Explore a gallery of 225 items from the MHS collections representing four centuries of our nation’s past. Items range from iconic treasures to quirky historical artifacts. Browse the gallery as a whole or choose from the categories below.
Items marked in red are part of our MHS Madness bracket.
John Adams served as defense attorney for the British soldiers accused of killing five colonists in the Boston Massacre. These notes relate to the case of Capt. Thomas Preston, who was acquitted due to Adams's efforts. Adams later called his defense of the soldiers "one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country."
Charles Francis Adams was the son of John Quincy Adams and the grandson of John Adams. He was also a politician and diplomat in his own right, and played a fundamental role in ensuring England's neutrality during the Civil War. He also served as president of the MHS from 1895 to 1915.
Henry Steward was a 23-year-old farmer from Adrian, Michigan, when he enlisted in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the first black Civil War regiment raised in the North. As a non-commissioned officer, Steward was active in recruitment for the regiment. He died of disease at Morris Island, South Carolina, on 27 September 1863.
Anne Bradstreet became the first female writer to be published in the British North American colonies when her book of poems, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America, appeared in 1650. The book was published anonymously as the work of "a Gentlewoman in those parts."
Samuel Sewall served as one of the judges at the infamous Salem witch trials in 1692 and, on 19 September, described in his diary the gruesome torture and death of Giles Corey. Corey was pressed to death "for standing mute," that is, refusing to answer his indictment for witchcraft.
This watch, made by master clockmaker Daniel Quare of London, belonged to the Puritan clergyman Cotton Mather. According to family tradition, it was "carried by him among the Indians, who, hearing the ticking, were frightened and thought he carried the Devil in his pocket, and ran away from him."
This copper weathervane, crafted by Shem Drowne, was installed atop Boston's Province House around 1716, when it was purchased for use as the official residence of the Massachusetts provincial governors. Unlike most weathervanes, the archer's arrow points with the wind rather than into it.
The 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, commissioned after the passage of the Emancipation Proclamation, was the first regiment of black soldiers raised in the North during the Civil War. Although this recruitment poster promised enlistees $13 a month, the regiment had to wait more than a year to receive full pay from the federal government.
George Washington wore this copper gorget, a symbolic remnant of a suit of armor, around his throat as part of his military uniform. The gorget is engraved with the coat of arms of the colony of Virginia, as well as its motto, En Dat Virginia Quartam.
This stop-action photograph of Benjamin Sewall Blake jumping was taken by his father, Francis Blake, an accomplished inventor and photographer. In the mid-1880s, Blake designed a distinctive shutter that allowed him to take photographs with very short exposure times.
In 1946, President Harry S. Truman appointed Leverett Saltonstall, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, to the bipartisan President's Evaluation Commission for Operation Crossroads, a series of nuclear tests designed to assess the effects of nuclear weapons on battleships. This photograph shows the Baker detonation at Bikini Atoll two seconds after detonation.
This watercolor painting by Estelle Ishigo depicts the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming, one of ten internment camps established for Japanese Americans during World War II. Ishigo was recruited as a “Documentary Reporter” for the War Relocation Authority and recorded the internment experience in illustrations, line drawings, oil, and watercolors.
This kit of medical instruments belonged to U.S. Navy surgeon William Swift. He served during the War of 1812, most notably on the ships Chesapeake and Syren, both of which were captured with Swift onboard. Swift worked as a naval surgeon for decades, retiring in 1861.
This four-panel panoramic view of Boston from Beacon Hill shows the line and encampments of the American and British troops as seen by a British officer during the siege of 1775. Included is a numeric key to major locations.
This manuscript lists 355 members of the Sons of Liberty who gathered at the Liberty Tree Tavern in Dorchester, Mass. on 14 August 1769 to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the Stamp Act Riots in Boston. Because of the organization's secrecy, this document provides a rare glimpse into its membership.
This handsome hand-painted silk menu was printed for a farewell dinner honoring Japanese diplomats and technical advisors after a seven-month visit to the United States. Among the visitors were key figures in the Meiji Restoration of 1868 and the new imperial regime. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes delivered speeches that evening.
In this letter to Horace Mann, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody described a young author of Salem, Mass. named Nathaniel Hawthorne. She praised Hawthorne's "first rate genius," but worried that "authorship does not seem to offer a means of living" for him. Mann and Hawthorne would later marry Peabody's sisters, Mary and Sophia.
Christopher Pearse Cranch was a writer, artist, and Unitarian minister heavily influenced by Transcendentalism. He illustrated his 1839 journal with sketches, including perhaps his most recognizable—a representation of the "transparent eyeball" from Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay Nature.
All foreign traders shipping cargo out of Canton, China, were obliged to observe a complex series of customs and formalities. Permits or "chops" were issued at Canton, then examined and countersigned at Whampoa. When all was in order, the final port clearance, or "grand chop," was issued to the ship.
In the years before the first World Series rings were issued in 1922, players were awarded medals or money clips for their victories. This championship medal was made by Boston jeweler and watchmaker Frank A. Gendreau for the Red Sox World Series win in 1912…the first at Fenway Park.
Marian "Clover" Hooper Adams took this image of her husband, historian Henry Adams, in 1883, shortly after she took up photography. Although Clover's work was widely admired, her husband apparently discouraged publication.
This letter was written by Lt. Col. Wilder Dwight on the field at Antietam. He was writing to his mother when fighting broke out. After the battle, when troops had withdrawn and he lay wounded, he finished the letter. He died two days later. The letter is stained with his blood.
In the waning months of the Revolution, disgruntled—and long unpaid—army officers at Newburgh, New York, threatened open revolt. George Washington delivered this eloquent address, written in his hand, to quell their agitation by appealing to both their honor and their sentiments.
John F. Kennedy and Leverett Saltonstall served together in the U.S. Senate from 1953-1960, leading some to believe that Saltonstall was actually Kennedy's uncle. Saltonstall sent the story to President Kennedy, who playfully replied in this letter, "If you are ready to admit it, I am."
The influential abolitionist newspaper The Liberator was founded by William Lloyd Garrison and Isaac Knapp in 1831. In this first issue, Garrison responded to his critics: "It is pretended, that I am retarding the cause of emancipation by the coarseness of my invective, and the precipitancy of my measures. The charge is not true."
In this letter to Gov. John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Gov. William Bradford of Plymouth Colony refers to "Mrs. Huchingson" (Anne Hutchinson), who was labeled an "Antinomian" and heretic, banished from Massachusetts Bay, and excommunicated from the church. Bradford asks about the rumor that she delivered a stillborn baby to her supporter Mary Dyer.
This photogravure of “Chief Tin-Tin-Meet-Sa,” taken by Joseph K. Dixon in 1913, forms part of the Rodman Wanamaker Indian expeditions photographs. The aim of the expeditions was to “accurately” depict and publicize Indian life. Wanamaker was particularly concerned that the “vanishing race” would be lost to modernity and relegated to reservations.
Thomas Jefferson wrote this condolence letter to John Adams sixteen days after the death of Abigail Adams. He told John, "I know well and feel what you have lost, what you have suffered, are suffering, and have yet to endure."
