Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Boston Tea Party

On the night of December 16 in 1773, a group of Boston citizens protested the British government's recent tea tax by dumping millions of dollars worth of British tea into Boston Harbor.

Due to a series of costly wars, the British government was deeply in debt by the late 1700s and hoped to make some much needed money off of the sale of British tea in the colonies. Colonists were drinking 1.2 million pounds of tea a year and it became clear that adding a small tax to this tea could generate a lot of extra money for the government.

The British government passed and then repealed a few tea taxes before it finally passed the Townshend Act of 1767. The Townshend Act placed a tax on all tea sold in the colonies, among other goods. The colonists resented the government's attempts to make money off them and complained that it was unfair. To appease the colonists, the government repealed the tax on most goods sold in the colony except for the tea tax. In an attempt to prevent further complaints, the overall price of the tea was reduced but the tax remained. The government hoped that since the price was reduced, the colonists wouldn't mind paying the tax.

Depiction of the Boston Tea Party
The colonists did not fall for Parliament's trick. Still angry about the unfair tax, they refused to let a merchant ship filled with tea, the Dartmouth, dock in Boston harbor at Griffin's Wharf. The colonists sent a message to the Custom house to send the ship away without any payment for tea. The Collector of Customs refused.

Colonists held a meeting at Faneuil Hall on November 29, 1773 but it was moved to the Old South Meeting House to accommodate the large crowd. At the meeting, the colonists all agreed that the tea should be sent back and the tax should not be paid. They assigned 25 men to guard the docks and prevent the ships from docking while they adjourned the meeting for the next day.

The following day, the colonists met again in the Old South Meeting House and listened to a message delivered via John Copley from the tea company. The company suggested storing the tea in a warehouse until further instruction from Parliament. This idea was immediately rejected because it would mean paying the tax on the tea once it landed. The local sheriff, Stephen Greenleaf, then delivered a proclamation from Governor Hutchinson ordering them to stop blocking the ships from landing. The colonists refused to comply with Hutchinson's demands.

In the first week of December, two more tea ships arrived; the Eleanor and the Beaver. The meetings continued while colonists tried to find a way to prevent the ships from docking. The last meeting was held on December 16 and included over 5,000 people. The colonists sent a message to the governor asking him to allow the ships to return to England without payment. As the owner of one of the ships, Francis Rotch, left the Old South Meetinghouse to give the governor the message, the colonists waited. When Rotch returned hours later with the governor's reply, a definite “no”, they realized they had run out of options.
Plaque commemorating the site of the Boston Tea Party

Little did they know, the Sons of Liberty, a radical political group based in Boston, had anticipated this response and had a secret plan laid out. Samuel Adams, a member of the Sons of Liberty, delivered a pre-arranged signal to put the plan into action when he then declared "This meeting can do nothing more to save the country!"

Members of the Sons of Liberty, sitting in the audience, immediately stood up and shouted “Hurrah for Griffin's Wharf!” and “Boston Harbor a Teapot Tonight!” as they began disguising themselves as Native Americans, and rushed out of the meetinghouse towards the harbor. Other people joined the Sons of Liberty along the way and together the mob rowed out to the ships and dumped 90,000 pounds of tea, about 1 million dollars worth, into Boston Harbor.

The Boston Tea Party was a bold statement that the colonists were not to be pushed around and it became a turning point in the American Revolution.

Eyewitness to History: The Boston Tea Party


Mass.gov: Boston Tea Party


Old South Meeting House: How The Boston Tea Party Began


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Henry Burbeck Military Archive Sold for $95,000

Portrait of Henry Burbeck
An online auction house recently sold the military archive of my ancestor Henry Burbeck (of my grandmother Beatrice Burbeck's family) for the price of $95,000. The archive spans the years 1763 to 1839 and consist of hand-drawn maps, military documents, letters, notebooks and military reports.

Henry Burbeck was the son of William Burbeck, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Revolutionary War. Henry Burbeck served in the United States army for more than 40 years and fought in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Burbeck enlisted in the army in May of 1775 after escaping the siege of Boston in disguise and following his father to Cambridge. He eventually rose to the rank of Brigadier General before retiring from the army in 1815.

Most of the documents in the archives date between 1800 and 1812. Included in the archives are not only letters from three secretaries of war, army officers, U.S. Representatives and various military personnel but also Burbeck's own personal letters. In one letter, Burbeck describes his father's decision to turn down the job of commander of the Massachusetts regiment of artillery.
Henry Burbeck Archive

"The Regt. of Artillery raised in 1775 under the command of Col Gredley who declined being too old of which my father was Lt. Col expired on the 31 Decbr. A New Regt. was be raised which was offred to Him. He declind and recommended Henry Knox to be the Colonel. Genl Knox felt very delicate on the on the subject but my Father insisted. He knew Knox some years before this - When the Troops marched from Cambridge my Father resinged being 60 years of age. I knew Genl. Knox when he opened a Book Store and stationary the largest in N. England. It was a great resort for the British Officers and Tory Ladies."

