About the Collection

Harbottle Dorr

Period ad: "Nails To be sold by Harbottle Dorr at his shop..."

Harbottle Dorr, Jr. (1730-1794) was a merchant and a member of the Sons of Liberty, and served intermittently as a Boston selectman for many years between 1777 and 1791. Beginning in 1765, Dorr spent more than a dozen years purchasing newspapers, writing comments in margins, inserting reference marks in articles, and assembling indexes.

Dorr's Newspapers

Boston Evening Post Heading, April 4, 1768

The newspapers in Dorr’s collection were published in Boston and surrounding towns during the turbulent pre-Revolutionary and early Revolutionary period. Thirteen different titles are included in the collection, including: The Boston Evening-Post; The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal; The Massachusetts Gazette: and the Boston Weekly News-Letter; and the The New-England Chronicle: or, the Essex Gazette.

Dorr collected newspapers that conveyed the perspective of Patriots as well as newspapers that were sympathetic to the viewpoint of Loyalists. For example, The Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, published by Benjamin Edes and John Gill, promoted the Patriot cause. However, The Boston Chronicle, published by John Mein and John Fleeming, supported the Tory cause.

Some of the titles are variants of the same paper. For example, The Massachusetts Gazette and Boston News-Letter; The Boston Weekly News-Letter; and The Massachusetts Gazette: and the Boston Weekly News-Letter, are three subsequent titles of a paper promoting the Loyalist perspective published by members of the Draper family. For more information about Boston-area newspaper publishers, please consult, Boston Printers, Publishers, and Booksellers, 1640-1800, edited by Benjamin Franklin V (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1980). A source of information about newspapers and their varying titles is Library of Congress's online checklist of Eighteenth-century American Newspapers—see the publishing history for titles from Boston, Massachusetts, http://www.loc.gov/rr/news/18th/massachusetts.html.

Dorr arranged the newspapers by date in four bound volumes, numbered the pages in each volume sequentially (although he occasionally repeated page numbers), and meticulously annotated and indexed many of the articles contained in the newspapers. Browse newspapers by date & title.

Dorr’s Annotations (including his use of reference marks)

Example of Dorr's annotation reference marks. Example of Dorr's annotation reference marks.

The majority of Dorr’s annotations are concise explanatory notes. Many newspaper articles referred to public figures by initials only and Dorr often noted their full names in the margins. Dorr also identified anonymous authors and writers who submitted letters under pseudonyms. Dorr clarified vague subjects within articles and included cross references to pages containing related articles. Some of Dorr’s annotations contain his very personal comments and criticisms about people and topics.

Dorr also placed thousands of reference marks* on newspapers, pamphlets, and some indexed pages to refer to footnotes consisting of explanatory words and/or page cross-references. Dorr used many common reference marks—asterisks, daggers, diamonds, paragraph marks, and lowercase letters—but he also used more than 100 less frequently used reference marks including figures that resemble a balloon, a compass, a log, an ice cream cone and a mark that combines a cross and a diamond. Some pages contain so many reference marks that the footnotes don’t all fit in the bottom margin so Dorr continued them in the margins along the right and left sides of the newspaper or even at the top above the masthead.
*Reference marks are symbols placed within texts for the purpose of pointing the reader to matching symbols that are followed by explanatory information. For example, the way the asterisk (*) was just used!

Dorr’s Indexes

Dorr's index.

Dorr created indexes for each of his four volumes of newspapers and captured access points to various articles by assigning index terms and noting the page number corresponding to the article or piece. Some of Dorr’s index terms are concise (“Comet, a very remarkable one appears”) and some are convoluted (“College. Harvard Corporation of, Invite Govr. Hutchinson there, with an account of the parade, anthem &c.”). Dorr created many straightforward index terms (“[Commons House of.] Debates in, on the partial Repeal of the Tea Act”) but also revealed his perspective on political events and figures in other index terms (“Charles I. A Tyrant, his Treatment of his Parliament's”).

Dorr wrote his index terms by hand on pages divided into columns. Index pages within volumes 1, 2, and 3 have three columns per page, while index pages within volume 4 have only two columns per page. The index terms are arranged in rough alphabetical order for volumes 3 and 4. Although the initial arrangement of index entries in volumes 1 and 2 is alphabetical, Dorr jumped to open spaces on pages assigned to different letters to continue recording entries when he ran out of room. Dorr seemed to refine and expand his approach to indexing during the time he collected newspapers. Volume 1 contains eight index pages; volume 2 contains sixteen index pages; volume 3 contains thirty-seven index pages and volume 4 contains seventy-two index pages.

Dorr’s Process and Product

Signature: compiled by Harbottle Dorr

Harbottle Dorr’s handwritten introductions explain some of his motivations and intentions and he clearly states the expenses associated with his endeavors. The introduction to his third assembled volume of newspapers indicates that he worked on his annotation project while at his store. Dorr acknowledges that some of his marginalia includes misspelled words, “which I hope whoever peruses will excuse, especially as they were wrote at my Shop amidst my business, when I had not leisure to be exact.” Dorr’s remarkable collection of newspapers and other documents provides the insights of an ordinary man as the Revolution unfolded around him.

Dorr’s Pamphlets

Dorr's index.

In addition to collecting newspapers, Dorr acquired, annotated, and indexed pamphlets while creating volumes 2, 3, and 4 of his collection. The three pamphlets associated with volume 2 and the four pamphlets associated with volume 3 are no longer stored within the Dorr collection but are cataloged and shelved separately at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The eight pamphlets associated with volume 4 are stored within the Dorr collection. These fifteen pamphlets (totaling 655 pages) are presented within this digital collection. Images of these pamphlets have been placed within this digital collection based on Dorr’s pagination scheme.

Provenance and Scope

The Massachusetts Historical Society’s collection, Annotated Newspapers of Harbottle Dorr, Jr., was acquired over the span of 213 years. Volumes 2 and 3 were donated to MHS by Josiah Quincy in 1798. In 1915, the MHS purchased volume 1 from the Dedham Historical Society where it had resided since 1888. In 2011, when the MHS purchased the fourth and final volume, which had resided at the Bangor Museum and History Center since 1914, it reunited all four of Dorr's original collection.

The Annotated Newspapers of Harbottle Dorr, Jr. is comprised of four volumes consisting of 3,674 pages (3,314 are newspaper pages; 133 are handwritten index pages; 204 are pamphlet pages, and there are 23 introductory and miscellaneous pages). A sequence of 42 handwritten pages, previously the appendix to volume 2, is shelved and cataloged separately. Additional pamphlets (totaling 451 pages) previously stored with volumes 2 and 3 are shelved and cataloged separately within the holdings of the Massachusetts Historical Society.This website presents a grand total of 4,167 pages (3,969 newspaper and pamphlet pages, 133 index pages, and 65 introductory and miscellaneous pages).

For Further Reading

For more information about Dorr and the importance of his collection, see "The Index and Commentaries of Harbottle Dorr" within Faces of Revolution: Personalities and Themes in the Struggle for American Independence, by Bernard Bailyn, (NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990). See also an online news article about MHS’s purchase of volume 4 of the collection.

Also see five blog posts from The Beehive (MHS’s blog): “Glimpses of Harbottle Dorr, Jr.,” by Nancy Heywood; “The Idiosyncratic Index Subjects of Harbottle Dorr, Jr.,” "Harbottle Dorr Launched," and Mysteries Solved! Using Harbottle Dorr's Index to Find Missing Pamphlets," by Peter K. Steinberg; and “Digitizing Dorr’s Annotated Newspapers,” by Laura Wulf.