Friday, June 30, 2017

Canton, Mass. And the Old China Trade

Few may know that the town of Canton, Massachusetts was named for the city of Canton, China. The Anglicized name for the city Guangzhou seems an odd choice for the newly formed town separating from Stoughton, but the parish voted and approved the name on December 6, 1796:

“It has been a matter of much conjecture why the town was so called. It has frequently been asked whether this name was petitioned for, and whether it was given to the town on account of the China trade, which was at the time of its incorporation becoming important? To these questions a negative answer must be returned. The naming of the town was the whim of one individual… It is related that when the question of a name for the new town was discussed, the Hon. Eljiah Dunbar said that this town was directly antipodal to Canton in China, and for that reason should so be called. This argument, fallacious as it was, served to convince those who probably had nothing better to offer; and so this name, unmeaning and without any historical associations, was adopted.” – Daniel T.V. Huntoon, History of the town of Canton, Norfolk County, Massachusetts

View of Canton, Mass., 1878

While the story of how Canton got its name is puzzling, what is more interesting about this description is the quick sentence about how important the “China trade” was to early Massachusetts. After the Revolutionary War, though unable to trade with familiar partners like England or its colonies that remained in the West Indies, the United States was finally free to trade with areas previously monopolized or forbidden by their king. The Empress of China, financed by Philadelphian Robert Morris, was the first American ship to sail for the port of Canton, China in 1784. The significance of this attempt at commerce with China, “to us the unexplored country,” was immense, and accounts of the ship’s embarking were reprinted in newspapers throughout the states, including Massachusetts (Adventurous Pursuits: Americans and the China Trade, 1784-1844). While the new United States was completely foreign to the merchants in Canton, they were happy to engage in trade and the Empress of China returned the following year loaded with cargo. The experimental voyage had gone very well and had yielded a great profit for its financiers. The Empress has also brought to Canton Samuel Shaw, born in Boston, who would remain there to negotiate American-Chinese trade, becoming the first U.S. consul to China.

Many Massachusetts entrepreneurs followed suit, and the ports of Boston and Salem came to depend on Chinese trade. Salem’s Elias Hasket Derby’s ship, the Grand Turk, was by chance routed to Canton after dropping off cargo in Mauritius, and triumphantly arrived back in Salem in 1787 loaded with goods like tea, cinnamon, and chinaware. Derby’s continued trade with the Chinese eventually made him America’s first millionaire. Derby’s success would influence Thomas Handasyd Perkins, whose fur trade with Canton would make him one of the leaders in American-Chinese trade for over forty years.

Elias Hasket Derby of Salem, Mass.
But profits were not the only sign of success for Massachusetts merchants and financiers. Boston’s Joseph Barrell convinced five other investors to back a voyage to China that would go around the Cape Horn of South America rather than the traditional route, which ran across the Atlantic and around the Cape of Good Hope. The Columbia embarked on this trade experiment in 1787 and did not return to Boston until 1790. While financially the voyage was not a success, the ship had inadvertently become the first American vessel to sail around the world and was immediately outfitted for another venture that would lead to the “discovery” of the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest and America’s claim to the Oregon territory.

Eventually trade with the Chinese declined, as it was increasingly more and more difficult to find goods marketable to the commercially independent Chinese. To counter this lopsided trade relationship, British and American ships began trading with opium, which led to the Opium Wars between England China in the mid-1800s. These wars, as well as internal strife in both China (Taiping Rebellion, 1850-1864) and the United States (American Civil War, 1861-1865), brought the era of the “Old China Trade” to an end.

However, trade with China was essential to the commercial success and development of Massachusetts and the rest of the United States in the early years of the country’s independence, and remembering this period of history may have been a better reason for the naming of Canton, Massachusetts than Elijah Dunbar’s faulty geographic facts.

Further Reading:

Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Summertime … and it’s time to take a vacation!

As I was sitting in a long line of traffic to get both on and off Cape Cod over Memorial Day weekend, I was thinking how some things stay the same no matter what—as long as there have been cars, there have been summer traffic jams. But what did people do for their summer vacations in the days before the automobile? Where did they go?  Cape Cod? The Berkshires? Martha’s Vineyard? Boston’s North Shore? Some interesting finds in the State Library’s collections give a glimpse into the typical summer vacation of the mid to late 1800’s and, believe it or not, the favorite Massachusetts summer vacation spots of today are not much different from those of the past!

From a 2017 perspective, a somewhat amusing Book of Summer Resorts: explaining where to find them, how to find them, and their especial advantages, with details of time tables and prices published in 1868 claims to be “a complete guide for the summer tourist.”  In its introductory chapter it outlines the five top things that an “experienced traveler makes a particular care:”

  • He owns a good trunk
  • He carries thick clothing, even in the hottest weather
  • His hand-satchel is never without camphor, laudanum, and brandy for medicine
  • He does not drink water in unaccustomed places
  • He buys through tickets, even when not going beyond a local station

I suppose we can translate most of this sage advice for today by substituting “suitcase” for trunk, “layers” for thick clothing, “tylenol” for laudanum (no comment on the brandy) and it is still good advice to not to “drink the water” but as for buying “through tickets,” I am mystified as to why I would buy a ticket to somewhere I don’t intend to go!  The book continues on to describe in great detail the history and attractions of numerous summer vacation spots (including the nearest hotels and telegraph locations) in Massachusetts and beyond that were places in the Eastern U.S. and Canada accessible by rail from Boston, Philadelphia, or New York. In the book’s section on “Lakes, Rivers, and Mountains,” the author singles out Massachusetts’ Williamstown as “stand[ing] at a considerable altitude, and boast[ing] the purest of mountain air” and Pittsfield as one of the “most beautiful villages in all New-England.”

