A Revolutionary Epidemic

Boston Aug 2 1776 / Rec’d of General Lincoln four pounds in full for / Inoculating him & son for the Small Pox / Jos. Gardner [Document from Hingham Historical Society archives]

Smallpox was a dreaded disease in the 18th century.  It was endemic in Great Britain and, while overall less common in North America, the period of the American Revolution coincided with a very serious smallpox epidemic that started in the cities of the northeast in 1775 and spread across the continent.  The soldiers of the northeastern militias and the newly formed Continental Army were at great risk, not only because life in an army camp resulted in the easy spread of such a viral infection but also because Americans were generally less likely to have developed immunity to smallpox than their British counterparts.  

Inoculation against smallpox was known but was not the same as vaccination as we know it. As practiced in 1776, live smallpox virus was “inoculated” under the patient’s skin to induce a mild viral infection.  People inoculated against smallpox got sick, were contagious, and sometimes died.  One typically isolated oneself for some period of time when receiving a smallpox inoculation.  (It was only in 1798 that a British doctor, Edward Jenner, discovered that cowpox, a harmless relative of smallpox, offered protection against smallpox without creating an actual smallpox infection, thus developing the first vaccine.)  

It was at first General Washington’s policy not to inoculate soldiers because (1) they could infect each other and (2) they actually got sick, leading to concern that the enemy might know when a company was undergoing inoculation.  Smallpox had hindered the Continental Army’s attack on Quebec during the winter of 1775-1776, and Washington changed his policy and started inoculating the Continental troops the following winter at Morristown, New Jersey.  

It is not surprising, against this backdrop, that Benjamin Lincoln, at the time Major General of the Massachusetts militia, received a smallpox inoculation in August 1776, as evidenced by a receipt in our archives. He was preparing to leave Massachusetts the following month to lead two regiments of the Massachusetts militia to join Washington’s army in the defense of New York.  The following February, he was commissioned a Major General of the Continental Army, initially at Bound Brook, New Jersey.  His son, Benjamin Lincoln V, who inoculated with him, was a 21 year old law student at the time, serving under his father in the Massachusetts militia.

Joseph Gardner, the doctor who inoculated Lincoln, was in the summer of 1776 the Surgeon of Col. Thomas Crafts’ Artillery Regiment in the Massachusetts militia.  Like General Lincoln, Dr. Gardner joined the Continental Army in early 1777; he is recorded as having been one of the physicians with Washington and his forces at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-78.  

Miss Gingham of Hingham

 

From The  Bookshelf for Boys and Girls, Children’s Book of Fact and Fancy, New York: University Society (1912).

2011121

There sailed into harbor at Hingham
Three sailors one hot summer’s day;
They were Brewster and Bartlett and Bingham,
And fair shone the houses of Hingham,
And kind were the breezes to bring ‘em
To such a snug port in the Bay.

Right jolly those sailors at Hingham,
And worthy stout seamen were they,
And they san up the streets of old Hingham,
Did Bartlett Brewster and Bingham,
Till they reached the abode of Miss Gingham,
Who kept a small inn by the way.

“What cheer, Mistress Gingham of Hingham!”
Loud shouted those mariners gay;
“Be there any ice-cream here in Hingham?”
Quoth Brewster and Bartlett and Bingham;
“If you’ve any cold ices, pray bring’em;
There’s gold in our pockets to pay!”

2011121-2

Now Miss Gingham was noted in Hingham
For skill in concocting frappes;
Not a housewife at Weymouth or Hingham
But envied the way she could fling ‘em;
And Bartlett and Brewster and Bingham
Regarded her skill with dismay.

With fond eyes they followed Miss Gingham,
And the ices that garnished her tray,
While more and yet ore did she bring ‘em,
Till, reluctantly, out of old Hingham
Went Brewster and Bartlett and Bingham
Pursuing their nautical way.

By Arthur Upson.

A Book for Governor Andrew

george_livermore_1904_portraitOn August 14, 1862, George Livermore, an historian, rare book collector and abolitionist from Cambridge, gave a lecture at the Massachusetts Historical Society titled “An Historical Research Regarding the Opinions of the Founders of the Republic on Negroes as Slaves, as Citizens and as Soldiers.”  In his lecture, also published that year, Mr. Livermore argued that the Founding Fathers considered black men capable of bearing arms and fighting for independence and therefore they should also be allowed to fight for the Union cause in the Civil War then underway. img_2433

Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner gave President Lincoln a copy of Livermore’s lecture, and it is said that Livermore’s arguments influenced Lincoln when he was drafting the Emancipation Proclamation in the fall of 1862.  A few month’s later, through Sumner’s offices, the pen with which President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation was given to George Livermore.  (It is currently on display at the Massachusetts Historical Society).

john-albion-andrewAlthough Lincoln disappointed Sumner by moving deliberately toward introducing uniformed black soldiers into the Union Army, his administration responded positively when, in January 1863, Massachusetts’ abolitionist war Governor, Hingham’s own John Albion Andrew, lobbied for leave to raise a black regiment.  The Massachusetts 54th Infantry Regiment was the first to be comprised of black volunteers, from Massachusetts and other states.

