This Week @ MHS

By Jeremy Dibbell

– On Wednesday, 29 September we’ll host an author talk with Eric Jay Dolin on his new book Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America. Refreshments will be served at 5:30 p.m., with the talk starting at 6 p.m. Registration is required for this event; more info here.

– On Thursday, 30 September, the 2010 Boston Immigration and Urban History Seminar series begins with a talk at 5:15 p.m. by Erika Lee of the University of Minnesota, “Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America.” Mary Lui of Yale University will comment on the paper. Please read the Seminar Series 2010 post for information on MHS Seminars.

New on our Bookshelves

By Jeremy Dibbell

Another of the new publications featuring an MHS collection is Castorland Journal: An Account of the Exploration and Settlement of Northern New York State by French Émigrés in the Years 1793 to 1797, by Simon Desjardins and Pierre Pharoux. This edition, just published by Cornell University Press, was edited by John A Gallucci, Assistant Professor of French at Colgate University, and contains a very useful introduction, footnotes, and appendices.

Desjardins and Pharoux were agents of the French Compagnie de New York, sent to manage the company’s Castorland tract in what are today Lewis and Jefferson Counties. The journal recounts their travels, business meetings (with the likes of Philip Schuyler, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and Aaron Burr) and the many obstacles they faced.

The original Castorland journal was given to the Historical Society in September 1863 by William Appleton, after having been found and purchased in a Paris bookstall. Our Proceedings (Vol. VII, p. 145) record “The President [Robert C. Winthrop] presented, on behalf of William Appleton, Esq., a volume, chiefly in manuscript, entitled ‘Journal de Castorland, – Relation du Voyage et des Etablissements des Emigrés Français dans l’Amérique Septentrionale,’ &c., 1793-1796. Voted, That the thanks of the Society be presented to Mr. Appleton for this acceptable donation.”

Gallucci’s edition of Castorland Journal is currently on our display shelves in the library for easy access, and the original journal (catalog record) is here and available for use on microfilm.

MHS Members Gone Bad

By Jeremy Dibbell

I suspect every membership-based organization has some stories about the members that have warranted expulsion over the years. The MHS kicked out three members in its first two decades (but has used the practice very sparingly – if at all – ever since). What did those members do to warrant removal from our membership rolls?

The first two expelled members were booted at the same meeting, on 20 July 1797. The Proceedings (Vol. I, p. 106) record: “Whereas Edmund Randolph and William Blount, who have been elected Corresponding Members of this Society, are, in our opinion, unworthy of our confidence; therefore, Voted, That they be no longer considered as Corresponding Members.” The motion passed without dissent. Randolph, the the Attorney General of the United States, was nominated by Jeremy Belknap and elected to Corresponding Membership on 23 October 1792. Blount was at the time of his expulsion a fairly new member, having just been elected on 25 October 1796.

Why the boot? Randolph had resigned as Secretary of State in 1795 after a scandal involving intercepted messages from the French government that were reportedly embarrassing to the Washington Administration. Blount, a United States Senator representing the new state of Tennessee, had been caught up in a scheme to incite the Creek and Cherokee Indians to provide assistance to the British in an invasion of Spanish West Florida. He was impeached by the House of Representatives on 7 July 1797 (for “a high misdemeanor, entirely inconsistent with his public duty and trust as a Senator”), and expelled by the Senate the following day. Twelve days later, the Historical Society acted as well.

The third expulsion hit much closer to home. Samuel Turell of Boston, a watchmaker, was elected a Resident Member of the Society in 1793, and served as Cabinet-Keeper from 1793 until 1808. In 1802, Turell requested permission to borrow certain natural history specimens from the Society’s collections for a new museum, which was granted. Five years later, though, the Society got a little anxious about Turell’s Cabinet, and a committee was formed on 25 August 1807 “to demand of Mr. Turell, Cabinet-Keeper, the various articles belonging to the Society which have been in his possession, and to see that they are returned to the Cabinet.”

The committee’s demands went unheeded, and on 27 August 1811 the members of the Society voted to expel Turell from the MHS because he had not returned the articles borrowed from the collections, and had “otherwise acted unworthily as a member.”

In his bicentennial history of the Historical Society, former Director Len Tucker notes “It is not known if Turell ever returned the items he had borrowed.”

This Week @ MHS

By Jeremy Dibbell

Here’s what’s going on this week at 1154 Boylston:

– On Thursday, 23 September from 6-8 p.m. we’ll host a Graduate Student Reception. All graduate students in American history and related subjects are invited to an open house to meet each other and learn about the Society’s resources and programs. Faculty members in these fields are also welcome. Please RSVP by 22 September to Kate Viens (; 617-646-0568).

