1758-1934; bulk: 1791-1899

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Collection Summary


This collection consists of the records of the Massachusetts Historical Society from its founding in 1791 to 1899, including officer and Council, financial, library, curatorial, membership, building, and editorial records.


For information on the history of the Massachusetts Historical Society, see:

Tucker, Louis Leonard. The Massachusetts Historical Society: A Bicentennial History, 1791-1991. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1996.

Tucker, Louis Leonard. "From Belknap to Riley: Building the Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society." Witness to America's Past: Two Centuries of Collecting by the Massachusetts Historical Society. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1991. 15-23.

Collection Description

This collection is comprised of the records of the Massachusetts Historical Society from its founding in 1791 to 1899 and encompasses the full range of the Society's activities over the first century of its existence. Included are officer and Council, financial, library, curatorial, membership, building, and editorial records. The collection contains a few items dated before 1791, such as manuscripts for publication and some newspaper clippings, and items dated after 1900 when they form part of a series, subject, or volume that continues into the 20th century.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. Officer and Council records, 1758-1925

This series consists of papers of the president and general administration of the Society, the standing committee/Council (the Society's governing body), the recording secretary, and the corresponding secretary.

A. General administrative records, 1758-1925

This subseries contains materials concerning the Society as a whole, generated by the president and the administration of the MHS, including correspondence, a visitor register, scrapbooks, and other papers related to organizational matters. Most of the correspondence is that of Charles F. Adams, Jr. when he was president of the Society (1895-1902). Earlier materials (1791-1894) consist of miscellaneous loose papers and letters, mostly written to other officers of the Society, that were not part of any other series in the pre-1900 archives. Correspondence also includes letters (1812 and 1856) regarding the disposition of William A. Burwell's manuscript on Bacon's Rebellion, published in the Collections (2nd series, vol. I); manuscripts for publication; donations; the Lowell lectures (1869); George Ellis's silver bequest (1895-1899); and many other topics.

General administrative volumes include 1791 records (copies made at a later date); a Society visitor register, 1858-1918; and an early letterbook of the Society, 1791-1798, with letters of Jeremy Belknap. A note by Charles Deane at the beginning of the volume describes it the "first and only 'Letter Book' of the Society." This subseries also contains a 100th anniversary scrapbook (disbound), 1891; and two large scrapbooks (Vols. OS 2-3) of newspaper clippings and a few manuscripts concerning miscellaneous historical topics in the United States and abroad. Vol. OS 2 contains a wide range of clippings dating back to 1758. The compiler of the scrapbooks and their connection to the MHS is unknown.

Administrative correspondence and loose papers, mostly C. F. Adams, Jr., 1791-1902

NOTE: The earliest items (1791-1795) are similar to items in the recording secretary's papers for those years (Box 7).

Box 1
Box 2
Box 3
Records relating to the restoration of the frigate Constitution, 1896-1925

Miscellaneous administrative volumes, 1758-1903

Vol. 1
Record book, 1791 (later copies)
Vol. OS 1
Visitor register, 1858-1918
Box 4Folder 1
Letterbook, 1791-1798
Box 4Folder 2
Act of incorporation, the laws, and the circular letter of the… (1794, 2 copies)
Box 4Folder 3
Act of Incorporation and Bylaws, 1857 (president's copy)
Box 4Folder 4
Act of Incorporation and Bylaws, 1873 (president's copy)
Box 4Folder 5
Alphabetical address book, undated
Box 5
100th anniversary scrapbook (disbound), 1891
Vol. OS 2
Scrapbook, 1758-1875

NOTE: This volume is very fragile and contains crumbling newspaper clippings.

Vol. OS 3
Scrapbook, 1852-1903

NOTE: This volume is very fragile and contains crumbling newspaper clippings.

