In Search of Mercy Otis Warren

By Elaine Grublin

For almost sixty years the MHS has been home to the Mercy Otis Warren Papers, a manuscript collection comprised of three boxes of loose manuscripts and a large letterbook volume. Primarily the correspondence of noted author, historian, and patriot Mercy Otis Warren, this collection is rich with material concerning the political climate in Massachusetts before, during, and in the aftermath of the American Revolution.  Available on microfilm in the MHS library, this collection attracts the attention of a wide range of researchers including people working on projects involving the study of the American Revolution, the role of women in early American life, friendship networks, the art of letter writing, the relationships between gender and state, and those that are simply Mercy Otis Warren enthusiasts.   

This collection has always held special interest for me and I have enjoyed having the opportunity to meet with many of the researchers that have worked on Mercy Otis Warren projects here at the MHS.  In an attempt to learn more about Mercy, I struck out and visited Plymouth, MA — the town in which Mercy lived most of her adult life — to visit her gravesite and her home.  

The grave of Mercy Otis Warren is located in Burial Hill Cemetary, just off of Leyden Street in Plymouth.  The Warren plot — easy to find just to the right of the main path through the cemetery — contains stones for Mercy and her husband James Warren, in addition to several of James Warren’s ancestors. Mercy Otis Warren died October 19, 1814, at the age of 86.  

The Winslow Warren House stands on the corner of North and Main Streets in Plymouth, a short walk from the cemetery.  This structure was built in 1726 by John Winslow, a British General and grandson of Edward Winslow, one of the original inhabitants of the Plymouth colony.  Mercy and James Warren moved into the house in 1757.  It was in this house that Mercy wrote her satirical plays and her three volume History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution

Although these sites are located quite a distance from the MHS, they are well worth the visit for any Mercy Otis Warren enthusiast and are a perfect complement to a research visit to our library. 

Pardon Our Appearance….

By Anne Bentley, Curator of Art

Pardon our appearance while we prepare for our new gallery in the second floor lobby…

We are about to install the first of a series of changing exhibitions in our new MHS “Treasures Gallery,” an intimate space designed to highlight the extraordinary materials in our collection.  The art and sculpture have been cleared from the area and the Saltonstall Gun, our noble War of 1812 cannon, and “Paul and Virginie,” our pair of 18th century polychrome lead garden statues, have been moved across the landing in preparation for painting and the construction of display walls.

How does one move a 1,200-pound cannon and lead sculptures with fragile antique wire armatures?  Very gingerly.  A four-man team from U.S. Art Company, Inc. carefully positioned the cannon on heavy plastic before cinching it with straps and slowly hauling it across the marble floor to position it against the stair rail. Levers, shims, protective foam, and blankets all came into play as each phase of the move was planned and executed.

The MHS staff has moved the garden statues several times in the past: an unnerving experience which convinced us that they are best left to the professionals.  The U.S. Art team shrink-wrapped each sculpture base to its wooden plinth, then eased the heavy plastic sheet under the plinth and secured it to a winch attached to a marble column. 

With guardians to monitor the sculpture for any untoward movement, each statue was slowly pulled across the room, inch by inch, until the crew could position the sculpture by hand and lever out the plastic sheet.

After rehanging the front stair art, the crew was done and our space cleared for the next step to prepare the gallery for the first of our Treasures exhibitions, “’Like a Wolf for the Prey’: The Massachusetts Historical Society Collection Begins,” scheduled to open in the fall. Keep your eye on our website for more details.

This Week @ MHS

By Elaine Grublin

Looking for a way to beat the heat?  Come on in and enjoy the air-conditioning at the MHS. Our exhibition History Drawn with Light is open Monday through Saturday, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Browse over 50 historical photographs — starting with the oldest daguerreotype in our collection, Old Feather Store (1840), and ranging through to the work of photographer Francis Blake who experimented with high-speed photography in the late 19th century — and spend time browsing our reference set of books about photography available in the exhibition area.  

On Saturday morning, our guided building tour The History and Collections of the MHS begins at 10:00 AM in our front lobby.  This ninety minute tour explores the art and architecture of the MHS, with a knowledgeable guide ready to answer your questions.   


Commemorating the American Civil War

By Elaine Grublin

Back in January I posted an announcement about our (then) newest web feature Looking at the Civil War: Massachusetts Finds Her Voice. That project was the first of many projects and events planned by the MHS to mark the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War.  While that project is going strong — we are seven months and seven documents into the fifty-three month project — many of our other Civil War related projects are just heating up and are not to be missed. 

