Digital Resource Highlight: The Annotated Newspapers of Harbottle Dorr, Jr.

By Viv Williams, Processing Assistant and Library Assistant

An MHS-seasoned revolutionary-era researcher may already be well acquainted with The Annotated Newspapers of Harbottle Dorr, Jr. The collection was acquired in pieces between 1798 and 2011, and the web page for the fully digitized collection was launched in 2013. The launch announcement can be found in a previous blog post. It consists of four digitized volumes of Boston newspapers and pamphlets spanning 1765-1776. All collected and annotated by a Mr. Harbottle Dorr, Jr.

The homepage notes that Mr. Dorr was a Boston merchant and Son of Liberty whose main intention in collecting these newspapers and pamphlets was to preserve a “political history” that would well-document that riveting and “revolutionary,” if you will, time that he was inhabiting.  Much like Lin Manuel’s Schuyler sisters, Dorr was well aware of how lucky he was to be alive “right now.” Dorr’s closeness with the politics of the time lends a unique and insightful commentary which he left for us in the form of annotations and an incredibly thorough index of the collection. In many cases, he has identified the authors of entries that would otherwise be anonymous. Dorr further explains his motivations for compiling the newspapers in his written introduction to the collection.

This resource has proved to be vastly invaluable to researchers, providing a wealth of insight into not only the way major events of the revolution were being reported, but also aspects of daily life. In fact, one of the more popular uses for the collection is actually seeking out the advertisements. There are many reasons a historian might study advertisements from a colonial newspaper such as accumulating data on the typical occupations of an area or economic status, general cost and use of different materials, dietary customs, tracking the provenance of an item, or tracing the trafficking of enslaved people. At Assumption College in Worcester, MA, students studying Colonial America, Revolutionary America, Research Methods, and Public History have pulled from the Harbottle Dorr Newspapers to contribute to a project called the Adverts 250 Project. This project allows students to study 18th century advertising by sharing and reflecting on different newspaper advertisements on their 250th anniversary of being published.

While vastly invaluable, the collection can also be vastly intimidating to beginner researchers. It is, well… vast… after all. The collection consists of thirteen different titles documenting both Patriot and Loyalist sympathies and sentiments, including: The Boston Evening-Post; The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal; The Massachusetts Gazette: and the Boston Weekly News-Letter; and the The New-England Chronicle: or, the Essex Gazette. There are 805 issues coming out to a whopping 3,969 digital images to browse through. Those numbers could make anyone feel like they need a little hand-holding, but don’t you worry. I’m a reference librarian, and I’m happy to hold your hand through it right after I finish giving a round of applause to our digital team for all their hard work *claps*.

Much effort was devoted to making all 3,969 images easily browsable and searchable. In addition to a content outline of each volume, the collection is also browseable by date, newspaper or pamphlet title, and of course volume. Remember those indexes I mentioned? Well it turns out there are about 5,000 entries, and they are often long-winded. While the website does not necessarily provide a complete list of the 5,000 index terms, the indexes themselves are digitized, transcribed, and searchable by keyword. You can access this function under the “Search” tab found at the top of the homepage. Upon entering a keyword to search, the platform will provide you with two options. You can either click on individual search results which will take you to indexed instances of the phrase within the newspapers themselves or see the place in the index where the searched term is used. Additionally, there will be a double blue arrow that will allow you to preview the search results in case the commitment of leaving the page for the unknown is too much pressure.

For a more exploratory or experimental researcher, you can try out the search function for Newspaper Descriptions. This search function is still in BETA, at the moment, and only applies to 25 newspapers, but allows a researcher to run searches for title information and complimentary summary texts created for some of the issues in the collection.

If you’ve made it this far, I will leave you with a bonus treasure hunt. The Digital Team has hidden a secret web page within the home page. See if you can locate the secret entry. Hint: What is that finger pointing to?

Further Reading

“Glimpses of Harbottle Dorr, Jr.,” by Nancy Heywood

“The Idiosyncratic Index Subjects of Harbottle Dorr, Jr.,” by Peter K. Steinberg

“Mysteries Solved! Using Harbottle Dorr’s Index to Find Missing Pamphlets,” by Peter K. Steinberg

“Digitizing Dorr’s Annotated Newspapers,” by Laura Wulf.