B. Records of the standing committee/Council, 1833-1907

This subseries contains a manuscript volume of "laws and regulations of the MHS," written in 1833 by the standing committee for printing and distribution, as well as two volumes of minutes of standing committee meetings. No separate record of the work of the standing committee was kept prior to 1857. (See note at the beginning of Records, vol. I.) Beginning in 1857, the recording secretary served as the secretary of the standing committee.

Box 6Folder 1
Laws and regulations of the MHS, 1833 (manuscript soft volume)
Box 6Folder 2
Records, vol. I, 1857-1885
Box 6Folder 3
Records, vol. II, 1885-1907

C. Recording secretary records, 1791-1903

This subseries consists of correspondence and papers of the recording secretary; official minutes of the Society meetings, kept by the recording secretary; and materials related to the controversy regarding the disposition of Thomas Hutchinson's papers.

Correspondence and other loose papers, 1791-1903

The loose papers of the recording secretary include manuscript copies and drafts of the foundation documents of the Society (constitution, regulations, etc.), early minutes, lists of library items, votes, committee reports, donations, meeting notices, member lists, printers' correspondence, orders for publications, and other materials documenting the "business" of the Society. These items, originally tipped into five volumes, have been numbered according to their order in the volumes.

NOTE: There is a significant amount of overlap in content between this material and the "Library Letters" (Boxes 45-55).

Box 7
Vol. I, 1791-1813
Box 8
Vol. II, 1814-1857
Box 9
Vol. III, 1858-1871
Box 10
Vol. IV, 1872-1881
Box 11
Vol. V, 1881-1897, 1903

Minutes, 1791-1898

These volumes contain the recording secretary's official minutes of MHS meetings. Vol. I is a slim paper-bound volume stored in a narrow box; Vol. II is located in oversize; and the rest of the volumes are cased individually.

Box 12
Vol. I, 1791-1795
Vol. OS 4
Vol. II, 1795-1804
Vol. 2
Vol. III, 1804-1825
Vol. 3
Vol. IV, 1826-1835
Vol. 4
Vol. V, 1835-1844
Vol. 5
Vol. VI, 1844-1854
Vol. 6
Vol. VII, 1854-1857
Vol. 7
Vol. VIII, 1857-1865
Vol. 8
Vol. IX, 1866-1874
Vol. 9
Vol. X, 1874-1885
Vol. 10
Vol. XI, 1886-1898
Box 13
Thomas Hutchinson papers controversy, 1846-1880

D. Corresponding secretary records, 1791-1913

This subseries contains letters written to the corresponding secretary, mostly concerning election to the Society; "communications" on historical topics; and letters about donations to the Society's "collections" (art, artifacts, and manuscripts) and "library" (published materials). Included are a number of letters written by the authors of historical works, forwarding copies of their books to the Society. The records consist of two "series" of correspondence, originally tipped into 12 volumes. The first series (Boxes 14-23) is the principal one, and the second series is comprised of materials found after the first series was tipped into volumes. (See note at the beginning of 2nd series, vol. I.) Items have been removed and numbered according to their order in the volumes.

Correspondence, 1st series, 1792-1913

Box 14
Vol. I, 1792-1811
Box 15
Vol. II, 1812-1833
Box 16
Vol. III, 1821-1836
Box 17
Vol. IV, 1834, 1837-1849
Box 18
Vol. V, 1849-1856
Box 19
Vol. VI, 1857-1864
Box 20
Vol. VII, 1864-Jan. 1875
Box 21
Vol. VIII, Dec. 1874-Feb. 1883
Box 22
Vol. IX, Apr. 1883-1899
Box 23
Vol. X, 1900-1913

Correspondence, 2nd series, 1791-1843

Box 24
Vol. I, 1791-1798
Box 25
Vol. II, 1800-1843

II. Financial records, 1791-1910

This series includes general correspondence and other papers kept by the treasurer, arranged chronologically; treasurers' account books; miscellaneous financial volumes; and other loose papers regarding funds, financial committees, etc.

A. Treasurers' papers, 1791-1902

Arranged chronologically.