This oil painting of the harbor at Hong Kong is attributed to Lam Qua, a 19th-century artist from the Canton province in China. Also known for his portraits of Western and Chinese merchants, as well as medical subjects, Lam Qua was one of the first Chinese painters exhibited in the West.
One of the most notable generals in George Washington's army was Henry Knox of Massachusetts. In a remarkable feat, he recovered cannon and mortars from Fort Ticonderoga and transported them to Cambridge. His diary documents the difficulties of this midwinter journey, which was plagued with obstacles.
In 1663, Christian missionary John Eliot published this translation of the Holy Bible in Massachuset, the language spoken by Native Americans in eastern New England. It was the first Bible printed in any language in North America and the largest single printing venture of the early colonial period.
This book by Henry Adams, grandson and great-grandson of two presidents, was first printed privately in 1907. It wasn't commercially published until after his death in 1918, and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1919. Although Adams wrote in the third person, the book is autobiographical and includes commentary on 19th-century political and cultural events.
Marian "Clover" Hooper Adams took up photography in 1883, and her work was widely admired by contemporaries. Among her favorite subjects were her dogs Possum, Marquis, and Boojum, shown here enjoying a garden tea party. This photograph is part of a collection of three albums dating from 1883-1885.
This wooden urn finial from the steeple of the Old North Church in Boston's North End is the last that survives of those designed by Charles Bulfinch in 1806. It came into the possession of architect Charles R. Strickland, who oversaw the reconstruction of the steeple following a hurricane in 1954.
This political cartoon satirizes Gov. Elbridge Gerry and the Massachusetts (Jeffersonian) Republican Party for re-drawing legislative districts in Essex County to ensure their victory in the state Senate in 1812. The district map resembling the shape of a salamander is complete with claws, fangs, and a pointed tongue. The term gerrymandering is still used to describe the practice of redistricting for political gain.
Samp, or nasaump, the Algonquian term for porridge made from ground Indian corn, was served in carved elm burls like this one, crafted by the Wampanoag tribe. Only seven Algonquian bowls are known to exist. Purchased for the MHS in 1804, it is believed the bowl once belonged to Metacom, or King Philip, the Wampanoag chief who united the fractious New England tribes against the expanding population of colonists.
John Singleton Copley was Boston's preeminent portrait painter in the 18th century. He painted this portrait of John Hancock after the 1768 seizure of one of Hancock's ships, the Liberty, which transformed the wealthy Boston merchant into a patriotic victim of English oppression.
Midshipman Frederic Baury kept the log book of the U.S. frigate Constitution, a.k.a. "Old Ironsides," during the War of 1812. Baury logged weather, winds, position, course, and engagements with enemy ships. This volume (volume 2 of 3) includes his detailed description of a confrontation with the HMS Java on 29-30 December 1812.
Indian peace medals were typically given by heads of state to Native American chiefs as a token of friendship. This medal bears the likeness of a young King George III and, on the reverse, the inscription "Happy While United" above an Indian and Englishman shaking hands.
The MHS holds the only extant copy of this engraving of Harvard College. It was discovered by accident in the 1880s, mounted underneath another engraving. In 1726, Harvard was one of only three colleges in the American colonies. The building on the right, Massachusetts Hall, still stands today.
This copy of the first printed draft of the U.S. Constitution shows the evolution of the text as it was amended during the debates at the Philadelphia Convention of 1787. Massachusetts delegate Elbridge Gerry, who refused to sign because it lacked a Bill of Rights, annotated the draft with his handwritten notes.
In this eight-page letter to his friend Joshua Fry Speed, Abraham Lincoln articulated his closely guarded personal feelings about slavery, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the future of the Union should slavery be extended into the new territories. Prior to the Civil War, Lincoln rarely committed his thoughts about slavery to paper.
This ring, a fine example of mourning jewelry, commemorates the death of Rev. Edward Wigglesworth in 1794. Although this ring was made in 1794, when the neoclassical era was in full swing, it has all the elements of the rococo style, which had peaked some 30 years earlier.
With this document, Boston merchant John Saffin agreed to free his slave Adam seven years from 25 March 1694. After the seven-year term, Saffin refused to free Adam. Adam turned to the Massachusetts courts for relief and, after a protracted legal battle, was finally emancipated in 1703.
Ten days after the raid at Harpers Ferry, a Quaker woman named E. B. wrote to John Brown in jail to comfort him and assure him that "Posterity will do thee justice." In his reply, Brown accepted responsibility for the failed attack and asked E. B. to have sympathy for his family.
This gold medal was presented by the States-General of the United Provinces of Holland to John Adams upon his departure as minister on 6 March 1788. Adams was the first envoy to Holland from the United States, and this is the only 18th-century diplomatic medal known to exist.
This small glass bottle contains tea leaves gathered on the shore of Dorchester Neck, across the harbor from Boston, the morning after the Boston Tea Party. This is one of five relics of the Boston Tea Party (including tea caddies and a china punch bowl) in the collections of the MHS.
This issue of The New-England Courant contains the earliest known published writing of a teenager named Benjamin Franklin. The MHS holds the only surviving copy. The Courant, Boston's third newspaper, was founded by Benjamin's brother James in 1721. Benjamin Franklin published a series of articles under the pseudonym Silence Dogood.
After eye trouble forced him to abandon his studies at Harvard, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., took to the sea, joining a two-year trading voyage along the California coast. Dana based his immensely popular book, Two Years Before the Mast, on the journal he kept at sea from 1834 to 1836.
One of several types of handkerchiefs printed to commemorate the death of George Washington, this Philadelphia piece draws on artist Amos Doolittle's engraving of the death scene for its central motif. Surrounding the image are quotations from Henry Lee's December 1799 Congressional eulogy of Washington.
This October 1903 photograph of the Wright brothers' glider experiments at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina was taken by engineer Octave Chanute. It is part of a collection of photographs of early aircraft, equipment, and experiments with flight collected by Boston businessman, inventor, and aviation pioneer Godfrey Lowell Cabot.
This patriotic poster, issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, implored women to help fund U.S. participation in World War I by purchasing war savings stamps. More than 20,000 American women supported the war effort, serving in the armed forces or as Red Cross and YWCA volunteers.
Maj. Samuel Selden of the Connecticut Militia etched this detailed map of Boston on his ivory powder horn during the Siege of Boston. The map shows the fortifications of the Continental Army just before the British evacuated the city. The inscription reads: "Made for the defence of liberty."
Chester Harding's painting of Daniel Boone is the only known portrait of this legendary frontiersman painted from life. Harding, a self-taught young artist just beginning his career, sought Boone out at his home in Missouri and asked him to sit for this portrait.
John Adams wrote this letter to Abigail Adams one day after the 2 July 1776 resolution of the Continental Congress to declare independence from Great Britain. He describes what the Declaration would mean for Americans and how independence would be celebrated by future generations…on the second of July.
This unidentified 23-year-old Virginia native was drawn from life by Wenceslaus Hollar in the conventional half-length view used by European artists of the time. Hollar was a Bohemian artist from Prague who worked in London as an engraver from 1637 to 1644.
