Friday, August 22, 2008

A Republic for Some: the Dehumanization of Native Americans in New England

On the last day of the Summer Institute Julia Mize, Park Ranger for the Boston National Historical Park of the National Park Service presented an interesting session on the social, economic and political encounters between American colonists and Native Americans in the New Republic and Antebellum Era.

Using a wide range of resources, including maps, images, lithographs, paintings and other primary sources, Julia Mize led the participants in an exploration of the relationship between the American colonists and the Native Americans as the colonies were settled, wars were fought and geographic expansion occurred. The impact of colonization and expansion on the Native Americans was discussed

Noreen O’Connell, a retired teacher working with the National Park Service, led the teachers in an activity that explored the Native Americans who fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill. This activity was designed for use with students in the classroom.

The final event of the Summer Institute took place on the water- a Boston Harbor boat ride to visit a Native American site on Deer Island, the location where Native Americans were relocated by the colonists.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Old Ironsides on the Mystic River

On August 21st, Burt Logan, director of the U.S.S. Constitution Museum presented Shipyard Owners, Ropewalk Workers, Sailors, and the Women They Left Behind at the U.S.S. Constitution Museum in Charlestown.


Mr. Logan shared many fascinating facts about the storied ship, including the fact that it was one of the first six ships commissioned by Congress to be built in the creation of our Navy. Additionally, there are many aspects about the USS Constition that made it revolutionary in both design and function.

Participants also learned the differences between Naval service and merchant service. Based on America and the Sea: A Maritime History, (Labaree, Fowler, Sloan, Hattendorf, Safford, German) and Jack Tar (Henderson, Carlisle) teachers learned about the many sacrifices and hardships both sailors and their loved ones faced when serving in the United States Navy during the eighteenth and nineteenthth centuries.


Many aspects of these difficulties were explored, including the plight of David Debias, a Boston-born sailor who served on the Constitution as an officer's servant in 1806. In 1838, while in private service, he was arrested as a slave in Mobile. The government was notified of this incident and was asked to intervene on Debias's behalf. To this day, it is still a mystery what became of Debias, a black man who gave many years of service to his country.


Then there was Phillip Brimblecom, a sailor born in Marblehead whose arm was amputated when his frigate, the Constitution battled against HMS Java in 1813. As a result, surgeon Amos Evans issued him a certificate attesting to his injury and entitling him to a $12.00 per month pension. In the following years, Brimblecom writes to the Navy requesting employment or an addition to what he attests to be a $6.00/month pension. Although there is evidence to support the fact that he worked in the Charlestown Navy yard in 1817, by 1820 Brimblecom asks the government to grant him additional financial support. It is unknown what became of Brimblecom's requests.


Lucy Alton was widowed on April 14, 1819 while her husband Alton German was serving on the U.S.S. Jones. Having served aboard the USS Constitution in July of 1810 and numerous other ships until his death, German sacfificed many years of service to his country. Records show that Lucy never received a pension despite the fact that there is evidence that requests were made to the government as last as 1837. Upon turning 21 years old, however, her eldest son Lewis did receive an orphan's pension of $25.00 per month.

After Mr. Logan's presentaion, the participants were treated to a tour of the ship itself. The tour included an in-depth exploration of all decks, including the sailors' and officers quarters. A highlight of the tour was the rare opportunity for the teachers to stand on the keel (the only surving part of the original structure) and view the powder room.

This was an experience that literally brought history to life!


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Walking the War of Redemption

Elementary teachers share history lesson ideas.The morning began with teachers dividing into three groups, elementary, middle, and high school, to reflect on yesterday's content. The teacher sharing time is a new addition to our summer institute program based on previous participant feedback. Each teacher submitted a reflection sheet offering ideas for using the American history content and primary sources presented with their students. The elementary teachers discussed how colonists living in the 18th century exercised their rights, who received the benefits of taxation, and the prevalence of slavery in Massachusetts. The reflection sheets will be reviewed by project historians in order to fine tune the fall seminar series which begins on Thursday, September 11th.

African Americans, 54th MA Infantry Memorial - BostonA short walk transported the group to the 19th century Boston neighborhood of Beacon Hill to learn about anti-slavery and abolition. Park ranger, Ryan McNabb, led a walking tour of the Black Heritage Trail which began at the 54th Infantry Memorial honoring the service of the first black regiment who fought in the Civil War. McNabb stated, "thousands of free blacks from as far as Indiana traveled to Boston to join the regiment, they wanted to join the war against slavery." The tour then made its way from the south side of Beacon Hill, populated by the wealthy Boston Bramins to the North side where free blacks and the poor formed a dense, tight knit community. At the corner of Pinckney and Anderson streets stood the whites only, Phillips school which became the center of Boston's first attempt to desegregate schools. We learned that William Cooper Nell, at the age of 13, who was forced to attend the black only, Abiel Smith school, set a goal that some day Boston schools would be integrated. Nell's dream was fullfilled in 1855 when the Supreme Court of Massachuetts ruled that separate schools could not be maintained at the expense of taxpayers. Stopping at 66 Phillips Street, home of Lewis and Harriet Hayden, we learned the Boston Vigilance Committee was an important organization that financed the Underground Railroad. McNabb shows coat of arms Hayden escaped from slavery in 1846 from Lexington, Kentucky and made his way to Boston. Hayden became a successful businessman who used his resources and his home to aid other blacks fleeing slavery. After the 1850s Fugitive Slave Act was passed it was illegal to aid escaped slaves throughout the United States. In one dramatic confrontation, Hayden prevented slave catchers who were after William and Ellen Craft, from entering his home by threatening to blow up two kegs of gun powder strategically placed at his front door. Despite not being able to enter the now private residences of these historic sites, Ranger McNabb did a terrific job bringing these important events to life. The tour ended at the Boston African American National Historic Site which is located in the old Abiel Smith school on Joy Street. The African American Meeting house, which sits adjacent to the park headquarters, is currently in the middle of a major restoration project. Each teacher left the tour with plenty of new knowledge and a bag filled with books to use in their classrooms.