The treasurers' papers consist of correspondence, bills, receipts, accounts, etc. Some correspondence relates to donations of library and cabinet items. The papers were originally tipped into volumes in rough chronological order, but have since been removed and arranged in chronological order.

NOTE: There is some overlap in content between this material, the recording secretary's correspondence (Boxes 7-11), and the "Library Letters" (Boxes 45-55).

Box 26
Box 27
Box 28
1860-June 1864
Box 29
July 1864-1868
Box 30
1869-Apr. 1873
Box 31
May 1873-Mar. 1877
Box 32
Apr. 1877-Mar. 1879
Box 33
Apr. 1879-Oct. 1881
Box 34
Nov. 1881-Apr. 1884
Box 35
May 1884-Apr. 1887
Box 36
May 1887-Mar. 1890
Box 37
Apr. 1890-June 1892
Box 38
July 1892-1894
Box 39
1895-Jan. 1897
Box 40
Feb. 1897-Oct. 1898
Box 41
Nov. 1898-1902

B. Treasurers' account books, 1825-1904

NOTE: Vol. I, presumably dated 1791-1824 or 1825, was destroyed by fire (date unknown).

Vol. 11
Vol. II, 1825-1867
Vol. 12
Vol. III, 1867-1877
Vol. OS 5
Vol. IV, 1877-1904

C. Miscellaneous accounts and other papers, 1855-1910

This subseries contains other account books kept by the treasurer, or account books of MHS monies kept by other people. Included are miscellaneous accounts such as publications, binding, funds, various expenses, etc., as well as loose papers related to funds and financial committees.

Box 42Folder 1
Cash accounts, Apr. 1860-Apr. 1877
Box 42Folder 2
Publications accounts, 1855-1858
Box 42Folder 3
Publications accounts, 1859-1884
Box 42Folder 4
Publications accounts, 1879-1899
Box 42Folder 5
MHS bank book, New England Trust Co., 1883-1887
Box 42Folder 6
Bookbinding accounts, 1883-1910
Box 42Folder 7
Loose items from bookbinding accounts volume
Box 43Folder 1
Expenses, 1890-1900
Box 43Folder 2
Journal (funds, etc.), 1894-1905
Box 43Folder 3
Appleton Fund, 1856, 1872
Box 43Folder 4
R. C. Billings Fund, 1903
Box 43Folder 5
George B. Chase Fund, 1857-1899
Box 43Folder 6
Historical Trust Fund, 1855
Box 43Folder 7
Savage Fund, 1873-1904
Box 43Folder 8
Finance committee, 1867
Box 43Folder 9
Report of fund committee, undated
Box OS 1
Trust fund oversize records, 1855-1903

D. Treasurers' statements and annual reports, 1859-1907

This subseries consists of printed annual "statements" and annual reports of the treasurer. Included are some gaps in the chronology, but all of the treasurers' reports have been published in the MHS Proceedings.

Box 44

III. Library records, 1791-1902

Library records include correspondence, catalogs and lists, records of donations, books taken out, exchanges, accessions, and miscellaneous library items.

A. Correspondence ("Library Letters"), 1834-1900

Arranged alphabetically.

The "Library Letters" consist of correspondence concerning donations, acknowledgements, permissions, research queries, requests to borrow items, letters of introduction, library visits and use of the collections, queries and donations from other historical agencies, etc. Also included is correspondence related to the printing and distribution of MHS publications. Letters were originally arranged alphabetically and tipped into volumes. They have since been removed from the volumes, but their original arrangement has been maintained.

NOTE: There is a significant amount of overlap in content between this material and the recording secretary correspondence (Boxes 7-11), and some overlap with the treasurers' papers (Boxes 26-41). Library matters before 1834 were addressed through the recording secretary or the corresponding secretary.

