A 19th Century Thanksgiving

In 1857, eleven year-old Francis Lincoln of Hingham described his Thanksgiving in a school essay. He writes of roast turkey, a large family gathering, and giving thanks to God, as we would today:

Thanksgiving was the day set apart from work by our forefathers to worship God, after they had gathered in their harvest, and it has been celebrated ever since their time. It is the occasion when Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Uncles, Aunts, Cousins, Brothers and Sisters gather together and have a good dinner of Roast Turkey and Plum-Pudding. I have generally dined at my Grandfather’s, but since he has been unwell and rather old, I have remained at home. I will give you an account of my last Thanksgiving Day. In the morning, I attended church and heard the Rev. Calvin Lincoln preach an excellent sermon. In the afternoon my Father, two brothers and I started on a walk to World’s End, which is more than two miles from our house, but we went to the point which made the walk about one half a mile longer. Solomon then loaded his gun and fired at a target, he also let Arthur fire at an old stump. We got home at about five and a half o’clock having been gone three hours. I therefore spent a very pleasant Thanksgiving.

From our 21st century perspective, two things are missing from Lincoln’s essay. Football, of course, which did not yet exist in its modern form (see our prior post “A Schoolboy Fan of the Boston Game”), and any mention of the 1621 harvest dinner attended by the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag.

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe

“The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe

The Puritan settlers of New England had a tradition of “providential” holidays: days of fasting called during difficult times for the community and days of thanksgiving called to celebrate times of plenty or deliverance from strife. In the years following the Revolution, the national government adopted this practice and held periodic thanksgiving holidays. The practice gradually became institutionalized, and in 1816 Massachusetts and New Hampshire were the first two states to establish late fall state holidays of Thanksgiving.

The Pilgrims were not particularly identified with Thanksgiving until the late 19th century, as explained in Plimoth Plantation’s on-line “History of Thanksgiving”:

With the publication of Longfellow’s best-selling poem The Courtship of Miles Standish (1848) and the recovery of Governor Bradford’s lost manuscript Of Plimoth Plantation (1855), public interest in the Pilgrims and Wampanoag grew just as Thanksgiving became nationally important. Until the third quarter of the 19th century, music, literature and popular art concentrated on the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth Rock and their first encounters with Native People on Cape Cod. . . . .

The Pilgrims were not ignored in 18th and early 19th century America; we just did not always think of them and turkey dinners at the same time.  In Plymouth, Boston, and other Massachusetts towns, dinners, speeches, parades, and other celebrations were held on December 22, the anniversary of the date in 1620 when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth (having already spent several months on Cape Cod). Our archives include numerous copies of the speeches and sermons given, on what came to be called Forefathers’ Day, by South Shore ministers and politicians, as well as the occasional national luminary, such as John Quincy Adams (1802), Daniel Webster (1820), Edward Everett (1824), and Lyman Beecher (1827).

"The Landing of the Pilgrims" (1877) by Henry A. Bacon

“The Landing of the Pilgrims” (1877) by Henry A. Bacon

Only after the Civil War and in the later years of the 19th century, did representations of the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag become focused on the “first Thanksgiving,” i.e., the 1621 harvest celebration. The story of the first Thanksgiving resonated in a country working to restore national unity and reacting to the increasing diversity of its population.

“Harrison Melodies” in Hingham

Harrison Melodies Cover

Solomon Lincoln’s copy of “Harrison Melodies.” Lincoln, a lawyer and banker, was active in Hingham politics.

We recently blogged about Jairus Lincoln’s 1843 “Anti-Slavery Melodies”—an anthology of songs to sing at abolition rallies (see The Songs of the Abolitionists). We were delighted to learn that the political singing did not end there, having recently discovered in our archives a second political songbook, only three years older, published by  local supporters of William Henry Harrison during the 1840 Presidential election campaign. This compilation of the lyrics of seventy pro-Harrison songs, the authors explained, filled a pressing need:  “The want of such a compilation has been for some time sensibly felt at . . . ‘Whig gatherings’” around Boston.

The Whig party was born out of opposition to Andrew Jackson’s Democratic party.  The ‘Age of Jackson” and “Jacksonian democracy” were built on increasingly broad white male suffrage as states eliminated poll taxes and property ownership requirements that once limited the vote to wealthier men.  Long before Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson was famously born in a log cabin.  Jackson’s veto of a bill renewing the charter of the Second Bank of the United States divided Eastern mercantile interests and western farmers, debt-ridden in a tough economy.  Not surprisingly, Hingham was “Whig” country:  in their Hingham history Not All Is Lost, Russell and Lorena Hart report that Andrew Jackson won only 28 votes from Hingham during his first Presidential run and 32 votes as the incumbent four years later.

