Monday, June 29, 2020

Guides to Archival Collections in the State Library

The State Library of Massachusetts has a number of collections, each containing a wealth of information. Many of these collections are so big and complex that they require a separate guide or finding aid to describe them in more detail. These guides help researchers determine whether the collection contains information relevant to their research, which helps when planning a trip to the library. 

The State Library creates finding aids for two types of complex collections: first, Legislators’ Papers; as the title suggests, these are the papers of Massachusetts legislators that have been given to the library upon each legislator’s retirement from the General Court. The library also creates finding aids for Manuscript Collections; these collections cover all sorts of topics as they relate to Massachusetts, such as education, artifacts, scrapbooks, etc.  

To see what other collections or resources are available at the State Library, please check out our online catalog:

Silvia Mejia
Special Collections Librarian
State Library of Massachusetts

Monday, June 22, 2020

The Robert Gould Shaw and 54th Massachusetts Regiment Memorial

The Robert Gould Shaw and 54th Massachusetts Regiment Memorial is one of the first stops for many Boston tourists, prominently placed on the edge of the Boston Common facing the Massachusetts State House. Since its unveiling in 1897, it has commemorated Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first federal black regiment of soldiers from a northern state during the Civil War. Interestingly, this monument has been edited throughout its history as new generations considered how and who it was commemorating.

Postcard published Mason Bros. & Co. Boston, Mass. ca. 1907-1917.

The 54th Massachusetts Regiment was the result of recruitment of African-American soldiers following the Emancipation Proclamation. While state troops such as the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry existed before the Emancipation Proclamation, the 54th was the first federally sanctioned black regiment in the Union Army. But who would lead this regiment? Massachusetts Governor John Albion Andrew specifically chose Robert Gould Shaw, who was from a prominent Boston family who were passionate abolitionists. Shaw was promoted to Colonel specifically so he could take command of the new regiment. Throughout the north, prominent black abolitionists like Frederick Douglass (whose son Lewis would serve in the 54th as a sergeant) and Martin Robinson Delany (who would later become the  first African-American field grade officer in the U.S. Army) promoted the recruitment effort, and as a result soldiers from across the northern regions, and even as far away as the Caribbean, came to join the 54th. Despite issues regarding full pay and material support, so many came to volunteer that the 54th was soon full, and the Union Army commissioned the 55th Massachusetts Regiment so that more black soldiers could enlist.

The 54th Massachusetts Regiment was mustered into federal service in May 1863, and fought in their first battle at Grimball's Landing in July. They would also go on to fight in the Battle of Fort Wagner, during which almost half of the regiment was wounded, captured, or killed. Colonel Shaw was among those killed during the attack. Despite or perhaps because of these horrific causalities, this battle would cement the valor of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment. Sergeant William Harvey Carney, who had joined the regiment after escaping from slavery, would later win the Congressional Medal of Honor for his gallantry in saving the regimental colors when the original flag bearer fell.

Portrait of William Harvey Carney,
recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The 54th continued to fight under different commanders, including Col. Alfred S. Hartwell, whose papers reside at the State Library of Massachusetts. They were disbanded in August 1865, several months after the official end of the Civil War. At the end of the war, surviving members of the 54th Regiment, veterans of other black regiments, and the black community of Beaufort, South Carolina wished to create a memorial to the historic regiment near Fort Wagner, but the area and the hostility from the local white population dissuaded this idea. A second chance for a memorial was born in a meeting at the Massachusetts State House months after the end of the war, involving Governor Andrew, prominent anti-slavery U.S. Senator Charles Sumner, abolitionist Samuel G. Howe, and other Boston politicians and abolitionists regarding a memorial to Robert Gould Shaw. However, this effort stalled when several of these men passed away soon after. But the project was reinvigorated by Joshua Bowen Smith, a prominent caterer and state representative of African and Native American ancestry who had previously worked aiding fugitive slaves as part of the Underground Railroad and the Boston Vigilance Committee. Smith helped to raise nearly $7000, the equivalent of about $168,000 in modern currency, before his death in 1879. By 1883, the project was back on track and the accumulated funds raised through private donations had reached $17,000 (about $407,000 today) and work on the memorial officially began (The monument to Robert Gould Shaw, 1897).

Joshua Bowen Smith circa 1871. Image courtesy
of the  Massachusetts Historical Society.

According to a contemporary account, the concept of the memorial came from Charles Sumner, who envisioned “a statue of Colonel Shaw mounted, in high relief upon a large bronze tablet” (The monument to Robert Gould Shaw, 1897). Augustus St. Gaudens was suggested by renown architect H. H. Richardson to be the artist of this monument, and he was contracted for the work of an equestrian statue of Shaw, which was cast in plaster in 1883. However, Shaw’s family “was acutely conscious both of the historical significance of the regiment's formation and of the fact that their son had been a mere colonel. So they asked the sculptor to show Shaw ‘bound together’ in common cause with his men” (Smee, 2014). While originally intended to be a memorial specifically to Shaw, it became the first soldiers’ monument to honor a group rather than an individual (Galvin, 1982).

