Guide to the Catharine Maria Sedgwick Papers Now Online

By Susan Martin

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.

A New Collection Guide for the Charitable Irish Society Records

By Susan Martin

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.   

New @ the MHS: Winslow Family Memorial

By Susan Martin

The Massachusetts Historical Society recently acquired a very interesting manuscript collection called the Winslow Family Memorial (Ms. N-2322). Begun by Boston merchant Isaac Winslow (1774-1856) in about 1837 and continued after his death by his daughter Margaret Catharine Winslow, this unique manuscript tells the story of the Winslow family in England and America from approximately 1620 to 1839. The bulk of the Memorial deals with political matters in early America, including the life of Isaac’s father Isaac Winslow (1743-1793), a Loyalist in Boston during the Revolutionary War. A combination of memoir, genealogy, and political history, the manuscript incorporates first-hand accounts of important events (excerpted from correspondence and diaries of various family members), interspersed with personal reflections and reminiscences by both Isaac and Margaret.

Though the Memorial fills only two manuscript boxes, its catalog record and online collection guide are extensive. This is because of the vast scope of the material; the manuscript touches on most of the major historical events that occurred in America and Europe between 1620 and 1839. Not just the American Revolution, but the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the War of 1812 figure prominently. Other subjects include state and national politics, Federalism and Anti-Federalism, commerce and trade, slavery, smallpox, the development of the Sandemanian Church (of which the Winslows were members), and Isaac’s two trips to Europe and the Mediterranean in 1795 and 1796. The Memorial also contains philosophical digressions, depictions of family relationships, and a poignant description of the depression and suicide of Isaac’s father.

The collection consists of five volumes: three volumes of unbound pages (many with additional material attached) and two bound volumes. Isaac’s portion begins with a preface addressed to his daughter Margaret:

The present work whether viewed as autography Biography or even Family history is certainly digressive, and were I to rewrite it much would be lop’d of[f], especially if I supposed it was intended for publication—Such not being the case I leave the work as it is, assured that you my dear daughter will not suspect me of Ancestral Pride so vain yet so common to man. No New Englander ought to have this, and yet none are without it.

He continues:

The love of family is in fact but the love of country on a smaller scale. Both perhaps are a sort of instinctive feeling, but not the less agreeable for being natural—Both look with the eyes of affection and interest not only on the present, but on the past. The history of what has been, has always been interesting to man, especially of his own country—how much more so is the history of that part of his country, in which he is more immediately concerned, his own family. He feels as if he was a party in the events and circumstances in which his predecessors were actors, or sufferers. He exults in their success, sympathizes with their misfortunes, rejoices in their happiness, and feels grieved at their afflictions.

The Winslow Family Memorial was transcribed in 2009-2010 by the donor of the collection, Dr. Robert W. Newsom of the University of California, Irvine. Dr. Newsom’s transcriptions, which also contain chapter abstracts and extensive footnotes, are a great resource for researchers, so the MHS has incorporated his work into our collection guide. The guide for the Memorial, broken down by volume and chapter, includes links to Dr. Newsom’s transcriptions and detailed descriptions of each volume in PDF format.

This manuscript is a valuable addition to the many other collections at the MHS related to the Winslows. It also offers unique insight into a prominent New England family who lived through some of the greatest upheavals in early American history.

New Acquisition: William Dawes Account Book

By Susan Martin

The Massachusetts Historical Society has recently acquired a rare account book of William Dawes, Jr. (Ms. N-2321 Tall; catalog record), the man most famous for riding with Paul Revere on the night of 18 April 1775 to warn the inhabitants of Lexington and Concord that British regulars were on the march. John Hancock and Samuel Adams, then at Lexington, were in imminent danger of arrest. Dr. Joseph Warren commissioned Revere and the 30-year-old Dawes – a Boston militiaman and member of the Sons of Liberty – to spread the warning. Though neither man reached Concord, Dawes’ achievement that night was as great, and arguably even greater, than Revere’s: his land route over the Boston Neck was longer, and he managed to escape the British ambush in which Revere was captured. But Dawes’ role in the “midnight ride” has largely been overlooked, due in part to the popular poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, which credited Revere with sole responsibility.

When he wasn’t rousing the colonists to revolt, Dawes worked as a tanner and grocer in Boston. During the Siege of Boston, he moved his growing family to Worcester and served in the war effort as quartermaster for the colonial troops. After the Revolution, he returned to Boston. This account book documents in detail his tanning and grocery business from 1788 to his death in 1799. Dawes had extensive dealings with a wide range of Massachusetts merchants and tradespeople, including shoemakers, carpenters, printers, ship captains, hatmakers, and blacksmiths, to name just a few. Neatly itemized in this tall, narrow ledger book are cash transactions, sales, and purchases of textiles, skins, tools, rum, tea, tobacco, candles, indigo, and many other products.

