On Saturday, August 12, I attended History Camp Boston at Suffolk University Law School. It’s an annual event organized by The Pursuit of History, a national nonprofit that holds several of these in-person events each year and also weekly History Camp Discussion online interviews with noted authors. The first Boston History Camp was held in 2014 although I’ve only attended the one held in 2019.
After a welcome session at 9am, attendees may select from nearly 50 different sessions organized in seven 45-minute blocks, each with seven sessions to choose from. Although most at the conference were from this region, some came from across the county. In addition to the Saturday sessions, there are social events on Friday and Saturday nights, and optional tours on Sunday. This year, the tours were “The Maritime History of Boston and Salem” and “The Witch Trials: Salem Village and Salem Towne.”
Here are the sessions I attended with a brief description of each:
Inside the Mysterious Case of the Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping Trial, presented by Dennis Curran, a retired justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court. After laying out the facts of this infamous crime, Judge Curran highlighted the many inconsistencies that, at a minimum, should have created a reasonable doubt about the guilt of Bruno Richard Hauptman, the man executed for the crime. Judge Curran then made a well-documented assertion that Charles Lindbergh himself was the likely perpetrator in a cruel attempt at a hoax on his wife that went horribly wrong. I’d never paid much attention to this case but it was a riveting presentation.
Where Have the Salem Witchcraft Documents Been Since 1692? with Margo Burns who edited the 2009 Cambridge University Press volume, Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt. For centuries, the bulk of the manuscript records were stored at the Essex County Superior Court in Salem, however, in the 1980s the records were transferred to the Peabody Essex Museum for preservation and safe keeping. In 2018, the Museum announced the records would be moved to its new collections center in Rowley, Massachusetts. There was outrage that the records were being moved out of Salem. This got the attention of the state’s Supreme Judicial Court which, after all, is the owner of these records. It exercised its ownership prerogative and had the records transferred to the Massachusetts State Archives at Columbia Point. Burns expanded on this very interesting story with explanations of where other documents from the Witch Craft trials reside. It was a true documentary detective story.
Our Favorite Things: Highlights from the Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, presented by Gavin Kleespies, the Society’s Director of Programs, Exhibitions, and Community Partnerships. This presentation was a series of short video snippets made during the pandemic in which staffers of MHS ranging from the Executive Director to a member of the maintenance staff, talked about one item in the collection that was special to them. I won’t list all of the things mention but will say that visiting the MHS Headquarters to look around is now high up on my To Do list. Perhaps the thing I found most impressive was the various copies of the Declaration of Independence in the possession of MHS. Of the 17 first edition print copies known to exist, MHS owns three. They also have manuscript copies made by (1) John Adams and (2) Thomas Jefferson. Both Adams and Jefferson were on the committee that drafted the Declaration, but neither of them was fully satisfied with the changes that made it into the final version, so they both independently wrote down what they remembered the original version to be.
Finding Your Family Through Neighborhood History presented by John Cass, a longtime genealogist who has found that researching the neighborhood and community in which an ancestor lived not only helps break through genealogical roadblocks in the family tree but also lends vitality to a story that might otherwise be composed of a dry list of names, places, and dates.
Quock Walker’s Journey from Enslavement to Employment to the Abolition of Slavery in Massachusetts was presented by Sean Osborne of the Lexington Historical Society. Of all the presentations offered, this was of greatest interest to me since relatives of Quock Walker ended up in Lowell with some buried in Lowell Cemetery (which will be covered on my upcoming tours on September 30 and October 1). Quock Walker was an enslaved Black man held in Central Massachusetts during the Revolutionary War. He sought redress of his injuries through the courts of Massachusetts with his case resulting in the abolition of slavery in the Commonwealth. This presentation added layers of fact and nuance to Walker’s story, much of which I’ll incorporate into my Lowell Cemetery tours.
The Sea Witch: Telling the Stories of the USS Salem was presented by Quin Stuart who works in the field of historic preservation. This talk told the story of the USS Salem, a heavy cruiser launched by the US Navy in the closing days of World War II which then served for a decade during the Cold War until being placed in “reserve status” in 1959. When the U.S. Naval Shipbuilding Museum was established in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1994, the USS Salem was about to be sold for scrap, but the Navy transferred it to “museum ship status” and sent it to Quincy where it now resides. Besides sharing the history of the ship, this talk also discussed the challenges of successfully operating a military history museum in 21st century America.