This bucket appears to have belonged to Samuel Allyne Otis (1740-1814), who was a significant political figure in Massachusetts during and after the American Revolution. After graduating from Harvard, Otis engaged in mercantile pursuits in Boston. He was a member of the state house of representatives in 1776 and again from 1784, when he was elected speaker of the house, to 1787. In addition, Otis was a member of the Board of War in 1776, a member of the Massachusetts constitutional convention, and a member of the Continental Congress in 1787 and 1788. Otis was elected the first Secretary of the United States Senate in April 1789, a position in which he served until his death in 1814. His brother, James Otis, was a lawyer and an influential Revolutionary patriot who made the argument that Britain did not have the right to tax colonists unrepresented in Parliament. Samuel Otis’ sister, Mercy Otis Warren, was a writer and one of the first female historians. Her most important work was the History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution (1805).
Otis’ bucket bears the year 1775 and the Latin motto “in angustie amici,” meaning “friends in distress.” Like many mottos adopted by volunteer firefighters, this emphasizes the communal, social nature of American firefighting—when one member of the community suffered from a blaze, his neighbors came to his aid. It was quite common for early Americans to adopt Latin mottos, as Latin was the international language of science and scholarship. The original national motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” or “out of many, one,” was also a Latin phrase.
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