The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Beehive series: From the Reference Librarian 

New Titles in the MHS Library’s Reference Collection

Here in the MHS library it is always a pleasure to see the fruits of scholarly labor pursued in our reading room come back to us as the form of publications hot off the presses. In recent months, we have been delighted to add a number of titles to our collection gifted to us by their authors.



The following recently-published titles have been cataloged and are now available for use as part of our reference collection:

Amestoy, Jeffrey L. Slavish Shore: The Odyssey of Richard Henry Dana Jr. (Harvard University Press, 2015).

Balik, Shelby. Rally the Scattered Believers: Northern New England’s Religious Geography (Indiana University Press, 2014).

Berry, Stephen. A Path in the Mighty Waters : Shipboard Life & Atlantic Crossings to the New World (Yale University Press, 2015).

Blanck, Emily. Tyrannicide: Forging an American Law of Slavery in Revolutionary South Carolina and Massachusetts (University of Georgia Press, 2014).

Fisher, Julie A. and David J. Silverman. Ninigret, Sachem of the Niantics and Narragansetts : Diplomacy, War, and the Balance of Power in Seventeenth-century New England and Indian Country (Cornell University Press, 2014).

Gaskill, Malcolm. Between Two Worlds : how the English became Americans (New York: Basic Books, 2014).

Hodes, Martha. Mourning Lincoln (Yale University Press, 2015).

Kopelson, Heather Miyano. Faithful Bodies: Performing Religion and Race in the Puritan Atlantic (New York University Press, 2014).

Morrison, Dane. True Yankees: Sea Captains, the South Seas, and the Discovery of American Identity (Johns Hopkins, 2014).

Researchers are welcome to visit the MHS library during our regular business hours to consult these and other titles. If you are an author who has written a work drawing on research done at the MHS, we invite you to send a copy of your book to the Reference Librarian for inclusion in the Society’s collection. 


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 16 October, 2015, 8:10 AM

Military Manuscripts at the MHS and Beyond

It is not uncommon for the MHS library to receive copies of new publications from authors that did research here. In fact, we have an entire set of shelves devoted to displaying this type of new publication. After some time on display, these volumes are typically moved to our closed stacks and then available by request. Less often, we receive a new publication from a researcher that we deem appropriate to move immediately into our reference collection.

We recently received a newly published book called Military Manuscripts at the State Historical Societies in New England (2014). This volume, put together by Paul Friday, provides extensive documentation of manuscript collections relevant to military history in New England. Each chapter shines a spotlight on one individual institution and provides detailed lists of manuscript collections that contain materials related to military matters.

Since I started working at the MHS in 2011, Mr. Friday’s face has been one of the more familiar ones in the reading room. Over the years he placed scores of requests to consult manuscript materials from myriad collections in our holdings. The result is a box-level, sometimes folder-level inventory of military-related papers that the Society preserves. The sources include a large variety of material types, from maps and charts to correspondence and orderly books to printed materials like broadsides. The materials he worked with encompass a large chronology, going back as far as the Pequot War of the 1630s all the way up to the Vietnam War.

The countless hours of work that Mr. Friday did result in extremely valuable identifications of military papers held here. From documenting a single letter by Gen. John Burgoyne in the Bromfield family papers, to identifying thirty-five boxes, seven volumes, and three oversize items in the Clarence Ransom Edwards papers.

In addition to identifying such relevant collections, Mr. Friday also provides explanations in each chapter about the various organization schemes used by the different institutions, catalogs available for researchers (online and physical), procedures for requesting materials, hours of operation, and so forth.

At the back of the volume there are four appendices made up of several glossaries and complementary information. Also, there are five separate indices and a section introducing them.

Because he used available finding aids and collection guides to locate collections with military papers, Mr. Friday acknowledges that each historical society holds additional relevant collections that did not have companion finding aids and so did not show up in the volume. Despite this limitation, the volume as a whole will surely prove a tremendous help for researchers performing primary source research into the military history of New England and the United States. 


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 10 April, 2015, 12:00 AM

The King of the Filibusters

Filibuster, n. 1. An irregular military adventurer, esp. one in quest of plunder; a freebooter; -- orig. applied to buccaneers infesting the Spanish American coasts; later, an organizer or member of a hostile expedition to some country or countries with which his own is at peace, in contravention of international law.

On September 12, 1860, an American lawyer and journalist, an adventurer and filibuster, was executed by firing squad in Trujillo, Honduras. This is his story in brief.

William Walker was born in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1824. Pushed by his parents to a good education, he graduated from the University of Nashville at the age of 14. By 1843, at 19, Walker received his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He continued his medical education in Paris and toured several cities in Europe before returning to Nashville to practice.

Dissatisfied with his career in medicine, Walker changed his focus to law and, shortly after taking up studies, moved to New Orleans. While he attained the bar in Louisiana, his practice there was even briefer than his medical practice and he soon moved into the field of journalism. In the winter of 1848, Walker became an editor and proprietor of the conservative New Orleans Crescent.

