Revolutionary War

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.


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.


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.

 


Eliakim Libby's Hook and Eye

Libby Hook and Eye 75_35DI3 for blogAs noted in a previous post, getting ready for the exhibition “Prized Relics:  Historic Souvenirs from the Collection,” opening  June 14, 2014, at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, has afforded staff a great chance to learn more about some of the lesser-known objects in the Museum’s collection. Among the group is this small hook and eye owned by Eliakim Libby (1745-1836). This humble fastening gives us a glimpse of the ordinary people who fought in the Revolutionary War and deserves a close look.

When this hook and eye was donated to the Museum, it had been sewn to a card (as you can see to the left). The message on the card helps explain why the hook and eye eventually made its way to the collection:  “This hook and eye w[as] worn on an army cloa[k] in the Revolution.” Underneath this statement is an inked name, Eliakim L[i]bby. Histories and pension records document Eliakim Libby’s service in the Massachusetts Militia. Libby, from Scarborough, Maine, joined in May 1775, as a sergeant. During his eight months of service near Boston he dug trenches and kept guard at Lechmere Point. 

Like most relics, this object and its accompanying information raise some questions. One was inspired by the card the hook and eye is attached to—a business card for John P. Moulton (1849-1909), carpenter and contractor of Saco, Maine. From the design and paper, it appears to date from the late 1800s or early 1900s. Saco area buisness directories list Moulton from 1890 through 1904. Since Moulton’s and Libby’s lives did not overlap, Libby could not have signed Moulton’s business card. As well, the name written on the card does not resemble Libby’s witnessed signature on his 1832 pension application.     Letter from Eliakim Libby Nov 26 1775 front smaller

Adding interest to the story, two letters (one of them is pictured to the right, both are in the Museum’s collection) that Libby wrote to his wife, Mehitable Cummings Libby (1746-1822) bear the same distinctively written and inked name--Eliakim L[i]bby--as the hook and eye’s card. Although we don’t know who, it appears that someone--possibly one of Libby’s descendants--added Libby’s name to the letters and to the card. Perhaps prompted by a desire to underscore the antiquity of the objects associated with Libby or to emphasize their connection to Libby, the person who added the name scripted it in an approximation of an old-fashioned style. Does this addition detract from the letters and the hook and eye?  A purist might argue that the signatures, appended to the letters more than one hundred years after they were written, take away from the object.  On the other hand, linking the letters and hook and eye with Libby may have contributed to their long-term preservation.

Regardless of what you think about the added signatures, the letters are evocative. In one Libby speaks of prosaic matters like how much money he plans to send home and his health, noting, “I have had a Bad Cold But am Better.” He also writes about missing home, saying, “my de[a]r wif[e] I Long to Sey you and my De[a]r Child,” and touchingly concludes as, “you[r] Loving husband and Loving fri[e]nd til…de[a]th.”  These letters, and the hook and eye saved with them, hint at the human concerns that Libby and others like him experienced while serving far from home during the Revolutionary War.  

Credits:

Hook and Eye, 1770s. New England. Gift of John H. Barthelmes, Jr., 75.35.

Letter from Eliakim Libby, November 26, 1775. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Gift of John H. Barthelmes, Jr., A75/009/1.


Lecture: What Map Was Used by the British Officer Who Led the Retreat from Lexington and Concord?

Map of the Most Inhabited Parts of New England JeffreysIt's spring of 1775, and the Province of Massachusetts Bay is rebelliously defying the laws Parliament has passed to coerce the local Assembly to obey His Majesty, King George III. Instead of offering reimbusement for the tea destroyed in Boston Harbor back in late 1773, the country people outside of Boston have formed an illegal assembly which is turning the once-loyal town militias into an army of insurrection! What is a Regular Army officer to do? Imagine yourself in the position of Brigadier General Percy, commander of the 5th Regiment of Foot, stationed in Boston in 1774 to keep the King's peace. How can you make a strategic, tactical or even logistical assessment of the surrounding landscape? Are there maps available that provide the level of detailed information about the countryside required by your duties?

Join Matthew Edney, Osher Professor in the History of Cartography at the University of Southern Maine, as he explores these fascinating questions in a free lecture at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library. On Saturday, March 15 at 2 pm, his topic will be: General Hugh, Earl Percy's Use of the Map of New England During the American Revolution. Edney delves into the evidence provided by the revealing annotations made on a personal copy of this map by Hugh, Earl Percy, a distinguished career officer in the British Army and commander of its 5th Regiment of Foot. (Our image is of the Museum & Library's print of this map; the print annotated by Percy is held by the Osher Map Library at the University of Southern Maine.) Percy led the relief column that saved the retreating British forces at the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. This presentation will be a particular treat, as our museum is located just yards down the road from Lexington's Munroe Tavern, where Percy set up a temporary field headquarters on April 19th. A variety of other maps available in the period outline the distinct kinds of geographical knowledge possessed by the British military in Boston in 1774-1775 and will be also be examined in the lecture. This program is free to the public once again thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation.

