls that in the late 70s, the nearby Red Sox wanted to buy out the space for a parking lot. The community rallied and saved the Gardens instead. If you’ve had trouble parking for a game, I suppose you can blame Fenway Gardens! I think it was worth it though. They are a wonderful piece of community history!

On the left is an photograph of an instructional manual with some small pictures of plants and gardeners with a wall of text. On the right is a photograph of a flyer advertising a picnic for the Fenway Garden Society with drawings of people attending and the date.

In 2020, the MHS received a plot of our very own after a couple of years of being on the waiting list! Led by the intrepid Laura Wulf, our Photographic & Digital Imaging Specialist, MHS staff members cleaned up the overgrown weeds and built a beautiful respite. The Fenway Victory Gardens are free and open to the public to stroll through. It is such a beautiful site that I highly recommend doing so!

MHS staff participating in one of the Fenway Garden workdays. Photograph taken by Laura Wulf.

(Dis)Orderly Books: Insubordination and the Continental Army’s Invasion of Iroquoia

By Blake McGready, The Graduate Center, CUNY

Elijah Winslow disobeyed his sergeant’s orders and went swimming in the Susquehanna River, so he had no one to blame but himself when he drowned. In the summer of 1779, Winslow and thousands of other Continental soldiers assembled in the Pocono Mountains as they prepared to invade the homelands of the Haudenosaunee people. While encamped at Easton, Wyoming, and other mountain villages, American revolutionaries flagrantly defied orders. They deserted camp, plundered the locals, and indulged in swimming in the rivers. Winslow was one such offender. A sergeant remembered that “Winslow asked Leave…Repeatedly both Last Night and this Morning to Go into the River.” After the sergeant denied Winslow’s request, he ventured into the water anyway. By the end of the day, the army determined that Winslow’s death was “entirely Accidental.”[1]

I read this account in the orderly book of the 2nd New Hampshire Regiment, one of the many Revolutionary War orderly books at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Orderly books document everyday details about life in the Continental Army—the officers in charge, the placement of troops, accounts of battlefield defeats and losses, etc. For a scholar looking more closely, these records also show enlisted men struggling with officers over the conditions of their service. Officers wanted to secure the compliance of unruly troops, while at the same time rank and file soldiers objected to military hierarchy. Orderly books seethe with conflict between officers and their disobedient men.[2]

The 2nd New Hampshire Regiment’s insubordination leaps off the pages. When the army arrived at Easton, officers ordered soldiers to limit their bathing in the nearby Delaware River. Less than a week later, officers repeated the prohibition, now reporting that some soldiers developed “Intermitting Fevers” on account of their “their too frequent Going into the Water and Remaining too Long in that Situation.” Despite repeated orders against swimming, Elijah Winslow drowned one month later.[3]

Theft was another major issue. When Yankee soldiers arrived at Easton, several of them harassed and plundered the town’s mostly German inhabitants. After Continentals traveled “a Great Distance…into the Country” and robbed the locals, commanders established a half-mile perimeter around camp. The restrictions did not work, and soldiers were soon caught stealing sheep from local farmers. A court martial also found several New Jersey soldiers guilty of “Stealing hoggs” and other property from civilians. In early July, Major General John Sullivan begged his men to not rob the locals’ hay or burn their fences.[4]

Sullivan struggled to stop vengeful troops from taking matters into their own hands. Armed parties departed camp and intimidated disaffected locals. Continentals insulted Native allies (“Warriers of the Anydas [Oneidas] Tuscorara and Stock bridge Indians”) who had recently joined the rebel ranks. How dare soldiers “Ridicule & Speak Contemtably” of the Native troops, Sullivan declared. But over the coming days, the jeering continued and tensions between white revolutionaries and Native soldiers simmered.[5]

In August and September, the Continental Army ferociously devastated Iroquoia. As the maelstrom of Continental predation barreled through the Haudenosaunee heartlands, soldiers burned Native villages, assaulted Native women, and robbed Native gravesites. What can an orderly book tell us about this pivotal invasion? During the weeks before the army entered Iroquoia, officers had been struggling constantly with their troops’ discipline. Soldiers repeatedly violated orders against bathing, stealing, and taunting Native soldiers. The Continentals, it seemed, were spoiling for a fight.[6]