Caroline Dall was an American feminist, essayist, and reformer who kept voluminous journals covering decades of her life. In entries dated 6-8 August 1863, she wrote of visiting members of Robert Gould Shaw's family and described how his parents and sisters coped with news of his death at the Battle of Fort Wagner.
Thomas Jefferson's first collection of books was destroyed by fire in 1770. While assembling a new library, he developed this classification scheme for books he owned or sought to purchase, adapted from Francis Bacon's The Advancement of Learning. It consists of three sections—History, Philosophy, and Fine Arts—and is further divided into subsections.
This broadside advertises a handsome $3,000 reward for information on the whereabouts of the missing Boston physician George Parkman. On 30 November 1849, Parkman's remains were found in a furnace in John White Webster's laboratory at Harvard Medical College. After a sensational trial, Webster was convicted of murder and executed.
Dutch cartographer Willem Blaeu's colorful map of the Americas incorporates rich detail and decorative elements. Top and side panels contain illustrations of cities, harbors, and native people of various regions, and the oceans are full of ships and sea monsters. While most contemporary mapmakers depicted California as an island, Blaeu rendered it as a peninsula.
With this letter, President Lyndon B. Johnson accepted Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr.'s resignation as ambassador to the government of Vietnam in the midst of the Vietnam War. Johnson commended Lodge's “courage and patriotism” and acknowledged the good he'd done for the people of South Vietnam and the United States.
This broadside invites Boston's "True-born Sons of Liberty" to gather at the Liberty Tree to hear the public resignation of Andrew Oliver. Oliver, the administrator of the Stamp Act, was despised by the colonists and had been hanged in effigy from the Liberty Tree four months earlier.
Rebecca Tailer wore these green shoes at her marriage to Rev. Mather Byles on 11 June 1747. The Tailers were a well-connected family from Dorchester, Mass.
William H. Bradley designed this 1899 catalog of the Overman Wheel Company during the golden age of the American bicycle. The company's Victor/Victoria bicycles were reputed to be the finest "safety" bicycles manufactured in the country. Bradley's elaborately designed catalog is also a beautiful example of the Art Nouveau style.
John James Audubon's drawings for The Birds of America (1827-1838) are among the most famous ever printed. This reproduction of Audubon's "Blue Crane or Heron" by lithographer J. T. Bowen of Philadelphia was printed for Volume 6 of the smaller, more affordable edition of Audubon's original work.
Young Bertha Louise Cogswell filled seven volumes of drawing books with pencil and crayon pictures of her life in Cambridge, Mass., including games, parties, holidays, social calls, and travel. She not only drew scenes from her childhood, but also imagined scenes of her future life as a wife and mother.
English Egyptologist (and later discoverer of Tutankhamun's tomb) Howard Carter wrote this letter to Kingsmill Marrs from an archaeological dig in Luxor, Egypt. The letter contains descriptions of beautiful scenes resulting from the flooding of the Nile River, as well as a prominent sketch of Queen Nefertari on the first page.
This map by Bernard Romans, a former British officer who joined the American cause, was the first map printed in America to depict Massachusetts as an independent state. Although inaccurate in some local geographical details, the map served its purpose of graphically conveying the sites of Revolutionary War battles to the rest of the colonies.
In this famous oration, delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge, Mass., Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson encouraged his listeners to become "Man Thinking," rather than "a mere thinker, or, still worse, the parrot of other men's thinking." Oliver Wendell Holmes called the speech America's "Intellectual Declaration of Independence."
This broadside pleads for the rescue of Anthony Burns, a slave who escaped from Virginia and settled in Boston in early 1854. When he was captured and held under the Fugitive Slave Act, Boston citizens tried—and failed—to buy his freedom. Burns lost his court case and was returned to slavery in Virginia.
This engraving, after a watercolor by Jacques le Moyne, shows Chief Athore and René de Laudonnière at the site of Jean Ribaut's column marking France's annexation of Florida. The engraving was published in 1591 in Theodor de Bry's America, the first illustrated general account of the discovery and exploration of the Americas.
This broadside was the first printed copy of the Declaration of Independence to list the names of the signers, except Delaware's Thomas McKean, who probably signed the Declaration later. The MHS copy of this document, printed in Baltimore by Mary Katharine Goddard, includes the signatures of John Hancock and Charles Thomson.
Theodore Roosevelt gave this signed photograph to his close friend and confidant Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge in May 1902. A skilled horseman, Roosevelt had become the youngest U.S. president in history following the assassination of President McKinley eight months earlier.
Samuel Sewall, minister, merchant, and magistrate, is perhaps best remembered as one of the judges in the infamous Salem witchcraft trials of 1692. He was the only judge to publicly repent for his part in the tragedy. He also took a firm anti-slavery position in 1700 with his publication The Selling of Joseph.
Thomas Jefferson used this octagonal mahogany-and-poplar table in his library at Monticello. The drawers are labeled for filing papers alphabetically. Crafted by an unknown cabinet maker from the mid-Atlantic region and modeled after English rent tables, this piece is has been on display at Monticello since 1928.
After her escape from slavery over 50 years earlier, Tubman famously helped other slaves to freedom via the Underground Railroad, recruited men for John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, and served as a Union spy during the Civil War. She was in her eighties when this photograph was taken.
In the spring of 1776, with talk of independence in the air, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband and famously advised: "in the New Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, & be more Generous & favourable to them than your ancestors."
Boston shopkeeper Harbottle Dorr, Jr., collected, annotated, and indexed 805 weekly newspapers published in Massachusetts from 1765 to 1776. The complete four-volume set is held by the MHS. Dorr's commentary on political events offers insight into the growing need for independence from Great Britain.
This map shows the city and fortress of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia, Canada during the throes of King George's War. In 1745, William Pepperrell led a 49-day siege of the city with nearly 3,000 soldiers and 52 vessels. Peter Pelham engraved this map after a drawing by Richard Gridley, chief engineer during the siege.
This Imperial decoration was awarded to Dr. William Sturgis Bigelow of Boston by Mutsuhito, the Emperor of Japan, for Bigelow's help in the restoration of Buddhist temples and religious works of art. The medal constituted the highest Japanese distinction conferred upon a civilian.
This watercolor-on-ivory miniature portrait was painted by Susan Anne Livingston Ridley Sedgwick in 1811. Its subject is Elizabeth Freeman, known as "Mumbet," a slave who sued for her freedom in 1783 and set the legal precedent for the abolition of slavery in Massachusetts.
On 17 October 1859, John Brown led 21 white and black followers in an attempt to capture the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, and instigate a slave rebellion. The attack failed, but Brown's stoicism during his trial and at his execution made him an abolitionist martyr.
Alexander Hamilton wrote this letter to Theodore Sedgwick just hours before meeting Aaron Burr on the dueling grounds in Weehawken, New Jersey. Hamilton described his distaste for politics, called democracy "our real Disease," and criticized talk of New England secession, but never mentioned his deadly appointment with Burr.
On 16 October 1915, supporters of women's suffrage in Massachusetts held a parade and rally in downtown Boston in support of a ballot measure to amend the state constitution and grant women the right to vote. This broadsheet contains instructions and, on the reverse, songs to be sung during the parade and rally.