Was Governor Andrew at the Massachusetts Historical Society when Mr. Livermore gave his lecture?  Did Sumner or Livermore send Andrew a copy? Either way, it is fitting that one of the books in our collection from Governor Andrews’ library is his copy of “An Historical Research,” making the case for black soldiers and citizens, inscribed for him by the author.

img_2435

Fearing Burr’s Christmas

Fearing Burr of Hingham kept a journal from 1840, when he was 25 years old, until his death in 1897. We are fortunate to have all fifteen volumes in our archives.  Burr recorded his day-to-day observations about the weather; town and church affairs; his mercantile pursuits, which included the shop in Centre Hingham which he ran with his brother ; and the horticultural interests for which he is remembered.

In an entry penned on Christmas Eve, 1872, this life-long bachelor wrote about Christmas gift-giving, noting how customs had changed since he was young.  Indeed, these were the years when the Christmas holiday began to take the shape we know today!

Burr wrote:

Was very busy in the sale of gifts for the holidays – it’s an illustration of the great change that has gradually taken place since Peter and I first began to sell goods. We are satisfied that the sale of confectionaries for one week of 1872 was very largely in excess of the gross sales of this article for one year from 1825 to 1830 and after. My brother affirms that some of his young patrons in this line expend one dollar per week. The change in the quantity and costly character of gifts of other descriptions is scarcely less noticeable.  I recall the days of my early boyhood when my holiday gifts were summed up in three or four copper cents – presents which so far from creating any feelings of dissatisfaction were regarded as truly munificent. Today it is by no means rare that a parent who is wholly dependent on his daily labor invests in toys or articles for amusement, from one dollar upwards, for each of the little ones comprising his family.  The change in the general distribution and enjoyment of the more important articles of human comfort and luxury is almost equally great.

Hingham’s Tercentenary Pageant

 

Pageant Title PageHingham pulled out all the stops in preparation for its 300th anniversary celebration. Twelve hundred of the Town’s residents participated in a three-plus hour historical pageant, which was performed before 2,000 attendees on the evenings of June 27, 28, and 29, 1935.  In the midst of the Great Depression, the Town appropriated an astonishing $14,000 for its tercentenary observance, which was written and directed by Percy Jewett Burrell, a well-known producer of such extravangas. Reunions of Hingham’s oldest families were held, the Boy Scouts gave tours of Town buildings, and the Hingham Historical Society put on a special Historic House Tour to mark the occasion.

Pageant Site“The Pageant of Hingham” was performed on a sprawling outdoor set at what was then called Huit’s Cove (current site of the Shipyard development) and comprised ten “episodes,” interspersed with music and dance.  The episodes portrayed key moments in Hingham’s history, including the “landing” at Bare Cove, the Rev. Peter Hobart’s dispute with Gov. John Winthrop, an early Town Meeting, receipt of the Town Deed from the Wampanoag, the erection of Old Ship Church, a Colonial “husking” bee, the Battle of Grape Island, Madam Derby’s bequest to found Derby Academy, the ordination of the Rev. Henry Ware, and the Civil War.

We were recently fortunate enough to receive the donation of a costume that a 12-year old Hingham boy wore as a pageant participant: breeches, jacket, hat, and shoe buckles.  Who would have imagined that the costumes were this brightly colored?  Certainly the black and white photographs of the Pageant that we have posted elsewhere provide no hint.

Pageant Costume

The boy who wore this costume, Malcolm Newell, scored a speaking role in the “husking” scene—that of Abner Loring (1742-1789), a 13-year old Hingham boy. According to the Pageant Program, this scene was set on Theophilus Cushing’s farm in South Hingham, “midsummer 1757,” and celebrated peace and prosperity in mid-18th century Hingham:

Here, there is peace, as onward Hingham moves. What was in early days a wilderness is now a fruitful place. The hills, the plains, the streams, and vales lie quiet . . . .  It is a mid-century year—an August month, and beautiful is the harvest . . . .

Husking CroppedYoung Newell and Herbert Cole, another Hingham boy also cast as an 18th century Hingham boy (Perez Cushing, 1746-1794), called out the names of the guests arriving at the Cushing farm.  An example of their lines, taken from the Pageant Program:

Perez Cushing (shouting): “Here they come from Scituate! The Jacobs, Farrars, Curtises, and Faunces!

Abner Loring (shouting): “And the Gannets, Fosters, and Manns.  And see! Hanover’s a-comin’, too!”

It must have been a memorable several evenings for a school-age boy to have performed in this Pageant before the Town and many visitors.  The addition of this purple Pageant costume to our collection makes it all seem a little more real to us today.

Hingham Tercentenary Pageant Scrapbook

Ebenezer Gay, another young Hingham participant, with his mother, in costume for the Tercentenary Pageant.