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      PEMcast | March 18, 2024

      PEMcast 35: The Curious Life of Reverend William Bentley

      39 MIN LISTEN

      Dinah Cardin

      Written by

      Dinah Cardin


      ABOVE IMAGE: Hannah Crowninshield, American, Portrait of Reverend William Bentley, 1819. Miniature. Museum collection, 1962. Photo by Ani Geragosian and Chris Stepler/PEM.

      We know so much about Salem, Massachusetts and its quirky history in part because of the meticulous diary keeping of Reverend William Bentley.

      He chronicled his busy days as a clergyman from 1784 to 1819 with an unmatched dedication and flourish. His 32-volume diary records his lively thoughts on world politics, friendships with leading statesmen and life in Salem. That’s 35 years of daily insights that unfolded alongside a brand new nation. Join us in this episode of the PEMcast as we explore the life and legacy of Bentley, a legendary figure intimately connected to PEM and its city.

      James Frothingham, Portrait of the Reverend William Bentley, early 19th century. Oil on canvas. Gift of Lawrence Waters Jenkins, 1936. M4474.

      Born just 67 years after the Salem Witch Trials, Bentley became an advocate for Salem’s poor, for its Black residents and for others marginalized by a rapidly evolving and globally connected community. In Part 1 of this episode, we walk across the street from the museum to take listeners to the home where the lifelong bachelor rented rooms from 1794 until his death in 1819.

      James Frothingham, Portrait of the Reverend William Bentley, early 19th century. Oil on canvas. Gift of Lawrence Waters Jenkins, 1936. M4474.

      Crowninshield-Bentley House, 1727-29. Photo by Paige Besse/PEM.

      Crowninshield-Bentley House, 1727-29. Photo by Paige Besse/PEM.

      The Bentley room at the Crowninshield-Bentley House. © 2017 Peabody Essex Museum. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

      The Bentley room at the Crowninshield-Bentley House. © 2017 Peabody Essex Museum. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.

      Steven Mallory, PEM’s Manager of Historic Structures and Landscapes, and Ruthie Dibble, PEM’s Robert N. Shapiro Curator of American Decorative Art, join us to learn about Bentley’s collecting habits. The reverend was one of the first people to appreciate, collect and protect the rich cultural and artistic heritage of Essex County. His collection included books, papers, boxes, furniture, glassware, silver, utensils, ceramics, fireplace equipment, tools, objects of natural history, paintings, sculptures and other assorted curiosities. This cabinet, as he called it, was cultivated to tell the story of historic Essex County as well as record its flora and fauna. We also go to PEM’s grand Gardner-Pingree House to tell the story of Bentley’s views on Salem’s involvement in the slave trade.

      Admiring the Samuel McIntire carved fireplace mantle in the Gardner-Pingree House are Ruthie Dibble, PEM’s Robert N. Shapiro Curator of American Decorative Art, and Steven Mallory, PEM’s Manager of Historic Structures and Landscapes. Photo by Dinah Cardin

      Admiring the Samuel McIntire carved fireplace mantle in the Gardner-Pingree House are Ruthie Dibble, PEM’s Robert N. Shapiro Curator of American Decorative Art, and Steven Mallory, PEM’s Manager of Historic Structures and Landscapes. Photo by Dinah Cardin/PEM.

      We’re joined by Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello, professor of American Studies at Salem State University, who has written about Bentley as an ally, connector and influencer. We’re telling his story just in time for Salem’s 400th anniversary, coming up in 2026 – a story that could not be told without its greatest scribe. So, come along, back to the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when Salem was a wealthy and bustling port city in a brand new nation, and one man was there, capturing it all.

      Or, as Duclos-Orsello says, “I encourage anyone who…hasn't ever heard about William Bentley, to make a list of topics or issues that you might be interested in, vis-à-vis Salem, early America, or New England, and see – in a six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon style – how many steps does it take you to figure out that William Bentley had some connection there?”

      Tune in to Part 2, when we’ll prove this Kevin Bacon theory and dive deeper into Bentley as a connector and influencer who served as an ally to marginalized communities, understood the importance of preserving Salem’s history and laid the foundation for the Peabody Essex Museum.