Gen. William H. Sumner described this chest of drawers as "the Witch Bureau, from the middle drawer of which one of the Witches jumped out who was hung on Gallows Hill, in Salem." It is similar to a number of chests made in eastern Massachusetts, some of which are attributed to the Symonds workshop of Salem.
Silversmith Paul Revere made this presentation urn with an ivory spigot handle, which was presented to Capt. Gamaliel Bradford of Duxbury by Samuel Parkman. The urn's inscription commends Bradford's "Gallant defence…when Attacked by four French Privateers in the Straits of Gibraltar" on 8 July 1800.
Samuel Eliot Morison attributed this early embroidered view of Harvard Hall at Harvard College to Mary Leverett, the daughter and granddaughter of Harvard presidents. The embroiderer replaced the cupola with a beehive and included a variation on a quotation from Virgil: "They keep out drones from these premises."
The courtship of John and Abigail Smith began with a proposed agreement spelled out in John's first letter to Abigail, addressed to "Miss Adorable." The 1,200 letters exchanged by Abigail and John Adams form the cornerstone of the Adams Family Papers, the most important manuscript collection held by the MHS.
In 1790, Thomas Jefferson commissioned French artist Joseph Boze to paint the Marquis de Lafayette for his gallery of American heroes. In the painting, Lafayette wears medals for his service in the American war and for his role in leveling the Bastille, as well as a Society of the Cincinnati medal.
Air combat intelligence officer John Noble was serving in the South Pacific during World War II when he wrote a series of letters to his young children. He illustrated the letters with exquisite and colorful drawings like the three native island children, a landscape with a hut and canoe, and a volcano in this birthday letter to his son Sandy.
A Map of New England, the first map known to be published in the English colonies of North America, is probably also the first published in the Western Hemisphere. The map is attributed to John Foster, a mathematician and schoolmaster, who was the only Bostonian known to make woodcuts during this period.
Eleven-year-old John Quincy Adams wrote this letter to his mother Abigail from Passy, France, where he accompanied his father on a diplomatic mission. The young Adams described his resolution to keep a diary and to retain copies of letters, practices he would maintain throughout his long life.
This press cupboard, one of the finest examples of colonial New England joined furniture, has remained virtually unchanged in the 340 years since its creation. More than a dozen pieces attributed to this unidentified cabinet maker's shop, distinguished by their complex joinery and sophisticated designs, remain in public or private collections in New York and New England.
This watercolor-on-ivory miniature depicts Daniel Webster shortly after he was elected to the U.S. Senate. The portrait was painted by Sarah Goodridge, one of America's most distinguished and prolific miniature painters, who worked in Boston between 1820 and 1850.
On 2 May 1775, Rachel (Walker) Revere wrote to her husband Paul about the difficulties she faced in leaving Boston, then under siege by American revolutionary forces after the Battles of Concord and Lexington. The outbreak of the fighting had stranded her behind British lines with six stepchildren and a new baby.
The day after the Battle of Bunker Hill and the death of Joseph Warren, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John that "perhaps the decisive Day is come on which the fate of America depends." She described the uncertainty of the times and prayed that God would protect their countrymen.
This miniature portrait by an unidentified artist depicts Emperor Shah Jehan, the fifth Mughal Emperor of India from 1628 to 1658. Shah Jehan erected the Taj Mahal at Agra as a tomb for his wife Mumtaz Mahal . The portrait is watercolor on ivory, set all over with red garnets.
This 17th-century cobalt tin-glazed earthenware bowl from Southwark, England, once belonged to the Winthrop family. The Winthrops were among the earliest European settlers in New England. John Winthrop sailed from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony on the ship Arbella in 1630.
This map, from Atlas des colonies Angloises en Amerique, shows the area around Lake Champlain, which divides New York from Vermont. In 1755, the governor of Canada ordered the construction of Fort Carillon (Ticonderoga) at the place where travelers had to move overland between Lake Champlain and Lake George. Sir William Johnson responded by erecting Fort William Henry at the southern tip of Lake George.
B. B. French was the commissioner of public buildings in Washington D.C. when he arranged to have this iron table made and he later loaned it to Pres. Abraham Lincoln. The table, made of three iron components—the top, pillar, and stand—produced during the construction of the U. S. Capitol dome, held President Lincoln's Bible and glass of water during his second inauguration.
These decorative dress epaulets, made of woven gilt lame, yellow silk, and white silk, were worn by George Washington at the Siege of Yorktown in 1781 and when he resigned his military commission in 1783. Washington gave them to his aide-de-camp, David Humphreys, on the day of his resignation.
The Trans-Continental newspaper was published in 1870 on the Pullman Hotel Express from Boston to San Francisco, the first American transcontinental charter train. Editor W. R. Steele brought a printing press onboard and printed 12 issues between May and July. The paper's masthead read: "Let Every Step Be an Advance."
Theodore Parker was an American Transcendentalist, reformer, abolitionist, and Unitarian minister whose speeches later inspired Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. This daguerreotype of Parker was taken in 1852 by John Adams Whipple, one of the most prolific early photographers in Massachusetts.
The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was the first black regiment raised in the North during the Civil War. This enlistment roll includes personal information about enlistees in Company A, such as name, age, residence, marital status, occupation, and height, but not all of the men listed were mustered into the regiment.
Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison used this cotton banner at Massachusetts anti-slavery fairs and festivals, including Dedham's First of August Celebration. The banner's slogan, "Proclaim liberty throughout ALL the land, unto ALL the inhabitants thereof," surrounds a large painting of a ringing liberty bell.
By an act of 26-27 May 1652, the Massachusetts General Court established a mint in Boston, trespassing upon the Crown's prerogative to mint coins. These small coins represent New England's growing sense of identity as separate from the mother country and its determination to regulate its own economy without British interference.
Dr. Aaron Wight of Medway kept diaries in interleaved almanacs from 1769 until his death in 1813. His diary for 1772 describes his daily activities and medical work and includes illustrations of his cows, horses, house, etc. A black coffin denotes the burial of his wife on 15 June.
At the age of 73, former Pres. John Quincy Adams appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court and successfully defended the African captives who had seized the slave ship Amistad. Twenty days after the decision, Adams reflected on the fight against the slave trade in this diary entry.
Leonard Wells Volk made plaster casts of Abraham Lincoln's face and hands in 1860. These bronze pieces, cast from Volk's casts by Truman H. Bartlett about 15 years later, show a scar on Lincoln's left thumb from his rail splitting days. Thought to be a defect, this detail was corrected in later casts.
This oil painting of George Washington dates from the first year of the first term of his presidency. Boston gentlemen paid for it with the proceeds from a raffle. The artist, Christian Gullager, was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, and was well-known for portraits and theatrical scenery.
The swords of Col. William Prescott and Capt. John Linzee, who fought on opposite sides at the Battle of Bunker Hill, were mounted in 1859 for the MHS. The swords cross through a wreath of olive leaves underneath the crests of the two families, who later came together through marriage.
John Albion Andrew served as governor of Massachusetts during the Civil War, holding the office from 1861 to 1866. He was an early and ardent abolitionist. This marble bust of Andrew by Thomas Ridgeway Gould of Boston shows the governor in a characteristic attitude, but without his trademark spectacles.