Box 45
Box 46
Box 47
Box 48
Box 49
Box 50
Box 51
Box 52
Box 53
Box 54
Box 55

B. Library catalogs and lists, 1796-1900

This subseries consists of many different versions and dates of library catalogs, both in print and in manuscript. A number of the catalogs contain printed pages glued into volumes with manuscript annotations and additions. Also included are miscellaneous lists which were not clearly identified or dated, such as lists of printed materials of various types.

Vol. 13
Library catalog, undated (manuscript)
Vol. 14
1796 catalog (printed pamphlet)
Vol. 15
Catalog of the Dowse Library, before 1856 (manuscript)
Vol. 16
Index to old and new numbers of books in the library, 1860 (manuscript)
Vol. 17
Catalog of bound volumes of newspapers, Sep. 1887 (manuscript)
Box 56Folder 1
1796 catalog (printed, with annotations)
Box 56Folder 2
1796 catalog, working list (manuscript)
Box 56Folder 3
1796 catalog (printed, with annotations to 1808)
Box 56Folder 4
Catalog of books, pamphlets, newspapers..., 1811 (printed)
Box 56Folder 5
T. Alden catalog of library, 1811 (manuscript)
Box OS 1
Catalogue of the Historical Library, 1811 (printed, with annotations and additions)
Box 57Folder 1
Library catalog, ca. 1830 (printed and manuscript)
Box 57Folder 2
Catalog of books, etc., ca. 1833, 1838-1841 (printed and manuscript)
Box 57Folder 3
Catalog of pamphlets from the Athenaeum, 1834 (manuscript)
Box 57Folder 4
Catalog of pamphlets and tracts..., ca. 1834 (manuscript)
Box 57Folder 5
Supplement to catalog of library, ca. 1845 (manuscript)
Box 57Folder 6
Catalog of manuscripts, ca. 1851 (manuscript)
Box 58Folder 1
Books missing and price of..., 1855 (manuscript)
Box 58Folder 2
Catalog of the private library of Thomas Dowse..., 1870 (printed)
Box 58Folder 3
Catalog of manuscripts, 1880s?, with later notes (manuscript)
Box 58Folder 4
Additions, new titles, and references, ca. 1900 (printed, with annotations)

This volume is possibly a sales catalog.

Box 58Folder 5
Early MHS library books/holdings, undated (manuscript)
Box 59
Catalogue of the Library of the Massachusetts Historical Society, vol. I, A-L (Boston, 1859), with annotations
Box 60
Catalogue of the Library of the Massachusetts Historical Society, vol. II, M-Z (Boston, 1860), with annotations
Box 61
Catalogue of the Library of the Massachusetts Historical Society, vols. I & II (Boston, 1859, 1860)
Box 62
Manuscript additions to the printed catalog, 1881 (manuscript)
Box 63Folder 1
List of publications, 1639-1701, undated (manuscript)
Box 63Folder 2
List of American imprints, 1680-1719, undated (manuscript)
Box OS 3
"Accessions 1792," [1830s]

This volume, while labeled "Accessions 1792," is not an accessions list, but a catalog of the library with both print and manuscript entries. The volume clearly dates from some time in the 1830s or later.

C. Library donations, 1792-1902

Box 64Folder 1
[1792], 1812-1813
Box 64Folder 2
Box 64Folder 3
Box 64Folder 4
Box 64Folder 5
Box 64Folder 6
Box 65Folder 1
Box 65Folder 2
Box 65Folder 3
Box 65Folder 4
Box 66

D. Books taken out, 1798-1892

This subseries contains records of books borrowed by MHS members and officers.

Box 67Folder 1
Box 67Folder 2-3
Box 67Folder 4
Box 67Folder 5

E. Library exchanges, 1860-1895

This subseries contains records of materials exchanged with other institutions.

Box 67Folder 6
Box 67Folder 7
1869-1883, 1895

F. Accessions and miscellaneous library records, 1791-1901

Box 68Folder 1
List, undated, William Clark's "Tracts on various theological and divine subjects, 1746-1757"
Box 68Folder 2
Accessions, 1796-1799
Box 68Folder 3
Miscellaneous accessions, 1831, 1856-1868
Box 68Folder 4
Accessions from Proceedings, 1810-1867, by Julius Tuttle

NOTE: Removed to Box OS 1.