The archive also includes personal documents such as his marriage certificate to his first wife Abigail Webb in 1790 as well as an 1853 document discussing his second wife, Lucy Rudd's, widow pension. After Burbeck died in 1848, Lucy Rudd was the last widow in the United States to receive a pension from the Revolutionary War.


Live Auctioneers: General Henry Burbeck Military Archive

"Chapter Sketches: Connecticut Daughters of the American Revolution”; Connecticut Daughters of the American Revolution; 1904

Monday, September 19, 2011

Louisa May Alcott: The First Woman Registered to Vote in Concord

Louisa May Alcott was not just a writer and author of the classic novel Little Women, she was also the first woman registered to vote in Concord, Mass.

When the state of Massachusetts finally passed a law in 1879 allowing women the right to vote in town elections on issues involving children and education, Louisa May seized the chance. Her mother, Abigail, had always declared “I mean to vote before I die, even if my daughters have to carry me!” Unfortunately, Abigail passed away shortly before the law was passed and never got to fulfill her dream. Realizing the importance of this new opportunity for women, Louisa May got to work trying to encourage women to register and vote in the next town election. She organized reading groups about the importance of voting and passed around petitions encouraging women to vote.

Louisa May was frustrated by what she encountered. The local Concord women were not the least bit interested in voting. Many of the women complained they were too busy running their households to bother. Louisa May wrote about her frustration with the women in her journal, “Trying to stir up the women about Suffrage. So timid & slow...Drove about & drummed up women to my Suffrage meeting. So hard to move people out of the old ruts.” To help motivate them Louisa May stated she “gave them a good scolding & offered to drive the timid sheep to the fatal spot where they seem to expect some awful doom.” She then declared proudly that she was “the first woman to register my name as a voter.”

In another town election the following year, Louisa May encountered the same resistance: “Saw my townswomen about voting &c. Hard work to stir them up. Cake & servants are more interesting.” Even in the 1883 town election, she stated not much had changed: “seven women vote. I am one of them & Anna [her sister] another. A poor show for a town that prides itself on its culture & independence.”

Louisa May continued to vote and encourage other women to vote until her death in 1888.


"The Journals of Louisa May Alcott"; Louisa May Alcott; Daniel Shealy; Madeleine B. Stern

"Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women"; Harriet Reisen

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1840
Nathaniel Hawthorne was a writer from Salem, Mass best known for his novels The Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables. Born on July 4, 1808 in Salem, Hawthorne was a direct descendant of Judge John Hathorne from the Salem Witch Trials. Hawthorne was intrigued by his connection to his ancestor, although it is speculated that he may have eventually added the “W” to his last name to distance himself from his great-grandfather. Hawthorne published two stories under the name “Hathorne” in 1830 but started spelling his name with a W after this date, for reasons unknown.

Hawthorne spent most of his youth in Salem but also spent a great deal of time in Raymond, Maine. After four years at Bowdoin College in Maine, he returned to Salem in 1825 and began working on his first novel Fanshawe. The novel was published shortly after in 1828, at his own expense, but Hawthorne disapproved of it and tried to destroy all copies. He continued writing and published many short stories including “The Hollow of the Three Hills,” “Roger Malvin's Burial” and “An Old Woman's Tale.”

In 1837, Hawthorne published another novel titled “Twice-Told Tales” and met his future wife Sarah Peabody. The couple married in July of 1842 and rented a home in Concord where they were neighbors with Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and the Alcott family, including young Louisa May Alcott.

Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1846

The Hawthornes struggled with debt and a growing family and eventually returned to Salem in 1845. There Hawthorne took a job as Surveyor of the Port at the Salem Custom House. He suffered a loss a few years later when his mother died and he lost his job at the Custom House due to a change in the administration.

His frustration drove him to leave Salem again, calling it a “abominable city”, and move to Lenox, Mass where he continued to write. Hawthorne published his most well-known work, The Scarlet Letter, shortly after in 1850, bringing him fame and financial relief. He then began working on The House of Seven Gables, a novel based on the old Pyncheon family in Salem. In 1852, Hawthorne purchased The Wayside from the Alcotts in Concord. This home was the only house Hawthorne ever owned.

Hawthorne continued to write more novels throughout the 1850s until he was appointed to the consulship in Liverpool, England by his old college friend President Franklin Pierce. While in Europe he wrote “The Marble Faun,” based on his sight-seeing experiences in Italy, and “Our Old Home” before moving back to his house in Concord in the early 1860s.