In this undated letter, Paul Revere describes his famous ride on 18 April 1775, when Dr. Joseph Warren urged him to ride to Lexington to warn John Hancock and Samuel Adams of British troop movements. Revere wrote this letter at the request of Jeremy Belknap, corresponding secretary of the MHS.
Beginning in the fall of 1917, Eleanor “Nora” Saltonstall volunteered in several capacities in Europe during World War I, including as a secretary, supply manager, chauffeur, and overall jack-of-all-trades for Auto-Chir No. 7, an American Red Cross hospital unit attached to the French army. In this letter to her mother Eleanor Brooks Saltonstall, Nora described how useful she felt.
The Bucks of America, an all-Black company, seems to have operated in a military capacity in Boston during the American Revolution. No documentation definitively links them to any particular Revolutionary battle. This silver medallion commemorates the unit and includes an engraving of a buck and thirteen stars.
William Pynchon was one of the original English Puritan founders of the Massachusetts Bay Company. This receipt reflects his £25 purchase of a share of stock in the "adventure." He left England for the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630 and was instrumental in the settlement of Roxbury and Springfield, Mass.
Visual representations of the Boston Massacre began to appear soon after the event. Powerful images of coffins and skull-and-crossbones symbols punctuated news accounts and broadsides. This hand-colored engraving by Paul Revere, emotional but historically inaccurate, was based on an earlier drawing by Henry Pelham. Revere got his print to market first.
On 22 September 1862, William Benjamin Gould and seven other slaves escaped to the Cambridge, a Union gunboat patrolling the Confederate coast. Five days later, Gould began his diary, in which he described his service as an African-American sailor between 1862 and 1865. He served on the Cambridge and the Niagara.
Abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote this letter to educator and reformer Horace Mann on the day she finished her famous anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom's Cabin. She described the book as "a despairing appeal to civilized humanity," written with her "hearts blood," and thanked Mann for his support and suggestions.
Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery in 1838 and went on to become a renowned social reformer, abolitionist, and orator. He also wrote several books, including Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845), probably the most famous of the 19th-century slave narratives.
W. E. B. Du Bois was only 28 years old when he wrote this letter to Sen. George Frisbie Hoar. In it, Du Bois outlined his personal ambitions as a historian and sociologist and asked Hoar for help in securing a teaching position at Howard University or in the Washington, D.C. public schools.
Theodore Roosevelt wrote this letter to his friend, Massachusetts senator Henry Cabot Lodge, from the trenches outside of Santiago, Cuba, after the Battle of San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War. In it, he betrays uncharacteristic anxiety about the outcome of the battle.
Eliza Susan Quincy painted this watercolor of the birthplaces of John and John Quincy Adams in Quincy, Mass. from the vantage point of Penn's Hill. The drawing is one of a series of nine that appear in Quincy's extraordinary two-volume unpublished memoir of her grandfather Josiah. She was a prolific diarist, genealogist, and amateur artist.
This 1776 Massachusetts Pine Tree copper penny, attributed to Paul Revere, was unearthed during an excavation in Boston's North End in the early 19th century. Since Massachusetts did not issue copper coins in 1776 (probably due to the scarcity of copper), this penny is the only known original.
Samuel Sewall's The Selling of Joseph was the first anti-slavery tract published in New England. In the pamphlet, Sewall condemns African slavery and the slave trade in North America and refutes many of the typical justifications using Biblical and practical arguments. The MHS holds the only surviving copy of this important work.
In the early 19th century, the topography of Boston changed dramatically as the city's hills were flattened and used to fill ponds, marshes, and estuaries to accommodate a growing population. This nostalgic chromolithograph depicts Beacon Hill partially cut away and surmounted by the Beacon Hill Memorial Column, which was removed in the excavation.
Thomas Jefferson commissioned this fitted box to hold nine silver Comitia Americana Revolutionary War medals, as well as two additional medals, that Congress presented to Pres. George Washington. Jefferson presented the box and its contents to Washington in 1790.
This portrait is a prime example of colonial painting before John Smibert, an academically-trained portrait painter, arrived in Boston in 1729. Little is known of Anne Pollard, but she claimed to have come to Boston with the Winthrop fleet in 1630. She bore thirteen children and, when she died in 1725, left 130 descendants.
In 1862-1863, Louisa May Alcott served briefly as an army nurse in Washington, an experience she would later use as material for her first literary success, Hospital Sketches. Alcott wrote this letter from Georgetown's Union Hotel Hospital to her friend Hannah Stevenson, candidly stating that she was "rather staggered" by what she had seen.
This copy of a letter from Benjamin Franklin, probably written to his brother John, describes his ill-fated electrical experiment on a turkey. Franklin had conducted several similar demonstrations in front of audiences at his home, but this time it didn't go exactly as planned.
This elaborate poster promotes the "smallest persons in the world," Cassie and Victoria Foster. The "fairy sisters" were born in Nova Scotia and, at 10 and 3, weighed only 12 and 6 pounds, respectively. They were exhibited as human curiosities by their agent, Fred A. Pickering of Boston, between 1872 and 1873 before both died at a young age.
One day after fighting in the Battle of Bunker Hill, James Warren wrote to his wife Mercy Otis Warren about the "extraordinary" battle and its aftermath. He described the "glorious" death of Dr. Joseph Warren and discussed plans for the formation of a new colonial government.
This full-length portrait of Charles Francis Adams, grandson of Pres. John Quincy Adams, was painted in 1913 by Robert W. Vonnoh. Adams served as president of the Massachusetts Historical Society for 20 years.
Civil engineer Octave Chanute served as an advisor to Orville and Wilbur Wright and helped publicize their experiments. In this letter of 19 December 1903 to aviation enthusiast Samuel Cabot, he described the first successful flight conducted by the Wright brothers two days earlier, including technical specifications of their machine and other details.
This set of silhouettes, made by Jarvis F. Hanks in 1829, depicts John Quincy Adams; his wife Louisa Catherine Adams; their son John and his wife and daughter, both named Mary; niece Abigail Smith Adams; and family friend Mary Roberdeau. Each silhouette is identified in John Quincy Adams's distinctive handwriting.
The day after his famous Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln wrote to Edward Everett, the day's featured speaker, to thank him for his praise of Lincoln's two-minute speech: "I am pleased to know that, in your judgment, the little I did say was not entirely a failure." Everett's speech, by comparison, lasted two hours.
This pewter oil lamp was made by pewter smith and Dorchester native Ephraim Capen at Brook Farm, the utopian Transcendentalist community established in 1841 in West Roxbury, Mass.
Louisa Catherine Johnson was 17 years old when she sat for this miniature oil portrait. Born in London, Louisa married John Quincy Adams in 1797. She holds the distinction of being the only First Lady born outside of the United States.
The National Institute of France awarded this medal to William T. G. Morton, an American dentist who demonstrated the use of ether as a surgical anesthetic in 1846. Credit for the discovery of ether's anesthetic properties remains in dispute; the Institute also recognized Dr. Charles T. Jackson as a co-discoverer.
