American History - 18th Century

Celebrate Patriots' Day With Our New Online Exhibition

Lexington Alarm letter exhibition imagePatriots' Day, a holiday well-known in Massachusetts and celebrated in other U.S. states as well, commemorates the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. This year's holiday marks the 246th anniversary of the events that signaled the beginning of the American Revolution.

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library invites you to explore our new online exhibition, “'To all the Friends of American Liberty': The 1775 Lexington Alarm Letter” now available on the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. This exhibition takes a close look at an original copy of the Lexington Alarm letter that is in the Museum & Library's collection. Written on April 20, 1775, the letter's urgent news that war had broken out brings today's viewers to the beginning of the American Revolution.

The Museum's copy of the letter, written in the late morning of April 20, 1775, is one of several created by colonists to inform distant communities and colonies about the Battle of Lexington and the outbreak of war with England.

Interested in more online exhibitions? You can check out all of the Library & Archives online exhibitions here. Also be sure to check out the seven online exhibitions that are available at the Museum's online exhibitions website.


Experience Some of Patriots' Day Online

Lexington alarm letterThis year marks the 245th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington. During any other year, you can usually visit us in person at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library around Patriots’ Day, when we normally exhibit one of the highlights from our collection: an original copy of the Lexington Alarm letter. Our letter is one of several created by colonists to inform other colonies about the Battle of Lexington and the outbreak of war with England. It is as close as contemporary viewers can get to the beginning of the American Revolution. While all of the Patriots' Day activities and events around Lexington and the rest of Massachusetts have been canceled this year, we wanted to remind you that you can still get an up close look at the Lexington Alarm letter through the high resolution images of it that are available to everyone through our Digital Collections website

The original alarm letter was written by Joseph Palmer just hours after the Battle of Lexington which took place around daybreak on April 19, 1775. Palmer, a member of the Committee of Safety in Watertown, Massachusetts, a town near Lexington, had his letter copied by recipients along the Committee of Safety's network so that the message was distributed far and wide. While the original alarm letter written by Palmer is thought to be lost, the Museum & Library has in its collection this copy of his famous warning, which was written the day after the Battle of Lexington by Daniel Tyler, Jr., of Connecticut.

If you want to do a little more armchair traveling, be sure to check out a blog post we published over a decade ago, which traces the route that the alarm letter took from Watertown, Massachusetts down to New York City.

And we hope to see you in person in April of next year for the 246th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington, when you can once again see this exciting piece of American history in person.

Caption:
Lexington Alarm Letter, [April 20, 1775], Daniel Tyler, Jr. (about 1750–1832), copyist, Brooklyn, Connecticut, Museum purchase, A1995/011/1.


The Lexington Alarm letter - on view and online

Alarm letterEach year during the celebration of Patriots’ Day, a Massachusetts state holiday, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library proudly displays an original copy of the Lexington Alarm letter—one of several letters created by the colonists to inform other colonies about the Battle of Lexington and the outbreak of war with England. It is as close as contemporary viewers can get to the beginning of the American Revolution.

The original alarm letter was written by Joseph Palmer just hours after the Battle of Lexington. Palmer, a member of the Committee of Safety in Watertown, Massachusetts, a town near Lexington, had his letter copied by recipients along the Committee of Safety's network so that the message was distributed far and wide. While the original alarm letter written by Palmer is thought to be lost, the Museum & Library has in its collection this copy of his famous warning, which was written the day after the Battle of Lexington by Daniel Tyler, Jr., of Connecticut.

In 2016, the Library & Archives digitized the Lexington Alarm letter and made high resolution images of it available to everyone through our Digital Collections website. If you're in Lexington during April, and would like to see this exciting piece of American history in person, please be sure to visit the Museum & Library. Or if you're reading this post and would like to get a close-up look at this document, be sure to visit our Digital Collections website at this link.

Caption:
Lexington Alarm Letter, [April 20, 1775], Daniel Tyler, Jr. (about 1750–1832), copyist, Brooklyn, Connecticut, Museum purchase, A1995/011/1.


The North Shore Lace Industry

GL2004_0143T1
Masonic Apron, 1780-1800, Unidentified Maker, Probably Massachusetts, Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts Collection, GL2004.0143. Photograph by David Bohl.

I love learning about regional styles of craft and the cultural reasons that associate a particular style or design with a specific area. This is why when I saw a striking apron from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts on long-term loan to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, I was excited.