As American revolutionaries destroyed Haudenosaunee villages and farms, they wrote many journals and diaries bragging about the devastation. Their orderly books, however, tell a different story. These documents shed light on soldiers’ numerous infractions and the tensions within the Continental Army. Furthermore, they reveal that soldiers’ acts of plundering and terror began well before the army stormed into Iroquoia. In the Poconos, the Continentals rehearsed the destruction and belligerence that would characterize their invasion of Native lands.

[1] “Winslow askd Leave…,” entry dated July 6, 1779, Orderly book, Wyoming and Easton, Pennsylvania, 27 May-25 July 1779, 2nd New Hampshire Regiment, Continental Army, recorded by William Mordaunt Bell, Revolutionary War Orderly Books (P-394), Reel 4, Massachusetts Historical Society. (I have modernized the spelling of most entries but included the original text in the notes.)

[2] John A. Ruddiman, “‘A Record in the Hands of Thousands’: Power and Negotiation in the Orderly Books of the Continental Army,” The William and Mary Quarterly 67, no. 4 (2010): 748.

[3]  Entry dated May 29; “Intermitting Fevors”; “their two [sic] frequent Going into the Water and Remaining two Long in that Situation,” entry dated June 9.

[4] Liam Riordan, Many Identities, One Nation: The Revolution and Its Legacy in the Mid-Atlantic (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 80; “a Great Distance…into the Cuntrey,” entry dated June 7; entries dated June 9, 24, July 5, 12.

[5] Entries dated June 10, 15, 24.

[6] For actions of Sullivan’s men in Iroquoia, see Maeve Kane, “‘She Did Not Open Her Mouth Further’: Haudenosaunee Women as Military and Political Targets during and after the American Revolution,” in Women in the American Revolution: Gender, Politics, and the Domestic World, ed. Barbara B. Oberg (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019), 83–92.

Fashion Plates – Not Just Pretty Pictures!

By Maggie Parfitt, Visitor Services Coordinator

One of the best things about working at the MHS is when a coworker sends a link to a catalogue listing with a “you’d like this” message. Recently, I was sent the motherlode of fashion plates in the MHS collection in our 1872 edition of Robert Chamber’s The Book of Days. While there’s too many to include here, I wanted to share some of my favorites, along with some fashion plate background, and some of the ways researchers reference them to support textual research. They’re not just for looking at! (But the looking is also fun).

First things first: what is a fashion plate? Fashion plates, as the name suggests, are illustrations of fashionable dress published in ladies’ magazines and journals starting around the 1780s and continuing through the 19th century. Armed with these illustrations women would travel to their trusted mantua-maker/dressmaker for a new gown inspired by the style in the plate. Some fashion plates even went so far as to include names of milliner’s shops, or the name of the dressmaker who invented the design.

“English Walking & Evening Dress, Invented by Miss Pierpoint, Edward Street, Portman Square. Published Oct 3, 1822.” Note: the term “dress” is in fashion plates typically refers to a mode of dressing rather than a single garment.
“Dinner Dress” stylistically dated to early 1820s. “Parisian Dinner Dress,” January 1, 1829.

When preserved in their original published contexts fashion plates often include written descriptions detailing fabric types, accessories, and garment names. Sources like these are key for filling in visual gaps in the written record. They help material culturalists and dress historians puzzle together disparate pieces of information like fabric advertisements in period newspapers or mentions of specific garments in letters, diaries, and journals. With all these pieces we can start identifying extant garments more completely and assemble robust theories of the dress of the past.

Morning and Evening dress, July 1803” with written description. Whoever wrote the descriptions included a note about the current season’s fashions: “The most fashionable colours are pale blue, lilac, yellow, pale green, and pink.