Box 68Folder 5
Accessions from Proceedings, 1867-1901, by Julius Tuttle
Box 68Folder 6
Record of items printed in Collections and Proceedings, 1791-1810, undated (manuscript)
Box 68Folder 7
Record of items printed in Collections and Proceedings, to 1881 (manuscript)
Box 68Folder 8
Memorandum, 1878
Box 68Folder 9
Correspondence re: Michael Wigglesworth's Day of Doom, 1894-1895
Box 68Folder 10
Old catalog cards, undated
Box 68Folder 11
Page of titles from an old volume, undated (manuscript)

IV. Curatorial records, 1791-1934

This series consists of correspondence and other papers related to the acquisition of museum items, including art, numismatics, and artifacts. Because the curatorial records were not routinely saved, this series provides a limited record of curatorship at the MHS to 1900. Included are materials concerning the Society's "cabinet" (the MHS name for all museum items) in the papers of the recording and corresponding secretaries, as well as in the treasurers' correspondence. The cabinet catalog of ca. 1893-1899 contains a number of separate multi-page lists of cabinet items, starting with engravings and followed by busts and artifacts. The cabinet book (subseries C), which runs through to 1934, is probably the most complete list of acquisitions to the cabinet.

A. Miscellaneous curatorial papers and records, 1791-1914

Box 69Folder 1-26
Chronological curators' papers, 1791-1902
Box 69Folder 27
Shem Drowne weathervane, 1838, 1902, 1914
Box 70
Sharples portraits controversy, 1882-1897

B. Curatorial catalogs, 1809-1899

Box 71Folder 1
Cabinet catalog, 1809 (manuscript)
Box 71Folder 2
Cabinet catalog, 1811 (manuscript)
Box 71Folder 3-8
C. F. Adams coin catalog, 1839 (manuscript, photocopy)
Box 71Folder 9
Catalog of paintings, engravings, etc., 1885 (printed)
Box 71Folder 10
Catalog of paintings, 1888 (printed)

Cabinet catalog, ca. 1893-1899

This catalog contains printed entries glued into separate lists, with manuscript annotations and additions.

Box 71Folder 11
Engravings of clergymen
Box 71Folder 12
Engravings of generals
Box 71Folder 13
Engravings of governors
Box 71Folder 14
Engravings of judges
Box 71Folder 15
Engravings of presidents
Box 71Folder 16
Engravings of statesmen
Box 71Folder 17
Engravings of places, etc.
Box 71Folder 18
Foreign engravings
Box 71Folder 19
Engravings of miscellaneous people
Box 71Folder 20
Box 71Folder 21
Other cabinet objects/artifacts
Box 71Folder 22-23
Henry Adams catalog of Roman coins, undated (manuscript)

C. Cabinet book, 1791-1934 (manuscript)

Vol. 18

V. Membership records, 1835-1910digital content

These records include the "nomination book" for 1835-1906, nominating committee reports of 1891-1910, and some sample membership certificates from different dates.

NOTE: Papers concerning members prior to 1835 are located in the recording secretary's minutes and in the papers and correspondence of the recording and corresponding secretaries.

Box 72Folder 1digitized
digitizedNomination book, 1835-1906

This bound manuscript volume contains two distinct volumes, a format that is properly termed "tête-bêche," and more informally called an "upside down book." In the physical volume, the first 31 pages contain information about Resident Members, 122 blank pages, followed by 11 pages about Corresponding Members. The pages listing Corresponding Members are written from back to front and so they appear upside down if a researcher starts browsing from the first part of the volume (about Resident Members).

Box 72Folder 2
Nominating committee "reports on nominations, 1893-1910," [1891-1910]

This volume, while labeled "Reports on nominations, 1893-1910," actually contains reports for the years 1891-1910.