St. Gaudens would work on the sculpture for nearly 14 years and hired forty men to serve as the models for the soldiers’ faces. St. Gaudens said that he considered it his duty to memorialize the soldiers “in a noble and dignified fashion worthy of their great service” (Galvin, 1982). On May 31, 1897, the sculpture was unveiled with high ceremony to high praise. The bronze cast showed Colonel Shaw astride his horse, with twenty-three black soldiers marching in line behind him, with more troops suggested by lines of rifles in the background. Above the soldiers is an angel, holding an olive branch (symbolizing peace) and poppies (symbolizing death). “Look at the monument and rend the story… the mingling of elements which the sculptor’s genius has brought so vividly before the eye” wrote one reporter for the Boston Globe. The surviving members of the 54th Massachusetts and their descendants were honored guests in the parade leading to the memorial.

Postcard published by Valentine and Sons Co. New York. ca. 1907-1909.

The marble base and terrace of the memorial, designed by architect Charles F. McKim, included inscriptions written by Charles W. Eliot honoring both “The White Officers” and “The Black Rank and File.” However, only the white officers of the regiment that died alongside Colonel Shaw at the Battle of Fort Wagner are listed on the back of the marble terrace. The black soldiers were left completely anonymous. In the early 1980’s, some wished to correct this omission and inscribe the names of the black soldiers who died in the Battle of Fort Wagner. Spearheading this project, which would include a full restoration of the memorial, was John D. O’Bryant, the president of the Boston School Committee at the time and the first African-American to be elected to said committee. However, some objected to the addition of the names, citing that the omission in the original memorial “should serve as a reminder of the racial prejudice that had characterized the late nineteenth century” (Whitfield, 1987). However, further research found that Colonel Shaw’s sister wrote a letter in which she vehemently expressed the desire that the names of the black soldiers should be on the monument “in order to leave no excuse for the feeling that it is only men with rich relations and friends who can have monuments” (Whitfield, 1987). Therefore, in 1982, the names of 62 soldiers who also died at the Battle of Fort Wagner were added to the monument.

In 2014, the Massachusetts Historical Society curated an exhibit called “Tell It with Pride: The 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Shaw Memorial,” which showcased the individual stories and photographic portraits of many of the soldiers that fought in the famous regiment. You can see many of these portraits still on their website. You can also see portraits of soldiers in the 55th Massachusetts Regiment on Flickr as part of the State Library’s digitized Alfred Stedman Hartwell collection.

Unknown Soldier from the 55th Massachusetts
Regiment. Photograph is part of the
Alfred Stedman Hartwell collection
at the State Library of Massachusetts.

Unknown Soldier from the 55th Massachusetts Regiment. Photograph is part of the Alfred Stedman Hartwell collection at the State Library of Massachusetts.

Currently, the monument is undergoing further restoration which began earlier this year. This planned restoration, which will take about six months, will involve the removal of the monument and the construction of a new concrete foundation at its base. In the meantime, an app providing more information about Robert Gould Shaw, the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, and their role in the Civil War will be available to anyone looking to learn more about this unique and important monument.

Further Reading:

Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff

Monday, June 15, 2020

The Great Salem Fire of 1914

June 25th marks the 106th anniversary of the Great Salem Fire, which swept through the Massachusetts city and destroyed many of its historic neighborhoods and buildings, especially in the Blubber Hollow and South Salem neighborhoods, and downtown area (see interactive maps). An explosion and subsequent fire, caused by industrial chemicals, started at around 1:30pm at the Korn Leather Factory, which once stood at 57 Boston Street; by midnight half of the city was burning. Nearly 253 acres of land and more than 1,300 buildings were ultimately destroyed, and close to 18,000 people were displaced, but amazingly there were no casualties reported.

The State Library has in its collection a postcard written by Saugus resident Rosina Niles, who visited Salem a little over a month after the fire.

Saugus Mass
                     August 9, 1914 
Mrs Porter How are you all now days. We hear death again has visited your home. Poor Ella I
was so sorry for her Poor boy was he sick long. Mrs Sheldon is not as strong as she was in the Spring it is her nerves by spells
I just hapen to think perhaps you might like one of the
Salem fire cards we went
down and see the ruins the city looks sad enough would like
to have you write to me adress[?] Rosina Niles Saugus Mass
Hope to find you all well 

She provides only a quick mention of the
devastation, but it shows how the event
continued to draw people from near and
far who were interested in seeing the ruins
for themselves. Photographic postcards depicting the aftermath, such as this one, were sold as souvenirs so that visitors could keep the image as a memento or share what they saw with others--because sometimes words alone cannot always fully convey the type of destruction that was experienced in such an historic and bustling city.