      Thank you to PEM staff members Ruthie Dibble and Steven Mallory. Our gratitude to Salem State University Professor Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello and actor Tim Hoover as the voice of the Reverend Bentley. This episode was produced by me, Dinah Cardin, and edited and mixed by Erika Sutter. Our theme song is by Forrest James, whose music is on Soundcloud, I-Tunes and Spotify. The PEMcast is generously supported by the George S. Parker Fund.

      All sourced from Free Music Archive:
      Beat Mekanik - Storia di Archi
      legacyAlli - RF -The Perfect Date - Remix (Romantic)
      Le Chaos Entre 2 Chaises - Ephemeral II (daydreaming).mp3
      Kai Engel - Brooks
      Kirk Osamayo - (Ambient) Breath
      The United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps - Three Little Drummers from the George Washington Show
      James Kibbie - BWV 641_ Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein
      Kirk Osamayo - (Ambient) Breath
      Xylo-Ziko - Florid
      drób - Magic
      Mark Wilson X - Upstream Color
      Xylo-Ziko - Lull
      Fabian Measures - Did you know_ (Curiouser and curiouser)
      Xylo-Ziko - Flying Fish
      Kai Engel - Brand New World
      Podington Bear - Theme in G
      Kai Engel - Denouement
      Sergey Cheremisinov - She-Wolf In My Heart (bonus)
      Kevin MacLeod - Blue Feather
      Jar of Flies - Serenity
      Sergey Cheremisinov - Train

      PEMcast 30: The Curious Life of William Bentley


      Dinah Cardin, Host: If you had been there, on a summer’s day in 1797, you would have seen the spectacle that marched through town. The massive two-year-old landed in Salem’s global port aboard the ship America, purchased abroad by Captain Jacob Crowninshield. Later sold to Barnum and Bailey Circus, the elephant drew a crowd.

      Tim Hoover as Bentley: “Went to the Market House to see the Elephant. The crowd of spectators forbad me any but a general and superficial view of him.”

      Dinah: We know much about Salem, Massachusetts and its quirky history because of the meticulous diary keeping of Reverend William Bentley. He chronicled his busy days as an clergyman from 1784 to 1819 with an unmatched dedication and flourish. That’s 35 years of daily insights that unfolded alongside a brand new nation. But back to the elephant.

      Tim: “He was six feet four inches high…His skin black, as tho’ lately oiled…Bread & Hay were given him and he took bread out of the pockets of the Spectators. He also drank porter & drew the cork, conveying the liquor from his trunk into his throat.”


      Dinah: Welcome to the PEMcast, conversations and stories for the culturally curious. From the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, I’m your host, Dinah Cardin. Join us as we explore the life and legacy of Reverend William Bentley, a legendary figure intimately connected to the museum and its city.

      Dinah: Flash to 2024, and we’re here at PEM’s Crowninshield Bentley House, one of more than a dozen historic properties owned and cared for by the museum. It’s a yellow clapboard house that screams quintessential New England. We’re getting a tour with Steven Mallory, PEM’s Manager of Historic Structures and Landscapes.

      Steven Mallory: Welcome to the Crowninshield-Bentley House. Built in 1729 and expanded in 1794. It was moved down the block about 500 feet for preservation purposes. It is very close to its original location.

      Ruthie Dibble: But this house originally would have been much closer to the road.

      Dinah: This is Ruthie Dibble, PEM’s Robert N. Shapiro Curator of American Decorative Art.

      Ruthie: It was moved in 1959, which is the height of the front lawn, the front yard. So, it was given a front yard. Which reflects the time it was moved. Not the time it was made.

      Dinah: When the wealthy ship captain John Crowinshield died, his family had to rent rooms in their house to keep going. To widows, tradesmen and mariners. One of those people was Reverend Bentley. He lived here from 1794 until his death in 1819.

      Dinah Tape: We’re standing in front of the house. Where were Bentley’s rooms?

      Steven: Bentley's rooms, if you're facing the house, they would have been the upper room to the right on the second floor and the room directly behind it.

      Dinah: Born just 67 years after the Salem Witch Trials, Bentley became an advocate for Salem’s poor, for its Black residents and for others marginalized in a rapidly evolving and globally connected community.

      Liz: I first came to know him within the first couple of days of me working here in Salem, 20-some-odd years ago, on a very different initiative, but I found that his name was cropping up no matter who we were talking about.

      Liz: I’m Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello, professor of American Studies.

      Dinah: Liz is at Salem State University, where she has been contributing to a book called Salem Centuries. The book looks at Salem’s significance throughout American history and the world. Liz’s essay focuses on some of Bentley’s benevolent acts in the community.

      Liz: Here in Salem, he was someone who was actively looking to help anyone who needed his help, regardless of creed, place of origin, language, ethnicity, and race. Reading Bentley's own diaries and then any of the many writings that have been done about him, he is someone who was seeking out anyone who needed his assistance here in Salem. He was well-respected and his connections ran deep in very high levels of American society, politics, and learned societies. To me, that's at the core of how and why he shows up in so many of these other stories throughout Salem's history when there are questions about right and just, and thinking about the little person or the person who has been othered or marginalized. He does end up being on that side again and again and again, and he uses his position to do so.


      Liz: He made it his business to be the person that people sought out when they came to town, he was a connector, in maybe the 21st century parlance. And he welcomed so many people into his living quarters. He lived in rented rooms. He did not see a need for being ostentacious or for showing off. I’m fascinated by him.

      Dinah: More with Liz in a bit. Let’s get back to Bentley’s living quarters.


      We now go inside and up the stairs to a small room where a few of Bentley’s personal objects are displayed.

      Steven: We are actually standing in this tiny little room on the second floor above the central passage, which is about seven feet by seven feet.

      Ruthie: We are standing in front of the portrait of Reverend William Bentley. We're looking at a very lively and kind looking gentleman in his clerical robes and collar, kind of meeting our eye. It looks like he's listening to us.

      Dinah TAPE: He wasn’t a particularly tall man, right? Or is that just my interpretation?

      Steven: He was quite short and quite portly. It was remarked at the time that he was five foot three tall and five foot three wide. We can’t verify that.

      Ruthie: He's got his eyebrows slightly raised, and his brow is lit, which is often used in portraiture of this period to symbolize a bright mind and intellect. We know that he sat for the original portrait, over the winter of 1818 and 1819. You can see that he's got this ruddiness to his cheeks, which is maybe due to his age. He's an older gentleman in this portrait. I wonder also if it has to do with the temperature, having walked around Salem this time of year, you get red cheeks from all the wind and cold temperatures. I feel like it captures this moment in the seasons of his life.

      Dinah: The lifelong bachelor taught Greek and Latin at Harvard, was obsessed with nature hikes and cold water swims, was a member of several fancy social societies, an ardent collector of books and curiosities and named among his friends the first leaders of this nation. Bentley kept the company of wealthy merchants, philanthropists, those who lived in the mansions of what we call Salem’s McIntire District. But he was merely a minister, paid a minister’s wage and donating a significant amount of it to the poor. Though he lived modestly, he was rich in life experience and abundant curiosity.

      Steven: One of the things I find fascinating for him, despite his age and physical stature, he swam in the North River daily from very early spring when the ice broke until pretty much it froze.

      Tim: After a very pleasant season so far, the earth is most completely covered with snow, & the air is severe. The harbor yet has never been skimmed over with ice, or business in the least retarded.

      Steven: His diary is so riddled with comments on the weather that climatologists study it today for certain patterns and things. We know that in, I believe, 1811, we know that this house originally had some sort of a balustrade on the roof. Bentley describes it in interesting terms. He says, "The great storm blew the railings off our roof."

      Dinah TAPE: What are some of the other remarkable things that come to mind with him?

      Steven: Bentley is not native to Salem. Bentley was born in Boston in 1758. He went to Harvard and graduated in 1777, amidst the worst portion of the American Revolution. In 1777, we were at the lowest point in the war. He arrived in Salem in 1783 to take the position of minister of the East Church.

