MHS News

Terra Firma: The Beginnings of the MHS Map Collection on View at the MHS

The MHS map collection—one of the Society’s most diverse and interesting—includes landmarks of map publishing.

Thomas Johnston’s 1754 plan of the Kennebec and Sagadahoc riversAs the MHS approaches its 225th anniversary, Terra Firma celebrates the beginnings of one of its most diverse and interesting collections. Among the maps on display are landmarks of map publishing that include the first published map of New England, the first map of Massachusetts published in America, and a unique copy of the earliest separate map of Vermont, as well as maps of important battles and maps and atlases from the United States and beyond. The exhibition is on display at the Society through 9 January 2016, Monday through Saturday, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

Started with gifts of six manuscript maps from James Freeman and three (two published, one manuscript) from Thomas Wallcut, the MHS map collection grew quickly, with 130 maps and seven atlas volumes listed in the Society’s 1811 Catalogue of the Books, Pamphlets, Newspapers, Maps, Charts, Manuscripts, &c. Today, the map collection numbers more than 2,000 separate maps and more than 100 atlases. 

While maps of New England and its six states represented the lion’s share of the collection in 1811, the Society's founders widely collected maps—both printed and manuscript—that allow researchers to track the development, progress, and history of the United States. Each map provides a unique look at the concerns of the mapmaker and his time—from the isolated and far flung settlements of John Foster’s 1677 map of New England to the looming threat of French fortifications in
in Maine to the scientific and statistical knowledge displayed in Lewis Evans’s maps of Pennsylvania and the middle colonies.

Several rare examples of early battle maps are on display, the earliest being Philip Durell’s 1740 Plan of the Harbour, Town, and Forts of Porto Bello, and a 1746 map of the fortifications of Louisbourg. Detailed and important maps of Revolutionary War battles were donated to the collection by early members. Sebastian Bauman’s elegant map of the Battle of Yorktown was drawn in the days immediately following the decisive American victory and provides a vivid account of the battle.

Although most the early collection was acquired by gift, the MHS took up a subscription to purchase the monumental Atlantic Neptune in 1796. Begun in 1763 by Swiss cartographer Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres, if was hailed as “the most splendid collection of charts, plans, and views ever published.” Several plates are on display including Chart of New York Harbour, Plan of the posts of York & Gloucester, and South Carolina to East Florida; Plan of the Siege of Savannah.The Society's initial map collecting efforts were far from provincial. Members provided early printed maps from all corners of the globe. Featured maps display the range of the mapmaker’s art from the finely engraved city plan of Hamburg to the views of English seaports surrounding the New Map of England & Wales to the on-the-scene reportage of William Frazer's Correct Ground Plan of the Dreadful Fire at Radcliff.

The Atlas du Voyage de La Pérouse is a remarkable pictorial record of the doomed voyage of Jean François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse. A veteran of the Seven Years' War and American Revolution, La Pérouse was appointed by Louis XVI to lead an expedition that would chart previously unknown waters and provide the basis for future voyages of discovery. Encountering members of the British fleet at Botony Bay, Australia, he sent his journals, charts, and letters back to Europe by a returning British ship, a decision that proved fortuitous. He set sail from Australia in March 1788 and was never seen again. In addition to detailed maps and charts, the volume includes wonderfully evocative engravings. The atlas is on display along with a slide show highlighting a selection of the engravings. 

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God Save the People! From the Stamp Act to Bunker Hill Opens at the MHS on 27 February

Immerse yourself in the tumultuous times leading to revolution with an exhibition of letters, diaries, political cartoons, newspapers, maps, artifacts, and portraits.

Boston Massacre engravingTo tell the story of the coming of the American Revolution in Boston, God Save the People! From the Stamp Act to Bunker Hill follows the evolution of colonial thought and political action through the letters and diaries of men and women caught up in the conflict, together with political cartoons, newspapers, maps, artifacts, and portraits. The exhibition is on display at the Society February 27 through September 4, Monday through Saturday, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

The story of the coming of the Revolution in Boston is found not only in records that tell us the views of political opponents and military leaders; it also appears in letters and diaries that indicate what events meant to the ordinary men and women who experienced them. Along with celebrated Sons and Daughters of Liberty, this is the story of forgotten patriots who died for a country-to-be, brothers who served against each other in the courtroom, propagandists and war profiteers, merchants whose enterprise was threatened by political chaos, young lovers divided by battle lines, and a teenage African American poet who had to sail to England to secure her freedom.

