Certain diaries, and their authors, become short-hand for a time and place: Samuel Pepys’s diary of seventeenth-century London, for example, or Anne Frank’s diary of wartime Amsterdam. The diaries of Philip Hone and George Templeton Strong are often invoked to cover the first half of the nineteenth century in New York; for the Civil War years, readers turn to Mary Boykin (Miller) Chesnut’s Diary from Dixie (1905). Although rich in literary resources, Boston lacks such a diary for the mid-Victorian period. Boston men and women of the period wrote enduring works of fiction and non-fiction, but for this generation no Boston diarist has emerged to capture the tone of the times. Continue reading Boston riches
[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]
As in 1860, the Gray family planned to spend the hot summer months of 1864 in Manchester, north of Boston. In the meantime, there was a grand society wedding to attend; Dr. Gray had a fainting spell following an afternoon party; and the news of the sinking of the Alabama made for serious reflection.
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Friday, 24 June 1864: We have secured rooms at Chase’s, quite near Mrs. Richards’s cottage in Manchester, which will be very pleasant for Mary [Gray] & Elise [Richards]. The house accommodates only our party – a decided advantage – and they take us for $52,00cts a week – very reasonable as board goes now. I hope they won’t starve us on it! Continue reading ‘A great thing for Ned Boit’
In a patronymic culture we put emphasis on surnames that are passed from son to grandson. This is mostly a matter of habit, because tracing a genealogy of descendants by their surname is usually much easier than tracing descendants through female lines where the family names keep changing every generation.
I’ve never been politically active – Women’s Lib came along a few years too late for me; I was already out of college and missed the movement, although I embraced “most” of the ideas – but lately I’ve been thinking more about how we all still, out of habit, approach genealogical research and publication mostly by surnames. Continue reading Daughtered out
The documentary “Birth of a Movement” – which premiered on 30 January at the Somerville Theatre outside Boston, and airs nationally on PBS on Monday 6 February during African-American History Month – explores D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) through a modern lens. What caught my attention about the film is the documentary’s protagonist, famed civil rights activist William Monroe Trotter (1872–1934). Trotter lived nearly his entire life in Boston and founded the Boston Guardian, an independent African-American newspaper. He also established the Niagara Movement, in 1915, with fellow Massachusetts native W.E.B. DuBois, and participated in numerous other causes for civil rights until his death in 1934. Continue reading Remembering William Monroe Trotter
The seventy-second anniversary of the Yalta Conference, 4–11 February 1945, also marks the anniversary of my uncle’s death in Operation Argonaut, the Allied support mission that provided safe escort to the conference for President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill in their historic meeting with Joseph Stalin of Russia. The goal of the conference was to decide how post-war Europe would be governed, even though there was still heavy fighting in France (the Battle of the Bulge had just ended on 25 January). Hindsight reveals that many of the agreements and concessions made during the conference led to the Soviet Union’s domination of eastern Europe for forty years. Continue reading Yalta, 1945
Most of us will remember the childhood Alphabet Song used to teach children their letters (hum along if you’d like): “A-B-C-D-E-F-G… Now I’ve learned my ABCs, tell me what you think of me.” Vita Brevis has given a new variation on this “alpha-tradition.”
In my post “If This House Could Talk,” I mentioned my grandfather Rex Church (1883–1956) and his childhood handmade wooden alphabet blocks. The photo I provided showed only the four blocks representing the surname initials of the four families who have lived in My Old House since its construction in 1789. Continue reading A block buster
[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]
The “fascinating but demoralizing” waltz was a comparatively recent addition to Boston social gatherings, and Regina Shober Gray’s daughter Mary was one young débutante who worried that waltzing (or “dancing the German,” as it was also known) might lead her astray – which would be de-moralizing, in Mrs. Gray’s parlance.
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Friday, 26 February 1864: …At Mrs. Hemenway’s, we talked wholly about our young daughters, Amy H. and my Mary and their friends. We think they are going to make a very nice sensible, high-toned set of girls; and it is a real comfort to feel so. Mary used to think she should be quite isolated in her set, from not dancing the round dances, but as one and another of her young friends comes out with her protest against them, it quite pleases Mary to find that many of the nicest girls unite with her in the resolution to eschew the fascinating but demoralizing “German.” Continue reading Fascinating rhythm
Paul Revere’s famous ride is often the jumping off point for thinking about the Revolutionary War. But there is a lesser known patriot – a woman, too – who helped win the war and changed the course of history.
Her name was Sybil Ludington, and she was born 5 April 1761 in Connecticut as the eldest child of Henry and Abigail Ludington. On the rainy night of 25 April 1777, as British troops were advancing to attack Danbury, Connecticut, Sybil, only 16 years old at the time, took off on her famous 40 mile horseback ride to alert approximately 400 militiamen under the control of her father, Colonel Henry Ludington. She was chosen for the task because the original messenger, who had ridden to notify her father of the advancing British troops, was too tired from his first trip and could not proceed. Continue reading In praise of Sybil Ludington
I came across an interesting family story while working on the Early New England Families Study Project sketch for Henry Lamprey of Hampton, New Hampshire, that claimed his wife received a dowry from her family equal to her weight in gold!
The story apparently first appeared in print in the 1893 History of the Town of Hampton, New Hampshire by Joseph Dow (p. 783). Dow may have been a descendant of Henry Lamprey through his daughter Elizabeth, who married Daniel Dow. His version reads: “A pretty story (of the truth of which there is little doubt) has been handed down for generation to generation, that this little wife received for her marriage dowry a scale, containing her weight (one hundred twelve pounds) in gold.” Continue reading ‘There was a poor man in London’
The bins of my family memorabilia (my “squirrel bins”) occasionally allow a real gem or two to escape, those things I hope to find but which seldom surface: diaries, journals, or letters.
One such gem is a faded, handwritten letter dated Boise City, May 15, 1870. Written by Hannah (Brown) Libby to “Dear Mother Libby,” it is a poignant expression of homesickness while trying to maintain a positive outlook, an offer of more questions to be answered than answers given. I was intrigued, especially because this Hannah and “Mother Libby” are two faceless women in my long lineage. I have no photo of either woman, no other correspondence, writings, or stories. Continue reading A letter home