1641-1904; bulk: 1790-1870

Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection consists of correspondence, minutes, by-laws, incorporation papers, and other records relating to the organization and acquisitions of the Dorchester (Mass.) Antiquarian and Historical Society.

Historical Sketch

The Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society was founded when a group of local residents met at Deacon Ebenezer Clapp's house on 27 January 1843. These men were concerned that the history of Dorchester, Massachusetts, needed to be recorded and remembered for future generations. In 1855, the incorporation of the society by the Massachusetts General Court ensured its long-term stability.

During the early years following the society's incorporation, its members were primarily concerned with giving educational lectures on local Dorchester history and with publishing scholarly materials, including: Memoirs of Roger Clapp (1844), James Blake's Annals (1846), Richard Mather's Journal (1859), and The History of Dorchester (1859). With the outbreak of the Civil War, interest in the society and its events declined, leading to its eventual dissolution in the 1880s. One of the original founders, William Blake Trask (1812-1906), deposited the society's library holdings and collections at the New England Genealogical and Historical Society and the Massachusetts Historical Society.

In January 1870, the town of Dorchester was annexed to the city of Boston, and as the town grew in population, it slowly evolved into a burgeoning suburb of the larger city. After a brief hiatus, interest in local history rebounded, leading to the reorganization of the Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society in 1891. This attempt to organize the society saw new changes, such as the admittance of women, which nearly doubled its size. In 1893, the society was chartered with the goal of collecting, preserving, and publishing the history of the town of Dorchester and its parent city of Boston.

Since its original incorporation, the society was homeless until the city of Boston offered a permanent home at the James Blake House (ca. 1648) in 1895. However, the Blake House stood on property that the city had already devoted to something else, so the building was moved across town to Richardson Park, near Edward Everett Square. This relocation of the house would mark one of the first times in history that preservation efforts were taken due to historic architecture. The structure is presently the oldest standing building in Boston, though it was not at the time of its relocation.

In 1945, the society acquired the William Clapp House and the Lemuel Clapp House through a trust fund established by Emma M. E. Reed, the wife of a Dorchester District Court judge and longtime resident. The Dorchester Historical Society, its current name, continues its goal of collecting, cataloging, and preserving the history of the town of Dorchester for present and future generations.

David Clapp was a Boston printer who apprenticed under the supervision of John Cotton in a Boston printing house during the years 1822-1824. He became junior partner and owner in 1831 and 1834, respectively. The firm of D. Clapp, Jr. & Co. was devoted to general book and job printing and publishing. David Clapp ran the firm for more than fifty years until 1874, when it was bought by a group of Boston medical men.

Collection Description

The Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society records consist of records of the society, as well as collected historical materials. The collection spans from 1641-1904, with the institutional records spanning 1842-1904 and library holdings from 1641-1890. These two series represent the two purposes of the society. Institutional records (Series I) include correspondence between the acting secretary and members, records and minutes from society meetings, library donations and catalogs, the constitution and by-laws, copies of correspondence, records and minutes from society meetings, and account books.

Historical materials collected by the society (Series II) are arranged in three subseries: loose papers, historical essays, and bound volumes. Prominent religious and Revolutionary leaders, as well as signers of the Declaration of Independence, are represented in this series. Included are three letters from Robert Morris to Nathaniel Gorham discussing land speculation in Pennsylvania; two letters, to and from President John Adams, regarding his foreign policy stance toward France (1798); military commissions signed by governors of Massachusetts; the last will and testament of Rev. Richard Mather; and correspondence between Connecticut and Massachusetts colonial governors regarding the incorporation of a mail service. The bound volumes include a Massachusetts colonial tax book, an orderly book from the Massachusetts Militia, notebooks of David Clapp containing prayers and sermons, and Samuel Proctor's almshouse receipt book.

Acquisition Information

Part of the Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society collection was donated by the estate of Henry G. Denny, a long-time member of the society and its last surviving member at the time of his death. William Blake Trask deposited the remainder at the MHS in the late 1880s.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society institutional records, 1842-1904

A. Loose records, 1842-1904

Arranged chronologically.

These records cover a period from the incorporation of the Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society (DAHS) in 1842 to 1904. Included is correspondence between Ebenezer Clapp, Jr., one of the founding members, and potential corresponding members of the DAHS. Dorchester residents offered many donations to the DAHS, and these are described in the letters. Also included are loose meeting minutes; receipts for donations and membership dues paid; and one small pamphlet containing meeting minutes, dues paid, and proceedings. Library records include donation lists with books titles, publishing dates, and donation dates, as well as library book catalogs describing the holdings of the DAHS library. Individual items of note include a signed list of members and the incorporation certificate by the Massachusetts General Court in 1855.

Box 1Folder 1-9
Correspondence, 1843-1904
Box 1Folder 10-12
Administrative records, 1842-1891
Box 1Folder 13-17
Library records, 1843-1879

B. Bound records, 1843-1881

These eight bound volumes include the institutional records of the Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society.

Vol. 1
Constitution, by-laws, member list, 1865

Includes the constitution, by-laws, a manuscript copy of the act of incorporation (originally located in box 1), and a membership list of the society.