Please note that the brown-bag lunch scheduled for Wednesday, 22 September has been postponed, and will be rescheduled.

Watch the full calendar for events later in the season.

New on our Shelves: American Insurgents, American Patriots

By Jeremy Dibbell

It’s no exaggeration to say that you could fill a shelf with books coming out this fall which draw on collections or publications of the MHS. I’ll be highlighting some of these in a series of posts, beginning with this one.

T.H. Breen’s American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People (Hill and Wang, 2010) uses as the centerpiece of one very interesting chapter the “Correspondence in 1774 and 1775, Between a Committee of the Town of Boston and Contributors of Donations for the Relief of the Sufferers by the Boston Port Bill,” published in Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 4th Series, Volume IV (1858), pp. 1-279. This volume of the Collections can be read online via Google Books (here) or of course you’re welcome to read the volume here in the library. The original Boston Committee of Donations letterbooks remain in our collections as well; you can see the catalog record for those here.

Stay tuned for more of this fall’s new books, and of course watch our events calendar for all the upcoming author talks and discussions.

This Week @ MHS

By Jeremy Dibbell

Our intense fall events schedule kicks off this week with the first seminar of the season and a brown-bag lunch:

– On Thursday, 16 September, the Boston Early American History Seminar series begins with a talk at 5:15 p.m. by Francis J. Bremer of Millersville University, “Not Quite So Visible Saints: Reexamining Church Membership in Early New England.” Evan Haefeli of Columbia University will comment on the paper. Please read the Seminar Series 2010 post for information on MHS Seminars.

– On Friday, 17 September, we’ll have a brown-bag lunch at 12 noon with current research fellow Sara Damiano of Johns Hopkins University. Sara will talk about her current project, “Financial Credit and Professional Credibility: Lawyers and Laypeople in Eighteenth-Century New England Ports.” More info here.

Also please note that the library will close at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 15 September, for a Board of Trustees event.

Emailed Reference Queries Not Received

By Elaine Grublin

We have recently experienced a problem with the MHS website email.  All emailed queries submitted to the library through the “Contact Us” page on the MHS website between August 19 and September 7 did not reach the library staff.  This includes emails sent to “Ask a Reference Question,” “General Inquiries,” and “Rights and Reproductions.” 

 Unfortunately all of these queries have been lost to the ether.  There is no way to trace the messages nor can the library staff determine who sent them.  If you submitted a query during that time period please re-submit the query either through the repaired “Contact Us” page or by sending an email directly to me at

Our library staff strives to provide timely and thorough reference service to all queries.  We apologize for any inconvenience caused by this email problem. 

The MHS, Now on Facebook

By Jeremy Dibbell

You can now connect with the MHS through Facebook, at As the official announcement in this month’s @MHS puts it, “The page will host news updates, project stories, interesting facts about the Society, links to articles, pictures, and event information. Our fans are encouraged to post comments, upload photos, contribute to discussions, and invite others to join. The MHS Facebook page is accessible for viewing by anyone, but if you wish to receive updates, post messages, or interact with other users, you must have a Facebook account.”

We hope this will provide an active forum for our members, visitors and friends to interact with each other and with the Society.

Seminar Series 2010

By Jeremy Dibbell

The Massachusetts Historical Society sponsors four seminar series, each addressing a diverse range of topics including: Early American History, Environmental History, Immigration & Urban History, and the History of Women & Gender. Seminars are open to everyone. Click on the title of the seminar series for information on this season’s speakers and topics.

Seminar meetings usually revolve around the discussion of a pre-circulated paper. Sessions open with remarks from the essayist and an assigned commentator, after which the discussion is opened to the floor. After each session, the Society serves a light buffet supper. We request that those wishing to stay for supper make reservations in advance by calling 617-646-0540.

We are now offering seminar papers in PDF format at a password-protected web page. Subscribers will receive instructions for accessing the essays when we receive their payment. Annual fees for seminar subscriptions are as follows:

Boston Early American History Seminar: $25 (online)
Environmental History Seminar: $25 (online)
Immigration & Urban History Seminar: $25 (online)

Visit our website to purchase an on-line subscription:

(Visit the Schlesinger Library to subscribe to the History of Women & Gender seminar:

For questions or registration assistance, contact the Research Department: or 617-646-0557.

The fall seminar season begins on 16 September, and all seminars appear in the MHS Events Calendar as well as in each week’s This Week @ MHS blog post.

This Week @ MHS

By Jeremy Dibbell

Please join us on Wednesday, 8 September at 12 noon for a brown-bag lunch talk with research fellow Sarah Keyes of the University of Southern California. Sarah will speak on “Beyond the Plains: Migration to the Pacific and the Reconfiguration of America, 1820-1900.” More info here.