Kerri Greenidge, Contribution box The afternoon session featured a lecture by Kerri Greenidge, from Boston University, on Abolition: Law and Public Opinion. Kerri began with an engaging primary source activity aimed at probing how Americans viewed their rights compared to Bostonians. The Prince Hall petition of 1/13/1777 illustrated that Boston blacks exercised their right of petition to request that the state recognize their Natural and Unalienable Right to that freedom which the Grat Parent of the Universe Bestowed equally on all menkind. After analyzing the documents, teachers suggested that blacks used religious principles and the countries' revolutionary environment to push for their own freedoms. Greenidge remarked that, "blacks were considered both citizens and property in Massachusetts." This unique status gave blacks the right to petition and even sue their owners. As the free black community made educational and economic strides, Boston evolved from just being anti-slavery to defiantly abolitionist. The use of contribution boxes to raise funds were one visible example of black organizational power. CAUTION COLORED PEOPLE Abolitionists also used marketing techniques in the form of graphic posters to warn the black community about the perils of slave catchers who roamed the neighborhoods attempting to apprehend escaped slaves. CAUTION!! COLORED PEOPLE OF BOSTON strongly encouraged blacks not to talk with Watchmen and Police Officers. One striking statistic was that only five blacks were ever caught under the auspices of the Fugitive Slave Act with three men eventually rescued and set free by Bostonians. Greenidge ended the session with the Civil War, known as the War of Redemption, where blacks were granted their freedom. Boys the Old Flag Never Touched the Ground sung by William Carney was a musical symbol of black pride that celebrated their Civil War service. The song also communicated that blacks could use patriotism to garner greater acceptance and recognition by the government.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

American Revolution Begins Here in Boston, Massachusetts

Boston Over Time floor map Professor Bob Allison began the third annual Voices Rising American history summer institute at Suffolk University with a lecture on liberty, equality, and democracy in the Atlantic world. Teachers from Everett, Malden, and Medford school districts gathered for a week-long institute focused on increasing primary source document use in their classrooms. Allison remarked, "primary sources are the stuff of doing history." Teachers introduced themselves at the morning session by sharing one thing that interested them in the study of history. Comments ranged from a love of childhood field trips to local historic sites to understanding the struggles of different groups to obtain basic rights.
Professor Allison, Allison began with the story of British Naval Lieutenant Knowles who in 1747 decided to exercise his right to impress able bodied men from merchant ships docked in Boston harbor. The next morning a mob of Bostonians, dragging several British officers along as hostages, descended on Governor Shirley's home demanding that the sailors be released from the British navy. The Governor attempted to defuse the situation by calling a meeting of his governor's council at what is presently the Old State House. Bostonians literally crashed the council meeting smashing windows and demanding access to the second floor chamber. Shirley adeptly managed a compromise that released most of the impressed merchant sailors and sent Knowles off to New York. Allison stated that Bostonians had more power than most other subjects of the British empire -- there was a different conception of where power came from. Some of the primary source documents studied were;
  • Petition from Peter Bestes and others, Boston April 20, 1773
  • Isaac Backus - A Plea Before the Massachusetts Legislature (1774)
  • Petition for Freedom to Massachusetts Governor Thomas Gage, His Majesty's Council, and the House of Representatives, 25 May 1774
  • William Cushing, Charge to Jury, Quock Walker Case
Teachers sharing primary source document insights.In small groups teachers discussed the significance of each document and presented their findings to the whole group. Allison effectively demonstrated how Bostonians used the power of petition and vociferous representation to advocate for what they thought of as individual rights that needed to be protected. Bostonians also struggled with the implications of state supported religion where Congregationalists sought to maintain a system of taxation that directly supported their church to the detriment of the Baptists.

The digital version of the colonial Book of Psalms The afternoon session commenced with an orientation at the Boston Public Library given by Marta Pardee-King. The project is proud to enter its third year partnering with the PBL as our central research facility as well as providing assistance on the digitization of primary source documents. Marta gave a virtual tour of the many online databases containing documents such as the first printed colonial bible, extensive 19th century newspaper archives, and plenty of manuscripts from the archive of Americana. We then made our way through the library stopping at General Reference, Social Sciences, Government Documents, Fine Arts, and Music departments. The music department librarian presented a treasure trove of 19th century original song books dealing with slavery and abolition. Some music is now available with a library card in an iPod friendly digital download format. Teachers will return to the BPL on November 4th for a research day designed to facilitate the creation of their very own primary source-based American history lesson. Boston Seaman's Bethel Church Records sample
The day ended a few blocks away at the Massachusetts Historical Society where reference librarian, Elaine Grublin, showed a wide selection of 19th century primary source documents dealing with slavery and women. A few highlights included The Boston Seaman's Bethel Church Records and the diaries of Boston portrait painter, Sarah Gooll Putnam spanning the time period of 1860 to 1912. The first document can be used to trace the names, occupations, and fate of Boston mariners, while the second gives a personal account of a privileged well traveled Boston women living through the latter half of the 1800s. Two online collections that are excellent resources for our project teachers are Images of the Antislavery Movement in Massachusetts and African Americans and the End of Slavery in Massachusetts.

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