Matthew_edneyMatthew Edney studied for a B.Sc. in geography at University College London before moving to the U.S.A. for graduate work in geography, cartography, and the history of cartography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He taught at the State University of New York at Binghamton for five years before moving to USM in 1995, at which time he declared himself a willing refugee from GIS and digital mapping. USM has allowed him to focus on his specific interests in map history, which have steadily expanded from the history of surveying technologies and their role in nineteenth-century European state formation and imperialism to encompass the wider practices and performances of map making in Europe after 1600, and more particularly in the British Atlantic World, 1650-1800.

On the same Saturday, March 15, we've planned a 12 noon gallery tour of "Journeys and Discoveries: The Stories Maps Tell" in anticipation of Matthew Edney’s lecture at 2 PM. Polly Kienle, Public Programs Coordinator, will focus the tour on some of the Revolutionary War-era maps from the Museum’s collection. While London mapmakers published views of the American colonies and towns where British soldiers and colonists fought for territory, other maps of North America reflected power struggles between European nations as well as Native American nations’ lessening influence on the continent. Click here to read a related past post from our blog.

Melinda Kashuba of Shasta College will join us on Saturday, April 12, at 2 p.m. for the series' second talk. Her topic will be: Organizing Wonder: Using Maps in Family History Research. After the lecture, the presenter will offer an informal discussion with interested audience members.

For our final spring map lecture, we will welcome David Bosse, Librarian and Curator of Maps, Historic Deerfield, to the Museum & Library on Saturday, June 7. His 2 p.m. presentation will be on: Map and Chart Publishing in Boston in the 18th Century.

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

Image credits:

“A Map of the Most Inhabited Part of New England…,” 1755. Cartography by Bradock Mead, alias John Green, (ca. 1688-1757). Published by Thomas Jefferys (c. 1719-1771), London, England. Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, 055-1755

Courtesy of Matthew Edney


Have Cartographer, Will Travel

Carte du theatre de la guerreWhen you travel for work, do you bring your own mapmaker to document your plans and triumphs?  Gilbert du Motier, the marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834) did when, in 1777, he sailed from France for South Carolina to help fight in the American Revolution.  Among the over 40 maps, books and objects in “Journeys and Discoveries:  The Stories Maps Tell,” on view at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, is an intriguing map based on the work of Lafayette’s very own cartographer, Michel Capitaine du Chesnoy (1746-1804).   

Talented, experienced and about ten years older than his boss, Capitaine du Chesnoy (who, confusingly, held the rank of captain when he first arrived in the colonies) drew maps of the conflicts in which Lafayette participated in 1777, 1778 and after.  Eighteenth-century military officers valued mapmaking skills.  Understanding landscape, waterways and structures helped military strategists plan campaigns, stage retreats and organize travel.  Officers also used maps and drawings to communicate important ideas and information to their colleagues, superiors and supporters.   

Capitaine du Chesnoy made several manuscript maps portraying some of Lafayette’s different militaryA Plan of the Action at Bunkers Hill 1775 activities.  At least eighteen of these maps survive in American and European collections.  Six ink and watercolor maps now form part of the collection of the Library of Congress.  You can view them on the library’s website.  When Lafayette traveled to France in 1779, he asked Capitaine du Chesnoy to put together a cartographic summary of the battles of the American Revolution up to that point for Lafayette to share with King Louis XVI (1754-1793). A Paris printer produced an engraved version of the summary map and made it available to the public in 1779.  One of these printed maps--the only one of Capitaine du Chesnoy’s manuscript maps known to have been engraved--is on view in “Journeys and Discoveries.” Come see it and compare Captiaine du Chesnoy’s work with other 1700s maps portraying military events--such as Thomas Hyde Page's (1746-1821) summary of the battle of Bunker Hill--and others. 

Sources:

Paul E. Cohen, “Michel Capitaine de Chesnoy, the marquis de Lafayette’s Cartographer,” The Magazine Antiques, January 1998, 170-177.

Photo credits:

Carte du Theatre de la Guerre, 1779.  Cartography by Michel Capitaine du Chesnoy.  Paris, France.  Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, 029-75. Photograph by David Bohl.

A Plan of the Action at Bunkers-Hill…, 1775-1778. Compiled by Lieutenant Thomas Hyde Page.  Engraved and published by William Faden (1749-1836), London England.  Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, 071-86.  Photograph by David Bohl.

 


Visit Us on Patriots' Day!

Join Us for Patriots' Day Activites!

DSCF7856There is always plenty to do in Lexington when April vacation rolls around. The town and neighboring communities have many traditional events that commemorate the beginning of the American Revolution in 1775 and celebrate the community spirit of today. While you and your family are out, plan on dropping by the Museum for some fun programs. We've scheduled them conveniently so that they fall before or after the main reenactments and parades. Please note that the Museum will be open on Patriots' Day, Monday, April 16.

Farmer-soliderSaturday, April 14
11 a.m. & 2 p.m.
Gallery Talks: “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington and the American Revolution”
Get the inside scoop on the tendencies and tensions in Lexington before the British marched into town on April 19, 1775. Join Museum staff for this free gallery tour.

