Several years ago, four letters from the Marblehead Historical Commission’s archives were conserved and scanned, with high-quality copies framed for the purpose of displaying them in the Select Board room at Abbot Hall. These letters highlight Marblehead’s role and importance in the American Revolution. The signatures are impressive, including President George Washington, Patriot Paul Revere, then-State Sen. John Adams, patriot and Declaration of Independence signer John Hancock, and Continental Congress delegate Elbridge Gerry. Some of these men were at the peak of their careers when the letters were written. Some had already played their part in the American Revolution, and some had not yet stepped into their most important roles.
The fact that they still exist and can be seen by anyone who visits Abbot Hall is due to the care and diligence of the Marblehead Historical Commission, with many volunteers who work on cataloging and maintaining the archives. The general history of the American Revolution, and the colonists’ commitment to founding a new nation is certainly well known. But how do we know it? Histories have been written and stories have been told. These accounts are based on and supported by primary documents. That is why original sources are so important. Records, letters, newspapers, and diaries all confirm and contribute to our greater understanding of the events of history.
President George Washington’s letter, written in 1789, is a thank you note to the town of Marblehead. Shortly after becoming the first president of the United States, Washington visited New England. He wanted to solidify support and bring the former colonies together as the new United States. He came to Marblehead to honor his friend Gen. John Glover. He was struck by the poor appearance of the town, but moved by his warm welcome. He wished for future prosperity for the fishing trade. The letter reveals Washington’s compassion, and Marblehead’s plight after the Revolution, when most of its vessels were damaged and fishermen struggled to reestablish their trade. It also confirms the tale of Washington’s visit.
Paul Revere’s letter of 1787 was written long after his famous ride. The war was over, and he was back to his business as silversmith and owner of a foundry. He wrote asking to purchase a surplus cannon to be melted down. Revere was an active and successful silversmith; he expanded his work to other metals, supplying a need for iron and later copper. His firm, Revere and Sons, was the main supplier of bells in Boston and beyond. Revere’s letter supports the reports of his industrious and entrepreneurial nature. Revere was not hailed as a patriot in his own lifetime, and it wasn’t until Longfellow’s poem, 95 years later, that Revere became famous.
The Massachusetts General Court Resolution signed in 1784 by Gov. John Hancock and State Senate President Samuel Adams relates to a longstanding issue in Marblehead and beyond. Care and support of the poor in each city and town was the responsibility of the town Selectmen and the Overseers of the Poor. The letter supports this fact.
The note from Elbridge Gerry, in 1774, was written to the Selectmen to accept a Town Meeting appointment to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. This was in the early stages of Gerry’s career as patriot. He went on to be a signer of the Declaration of Independence, advisor to President Washington, governor of Massachusetts, where he lent his name to the practice of gerrymandering (adjusting a voting district for the benefit of one party) and finally becoming vice president of the United States under James Monroe. Gerry is certainly Marblehead’s most famous son, and his accomplishments were many. The note reminds us of Gerry’s local roots.
All of these documents were almost lost, but they were recognized as important and rescued by the Historical Commission. They are just a sampling of the many informative and enlightening documents and artifacts that help us all to understand our local and national history.