Many of the names that appear in Dawes’ account book are those of well-known New England families: Adams, Fessenden, Parsons, Sweetser. Also included are a handful of women, among them Susanna Wiley and Mrs. Elizabeth Belcher, as well as one man called simply “Cato, a black man.” Dawes also lists transactions with his sons William and Charles.

One intriguing entry reads: “This day (Sept 25th 1797.) I formally demanded my horse, of Mr. Saml Adams, Truckman, occupier of Lovell’s Island (so called) at present Sd Adams, who took charge of the Horse, to pasture on Sd Island (1797. Augt 2d) says the horse is killed………By whom?”

What makes this acquisition exciting is that so few records exist of Dawes’ life and work, and very little is known about him except for his famous ride. The MHS appears to hold most of the extant papers related to Dawes and his family, but these consist of only a few small collections. This volume shines new light on the life of a man whose legacy has remained in relative (and undeserved) obscurity.


Fort Marion Artwork

By Nancy Heywood

We’re happy to announce a new online guide to the Massachusetts Historical Society’s only volume of Indian ledger art: Book of Sketches Made at Fort Marion. This book of hand-colored sketches made by Making Medicine and other Cheyenne Indian prisoners at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida, dates from circa 1875-1878, belonged to the historian Francis Parkman. It was donated to the MHS in 1956. The online collection guide lists each drawing and includes links to online presentations of each colorful image.

The artists (Making Medicine and other Indian prisoners) were warriors imprisoned after a series of battles between the U.S. Army and several Native American tribes of the southern Great Plains. While held at Fort Marion, members of this group of warriors created striking drawings of aspects of Indian life as well as depictions of conflicts with the U. S. Army. The drawings were assembled in booklets and sketchbooks and given to visiting officers or sold to tourists. For additional information about Indian ledger art please see the list of references within the finding aid.

Our Newest Arrival

By Jeremy Dibbell

One of the MHS’ most recent acquisitions arrived late last week: it’s an 18 October 1800 letter from Abigail Adams in Quincy to her friend Dr. Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia, responding to political attacks made against John Adams during the presidential election campaign (the first contested presidential race in American history).

The MHS submitted the winning bid for this letter at the 14 April Sotheby’s auction of documents from the James S. Copley Library. Acquisition of the letter was made possible thanks to a gift from an anonymous donor.

Adams Papers Editor-in-Chief Jim Taylor said of the purchase: “The Adams Papers editors at the MHS have been aware of the Abigail Adams letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush for more than fifty years and are thrilled to have it as part of our collection. The document was offered at auction as early as 1943, when the suggested price was a mere $45. It is an excellent example of the first lady’s interest in and knowledge of early national politics. The MHS owns Abigail’s draft of the letter. The document recently obtained by the MHS is the final version that she sent, and is significantly different than the draft. This letter, when compared to the draft, demonstrates the great care that she took in expressing her ideas.”

In the letter, Mrs. Adams takes great exception to the tenor of the campaign against her husband: “If there can be any measures calculated to excite a wish in the breasts of our Countrymen for a permanent executive Majestrate, it must arise from the corruption of morals introduced by frequent Elections, from the indecent calumny which sports with the purest Characters; and strives to level them with the meanest; which filches from the most meritorious, that which is dearer than life their good name—that previous ointment which they have stored up to embalm their memory. the prostration of truth and justice has been the cause in all ages, of producing tyranny, more than ambition, and our Country, will in some future day, smart under the same Lash.”

We’re very happy to welcome this letter to our collections!

Putnam Diaries to be Microfilmed

By Jeremy Dibbell

The Sarah Gooll Putnam diaries (finding guide) will be unavailable from 8 April through approximately 1 May 2010; they are headed offsite to be microfilmed. In July 2009 the MHS received a $16,771 Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners to conserve, microfilm and digitize portions of the diaries.

Putnam, a Boston portrait artist, began her diary on Thanksgiving Day in 1860 when she was nine years old and maintained it until her death in 1912, filling 27 volumes. The diaries are richly illustrated with approximately 400 watercolor paintings and chronicle Putnam’s career as an artist as well as her extensive travels throughout the United States and abroad.


Presidential Letters Guide Launched

By Tracy Potter

Over the last several months Jeremy Dibbell, Anna Cook, and I have been tantalizing all of you with peeks into the library’s latest project, Presidential Letters at the Massachusetts Historical Society: An Overview.  I am glad to announce that as of the 23 February 2010 the project has finally come to its completion and the completed finding aid is now available online at

This subject guide is an overview of the MHS’ holdings of all known letters written by presidents found in the Society’s manuscript and autograph collections.  The guide now lists over 5,400 letters written by every U.S. president except for William Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. This number does not include the letters found in the Adams Family Papers and the Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts for John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. 

This very large project was completed over a relatively small period of time (five months to be exact), which could not have been done without the assistance of several people. 

 – L. Dennis Shapiro, a Trustee of the Society, who developed the original idea of the project with Peter Drummey, provided funding for the project through the Arzak Foundation, and gave feedback throughout the project. 

