Notes from the Archives: Duncan Howlett papers

By Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist/Cataloger

Rev. Duncan Howlett (1906-2003) — minister, Doctor of Philosophy, author, social justice activist, and…tree farmer? After an illustrious career in the ministry, Duncan Howlett retired to Maine, and began a whole new career as a tree farmer. Even then, he wouldn’t simply sit on his porch and watch his trees grow. He organized and was the first President of the Small Woodland Owners Association. One can find papers related to his work in Maine at the University of Maine, Orono.

Rev. Howlett’s papers regarding his life before moving to Maine – as well as when he lived in Maine and kept his fingers in his former life as a Unitarian clergyman – are now processed and available at Maine Historical Society. This collection (Coll. 2993) is voluminous (51.25 linear ft.) in content and subject matter.

So, who was Duncan Howlett?

Born in 1906 in Newton, Massachusetts, he studied law at Harvard and spent two years as a lawyer. In 1933, he yielded to a lifelong interest in religion and returned to Harvard where he was awarded the STB degree (Bachelor of Sacred Theology) with honors in 1936, while serving as Minister of the Second Church, Unitarian, in Salem, Massachusetts, having been ordained to the ministry in 1935. Howlett served at that church from 1933 to 1938. From there, he went to the First Unitarian Church in New Bedford (1938-1946). In September 1946 he became Minister of the First Church in Boston, Unitarian, a position he held for the next twelve years. In 1958, he was called to All Souls Church, Unitarian, in Washington, D.C., the position from which he retired in 1968. In May of that year he was appointed to Hubert Humphrey’s presidential campaign staff.

Interested in public affairs during the entire range of his ministry, Howlett also played an active role in Unitarian denominational affairs, serving as President and Chairman of many national organizations, including the Unitarian Historical Society and the Washington, D.C. Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

A prolific author and writer, his works include: Man Against the Church; The Struggle Between Religion and Ecclesiasticism (1954); The Essenes and Christianity; An Interpretation of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1957); The Fourth American Faith (1964); The Critical Way in Religion (1980); and The Fatal Flaw at the Heart of Religious Liberalism (1995).

Howlett also wrote No Greater Love: The James Reeb Story (1966). James Reeb served under Howlett as assistant minister at All Souls Church in Washington, D.C. Tragically, Reeb was later murdered while participating in the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965. The correspondence with the Reeb family is especially heartwarming.

Upon retiring from the active parish ministry in 1968, Howlett became deeply involved in the environmental movement, particularly in the area of forestry, after studying forestry at the University of Maine. In Maine, he organized and was the first President of the Small Woodland Owners Association, popularly known as SWOAM. The conservation of natural resources emphasizing the responsible management of woodlands on the part of citizen forest owners became a “second career” for him. But even while involved in the environmental movement, he still served in the religion and church realm, including as interim minsters at various churches in Westport, Connecticut, and Atlanta Georgia, and Acting Dean of the College Chapel at Mt. Holyoke College. He also continued to write books and travel on Unitarian related trips.

Duncan Howlett was first married to Margaret L. Merritt in 1931 who died just two years later. He later married Carolyn Abbot Chance in 1943 in Summit, New Jersey. He had four children: Margaret (Susan) Howlett Hasty, Albert D. Howlett, Richard C. Howlett, and Carolyn (Lynn) Korth. After living in Center Lovell, Maine, for the last 35 years of his life, Rev. Howlett died in 2003 at age 97.

Duncan Howlett’s papers were given to the Bangor Theological Seminary. When the seminary closed and the BTS records were transferred to Maine Historical Society, Rev. Howlett’s papers were included in that gift.

This collection contains many sermons, correspondence, and printed material. Subject matter includes the Civil Rights movement (including James Reeb), Howlett’s extensive travels, and the general day-to-day business of being a minister in the Unitarian Church, not only locally, but nationally and internationally. Howlett had an inquiring mind, and was interested in many subjects, as one can see from the various files of information he gathered over the years.

