This July marks the 250th birthday of John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States and an original member of the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Born on 11 July 1767 in Braintree, Massachusetts, Adams was a passionate orator and ardent champion of learning, whose lamentable presidency was just a short interlude in his lifelong dedication to public service.
This month also marks the fiftieth annual presidential wreath-laying ceremony for John Quincy Adams at the United First Parish Church in Quincy. The tradition was initiated by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967, establishing that on the birthday of each deceased president the current sitting president would send a wreath to be laid on his tomb. Continue reading The Church of the Presidents→
Last month, I wrote about the tradition of given names. I postulated that given names were either chosen by parents because they honored a family member (both living and deceased) or because parents liked the way a name sounded, and subsequently named their child after “a stranger they met in a bar” (thank you to commenter Deane Taylor). In fact, when the blog posted to Vita Brevis, many of the commenters verified my theory: most were named for complete strangers or in loving memory of family and friends. However, a third group also emerged from the comment section: those who were named for a famous person, event, or cultural icon (thank you to commenters Carole and Carole).
One hundred years ago today, on 29 May 1917, Rose Kennedy gave birth to the future president of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, in a charming three-story Colonial on a lovely street in Brookline, Massachusetts. That same house was restored at the personal direction of Rose Kennedy, and today it evokes the happy memories of a busy young mother raising an ever-growing family. While unimaginable tragedies strike in the years to follow, life was good for the Kennedys of Beals Street in 1917. Continue reading JFK’s birthplace→
Earlier this month I went to the National Genealogical Society conference in Raleigh, North Carolina; it was my first time in the Tar Heel State. While I have many southern ancestors who started out in Virginia and Maryland before heading west, none of them – as far as I have found – lived in North Carolina or further south. However, through some of my New England ancestry in Connecticut, I have a brief connection to North Carolina in the late seventeenth century. While not necessarily the “normal” migration, there are several cases of New Englanders going south rather than west, many times settling there permanently. Continue reading New Englanders in the South→
Mrs. Gray’s diary continues, with the results of the 1864 presidential election:
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Wednesday, 9 November 1864: The great election-day passed off without disorder or disturbance – and, Thank God, Lincoln is re-elected by splendid majorities. Every New Eng. state, Penna. & New York state have gone for him. New Y. city went McClellan by 30,000 majority – but that was expected; & he has New Jersey & Kentucky – all the others are Lincoln.
Kansas did not even have an opposition ticket, so heartily Republican was the whole state. The long anxiety, suspense, & dread are over – a good God has overruled the madness of home traitors for their own ruin, and the salvation of the country; that accursed Chicago platform, the offspring of foul treason, cowardice, and political corruption, happily trampled McClellan’s hopes to nothingness. He might have had some chance but for that. Continue reading ‘The salvation of the country’→
The diarist Regina Shober Gray began the Civil War with mixed feelings about the new American president; by late 1864 she had no doubts about his integrity or his importance to the nation.
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Sunday, 6 November 1864: Mr. Foote gave us a good discourse on the distinction to be held between religious form & religious formalism, and illustrated his meaning by an eloquent allusion the love for our country’s flag – which is after all naught in itself but a piece of coloured bunting, our love for which in times of peace and prosperity is but a form of words, a mode of thought, used to sound the periods of a fourth of July nation. But when war and peril assail its sacred folds, it becomes to us the emblem of all man holds most dear on earth – the holy emblem of all the great ideas for which true men are ready to suffer & die now, as were the martyrs of old. Continue reading ‘True as the needle to the pole’→
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→
[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, beganhere.]
Regina Shober Gray 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 17th birthday – how time flies. He is back at Harvard looking to a year of hard study. His chum, Abthorpe, 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, 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 on Tuesday and had a pleasant day. And on Monday p.m. took tea with Hepsa B[radlee] at Medford. Continue reading ‘In this busy world’→
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 diary.
[Author’s note: This series, on Mrs. Gray’s reading habits, beganhere.]
Of particular interest in these entries is Regina Shober Gray’s 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.” Mrs. Gray noted that her own standards were relatively flexible, reporting that her friend Rebecca Wainwright “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.”
61 Bowdoin Street, Boston, Thursday, 5 September 1861: Frank [Gray]’s birth-day – 15 years old. I can hardly realize it. He had presents from myself, “Barrington’s Heraldry,” from Aunt Liz [Shober] a dollar, from Mary C. [Gray] 3 engraved Shirt Studs. His eyes are decidedly better. Continue reading ‘One’s vanity does penance always’→