Monday, April 16
10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Patriots’ Day Activities
Celebrate Patriots’ Day with arts and crafts activities exploring life in 1775. While you are here, take the opportunity to view "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty:  Lexington and the American Revolution." $5/family (members); $7/family (non-members).

You'll also find the Lexington Alarm Letter on display in the Museum's lobby.

Revere ladleVisitors will be interested in exploring our exhibition "Curators' Choice: Favorites from the Collection." There, you'll find two objects related to the most famous midnight rider, Paul Revere. One is a wonderfully crafted silver ladle that showcases Revere's great talent as an silversmith. It's no wonder his works were coveted in their day. The other is much more recent - it dates to 2009. It's an ice cream carton. Brigham’s, a local ice cream company, created a special edition flavor called “Paul Revere’s Rocky Ride.” The name was the contest-winning suggestion by a couple from Charlestown, Massachusetts, where Paul Revere began his ride late at night on April 18, 1775. Come see what else you can discover in Curators' Choice.

For more information about visiting the Museum, call 781-861-6559 or see our website, www.nationalheritagemuseum.org.

Photo Credits

Farmer, 2007. Joe Farnham, National Heritage Museum.

Ladle, ca. 1765, Paul Revere, Jr. (1734–1818). Boston, Massachusetts. Loaned by the Grand Lodge of Masons in Massachusetts, GL2004.2088.


The Lexington Alarm Letter on View at the Museum!

LexingtonAlarm_A95_011_1T1_croppedEach year around the time of the Patriots' Day holiday, the Museum is proud to display the Lexington Alarm Letter. Our document is a copy, made at Brooklyn, Connecticut on the morning of April 20th, of the original letter, written on the morning of April 19, 1775. The Connecticut copy was made by Brooklyn town officials from the original, now lost, which was sent by post rider to notify the colonies south of Massachusetts that war had begun. Visitors will have the opportunity to see the letter during its annual appearance between Wednesday, April 10 and Saturday, April 21. Please note that the Museum will be open on Patriots' Day, Monday April 16.

What makes this hand-written document such an exciting piece of American history is the urgency with which it was written. As we read the text, we can sense the shock and concern of its author, Joseph Palmer, a member of the Committee of Safety in Watertown, a near neighbor to Lexington:

Watertown Wednesday Morning near 10 o’Clock

To all the Friends of American Liberty, be it known that this Morning before breake of Day a Brigade consisting of about 1000 or 1200 Men landed at [David] Phip’s Farm at Cambridge & marched to Lexington where they found a Company of our Colony Militia in Arms, upon Whom they fired without any Provocation and killed 6 Men and Wounded 4 others.

By an Express from Boston this Moment, we find another Brigade are now upon their march from Boston supposed to be about 1000. [...]

I have spoken with Several Persons who have seen the Dead & Wounded. Pray let the Delegates from this Colony to Connecticut see this they know.

Why does Palmer emphasize the events in Lexington, failing to mention the confrontation in Concord? Perhaps he wanted to spread news that portrayed the colonists as victims in order to garner sympathy for the cause of rebellion? Certainly this was popular strategy of the patriotic colonial press, perfected in broadsheets such as "A List of the Names of the Provincials who were Killed and Wounded in the late Engagement with His Majesty's Troops at Concord, &c." 

Or perhaps there is a simpler explanation. The letter was written at 10 o'clock, only one half-hour after the skirmish at Concord's North Bridge. Not enough time had passed for witnesses of the second phase of the Battle of Lexington and Concord to reach Watertown. The encounter between Lexington's militia under Capt. John Parker and the force of 700 or so Regular Army soldiers sent out from Boston was much earlier, at around 4:30 a.m. Palmer has spoken to witnesses of the destruction at Lexington and fears that more unprovoked attacks are to come from the second brigade he has learned is on its way from Boston. His letter spreads the news of unfolding events, the outcome of which he does not yet know.

When you visit the Museum to view the Lexington Alarm letter, don't miss "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington and the American Revolution." In the exhibition, you'll find a map that traces how a group of riders spread the alarm throughout eastern Massachusetts. The adventures of some of these riders, such as Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott, are the stuff of legend. However, countless men rode through the night of April 18 and into the morning of April 19, 1775, to let the countryside know of the unfolding events. Colonial leaders who opposed the Crown, anticipating a move by the British Army, had set a communication network in place. Towns had prepared systems using bells, drums and gunshots to call militia units to gather at specified locations. Throughout April 19th, militias from 23 Massachusetts towns fought in the battles, and many more towns were alerted.

Those curious about how the people of Lexington experienced the beginning of the American Revolution, mark your calendars and and join us for our "Sowing the Seeds of Liberty" gallery talks. We'll be offering two this year, both on Saturday, April 14. Join us at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. for these free programs that explore of life in this small community where ordinary people took extraordinary actions and shaped history as a result.

For more information about visiting the Museum, call 781-861-6559 or see our website, www.nationalheritagemuseum.org.

Photo credits

Lexington Alarm Letter, 1775. Daniel Tyler. Brooklyn, Connecticut, Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, # A95/011/1.