As recounted in Curiosities of the Craft the name “William O’Brien” is written on the underside of the apron’s flap. William O’Brien (1753-1784) was a member of the O’Brien family of Machias, Maine. William's brother, the famous Captain Jeremiah

O'Brien (1744-1818), is credited with capturing a British ship during the first naval battle of the American Revolution. The most common story associated with this apron was that it was worn during the procession held in memory of George Washington in 1800. However, this story conflicts with existing dates since William O’Brien died in Spain in 1784 and he would have been unable to participate in the processions. It is possible that the apron may have belonged to William but was worn by one of his brothers for the procession. William was a member of the Philanthropic Lodge in Marblehead, Massachusetts, while Jeremiah belonged to the St. Andrews Lodge of Boston.

The apron is made of white leather with “Memento Mori” (Remember Death) written in black ink across the front. While it is easy to be drawn in by this intriguing message, the black lace trimming on the apron also helps to illuminate the object’s history. The lace’s pattern is nearly identical to a pattern made in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Ipswich was the home of a lace industry from approximately the 1750s to 1840. A sample from

Whipple House detailWhipple House detail from The Laces of Ipswich by Marta Cotterell Raffel. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

the Whipple House in Ipswich, an Ipswich historic property named for its first owner, entrepreneur Captain John Whipple (1596-1669), shows striking similarities to the Grand Lodge apron. Both use thicker thread (called gimp) to outline parts of the design. The “spider” motif pattern under the gimp outline near the scalloped edge of the apron lace is very similar to the Whipple House sample. In Laces of Ipswich, Marta Cotterell Raffel explains that lace makers developed the Whipple House pattern in the region. In fact, the Whipple House sample was sent to the Library of Congress as part of a survey of early regional American industries. The marked similarity between the lace on the apron and the Whipple House lace sample supports the story that this apron originated in New England.

No matter who wore the apron, the time and places William and his brothers were active in a time and place when Ipswich lace would have been available. Due to trade embargoes and boycotts of British goods, Ipswich lace may have been a patriotic and also a practical decision. Though delicate and purely ornamental, this black lace helps tell a story of early industry on the North Shore and of the men who fought to win American Independence.

 Kayla Bishop is a volunteer in the Museum's collections department. For the past 5 months, Kayla has assisted in all aspects of collections management. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Museum Studies from Johns Hopkins University.

 

References

Marta Cotterell Raffel, The Laces of Ipswich (Lebanon, New Hampshire, 2003); 86-87, 142-143.

Aimee E. Newell, Hilary Anderson Stelling and Catherine Compton Swanson, Curiosities of the Craft:  Treasures from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Collection (Boston and Lexington, Massachusetts:  Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts and the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, 2013), 234.


George Washington Silhouettes

The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library is currently researching and digitizing the many prints in our collection that depict first president and Freemason George Washington (1732-1799). Among these are two silhouettes of George Washington. We own many examples of silhouette portraiture in the Museum & Library collection but have only a few profiles of Washington.

Silhouettes, also known as shades or profiles, were a popular and ubiquitous style of portraiture from the mid-1700s through the  1800s. They were less expensive than a painted portrait but declined in popularity with the invention of photography.  The word silhouette was derived from the name of French Minister of Finance Etienne de Silhouette (1709-1767) in the late 1700s. Silhouette cut shadow portraits as a hobby and was well known for his unpopular austere economic restrictions in France under king Louis XV (1710-1774). The term a-la silhouette  became synonymous with cheap. Profilist August Edouart (1789-1861) is thought to have popularized the word silhouette when he began using it to describe his profile portraits. 

There are four basic82_54_22DS1 techniques in the production of silhouettes: Hollow-cut, cut and paste, painted, and printed (engraved or etched). Hollow-cut ones are created by cutting the profile from the center of a piece of paper or other material and mounting it against a background of contrasting color, allowing the silhouette to show through the cut-out space. Cut and paste silhouettes are created by cutting out a profile and pasting it to a contrasting background.  

The Washington silhouette on the left is a bookplate engraving from Washington Irving’s (1783-1859) seminal work Life of Washington, Vol. IV, published in 1857. The engraving is based on the George Washington silhouette cut by Sarah De Hart (1759-1832) in 1783. De Hart, one of the earliest recorded American woman silhouettists, made her hollow-cut profiles without the popular physiognotrace device used to cut silhouettes in the early 1800s.  