If you’d like to see additional images of Salem after the fire, check out our collection on Flickr.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Monday, June 8, 2020

June Author Talk: Honor Moore

It’s not too late to register for this evening’s virtual author talk with Honor Moore! You won’t want to miss this chance to meet the author of the new memoir Our Revolution: A Mother and Daughter at Midcentury.

Registration is free and open to everyone.
This Zoom event, hosted by WGBH Forum Network, is scheduled for 6pm today, June 8, and will be moderated by author Claire Messud.

Honor Moore will be speaking about her new memoir, Our Revolution, which focuses on her relationship with her charismatic mother, Jenny McKean Moore. Born into privilege on the North Shore, Jenny’s life shifted as she became engaged in the civil rights and feminist movements of the mid-twentieth century. Our Revolution was named by O Magazine as one of the best books to read this spring!

This virtual event is brought to you by American Ancestors/New England Historic Genealogical Society, the Boston Public Library, and the State Library of Massachusetts.

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian
State Library of Massachusetts

We also invite you to check out the other upcoming author events hosted by our partners:

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Monday, June 1, 2020

On (Virtual) Display in the State Library

As the calendar turns to June, it’s time to share another item from Special Collections in our virtual display case. In recognition of the 245th anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, we’re featuring an “Ode Written for the Celebration on Bunker Hill, June 17, 1825.” The ode was written in honor of the 50th anniversary of the battle.

The Battle of Bunker Hill was on June 17, 1775 and actually occurred on nearby Breed’s Hill in Charlestown. The British won the battle and took the hill, but it was a much more costly endeavor than had been imagined at the start. The well-organized British army had not expected much from the American militia, but as they advanced on the hill they were pushed back twice and experienced a high number of casualties - 1,054 British soldiers and officers died during the battle or afterward from wounds. On the American side, there were 400 casualties, and among those was Dr. Joseph Warren, a leading member of the patriot cause who was serving as the President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress at the time of his death. Dr. Warren had been commissioned as a major general just before the battle, but rather than relying on his rank and staying in the back of the fray, he chose to serve as a private. In the ode, he is acknowledged with the following stanza:

Ye shades of martyred heroes,
Who rallied here to fight;
Whose hearts of oak the onset braved
That shook old Bunker’s height;
Who, with your WARREN, proved yourselves
The Spartans of the field;
Here ye stood -- here your blood
Freedom’s sacred charter sealed.
Here to Liberty your pledge ye gave,
And the sacred charter sealed.

Composed by Thomas Wells, “Ode Written for the Celebration on Bunker Hill, June 17, 1825” was part of a celebration that included the laying the cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument. More than 100,000 people were in attendance, including almost 200 veterans of the battle. The ceremony was presided over by the Marquis de Lafayette, a key military leader from the Revolutionary War, and also included an oration by Daniel Webster, who was serving as a United States Representative for Massachusetts 1st District at the time.

The ode is set to the tune of “Ye Mariners of England,” a patriotic British war song by Scottish poet Thomas Campbell. This may seem like an odd pick for a song that honors one of the first and most famous battles of the American Revolution, but it must have been a popular early 19th-century tune, as it was also used for a song honoring George Washington’s birthday and a restoration of peace in February 1815.

Sometimes the printed material in Special Collections will have handwritten notations on the back, or verso, of the page. When I am on-site, I can easily examine the physical object to determine what these notations are. In this instance, I only have access to the digital copy but I can tell that something was written on the verso of the page because the ink has bled through the page. Once the library reopens, I’ll retrieve the item from storage to see the notations, so watch this space for a follow-up reveal! In the meantime, based on the spacing and what looks like a combination of both letters and numbers, I'm making a guess that it is a ledger or tally of some sort. Unfortunately, the ink bleeding from those notations has completely obscured one entire stanza of the ode, but I was able to find a copy of the ode in the online collection of the Library of Congress and have transcribed that missing section below:

Ye brave, in death triumphant!
In Glory’s rest that sleep;
Your Country shall your ashes guard,
Her watch around you keep; --
Your Spirits here that walk abroad,
Have no unheard appealed
From the sod where ye trod,
And the sacred charter sealed;
Where ye gathered with your hearty few,
And the sacred charter sealed.

Take a closer look at all of the lyrics, and see if you can decipher what’s written on the verso, by clicking the image above or checking out the full size version on DSpace.

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian