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Beehive series: Collections News

Glimpses of Harbottle Dorr, Jr.

The Massachusetts Historical Society has a collection of 796 newspapers dating from 1765-1776, collected, annotated, and indexed by a Boston man named Harbottle Dorr, Jr. This collection is comprised of 4 volumes containing 3,674 pages. Of that total number of pages, 3,314 are newspapers; 133 are handwritten index pages; and 227 are pamphlets and some introductory pages. Last summer when the MHS purchased volume 4, the collection was finally reunited!  Volumes 2 and 3 had been donated to MHS in 1798 and in 1915, the MHS purchased volume 1.  Please see the press release describing the exciting acquisition of volume 4 in 2011.

Harbottle Dorr, Jr. (1730-1794) was a shopkeeper, a member of the Sons of Liberty, and served as a Boston selectman for many years (but not all the years) between 1777 and 1791. Beginning in 1765, Dorr spent a dozen years purchasing newspapers, writing comments in margins (as well as inserting reference marks in articles), and assembling indexes. Bernard Bailyn, who wrote the essential essay about the annotated newspapers and their annotator, stated, "Dorr was an ordinary active participant in the Revolution. That is why what he began in 1765 and completed some twelve years later is so extraordinarily revealing."** 

The annotated newspapers convey Dorr’s words and perspective on what he witnessed as a Boston citizen during the years leading up to the American Revolution. The MHS is currently digitizing the annotated newspapers and this project will be completed in early 2013. As we work on the digital project, we’d like to share a few glimpses of Harbottle Dorr, Jr. living and working in Boston.

On 14 August 1769, Harbottle Dorr, Jr. Detail of Sons of Liberty Dinner Listattended a dinner of the Sons of Liberty at Liberty Tree Tavern in Dorchester. A handwritten list by William Palfrey (who eventually became paymaster of the Continental Army during the Revolution), states the names of the 300 men who attended the event. Harbottle’s name appears below Ebenezer Dorr, who was probably Harbottle’s younger brother. 

Harbottle’s handwritten introduction to his third assembled volume of newspapers indicates that he worked on his annotation project at his store. Dorr acknowledges that some of his marginalia includes misspelled words “which I hope whoever peruses will excuse, especially as they were wrote at my Shop amidst my business, when I had not leisure to be exact.” 

Clipping of page 3 of 15 January 1770 issue of Boston GazetteA newspaper advertisement appearing in the 15 January 1770 issue of the Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal (on page 3) indicates that Dorr sold many kinds of nails and different types of steel in his shop located on Union Street. His inventory included jobents (nails used to fasten hinges and/or other thin iron plates to doors and window frames), deck nails (nails used to fasten planks to the decks of ships), German steel, and English steel. These details help us formulate a picture of Harbottle Dorr--at the counter of his shop, surrounded by hardware, with a newspaper open in front of him, writing in the margins in between transactions with customers.

Dorr’s funeral was held on 7 June 1794.  The Columbian Centinel from that day included the following notice (on page 3) but didn’t mention the precise date of Dorr’s death: 

In this town, Harbottle Dorr, Esq. Æt. 64. A number of years one of the Selectmen of Boston, which he served with honor and integrity.  His funeral will be from the house of Mr. Thomas Capen, in Cross-street this afternoon at 5 o’clock, which his relations and friends are requested to attend.

 

**Bernard Bailyn, "The Index and Commentaries of Harbottle Dorr" in Faces of Revolution: Personalities and Themes in the Struggle for American Independence (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), 85-103. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 16 August, 2012, 8:00 AM

Guide to the Catharine Maria Sedgwick Papers Now Online

The MHS is pleased to announce that the collection guide to the Catharine Maria Sedgwick papers is now online. This is a very heavily used collection, and we hope the new guide will encourage even more scholarship about this interesting woman, her work, and her family.

Engraving of Catharine Maria Sedgwick from Life & Letters (Harper & Bro, 1871)Catharine Maria Sedgwick (1789-1867) was a member of the illustrious Sedgwick family of western Massachusetts and a prolific antebellum author. She wrote many novels and short stories between 1822 and 1862, including A New-England Tale, Redwood, Hope Leslie, Clarence, The Linwoods, and Married or Single? Very popular in her time and praised by many of her contemporaries, including William Cullen Bryant, James Fenimore Cooper, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Harriet Martineau, and Edgar Allan Poe, Sedgwick was largely overlooked by scholars in the century following her death, and most of her books were out of print for decades. Recently, however, there has been a resurgence of interest in her life and work.

The Catharine Maria Sedgwick papers at the MHS actually consist of three separate sub-collections of papers acquired in installments between 1954 and 1965. In 1981, the three sub-collections were microfilmed together onto 18 reels of film, but the original three-part arrangement was retained, and each part was described and indexed separately. The paper guide ran to over 120 pages, and because of the overlap of subjects, dates, and correspondents across all three parts, using the collection could be a challenge, to say the least.