Hawthorne suffered from poor health in the 1860s and died in his sleep during a trip to the White Mountains with Franklin Pierce on May 19, 1864. He is buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord.

Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1848
Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1860

Hawthorne's children Julian, Una and Rose in 1862
Julian and Una in the 1850s
Nathaniel Hawthorne's grave in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Hawthorne in Salem: Biographical Information Relating to Nathaniel Hawthorne

California State University Stanislaus: Nathaniel Hawthorne

American Writers: Nathaniel Hawthorne

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott in 1852
Although one of the most famous Concord authors, Louisa May Alcott was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania on November 29, 1832. The Alcott family believed very strongly in abolitionism and women's rights as well as transcendentalism; a literary and philosophical movement during the 1800s that declared knowledge and spirituality could be attained through one's own intuition rather than traditional teaching methods.

Louisa May spent her childhood with her parents and three sisters in Concord and Boston. She was very much a tomboy in her youth, stating: “No boy could be my friend till I had beaten him in a race," she claimed, "and no girl if she refused to climb trees, leap fences ..."

The family had deep New England roots and Louisa May and her sisters were descendants of the Salem Witch Trial judge, Samuel Sewall, on her mother Abigail's side of the family.

Louisa May's interest in writing began young when she would write stories and plays to help entertain her sisters. While living in Concord, the Alcotts were close friends with authors Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau and this friendship had a direct influence on her desire to be a writer.

The Wayside in Concord
The family was plagued by poverty and moved 22 times in 30 years in search of work and cheaper housing. At the age of 15, Louisa May vowed to help her family overcome their destitution. She worked as seamstress, governess and teacher for many years and also became a working author in her early 20s with the publication of her poetry and short stories in various magazines. Louisa May published her first book, Flower Fables, at the age of 22.

After living at the Wayside in Concord for seven years, the Alcotts sold the house to Nathaniel Hawthorne and moved to Boston. Tragedy struck the family when Louisa May's little sister, Elizabeth, contracted scarlet fever and died in 1858. Around the same time her older sister Anna announced her engagement and married a few years later. Both events had a profound effect on Louisa May and are featured in her novel Little Women.
Orchard House in Concord

Also around the same time, Louisa May's father, Amos Bronson Alcott, purchased Orchard house in Concord for $945. The 17th century-era house was inexpensive, lacked a foundation and had many structural problems but the family made the most of it and moved in 1858.

When the Civil War broke out Louisa May realized she could help serve her country as a nurse and left Orchard House to volunteer at a hospital in Washington D.C. While serving at the hospital, Louisa May contracted Typhoid Fever and suffered mercury poisoning from the medicine used to treat the illness. Her experiences at the hospital became the source of her book titled Hospital Sketches.

It was back at Orchard House that Louisa May wrote her most famous book, Little Women, at the age of 35. Louisa's publisher had asked her to “write a book for girls,” which she did from May to July of 1868. The book was based on Louisa May and her sister's experiences growing up in New England. Louisa May also edited a magazine titled Merry's Museum while she worked on Little Women.

With the publication of Little Women in 1868 came instant success, fame and financial independence. Louisa May decided to remain unmarried and continued writing to help her family. She wrote a total of 30 books and a collection of short stories before she died of a stroke in 1888 at the age of 55 (although it was first believed that she died of meningitis and later of mercury poisoning). She is buried with her family at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord.
Amos Bronson Alcott

Abigail May
Louisa May Alcott in 1888

New York Times; Louisa M. Alcott Dead; March 7 1888

Pennsylvania Center for the Book: Louisa May Alcott

Louisa May Alcott: Learn About the Alcotts and Orchard House

Louisa May Alcott: Louisa May Text

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Traveling the Underground Railroad in Massachusetts

The underground railroad was a series of safe houses that stretch from the south all the way to Canada. These safe houses provided shelter and protection for runaway slaves trying to find freedom in the north. Although slavery was illegal in northern states, the Fugitive Slave Act passed in 1793 and 1850 make it legal for slave hunters to travel to free states and capture runaway slaves. Some slaves took their chances and settled in free states, but many others passed through these states as they headed for Canada where slavery was illegal and slave hunters could not enter.

Due to the need for secrecy on the underground railroad, not much is known about these safe houses and written records on the locations are hard to come by. The National Park Service set up a program in 1998 dedicated to identifying and preserving underground railroad sites and has identified 23 locations in New England alone. Here are some of the more well documented locations:

Ross Farm in Northampton
Ross Farm

Ross farm is a 19th century farmhouse in Northampton. The house has been the home of many abolitionists who sheltered runaway slaves there. Samuel hill was the founder of the Northampton Association of Education and Industry, an organization with strong abolitionist views. Hill helped runaway slaves find work and a place to live in the town. Hill's son stated that the house was a busy stop on the underground railroad: “A good many passengers stopped ‘five minutes for refreshments’ at my father’s, and conductors were often changed here,” and “Our station was on the line from Hartford going North, though sometimes we had passengers who would come up part way through the Hudson River Valley or diagonally across the Pennsylvania line.”

