Massachusetts Historical Society Receives NHPRC Grant to Complete Publication of Robert Treat Paine Papers
Robert Treat Paine Papers provide valuable insight into 18th- and 19th-century social life as well as the evolution of legal thought in the new republic.
The MHS received a grant for $51,200 from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The grant will be used to complete the Society's edition of the papers of Robert Treat Paine, the prominent Revolutionary-era lawyer and political figure. From Paine's notes on a "petit treason" trial to his wife's feisty letters, this documentary edition will give scholars worldwide the opportunity to access and learn from this heretofore little-known signer of the Declaration of Independence.
In 1792 the MHS initiated one of the first series of publications devoted to making accessible the history of the (then new) United States. Under the series title Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, that initiative still continues today, and as of last July, the grant from the NHPRC will make it possible to complete the five-volume Robert Treat Paine Papers as part of the ongoing Collections.
"The MHS is pleased that the NHPRC has recognized the importance of this project. Not only will it create much greater access to this rich collection, but it will also greatly enrich our understanding of 18th-century America," commented MHS President Dennis Fiori.
Mr. Paine, best known for his part as a prosecuting attorney at the Boston Massacre trials (his Harvard classmate John Adams was on the defense team), also served as a Massachusetts delegate to the Continental Congress (where he signed the Declaration of Independence), a representative at two Provincial Congresses, the Bay State's first attorney general, and a justice on the state's Supreme Judicial Court. His papers, which the Paine family donated to the MHS in several installments beginning in the 1940s, span the spectrum from family letters to compendious legal notes, providing valuable insights into 18th- and 19th-century social life as well as the evolution of legal thought in the new republic.
The earliest work on the Society's edition of the Paine papers began with cataloging and a project plan when the collection was newly arrived. Three of five projected volumes are already published in print. The grant from the NHPRC, which has allowed the Society to hire an in-house editor dedicated to the project, will culminate in the publication of volumes 4 and 5 as well as the digitization of the complete edition in 2018. The finished work will comprise transcriptions of over 1900 manuscript documents. The lead editor and scholar of the edition is Edward W. Hanson, who worked alongside the edition's first editor, Stephen T. Riley, who also served as MHS librarian and director during his long career.
While the collection of Paine family papers is available for any researcher to use onsite, access to the raw materials can be challenging for all but the most experienced scholars of the era. A documentary edition such as this, with transcriptions and historical notes by the people who know Paine's network and activities best, will make the content available to a broader swathe of readers of diverse ages and backgrounds. Annotations identify Paine's many correspondents for the users. Although some are historical giants--such as Adams and John Hancock--others are less well known, such as John Allan, a commander in Maine working hard to maintain his outpost and alliance with the native population. As a family collection, the Paine papers give a vivid account of domestic life, as Sally Paine writes to her husband about challenges at home and Eunice Paine asks her brother for help. The editors have also selected exemplary cases from Paine’s legal career, painstakingly puzzling out the often inscrutable script of his trial notes and making available the stories of treason, arson, burglary, and murder--among others--recorded there.
About the NHPRC
The NHPRC is one of the key supporters of documentary editing projects in the United States. It is the funding affiliate of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which was created by Congress in 1934 to protect America’s historical records and make them publicly available. Through grants, the NHPRC promotes the preservation, publication, and digitization of significant documentary sources.