      Dinah TAPE: You, Steven, have wanted to talk about him so much over the years. He's one of your favorite characters, I think, connected to the museum. Why is that?

      Steven: I think it's because he's such a polymath, and he spoke 21 languages, seven of which he spoke fluently. He was infinitely curious about philosophy, and nature, and history, and global politics, and things like that. On top of that is his character. He was really well loved across the board because he favored good works over pedantic and what's the right word? Orthodoxy in the Christian religion.

      Dinah TAPE: I guess we have this puritanical thing that goes throughout Salem going back to the 1600s. Then, you have this guy come along who is rejecting these notions of what is good and evil and all this, and more about like, let's just pay attention to people and take care of them.

      Ruthie: And maybe getting away from that binary of who is chosen and not. It's more about what your daily practice was for Reverend Bentley. He completely lived that in his own life. It's easy to say good things. It's harder to live through good deeds.

      Dinah: Throwing dogma aside, Bentley relied on warmth. He pursued such a storied life that he seems the perfect main character in a binge-worthy TV series.

      Tim: A curious incident yesterday. On Monday night John Collins, an old man, wandered from home. He was missing all night and the next day and was found at Chelsea Bridge and returned home in the Stage. How he supported the cold of the night, having never been abroad for a long time, is surprising. Upon his return I asked him where he had been and he replied cheerfully he had been abroad. His feet and hands were frozen. He was not deranged so much as lost, as we phrase it, and had the pleasing idea of visiting some of his friends somewhere. Few of us in good health could have supported the cold of the same night abroad in open air and passing Lynn marshes.

      Ruthie: I think one of the things that's most remarkable about Bentley is that he kept this incredible diary that's almost daily and not just a kind of log of what he did, but of his thoughts.

      Tim: How he supported the cold of the night is surprising.

      Ruthie: Who he spoke to.

      Tim: Capt. Carnes from Sumatra, showed me various specimens of shells.

      Ruthie: Who in the town was doing well, who wasn't

      Tim: The Convulsions were strong, the aid of the Physician was administered in vain.

      Ruthie: It's so full of life and captures Salem at this time that was just so special where you have so much change and so much, this influx of wealth and different types of people and objects and values flowing through Salem as part of this global economy. He really is the ultimate person who made a record of that history that's not just kind of dry and factual, but brings it to life.

      Tim: This morning the cry of fire. A fire caught in the Schooner Lively at the Long Wharf, eastern side. It was discovered in season to save the Vessel after ruining the Cabin. It caught under the hearth of a brick Chimney and burnt the floor, ceiling, et cetera.

      Dinah: Hypergraphia means an obsession with writing. Thank goodness, Bentley had some compulsion like this. His written output is staggering. In addition to the 32-volume diary, there are his Sunday sermons. And reams of letters sent all over the world. We know things today we would not know about national politics of the time, about Essex County and about Salem in all its glory during the Golden Age of Sail when our port was filled with ships. Bentley documented Salem at the height of its global prominence, reflecting political, social and material culture at a time of dramatic change.

      Ruthie: At PEM, we've been thinking a lot with the city about how to honor Salem's 400th anniversary, Salem 400. I think many people at PEM, including myself, feel that we don't have Salem 400 without Bentley. He's such an important figure. Then also created this just priceless record of life in Salem reflecting his time, but also, he was such a dedicated collector of Salem history that so much of the things that we have we have thanks to him.

      Dinah: Ruthie recently began her curatorial role at PEM, filling the shoes of her predecessor, Dean Lahikainen, who was here for four decades. For many years, it was Dean’s job to bring to life Bentley’s living quarters and to tell his the story through the things he collected.

      Ruthie: I'd like to think that this kind of precedent he set of the thoroughness and the thoughtfulness of collecting history from his moment and from the past just continues to shape Salem, which as a new person here, I can say is an exceptionally historically thoughtful and engaged town. He's just keeping tabs on the whole region in a very caring way. I was looking at his diary the other day and there's a note saying that he had taken a long time but finally responded to a letter from President Adams. Just thinking of him as a person who gets a letter from the president, but has more important things to take care of, like his neighbors, the poor and indigent people of Salem. I think that just speaks to his priorities.

