Manuscripts

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.

Highlights

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.

Microfilm

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.

Selections Online

View selected manuscripts online.

Upcoming Events

Brown Bag

Conjuring Emancipation: Making Freedom in the U.S. Civil War’s Refugee Camps

30May 12:00PM 2018

Black Americans did not just pray for emancipation, they conjured it. This project examines the political work of revival in wartime refugee camps and envisions ...

Author Talk

Apostles of Revolution: Jefferson, Paine, Monroe, & the Struggle against the Old Order in America & ...

30May 6:00PM 2018
There will be a pre-talk reception at 5:30

As Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and James Monroe risked their lives and their liberty for  American independence, and as reformers, each ...

MHS Tour

The History and Collections of the MHS

2Jun 10:00AM 2018

The History and Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society Tour is a 90-minute docent-led walk through our public rooms. The tour is free, open to the public, ...

From our Blog

Immigration and Trade in Early 20th-Century Worcester

The Rockwood Hoar Papers at the MHS document the life and career of Rockwood Hoar, a Worcester, Massachusetts lawyer and politician who lived from 1855 to 1906. Hoar was the son of United States ...

Odd Accounts : Ship Sketches and More in the Smith Family Papers

As many of my colleagues have pointed out in the past here on the Beehive, one of the joys of working with the manuscript collections at the MHS is finding something unexcpected when going through a ...

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