On the whole the aspect rather encourage me so far as I can judge matters in the South are taking the course I anticipated. The openings to a pacification are becoming visible. Yet the preparation for a final conflict are manifestly going on much faster than the other. I had visits.... my old acquaintance Thaddeus Hyatt.... He looks and talks more rationally than he did when I last saw him in the very dirty jail at Washington.

—Diary of Charles Francis Adams, 2 May 1864, London

“Presented to His Friend, Mon. S. E. Sewall, [from the] Washington Jail, April 21, 1860”

This photograph of abolitionist and inventor Thaddeus Hyatt was sent to his Massachusetts lawyer and fellow abolitionist Samuel E. Sewall in April of 1860 from Hyatts cell in the Washington jail. He wrote below his image, Presented to his friend, Mon. S. E. Sewall, Washington Jail, April 21, 1860.

After abolitionists failed raid on Harpers Ferrys armory, the US Senate commissioned an investigation to find those who had helped John Brown, who led the raid. Hyatt, Brown’s friend, was falsely implicated, but he said he would testify willingly—at first. After he arrived in Washington to testify, he stonewalled the committee and was jailed for contempt.

According to his obituary in the New York Times, “Instead of taking his imprisonment seriously [Hyatt] had his prison room decorated and furnished and then issued invitations to his friends. He never lacked visitors.” He seemed to take a perverse pride in being locked up, having checks emblazoned with the jail’s return address printed up, mailing “at home” cards to friends and politicians in Washington, and sending out his photograph to various friends inscribed from the Washington Jail.

He was released in June 1860, and in 1861 he went to France to serve as American Consul at LaRochelle. He moved to London in 1869 and died in 1901 at the age of 85 at his summer home on the Isle of Wight.

View the portrait up close here.

MHS News

Object of History Podcast, The Branded Hand Now Available

The Object of History podcast Season 3, Episode 3, The Branded Hand, explores the significance of the daguerreotype photograph of Capt. Jonathan Walker’s branded hand, a punishment he received for attempting to rescue seven enslaved laborers in 1844. Katherine Fein, a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University, and Hannah Elder, Associate Reference Librarian for Rights & Reproductions at the MHS, discuss how abolitionists harnessed the new technology of photography to showcase the brutality of the system of slavery. 

Listen to the episode here.

Upcoming Events


Tuesday, 16 January | 5:00 PM

Seeing the Forest as the Key: Lumbermen, Foresters & Racial Power in the Early Twentieth-Century South & the West

Evan Bonney, Centre d'histoire de Sciences Po and Perri Meldon, Boston University, with comment by Megan Kate Nelson, historian and writer.

Register to attend in person.

Register to attend online.


Tuesday, 23 January | 5:00 PM

Prostitutes in Private: Sexual & Consumer Culture in Early 20th-Century New York Tenements

Deena Ecker, CUNY Graduate Center, with comment by Kathy Peiss, University of Pennsylvania.

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Register to attend online.


Wednesday, 24 January | 6:00 PM

A History of Boston

Daniel Dain

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Register to attend online.

Tuesday, 30 January, 5:00 PM: Deported Americans: US Citizens & the Expanding Global Deportation Regime During the Interwar Era with Emily Pope-Obeda, Lehigh University, with comment by Kunal Parker, University of Miami School of Law. This is a seminar.

Tuesday, 6 February, 5:00 PM: The Social World of Revolutionary New England with Nicole Breault, University of Texas, El Paso, and Christopher Walton, Southern Methodist University, with comment by Mark Peterson, Yale University. This is a seminar.

Thursday, 8 February, 5:00 PM: “A New Witch Hunt in Salem”: The Rise & Fall of Low-Cost Birth Control Clinics During the Great Depression with Jeanna Kinnebrew, Boston University, with comment by Lauren MacIvor Thompson, Kennesaw State University. This is a seminar.

Tuesday, 13 February, 5:00 PM: Farm, Factory & Mine: Worcester Coal & the Role of Extractive Industries in Early 19th-Century New England with Katheryn Viens, Independent Scholar, with comment by Brian C. Black, Pennsylvania State University. This is a seminar.

See full calendar.

Looking for More?

Registration and Events


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Interested in Past Programs?


If you missed a program or would like to revisit the material presented, please visit www.masshist.org/video.

Exhibition and Library Hours

Now Open! The Dye is cast: Interests & Ideals That Motivated the Boston Tea Party. The exhibition is open through 29 February 2024. Learn more about the exhibition and explore items from our collection related to the Tea Party


Our galleries and library are open Monday and Wednesday through Friday, from 9:30 AM to 4:45 PM, Tuesday from 9:30 AM to 7:45 PM, and Saturday from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM (the galleries and library open at 12:00 PM the second Tuesday of the month). Please note that the last admission is 45 minutes prior to closing.

Please check our hours and admissions for hours, building closings, and other events.

An advance appointment is strongly encouraged. Please log in to your Portal1791 account to select your preferred visit dates.


Set up an appointment via Zoom or live chat with a member of our reference staff. 


Learn more at www.masshist.org/library.

2024 Making History Gala

Join us for an unforgettable evening on 6 June 2024, with featured speaker Doris Kearns Goodwin at the iconic Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston. Visit www.masshist.org/gala to purchase tickets.  

The MHS Fund and Membership

Our Members make it possible for us to offer an array of complimentary services including admission to our exhibition galleries and library, online access to our collections and digital editions, and onsite and remote reference services for all. Membership begins with a fully tax-deductible contribution of $250 or more to the MHS Fund. All Members enjoy a full year of social, cultural, and educational experiences, including invitations to our annual Holiday Party, FREE program registration, and Member Week perks. Learn more and join today!
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