"Old Tippecanoe."  The campaign slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler too" is still remembered.

“Old Tippecanoe.” The campaign slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” is still remembered.

William Henry Harrison (1773-1841) was the Whig candidate for President in 1840. He had gained national fame defeating Native American forces at the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe, served as the first territorial delegate to the U.S. Congress from the Northwest Territory, and was later elected congressman from the new State of Ohio. Taking a page from Andrew Jackson’s book (although he had been raised in a wealthy Virginia family), Harrison ran for President as a war hero and a man of the people. His supporters impugned his opponent, incumbent President and Democratic candidate Martin van Buren, as a New Yorker and wealthy elitist.  The Democrats in turn ridiculed Harrison as old and provincial, suggesting that he was most fit to sit in his log cabin, drinking hard cider. Harrison and as his vice-presidential candidate John Tyler seized upon these symbols, using images of log cabins and cider jugs in their campaign.

"King Martin's Soliloquy."  The Whigs chose the name of their party from that of the    18th century opponents of King George III.

“King Martin’s Soliloquy.” The Whigs chose the name of their party from that of the 18th century opponents of King George III.

The “Harrison Melodies” return repeatedly to the log cabin and hard cider theme, as well as Harrison’s Indian wars nickname, “Old Tippecanoe.”  Van Buren is referred to as “King Martin,” a reference to the Whig objection that Jacksonian Democrats wielded a dangerous amount of executive power.  (Jackson had killed the Second Bank of the United States not because he believed it unconstitutional but because he disagreed with it as a matter of policy.  This was a departure from prior Presidential vetoes.)

William Henry Harrison was elected President in 1840.  The Whigs’ joy was short-lived, however.  Harrison died after only a month in office.

 

The Songs of the Abolitionists

Jairus Lincoln of Hingham published his song book “Anti-Slavery Melodies: For the Friends of Freedom” for the Hingham Anti-Slavery Society in 1843.  Music was an important part of abolitionist meetings and rallies. In the foreword to his anthology, Lincoln noted the success that the temperance movement had enjoyed incorporating music into its message and urged the anti-slavery movement to follow the example: “[t]here are many who have not the gift of speech-making, but who can, by song-singing, make strong appeals, in behalf of the slave, to every community and every heart.”

Lincoln included the words and music to 57 anti-slavery songs, some original, some “standards” in the movement, and some taken from a previous anthology, “The Anti-Slavery Pick-nick.”  Many of the melodies are based on hymns that would have been very familiar to the audience, with lyrics based on anti-slavery poetry by John Pierpont, Elizabeth Margaret Chandler, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, among others. (To our 21st century sensibilities, the absence of any music influenced by the rich music–spirituals and field tunes–of the enslaved peoples themselves is striking.)

A few songs stand out.  Lincoln included a sharp parody of a familiar patriotic hymn:

My country! ’tis of thee,
Stronghold of slavery,
Of thee I sing:
Land where my fathers died,
Where men man’s rights deride,
From every mountainside,
Thy deeds shall ring.

My native country! thee,
Where all men are born free,
If white their skin:
I love thy hills and dales,
Thy mounts and pleasant vales,
But hate thy negro sales,
As foulest sin. . . .

One well-known anti-slavery anthem, “The Song of the Abolitionist,” was written by William Lloyd Garrison, to be sung to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne”:

I am an Abolitionist! I glory in the name;
Though now by slavery’s minions hissed, And covered o’er with shame;
It is a spell of light and power, The watch-word of the free;
Who spurns it in the trial-hour, A craven soul is he.

I am an Abolitionist! Then urge me not to pause,
For joyfully do I enlist In Freedom’s sacred cause;
A nobler strife the world ne’er saw, Th’ enslaved to disenthral;
I am a soldier for the war, Whatever may befall. . . .

