The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: Collections News

Harbottle Dorr Launched

The Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) holds an important collection of Revolutionary-era newspapers assembled, annotated, and indexed by a Bostonian shopkeeper named Harbottle Dorr, Jr. The Society has just launched a digital presentation of this collection. Dorr's index terms and annotations offer a fascinating glimpse into his perspective and reactions to events, issues, and people discussed in newspapers of his time.

On Monday, 27 August 2012, I posted on The Idiosyncratic Index Subjects of Harbottle Dorr, Jr. In that blog post, I highlighted some of the more quirky index entries from Volumes 1 and 2 of the Harbottle Dorr, Jr. Annotated Newspapers collection, and also mentioned that a second posting would be forthcoming. Were you holding your breath? The wait is over! You can exhale now.

Volume 3

Cold Water, the Pernicious effects of drinking too much in hot weather &c. 212
Dogs Mad, Symptoms of 11
Drowned Persons Recover’d 638
Earth opening & swallowing Person's at Quebec     601
Mcdougal Capt. presented with venison (in Prison)     50
Rum Danger of drawing it by candlelight      192
Speaker of the House of Commons in Great Britain Sir John Cust died because the House would not let him go to ease the Calls of Nature; They Alter that Custom      85
Tea, Ladies of Boston sign not to drink any vid. Under Agreement 31.
Thunder Terrible, Broke on a Magazine & produced terrible Consequences. 418.

Volume 4

Auctioneer put up the Ministry for sale. 470.
America of what vast importance to Great Britain: the extent of it: will be the greatest Empire in the World: the King of Great Britain in time it's probable will fix his empire there, & great Britain become dependant on her, &c. 148.
Denmark Queen of, imprisoned (for attempting to poison the King.) with her paramour, &c. 52.
Deposition of John Mills, respecting a Tar Barrel put on the Beacon. 328.
Goal never intended as a place of Punishment. 24.
Giant at Hingham. 194.
Gun Powder Since found out, mens lives have been preserved, & c, & c, * 891.
Herculaneum City of in Naples, discovered, after being 1700 years buried by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius. 77.
Hillsborough Lord, on his intended resignation: a miserable wretched Creature. 164
Lemmons, wine, &c: a great hardship, to oblige the Americans to enter them in England. 198.
Snow, will make Puddings in the Room of Eggs. 223.

The indexes are now all transcribed and encoded, and available on the new website ( The MHS has worked hard to make it as easy to use as possible, and are confident you will find the images stunningly clear and, while Harbottle Dorr, Jr. did have very good handwriting, we hope that the transcriptions provided will be accurate and helpful.

Since I have your attention, perhaps you will allow a sidebar? We are not yet presenting on the website transcriptions of the annotations from the newspaper issues themselves, but in working with the newspapers and their digital surrogates, we noticed from time to time humorous marginal commentary. Here is one such annotation that Dorr made to a speech by "his Excellency Sir Francis Bernard," which was published in The Boston Evening-Post from 3 June 1765. It is in Volume 1, numbered by Dorr page 95: "This Speech the House did not Answer, perhaps they did not understand it. Who could?"

Not thinking myself better than Dorr, I have endeavored to read and understand Bernard's Speech. Bernard begins by admitting, "I have no Orders from his Majesty to communicate to you; nor any thing to offer myself but what relates to your internal Policy: I shall therefore take this Opportunity to point out such domestic Business as more immediately deserves your attention." I take this that the gentlemen of the council were hijacked – as you are right now by me – by Bernard's ego! The rest of the speech is on Bernard's desire to see an increased production and export of "Pot-Ash, Hemp and the carrying Lumber to the British Markets."

Harbottle adds another personal opinion on two of Bernard statements in this same speech:

"The general Settlement of the American Provinces, which has been long ago proposed, and now probably will be prosecuted to its utmost Completion, must necessarily produce some Regulations, which, from their Novelty only, will appear disagreeable"


"In an Empire, extended and diversified as that of Great-Britain, there must be a supreme Legislature, to which all other Powers must be subordinate."

To these Dorr writes, "Now the Wolf shews himself notwithstanding his Sheeps Cloathing."



comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 1 May, 2013, 1:00 AM

A Massive Machine for a Massive Job: Digitizing 55,000 Pages of China Trade Material

The Library Collections Services department is always a busy place, but this fall is an especially active time on the third floor.  As the behind-the-scenes arm of the library, our department is responsible for the acquisition, cataloging, processing, preservation, conservation, and digitization of our collections, but in addition to our regular ongoing digitization projects, we are playing host to a large-scale scanning project for the next four to five months. The MHS has contracted with Adam Matthew Digital, Ltd., a British publisher of digital collections sold to libraries, to supply somewhere in the neighborhood of 55,000 manuscript pages to a forthcoming multi-archive digital publication, China, America and the Pacific: Trade and Cultural Exchange.  Adam Matthew has contracted, in turn, with Luna Imaging in Los Angeles to do the scanning.  In late August, Luna shipped all of the equipment shown here and sent a representative to install and test it and train a scanning technician.  The technician, shown here, is now hard at work scanning correspondence, account books, ships’ logs, and letterbooks from multiple collections, including the extensive Forbes Family Papers.  Other highlights of the final product, scheduled for release in late 2013, will include the manuscript of Richard Henry Dana’s seminal work, Two Years Before the Mast, and Robert Haswell’s log of the Columbia-Rediviva, the first vessel to circumnavigate the globe

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 21 September, 2012, 8:00 AM

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

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