By Tracy Potter
One of the newest additions to the Society’s bookshelves is a volume more than 180 years in the making. Written by Hannah Mather Crocker in the 1820s and edited by Eileen Hunt Botting and Sarah L. Houser in the 2000s, Reminiscences & Traditions of Boston (Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2011) has finally made its way to publication.
Hannah Mather Crocker was an author and early feminist. She was the granddaughter of renowned Puritan minister Cotton Mather, author of the Biblia Americana (another long awaited publication), and niece of Thomas Hutchinson, Jr., the royal governor of Massachusetts. Born in 1752, she lived through and participated in some of the most tumultuous and significant times in United States history. In her final years she wrote two versions of Reminiscences, combining personal anecdotes with a narrative history of Boston from the colonial era to the early 19th century. The manuscript touches on various elements of Boston history including religion, economics, gender, and foreign relations. Crocker also includes an extensive appendix of historical documents containing a large number of her own poems.
Crocker began writing Reminiscences believing she would publish it in the near future. Unfortunately, she passed away in 1829 before she could make that happen. In the years after her death, her Reminiscences disappeared until John Wingate Thorton, a founder of the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS), acquired it for his own personal collection. Upon his death in 1878, Thorton bequeathed the manuscript to the NEHGS, where it remains today.
Botting and Houser create a fully annotated documentary edition of Hannah Mather Crocker’s Reminiscences & Traditions of Boston. This edition includes an informative introduction that provides background for Crocker, the manuscript, and the publication including a guide to how to read the two versions. It is fully indexed and includes a biographical directory, a poetry index, and a bibliography. In their attempt to remain true to Crocker’s original writing, the editors include Crocker’s original pagination, original spellings, and original notes. This volume will allow a wider audience to analyze, interpret, and understand the lives of residents and events that took place in Massachusetts from 1620 to the early 19th century.
Sarah L. Houser is the Jack Miller Center-Veritas Fund Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy at Georgetown University. Eileen Botting is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at University of Notre Dame. Botting received the 2009-2010 Colonial Society of Massachusetts Fellowship which she used her to research on Hannah Mather Crocker’s and her Reminiscences at the MHS and a number of other New England research institutions. In January 2010 Botting presented some of her findings at a brown-bag lunch program at the MHS.