By Susan Martin
The Massachusetts Historical Society recently acquired a very interesting manuscript collection called the Winslow Family Memorial (Ms. N-2322). Begun by Boston merchant Isaac Winslow (1774-1856) in about 1837 and continued after his death by his daughter Margaret Catharine Winslow, this unique manuscript tells the story of the Winslow family in England and America from approximately 1620 to 1839. The bulk of the Memorial deals with political matters in early America, including the life of Isaac’s father Isaac Winslow (1743-1793), a Loyalist in Boston during the Revolutionary War. A combination of memoir, genealogy, and political history, the manuscript incorporates first-hand accounts of important events (excerpted from correspondence and diaries of various family members), interspersed with personal reflections and reminiscences by both Isaac and Margaret.
Though the Memorial fills only two manuscript boxes, its catalog record and online collection guide are extensive. This is because of the vast scope of the material; the manuscript touches on most of the major historical events that occurred in America and Europe between 1620 and 1839. Not just the American Revolution, but the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the War of 1812 figure prominently. Other subjects include state and national politics, Federalism and Anti-Federalism, commerce and trade, slavery, smallpox, the development of the Sandemanian Church (of which the Winslows were members), and Isaac’s two trips to Europe and the Mediterranean in 1795 and 1796. The Memorial also contains philosophical digressions, depictions of family relationships, and a poignant description of the depression and suicide of Isaac’s father.
The collection consists of five volumes: three volumes of unbound pages (many with additional material attached) and two bound volumes. Isaac’s portion begins with a preface addressed to his daughter Margaret:
The present work whether viewed as autography Biography or even Family history is certainly digressive, and were I to rewrite it much would be lop’d of[f], especially if I supposed it was intended for publication—Such not being the case I leave the work as it is, assured that you my dear daughter will not suspect me of Ancestral Pride so vain yet so common to man. No New Englander ought to have this, and yet none are without it.
The love of family is in fact but the love of country on a smaller scale. Both perhaps are a sort of instinctive feeling, but not the less agreeable for being natural—Both look with the eyes of affection and interest not only on the present, but on the past. The history of what has been, has always been interesting to man, especially of his own country—how much more so is the history of that part of his country, in which he is more immediately concerned, his own family. He feels as if he was a party in the events and circumstances in which his predecessors were actors, or sufferers. He exults in their success, sympathizes with their misfortunes, rejoices in their happiness, and feels grieved at their afflictions.
The Winslow Family Memorial was transcribed in 2009-2010 by the donor of the collection, Dr. Robert W. Newsom of the University of California, Irvine. Dr. Newsom’s transcriptions, which also contain chapter abstracts and extensive footnotes, are a great resource for researchers, so the MHS has incorporated his work into our collection guide. The guide for the Memorial, broken down by volume and chapter, includes links to Dr. Newsom’s transcriptions and detailed descriptions of each volume in PDF format.
This manuscript is a valuable addition to the many other collections at the MHS related to the Winslows. It also offers unique insight into a prominent New England family who lived through some of the greatest upheavals in early American history.