      Steven: That's exactly right. One of the things that strikes me in the diaries is that he was a bit of a gossip and so he tended to color some of his diary entries with his thoughts on people and his opinions and we get personalities out of his diary that otherwise would have been lost to the record.

      Tim: The influenza is about among the people… Everywhere the people are coughing and complaining.


      Tim: G. Ropes was in prison, but has returned home.

      Tim: My friend Major General John Fiske. The best and most constant of friends.

      Dinah: Among his many strong beliefs, public school for all.

      Steven: He was also an ardent supporter of public education and the widest possible dissemination of information. He was an avid walker and interested in people and places and things all over the city. One of his very regular activities was to visit other churches, poor houses, and schools.

      Dinah: Part of the reason Bentley had all of this time to be seemingly everywhere all at once, is that he never married or had kids.

      Steven: In a more rural community in Massachusetts or anywhere in New England, that would have raised eyebrows and he might have gotten community pressure to become married and have children.

      Dinah: But in a sophisticated port city like Salem, Bentley’s intellect was highly valued.

      Steven: In 1794, about the same year that he moved into this house, he started writing a biweekly column in "The Salem Gazette" that focused on world events.

      Tim: When Gen. Washington visited, he desired no parade, as the language of his modesty and his heart. The occasion called for expense and joy. He was taken at his word.

      Dinah: Coincidently, Bentley and I both wrote for the Salem Gazette. Although, his column was nationally syndicated, read beyond New England and even internationally. While I helped revive the newspaper for local readers in the early 2000s.

      Steven: He increasingly, in his columns in the "Salem Gazette," became more and more critical as what he described as the partisan press. How contemporary is that? [laughs]

      Dinah: The three of us go on to look at other things belonging to Bentley in this tiny room.

      Ruthie: I'm most drawn to these cufflinks that have his initials, WB, silver, beautifully engraved. This is a pocket watch that’s pretty beaten up. It's seen better days. It's missing its hands, but it's precious because it was said to have been purchased in Paris by Benjamin Franklin, of all people, for presentation to Reverend Bentley in 1785.

      Dinah: We move on to a room containing Bentley’s his collection as well as his bookshelves. When he was living here, it must have been stuffed to the gills.

      Steven: Here we are in one of the two rooms that was rented by Bentley for three decades. I should mention that he started out in 1793 and 4 on a third floor room in the house. He moves down into these two rooms in 1794. This room that we're standing in is interpreted to the public when there are tours of the house representing his life here. What you see here is a minimal installation of objects that are listed in his probate inventory.

      Dinah: A probate inventory is a list of things that belonged to someone’s estate. A copy of Bentley’s probate is part of the installation in this room.

      Ruthie: You get the most incredibly detailed list of furniture for storing books, papers and curiosities, boxes, tables and desks, seating furniture, glassware, metalware, silver, utensils, ceramics.

      Dinah: Some of these things were displayed in a cabinet, collected and cultivated to tell the story of historical Essex County as well as the natural history of this place. A cabinet of curiosities. The idea coming from Europe’s concept of the wunderkammer.

      Steven: I think it's fascinating that what amounts to a few hundred square feet, he's got materials that could fill a house. By today's standards, it was nothing short of a hoarding situation.

      Ruthie: And then, you can see that there were 4,000 books in this space, which meant that he had the second largest private library of any person in America in this period.

      Dinah: Did you get that? Four thousand books lining the walls and stacked up, all around this one room.

      Ruthie: The idea that you could have fit all of these things in Bentley's living space is, it paints a pretty interesting picture of his life. [laughs]

      Steven: And of all the furniture that's listed, there is no bed. Beds were considered very valuable. They're often the most highly valued objects in a probate inventory of this area.

      Ruthie: They were particularly on probate inventories. It's rare to have them excluded because they're valuable.