Hill sold the farm to Abel Ross in 1849 and Abel eventually sold it to his nephew Austin Ross in 1857. Austin was also an avid abolitionist and once again opened the home to runaway slaves traveling the underground railroad en route to Canada, even allowing one runaway slave to stay in the home for a year.

Liberty Farm in Worcester
Liberty Farm

Liberty farm in Worcester is federal-style farmhouse once owned by abolitionists Stephen Symonds Foster and his wife Abby Kelley. Both Kelley and Foster were lecturers who toured the country speaking out not only on slavery but also women's rights and other social issues of the time. Immediately after purchasing the house in 1847, the husband and wife opened their home to runaway slaves. The Foster's felt strongly about a woman's right to vote and rebelled against Abbey's inability to vote by refusing to pay their annual taxes on the home. Every time the home was seized by the government for back taxes, friends and neighbors would buy the house and give it back to the couple.

The Wayside in Concord
The Wayside

The Wayside in Concord was once the childhood home of Louisa May Alcott before her family sold it to Nathaniel Hawthorne. Louisa May Alcott lived in the home with her three sisters and parents from the years 1845 to 1852, shortly before selling it to Nathaniel Hawthorne and moving to Boston. The Alcott family called the home “Hillside” and although it is not known exactly how many slaves stayed there, the family did shelter at least two slaves in the house in 1847. Louisa May stated various times that "fugitive slaves were sheltered under our roof” and spoke of one 30-year-old man who stayed there a week while on his way to Canada.

The Hayden House in Boston
The Hayden House

The Hayden House in Boston is one of the most well documented stations on the underground railroad. This house was owned by an escaped slave, Lewis Hayden, and his wife Harriet. The Haydens purchased the house in the 1850s and turned it into a boarding house. Together, they sheltered many slaves in the home starting in the 1850s and continuing throughout the Civil War, including a well-known slave couple named William and Ellen Craft. When slave hunters showed up in Boston to bring the Crafts back south, Hayden threatened to blow the house up with kegs of gunpowder if the slave hunters dared come there to get the Crafts. The slave hunters left Boston empty-handed. The house is one of 16 homes located on the Boston African-American National Historic Site.

William Ingersoll Bowditch House

The Bowditch House in Newton
The William Ingersoll Bowditch house is a 19th century wooden cottage in Brookline, just outside of Boston. The house, built in 1844, was home to William Ingersoll Bowditch, a local conveyancer, town selectman and abolitionist. Bowditch hid not only slaves but also the son of abolitionist John Brown, after Brown's trial and execution following his failed raid on Harper's Ferry in Virginia. Other well-known guests at the house included William and Ellen Craft.

The Jackson Homestead in Newton
Jackson Homestead

The Jackson homestead is a Federalist-style house in Newton built in 1809 by Timothy Jackson. Jackson built the home after serving in the Revolutionary war. His son William was an abolitionist who allowed runaway slaves to take shelter there after he inherited the house from his father. William's daughter Ellen spoke once of the night a runaway slave came to the house:

"the Homestead's doors stood ever open with a welcome to any of the workers against slavery for as often and as long as suited their convenience or pleasure. The Homestead was one of the Stations of the "Under Ground Rail Road" which was continually helping runaway Slaves from the South to Canada. One night between 12 and one o'clock, I well remember father was awakened by pebbles thrown against his window. He rose asked what was wanted? Bowditch replied it was he, with a runaway slave whom he wished father to hide till morning, and then help him on his way to Canada, for his master was in Boston looking for him. Father took him in and next morning carried him 15 miles to a Station where he could take a car for Canada. He could not have safely left by any Boston Station."

Other evidence of activity in the house comes from an 1893 letter from William Ingersoll Bowditch who wrote of the Jackson Homestead:

"We had no regular route and no regular station in Massachusetts. I have had several fugitives in my house. Generally I passed them on [to] Wm. Jackson at Newton. His house being on the Worcester Railroad, he could easily forward any one."

When William Jackson passed away in 1855, the family could no longer afford to shelter runaway slaves in the home but spent their time volunteering at various charities and organizations in Newton.


The Salem News: Event to Explore Underground Railroad;Muriel Hoffacker; February 13, 2010

National Park Service: Lewis and Harriet Hayden House

National Park Services: Aboard the Underground Railroad