..And young Sam Bowles’s son–

And young Sam Bowles is old Sam Bowles

When old Sam Bowles is done.”

This jingle, which appeared in “Time Magazine” on Oct 15, 1934 but which was said by the reporter to have been sung for decades by “the beery compositors of the venerable Springfield (Mass.) Republican,” refers to the three generations of “Sam Bowleses” who ran the Springfield Republican newspaper between 1824 and 1915, when the last editor named Sam Bowles died.  The fifth Sam Bowles broke the pattern: he didn’t run the paper. Instead, his cousin Richard Hooker took over the paper as editor and publisher. Subsequently, Sam’s younger brother Sherman worked for the paper in the capacity of business manager, and then in other capacities for what had become the Republican Company, comprised of several papers.*

The "Springfield Republican" building, ca. 1900

The “Springfield Republican” building, ca. 1900

That the first Samuel Bowles (1762-1813), the father of the Republican’s founder, was determined to have a son named after him is proven by his naming four infant sons Samuel until one lived long enough to make it stick:


List of the children of Samuel Bowles I (1762-1813), from "Genealogical and historical notes of the Bowles family" (1851)

List of the children of Samuel Bowles I (1762-1813), from “Genealogical and historical notes of the Bowles family” (1851)


The verse about the Bowles men was running through my head when I resealed a daguerreotype that I believe to be the youngest image extant of Sam Bowles III (1826-1878).  The daguerreotype has excellent provenance: it came to us through direct descendants of Sam Bowles along with many other photographs and papers of the Bowles-Hoar family.  Because the daguerreotype’s dirty original glass obscured the image, and because the sitter lacks the facial hair we’ve seen in so many other photos of the most famous Sam Bowles, it took a while to realize who the sitter was.  But in resealing the image recently I was able to see that we had a view of a Sam Bowles taken around 1848, before he took over the paper from his father (1851), met the Dickinsons of Amherst (1858), or became a trustee of Amherst College (1866-1878).   Here it is, shared with you and shown for the first time:


Samuel Bowles III (1826-1878), "the Editor," here ca. 1848.

Samuel Bowles III (1826-1878), “the Editor,” here ca. 1848.


Let’s look at that verse again, then, taking the opportunity to illustrate with some of the images at Amherst College of the Samuels involved with the paper.

There’s old Sam Bowles:

Samuel Bowles II (1797-1851), "the Founder," ca. 1850.

Samuel Bowles II (1797-1851), “the Founder,” ca. 1850.

And young Sam Bowles:

Samuel Bowles III, a little older in ca. 1852.

Samuel Bowles III, a little older in ca. 1852. Shown earlier at: https://www.amherst.edu/library/archives/holdings/BHFP/bowles

And young Sam Bowles’s son:

Samuel Bowles IV (1851-1915), whose son Sherman was the last Bowles to run the paper.

Samuel Bowles IV (1851-1915), whose son Sherman was the last Bowles to run the paper.

But young Sam Bowles:

A third cased image of Sam Bowles III, this time ca. 1856.

A third cased image of Sam Bowles III, this time ca. 1856.

Is old Sam Bowles:

Cabinet card of Sam Bowles  III, ca. 1875.

Cabinet card of Sam Bowles III, ca. 1875.

When old Sam Bowles is done. In keeping with the verse, we should have another photograph of the founder, Samuel Bowles II. So far, only one photograph of him is known — the one five photos above — so we’ll end with his grandson again, Sam Bowles IV, and then another of his sons Sherman (below, and at left) and Samuel V:

Cabinet card of Sam Bowles IV, ca. 1884-5, probably taken in connection with his marriage to Elizabeth Hoar of Concord, Mass.

Cabinet card of Sam Bowles IV, ca.1877.

Sherman and Samuel Bowles, ca. 1896-7.

Sherman and Samuel Bowles, ca. 1896-7.

It’s easy to confuse the Bowles men, especially given differences in counting the Sams (whether to start with the founder or, as the Bowles family did, with his father, who died a decade before the paper was founded), or in knowing which one was at the helm of one of the papers in a given year. We hope this post helps link names with faces and dates.


The history of newspapers — dailies, weeklies, Sunday editions — in Springfield is detailed in “The story of an independent newspaper, by Richard Hooker; one hundred years of the Springfield Republican, 1824-1924″ and “The Passing of the Springfield Republican,” by John J. Scanlon (1950).


