Tag Archives: U.S. Presidents

Remembering William Monroe Trotter

William Monroe Trotter

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

‘In this busy world’

[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]

PP231.236 Regina Shober Gray. Not dated.
Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Regina Shober Gray[1] turned forty-five at the end of 1863; her children were growing up. At the same time, her younger sister Sue – unmarried and a ruthless flirt – worried Mrs. Gray, while changes wrought by the Civil War gave her some hope for the future:

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 6 September 1863: Yesterday was Frank [Gray]’s[2] 17th birthday – how time flies. He is back at Harvard looking to a year of hard study. His chum, Abthorpe,[3] has not appeared yet, nor has he written to F., who hears from some that A. will not go on at Harvard another year; meanwhile Frank cannot settle in his new quarters till he does hear from Abthorpe – the poison-cold,[4] which has troubled F.C.G. for many years, 5 or 6, at this season, is far lighter in its attack now than ever before, and we hope it may be wearing out of his system.

Sunday, 13 September 1863: … Frank hears to-day that Abthorp is not coming back to Harvard – so he has lost his chum. We dined at Sallie Gray[5] on Tuesday and had a pleasant day. And on Monday p.m. took tea with Hepsa B[radlee][6] at Medford. Continue reading ‘In this busy world’

‘The crooked paths straight’

abraham-lincoln-campaign-banner-cropped
Courtesy of Wikimedia.org

It might seem odd, but the 1860 election – pitting Congressman Abraham Lincoln and Senator Hannibal Hamlin against Senator John Cabell Breckenridge and Senator Joseph Lane – did not particularly transfix the nation – at least if one goes by Regina Shober Gray’s[1] diary.

There was plenty of pageantry on offer: Continue reading ‘The crooked paths straight’

‘One’s vanity does penance always’

[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]

PP231.236 Regina Shober Gray. Not dated.
Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Of particular interest in these entries is Regina Shober Gray’s[1] depiction of being photographed in September 1861: “I hope [the resulting pictures] will be reasonably good, but one’s vanity does penance always in these cartes de visite likenesses. Gentlemen look well in them, but they almost always give a harsh, stern unnatural look to a woman’s face.”[2] Mrs. Gray noted that her own standards were relatively flexible, reporting that her friend Rebecca Wainwright[3] “does not think my photographs very successful – but I feel that I ought to be satisfied with them – they are quite as good of me as other peoples are of them. Hard and rigid looking.”[4]

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Thursday, 5 September 1861: Frank [Gray]’s[5] birth-day – 15 years old. I can hardly realize it. He had presents from myself, “Barrington’s Heraldry,”[6] from Aunt Liz [Shober][7] a dollar, from Mary C. [Gray][8] 3 engraved Shirt Studs. His eyes are decidedly better. Continue reading ‘One’s vanity does penance always’

‘A free citizen’

PP231.236 Regina Shober Gray. Not dated.
Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, began here.]

By the winter of 1861, an American civil war loomed. Regina Shober Gray[1] – a native of Pennsylvania with Southern connections[2] – was disposed to some sort of emancipation for the South’s slaves, with due respect for slave-owners’ existing property rights, but her views (and emphases) would change over the course of the next four years.

61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 3 March 1861: A summer’s day – absolutely oppressive. Sorry to hear from Aunt Sarah Bradlee[3] how very sick Henry [Bradlee][4] seems. There was some talk of sending him on a long voyage, but he is too ill for that. Continue reading ‘A free citizen’

Creative dating

fulton-lichenI think about genealogy for much of my day. Therefore, on a recent trip to Boston’s Museum of Science, I was again thinking about how I could apply something that I learned that day to make me a better genealogist. Thankfully, the Museum has a new(er) exhibit that is designed to teach participants how to use context clues to properly date an old schoolhouse. The exhibit points to evidence that helps users to identify when the schoolhouse closed – specifically, drawing their attention to portraits of U.S. Presidents surrounding the room, concluding with Richard Nixon. (The students in my group eventually determined that the school probably closed between 1969 and 1974.) As a student who studied Public History in graduate school, the exhibit is fantastic. A perfect blend of education, logic, and most importantly, fun… Continue reading Creative dating

ICYMI: Family papers

[Author’s note: This blog post originally appeared in Vita Brevis on 19 August 2015.]

John Steward boxMy grandfather died almost 25 years ago, and sometime before that he gave me a box of “family papers.” The box itself is rather striking: a metal strong box, easily portable, with my great-great-grandfather John Steward’s name stenciled on top in fading paint. Inside the box are not just family papers, but intriguing (and, of course, unidentified) daguerreotypes and examples of other early photographic processes, along with materials treating the family of my great-grandmother, Margaret Atherton (Beeckman) Steward (1861–1951). Continue reading ICYMI: Family papers

Lost generations

uncle-livy-beeckman-for-vb
John Henry Beeckman’s nephew, Robert Livingston Beeckman (1866-1935).

One of the trends in my ancestry is the curious one whereby, when given the choice between staying in a locale or moving on, my nineteenth-century forebears often remained behind as other relatives ventured further west. One of the sadder family stories is covered in the 1999 book Intimate Frontiers: Sex, Gender, and Culture in Old California, by Albert L. Hurtado, and concerns my great-great-great-uncle John Henry Beeckman (1818–1850).

Uncle John was the eldest son of Henry Beeckman and Catherine McPhaedris Livingston, and the family was a prosperous one in the days before the Civil War. That they were socially acceptable to New Yorkers and Virginians alike is suggested by the fact that John H. Beeckman married Margaret Gardiner in 1848 at the Virginia plantation of the bride’s brother-in-law, former President John Tyler. Still, John Beeckman was a young man, fired up by the discovery of gold in California, and in 1849 he left bride and newborn son to travel west. Continue reading Lost generations

“The dear old lady”

PP231.236 Regina Shober Gray. Not dated.
Regina Shober Gray by [Edward L.] Allen, ca. 1860. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, Item PP231.236
Another way in to Regina Shober Gray’s diary is through selected entries clustered around the same date. Today is 19 May, so – to pick the arbitrary span of the Civil War years – what sorts of observations does she make in her mid-May entries?[1]

Boston, Saturday, 18 May 1861: These two or three clear days have helped Morris[2] a good deal – he drives often, and walks twice a day with me. I shall be known as “the woman that follows the drill” ere long, for he trudges after each company all over the parade ground [on Boston Common], and his military accoutrements attract no little attention to his poor pale face…

A report is very current to-day that Gen.l Beauregard[3] has died of wounds rec’d at the attack on Sumter. Somebody has heard somebody’s letter read, giving an acct. of his funeral!! Continue reading “The dear old lady”

General Grant in Singapore

An autograph letter from former president Ulysses S. Grant[1] is a completely unexpected treasure in my grandfather’s box of family papers. The envelope holding the letter is not in Grant’s hand; evidently Rear Admiral Daniel Ammen (1819?–1898), to whom Grant wrote it in April 1879, handed it on to one of my grandfather’s relatives – at a guess, my great-great-uncle Robert Livingston Beeckman (1866–1935), then a boy of thirteen. Coincidentally, another family connection mentioned in the letter is my great-grandfather Steward’s kinsman, Rear Admiral William Edgar Le Roy (1818–1898).

The letter itself is rather a travelogue, although General Grant is at pains to explain his apparent discourtesy to Richard Wigginton Thompson, the Secretary of the Navy. An interesting postscript is Grant’s compliment to Admiral Ammen on his “paper on the [Nicaraguan] Inter-Oceanic canal”[2]: the Panama Canal would not be built for another quarter-century. Continue reading General Grant in Singapore