      Steven: The closest thing that we get to a bed, if I can find it, is an ancient couch bought from the Grafton family covered with Russia sheeting and trimmed. So very narrow and not flat. It would have had a back that was at an angle and it would have been small enough to just cram in.

      Dinah TAPE: Do we know anything about his sleeping habits? Seems like one of those people who wouldn't sleep a whole lot. [laughs]

      Steven: That’s a good question.

      Ruthie: That’s a really good question, Dinah. I don’t know. But I know you mean.

      Steven: We know this from an American cultural history standpoint, is that people typically did not sleep through the night in this period. They would refer in their diaries to their first sleep and their second sleep. They would sleep shortly after dinner for a few hours. In the middle of the night, they would get up and do other things.


      Steven: Then they would sleep again until dawn. This was also a coordinated way of keeping fire under control and the rooms heated without danger.

      Dinah TAPE: Here's his fireplace.

      Steven: Yes, and it's totally intact from before his time, actually. It looked like this when he lived here.

      Dinah TAPE: I'm just looking at some of these things, like when you have prints, paintings, and drawings of, ya know, most of the early presidents. [laughs] And then at the bottom, HIMSELF.

      Steven: Well, I think what's also really interesting is the level of antiquity and objects from all over the world. Like the giant clam shell, four bottles with snakes and lizards, palm branch and coconut seashells. He was an honorary member of the East Indian Marine Society because of his stature in the city, but he never sailed. Mariners who did that brought home gifts for Bentley, which is why he was able to have these kind of exciting, exotic things. He was a minister, so poorly paid but of high status, but people of his socioeconomic stature largely did not collect anything.

      Ruthie: He's clearly a person who's devoting what little income he has, which is not a lot, to this collection.

      Steven: I should point out that in 1819, something made in 1665 was old and worthless and it’s reflected in probate inventory after probate inventory. They’re given one dollar values.

      Ruthie: Things that were being rejected by most people in Salem at that time because they were old. That is the very reason that he was preserving them. In that way he was very ahead of his time because these are the things we value most now.

      Steven: He only collected ancient things if there was a story.

      Dinah: There are other stories to tell. These include the very people Bentley lived with.

      Steven: As we continue to research Bentley, what we're learning is that Salem was far more diverse than we thought before. As a seaport, a major seaport, probably the most important one in the United States in the late 18th century, people from all over the world were coming in on one ship and then signing up to sail on another one to another part of the world, and so Salem got an unusual slice of the rest of the world.

      Dinah: Researchers are digging into the diverse group who lived in the house. One of which was a freed man named Jack Black who ended up in Bentley’s diary.

      Steven: One of Bentley's longest personal diary entries was when he had attended Jack Black's funeral and gives a very vivid description of Jack Black as a person, his physical appearance, where he came from, what he did for a living. And then he gives an emotional statement about how incredibly grieved the family was at his passing. He died very suddenly of the flu.

      Steven: William Bentley was very close with the Crowinshield daughters. He sat around the kitchen table with the Crowninshield daughters and taught them the classics and things.

      Dinah: The Crowinshields being the original shipping family who owned the home.

      Steven: He sat around the kitchen table with the Crowninshield daughters and taught them the classics and things.

      Dinah: Steven says that Bentley enjoyed this communal way of living.

      Steven: The rest of the family members, and other boarders, and Bentley referred to all of them collectively as my family.

      Dinah: We leave Bentley’s home and head next door to another one of PEM’s historic houses to tell the story of Bentley’s view on race and his beloved city.

      Steven: We are standing in the Gardner-Pingree House. It's a grand mansion in the Federal Adamesque style that was built starting in 1804 and finished in 1806. The interior and exterior were designed by Samuel McIntire. It's filled with exquisite hand-carved ornament by McIntire.

      Dinah: Creative design flourished in Salem during the 18th and 19th centuries as wealth from maritime trade and industrialization gave many people the means to commission extraordinary homes and furnishings in the latest styles.


      Dinah: The work of one particular woodcarver, Samuel McIntire, was so influential that a whole neighborhood in Salem is named after him to this day.