A few weeks ago I wrote about our facial goniometer, an instrument that measures the precise angles of the human face, and wondered whether it had been acquired by Amherst’s college physician and professor of physical education and hygiene Edward “Doc” Hitchcock (AC 1849). This led me to further pondering about the interesting 19th century origins of anthropometry, the science of measurements and proportions of the human body.


Edward “Doc” Hitchcock, Class of 1849

In the fall of 1861, “Doc” Hitchcock, as Professor of Physical Education and Hygiene at Amherst, introduced his system of anthropometric measurements documenting the physical size and strength of every freshman for more than twenty years. These measurements became an American standard for comparative purposes and earned Hitchcock the reputation as a pioneer in this field.

The anthropometric protocol for students as instituted by Dr. Hitchcock involved over fifty different measurements in six different categories: heights, weights, lengths, breadths, girths and strengths. It required many kinds of specialized devices and an elaborate system of record-keeping to register them. The practice of measuring students was in fact so accepted and indeed so entrenched in the culture of Amherst in the 19th century (as well as at many other American colleges that adopted Hitchcock’s methods) that it was customary to include physical data even in an annual list of graduates:

statistics_class_1879The table below lists not only the average measurements of the college population, but also the record highs in each category — as well as the name of the student holding that record:

Anthropometric Manual 1900 Box 18 Fol 9

Table from An Anthropometric Manual Giving Physical Measurements and Tests of Amherst College Students Between 17 and 26 Years of Age, and the Method of Securing Them. 4th ed., 1900).  Edward and Mary Judson Hitchcock Papers, box 18, folder 9.

What was the purpose of all these measurements?

The Need of Anthropometry: A Paper Read by E. Hitchcock. Brooklyn: Rome Brothers, 1887.

Hitchcock, in a paper entitled “The Need of Anthropometry” (1887), explained the rationale this way:

To learn what is the condition of all the young men as they come to us and how, and in what way can we help them to grow while connected with us, is the ultimate aim of the Anthropometric work of Amherst College. And the carrying out of this object involves the accurate observation of the physical characteristics of the students, and by a patient and long time process of comparing data, finally enabling the Department to declare to them a standard by which they may be judged.

“Doc” Hitchcock is widely credited as “the father of college physical education.” He took quite seriously Amherst president William A. Stearns’ emphasis on the goal of mens sana in corpore sano, a healthy mind in a healthy body, as the answer to the observable increase in morbidity among a sedentary class of college-educated Americans at that time in the country’s history. Many colleges and universities began to adopt European regimens of exercise for their students and built the first gymnasiums on their campuses. Amherst, under Stearns’ leadership, went one step farther in establishing the first department of Physical Education and Hygiene (and an endowed professorship to secure it).

This advertisement on the back cover of

This advertisement on the back cover of “The Need of Anthropometry” shows Hitchcock’s influence as a exponent of anthropometry and the range of colleges and schools where it was practiced.

The elaborate system of body measurements that Hitchcock introduced, then, was intended not (as one might queasily suspect) as a reference (veiled or not) to relative judgments on racial “purity” (eugenics being a hideous malformation of science that was to have its full bloom in the early decades of the following century). Rather, it indicated an attempt to educate the whole man — mind, body, soul — and encourage each one individually to be mindful of his body as a temple. I have little doubt that it was influenced by the Victorian ideal of “muscular Christianity,” a piety built on a foundation of fresh air, wholesome diet, sport and exercise.

Below, preserved in the college scrapbook of Shattuck Hartwell (AC 1888) is his personal booklet of anthropometric measurements, entered in pencil next to the printed average values for men in his height range. As can be seen from the numbers, Hartwell was probably told he should work harder in Amherst’s calisthenics classes to make up for many deficiencies!

physical_measurements_hartwell1888_a physical_measurements_hartwell1888_b

Physical education class in Pratt Gymnasium, winter 1899.

Our Archives holds a wealth of material on anthropometry. The Edward (AC 1849) and Mary Judson Hitchcock Family Papers hold most of Doc Hitchcock’s writings on the subject and on physical education generally, and show too what a leading figure he was not only on the Amherst campus but nationwide in his field. The records of the Department of Physical Education and Hygiene contain annual reports, manuals, correspondence, articles by Hitchcock and other educators, and many tables of anthropometric data. Our Photographs Collection holds a few rare images showing anthropometry apparatus in use, as here:

physed_anthropometry03 physed_anthropometry02 physed_anthropometry01

The mustached man in the third photo above, by the way, can be identified as Leverett Bradley (AC 1873), a member of Amherst’s famed crew team that took the championship at the Springfield Regatta, July 1872. A formidable athlete, Bradley went on to become an Episcopal priest in Boston and Philadelphia. Muscular Christianity, indeed.

Today marks the end of my three month research leave from my daily duties in Frost Library. I have spent some of my time away digging through the holdings of other repositories, including the Library Company of Philadelphia, The American Antiquarian Society, the Rare Books Division of the Library of Congress, New-York Historical Society, and New York Public Library. There are still many other collections on my list — my goal is to personally inspect as many copies of Samson Occom’s Sermon as I possibly can, a project that will take much longer than three months to complete.

Another chunk of time was spent presenting my work in progress at conferences, most recently at the annual conference of The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing in Montreal. Earlier this summer I spoke about Samson Occom at the Digital Antiquarian conference at AAS and at the annual conference of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association. One of the great benefits of these conferences is the opportunity to hear presentations by other scholars followed by long conversations about a wide range of subjects.

Each of these conferences involved different, but overlapping, networks of scholars; each also involved a mix of public performances, casual conversations, old and new friendships, and the sharing of print resources. Samson Occom lived and worked in a similar universe of overlapping and interconnected networks, both professional and personal.

For example, the Archives & Special Collections holds a copy of the first New London, CT edition of Occom’s Sermon:

Samson Occom. A Sermon... (1772)

Samson Occom. A Sermon… (1772)

The first edition was published in New Haven in the first week of November, 1772; the New London edition appeared around November 13. Newspaper advertisements are a key resource for bibliography; they help pinpoint publication dates, but they can also tell us much more.

Here is the ad for the first New Haven edition:

The Connecticut Journal, And The New-Haven Post-Boy. October 30, 1772

The Connecticut Journal, And The New-Haven Post-Boy. October 30, 1772

The Connecticut Journal was owned and operated by Thomas and Samuel Green, the only printers in New Haven in 1772; it was common practice for printers to include announcements of their other publications in their newspapers. The paper came out every Friday, so “next Monday” means the first edition of the sermon was available on November 2.

Timothy Green ran The New-London Gazette and was the only printer in New London, CT in the early 1770s. The November 13, 1772 issue of his paper included this advertisement:

The New-London Gazette. November 13, 1772.

The New-London Gazette. November 13, 1772.

The first striking detail of this ad is the mention of the addition of “a short Account of the Life of said Moses Paul.” The source of this biographical sketch is a broadside that was published in New Haven on the day of Moses Paul’s execution — a common tradition in England, but less common in the colonies. That broadside is a subject for another day, but it is noteworthy that the text of that broadside is included in almost every edition of the sermon that follows the first New London edition.

The other critical detail in this advertisement is the distribution information — the short list of names following “A few of the above Sermons may be had of…” Anyone familiar with Samson Occom’s life will recognize the name of the Rev. Samuel Buell of East Hampton, Long Island.

Samuel Buell. The excellence and importance of the saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ in the gospel-preacher. (1761)

Samuel Buell. The Excellence and Importance of the Saving Knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospel-Preacher… (1761)

Samuel Buell preached the sermon at Occom’s ordination at East Hampton, NY on August 29, 1759 and was an important figure in Occom’s Christian evangelical network. Occom’s connections to the Native communities of eastern Long Island are also deep – he established a school at Montauk in November 1749 and married a Montaukett woman, Mary Fowler, in 1751. Occom and his family lived at Montauk until 1764 when they moved back to Mohegan. One can imagine the Native public of Montauk eager to read this sermon, especially considering that many of them may have learned to read English from Occom himself.

This item is just one small example of the ways that close attention to the details of printing and publishing history can expose important network connections. This single advertisement provides evidence that Occom’s sermon reached a specific Native Public within weeks of its first publication. What would it have meant to this audience to see Occom’s name on the title page of his own book? How might copies of the sermon circulated among the Indigenous communities of Long Island? How many times was this text read out loud to those who could not read it for themselves or could not afford to purchase a copy of their own?

I found nearly 100 newspaper items related to either Moses Paul’s crime and execution as well as Samson Occom and his sermon. It will take me a while to digest all of it. Stay tuned…

Orra White Hitchcock

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

This summer in the Library, we have four excellent Digital Humanities interns conducting research in the Edward and Orra White Hitchcock Collection.  Working with these interns has been a great excuse for me to delve a bit more into this collection and fall in love with the artwork of Orra White Hitchcock, perhaps the Pioneer Valley’s earliest female botanical and scientific illustrator.

Orra White Hitchcock drawing of cedar sprig

Orra White Hitchcock drawing of cedar sprig

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College



Orra White, born March 8, 1796 in South Amherst, began teaching mathematics, astronomy, botany, and the decorative arts to young girls at the Deerfield Academy when she was only 17 years old.

While teaching at Deerfield Academy Orra met Edward Hitchcock, a local naturalist, and with Orra lending her hand to watercolor illustrations for an herbarium, the two began what would become a lifetime collaboration of joining science and art.




In 1821, Orra White married Edward Hitchcock who would become the third President of Amherst College and appointed state geologist of Massachusetts.  Orra lent her skill in scientific drawing to the publications of Edward’s geological findings, with many of her illustrations appearing in Hitchcock’s 1833 Report on the Geology of Massachusetts and the 1841 Final Report.

Orra White Hitchcock print of rocking stone, Fall River

Orra White Hitchcock print of rocking stone, Fall River

Edward Hitchcock held the position of professor of Chemistry and Natural History at Amherst College from 1825-1845.  During this time, Orra painted over 60 large format charts on linen depicting geological formations and prehistoric skeletons for Hitchcock’s classroom lectures.  These charts allow us a look at of how science was taught at Amherst in the mid 19th Century, as well as a glimpse of the geological landscape of the Pioneer Valley during her time as an artist.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

These charts are held in the Archives, where we hold the largest collection of Orra White Hitchcock’s artwork.  Orra’s classroom charts have been digitized and made freely accessible through the Amherst College Digital Collections.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Equinox pressmark (designed by John Heins)

Equinox pressmark (designed by John Heins)

In 2010 the Library of America reissued all six of Lynd Ward’s “novels in woodcuts” (also called “novels without words”) in a two volume set. If you like graphic novels but have never read Ward’s work, these are a great introduction, and you can check them out from any of the Five Colleges libraries. If you like what you see, you can also visit the special collections at Amherst or Smith to compare the experience of reading one of the original editions. The Archives and Special Collections at Amherst owns a second printing (from December 1929) of Ward’s first, and probably best known, wordless novel Gods’ Man. Even though it was first published a week before the Stock Market Crash, the book sold so well that it went through five printings by October of 1930, with a sixth printing in 1933, totaling more than 20,000 copies.

A copy of the 1929 edition (left) and the 2010 reissue (right)

A copy of the 1929 edition (left) and the 2010 reissue (right)

Note the deliberate placement of the apostrophe in the title; as Ward himself explained:

And for what it is worth, you may also be interested in knowing that the first title I suggested for the book was “All art is useless.” The name we finally worked out, “Gods’ man,” using as it does the plural possessive, stemmed from the idea that it is usually phrased somewhat along these lines: the Artist is always the darling of the Gods.

This quote is from a 1958 letter from Ward to Irving Steingart, as noted by Perry Willett in his 1997 exhibition catalog The Silent Shout: Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward, and the Novel in Woodcuts. The personal papers of Lynd Ward are held by the Georgetown University Library, who have presented several excellent exhibitions of his work.





Ward’s fourth woodcut novel was published in 1933 by the Equinox Cooperative Press. Prelude to a Million Years: A Book of Wood Engravings is described this way by Ward, in an essay reprinted in the Library of America edition (p. 643):

I have always thought of Prelude to a Million Years as a kind of footnote to Gods’ Man, a sort of codicil that would acknowledge that changes had occurred and that these changes required an amendment to the earlier testament. It was a very limited statement, running to a total of only thirty blocks. Because it was a minor work it was printed directly from the woodblocks on a beautiful rag paper in a small edition. Prelude was the third publication of Equinox Cooperative Press, a group of young people, including myself, working in printing, publishing, and the book arts who wanted to do non-commercial books, just for the love of doing it. Each copy of Prelude was bound by hand and made with loving care.


The Amherst copy is in very good condition, and although this picture doesn’t do justice to the original cord-stitched copper coated spine, it does show the patterned boards that were designed by Ward and later used as the endpaper pattern in the Library of America edition.

The Equinox Cooperative Press published 16 books between 1932 and 1937. It was founded by Ward, his wife May McNeer (a journalist and author), Henry Hart (an editor at Scribners), and six others.

In all its decisions, Equinox was guided by a belief in the democratic process. The discussions of every basic point were wide-ranging, always completely frank, and often interminable. … In seeking a corporate form that would reflect this belief in the democratic way, we decided to organize as a cooperative. But we discovered that the laws governing cooperatives were sharply defined, with consumer cooperatives on the one side and producer cooperatives on the other. Since we were producers, we were incorporated as a producer cooperative. But since most producers are, in the nature of things, farmers, we became the only publishers in the history of Western culture who had to file annual reports with the New York State Department of Agriculture. — Lynd Ward, in the foreword to Henry Hart’s A Relevant Memoir: The Story of the Equinox Cooperative Press (1977).


Professor Snell.
In the tool shed.
With a piece of wood




Things are already not what they seem:  Prof. Ebenezer Strong Snell (1801-1876, Class of 1822) was not a murderer, a murder did not take place in his tool shed, and he used the piece of wood as a door wedge.  So why does our title mention “murder,” and why would anyone save such an inconsequential-looking piece of cheap pine long enough for it to enter our archives?

The wood came to my attention some months ago when a patron asked for a document in the Snell Family Papers and the wood happened to be in the same box as the requested item.  It stuck right out of the file and poked at the box lid.  The file included a little card:


Click on image to see inscription.


Apparently Prof. Charles H. Morgan (not Morhan – a typo by someone else) found the piece of wood in Snell’s house and gave it to –a guess– the archivist of the time, Peggy Hitchcock Emerson, who kept it with the rest of the Snell papers.  Morgan, a professor in the Art Department, moved into the Snell house in 1932, and the information about the wood came to him from the last caretaker of the last Snell to live in the house.

The inscription raised several other questions, including “why would anyone commemorate the murder with this piece of wood, or (for that matter), any piece of wood?”  and “who is W. W. Snell?

Sun-Extra-Jan22-1842-JCC-via-Bro-Jonathan Murder-Samuel-Adams-fr-Bro-Jonathan-vol5 Blood-in-the-gutter-via-Bro-JonathanNeither Prof. Morgan nor Peggy Hitchcock had recourse to Google or to our digital newspaper archive to obtain answers.  A few simple search terms with these tools brought up plenty of information about John Caldwell Colt and his sensational murder trial.  Newspapers, including our local Hampshire Gazette, printed entire pages about the case and followed it from the victim Samuel Adams’ disappearance in September of 1841 to the discovery several days later of his body– stuffed in a pine box (a shipping crate) and loaded on a ship scheduled to depart for New Orleans — and then to the trial and conviction of his murderer in 1842.  At its simplest, the murder was about money: John Colt owed Samuel Adams money (they disagreed on the amount) for printing Colt’s work on bookkeeping.  Colt hadn’t planned to kill Adams on the day when the printer came to collect his money, but when the two argued and things went bad Colt murdered Adams with a hatchet. Colt then had to figure out how to clean up and dispose of the body quickly – hence the box in which he folded and tied the body in such a way that he could stuff it into a container that was said in court to measure 3’4″ x 1’10”  x 1’9″.  In Killer Colt, Harold Schechter writes that the box “had  been constructed by Colt himself, who assembled all the shipping crates for his books” (p. 108), and several witnesses mention seeing this particular box as well as the equipment Colt used to make them.

He got the box downstairs (not too big a box, not too big a body) and paid someone to help him get it to the wharf.

If the ship had departed with the body on board, Colt might have gotten away with it.  In fact, given that it took a week for keyhole witnesses (literally) to get the authorities’ attention, it’s a wonder he didn’t get away with it.  He was so close.  But things continued to go awry for Colt (not to mention Adams), and the ship didn’t leave on time.  Soon the contents began to smell.  The police, already alerted to the disappearance of Adams, came and pried the lid off the box.


From here events followed swiftly – the victim was identified, the suspected murderer was arrested, and the evidence was hauled away.  Including the box.

This much was clear and, in its way, straightforward and well documented. But still: why would Professor Snell have this piece of wood with such an inscription?  The answer (according to my theory) is in details from the small world that was Western Massachusetts in the early 19th century.

Hamp-Mfr-Co-ad-1829-Jul-8-Hamp-Gaz  If the reader hasn’t already made the connection, murderer John Colt was the brother of repeating firearms inventor Samuel Colt.  In the late 1820s and into the 1830s their father, Christopher Colt, worked at a textile mill in Ware, Massachusetts, where John and Samuel spent at least a little time (mostly coming and going quickly) and where Sam acquired notoriety on July 4, 1829, by blowing up a raft on Ware Pond.  On that occasion things didn’t go quite as he planned (apparently a Colt family tradition) and the explosion drenched the villagers who’d gathered to witness the event.  The villagers were angry and Sam barely escaped punishment.


View of Ware, ca. 1880, from “History of Ware”


The town of Ware is right next to Brookfield, where Ebenezer Snell’s family lived (specifically in North Brookfield), so it’s very possible that the Snells heard about the Ware Pond event, as well as about the mysterious explosions in the woods around town that the villagers came to suspect were Colt’s doing.

Not too long after the pond incident, Samuel Colt was hustled off  to Amherst Academy (or perhaps “back” — it’s unclear when he first attended the school).  If Ebenezer Snell didn’t know about Sam Colt from the latter’s days in Ware, he certainly came to know him in Amherst.  Snell had attended Amherst Academy himself and taught there later (1822-25).   By the time Colt got there, Snell was a professor at Amherst College, just a block away.  Although we don’t know for sure when Colt arrived in Amherst, we know when he left: shortly after July 4, 1830, when Colt and classmate Robert Purvis* stole Ebenezer Mattoon’s Revolutionary War cannon (a weapon with a long history of town escapades), dragged it up to the Amherst College campus, and scared the frocks off students and professors.  A newspaper comment from a few weeks later and a diary entry from the following year document the occasion and the excessive “huzzaing”:


"Hampshire Gazette," July 7, 1830

“Hampshire Gazette,” July 7, 1830

Excerpt from the journal of J. A. Cary, Class of 1832.  This entry from July 3, 1831:  …The day tomorrow is to be [observed] by religious exercises.  Our last anniversary will long stand recorded in the annals of Hell, & may this be as long remembered in the records of Heaven.  Last year the “consecrated eminence” was surrounded by the mists & fogs of the region of darkness, but in this it has been refreshed by the dews of heaven.  A year since & the roar of artillery, I doubt not, & the cheers & shouts of the ungodly were echoing and reechoing from the dark caverns below, in this many of those same voices are lifted up to God in praise, and in “humble grateful prayer.”

Excerpt from the journal of J. A. Cary, Class of 1832. This entry from July 3, 1831: …The day tomorrow is to be [observed] by religious exercises. Our last anniversary will long stand recorded in the annals of Hell, & may this be as long remembered in the records of Heaven. Last year the “consecrated eminence” was surrounded by the mists & fogs of the region of darkness, but in this it has been refreshed by the dews of heaven. A year since & the roar of artillery, I doubt not, & the cheers & shouts of the ungodly were echoing and reechoing from the dark caverns below, in this many of those same voices are lifted up to God in praise, and in “humble grateful prayer.”

In another bizarre twist in the “six degrees” way, the incident was recounted to Samuel Colt biographer Henry Barnard years later by none other than Edward Dickinson, Emily Dickinson’s father, which makes one think the poet too might’ve heard about the Colts, maybe across the dinner table.  Edward Dickinson’s letter was published in “Samuel Colt: Arms, Art & Invention,” but two sentences mentioning Snell and confirming his awareness of the incident were omitted.  That part is provided here courtesy of a transcription from the staff at the Wadsworth Atheneum, where the original is located (the word “instance” in brackets below is my suggestion for an illegible word):

Amherst July 22, 1864

Hon. Henry Barnard

My dear Sir,

 Your letter of yesterday is just rec’d. I well recollect the main incidents of the celebration enquired about; tho’ I never before knew that the celebrated Hartford Sam. Colt, was the hero of that occasion.

A young wild fellow of the name of Colt of Ware, was a member of our Academy & joined with other boys of Academy Lodge, on College Hill, in firing cannon, early in morning of 4th July. (The day of the week, I can’t tell.)

Some of the officers of College interfered & tried to stop the noise. Colt, as Prof. Fisk [probably Professor Nathan Welby Fiske, father of Helen Hunt Jackson] ordered him not to fire again, and placing himself, as the story was told, the nest day near the mouth of the gun, swung his match, & cried out, “a gun for Prof. Fiske.” & touched it off – the Prof. enquired his name – & he replied, “his name was Colt, & he could Kick like Hell” – He soon left town, for good. This was the account given at the time – & has after been repeated here.

I met Prof. Snell, directly after receiving your letter, and as he was here, at the time, I enquired of him about it. He recollects Prof. Fiske relating to him, the [instance? i.e. “story” or “occasion”] of his being on the ground, & saying that the [instance?] started by some of the boys, that he, Prof. Fiske, tried to straddle the gun, was not true. So, I think I have given you about as it was. I am always happy to hear from you, & to meet you.  With kind regard & esteem, I am very truly yours, Edward Dickinson.”

So when in 1841-2 the Snells read of the trial of John Colt for the murder of Samuel Adams, they would have had personal memories of the Colt family, both because of Sam Colt’s notoriety in Amherst and because of the proximity of the Snell and Colt families in neighboring towns.  And there was yet another reason the murder would’ve shocked them: they knew the victim, probably very well.

According to the “History of North Brookfield,” Samuel Adams, John Colt’s victim, was also from North Brookfield.  He appears just before “ADAMS” in the center of the image below.**


Rev. Thomas Snell, father of Ebenezer, ca. 1845

Rev. Thomas Snell, father of Ebenezer, ca. 1845

The Snell family knew the Adams family because Rev. Thomas Snell, Ebenezer’s father, led the church in town for 64 years, from 1798-1862, and Benjamin Adams, Samuel’s grandfather (d. 1829), was a deacon in the same church.  Thomas Snell said of Benjamin Adams, “At the time of my settlement, no member of the church had so much influence in ecclesiastical affairs as Dea. Adams.  He was a good judge of preaching, and a man of uncommon attainments for one who enjoyed no greater advantages.  At this time he was  the only member of the church who would take part in a religious meeting” (History of North Brookfield, page 485).  Benjamin’s grandson Samuel was also in the same age group as some of Ebenezer’s younger siblings, so they may have played or been in school and church together.  The “W. W. Snell” — William Ward Snell — of the inscription on the wood was born in 1821, so to him Samuel Adams would’ve been an older boy by a decade.

But let’s get back to that piece of wood in the Snell Family Papers. What is this piece of wood?

Accounts of the trial of John Colt reveal that the lid of the pine box containing Adams’ body went missing:


In court testimony about the missing lid a police officer remembered that the prison watchman had offered to show him the box.  The officer’s testimony “suggested that at least one man with access to the lid — Watchman Patrick — understood its value as a curio” (Schechter,  p 178).  Later, however, another watchman said that he had used the lid to build a fire on a particularly chilly night.  He offered the helpful (if suspiciously superfluous) detail that the lid had smelled “strong” when it was burned (Schechter, p.184).  Either way, the lid was gone, apparently for good.

Given the relationship between the Snells and those involved in the case (the Colt and Adams families), I wonder, then, whether the piece of wood that one Snell inscribed and another kept and used as a wedge for decades is in fact a piece of the missing lid.  I think that Ebenezer’s brother William Ward Snell somehow came into possession of that piece of wood, possibly through a member of the Adams family or a mutual connection of the Colts and the Snells.  In 1842, William Snell was a young man of 21 or 22 perhaps fascinated by a murder trial involving a victim he knew personally.  Like whoever took the lid, probably dividing it into several pieces, Snell would’ve viewed the segment as a souvenir of the crime or a memorial of the victim. But why does it appear among brother Ebenezer’s possessions?  I can’t answer that question (yet), but I do at least know that brother William moved out west and may have left some of his possessions behind, and I know too that Ebenezer himself wasn’t above a bit of rubbernecking at murder.  His memoir of a trip in August of 1827 reveals that he witnessed the hanging (a botched one, apparently) of Jesse Strang for the murder of John Whipple — the “Cherry Hill murder”:


[Last section, after describing his discomfort during trip from Northampton to Albany] “This lameness prevented my walking about the city as much as I had wished; indeed, I did but little more than attend the execution of Strang, the murderer of Whipple. He was hung, on Friday, August 24 in the valley, or rather, in the deep hollow near the jail in Albany. An immense concourse were present to witness a spectacle of a nature too horrid to be witnessed a second time.”

