Time Capsule Buried by Paul Revere and Samuel Adams 220 Years Ago Opened

Pam Hatchfield, a conservator at the Museum of Fine Arts, held a silver plaque that was inside the time capsule. (PHOTO CREDIT: Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)

Using a porcupine’s quill, several small pieces of paper, a strip of polyester film, and a small metal pick that resembled a dental tool, Museum of Fine Arts conservator Pam Hatchfield carefully plucked history from a box Tuesday night.

The box was a time capsule, many of its items first placed beneath the cornerstone of the Massachusetts State House 220 years ago to mark the start of the building’s construction. The history came in many forms.

There were five neatly folded newspapers, a collection of 23 coins dating as far back as 1652, a medal depicting George Washington, a replica of Colonial records, and a silver plate commemorating the erection of the new State House.

“This cornerstone of a building intended for the use of the legislative and executive branches of the government of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was laid by his Excellency Samuel Adams, Esquire, governor of the said Commonwealth,” said Michael Comeau, executive director of the Massachusetts Archives, reading from the plate’s inscription.

Paul Revere helped Adams plant the plate and other relics, he read. So did William Scollay, a colonel in the Revolutionary War.

“How cool,” Comeau said, “is that.”

The unveiling, before a bank of television cameras and a collection of dignitaries including departing Governor Deval Patrick, came just a month after Hatchfield, lying on a muddy wooden plank at the State House, spent six hours carefully chipping the time capsule from the underside of the cornerstone.

The contents were not a surprise. They had been carefully cataloged after a group of workers building an addition to the State House stumbled upon them in 1855. But the detail — the partially obscured names of the newspapers, the “quar.dol” notation on one of the coins, the wording of the silver plate’s inscription — inspired delight as Hatchfield dug deeper and deeper into the box.

“This is what we as conservators live for,” she said.

There was considerable ceremony surrounding the unveiling, which took place in the museum’s Art of the Americas wing, in front of Thomas Sully’s grand painting, “The Passage of the Delaware,” depicting George Washington on horseback in 1776.

But there was far more pageantry surrounding the original placement of the time capsule.

On July 4, 1795, 15 white horses — one for each state of the union — pulled the cornerstone for the new State House through the streets of Boston to the building site.

Adams arrived with an escort of fusiliers. And amid a 15-gun salute, the governor, Revere, and Scollay placed the original contents of the capsule, sandwiched between two sheets of lead. Adams dedicated the building to core principles that should “there be fixed, unimpaired, in full vigor, till time shall be no more.”

After the workers came across the time capsule in 1855, its contents were cleaned and cataloged. Officials added newspapers and coins from their own era, placed everything in a brass box, and put it in a carved depression in a new stone in the original spot.

The new capsule would remain there for 159 years, from the administration of Know-Nothing Governor Henry Gardner, through the tenure of Republican Governor Calvin Coolidge, and deep into the second term of Democrat Patrick.

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SOURCE: Boston Globe
David Scharfenberg