This photograph of Mount Fuji by an unknown photographer was brought back by Henry Adams following a five-month trip to Japan with his friend, artist John La Farge, in 1886.
This glass plate negative depicts Cy Young and other baseball players at the Huntington Avenue American League Baseball Grounds in Boston, Mass. This location was the home field for Boston's American League team from 1901 until 1911. Initially called the Boston Americans, the team was renamed the Red Sox after the 1908 season.
This handbill, probably the only surviving copy, is an early example of American Revolutionary War propaganda, printed to encourage British soldiers to desert. It includes a satirical comparison of living conditions for soldiers on both sides of the lines.
This 1869 broadside advertises the two-night extension, by popular demand, of performances of Uncle Tom's Cabin at the Boston Theatre. Actress Lotta Crabtree starred as the slave girl Topsy. Junius Brutus Booth, lessee and manager of the Boston Theatre, was the brother of Edwin and John Wilkes Booth.
Sarah Gooll Putnam kept a diary for over 50 years, starting in 1860 at the age of nine. These diaries document her life as an artist in Boston and her extensive travels throughout America and Europe. Included are ink and pencil sketches, as well as watercolors, like this one painted in Martha's Vineyard, Mass.
This engraving of the Dowse Library at the MHS shows the library when it opened on 9 April 1857 at 30 Tremont Street, Boston. Although dismantled in 1899 for the move to our current location at 1154 Boylston Street, the library looks much the same now as it did then.
This sculpture of Abraham Lincoln is a bronze cast made from a plaster study model of the statue Daniel Chester French made for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
This hot dog was presented to vice-presidential candidate Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., by the National Hot Dog Council on 17 October 1960. The presentation letter read, in part, "A million miles of hot dogs will be consumed in the United States this year and we hope that every one of these hot dog lovers casts a vote for you and Dick Nixon."
This 1917 photograph depicts the last horse-drawn street car in Boston in front of Old South Church on Dartmouth Street. Horsecars dominated the city's streets for close to 40 years, but were gradually replaced with electric lines.
Massachusetts governor John A. Andrew appointed Robert Gould Shaw to command the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first regular army regiment of African American soldiers raised in the North during the Civil War. In this letter to Shaw's father, Andrew explained the importance of the regiment and his reasons for choosing Shaw.
This painting by James Brown Marston shows the eastward side of Boston's Old State House as it looked at the turn of the 18th century. The open square, a place of social and commercial activity, was the scene of many memorable events, including the Boston Massacre on 5 March 1770.
Physician and poet Oliver Wendell Holmes was so taken with this portrait of his great-grandmother as "a young girl in antique costume, which made her look at first sight almost like a grown woman," that he wrote a poem about it entitled, "Dorothy Q: A Family Portrait."
William Lloyd Garrison used this imposing stone—a thick sheet of slate encased in a pine stand—between 1845 and 1865 to compose type for his abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator. Garrison was one of the first American abolitionists to demand immediate and complete emancipation of slaves.
George Henry Preble, known for his writing and his service in the U.S. Navy, was also an accomplished artist. He painted this watercolor of Alexandria, Egypt, while in his twenties. Preble traveled widely, and his papers at the MHS include paintings and drawings of locations around the world.
Robert Haswell's log kept aboard the ship Columbia-Rediviva and the sloop Washington documents the young merchant's journey on the newly opened trade route from America to the East Indies and Canton, China. Sea otter fur was among the most desired goods exchanged for Chinese tea.
This notebook contains Francis Parkman's account of his trip along the Oregon Trail in 1846, including time spent with the Oglala Sioux. Parkman later published his experiences in articles and a book. In his otherwise complimentary review of the book, Herman Melville criticized Parkman's depiction of Native Americans as demeaning.
This pencil-and-watercolor diagram shows how members of the Boston Anti-Man-Hunting League would surround a slave-hunter, or "SH," until he consented to release a captured slave. The League was a secret society founded in Boston in 1854 to resist the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.
Boston merchant Joseph Barrell commissioned this medal for the voyages of the Columbia and Lady Washington to the northwest coast of America in 1787, "the first American Adventure on the Pacific Ocean." Barrell presented the die-struck medal, the first issued after American Independence, to the brand-new Massachusetts Historical Society in 1791.
This bracelet consists of a double-strand of gold beads with a clasp. The name "Mumbet" is engraved on the clasp. The bracelet was made from a necklace belonging to Elizabeth Freeman ("Mumbet") and given by her to Catharine Maria Sedgwick. A miniature portrait of Mumbet at the MHS shows her wearing the necklace.
This porcelain bowl belonged to journalist and publisher Benjamin Edes of Boston. On the afternoon of the Boston Tea Party, some of the conspirators met at Edes's home on Brattle Street and drank punch from this bowl before proceeding to Griffin's Wharf.
Thomas Jefferson's draft of the Declaration was subjected to considerable Congressional revision. He was extremely unhappy with many of the changes and made several copies of the Declaration "as originally framed," including this one, to show his close friends how his text had been "mangled."
Rufus Putnam (1738-1824), farmer, surveyor, and soldier, made this "New Plan of Several Towns in the County of Worcester," in 1785 when he lived in Rutland, Massachusetts. This is a remarkable overview map of many (but not all) towns within Worcester County, Massachusetts. The manuscript map shows town lines, roads, ponds, rivers, meeting houses, mills, meadows, hills, and other places of interest for the following towns: Greenwich, Petersham, Barre, Hubbardston, Princeton, Holden, Paxton, Spencer, Sturbridge, Charleton, Brookfield, Western (now Warren), Brimfield, Ware, Hardwick, New Braintree, Oakham, and Rutland. Notable rivers and ponds include the Ware River, the Quaboug River, the Swift River, the Merrimac River, the Quaboug Pond and Wickboug Pond. The lower right corner of the map also includes a lengthy description of towns.
This eloquent, heartfelt letter from the "Aged and Afflicted" John Adams to his son John Quincy Adams was written just thirteen days after the death of Abigail. Adams expressed his grief at the loss of his wife and his gratitude for the sympathy of friends and family.
This portrait of Mrs. Baker by an unidentified artist is one of a set of eight portraits of family members painted in London in the 1670s. The naturalistic painting shows the pouches under her eyes, loose jowls, and prominent nose. Mrs. Baker exemplifies middle-class prosperity, both in her dress and her accoutrements.
Photographed a year before her marriage to publisher James T. Fields, Annie Adams Fields was an author and social reformer who made her home the center of literary Boston. The Fields' circle of friends included authors published by her husband in The Atlantic Monthly, as well as European writers who visited Boston. In addition to her role as a literary hostess, Fields wrote biographical sketches and edited the letters of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Celia Thaxter.
Songs played an important role in the American Revolution: they roused the troops, ridiculed the enemy, and played on the emotions of the listeners. General Howe, who commanded the assault on Bunker Hill, is described in this English ballad as "brave," "considerate," and "beloved by many," one whose very name "the Yankees dread."
Phillis Wheatley's Chippendale-style mahogany writing desk dates to about 1760. Wheatley was a slave of John Wheatley of Boston, who taught her to read English, Greek, and Latin. Her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, the first book of poetry by a black American, was published in London in 1773.