– Peter Drummey, the Stephen T. Riley Librarian, who developed the original idea of the project with Trustee L Dennis Shapiro, helped brainstorm formatting and content, provided me with locations of important letters and tidbits of information on presidents. 

– Brenda Lawson, the Director of Collections Services, who helped brainstorm formatting and content and who also edited endless pages of presidential letter descriptions.

– Susan Martin, Manuscript Processor and EAD Coordinator, who helped encode the finding aid and gave both Sarah and me a tutorial on the use of XMetal. 

– Sarah Desmond, Semester Intern from Endicott College, who spent 35 hours a week for three months looking through catalogs and collections, describing presidential letters, and formatting and encoding the finding aid. 

I also would like to mention the assistance of the staff of the MHS who provided me with feedback and locations of letters that fell through the cracks.  

Although the bulk of the guide is complete, please keep in mind that this is an ongoing project. As new collections come in and new collections are processed new letters could be added to the guide. 

It was a pleasure working on this project and I hope all will enjoy it.  

You can browse the guide here.

New Forbes Family Collections

By Jeremy Dibbell

New Forbes family papers which arrived at the MHS in several installments, deposited by the J. M. Forbes Family Archives Committee in 2004, 2008 and 2009, have recently been processed and added to ABIGAIL. These include the J. M. Forbes & Co. estate papers, a collection of the papers of the estates of a number of Forbes family members, including Edith Emerson Forbes, William Hathaway Forbes, John Murray Forbes, Sarah Swain Hathaway Forbes, and others. The finding aid is available at

A new collection of Perkins-Cunningham scrapbooks highlights the families and lives of another branch of the Forbes family, descended from Robert Bennet Forbes (the brother of John Murray Forbes, and a noted ship captain and China trader). His daughter Edith married railroad magnate Charles Elliott Perkins and lived much of her married life in Burlington, Iowa.  She kept twelve volumes of “A Grandmother’s recollections found in a diary in an old hacienda on the banks of the Mississippi River,” which consist of letters, reminiscences, and clippings about her family.  Edith Perkins’s daughter Edith married Edward Cunningham and lived most of her life in the Boston area, and she kept six volumes of scrapbooks, “Letters of Many Years,” similar to those of her mother, which tell of her life and her family over the years. Both of these series are a rich source of information on the Forbes, Perkins, and Cunningham families.  A description of them can be found at

The Forbes deposits also include a very substantial group of “Additions” to the Edith Emerson Forbes and William Hathaway Forbes papers already here at the Society. These Additions have been added to the existing collection, and arranged in the same series (although not integrated with the original material), and can be accessed on-line through the finding aid to the whole collection, which now bears the somewhat cumbersome title of “Edith Emerson Forbes and William Hathaway Forbes Papers and Additions.” The finding aid is located at

The John Murray Forbes papers also received one box of additions, consisting of correspondence on various business and political subjects, and including a series of letters to Benjamin F. Sanborn concerning the education of J. M. Forbes’s son Malcolm. These were not integrated into the existing papers but added as a separate series to the collection, and described in the on-line finding aid at

In addition, a handful of items were integrated into the existing Elise Cabot Forbes papers. No revisions to the guide were necessary; it is available at

Please note that many of these collections are stored offsite and must be ordered at least one business day in advance. Follow the instructions in the finding guides for ordering material from these collections.

Pamphlets, Pamphlets Everywhere!

By Jeremy Dibbell

Some excellent news from our Senior Cataloger, Mary Fabiszewski, who announces a major milestone in her current project, creating catalog records for our online catalog (ABIGAIL) of all the printed pamphlets in our collections. Mary writes:

“The cataloging department (me) is pleased to announce, that with the addition of Barret Wendell’s ‘Relations of Radcliffe College with Harvard’ (much less salacious than it sounds, I’m sure), the 1800s are finally at an end (as far as cataloging pamphlets are concerned).

I started this project back in January of 2008 with the year 1831. Since then 15,725 new records have been added to ABIGAIL, bringing the total number of pamphlets for that time period to 19,352. Along the way, of course, each pamphlet got a new envelope and was put in its proper place..”

Reference Librarian Elaine Grublin provides some data about what the presence of online records means for the use of these documents:

“Just to show how much Mary’s cataloging efforts have paid off, here are some quick call slip numbers.

In 2006, items with “box” call numbers were requested 195 times. That was 7.6% of the total number of printed items called for in that year.

In 2009, items with “box” call numbers were requested 620 times. That was 29.6% of the total number of printed items called for in that year.”

I know all our researchers who use these materials join us in congratulating Mary for her hard work, and look forward to continued progress in 2010. The twentieth century pamphlets are scheduled to be completed by July of this year.

Oh, and in case you’re interested in Mr. Wendell’s pamphlet, you can (now) find the ABIGAIL record for it here.