MHS News

Massachusetts Historical Society Receives NHPRC Grant to Complete Publication of Robert Treat Paine Papers

Robert Treat Paine Papers provide valuable insight into 18th- and 19th-century social life as well as the evolution of legal thought in the new republic.

The MHS received a grant for $51,200 from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The grant will be used to complete the Society's edition of the papers of Robert Treat Paine, the prominent Revolutionary-era lawyer and political figure. From Paine's notes on a "petit treason" trial to his wife's feisty letters, this documentary edition will give scholars worldwide the opportunity to access and learn from this heretofore little-known signer of the Declaration of Independence.

In 1792 the MHS initiated one of the first series of publications devoted to making accessible the history of the (then new) United States. Under the series title Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, that initiative still continues today, and as of last July, the grant from the NHPRC will make it possible to complete the five-volume Robert Treat Paine Papers as part of the ongoing Collections.

"The MHS is pleased that the NHPRC has recognized the importance of this project. Not only will it create much greater access to this rich collection, but it will also greatly enrich our understanding of 18th-century America," commented MHS President Dennis Fiori.  

Mr. Paine, best known for his part as a prosecuting attorney at the Boston Massacre trials (his Harvard classmate John Adams was on the defense team), also served as a Massachusetts delegate to the Continental Congress (where he signed the Declaration of Independence), a representative at two Provincial Congresses, the Bay State's first attorney general, and a justice on the state's Supreme Judicial Court. His papers, which the Paine family donated to the MHS in several installments beginning in the 1940s, span the spectrum from family letters to compendious legal notes, providing valuable insights into 18th- and 19th-century social life as well as the evolution of legal thought in the new republic. 

The earliest work on the Society's edition of the Paine papers began with cataloging and a project plan when the collection was newly arrived. Three of five projected volumes are already published in print. The grant from the NHPRC, which has allowed the Society to hire an in-house editor dedicated to the project, will culminate in the publication of volumes 4 and 5 as well as the digitization of the complete edition in 2018. The finished work will comprise transcriptions of over 1900 manuscript documents. The lead editor and scholar of the edition is Edward W. Hanson, who worked alongside the edition's first editor, Stephen T. Riley, who also served as MHS librarian and director during his long career.  

While the collection of Paine family papers is available for any researcher to use onsite, access to the raw materials can be challenging for all but the most experienced scholars of the era. A documentary edition such as this, with transcriptions and historical notes by the people who know Paine's network and activities best, will make the content available to a broader swathe of readers of diverse ages and backgrounds. Annotations identify Paine's many correspondents for the users. Although some are historical giants--such as Adams and John Hancock--others are less well known, such as John Allan, a commander in Maine working hard to maintain his outpost and alliance with the native population. As a family collection, the Paine papers give a vivid account of domestic life, as Sally Paine writes to her husband about challenges at home and Eunice Paine asks her brother for help. The editors have also selected exemplary cases from Paine’s legal career, painstakingly puzzling out the often inscrutable script of his trial notes and making available the stories of treason, arson, burglary, and murder--among others--recorded there.

About the NHPRC
The NHPRC is one of the key supporters of documentary editing projects in the United States. It is the funding affiliate of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which was created by Congress in 1934 to protect America’s historical records and make them publicly available. Through grants, the NHPRC promotes the preservation, publication, and digitization of significant documentary sources.

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Massachusetts and the Civil War in August Issue of Choice

Massachusetts Historical Society volume rated “highly recommended” by Choice, a publication of the Association of College and Research Libraries 

Massachusetts and the Civil WarThe Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) announced today that Choice rated Massachusetts and the Civil War: The Commonwealth and National Disunion “highly recommended” in its August 2016 issue. Published by the University of Massachusetts Press (June 2015) and edited by Matthew Mason, Katheryn P. Viens, and Conrad Edick Wright, the volume, consisting of ten essays, coalesces around the national significance of Massachusetts through the Civil War era. 

Choice is the publishing branch of the Association of College & Research Libraries, a division of the American Library Association, and the go-to source for librarians seeking worthwhile new titles for their collection. The review states, “Overall, the volume argues for the ‘distinctive or peculiar’ ways in which the experience of Massachusetts influenced ‘the great crisis of national unity.’ One important theme throughout the essays is an exploration of how and why those seeking to end slavery joined forces with those who sought the more robust reform platform of black citizenship and black American equality. The authors point to the securitization of the federal state, violence embedded in the political process, racial prejudice, the flow of information in an age of letter writing, and much more. This rich collection speaks not only to those focused on Massachusetts but also to New England and the nation.”

MHS Worthington C. Ford Editor and Director of Research Conrad Edick Wright commented that he "was thrilled to hear of this recommendation.” He continued, “It will bring this important volume to the attention of libraries and librarians across the United States.”

About the editors

Matthew Mason is associate professor of history at Brigham Young University. Kathryn P. Viens is research coordinator at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Conrad Edick Wright is Worthington C. Ford Editor and director of research at the Massachusetts Historical Society and author of Revolutionary Generation: Harvard Men and the Consequences of Independence (University of Massachusetts Press, 2005).

 

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First Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize Awarded

Mary Babson Fuhrer recognized for the compelling story of small-town New England transformed between 1815 and 1848 as told in her book A Crisis of Community

At an award ceremony on 29 October 2015, the Massachusetts Historical Society presented the first Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize to Mary Babson Fuhrer for her book A Crisis of Community: The Trials and Transformation of a New England Town, 1815-1848, published in 2014 by the University of North Carolina Press. The Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize is given to the best nonfiction work on the history of Massachusetts published during the preceding year.

In A Crisis of Community, Fuhrer brings to life the troublesome creation of a new social, political, and economic order centered on individual striving and voluntary associations in an expansive nation. Blending family records and a rich trove of community archives, she examines the "age of revolutions" through the lens of Boylston, Mass., a rural community that was swept into the networks of an expanding and urbanizing New England region. This finely detailed history lends new depth to our understanding of a key transformative moment in Massachusetts and American history.

The selection committee received 21 submissions that interpret the history of Massachusetts through an exciting range of subjects, from colonial history to biographies of iconic figures, to politics, art, and sport. The submissions came from a dozen academic, trade, and specialty publishers. "It is certainly appropriate that the first annual prize in memory of someone rooted in his hometown as firmly as Rev. Peter Gomes was should go to the author of a town history," commented MHS Worthington C. Ford Editor and Director of Research Conrad E. Wright. He continued, "Beautifully crafted, gracefully written, Mary Fuhrer’s relation of the development of the small town of Boylston, Massachusetts, is a most worthy recipient of the first annual Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize."

Mary Babson Fuhrer is a public historian who specializes in the social history of New England. She has a B.A. in History from Princeton, an M.A. in Public History from George Mason University, and a Ph.D. in American History from the University of New Hampshire. An accomplished scholar, Fuhrer is recognized among historical societies, museums, and school systems throughout eastern Massachusetts for her stellar work in historical interpretation and educational curricula. She is the consulting historian for the Society's Saltonstall-funded educational program "Old Towns/New Country," which engages teachers, librarians, and local history enthusiasts in connecting their community's resources to the history of the new nation. She has also served as a consultant and presenter for MHS programs funded by the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati and the NEH. In 2013, the Society's Short-term Fellowship Committee awarded its Cushing Academy Environmental History Fellowship to Fuhrer, and in 2014, the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium granted her support to visit four additional repositories for her current project, "The Experience and Meaning of Tuberculosis in Rural New England, 1800-1850." In addition to A Crisis of Community, Fuhrer is the author of several articles, including “The Worlds of Lexington and Concord Compared,” which appeared in The New England Quarterly in 2012.

About the Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize

The Peter J. Gomes Memorial Book Prize, for the best nonfiction work on the history of Massachusetts published during the preceding year, honors the memory of a respected Harvard scholar and beloved Fellow of the MHS. Peter J. Gomes (1942-2011) was elected to the MHS in 1976 and joined the Board of Overseers in 2010. He was the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard Divinity School and the Pusey Minister of Memorial Church.

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Terra Firma: The Beginnings of the MHS Map Collection on View at the MHS

The MHS map collection—one of the Society’s most diverse and interesting—includes landmarks of map publishing.