The print includes this caption, “From the Original (cut with scissors) by Miss De Hart, Elizabethtown, N. J. 1783, Presented by Mrs. Washington to Mrs. Duer, daughter of Lord Stirling.” Catherine Alexander Duer (1755-1826) was a member of the prominent Livingston family from the Hudson Valley in New York. Her uncle Phillip Livingston (1716-1778), a New York delegate to the Continental Congress, signed the Declaration of Independence. Her family was well acquainted with the Washingtons and George Washington gave her away at her 1779 wedding to Colonel William Duer (1747-1799).86_62_19DI1

The silhouette on the right is an engraved print from Johann Friedrich Anthing’s (1753-1805), Collection de cent silhouettes des personnes illustres et célèbres dessinées d'après les originaux [Collection of 100 silhouettes], originally published in 1791.  Dr. William L. Guyton (1915-2011) and Mary B. Guyton donated these silhouettes as part of a larger donation of George Washington engravings and prints. Guyton, a retired surgeon and World War II combat veteran, was a well-known collector of silhouettes and George Washington prints and books. He donated most of his silhouette collection to the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum at Colonial Williamsburg. To see the newly digitized George Washington engravings, visit our online collection: http://www.srmml.org/collections/online-collections/

Stay tuned for more additions to the online collection in the coming months!

Captions:

George Washington, ca. 1857, Unidentified Engraver; G. P. Putnam and Co., publisher; Sarah De Hart, silhouettist, United States, Gift of Dr. William L. and Mary B. Guyton, 82.54.22

Washington, ca. 1791, Johann Friedrich Anthing, Germany, Gift of Dr. William L. and Mary B. Guyton, 86.62.19.

References:

Alice Van Leer Carrick, A History of American Silhouettes: A Collector's Guide-1790-1840, Rutland, Vermont: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1968.

E. Nevill Jackson, Silhouettes: A History an Dictionary of Artists, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1981.

 

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A Centennial Textile Souvenir

2008_025DS1The Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library has many images of George Washington (1732-1799) in its collection (stay tuned for more on that over the coming months!).  This banner features an image of the first president standing next to his horse.  So far, the source for this image of Washington is unknown.  The portrait may be original to the banner. 

The banner was probably produced as a souvenir in 1876, when the United States was celebrating its centennial.  Textiles like this one, along with many other items, were available for sale around the country and especially at the Centennial Exposition held that year in Philadelphia.  The red, white and blue color scheme was popular, along with the star, stripe and shield motifs, which were clearly understood as American symbols.  The shields are expressly identified on the banner as "Shield of U.S. America." 

Washington is reading a letter inscribed "Victory is Ours, Paul Jones."  This seems to be a reference to Revolutionary naval hero John Paul Jones (1747-1792).  Jones's best-known battle occurred in September 1779 while he served as captain of the Bonhomme Richard.  Jones engaged the Serapis, a British warship.  Outgunned from the beginning, Jones's ship suffered an onboard accident early in the battle when two of its guns exploded.  To compensate, Jones brought his ship close to the Serapis and secured the two ships using grapples and lines.  When the British captain asked Jones if he surrendered, Jones is famously said to have answered "I have not yet begun to fight."  Indeed, Jones led his crew to victory by repelling a British boarding party and causing significant damage to the Serapis

George Washington is well known as a Freemason; he joined Virginia's Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 in 1753.  John Paul Jones was also a Freemason.  He joined Saint Bernard Lodge No. 122 in Scotland in 1770, later becoming a member of the Lodge of Nine Sisters in Paris.

Do you have a centennial souvenir in your collection?  Have you ever seen a similar portrait of George Washington?  Let us know in a comment!

George Washington Banner, ca. 1876, unidentified maker, United States or England, gift of the Valley of Peoria, Illinois, A.A.S.R., N.M.J., 2008.025.  Photograph by David Bohl.


Lecture: “Embroidery and Economic Opportunity in Early Federal Period America”

Pamela A. Parmal
Pamela A. Parmal, Chair and David and Roberta Logie Curator of Textile and Fashion Arts, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

June 11, 2016

2 PM

Lecture by Pamela A. Parmal, Chair and David and Roberta Logie Curator of Textile and Fashion Arts, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

As part of our 2016 Linn Lecture Series “Enterprise and Craft in the Young Nation” the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library will welcome Pamela A. Parmal for a lecture on June 11, 2016. Parmal is a leading authority on historical needlework. Parmal has curated many exhibitions and published numerous books and papers on quilts, embroidery and fashion.

In her lecture on June 11, Parmal will discuss how women’s embroidery work fueled commerce and offered an opportunity for women to earn income to support themselves and their families in early America.

During this time young women from well-to-do families were often taught different kinds of needle arts, including embroidery. Mastery of these skills was seen as a reflection of a family’s gentility. Many of the embroidered pieces these young women created were treasured and passed down for generations.

Women entrepreneurs who possessed skills in embroidery arts opened schools to teach fashionable stiches and techniques. Many of the women who ran these schools also had shops that imported and sold embroidery supplies to their pupils and the public. These schools helped to generate trade by creating a demand for the imported silk and cotton thread needed to craft the detailed designs in vogue at the time.