      Steven: John Gardner was a merchant. This house was built on the location of a more humble house that he had inherited when his father died. He demolished it when he hit the jackpot and began construction of this house, which you could make very strong cases of equal quality to any London townhouse of the same period. I should also mention that the house was restored in 1989. The restoration is of such high-quality today that 35 years later, you really can't poke a hole in it.

      Dinah TAPE: The reason we're talking about all this is that Bentley lived much more simply. Even though he collected exotic and extravagant, sort of, things and historical things.

      Steven: Yes.Bentley lived with objects and furniture that only had some sort of interest. None of them were purchased new because they were fashionable. It's pretty clear. This house is exactly the opposite. John Gardner and Samuel McIntire worked together to plan what it would look like, plan the appropriate furniture. There's this close relationship between the designer and the homeowner to get the interior to be as fashionable as possible.

      Ruthie: I'm not an interior designer, but it still very much exists today. The job of an interior designer is to almost know your client's taste better than they do. To connect back to Bentley, Bentley was a great early patron of McIntire's carving and really saw talent in McIntire and cultivated his skill by showing him prints from his collection of Roman busts and things like that to allow McIntire to have these global interests. His hope was that McIntire would become just as much of a sculptor as a cabinetmaker.


      Ruthie: I think this mantelpiece is, as Stephen said, considered one of McIntire's carving masterpieces. If you look at it, it's like a layer cake. You have beads, circular beading, but then you have acorns and oak leaves. Then you have this Greek key motif. Below that, you have this beautiful cornucopia of flowers and grapes and garlands. When you see this raking light coming in from the front window, it just casts everything in this beautiful high relief to show the skill of McIntire's carving, but also his skill as a designer.

      Dinah: But while all attention is hyper focused on every little perfect detail, John Gardner loses the whole house to bankruptcy in only nine years.

      Steven: John Gardner loses the house to bankruptcy. It is purchased by a relative and he rents it back until his death.

      Dinah: Someone else comes along and purchases the house. That someone is Captain Joseph White.


      Steven: Joseph White was yet another major merchant in the golden years of Salem's maritime history with the China trade. He was involved in all kinds of things. The underbelly of not just Joseph White, but other merchants in the city was that he was involved in trafficking opium. Also, he was involved in the slave trade when it was legal, but continued in the illegal slave trade after slavery was abolished. What this meant was that he was bringing American goods to the Ivory Coast in exchange for human cargo, which he would then traffic to the Caribbean in exchange for things like rum, cane sugar, and things like that, which he would then bring back to Salem.

      Dinah: We take the stairs and enter the large bedroom where Captain Joseph White slept.

      Steven: This is a very large bedroom. It's about 18 or 20 by 18 or 20. It has doors that lead into both the central passage, which would have been where the head of household would have come and gone. It's got a rear door. facing north, which accesses the servant staircases where the servants would have come and gone. Then it has got a closet, which would have had things like linens and other things in it.

      Ruthie: I'm looking around this room, which is so beautiful and colorful and layered with patterned wallpaper, carvings, beautiful furniture and. When you think about Joseph White living here, these things that convey and reflect his wealth. It's really only covering up what everyone here knew that he was doing, including Bentley.

      Steven: Well there’s a quote that I can’t footnote, but have memorized. The quote was that this opulence was only possible because it was kept afloat on a raft of human misery.

      Dinah: In his diary, Bentley notes the number of Black Salem residents who are not counted in the city census and calls out Salem ship owners by name who participate in slavery.

      Tim: The company of Prince, G. Ropes, & Philips of this Town have been questioned by the government upon complaint of the Slave Trade. Of the facts there is no question but in what degree, and upon what evidence we do not know. We know men will do anything for money.

      Steven: In 1788, the Reverend Bentley notes in his diary that Joseph White had quote: "No reluctance in selling any part of the human race." In Bentley's estimation, this betrayed signs of great moral depravity.

      Dinah: And as any Salem tour guide will tell you, Captain White later met his death in this room, over greed and the desperation felt by the community as their wealth continued to drain from Salem’s shallow port.