One of my favorite parts of the collection is Box 23, which contains materials regarding Howlett’s early travels in the mid-1930s, apparently after his first wife died. This part of his story includes his sailing in 1935 on various ships – including the Cunard White Star “Majestic” – to Paris, Persia, Singapore, and Calcutta — and an overland trip with a friend where they drove in a stock model Ford across Europe and Asia. Mementos and souvenirs in this box are from such exotic places as Agra, British Malaya, Tokyo, Delhi, Japan, Turkey, Hungary, Jerusalem, and Persia. Howlett was a lifelong traveler, and much of Coll. 2993 is evidence of this.

Coll. 2993 Duncan Howlett papers 1935 travel letters

The Civil Rights materials are also fascinating, including hate mail. Rev. Howlett was in the thick of the movement, researching, writing, and preaching about it. From being involved in the grand sweeping movements, to corresponding to church members and international leaders, to the day-to-day details of running a church, this collection is rich in fleshing out this amazing man and the times he lived in. (There is a whole box on the “Sixties” with folder titles such as “Dancing in the aisle,” “Hippies,” and “Protest, dissent, etc.”)

Coll. 2993 Duncan Howlett papers Wallace letter and clipping

Coll. 2993 Duncan Howlett papers hate mail 1

Howlett also corresponded with Karol Grycz-Smilowski (1885-1959), a Polish Lutheran priest who sought to reestablish the Polish Brethren of the period 1565-1658.

 

Coll. 2993 Duncan Howlett letter from Karol Grycz-Smilowski

Duncan Howlett was a mover and a shaker in his world of being a Unitarian minister as well as a social justice activist – there was no separation of church and state in his eyes. Maine Historical Society is honored to be a repository of his records.

Notes from the Archives: Maine’s Violin Makers

By Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist/Cataloger

In November 1996, James Kane sent Maine Historical Society a document about violin makers in Maine, which included the names of the violin makers, where they lived, and their birth and death dates. In his cover letter, Kane described a wealth of research papers on this topic and asked: “Would your organization be willing to eventually accept this material and house it there?”

Twenty years later, in May 2016, Kane sent us 18 notebooks of research papers about amateur and professional violin makers from Maine, including research notes, photographs, and newspaper clippings. Kane died shortly thereafter, in September of that year.

Who was James Kane, and what was his interest in violins?

James R. Kane (1948-2016) was from Portland, Maine, and graduated from Deering High School. He taught bands and orchestras in California for 36 years. His family summered in Maine since the 1960s at their camp on Sebago Lake, which had been in his family since the 1940s.

In 1978 Kane acquired a few locally made violins at an auction, and after trying to learn more about them he found there was very little to be learned from existing data in various books and historical institutions. His interest piqued, Kane researched and collected information on about 200 individuals in Maine who crafted violins, violas, fiddles, cellos, and basses from before the Civil War to the early 2000s.

He researched violin maker names online, in research libraries, historical societies, newspapers, and through writing letters to individual family members and friends. Whenever possible Kane traveled to examine individual instruments for authenticity and craftsmanship. Data collected by Kane verified that 200 Maine craftsmen constructed stringed instruments during the time span from before the Civil War to the early 2000s, for an estimated total of 2,500 to 3,000 instruments.

We are delighted to announce that this collection is now available for research (Coll. 2978)! Photographs of many of the instruments Kane researched can be found in the collection.

This rich collection provides a glimpse into one man’s passion, as well as providing detailed information on Maine’s legacy of violin makers over the past few centuries.


Below are several items from this collection featuring Henry Harris, considered one of Maine’s most famous violin makers and one of the instrument makers Kane researched.

Henry Harris (1832-1913) of Mercer, Maine, was a cobbler and farmer. Born in Winthrop, Maine to Caleb and Dorcas Harris, he made his first violin when he was 14 years old. Henry Harris was married three times: Abbie Maria Hatch, Ruth Works, and Rose Pickens (1840-1930).

harris1
Photograph of Henry and Rose Harris
harris3
Photograph of Henry Harris
harris2
Photograph of Henry Harris violin

 

Notes from the Archives: the Atherton Family Collection

By Abigael Sartain, MHS volunteer

cf sargent

Recently, I have been processing a collection regarding one Maine family’s travels aboard a Downeaster ship in the late 19th century. The family was the Athertons and the ship the C.F. Sargent.