Schoolgirl embroidery techniques can be seen in our newest exhibition, "The Badge of a Freemason: Masonic Aprons from the Collection." Aprons such as the one below show evidence of embroidery techniques that were taught in the early 1800s at female academies. 

Embroidered apron 87_36DP1DB
Masonic Apron, ca. 1800. Probably New York. Museum Purchase, 87.36. Photograph by David Bohl.

This lecture is made possible by the generous support of the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation and is part of the lecture series, “Enterprise and Craft in the Young Nation.”


Lecture: Native American Contributions to the Mapping of North America, 10/4

Long before European explorers and colonists arrived in North America, indigenous inhabitants had already explored and created maps of the vast landscapes of our continent. Come to our lecture to learn how Europeans venturing into unknown territories were dependent on collaboration with Native Americans.

JRS_smallerSaturday, October 4, 2:00 p.m.

Cartographic Encounters: Native Americans in the Exploration and Mapping of North America

John Rennie Short, Professor, Department of Public Policy, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

In this lecture Professor Short will outline the role of indigenous people in the exploration and mapping of North America  Drawing on diaries, maps, and official reports, he will demonstrate how Native American guides, informants, and mapmakers were essential to European and American exploration and mapping in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Professor of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, John Rennie Short is an expert on urban issues, environmental concerns, globalization, political geography and the history of cartography. His Cartographic Encounters: Indigenous Peoples and the Exploration of the New World appeared with the University of Chicago Press in 2009.

Join Hilary Anderson Stelling, Director of Exhibitions and Audience Development, at noon on Oct. 4 for a gallery talk in an exhibition she curated, "Prized Relics: Historic Souvenirs from the Collection." She will trace how fragments of a cherished quilt, gavels made from wood from famous trees, or bits of wood and stone collected on tourists’ journeys all tell us something about their collectors and what places and events they deemed historic.

Mark your calendars for the last program in our Speaking of Maps: An Exploration of Cartography and History series:

Saturday, November 22, 10:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

Workshop: How to Do History with Online Mapping Tools

In this workshop, participants will learn how to use an online tool to create maps that chart Metro Boston area history. Staff from the MetroBoston DataCommon, a provider of free applications that make it possible to map data, will collaborate with Joanne Riley, University Archivist at UMass Boston, to show lay historians, data fans, and map enthusiasts how visualizations of data related to our region can help us understand our history. Whether you are interested in exploring demographics, economy, the physical environment, politics or more, bring your curiosity and your questions. Our presenters will share examples and point the way to potential uses of digital mapping for your local history research. Space is limited; registration is required by November 5. Contact: programs@monh.org.

Both programs are part of a series related to the Museum and Library’s collection of historic maps. They are free thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation.

For further information, contact the Museum at (781) 861-6559 or check our website: www.monh.org.

Photo courtesy of John R. Short


Washington's Buttons or Shady Hoax?

86_62_10a-cDP1DBAt the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, we love objects that have a good story. This framed pair of buttons, which were donated in 1986 as part of a large collection of ephemera and prints associated with George Washington (1732-1799), have a fantastic story framed with them. However, years of curatorial experience have also made us somewhat suspicious of stories that seem too good to be true.

According to the information with the buttons, they are “General George Washington’s Military Waistcoat Buttons,” which he wore during the Revolutionary War. The typewritten note framed with the buttons goes on to trace their descent from George Washington through several generations of his family to William Lanier Washington (1865-1933). At the bottom of the note, William Lanier Washington signed his name and had his signature notarized. The buttons were part of an auction in New York City in February 1922 – they are listed as lot #198 and a note in the catalog indicates that they are “framed, together with the statement, made under affidavit, setting forth the history of these Revolutionary War relics of General Washington, and line of descent to the present owner.”

However, a little research into William Lanier Washington turns up some questions about the authenticity of the buttons. The auction at which these buttons were sold was at least the third that offered items from William Lanier’s collection. A catalog from a 1920 auction also includes multiple lots of buttons from George Washington’s clothing. And, there had been an auction in 1917, as well. Some accounts suggest that William Lanier Washington was known as a pariah in his family, although little has been written by scholars about these auctions or William Lanier. One story related to the 1917 auction ends tragically. At the sale, G.D. Smith (1870-1920), who helped Henry Huntington (1850-1927) assemble his famed library, purchased a pair of candlesticks thought to have been used on Washington’s desk at Mount Vernon. Three years later, William Lanier came to see Smith and attempted to sell him a set of candlesticks that Washington used on his desk at Mount Vernon. Smith related that he had already purchased one such set, got into an argument with Washington and dropped dead in the heat of the moment.