Words and music to "Song of the Abolitionist," from Lincoln's Anti-Slavery Songbook

Words and music to “Song of the Abolitionist,” from Lincoln’s Anti-Slavery Songbook

In From Abolition to Rights for All: The Making of a Reform Community in the Nineteenth Century, Professor John Cumbler writes that “[t]he social world of abolitionism also had its lighter side.”  The two examples with which he supports his assertion are close to home:  an 1844 meeting in Hingham, where New England abolitionists enjoyed a boat trip from Boston, the seaside, and the country air, and a “fishing party” to Cohasset during those same years. Perhaps after enjoying sunshine and a good meal, the abolitionists pulled out their copies of Lincoln’s “Anti-Slavery Melodies”–perhaps even the copy that is now in our archives.

A few years ago, a choral ensemble from Arizona State University recorded a number of the songs from Lincoln’s “Anti-Slavery Melodies.” Click here and scoll down the page to listen.

 

A Trip to the Principal’s Office — in 1799

Old Derby Academy, soon to become the Hingham Heritage Museum and Visitors Center.  It was built to house Derby Academy in 1818.

Old Derby Academy, soon to become the Hingham Heritage Museum and Visitors Center. It was built to house Derby Academy in 1818.

Derby Academy in Hingham, founded in 1784, is one of the oldest co-educational schools in the country. Its founder, Madam Sarah Derby, stipulated that the boys were to be educated in “the Latin, Greek, English, and French languages, and in the sciences of Mathematics and Geography”; the girls in “writing and in the English and French languages, arithmetic, and the art of needlework in general.” She directed that a “preceptor” be hired to teach these subjects to male and female students alike—with the exception of needlework, for which a “sensible, discreet woman” should be retained.  At Mrs. Derby’s request, the first Preceptor of Derby Academy was Abner Lincoln of Hingham. One of the many documents concerning Derby Academy found in our archives is his April 16, 1799 report to the Trustees of Derby Academy. Mr. Lincoln started his report with the academic progress of the school’s pupils:

The attention & improvement of the Lads, during the last term, have been pretty much as usual, no material difference. Some have been very industrious & some have been slack.  The young ladies have been more attentive than usual when they could attend with propriety. But a want of health & the peculiar badness of the passing, have caused many absences. I have not been able to pay them that attention which I expected.

The “principal’s office” in the 18th century does not appear to have been so different from the principal’s office today: by far the largest part of Lincoln’s report to the trustees involved disciplinary reports. “[T]he Lads” broke “a number of windows in a fit of snowballing” and were required to mend the windows. It was discovered that two boys had been stealing from local shops. Lincoln was ready to expel them l when he learned that

[t]heir mother was dead, their father absent at sea & they left under the care of their grandfather, Mr. Stephen Hall of Boston. He repeatedly urged me in a very earnest & feeling manner to receive them again. I finally consented on condition that the Lads would come & make a public confession of the enormity & heinousness of their crime, ask forgiveness of the scholars for the very bad example exhibited in their conduct & pray them to receive them again into their friendship. This was done & their request granted in a very affecting manner. . . .

The misbehavior of one of the girls at the school was particularly noteworthy:

Complaint was made by the Preceptress that Sally Wilder’s conduct in the Academy was very exceptionable & improper. After stating the charges, I observed that I could not with propriety make any inquiry respecting them, but begged that she would, which she accordingly did. It appeared by ample evidence that her conduct at times was such as will hardly bear explaining, that she had paid no regard to truth, that no Language, neither obscene nor profane was too gross for her frequently to use; some of the Misses absented themselves on her account; many were late because they did not wish to be entertained by her. The general character was despicable & there appeared no probability of reformation. It was our united opinion that she ought not to remain in the Academy . . . .

Co-education fell into the category of novel experiments when Abner Lincoln found himself confronted with Sally Wilder’s misbehavior, and his discomfort is evident. We are left wondering whether there were appeals for clemency, explanations in mitigation, or a decision by the trustees that she should remain in school after all. One suspects not.

Lincoln on Lincoln (and the start of the Civil War)

When John Barker, subject of two prior posts on this blog (“A Soldier Writes Home” and “John Barker at Gaines Mill”), went off to war in 1861, 15-year old Francis H. Lincoln of Hingham was a student at Derby Academy.  In two bound volumes, preserved in our archives, he minutely described his primary and secondary education.  The Academy’s rules (memorialized in these books) provided that “the writing of compositions be required of the scholars as often as once a fortnight during each term.”  Lincoln recorded each of his efforts in these volumes.

Two of Lincoln’s compositions written during his last year at Derby took current events as their subject–South Carolina’s secession from the Union, the election of a distant relation as President, and the coming of war.  In February 1861, two months after South Carolina seceded, he penned “A Fable on the Times”:

“Once upon a time” when the people of the United States elected their President, the South or Southern States, the inhabitants of which were mostly Democrats, generally outvoted the Republicans and other parties of the North; but in 1860 at the Democratic conventions, for nominating candidates for the Presidency they were unable to agree, and Republicans outvoted the other parties, and selected Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, President.