To provide some background, David Hooper Atherton was captain of the Yarmouth-built ship, C.F. Sargent (circa 1883-1886). He married Cecelia (Celia) McDermott in 1856 and had four children: George, Frank, Carrie, and Cecelia. Celia, the matriarch, passed away in May 1881 while her husband David and son Frank were at sea. For a short time, oldest brother George and his wife Daisy cared for the two youngest girls, Carrie and two-year-old Cecelia, until they were able to join their father and brother in Liverpool.

This collection largely deals with Carrie and Cecelia’s voyages aboard the C.F. Sargent between 1883-86. Maine Historical Society was also gifted the narrative East with the Wind, written in the late 20th century by Cecelia’s daughter Hazel Hammond. The narrative is based on a 1932 typescript by Carrie Atherton. The typescripts, along with some corresponding photographs, have made this collection a joy to process! I was tickled to read these similar, yet differing in a way that only a large age gap can bring, accounts of Carrie and Cecelia’s time at a Governor’s Ball thrown by the American consul in Hong Kong.

According to Cecelia:

cecilia
Cecilia Atherton, age 18

“In [Hong] Kong on the 22nd of February the American consul always gave a ball to which the captains and their families were invited. One voyage we were there. As my father had to chaperone my sister to any social event I went to because there was no one with whom I could be left. That was when Colonel John F. Mosby was consul, and he invited sister to be his partner to lead the grand march. There were many young men there than young women so when the young men were without a partner for dancing they devoted themselves to me, and taught me to dance. I must have been about five years old. I had a wonderful time and danced until five o’clock in the morning. The last dance was the Virginia Reel, which I danced with my father. I was so small that when we formed the arch at the end the other couples had to almost crawl on their hands and knees to pass under, even though my father held my hands as high as he could. Sister had not told anyone until everyone was ready to go home that it was her birthday, when she told Colonel Mosby. He clapped his hands to call everyone’s attention and told everyone. That was how I learned to dance.”

Carrie notes more specifically:

Carrie A
Carrie Atherton, age 18

“Papa had made several trips to Hong Kong and this was our (Celia and I) second trip so we had several friends looking for us… I think it was this trip an Italian Opera Co. were playing. Papa got tickets for the season. It was my first opera hearing. Celia always went and kept her little eyes wide open all the time. We were as a rule on shore to dinner, entertained by friends. This would mean dinner at 7 o’clock till 9 o’clock. Portuguese musicians were ready to play and we would dance till midnight or past. Celia would enjoy this as well as I, as the young men seemed happy to teach her little steps and dance with her. She was always full of life, happy and wide awake, until we would get on board Ship. There she would insist she was not sleepy and wouldn’t go to bed, then there was a cry when she had to. She was so tired she would be asleep almost before I got her into bed. This was the trip too that I went to the Governor’s Ball with Colonel Mosby… [he] was ‘Mosby the Gorilla’ of the Civil War.

mosby
Bust of Colonel Mosby

He was a Southern Gentleman. Very quiet but known as a man of honesty and integrity. He held the respect of our governments’ representatives for himself and his government as but few consuls commanded. Papa said he was the most sober, not intoxicated, and honest consul he had ever dealt with.”

 

Here are a few of my favorite photographs from the sisters’ time in Hong Kong. Though the photographer(s) are unknown, these were all found in Carrie Atherton’s photo album.

victoria harbor
City of Victoria and Hong Kong Harbor from Carrie G Atherton’s album (photographer unknown)

 

canton street
A Street in Canton, China from Carrie G Atherton’s album (photographer unknown)
victoria street
Scene along the Praya, Victoria ~1885 From Carrie G Atherton’s album (photographer unknown)