If you prefer the seashore, then how about going where “fashionable Boston” used to move during the month of July in the mid-19th century: Swampscott (!?!)--although the author of the Book of Summer Resorts sees “little which can account for its extraordinary popularity” excepting its proximity to Boston—only a 40 minute train ride in that day. Today we would probably say the preferred North Shore summer hot spots have moved a bit farther north from Swampscott to encompass the Cape Ann peninsula and the beaches of Salisbury, Rockport, and Plum Island.  However, once the railroad was extended to Provincetown in 1873, Cape Cod became the foremost summer vacation location by the seashore in Massachusetts and arguably remains so to this day.

Cape Cod summer vacations also include the much beloved islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket—still reached by the famous island ferries--the same as in the 19th century. In The Cottage City, or, The season at Martha's Vineyard, published in 1879, the author professes on the title page that “there can be found in New England no other summer resort presenting so many attractions and affording so many comforts with so few undesirable attendants, as Martha's Vineyard gives to the thousands who every year throng her well managed hotels and dwell in her pretty cottage homes” which was true then and continues now, 138 years into the future, as any visitor to this beautiful island can tell you (including the 42nd and 44th Presidents of the United States!). Happy travels this summer, whether it be woods or beaches!

Additional sources:

Judy Carlstrom
Technical Services

Monday, June 19, 2017

The History of a Massachusetts Business or How NECCO Got its Start

Everyone is familiar with NECCO candies (especially their wafers), however do you know what the acronym NECCO means?  Did you know that they were and still are headquartered in Massachusetts?  This blog will cover some fun historical facts about the famous candy-making company.

In 1901 three of the leading confectionary firms in Massachusetts came together under the name of the New England Confectionary Company or NECCO.  The companies were Chase and Company, Bird Wright & Company, and Fobes, Hayward & Company.  Oliver Chase of Chase and Company was originally a druggist at a pharmacy, a field in which it was already a common practice to put bitter tasting medicine into sweet lozenges. In 1847 Chase invented a medicinal lozenge cutter, which increased the production of lozenges and made it possible to also make wafer candies. He patented his invention and then started his own confectionery company with his brother Silas in 1847.  His lozenge cutter is considered the first candy-making machine, and in 1866 another brother Daniel invented a machine that could print words onto candy—leading to the invention of Conversation Candy or Sweethearts.

NECCO Wafers are made in the same original eight flavors that are made today:  orange, lemon, lime, clove, chocolate, cinnamon, licorice and wintergreen. In 2009 they experimented with changing the flavors so there would be no artificial flavors or colors, however consumers objected to the changes and in 2011 they went back to the original flavors.  During the Civil War they were called “Hub wafers” and given to soldiers.  During WWII the wafers were part of the K-rations for soldiers. In 1913 Donald MacMillan took NECCO wafers on an Arctic expedition for nutrition and as rewards to Eskimo children. Other candies they make include Candy Buttons, Canada Mints, Clark Bars, Sky Bars and Mary Janes.

NECCO is the oldest continuously-run candy factory in the country.  In 1902 NECCO was located at 253 Summer Street and 11-27 Melcher Street in the Fort Point Channel area of Boston.  Although the company has since moved from the Fort Point neighborhood, Necco Street and Necco Court remind us of where it once was located.  In 1927 the company built its factory in Cambridge on Massachusetts Avenue near the Charles River and remained there until its move to Revere in 2003.

In 1947 the Boston Globe said that NECCO was one of the world’s largest candy producers and that New England was leading the country in boxed candies.  The latest developments in the NECCO story come from an April 27th, 2017 article in Banker and Tradesman: “Framingham-based developer Atlantic Management has acquired New England Confectionery Co.’s 50-acre headquarters in Revere, the candy manufacturer’s home since 2003, for $54.6 million.”

Naomi Allen
Reference Librarian

Monday, June 12, 2017

Summer exhibition - Rest, Relaxation, and Recreation: Parks in Massachusetts summer exhibit

The State Library invites you to view our newest exhibition, Rest, Relaxation, and Recreation: Parks in Massachusetts. This visually attractive exhibition displays many unique parks in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts parks range from very old to brand new; from forest green to urban gray; from government-run to privately-owned; and from tranquil to noisy and fun. Using materials from the State Library’s collections, this exhibition documents the rich history of parks in the Commonwealth.  

The exhibition runs from June 12 through September 1, 2017 and can be viewed outside of the Library, Room 341 of the State House. Library hours are Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm. Can't make it to the library? View the digital exhibit on the library's Flickr site!

Monday, June 5, 2017

June Author Talk: Joshua Kendall

First Dads: Parenting and Politics from George Washington to 
Barack Obama, by Joshua Kendall 
Thursday, June 22, 2017—Noon to 1:00pm
State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, 
Massachusetts State House

June is a great month for dads—not only is Father’s Day this month, but we’re also celebrating dads here at the State Library with our next author talk! Join us at noon on Thursday, June 22, to hear author Joshua Kendall speak about his latest book, First Dads: Parenting and Politics from George Washington to Barack Obama.

First Dads explores the parenting styles of our nation’s first 43 presidents, grouping these fathers into six categories: the preoccupied, playful pals, double-dealing dads, tiger dads, the grief-stricken, and the nurturers. Franklin Roosevelt, whose children had to make appointments to speak with him, falls under the category of “the preoccupied,” while Barack Obama, who took the time during his presidency for family dinners and bedtime reading rituals, is described as a “nurturer.” How would our current president be categorized? Come to our author talk to find out!

Author Joshua Kendall is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in many publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Psychology Today. He is also the author of three previous books and the co-author of three academic psychology books.

Mr. Kendall will be offering copies of First Dads for sale at the discounted price of $20 at the conclusion of his talk at the State Library.

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian