Election Day is next Tuesday, and so this discovery could not have been better timed. I was at the Oaks today, standing quietly in her office, surveying books, boxes, and interesting piles of pictures and papers . . . and feeling overwhelmed by her vast array of ephemera waiting to be catalogued. After a few moments, I reached into a box and pulled out a booklet, the title of which and the story it told brought me to my knees:
HISTORIC BALLOT BOX of the MASSACHUSETTS DAUGHTERS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS MCMXVI.
MCMXVI. Nineteen hundred sixteen. This was before women had the vote . . . and yet the Massachusetts Daughters of the American Revolution created one of the most profoundly patriotic and moving symbols of their generation. Read on:
“The historic wood was contributed by the chapters throughout the state and the box was made at the shops of John Perron, New Derby Street, Salem by Ernest Richard. It was designed and planned by Captain and Mrs. Charles H. Masury who received the contributions and superintended the work.
‘Lest we forget’
Probably one of the most wonderful boxes in the world is a ballot box which is the property of the Massachusetts Daughters of the American Revolution. This beautiful box is composed of two hundred and eighty pieces of wood, every one of which has some historical value, and, as a work of art, is worth hundreds of dollars. Aside from its artistic worth, however, the box is priceless. It can never be duplicated.
For over a year and a half the pieces of wood for the box were collected. This wood, in large and small bits, came from sixty chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and from ten individuals. It was gathered from all parts of Massachusetts, and from parts of many other States. A piece from some old house erected in the 1670s; a sliver from an antique clock frame; a splinter from an historic tree; a shingle from a meeting house roof; a scrap of flooring from a ship-o’-war — piece by piece the two hundred and eighty fragments came to Mrs. Charles H. Masury, of Danvers.
An Honorary State Regent, Mrs. Masury was appointed a committee of one to receive the contributions. It was Captain Charles H. Masury, however, who designed the box — a very laborious, intricate task, owing to the fact that the wood came in all shapes, and none of the pieces were large. Captain Masury was therefore obliged to plan the box with the utmost care, fitting one bit of wood into another, so that each might show to its best advantage. The actual workmanship on the box was done by a Salem cabinet-maker, but it was done according to Captain Masury’s plans. A chart was made of each side of the box, and of the top. All the pieces of wood were numbered on the charts, but not on the box itself. By reference to the charts, one can tell at once the history of any given piece.
The John Adams Chapter, of Boston, paid for the making of the box. It is remarkable what a brilliant polish these ancient bits of wood have taken. Of varied colors, from black to cherry, from golden brown to white, the highly polished pieces form a cabinet that would be an ornament to any room. The box is greatly admired by all who see it and is thoroughly appreciated by the Patriotic Society to which it belongs.
There are few corners of Massachusetts that fail of representation in the cabinets gleaming sides, and there are few historic spots in the country that have not contributed some souvenir, however tiny. There is one bit of wood from the John Adams homestead, in Quincy. Another from a tree in the Whittier garden in Amesbury. Still another from the “Merrimac”; the “Olympia” (Dewey’s ﬂagship); the General Israel Putnam house in Danvers; the old Daggett house which stood at the corner of Tremont and Hollis streets, Boston, and in which preparations for the Boston Tea Party were made; a piece from the frame-work of Fort Erie, in Canada; the mulberry tree on the Dorothy Quincy estate in Quincy; the old Quincy homestead, which was built in I635 and burned in 1769; from “Great Onabbin,” the golden oak in Enfield; from the Old State House; the house of Dorothy Brewer in Waltham, from the Whiting elm in Amherst—-one of the oldest and most beautiful trees in the State.
There is a piece of wood from the Prescott house in Pepperell, this piece being the gift of Mrs. Roger Wolcott. There is a piece from the homestead, in Newton Centre, of S. F. Smith, who wrote “America”; from the parlor floor of the Royall House in Medford; from the two-hundred-years’ old Ebenezer Learned house in Whitinsville; from the stair banister of the John Hancock house in Boston; from the Adams house in Quincy; from the Old South Meeting House in Boston. One fragment is from the barn of John and Hannah Goddard, where ammunition was secreted for General Washington’s army on Dorchester Heights. (Old John Goddard put carpet on the feet of his oxen, so their plodding steps might not be heard, and conveyed the arms and ammunition by night in his ox-cart to the waiting army). There is a piece from the “Augusta,” Lord Howe’s flagship, which was sunk in the battle of Red Bank, New Jersey, in 1777.
There is a piece from the Eliot oak in Natick, under which John Eliot preached to the Indians. The old Concord Bridge is represented, and the first Parish Church of Concord, within whose walls the first Provinicial Congress was held. Another piece is from the Deborah Wheelock house of Uxbridge, dating back to 1768; the British man-o’-war “Somerset.” wrecked off Cape Cod in 1778; the Longfellow elm; the Washington elm; the Hancock Tavern, Boston, which dates back to 1634. Nor has the Holmes house in Cambridge withheld its token — that house which was the headquarters of General Artemas Ward in 1775 — nor Massachusetts Hall at Harvard, built in 1719 and used a a barracks in 1775, nor the apple tree on the homestead of Mary Draper of Roxbury, nor the Peck house of Attleboro, dating back to 1700.
There is a fine bit from the Jonathan Edwards elm at Northhampton; from a clock case — a very rare specimen — which dates back to 1792 and was made in England; from the Paul Revere house; from the house of Abiah Folger Franklin of Nantucket (she who was the mother of Benjamin Franklin); from the houses where Deborah Sampson and Chief Justice Cushing were born; from the frigate “Constitution.” There is also a bit from the dower chest of Prudence Wright, which dyes back to 1775. (Prudence Wright lived in Pepperell, and one day when all the men except one very aged and feeble gentleman had gone to war, she learned that a troop of British were preparing to take an important message to General Gage. ‘We girls must do what the men would do,’ she said, and persuaded her companions to don their brothers’ clothes, march with her to a turn in the road, arm themselves with long sticks that looked sufficiently like muskets, intercept the Tories — one of whom was the brother of Mistress Prudence — scare the enemy out of their wits, capture the message, and ride with it across the country to General Washington at Cambridge).
There is a piece of wood from the “Claremont” and the “Half Moon,” which took part in the Hudson-Fulton celebration; from the First Meeting House in Hingham, which was the first public house of worship in New England, its dates being 1664-1681; from General Benjamin Lincoln house in Hingham, dated 1690; from the famous Charter Oak, from the tree to which Mother Ann Lee hitched her horse in 1758 while she preached to the Shakers; (Mother Lee lived in Shirley, Massachusetts, and was one of the brave women who took supplies to the Americans at great risk to herself.) There is a bit of wood from the Eames Garrison house, dated 1693. (Eames was one of the children who escaped the Indian massacre at Fort Mayten in Framingham, 1675-6). There is a piece from the Abraham Lincoln house in Springfield, Illinois; from the old elm on Boston Common. Another is from the Endicott pear tree, planted in Danvers in 1630, and still bearing; yet another from the Parson Paris’s witch house in Danvers, which dates back to 1692.
There is a piece from Jefferson’s desk, the wood having been taken from the spot where his arm rested while he wrote.
There is a bit of magnolia planted at Mount Vernon by Lafayette, and of a magnolia planted at Mount Vernon by Washington. There is a piece of the platform on which President McKinley was inaugurated; from the live oak under which John Wesley preached in Georgia; from the lower panel of the south door of the John Hancock house in Boston, a bit of wood which was doubtlessly brushed by the dress of Dorothy Q.; from the House of the seven Gables in Salem; from the Dean Winthrop house in Winthrop; from King’s Chapel, Boston; from the old belfry in Lexington — from which the alarm was rung to call the Minute Men to Lexington Green on April 19, 1775 — and a bit of the original timber, from the Bright Tavern, built in 1690 at Faneuil Hall Square, Boston. Nearly every period of American history is represented in this assemblage of relics.
Beautiful silver mountings have been added from time to time by the Chapters and other interested donors. The intrinsic value of the box is so great, it is so unique in its conception, so beautiful in its workmanship, and so impossible of replacement in case of loss, that it is kept in a safety deposit vault. This ballot box is the most precious possession of the Massachusetts Daughters of the American Revolution.”
After I finished reading through the booklet, I remained on my knees for a while, unable to move or to utter a single word. I was completely humbled by the significance of this ballot box, the significance of its creation prior to women getting the vote, and the significance of being a twenty-first century woman with a privilege that the Daughters of yesteryear could only hope for . . . and yet they were still driven by an unconditional love and passion for this country to immortalize the birth of our nation in a single object.
To view a diagram of the ballot box and a description of of the donated pieces, click here: Historic Ballot Box. To view the ballot box as it appears today, please visit Historic Ballot Box Photo Shoot.
A handwritten note that accompanied the booklet denotes that the ballot box was presented to the Daughters of the American Revolution headquarters in Washington DC on April 20, 1921.