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MHS Announces Publication of What's New About the "New" Immigration? Traditions and Transformations in the United States since 1965

What's New about the BOSTON, January 2014—As debates over immigration reform echo from local communities to the halls of Congress, the Massachusetts Historical Society is pleased to announce the publication of What's New about the "New" Immigration? Traditions and Transformations in the United States since 1965, co-edited by professors Marilyn Halter of Boston University, Marilynn S. Johnson of Boston College, and Director of Research Conrad Edick Wright and Research Coordinator Katheryn P. Viens of the MHS. The book is available from the publisher Palgrave MacMillan.

Through the ten essays in this collection, readers will discover a wide range of experiences that will inform their understanding of immigration today. Newcomers share the stuff of daily life as they cope with teenagers, worship together, and maintain long-distance family ties using new social media. In other instances, their experiences have been marked by the passage of the 1965 Hart-Celler Act, which ushered in the current immigration system. In this new context, the men and women in these pages eke out a living below minimum wage, or practice a profession and contribute to political campaigns. They seek asylum through the federal bureaucracy and navigate the meaning of citizenship. They are Bosnian, Chinese, Mexican, Asian Indian, and Nigerian. They reside in Boston suburbs, the Nuevo South in Georgia, affluent Dallas suburbs, and the heart of Los Angeles. But they are representative of newcomers to communities throughout the United States.

What's New about the "New" Immigration? presents the work of recognized immigration scholars. It is the latest in a series of essay collections based on conferences held at the Society. Founded in 1791, the MHS is an independent research institution that promotes the study of the history of Massachusetts and the nation. It strives to enhance the understanding of our nation’s past and its connection to the present, demonstrating that history is integral to our daily lives. The MHS collections, which include more than 12 million manuscripts and several hundred thousand books, are particularly well-known for extensive holdings of personal papers from three presidents: John Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. Moreover, the MHS offers many other ways for the public to engage with history, including its publications, exhibitions, and an extensive range of programs including public lectures, tours, academic seminars and conferences, brown-bag lunch talks, and teacher workshops.

What’s New about the "New" Immigration? Traditions and Transformations in the United States since 1965. Marilyn Halter, Marilynn S. Johnson, Katheryn P. Viens, and Conrad Edick Wright, eds. (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2014. x, 306 pp. Maps, tables, index. $90.00.) ISBN 978-1-137-48386-7

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The Father of His Country Returns to Boston Opens at the Massachusetts Historical Society on October 24

An exhibition of paintings, accounts, and other memorabilia assembled to commemorate the 225th anniversary of George Washington’s visit to Boston


George Washington portrait by GullagerTwo hundred twenty-five years ago, during his first year in office, Pres. George Washington embarked on a month-long tour of New England including a ten-day visit to Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Historical Society is commemorating this visit with the exhibition The Father of His Country Returns to Boston, October 24, 1789. The exhibition is open in the Treasures Gallery of the Society through December 31, 2014.

In Boston, the president was met by a great procession that paraded beneath a triumphal arch designed by Charles Bulfinch. Young John Quincy Adams observed the great excitement of people everywhere: “At the present moment they indulge themselves in sentiments of joy, arising/resulting . . . from the gratification of their affection in beholding personally among them, the friend, the benefactor, the father of his Country.” To set the scene, the exhibition includes a map of Boston, an engraving by Samuel Hill showing the triumphal arch, and a broadside describing the welcoming procession along with a painting of State Street in 1801 by James Brown Marston.