Now, thanks to a grant from the Sedgwick Family Charitable Trust, the new and improved Catharine Maria Sedgwick guide is available to researchers both on and offsite. Since we didn’t have the option of physically rearranging the collection itself, we concentrated on improving access to it by substantially revising the old paper guide. Among other changes, we combined the three indexes into one, enhanced descriptions of the volumes, and added a biographical sketch, timeline, and links to related collections at the MHS.

 Please take a look at the new Catharine Maria Sedgwick collection guide.

comments: 1 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 2 May, 2012, 10:00 AM

A New Collection Guide for the Charitable Irish Society Records

Last year, the Massachusetts Historical Society received a grant to process the records of the Charitable Irish Society of Boston. Thanks to that grant, this popular collection has now been fully arranged and described, and a guide is available online.

The Charitable Irish Society, an organization that still operates today, was founded in 1737 by a group of prominent Irish businessmen in Boston to provide charitable assistance to Irish immigrants in the city. In early years this assistance consisted largely of loans and help finding work. Today the organization also provides information about employment & housing, promotes the study of Irish history, honors the contributions of the Irish, and actively engages in political issues affecting Irish Americans. Though the papers of this organization have been used by many researchers in their partially processed state since they were first given to the MHS over 30 years ago, a more thorough processing of any collection often uncovers hidden gems. The Charitable Irish Society records were no exception.

Some of the interesting discoveries include:

 1. Seven years of reports (1910-1917) by immigration agent Julia C. Hayes describing specific cases of Irish immigrants, mostly girls and women, looking for work and/or relatives in the United States. Hayes met them as they disembarked at the Boston docks. Her reports describe the immigrants’ home lives, their difficulties finding work, even some deportations. Here’s an excerpt from Nov. 1914:

While visiting the Immigration Office the agent [that is, Hayes herself] saw an old case in the detention room, a girl who had been followed up for a time about a year ago….The girl had a bad reputation at the factory where she had been employed and had succeeded in getting herself in the newspapers. She was taken from a questionable house some weeks ago and will probably be deported as a young woman of bad character.

 The reports are a fascinating slice of social history. For a great description of this port assistance program and the work of Julia C. Hayes, see American Catholic Lay Groups and Transatlantic Social Reform in the Progressive Era, by Deirdre M. Moloney (2002), p. 102-109.

 2. A volume of records of the Young Catholics’ Friend Society (1835-1842) containing detailed minutes and reports on the organization’s work running a Sunday School for boys and distributing clothes to the poor. The volume was originally attributed to another organization, the Roman Catholic Youth’s Society, but those records make up only the first few pages.

 3. Papers related to the Irish potato famine, including a list of Wrentham, Mass. citizens who contributed money “for the relief of the Starving population of Ireland” (8 Mar. 1847) and a certificate appointing Captain Douglas William Parish Labalmondiere inspector under the Irish Poor Law (2 Mar. 1849), signed by George William Frederick, Earl of Clarendon.

 4. Correspondence from many notable people, including Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, Herbert Hoover, Alfred E. Smith, Helen H. Taft, Franklin Roosevelt, and Leverett Saltonstall, who all wrote to the Charitable Irish Society between 1910 and 1939. One of the early record books also contains a copy of a long letter by Theodore Roosevelt (6 Nov. 1908) about the intersection of religion and politics. In it, Roosevelt writes:

 I believe that this republic will endure for many centuries. If so, there will doubtless be among its Presidents Protestants and Catholics, and very probably at some time, Jews. I have consistently tried while President to act in relation to my fellow Americans of Catholic faith as I hope that any future President who happens to be a Catholic will act toward his fellow Americans of Protestant faith. Had I followed any other course I should have felt that I was unfit to represent the American people.

 5. Some papers and printed matter related to Ireland’s struggle for independence, including a typewritten memorandum by republican leader Eamon de Valera ordering a ceasefire after the Irish Civil War of 1922-1923. The memo, dated Sep. 1923, is written on the letterhead of the Irish Republican Army and reads, in part:

Do not let sorrow overwhelm you. Your efforts and the sacrifices of your dead comrades in this forlorn hope will surely bear fruit….Seven years of intense efforts have exhausted our people….Give them a little time and you will yet see them recover and rally again to the standard. They will then quickly discover who have been selfless and who selfish—who have spoken the truth and who falsehood.

If your interest is piqued, and you would like to view the papers in person, you can plan a visit to the MHS library during our business hours or contact our reference librarian.   

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 20 May, 2011, 10:00 AM

New @ the MHS: Winslow Family Memorial

The Massachusetts Historical Society recently acquired a very interesting manuscript collection called the Winslow Family Memorial (Ms. N-2322). Begun by Boston merchant Isaac Winslow (1774-1856) in about 1837 and continued after his death by his daughter Margaret Catharine Winslow, this unique manuscript tells the story of the Winslow family in England and America from approximately 1620 to 1839. The bulk of the Memorial deals with political matters in early America, including the life of Isaac’s father Isaac Winslow (1743-1793), a Loyalist in Boston during the Revolutionary War. A combination of memoir, genealogy, and political history, the manuscript incorporates first-hand accounts of important events (excerpted from correspondence and diaries of various family members), interspersed with personal reflections and reminiscences by both Isaac and Margaret.