Thomas Johnston’s 1754 plan of the Kennebec and Sagadahoc riversAs the MHS approaches its 225th anniversary, Terra Firma celebrates the beginnings of one of its most diverse and interesting collections. Among the maps on display are landmarks of map publishing that include the first published map of New England, the first map of Massachusetts published in America, and a unique copy of the earliest separate map of Vermont, as well as maps of important battles and maps and atlases from the United States and beyond. The exhibition is on display at the Society through 9 January 2016, Monday through Saturday, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

Started with gifts of six manuscript maps from James Freeman and three (two published, one manuscript) from Thomas Wallcut, the MHS map collection grew quickly, with 130 maps and seven atlas volumes listed in the Society’s 1811 Catalogue of the Books, Pamphlets, Newspapers, Maps, Charts, Manuscripts, &c. Today, the map collection numbers more than 2,000 separate maps and more than 100 atlases. 

While maps of New England and its six states represented the lion’s share of the collection in 1811, the Society's founders widely collected maps—both printed and manuscript—that allow researchers to track the development, progress, and history of the United States. Each map provides a unique look at the concerns of the mapmaker and his time—from the isolated and far flung settlements of John Foster’s 1677 map of New England to the looming threat of French fortifications in
in Maine to the scientific and statistical knowledge displayed in Lewis Evans’s maps of Pennsylvania and the middle colonies.

Several rare examples of early battle maps are on display, the earliest being Philip Durell’s 1740 Plan of the Harbour, Town, and Forts of Porto Bello, and a 1746 map of the fortifications of Louisbourg. Detailed and important maps of Revolutionary War battles were donated to the collection by early members. Sebastian Bauman’s elegant map of the Battle of Yorktown was drawn in the days immediately following the decisive American victory and provides a vivid account of the battle.

Although most the early collection was acquired by gift, the MHS took up a subscription to purchase the monumental Atlantic Neptune in 1796. Begun in 1763 by Swiss cartographer Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres, if was hailed as “the most splendid collection of charts, plans, and views ever published.” Several plates are on display including Chart of New York Harbour, Plan of the posts of York & Gloucester, and South Carolina to East Florida; Plan of the Siege of Savannah.The Society's initial map collecting efforts were far from provincial. Members provided early printed maps from all corners of the globe. Featured maps display the range of the mapmaker’s art from the finely engraved city plan of Hamburg to the views of English seaports surrounding the New Map of England & Wales to the on-the-scene reportage of William Frazer's Correct Ground Plan of the Dreadful Fire at Radcliff.

The Atlas du Voyage de La Pérouse is a remarkable pictorial record of the doomed voyage of Jean François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse. A veteran of the Seven Years' War and American Revolution, La Pérouse was appointed by Louis XVI to lead an expedition that would chart previously unknown waters and provide the basis for future voyages of discovery. Encountering members of the British fleet at Botony Bay, Australia, he sent his journals, charts, and letters back to Europe by a returning British ship, a decision that proved fortuitous. He set sail from Australia in March 1788 and was never seen again. In addition to detailed maps and charts, the volume includes wonderfully evocative engravings. The atlas is on display along with a slide show highlighting a selection of the engravings. 

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God Save the People! From the Stamp Act to Bunker Hill Opens at the MHS on 27 February

Immerse yourself in the tumultuous times leading to revolution with an exhibition of letters, diaries, political cartoons, newspapers, maps, artifacts, and portraits.

Boston Massacre engravingTo tell the story of the coming of the American Revolution in Boston, God Save the People! From the Stamp Act to Bunker Hill follows the evolution of colonial thought and political action through the letters and diaries of men and women caught up in the conflict, together with political cartoons, newspapers, maps, artifacts, and portraits. The exhibition is on display at the Society February 27 through September 4, Monday through Saturday, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

The story of the coming of the Revolution in Boston is found not only in records that tell us the views of political opponents and military leaders; it also appears in letters and diaries that indicate what events meant to the ordinary men and women who experienced them. Along with celebrated Sons and Daughters of Liberty, this is the story of forgotten patriots who died for a country-to-be, brothers who served against each other in the courtroom, propagandists and war profiteers, merchants whose enterprise was threatened by political chaos, young lovers divided by battle lines, and a teenage African American poet who had to sail to England to secure her freedom.

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