      Steven: Joseph White ended up meeting his end in this house in 1830. We are standing in the room where he was murdered in a very grisly murder that rocked the city of Salem and, eventually, the entire country. It was headline news throughout the trial, which was prosecuted by none other than Daniel Webster. Prominent families were involved in this murder and went to the gallows.

      Dinah: In our exhibition Salem Stories, you can see the murder weapon Richard Crowninshield used to kill Captain Joseph White.

      Steven: It was the most famous murder in America until Lizzie Borden. It is believed to have inspired Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart.”

      Dinah: Now we take listeners to collection storage to look at an 18th century desk, where, with the stroke of a pen, Captain White sealed the tragic fate of many.

      Steven: This is a desk in the Chippendale style. It's got square legs and low stretchers. It's entirely made out of Eastern white pine, and it's got two generations of paint. It's older than Joseph White's use of it. It looks to have been made about 1780 or so. It was originally painted red and probably spruced up with a white or light blue paint. The reason that we know that it's so much older than Joseph White is because on the back of it, it's fastened together with hand-wrought nails and not cut nails.

      Ruthie: It's a slant-top desk that you would have stood at. It's pretty large and imposing. You can imagine, you could have many papers out here. This was given to the Essex Institute in 1895. Not because of its aesthetic importance, but because of its association with Joseph White, who at that time was well known, not only as a notorious slave trader, but then for this murder. In some ways, it's a kind of unremarkable, but when you think about what was happening here, that this was the piece of furniture that on which Joseph White and perhaps a clerk of his were doing business and crunching the numbers that showed to them how profitable the slave trade could be. They would have been using this space to think about what were the goods that would get them the most captive Africans to then bring to the Caribbean. You truly had to have two things. One is a good business mind, and then another is a lack of morals and a willingness to break the law. You could have a pretty disturbingly good business because there was still so much demand for enslaved labor in the Caribbean in this period.

      Dinah TAPE: What does this desk make you feel?

      Steven: That human lives hung in the balance at this piece of furniture. You see these in antique shops all the time. They just make you wonder. All these other examples in the clothes dryer of circulating American antiques must have similar stories. [laughs]

      Ruthie: Then, of course, my mind goes to, what's the equivalent today? There are so many, but this desk was a place where crimes were committed, but you wouldn't necessarily know that. It's, in every other way, a typical normal desk. It makes me think about how bad things happening are not always obvious.


      Ruthie: When I look at this desk and I know that someone preserved this to give it to the Essex Institute. I think so many people who continue to give to the Essex Institute and the Peabody Museum in the 19th century were doing so with the spirit of Bentley in mind.


      PEMcast theme song

      Dinah: Physical reminders of the spirit of Bentley are all around Salem, from Bentley Street to Bentley Academy to a plaque outside the Immaculate Conception Church on Hawthorne Boulevard. In Part 2 of the episode we’ll take you to a site where Reverend Bentley’s spirit lives on.

      Liz: I encourage anyone who is maybe listening to this and hasn't ever thought about William Bentley or hasn't ever heard about William Bentley,

      Dinah: This is Liz, the history professor.

      Liz: To make a list of topics or issues that you might be interested in, vis-à-vis Salem, early America, or New England, and see how many steps it takes you in a six-degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon style, how many steps does it take you to figure out that William Bentley had some connection there?

      Dinah: Tune into part 2 when we’ll prove this Kevin Bacon theory and dive deeper into Bentley as connector and influencer. Helping marginalized communities, understanding the importance of preserving Salem’s history through collecting and helping lay the foundation for the Peabody Essex Museum. Thanks for listening. And thank you to PEM Curator Ruthie Dibble and Steven Mallory, PEM’s Manager of Historic Structures and Landscapes. Our gratitude to Salem State University Professor Elizabeth Duclos-Orsello and Tim Hoover as the voice of the Reverend Bentley. This episode was produced by me, Dinah Cardin, and edited and mixed by Erika Sutter. Our theme song is by Forrest James, whose music is on Soundcloud, I-Tunes and Spotify. The PEMcast is generously supported by the George S. Parker Fund.

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