Though the Memorial fills only two manuscript boxes, its catalog record and online collection guide are extensive. This is because of the vast scope of the material; the manuscript touches on most of the major historical events that occurred in America and Europe between 1620 and 1839. Not just the American Revolution, but the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the War of 1812 figure prominently. Other subjects include state and national politics, Federalism and Anti-Federalism, commerce and trade, slavery, smallpox, the development of the Sandemanian Church (of which the Winslows were members), and Isaac’s two trips to Europe and the Mediterranean in 1795 and 1796. The Memorial also contains philosophical digressions, depictions of family relationships, and a poignant description of the depression and suicide of Isaac’s father.

The collection consists of five volumes: three volumes of unbound pages (many with additional material attached) and two bound volumes. Isaac’s portion begins with a preface addressed to his daughter Margaret:

The present work whether viewed as autography Biography or even Family history is certainly digressive, and were I to rewrite it much would be lop’d of[f], especially if I supposed it was intended for publication—Such not being the case I leave the work as it is, assured that you my dear daughter will not suspect me of Ancestral Pride so vain yet so common to man. No New Englander ought to have this, and yet none are without it.

He continues:

The love of family is in fact but the love of country on a smaller scale. Both perhaps are a sort of instinctive feeling, but not the less agreeable for being natural—Both look with the eyes of affection and interest not only on the present, but on the past. The history of what has been, has always been interesting to man, especially of his own country—how much more so is the history of that part of his country, in which he is more immediately concerned, his own family. He feels as if he was a party in the events and circumstances in which his predecessors were actors, or sufferers. He exults in their success, sympathizes with their misfortunes, rejoices in their happiness, and feels grieved at their afflictions.

The Winslow Family Memorial was transcribed in 2009-2010 by the donor of the collection, Dr. Robert W. Newsom of the University of California, Irvine. Dr. Newsom’s transcriptions, which also contain chapter abstracts and extensive footnotes, are a great resource for researchers, so the MHS has incorporated his work into our collection guide. The guide for the Memorial, broken down by volume and chapter, includes links to Dr. Newsom’s transcriptions and detailed descriptions of each volume in PDF format.

This manuscript is a valuable addition to the many other collections at the MHS related to the Winslows. It also offers unique insight into a prominent New England family who lived through some of the greatest upheavals in early American history.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 15 April, 2011, 10:00 AM

New Acquisition: William Dawes Account Book

The Massachusetts Historical Society has recently acquired a rare account book of William Dawes, Jr. (Ms. N-2321 Tall; catalog record), the man most famous for riding with Paul Revere on the night of 18 April 1775 to warn the inhabitants of Lexington and Concord that British regulars were on the march. John Hancock and Samuel Adams, then at Lexington, were in imminent danger of arrest. Dr. Joseph Warren commissioned Revere and the 30-year-old Dawes - a Boston militiaman and member of the Sons of Liberty - to spread the warning. Though neither man reached Concord, Dawes' achievement that night was as great, and arguably even greater, than Revere's: his land route over the Boston Neck was longer, and he managed to escape the British ambush in which Revere was captured. But Dawes' role in the "midnight ride" has largely been overlooked, due in part to the popular poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which credited Revere with sole responsibility.

When he wasn't rousing the colonists to revolt, Dawes worked as a tanner and grocer in Boston. During the Siege of Boston, he moved his growing family to Worcester and served in the war effort as quartermaster for the colonial troops. After the Revolution, he returned to Boston. This account book documents in detail his tanning and grocery business from 1788 to his death in 1799. Dawes had extensive dealings with a wide range of Massachusetts merchants and tradespeople, including shoemakers, carpenters, printers, ship captains, hatmakers, and blacksmiths, to name just a few. Neatly itemized in this tall, narrow ledger book are cash transactions, sales, and purchases of textiles, skins, tools, rum, tea, tobacco, candles, indigo, and many other products.

Many of the names that appear in Dawes' account book are those of well-known New England families: Adams, Fessenden, Parsons, Sweetser. Also included are a handful of women, among them Susanna Wiley and Mrs. Elizabeth Belcher, as well as one man called simply "Cato, a black man." Dawes also lists transactions with his sons William and Charles.

One intriguing entry reads: "This day (Sept 25th 1797.) I formally demanded my horse, of Mr. Saml Adams, Truckman, occupier of Lovell's Island (so called) at present Sd Adams, who took charge of the Horse, to pasture on Sd Island (1797. Augt 2d) says the horse is killed.........By whom?"

What makes this acquisition exciting is that so few records exist of Dawes' life and work, and very little is known about him except for his famous ride. The MHS appears to hold most of the extant papers related to Dawes and his family, but these consist of only a few small collections. This volume shines new light on the life of a man whose legacy has remained in relative (and undeserved) obscurity.

 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Tuesday, 16 November, 2010, 8:18 AM

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