A Visit With Governor Andrew

John AndrewToday I took advantage of a day off from work and beautiful weather to drive down the coast to the Hingham Cemetery to visit the final resting place of Governor John A. Andrew. The headstone is very simple, but a few years after his death a group of admirers commissioned a beautiful statue sculpted in Cararra marble in Florence, Italy. I am still very much in the early stages of my Andrew project. I made it through the first volume of Henry G. Pearson’s 1904 biography along with a number of other secondary sources. With three days off next week I hope to finally sink my teeth into the Andrew Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Any biography project is an enormous undertaking, but one of the things that helps to make it more manageable is the fact that Andrew died relatively early in 1867. The timing helps to frame this as a Civil War biography. No reason to wade into the complexity of Gilded Age America and no worrying about how the politics of the period might have shaped Andrew’s views on emancipation and black civil rights, which defined his time on Beacon Hill.

As we all know the postwar challenges of Reconstruction, party politics, and a new agenda steered many Republicans away from their wartime priorities, especially when it came to the place of African Americans in a reunited nation. Such a trajectory adds a great deal for historians, who are interested in such things as tracking motivation and measuring conviction. For now Andrew gets to bask in the light of having been ahead of the curve in reference to emancipation and the recruitment of black soldiers.

Even without the potential “fall from grace” that comes with a longer life I am hoping to find a slightly more interesting and nuanced story about Andrew’s role in the war than what we currently have. The only thing that can stop me now is his handwriting, which is a disaster.

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6 comments… add one
  • Richard F. Miller Dec 5, 2014 @ 16:15

    Mr. Levin:

    The Andrew papers that you will need are located at the Massachusetts State Archive at Columbia Point.
    The wartime Andrew cannot be understood without reference to his AG William Schouler and ADCs Henry Lee and Albert G. Browne. If you have the time and inclination, you might also wish to check the reciprocal correspondence with the governors of the other five New England states (quite active), Charles Sumner and other members of The Bay State’s congressional delegation.

    A large reservoir of untapped sources. Good luck with this most worthy project.

    Richard F. Miller

  • Andrew Raker Oct 11, 2014 @ 7:54

    I’m glad I’m not the only person who visits graves of historical figures I’ve been reading/writing about!

    Is there any text on the monument? Since it was built shortly after the war ended, I’d be curious to see how it was being remembered at that time.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 11, 2014 @ 7:57

      Nope. Just his last name. Andrew’s actual grave marker only includes his name, that he was governor and the dates.

  • Rob Wick Oct 10, 2014 @ 14:16

    Ida Tarbell’s letters and papers are all online with a couple of notable exceptions. While that certainly makes it much easier to go through things, in a way it also makes it more difficult. When a historian visits the archives, he or she has a limited amount of time so they learn to cut corners and look for what is pertinent to their research. Having access to over 50 years worth of material in addition to all her non-Lincoln material, gives one the ability to take time to look for hidden gems, but it also can get one lost in an excruciating amount of minutiae.

    And as for bad handwriting, I’d pay anyone a dollar if they can transcribe what this says.



    • Marian Latimer Oct 10, 2014 @ 16:42

      Oh, please, Rob, you never saw my late mother’s handwriting, which I am quite sure inspired the line in “Steel Magnolias,” “That’s the handwriting of a serial killer.” I’ll await my dollar. I need it for treatment for the scars I still bear for making that statement within hearing of my mom.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 11, 2014 @ 8:11

      Good point. Luckily for me, most of Andrews’s papers are here in Boston.

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