Mr. Lincoln being a man opposed to slavery, South Carolina, a miserable little State, tried to rebel against the Union, by seceding and making war, endeavoring to get some other small states to join her, and form what they intended to call the “Southern Confederacy.”

How this will turn out, nobody knows, but probably the Republicans will be masters of the Union.

“Haec fabula docet” that persons must not think that they can be masters of everything, that they must be sometimes willing to give way to others; and it is best to begin these habits in early life, for the child that is permitted to have its own way will grow up like South Carolina creating hatred, and perhaps war. Therefore, O parents, “lead up children in the way they should go;” therefore, O Republicans, do your best; correct South Carolina in her mad course, and “lead it up in the way it should go.”

Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, March 5, 1861. Photo from Lincoln Collection, Library of Congress

The next months were eventful.  Lincoln’s June 1861 composition was titled, “Fort Sumter”:

 This fort, which is situated upon an island in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina; was taken by Secessionists in the spring of 1861, shortly after the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States.

Although much might be said about Fort Sumter, I shall not confine myself to that in particular, but shall write concerning the present rebellion in general.

The Southern or slave-holding states, especially South Carolina, have probably desired to be separated from the Northern for more than twenty years; and until now have not had what they thought could be called a reasonable excuse. Once, I believe, during the administration of Andrew Jackson, they made an attempt at secession, but failed, as they must now.

They have now made the excuse, that Lincoln will interfere with their institutions, and do all in his power, to free their slaves; but this is nonsense; for Lincoln said in a speech before he was elected, “I shall not meddle with their institutions or slaves, but I shall certainly not permit them to extend slavery any farther than it has now gone.”

Persons who had sworn allegiance to the Government and Laws of the United States, have proved traitors, and have done all in their power to destroy the Union; and have done, also, to accomplish this object, the worst thing they could have done for themselves, that is, opened war upon us; and when Major Anderson (who was in command at Fort Sumter) and his handful of men, were nearly starved, opened fire upon him, and shame upon him, a Massachusetts man was the first to fire upon him.

The North should and will have revenge. “The Union must and shall be preserved.”  There are still at the South, many who would give all their property to preserve the Union, and such men should be delivered from the hands of those mean and cowardly scamps who are compelling them hither to die or fight for them.

But they will be freed, and their persecutors punished, and if the leaders, viz. Jefferson Davis & Gen. Beauregard and a few others escape with their lives they may congratulate themselves.

Christmas in Hingham, 1857

Christmas 1857.  Francis Henry Lincoln of Hingham was an 11-year old student at Derby Academy.  When school resumed in January, he wrote a composition, entitled “Christmas,” which is preserved in our archives.  Lincoln recounts how he and his older brothers Solomon and Arthur spent their “very merry Christmas.”

Christmas is the day on which the birth of Christ is celebrated.  It is a holiday.  In many parts of the world, the week in which the anniversary occurs, is devoted to amusements.  I had a very pleasant Christmas this year.  I will give you some account of it.  In the morning I awoke as usual and found in my stocking a very handsome present.  In the forenoon I went to Loring Hall to see the committee of arrangements prepare the tables for the party in the evening.  The First Parish usually have a special social gathering on that evening.  At noon I witnessed the firing at a target by two gentlemen in our neighborhood.

After enjoying a Christmas dinner Solomon Arthur & I went into the field in the rear of our house and fired at a target with Solomon’s gun.  I then read a while at home. In the evening I attended the Parish party at Loring Hall. There was dancing until eight o’clock, when there was an intermission; during that time the scholars connected with the Sunday School were collected in the saloon and marched into the Hall. Arthur acted as Marshall.

I had been appointed to present to my cousin Henry E. Hersey, the superintendent of the school, a writing desk in behalf of the scholars.  Mr. Hersey, being introduced, I made a short speech and presented the desk to him.  He made a short speech in reply, expressing his warm thanks to the scholars.  Dancing was then resumed.  Afterwards by an invitation of my Sunday School teacher, I went to his house and received from him a present of a very interesting book.  I then returned to the Hall and spent the remainder of the evening in dancing.  We had refreshments and excellent music.  I went home between twelve and one o’clock having spent a very merry Christmas.