Unique set of Revolutionary-Era Newspaper Volumes Reunited at the MHS
The Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) announced today the acquisition of the fourth volume of a set of Revolutionary-era Boston newspapers collected, annotated, and indexed by Harbottle Dorr, Jr., from 1765-1776. With the other three volumes already in the Society’s collections, volume four, covering the years 1772-1776, completes the set as originally compiled by Dorr. It was auctioned at James D. Julia, Inc., an auction house in Fairfield, Maine, on August 25. The purchase was made possible through a combination of gifts to the MHS from anonymous donors and a distribution from the Society’s acquisition fund.
The MHS is thrilled to have all four volumes under one roof. “This new acquisition is a wonderful complement to the Society’s collections,” explains Dennis Fiori, President of the Massachusetts Historical Society. “This was a rare opportunity to acquire a piece of such historical importance. Not only are we reuniting a set of significant resources on the Revolution, but we are ensuring that it remains part of the public domain.”
Though not a household name, Harbottle Dorr, Jr., a shopkeeper in Boston at the time of the American Revolution, is an important historical figure due to the remarkable archive of Boston newspapers he collected between 1765 and 1776. Dorr systematically indexed the contents of the newspapers, and, as he was well versed in the heated politics of his day, he often noted the identities of anonymous contributors. The annotated volumes provide the insights of an ordinary man as the Revolution unfolded around him. In the introduction to volume four, Dorr writes, “I have thought it worth while to collect them, tho’ at considerable expence, and VERY GREAT TROUBLE, in hopes that in future, they may be of some service, towards forming a POLITICAL History of this Country, during the shameful, and abandoned administration of George the third’s despotic Ministry.”
Former MHS Trustee Bernard Bailyn, Adams University Professor and James Duncan Phillips Professor of Early American History, emeritus, at Harvard University, notes, “… those rare records that reveal what the Revolution meant to ordinary men who experienced it…. The more ordinary the mind and the more typical the career, the more valuable the documentation, and there is no more ordinary active participant in the Revolution and no one who left behind a more revealing record of the inner, personal meaning of the Revolution than a Boston shopkeeper with the unlikely name of Harbottle Dorr. His passionately patriotic scribbling in the margins of the newspapers and pamphlets he collected and his comments in his superbly confused indexes to his volumes are unique in the literature of the Revolution."
Dorr divided his archive of 3,280 pages of newspapers and other documents, including pamphlets, political cartoons, and broadsheets, into four volumes. Volumes two and three were donated to the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1798 by Josiah Quincy. The first volume was acquired by the Society in 1888. The fourth volume, dating from 1772-1776, has been in the possession of the Bangor Museum and Center for History in Maine since 1914 when it was donated by Thomas Upham Coe.