Box OS 2
Sample membership certificates, 1800, 1831, 1878

VI. Building records, 1832-1905

This series consists of miscellaneous records related to the MHS properties at Tremont Street (where the Society resided from 1833 to 1899) and Boylston Street (where the Society has resided since 1899), including plans. Also included is a scrapbook for the dedication of the new Boylston Street building, completed in 1899. The scrapbook contains a few items dating to 1905 at the end of the volume.

Box 73Folder 1-2
Tremont Street property papers, 1832-1897

NOTE: Also in Box OS 2.

Box OS 2
Tremont Street property plans, 1872
Box 73Folder 3-13
Miscellaneous building records, 1851-1899

Included are papers and plans for 1154 Boylston Street.

NOTE: Also in Box OS 2.

Box 74
Scrapbook of dedication of new building (disbound), 1899-1905

VII. Editorial (publications) records, 1767-1900

This series contains lists for the distribution of the Collections and Proceedings; manuscripts prepared for publication; papers regarding transactions with the binder; a manuscript volume, apparently an index of American newspapers; MHS publications (volumes and pamphlets) arranged alphabetically by title; memoirs arranged alphabetically by subject; miscellaneous MHS publications arranged by date; and some items arranged by format. The series includes the full run of American Apollo (Vol. I, 1792); the "annotated Hubbard" (William Hubbard's A General History of New England); meeting notices; and other miscellaneous MHS publications.

NOTE: Editorial correspondence was handled through the library and officers of the MHS, so incoming letters regarding publications, editing, etc. are located in the "Library Letters" (Boxes 45-55) and scattered through the recording and corresponding secretaries' correspondence. Archived copies of pre-1900 Collections and Proceedings are stored offsite, along with numerous duplicate publications.

Miscellaneous editorial records, 1767-1900

Box 75
Publication distribution lists, 1856-1900
Box 76Folder 1-14
Miscellaneous manuscripts prepared for publication, 1793-1890
Box 76Folder 15-21
James Freeman manuscripts prepared for publication, 1767-1807
Box 76Folder 22-24
Binding records, 1833-1889
Box 76Folder 25
Miscellaneous papers

Miscellaneous MHS publications

Arranged alphabetically.

Box 77
Box 78
Box 79

NOTE: See also Newburgh Address in Box OS 1.

American Apollo, vol. I, 1792

Box 80
Nos. 1-15
Box 81
Nos. 16-30
Box 82
Nos. 31-39

Meeting notices, 1828-1899

Box 83
Box 84
Box 85
MHS published memoirs

Arranged alphabetically by subject.

Box 86Folder 1-25
Miscellaneous MHS publications, 1791-1899

Arranged chronologically.

Box 86Folder 26-36
Miscellaneous MHS publications

Arranged by format.

Included are circulars, lists, forms, etc.

NOTE: Also in Box OS 1.

Box 87
William Hubbard's A General History of New England (Boston, 1848)

This volume was disbound and glued onto pages and includes extensive manuscript annotations and additions.

Box 88
Unidentified alphabetical index to American newspapers, undated (manuscript)
Box 89
MHS Collections, 4th Series, Vol. X, pp. 1-745 (manuscript draft)
Box 90
MHS Collections, 4th Series, Vol. X, pp. 746-986 (manuscript draft)

VIII. Oversize materials

Box OS 4
Photocopies of MHS records
Box OS 5
Oversize photographs

Preferred Citation

Massachusetts Historical Society archives, 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, Charles Francis, 1835-1915.
Belknap, Jeremy, 1744-1798.


Massachusetts Historical Society--Art collections.
Massachusetts Historical Society--Buildings.
Massachusetts Historical Society--Catalogs.
Massachusetts Historical Society--History.


Boston (Mass.)--Libraries.
Boston (Mass.)--Societies.
History--Societies, etc.--Massachusetts--Boston.