The MHS library is primarily a manuscript repository. It holds more than 3,600 manuscript collections comprising in excess of 12 million document pages. Personal and family papers constitute the core of the manuscript collection, augmented by institutional and early business records. While the MHS collects documents from all eras up to the present, the bulk of the collection represents the periods from the beginning of European settlement through the early decades of the 20th century.
The manuscript collection is an unparalleled resource for the study of the history of Massachusetts and America through the colonial and early national periods. Manuscript collections cover diverse subjects such as the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony; the history of religion, law, medicine, education, diplomacy, international commerce (the China Trade in particular), state and national politics; and Native American, African American, and women's history. Diaries, orderly books, and thousands of letters document the lives of those who served in the French and Indian, Revolutionary, and Civil Wars. The Society also holds institutional records for churches, schools, clubs, and philanthropic organizations.
Two of the most important MHS manuscript collections are the papers of the Adams Family and Thomas Jefferson.
The Adams Family Papers—composed of the personal papers of John, John Quincy, and Charles Francis Adams and their immediate families—is the Society's best known manuscript collection. Encompassing more than 250,000 manuscript pages, it includes letters written and received by members of the Adams family as well as their extraordinary personal diaries.
The Coolidge Collection of Thomas Jefferson Manuscripts consists of thousands of pages of Jefferson's correspondence, manuscripts of writings, and voluminous records of Monticello including account books, journals, and more than 400 architectural drawings.
Among the other highlights of the collection are the journal of John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony; the diary of Salem witchcraft trial judge Samuel Sewall; the family business papers of Paul Revere; diaries and papers of 19th century reformer and author Caroline Dall; documents related to the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry Regiment, the first African American regiment raised in the North during the Civil War; and the papers of Massachusetts senators Henry Cabot Lodge (1850-1924), his grandson Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. (1902-1985), and Leverett Saltonstall (1892-1985).
How to Find Manuscripts
There are several ways to locate manuscripts in the collection. Consult the library catalogs page for more information. Researchers who have questions about research strategies or specific manuscript holdings should contact the reader services staff.
To preserve manuscript collections and to make them more accessible, the MHS has microfilmed all or portions of more than 400 manuscript collections. The MHS microforms page provides information about buying or borrowing microfilm.
View selected manuscripts online.