Ironically, Colt’s hanging never took place — not on the day indicated on the wood or any other day.  Instead, on November 18, between about 2:45 and 3:45 p.m., when he was left alone, John Colt stabbed himself to death in his cell.  When officials came to take him to his 4:00 p.m. execution, they discovered him lying on his cot with a knife in his chest.  The Snells would have known the appointed hour of Colt’s hanging and inscribed the piece of wood – the piece of the lid – on that day.  The news of Colt’s suicide would have taken at least a day to reach Amherst, more likely longer (it’s in the Hampshire Gazette on the 22nd), when it would have been odd – the emotion of the moment having passed – to erase or correct the inscription.  Either way, Colt was dead on the 18th — unless one believes the rumors…

If you look closely at the piece of wood, you can still see the nail holes where the piece was tacked down.  In Colt’s confession he describes how the box originally had only a few nails, not enough to keep a body secure, so he purchased additional nails and then stood on top of the box to force the body into its tidy package: “I had to stand on [Adams’ knees] with all my weight before I could get them down.  I then nailed down the cover.” (Edwards, Story of Colt’s Revolver, p 169; reprinted from Colt’s confession in “Authentic Life of John C. Colt”).

From one day to the next, you never know what you’ll find in the archives.


New York Sun, Jan. 30, 1842



* Contrary to the information on his current Wikipedia page and other sites, abolitionist Robert Purvis didn’t attend or graduate from Amherst College, he attended Amherst Academy.  The two schools are often confused.  However, students at the Academy were allowed to attend lectures at the College, so it’s quite possible that Purvis attended lectures here.

** Newspaper accounts of the case put Samuel Adams in Providence, Rhode Island, but he may have gone there to begin his career, perhaps through connections with his older sister Eliza Sackett, who lived in Providence.




Facial goniometer, mid-19th century. Collin, Paris [OB2015.009]

Facial Goniometer, mid-19th century. Collin, Paris [OB2015.009]

We recently added an interesting item to our Objects Collection, an instrument called a facial goniometer. This came to the Archives from our colleagues at the Beneski Museum of Natural History. The object offers a bit of insight into the local popularity of anthropometery in the 19th century – that is, the practice of compiling a wide variety of measurements of the human body, most often in the support of various scientific or pseudoscientific theories of anthropology.

A goniometer is any device that measures angles. A facial goniometer is specifically concerned with calculating the angle of the face from the jaw to the forehead. This instrument was introduced in the mid-19th century by anthropometrists. This particular goniometer bears the maker’s mark “Collin, Paris.” Adolphe Collin was a well-known surgical instrument maker in Paris from the 1860s through the 1930s.

Facial Goniometer. Illustration from Samuel George Morton, Crania Americana (Philadelphia: J. Dobson, 1839), p. 252.

Facial Goniometer. Illustration from Samuel George Morton, Crania Americana (Philadelphia: J. Dobson, 1839), 252.

George Morton, in his Crania Americana (1839), provides a detailed description of how a facial goniometer is meant to be applied to measure the facial angle of the human skull. First, three basal pieces (A) are affixed snugly around the sides and front of the specimen, while a thin vertical piece in the middle (K and L) sort of straddles the nasal bone. Then the vertical limb D is allowed to fall back to touch limb K, and a degree measurement is made on the angular scale.

Morton, Crania Americana, 250.

Illustration from Morton, Crania Americana, p. 250.

The illustration above from Morton’s Crania Americana shows differences in the facial angles of two cranial specimens. The first specimen (the skull of a “Cowalitsk,” i.e. Cowlitz, a Native American tribe of the Pacific Northwest), has an angle measuring 66 degrees; in the specimen below it, a Peruvian Indian, the line measures 76 degrees.
The purpose of our goniometer at Amherst College is uncertain. The most likely hypothesis is that is was acquired and used by Dr. Edward Hitchcock (AC 1849), college physician and professor of physical education and hygiene. “Old Doc” Hitchcock was keenly interested in anthropometry; we know that he led a rigorous program of physical measurements of several generations of Amherst College men, and published extensively on the subject. It is possible that Hitchcock’s personal papers provide an answer to this question.

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