The following year, like so many other intrepid young men, Walker responded to the lure of the West and settled in San Francisco, arriving in June, 1850. He continued his work as a journalist, speaking loudly against the judicial authorities in San Francisco for failure to roll back a tide of lawlessness and crime. His vocal stance raised the ire of district judge Levi Parsons who declared the press a nuisance and, after much wrangling, judged Walker guilty of contempt and set a fine on him. Now, Walker’s legal experience came to the fore as he defended himself in open court against the charges, with much popular support, and was ultimately vindicated.

Shortly after, Walker moved to the nearby and quickly growing town of Marysville where he practiced law with Henry Watkins. By this time, many men of California were already engaging in filibustering in Latin America. This practice, prominent during the 1850s, was an aggressive and idealized effort to expand the influence of the United States in fulfillment of manifest destiny.

Over the next several years, Walker pursued this activity with fervor. In 1853 he attempted an invasion of Mexico with a small band of men, barely escaping alive. The United States tried him in violation of the neutrality act but he was quickly exonerated. In 1855, he set his sights on Nicaragua. This locale was coveted by many as the key to linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. No less a man than Cornelius Vanderbilt invested heavily in transporting goods across the narrow country. 

Landing with a small force of Americans, Walker supplemented his force with sympathetic liberal Nicaraguans and demanded independent command. With a lot of luck and small amount of daring, Walker and his men took the city of Granada and made hostages of its conservative leaders. 

Over the next several months, Walker used various schemes and local proxies to consolidate power in his own hands, eventually raising the alarm in neighboring Central American countries. In April 1856, Costa Rica occupied the Nicaraguan city of Rivas in order to drive Walker out but, with the aid of an outbreak of cholera, he forced them into retreat.

Throughout the next year, Walker’s course of action greatly alienated him from his supporters in American business. So it was with the financial backing of Vanderbilt that, in spring of 1857, an alliance of Central American countries besieged him at Rivas, forcing him to surrender to an American naval officer, at which time he and his men were delivered out of the country.

Still, he was not finished. By this time, Walker was something of a folk hero in the United States, meeting acclaim wherever he went. In November 1857, he tried to invade and was met by the US Navy which forced a quick surrender. In 1860 he made one last effort. This time, the Royal Navy captured him and delivered him to the nearest authorities, the Hondurans. In September of that year, William Walker finally met his end. 

The story of William Walker was unknown to me until I recently watched a film from 1987 called simply Walker, with Ed Harris in the title role and directed by Alex Cox. Though a fictional take on the actions of the man, it raised my awareness and piqued my curiosity. If you are interested in learning more about Walker and other 19th century filibusters, see below for some resources 


Sources at the MHS

-        The destiny of Nicaragua: Central America as it was, is, and may be, Boston: S.A. Bent & Co., 1856.

-        Scroggs, William O., Filibusters and financiers: the story of William Walker and his associates. New York: Macmillan, c1916.

-        Wells, William V., Walker’s expedition to Nicaragua…, New York: Stringer and Townsend, 1856.


Useful online resources

-        Stiles, T.J., “The Filibuster King: The Strange Career of William Walker, the Most Dangerous International Criminal of the Nineteenth Century,” History Now 20 (Summer 2009). The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Accessed March 12, 2015.  

-        Tirmenstein, Lisa, “Costa Rica in 1856: Defeating William Walker While Creating a National Identity,” Accessed March 12, 2015.  

-        Judy, Fanna, “William Walker,” The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco, Accessed March 12, 2015.  


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 13 March, 2015, 8:00 AM

Symbiosis at the Society: Fellows and Librarians Learn Together

A few weeks ago the Beehive featured an item about the 2014-2015 Fellowship recipients and their research projects for the coming year. This great opportunity for scholars to come and do funded research also is an opportunity for the MHS librarians to expose ourselves to subjects and collections that we otherwise do not interact with.

Each year, the reference librarians here look at the projects to be undertaken by the incoming research fellows and divide them up so that we can serve as individual liaisons for the various fellows. We choose which fellows to liaise with based on our own interest and background knowledge of the projects. This benefits the fellows by providing a specific person to contact if they have trouble navigating our collections or just need someone to bounce ideas off.  

Over the next year, I will be liaising with at least eleven different fellows to help them utilize the resources here at the MHS. The projects cover a wide range of subjects, including alcohol production, throat epidemics, Revolutionary War campaigns, antislavery texts, and religious reform. They also cover a long span of time, from the earliest days of the English colonies to the dawn of the Civil War.

This presents two challenges for me: to help fellows access materials they already identified using our catalog and to help them discover additional material in our collection that they missed. Perhaps I am familiar with a collection that they did not find in their search; maybe I can show them resources that are not available via our online catalog; in some cases, I can suggest another institution whose collections complement the Society’s.

Again, this exchange benefits both the fellows and the MHS staff. I know already from reading through some project descriptions that I will be exposed to topics that are completely new to me or that the fellow is looking at in a new way. And with some relevant materials already identified by the research fellow, I will learn more about the collections we have here. As I scour our catalog to find more resources for the fellow, I learn more about our holdings and about strategically searching our collections, information that will certainly come in useful down the road.

Back in January I wrote a piece for the Beehive about using the Researcher as Resource. Working with our research fellows each year is another way for our librarians to expand their knowledge and to learn even more about the collections here at the MHS. 


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 16 May, 2014, 3:00 PM

Reader Services By the Numbers

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     

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Thursday, 7 July, 2011, 8:00 AM

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