You can visit our Commemorating the Civil War page to stay informed about upcoming events and projects happening at the MHS.  Currently there are listings for three upcoming public programs (in August, September, and November) and an upcoming exhibition opening in early October.  There is also information about educational resources and upcoming publication projects.

The Commemorating the Civil War page will be updated throughout the years of the sesquicentennial as new events & projects are added.  Be sure to bookmark the page so that you do not miss anything. 


This Week @ MHS

By Elaine Grublin

Looking for something to do while on vacation this week?  Plan on visiting the MHS to attend one of the following events:

In partnership with The Forbes House Museum in Milton, the MHS is offering a three day workshop on July 12, 13, & 14.  The workshop, Three days, Three Viewpoints: The Worlds of Thomas Hutchinson, offers participants the opportunity to delve deep into the life of Thomas Hutchinson, the last civilian colonial governor of Massachusetts.  The workshop takes place at both the MHS and the Forbes House Mueseum on alternating days.  Learn more here.  The workshop is open to the public but registration and payment of the registration fee are required.  K-12 educators can earn 18 PDPs by attending the special classroom session from 2:30 to 3:30 each day. 

For those with less than three days to spare, on Wednesday, July 13, current research fellow Sean Patrick Adams, University of Florida, will present his research at a brown-bag lunch program.  Sean’s project Home Fires Burning: Keeping Warm in the Industrial North explores the shifts in home heating from the rise of coal in the 1810s and 1820s, through the rise of steam and gas heating systems in the 1870s and 1880s. 

On Saturday, July 16 our ninety-minute building tour, The History and Collections of the MHS, departs the front lobby at 10:00 AM. 

And did you know that due to popular demand our exhibition History Drawn with Light: Early Photographs from the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society will remain open through September 17.  Gather the family together and stop by the MHS to check out the exhibition.  The gallery is open Monday through Saturday, 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. 

Reader Services By the Numbers

By Elaine Grublin

As the fiscal year comes to a close it is time to examine the statistics the reader services staff compiles over the course of the year.  Here is a quick rundown of what FY2011 brought to the MHS library. 

 The library was open 287 days with an average daily attendance of 9.6 researchers.      

 We were visited by 1353 individual researchers for a total of 2766 research visits.

 718 of our researchers were using the MHS library for the first time.          

 Of those first time visitors, 314 were Massachusetts residents, 357 were out-of-state visitors, and 47 were foreign nationals.  In all we had visitors from 40 different states and more than 20 countries.

The reader services staff paged 2888 manuscripts requests and 1900 printed materials requests.  Considering that most requests require multiple boxes or volumes, that is a lot of material paged.

 Because not every researcher that uses MHS resources can visit us in person the reader services staff also answered 1335 reference emails, 70 mailed reference letters, and 1260 reference phone calls.  

The library has been experiencing a steady increase in both total readers and new readers over the past few years.  Here is hoping that trend continues into FY2012     

This Week @ MHS

By Elaine Grublin

Please join us this week for one of our scheduled programs:

On Wednesday, 6 July at noon current Andrew W. Mellon fellow Andrew Lipman, Syracuse University, will present his research
The Saltwater Frontier: Algonquians and the Transformation of Long Island Sound in the Seventeenth Century at a brown-bag lunch program.  You bring the lunch, we provide the beverages. 

And on Saturday, 9 July, our ninety-minute building tour The History & Collections of the MHS starts in our front lobby at 10:00 AM. 

July 2nd … Come Celebrate Independence @ the MHS

By Elaine Grublin

Writing to his wife Abigail on 3 July 1776 John Adams noted:

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America.—I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival.  It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty.  It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

Many would argue that Adams had it right, and we — celebrating on the 4th — have it wrong.  The Second Continental Congress actually voted to declare our independence from Britain on July 2nd, making Saturday the anniversary of our true Independence Day. 

If you are in Boston on Saturday and are looking for something special to do, plan on stopping by the MHS to see John Adams’ letter and a number of other special documents relating to America’s independence on display in our exhibition hall.

In addition to Adams’ letter visitors to the MHS can view a manuscript copy of the Declaration of Independence in the hand of Thomas Jefferson and a twentieth-century facsimile of John Dunlap’s printing — the first printing — of the Declaration of Independence by the Lakeside Press.  The original broadside was completed by Dunlap, the official printer for the Congress, in the early morning of 5 July 1776, after which it was immediately disseminated throughout the colonies.

The exhibition halls will be open from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM on Saturday and are free and open to the public.  Call the MHS at 617-536-1608 if you have questions about planning your visit.

If you cannot visit the MHS in person on Saturday, be sure to explore the online display of many of your Indepedence Day related holdings