While the stories about William Lanier Washington and the repeated sales from his collection call the authenticity of these buttons - and the other objects in his auctions - into question (see also the survey scale at the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia, and the seal ring at the Sons of the American Revolution), he did have a direct family connection to George Washington and some of the items he sold were owned by George. You can judge for yourself in our new exhibition (June 2014), Prized Relics: Historical Souvenirs from the Collection, where the buttons will be on view.

Pair of Buttons, 1770-1840, unidentified maker, United States, Dr. William L. and Mary B. Guyton Collection, 86.62.10a-c. Photograph by David Bohl.

 


Lecture: Map and Chart Publishing in Boston in the Eighteenth Century

David Bosse, Librarian and Curator of Maps at Historic Deerfield, explores “Map and Chart Publishing in Boston in the Eighteenth Century,” at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, Saturday, June 7 at 2 pm. The lecture is free thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation.

For much of the 18th century, map publishing in America was a financially precarious undertaking. The same held true in Boston, where individuals from many walks of life ventured into commercial mapmaking. Bosse's lecture will explore the work of several Boston mapmakers during an era of ad-hoc publishing.

Map Osgood-Carleton DP3DBThe image to the right shows the 1798 first edition of Osgood Carleton's map of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, held by our Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives. Carleton, a veteran of both the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War and one of the few Americans trained in military engineering and mapmaking, established himself as a leader among American mapmakers of the post-Revolutionary period. From his shop on Oliver's Dock in Boston, he published navigation and mathematics textbooks as well as maps of Boston, Massachusetts, the District of Maine, New Hampshire, the United States, nautical charts, and a marine atlas, in addition to running a school for navigation, mathematics, and cartography.

Map Osgood-Carleton DP4DBCarleton's "Accurate Map of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts" was the first official map of the new state, an idea he proposed to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1794. Massachusetts sorely needed this instrument to monitor and stimulate settlement, commerce, and development of transportation networks. (Previous regional mapping projects on this scale dated back to the 1750s, such as the map discussed in our earlier blog post.) Because the new Federal government was unable to provide support and the Commonwealth was also short on cash, Osgood funded this large-scale project through the support of many individual subscribers. The complex undertaking became frought with problems when not all Massachusetts towns were able to complete accurate new surveys of the lands within their bounds.

for monitoring and stimulating settlement, commerce, and development of transportation networks; as well as for delineating public lands available for sale. With a relatively weak Federal government unable to provide support and themselves short on cash, states had to come up with creative models for funding these labor intensive projects.
- See more at: http://www.bostonraremaps.com/catalogues/BRM1315.HTM#sthash.jss8KTvy.dpuf

To hear more about Carelton's "Accurate Map," as well as other tales of Boston cartographers, please join us and our speaker on Saturday, June 7th. David Bosse is Librarian of Historic Deerfield and the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, and curator of maps at Historic Deerfield. He formerly served as curator of maps at the Clements Library of the University of Michigan, and assistant map curator at the Newberry Library, Chicago. His research on the early American map trade has appeared in Mapping Boston (MIT Press, 1999), the journal Cartographica, and in the online journal, Coordinates.

This talk is part of the Museum's 2014 lecture series: “Speaking of Maps: An Exploration of Cartography and History.” Starting in September, we will have three more map-related programs in this series related to the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library’s collection of historic maps:

Saturday, September 13, 2 PM
Reinventing the Map
Susan Schulten, Professor and Chair, Department of History, University of Denver

Saturday, October 4, 2 PM
Cartographic Encounters: Native Americans in the Exploration and Mapping of North America
John Rennie Short, Professor, Department of Public Policy, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Saturday, November 22, 10 AM – 12:30 PM
Workshop: How to Do History with Online Mapping Tools
Registration is required; click here for more information.

For further information, contact the Museum at (781) 861-6559 or check our website: www.monh.org.

Sources:

David Bosse, "The Boston Map Trade of the Eighteenth Century." In: Alex Krieger and David Cobb, eds., with Amy Turner. Mapping Boston (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1999), p. 51.

For more information on the Carleton map, click here and here.

Image credits:

An Accurate Map of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts…, [1798].  Osgood Carleton (1742-1816).  Boston, Massachusetts.  Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives, 75.19.  Photograph by David Bohl.

Detail, An Accurate Map of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts…, [1798].  Osgood Carleton (1742-1816).  Boston, Massachusetts.  Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives, 75.19.  Photograph by David Bohl.