John van der Spriett's portrait of Increase Mather depicts the Puritan minister in his library. Mather was associated with the infamous Salem witch trials of 1692-1693; he largely defended the trials in his writings and sermons, though he warned against the use of "spectral evidence."
John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts, owned property along the Mystic River and called his estate Ten Hills. This manuscript map depicts the town of Medford, the Mystic River, and various landmarks. The Winthrop farm is represented by buildings just to the left of the middle of the image.
Samuel Blodget, a civilian who supplied military forces in the French and Indian War, was present at the Battle of Lake George in 1755 and later drew the scene from his observations. His crude drawing was engraved for publication by Thomas Johnston, one of Boston's best engravers.
After spending his first night in the unfinished President's House (later called the White House), John Adams wrote to Abigail Adams: "I pray Heaven to bestow the best of Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise Men ever rule under this roof."
This medal commemorates a naval battle during the Eighty Years' War in which a Dutch squadron led by Admiral Piet Heyn defeated an entire Spanish treasure fleet in Matanzas Bay, Cuba. Struck in silver captured during that action, the medal features a map of the Western hemisphere and a depiction of the battle.
This silhouette of Lucy Flucker Knox, the wife of U.S. Secretary of War Henry Knox, was drawn in Philadelphia by "a son of Robert Morris the financier of the Revolution." The aristocratic Lucy Knox is depicted with an elaborate hair arrangement and a tall hat perched on top.
Many early anti-slavery meetings were held at the African Meeting House, a Baptist church built on Boston's Beacon Hill in 1806 and sometimes referred to as the "Black Faneuil Hall." It was here that William Lloyd Garrison and other white abolitionists founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society, which merged in 1833 with the Massachusetts General Colored Association.
This mezzotint of Cotton Mather is the work of engraver Peter Pelham, a British-born American. Mather was a Puritan minister who played an influential part in the Salem witch trials 36 years before. He was also a prolific author and advocated the use of inoculation to treat smallpox.
This broadside advertises the return to Boston of the "Aztec Children," Maximo and Bartola. Billed as "descendants and specimens" of an ancient Aztec race and exhibited for years as public curiosities by P. T. Barnum and others, Maximo and Bartola, who suffered from microcephaly, were apparently taken as children from a village in San Salvador.
The first printing of this founding document is the single most important published item at the MHS. On 18 July 1776, Abigail Adams was in the crowd that gathered outside Boston's Old State House to hear the Declaration read aloud—perhaps from this very copy.
Brook Farm, the most famous experimental utopian community established in the United States, was founded by Transcendentalists George and Sophia Ripley in April 1841. Its entrance and some of the buildings are depicted in this oil painting by Josiah Wolcott.
Jeremy Belknap was born in Boston and educated at Harvard College. Though trained for the ministry, he was also involved in many secular activities, including the founding of the MHS in 1791. The MHS was the first institution in the world devoted to collecting and publishing materials for the study of American history.
This dimity pocket was worn by Abigail Adams in the late 18th or early 19th century. An accompanying note by Abigail's granddaughter, Elizabeth Coombs Adams, reads: "All old ladies wore these under pockets & carried their keys in them." The pocket is 14 inches long and would have been tied above her petticoat and under her skirt.
This colorful scene was drawn by Bear's Heart, a Cheyenne warrior, during his captivity at Fort Marion in Florida after the Red River War of 1874-1875. While held by the U.S. military, Bear's Heart and other Indian prisoners depicted their lives in ledger art like this.
Long before Edward Estlin Cummings was known as E. E. Cummings, one of 20th-century America's most popular poets, his words and sketches revealed a delightful childhood imagination. In this youthful work, completed about 1901, he was already experimenting with the unorthodox capitalization and punctuation that later became his trademark.
In 1889, Walter Gilman Page painted this view of Barnum's Circus set up along Parker Street (now Hemenway Street) in the Fenway neighborhood of Boston. The small tents in the middle occupy what would ten years later become the site of the MHS—its current location at 1154 Boylston Street.
Thomas Jefferson's Farm Book was a working record of agricultural activities for all of his properties. He tracked plowing, sowing, and planting, as well as his slaves. The style of entries varied; this page shows Jefferson calculating how to maximize the effort of his work force during the wheat harvest.
Clergyman, author, and scholar Cotton Mather became known as the chief apologist for the Salem witchcraft trials with the publication of his The Wonders of the Invisible World in 1693. The book was controversial because it seemed to contradict Mather's earlier arguments for moderation and leniency.
Poems on Various Subjects, published in London in 1773, was the first book of poetry by a black American. Author Phillis Wheatley was born in West Africa, brought to Boston in 1761 on the slave ship Phillis, and sold to the Wheatley family. Freed in 1773, she died in obscurity and poverty 11 years later.
The inscription on this cannon reads, in part: "This Cannon was captured from the British at the Battle of New Orleans January 8th 1815." Rezin D. Shepherd purchased the cannon and passed it down to his Brooks and Saltonstall heirs, who reportedly used it to fire croquet balls on festive occasions.
This drawing shows the final elevation of Thomas Jefferson's famous home, Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia , as originally conceived by the self-taught architect. Begun about 1769, the house was nearly finished by 1782. The upper portico was apparently never completed, and the octagonal side bays are not shown.
A sampler is a piece of cloth embroidered with examples of different types of stitches. This 1805 sampler, sewn by 11-year-old Hannah Child, includes a four-line poem, an outdoor scene, and an elaborate decorative border of insects and flowers.
This page from Massachusetts governor Leverett Saltonstall's State House guest book features the signatures of members of the Trapp Family Singers, whose lives and escape from Nazi Germany were made famous in the 1965 film The Sound of Music.
Eleanor "Nora" Saltonstall volunteered with several organizations in France during World War I, earning the Croix de Guerre for service under fire. She died in 1919, at age 24, of typhoid fever contracted during a trip with friends to the west coast. This portrait of Nora by Frank W. Benson was commissioned soon after her unexpected death.
Eben W. Fiske was a Civil War soldier, librarian, and amateur illustrator. Volumes in the Fiske family papers at the MHS contain his pencil sketches, many of them illustrating poems by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. This drawing depicts the woods "full of catamounts; And Indians Red as deer."
On 1 January 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves of the Confederate states. He signed the document with this pen, which he then presented to Massachusetts abolitionist George Livermore.
Louisa Catherine Adams was the wife of John Quincy Adams and First Lady of the United States from 1825 to 1829. In her 1812 diary, she grappled with the recent death of her infant daughter, writing, "My heart is almost broken and my temper which was never good suffers in proportion to my grief."
This British side drum was captured at the Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775 and repainted with the patriotic motto: "Independence be your boast, ever mindful what it cost." The drum was later used during the Civil War by the 33rd Massachusetts Infantry.
This broadside, published in 1818, satirizes the African Society of Boston's annual celebration of the abolition of the slave trade, a tradition that began in 1808. Composed as a dialect caricature, it is one example of a genre of broadsides mocking free blacks in the early years of the 19th century.
Eager to capitalize on the Boston Tea Party of 16 December 1773, patriot agitators distributed this broadside urging citizens to firmly and courageously defend their rights. In terms reminiscent of Boston Massacre verse, the unidentified author raised the specter of martyrs, graves, and blood-bought liberties.
