The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: Collections News

Fort Marion Artwork

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.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 24 June, 2010, 4:49 PM

Our Newest Arrival

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!

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 27 May, 2010, 11:41 AM

Putnam Diaries to be Microfilmed

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.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 1 April, 2010, 9:38 AM

Presidential Letters Guide Launched

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.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 25 February, 2010, 7:24 AM

New Forbes Family Collections

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.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Monday, 1 February, 2010, 1:46 PM

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