Vol. 2
Correspondence, 23 January 1843-5 November 1860

Includes copies of correspondence between Ebenezer Clapp, Jr., corresponding secretary, and newly elected corresponding members. Letters received and sent by the society are copied into this volume, including a manuscript copy of the constitution and by-laws. The volume also includes records and minutes of DAHS meetings.

Vol. 3
Administrative records, 28 April 1843-3 November 1865

Includes minutes and records from Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society meetings; discussions about dates, times, and locations of meetings; and the election of officers. Also included is a manuscript copy of the constitution and by-laws, signed by the eight founding members.

Vol. 4
Administrative records, 16 February 1854-19 January 1872

Includes records of society meetings. Present in this volume are a manuscript copy of the DAHS constitution and by-laws and a passage about the collections and preservation of the library.

Vol. 5
Administrative records, 19 January 1872-30 December 1881

Includes records and minutes of Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society meetings. This volume is a continuation of volume four.

Vol. 6
Financial records, 2 January 1843-30 December 1881

Account book of the society updated annually with entries for membership dues paid, donations, and purchases.

Vol. 7
Library records, 22 May 1871

A selection of titles, arranged alphabetically, from the catalog of the society's library in need of preservation.

Vol. 8
Library records, 23 November 1855-4 November 1870

Library logbook of the DAHS containing patron names and titles and dates of books checked out and returned.

II. Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society collections, 1641-1890

A. Loose records, 1641-1855

Arranged chronologically.

These papers encompass the manuscript collection of the Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society. Papers in this subseries were collected from Dorchester residents or donated by them to the DAHS. Many of the papers do not directly relate to the town of Dorchester; rather, they focus more broadly on American history. Included in this series are wills, commission appointments, correspondence, and town records.

Individual items of note include two letters to President John Adams and responses from him regarding foreign policy with France (1798); three letters from Robert Morris to Nathaniel Gorham discussing land speculation and sale; correspondence from Gov. Francis Lovelace to Gov. John Winthrop concerning the establishment of mail service between New York and Boston; the last will and testament of Rev. Richard Mather; a deed of sale of land to Josiah Quincy; royal commissions signed by Govs. William Stoughton, Joseph Dudley, William Phips, and the Earl of Bellomont; Robert Auchmuty's appointment as the judge co-missionary deputy of the Court of Vice Admiralty by Francis Bernard; and a document allowing Boston to annex Thompson's Island.

Box 1Folder 18-26

B. Historical essays, 1840-1890

This subseries is composed of compiled histories, biographies, and genealogies of Dorchester residents, prominent people, and events in American history, written for the DAHS. Included are histories of Richard and John Mather's influence in the Westminster Abbey Assembly, Plimoth Plantation, and the Methodist Episcopal Church in Dorchester.

Box 1Folder 27-31

C. Bound volumes, 1703-1881

Bound volumes collected by the DAHS include a receipt book recording Massachusetts Bay Colony taxes from 1772-1775 with residents' names, dates taxes were paid, and how much was owed. The author of the book is unknown, and there are sporadic entries for different years in no discernible order. Volume 10 is an orderly book of the 6th regiment, 1st Militia Brigade of Massachusetts, 1790-1793. The brigade was commissioned on 6 May 1789 and led by Captain Ebenezer Clarke. Listed in the orderly book are general orders, regimental and division orders, a court-martial list, and lists of supplies. Also included in this volume is a list of the 1772 and 1774 militia companies of Ward 7, commonly called the New Boston Company, and a list of fines paid by militiamen.

Three volumes of David Clapp include his prayer book (1703-1707) and two sermon notebooks (1740s and 1742-1758) containing passages from the Bible and written sermons. An almshouse receipt book kept by Samuel Proctor, 1756-1761, is included here, as it was formerly attributed to David Clapp.

Volumes 11-13 are available on microfilm (P-680, 1 reel).

Vol. 9
Massachusetts Bay Colony receipt book, 1772-1775
Vol. 10
The 6th Regiment, 1st Militia Brigade of Massachusetts orderly book, 31 March 1790-12 February 1793
Vol. 11
David Clapp prayer book, 30 May 1703-27 July 1707

Available on microfilm, P-680.

Vol. 12
David Clapp sermon notebook, 1740

Available on microfilm, P-680.

Vol. 13
David Clapp sermon book, 1742-1758

Available on microfilm, P-680.

Vol. 14
Samuel Proctor almshouse receipt book, 20 September 1756-17 May 1761

Preferred Citation

Dorchester Antiquarian and Historical Society records, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.


Adams, John, 1735-1826.
Clapp, David, 1806-1893.
Cotton, John, 1584-1652.
Lovelace, Francis, 1621-approximately 1683.
Mather, Richard, 1596-1669.
Morris, Robert, 1734-1806.
Stoughton, William, 1632-1701.
Winthrop, John, 1606-1676.


Massachusetts. Militia. Regiment, 6th (Suffolk County)--Order-books.
Methodist Episcopal Church (Dorchester, Mass.).
Westminster Assembly (1643-1652).


Dorchester (Boston, Mass.)--History.
France--Foreign relations--United States.
Orderly books.
Plymouth (Mass.)--History.
Postal service--History.
Prayer books.
Thompson's Island (Boston, Mass.).
United States--Foreign relations--France.