Featured in the exhibition is one of six portraits of Washington housed in the Society’s collections. The portrait is a life study by Christian Gullager painted during the New England tour. Gullager began his portrait of the president in October, 1789.  Jeremy Belknap, the minister of Federal Street Church in Boston and founder of the MHS, noted Washington's visit and Gullager's effort to portray him in his diary: "While he was in the chapel, Gullager, the painter stole a likeness of him from a Pew behind the pulpit." Belknap added, "Gullager followed Gen W to Ports[mouth] where he sat for 2 – hours for him to take his portrait wh[ich] he did & obtained a very good likeness after wh[ich] he laid aside the sketch wh[ich] he took in the Chapel wh[ich] however was not a bad one."

Also on display are designs of copper buttons made to celebrate Washington’s inauguration, the Bowdoin Bishop Cup from which Washington is said to have drunk punch, a lock of hair that Washington gave to Alexander Hamilton, and a walking stick presented to George Washington by Gov. James Bowdoin. Martha Washington returned the cane to the Bowdoin family after her husband’s death in 1799.

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Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country Opens at the Massachusetts Historical Society on June 12

An exhibition of letters, photographs, and other memorabilia assembled to commemorate the centenary of the first World War

Photograph of Margaret Hall and a soldierTo commemorate the centennial of the outbreak of World War I, the MHS has organized the exhibition Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: Massachusetts Women in the First World War, focusing on two of the hundreds of women from the Commonwealth who went to France as members of the U.S. armed forces, the Red Cross, and other war relief organizations. From the Society’s extraordinary collection of women’s remembrances, this exhibition features photographs, letters, diaries, and memorabilia related to Margaret Hall and Eleanor (Nora) Saltonstall, Red Cross volunteers in France. Both women were keen observers of the climactic months of the war and depicted what they witnessed in vivid detail. The exhibition is open at the MHS June 12, 2014 through January 24, 2015.

Nora Saltonstall was 23 when she sailed for France in October 1917 to work in Paris with the Bureau of Refugees and Relief, a division of the American Red Cross, which provided lodging for refugees. In November, she transferred to an American Red Cross dispensary in Paris and, after the new year, to Mrs. Charles Daly's Auto-Chir No. 7, an American Red Cross hospital unit attached to the French army. The Auto-Chir was a mobile hospital which followed the troops, serving as the primary medical unit after the first aid station. Later, she was the chauffeur while the Auto-Chir served along the western front in France, the site of the German offensives in the spring of 1918.  It was for this service that she earned the Croix de Guerre that is on display in the exhibition along with a selection of her letters home and a portrait of Nora by Frank Weston Benson.

In August 1918, a Massachusetts-born woman named Margaret Hall boarded a transport ship in New York City that would take her across the Atlantic to work with the American Red Cross in France. The year she spent abroad was eye opening. When she returned stateside, she compiled a typescript narrative from the letters and diary passages that she wrote while overseas and illustrated it with roughly 275 photographs and illustrative items. Her words offer a first-hand account of life on the Western Front in the last months of the war while her photographs depict the soldiers, canteens, and extensive destruction following the war. That narrative, "Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country, 1918-1919," is a manuscript in the collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) and will be on display. The exhibition will highlight a selection of Hall’s large-format photographs of the battlefront on loan from the Cohasset Historical Society.

About the publication

The MHS will publish Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country: The World War I Memoir of Margaret Hall on July 14, 2014, as part of its commemoration of the beginning of World War I. Modern readers will be transported by this first-person account of a woman’s life in the Great War. The book augments Hall’s written story with several dozen of her striking and never-before-published photographs, selected from those she included in the archived typescript.

Margaret Higonnet, the volume’s editor, opens up the text for readers with a suite of supporting materials: an introduction, headnotes on key related topics, a biographical key identifying the people who appear in the text, a geographical key of significant locations, a timeline of relevant World War I events, and glossaries of period and French terms.

About the Massachusetts Historical Society

The Massachusetts Historical Society is one of the nation’s preeminent research libraries, with collections that provide an unparalleled record of the vibrant course of American history. Since its founding in 1791, the MHS has fostered research, scholarship, and education. With millions of pages of manuscript letters, diaries, and other documents, as well as early newspapers, broadsides, artifacts, works of art, maps, photographs, and prints, the MHS offers a wide-ranging perspective on the United States from the earliest beginnings of the nation to the present day. Exhibition galleries are open Monday to Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

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