In 1854, the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society sponsored a Fourth of July rally in Framingham, Mass. Noted abolitionists, including William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth, and Henry David Thoreau, addressed the crowd. Garrison burned copies of the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law and the U.S. Constitution, which he called "a covenant with death and an agreement with hell."
One day before the first anniversary of his wife's suicide and two weeks after his father's death, Henry Adams wrote mournfully to his friend Annie Palmer Fell that he had "buried pretty nearly everything I lived for." The letter continues with Henry's wishes for Fell's new daughter, who she named Marian after Henry's wife.
Hugh Hall (1693-1773), son of the Hon. Hugh Hall of Barbados, was a graduate of Harvard College (1713) and a commission merchant in Boston. His account book lists goods imported and exported for his employers in Barbados: fish, furniture, candles, oil, corn, wine, soap, textiles, and slaves, among other items. Hall apparently brought slaves into Massachusetts and sold them to other colonies, probably to avoid the duty on imported slaves.
Massachusetts-born Margaret Hall worked as a member of the American Red Cross in France during World War I. On her return home, she compiled a typescript narrative from the letters and diaries that she wrote overseas, illustrating the text with her own photographs of soldiers, canteens, and the extensive destruction following the war.
This pocket flint-lock pistol, made of wood and brass, belonged to Paul Revere. The shape of the handle is known as a "fish tail."
During the Revolution, Dr. John Warren was the medical director of the military hospital in Boston, where he began his anatomical lectures in 1780. This certificate of attendance, engraved by Paul Revere, features several elaborate images, including the Greek physician Galen, two skeletons, and a doctor performing a human dissection.
This watercolor by Christian Remick depicts the arrival of British warships in Boston Harbor following colonial protests against the Townshend Acts of 1767. British troops are shown disembarking at Long Wharf under a "Magna Charta" banner. The painting both documents and denounces the tyranny of King George over the American colonies.
In June 1864, Union sailor Frederic Augustus James wrote in his diary the about the horrific conditions he endured as a prisoner of war at the notorious Andersonville Prison in Georgia. The MHS also holds a collection of letters from James to his wife and daughters. James died of dysentery at Andersonville in September 1864.
This unique set of porcelain mugs depicting the heads of Richard M. Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., Republican candidates for president and vice president in the election of 1960, once belonged to U.S. Representative Richard B. Wigglesworth. The handles are in the shape of elephants' trunks.
Samuel Clough's atlas contains manuscript maps showing the street layout and property ownership of 55 blocks of Boston neighborhoods, based on the Direct Tax Census of 1798. Included is a color-coded drawing of Shawmut Peninsula on the front leaf. Clough planned to publish a topographical history of Boston, but never finished it.
This daguerreotype of Faneuil Hall in Boston was taken around 1840 by Gilman Joslin. Joslin was also a notable manufacturer of 19th century globes.
In this printed circular letter, the first publication of the Massachusetts Historical Society, founder Jeremy Belknap defined the society's objectives: "...to collect, preserve, and communicate, materials for a complete history of this country...." The MHS is the first historical society in the country, and its mission has remained essentially unchanged for 225 years.
Lt. Lewis Peckham drew this map of Fort Independence, or Castle Island, in Boston Harbor in 1809. Castle Island is the oldest fortified military site in British North America. Edgar Allan Poe served there in 1827 and may have based his short story, "The Cask of Amontillado," on its legends.
This pastel portrait of John Adams was painted by Benjamin Blyth of Salem. This and Blyth's companion portrait of Abigail Adams are the earliest known likenesses of the couple. It was painted shortly after the Adams' marriage when Blyth was just 20 years old.
John Singer Sargent was at the height of his career when he painted this portrait of Peter Chardon Brooks (1831-1920) in 1890. The marriage of his daughter Eleanor to Richard Middlecott Saltonstall united these two longstanding New England families. Brooks was Massachusetts senator Leverett Saltonstall's grandfather.
This iron yoke collar was worn by a young New Orleans plantation slave who had escaped from her mistress, Madame Coutrell. After the Federal occupation of New Orleans, Capt. S. Tyler Reed of the 3rd Massachusetts Cavalry had the yoke removed from the girl's neck. James Kendall Ewer wrote about this incident in his 1903 history of the regiment.
Renowned American artist Gilbert Stuart painted this portrait of James Sullivan in 1807, the first year of his tenure as governor of Massachusetts. Sullivan was the first president of the MHS from 1791 to 1806.
On 11 June 1776, Congress appointed Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston to draft a formal declaration of independence. At an early stage of the revisions, Adams copied the entire document. The Adams copy is extremely important for demonstrating the evolution of the text from Jefferson's original rough draft.
This engraving depicts the Committee of Five (Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman) drafting the Declaration of Independence during the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. The engraving was printed, with 1,253 other illustrations, in Washington Irving's five-volume, extra-illustrated Life of George Washington (1857).
In his 1849 book The California and Oregon Trail, historian Francis Parkman described his trip through the High Plains, including encounters with Native Americans "in their primitive state." F. O. C. Darley's studies of Native Americans on horseback served as the basis for his frontispiece to Parkman's book.
Capt. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. served in the 20th Massachusetts Infantry during the Civil War, alongside other Harvard graduates. Holmes went on to become one of the most famous Supreme Court justices in U.S. history, earning the nickname "The Great Dissenter."
The dedication of Augustus Saint-Gaudens's memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th Regiment on Boston Common included a procession led by officers and soldiers of the regiment. Sgt. William H. Carney, the flagbearer, became the first black man to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1900.
Gen. Joseph Warren, president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and the man who enlisted Paul Revere and William Dawes to ride from Boston to Lexington on their "midnight ride," died at Breed's Hill in June 1775. This sword is believed to have belonged to him.
In his diary, Boston merchant John Rowe recorded the events of the Boston Massacre on 5 March 1770, as well as significant related events, including the trials of Capt. Thomas Preston in October and the soldiers in November. He wrote, "The Inhabitants are greatly enragd and not without Reason."
John Singer Sargent was one of the leading portrait painters of his generation. This portrait of the distinguished Boston lawyer William C. Endicott, Jr. is representative of Sargent's exquisite style. Endicott served as president of the MHS from 1927 to 1936.
Capt. Jonathan W. Walker was an ardent abolitionist who was convicted and sentenced for attempting to assist seven escaped slaves to freedom in 1844. His hand was branded with the letters "SS" for "slave stealer," as shown in this daguerreotype photograph by Southworth and Hawes. The reverse image, consistent with the daguerreotype process, depicts Walker's right hand.
This pastel portrait of Abigail Adams was painted by Benjamin Blyth of Salem. This and Blyth's companion portrait of John Adams are the earliest known likenesses of the couple. It was painted shortly after the Adams' marriage when Blyth was just 20 years old.
This Boston broadside lists the names of provincial men killed, wounded, or missing after the battles of Lexington and Concord. Asterisks indicate those "killed by the first Fire of the Regulars." Named among the wounded is the Lexington slave Prince Estabrook, the first black soldier of the Revolution.