by Sarah Berlinger, Technician
As the nation celebrates the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, Museum Textile Services is proud to have had a part in conserving a bit of history very important to Massachusetts’s involvement in the fight. Over the summer, the National Colors of the 55th Massachusetts, one of two all-black regiments in the state, went on display at the Concord Museum. MTS completed the conservation of the flag, which belongs to the Middlesex School in Fall of 2010. A state-of-the-art climate-controlled case was built by Will Twombly of Spokeshave Design in Watertown, Massachusetts, using a Small Corp, Inc. inner core.
The flag was donated to Middlesex School by a relative of Norwood Penrose Hallowell, the colonel of the regiment, in 1972. Hallowell, a native of Philadelphia and a Harvard graduate, struck up and maintained a close relationship with Middlesex School of Concord, MA, eventually becoming President of the Board of Trustees for twelve years.
Colonel Hallowell and his brothers all served the Union Army; he, William and Edward all served as soldiers while another brother, Richard, worked at the Stearns house in Medford as an assistant to slaves on the Underground Railroad. The Hallowells, a Quaker family, struggled with their pacifistic religious ideology and the injustice they believed was being done by slavery. After thoughtful consideration by the Hallowells and the rest of the Meeting, the decision was made to fight, giving birth to the term “Fighting Quakers.”
Photo courtesy of Middlesex School
After the Emancipation Proclamation was issued New Year’s Day 1863, recruiting began for the creation of the first all-black regiment, the 54th Massachusetts. Hallowell was commissioned the Lieutenant Colonel of the 54th by Governor John A. Andrew. Lt. Colonel Hallowell aided in the training of these men, and then led them to the ships that would take them South and into battle. Governor Andrew then ordered Hallowell to return and form the 55th Massachusetts. He took over as Colonel, and his brother Edward replaced him as Lt. Colonel of the 54th.
Colonel N. P. Hallowell’s daughter found the flag of the 55th Massachusetts wrapped in tissue in a trunk of her father's belongings. Another relative, Hannah Bigelow, conserved the flag with the assistance of the Museum of Fine Arts of Boston and donated it to Middlesex School in 1972. Middlesex School, after conservation by MTS was completed, loaned the flag to the Concord Museum for their exhibit When Duty Whispers: Concord and the Civil War. An overview of the flag and exhibit from the Metro West Daily News can be found here. It was also featured on the cover of the May 27th, 2011, issue of Antiques and the Arts Weekly.
It was wonderful for us at MTS to not only conserve a bit of Massachusetts and Civil War history, but also to learn the provenance of this wonderful object. Understanding the flag’s place in history is truly a treat for us, and we are happy to share such a great story with everyone.