While a useful tool, it’s important to remember fashion plates were primarily marketing. They reflect a dressmaker’s interpretation of the silhouettes and details in style at the moment, and aren’t necessarily indicative of actual garments. Think of the difference between runway shows and red carpets. While both are modern examples of “high fashion,” red carpet styles have been edited down by individual taste. This does mean you can find fashion plates that are A LOT – with seemingly every accessory piled on there.

The Fashions, Expressly designed and prepared for the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, Feb 4, 1865.

I hope you enjoyed a quick look at just a few of the fashion plates in the MHS’s collection. While meant to inform the fashions for 19th century society – the upper classes of England and France, they provide great insight into the shapes, silhouettes, and accessories of all classes. I can imagine women of the time pursuing fashion plates and picking and choosing their favorites, much like we do today!

William Dunlap: Playwright, Father of American Theater & Artist

By Heather Rockwood, Communications Manager

While searching the online collection and archives of the MHS for objects and stories to share on social media, I find myself going down rabbit holes when I find slight hints of an interesting story. Recently, this happened with a historical figure of note that I had never heard of, despite having done theater in my youth and being familiar with US history and art. That man was William Dunlap.

William Dunlap (1766–1839) is touted as the father of American theater; he was also influential in art, literature, and design. He is perhaps most famous for his play André, which depicted George Washington on stage for the first time after the United States became a nation. On opening night in 1798, the play caused a bit of a scandal. It tells the story of the British spy Major John André, who Washington executed during the American Revolution. One of the characters in the play is a soldier in the Continental Army. He becomes furious with Washington over the execution and tears the black cockade from the hat he was wearing and throws it to the ground. The audience erupted in fury at such desecration of a sacred Federalist symbol. They booed vociferously and then rioted after the play finished, forcing Dunlap to change the ending.

Modern color photograph of a young white man wearing a black cocked had with white trim and a rosette ribbon in black with a silver button at the center. His clothes are a white high-collared shirt, red and blue wool jacket of military design and he has a few white straps in leather and other materials going over both shoulders. In the background is a row of white military tents and further back is a tree line.
This image from Cockade Column depicts a soldier in a Continental Army uniform with a cocked hat sporting a black cockade.

Charles Frances Adams wrote in his diary of two occasions when he saw the Dunlap play, The Stranger, in 1833 and 1837, although the note in 1837 reveals he had seen the play in 1825 and 1834 as well. Adams wrote this about the play, “This is a piece I never can see without feeling it. Indeed I am more touched by it than by any. If this is the test of a good piece it certainly is good, but I require rather more. I feel the inconsistencies in the character of the heroine, and the affectations of sentiment, it contains.”

Despite having lost an eye to an errantly thrown rock by a school friend as a boy, Dunlap was also a trained artist. He was mainly a portraitist, and the MHS holds a portrait he painted in New York City in 1811 or 1812 after his Park Theatre closed in 1805. The portrait is miniature watercolor of Elizabeth Oliver Lyde. When viewed up close, it shows great attention to the lines of her face, the shadowing and light on her cap and clothes, and the depth of emotion in her eyes.

Color photograph of a small portrait painting of an older white woman in an oval gold frame, with black painted wood frame around that. The figure is in ¾ profile and looks at the viewer with expressive dark eyes, she wears a frilled white cap that covers her hair, a large white shawl and a pink dress or shirt. The background is pink, lighter to the right, and gets darker as it goes left.
William Dunlap, 1811/1812, Elizabeth Oliver Lyde (1783–1820).

Not only was Dunlap a playwright, but he also wrote History of American Theatre in 1832, the first history of its kind, andHistory of the Rise and Progress of the Arts of Design in the United States in 1834. He also served as the director of New York’s American Academy of Fine Arts in 1817, and then helped to found New York’s National Academy of Design in 1826.

After searching for collection items that are digitized, I was curious to see if the MHS held any of Dunlap’s plays. What I found was a cache of 57 items in book and microfilm form. MHS even has Dunlap’s published diary, Diary of William Dunlap (1766–1839): the memoirs of a dramatist, theatrical manager, painter, critic, novelist, and historian! These items can be seen by making an appointment with the MHS Library. You can learn how to make an appointment here.