Connected \\ May 1, 2020
A legacy of helping others
Photo by Paige Besse/PEM.
Emily Larsen creating her public art with the 1806 toast. Photo by Paige Besse/PEM.
When the East India Marine Society toasted in 1806: “May we never ‘bear away’ when we see a friend in distress,” they were harkening to their roots as a benevolent institution. This statement was recently shared with our community through a public art piece outside the museum, created by PEM’s own Emily Larsen.
In the early days of the United States, marine societies covered the eastern seaboard from Maine to South Carolina (and Salem had two!). All adhered to one major principle: to provide relief to the widows and families of sailors who “go down to the sea in ships, and nevermore return” and to sailors who had fallen on hard times.
Charles Osgood, Portrait of Nathaniel Bowditch, 1835. Oil on canvas. Commissioned by the East India Marine Society. M370. © Peabody Essex Museum. Photo by Mark Sexon/PEM.
George Ropes, Launching of the Ship Fame, 1802. Oil on canvas. Gift of Nathaniel Silsbee. 108332. © Peabody Essex Museum. Photo by Jeffrey R. Dykes/PEM.
Rather than stand by and watch those most affected by this mercantile “shutdown” struggle, the East India Marine Society was proactive. They decided to hold a Grand Charity Concert with “the expense of musick [sic], lights [to] be paid from the funds of this Society.” Almost $200 was spent for all sundry expenses such as program booklets and ornately decorated tickets available for purchase for one dollar, with $99.50 paid for hiring the musicians.
Thomas C. Cushing, Ticket for “Grand Charity Concert,” 1809. Printed paper. © Peabody Essex Museum.
To help promote the concert scheduled for January 26, 1809, at the Society’s hall, The Salem Register ran a lengthy article on the forthcoming performance and listed the full musical program. The newspaper informed residents that:
The Salem East India Marine Society, from their knowledge of an uncommon degree of suffering in this town, arising from the extraordinary circumstances of the times, and from a desire of aiding the general disposition of their fellow-townsmen to acts of charity and benevolence, have determined, on Thursday evening next, to give a GRAND CONCERT of Vocal and Instrumental Music, at the Museum in Essex-street, for the purpose of raising a sum of money, by the sale of admission tickets for the immediate relief of the distressed.
All proceeds from the sale of tickets would “go into the charity fund; which will be distributed by a special committee, without deduction,” and the Register stated that “the Society are determined to spare no pains or expence [sic] to produce such an entertainment as will exhilarate the feelings of the company for the evening; for which purpose they have engaged the best performers from Boston.”
The Essex Register, reviewing the concert a few days later, noted that the “[m]usical entertainment…must have exceeded the warmest expectations of the amateur.” Among the many pieces performed was Thomas Augustine Arne’s “The Soldier Tired.” Arne was the composer of “Rule, Britannia!” and his version of “God Save the King” is still the national anthem of the United Kingdom. Catherine (Hiller) Graupner, one of the leading Boston soloists of her day, performed many of the vocal works that night. The Register lauded her performance, believing that she “distinguished herself...by great brilliancy and expression of voice.” The glee Sailor Boy, in particular, was likely chosen for this audience given its allusions to shipwreck and loss.
On the second floor of the Salem Bank Building on Essex Street, the home of the East India Marine Society Museum from 1804 to 1825, attendees were entertained by a full program of symphonic and vocal works. Image: Mary Mason Brooks, Salem Bank Building about 1804–1825, about 1888. India ink on paper.© Peabody Essex Museum.
The concert was very well attended and the East India Marine Society collected nearly $600, which was given to those in need. The Essex Register concluded that “[i]n short, the whole performance left nothing to wish, whether with regard to its design, execution, effect, or the benevolent appropriation of its profits.” In regards to the Society, the Register proclaimed that “[t]he members…displayed great alertness and anxiety in accommodating the companys [sic] and by their urbane assiduities added much to the pleasures of the evening. They deserve well of their country.”