Monday, December 17, 2018

Remembering the Boston Tea Party on its 245th Anniversary

On December 16, 1773, a third ship entered Boston Harbor carrying a load of tea courtesy of the British East India Company. The Beaver was the last to arrive, as the final ship William ran aground at Cape Cod several days before. The Dartmouth, which had arrived on November 28, and the Eleanor, which had arrived December 2, were still loaded with over 100 cases of tea each – and Bostonians were refusing to unload the tea and pay the required tax.

Parliament levying taxes on the colonies was no new issue. Especially since the end of the French and Indian War (1756–1763), the British government had been trying to find a way to raise revenue that would pay for the cost of running and defending their newly enlarged empire in the Americas. Earlier laws such as the Sugar Act (1764) and Stamp Act (1765) had been met with consternation, as the colonies believed they were being forced to pay taxes for which they and their representatives had not voted. While these previous acts caused such an uproar that they were subsequently repealed, Parliament bitterly passed the Declaratory Act in 1766, insisting they had the right to legislate the colonies “in all cases whatsoever.”

The town of Boston in New England by John Bonner (ca. 1723 – 1733)
courtesy of the Boston Public Library’s Norman B. Leventhal Map Center

The issue of “taxation without representation” revived with the passage of the Townshend Revenue Act in 1767, which placed taxes on glass, lead, painters' colors, tea, and paper and reaffirmed the legality of the writs of assistance to combat smuggling. Another act passed only days later, the Indemnity Act reduced taxes on the struggling British East India Company and allowed them to sell their tea more cheaply in the colonies. However, American merchants protested by organizing a non-importation agreement and discontent culminated in the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770. That year, in the wake of this backlash, the Townshend Acts were also repealed except for the duty on tea.

The legislation in favor of the East India Company did not help the company get back in good standing, and by the time the Indemnity Act expired in 1772 it was in even more dire circumstances. Therefore, Parliament passed the Tea Act in 1773, which allowed the East India Company to ship directly to the colonies, who were now responsible for paying importation duties. The act also allowed the appointment of colonial merchants to receive the tea on consignment. These consignees were chosen by the royal governors, who often chose their favorites for their position. The Governor of Massachusetts Bay, Thomas Hutchinson, chose two of his own sons to be tea brokers. These terms were no better than those originally put in place by the Townshend Acts, and when the Dartmouth, Eleanor, and Beaver arrived with their loads of tea, the people of Boston wanted them sent back to England.

Notice from the "Chairman of the Committee for Tarring and Feathering" in Boston who denounced the tea consignees as "traitors to their country" (1773)

Unfortunately, the only person who could send back the ships was Governor Hutchinson, whose sons were set to make a fortune as tea brokers. Governor Hutchinson refused to send the ships back and demanded that the ships be unloaded and the duties paid. With neither side willing to settle, the ships sat in the harbor awaiting the deadline when the taxes must be paid: December 17.

Several meetings occurred in the days leading up to the deadline, with citizens from across Massachusetts trying to figure out a way to prevent the East India Company ships from being unloaded. The ships’ owners, from Nantucket and Boston, and the captains did not want to risk their ships by trying to leave Boston Harbor without governmental permission. Hutchinson still refused to let the ships go. Finally on December 16, thousands had gathered first in the streets, then Faneuil Hall, and finally at the Old South Meeting House to await the final judgement.

During the meeting it was decided that Francis Rotch, owner of the Beaver and Dartmouth, and an accompanying committee would approach the Customs House and demand a pass for the ships to leave the harbor. As it was not under their authority to issue a pass, Rotch and the committee were forced to go out to Milton, Massachusetts, where Hutchinson was staying at his country estate. After traveling over ten miles for the meeting, Rotch and the committee were once again denied.

The other attendees of the meeting had been waiting for hours for Rotch and his committee to return with news. Unknown to many of them, the Sons of Liberty had secretly planned to take action. After the news of the final denial was delivered to the crowd at the Old South Meeting House, Sam Adams declared, “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country!” With this signal, the Sons of Liberty emerged from the meeting house and marched to the Harbor.

Boston Tea Party by W.D. Cooper (1789) courtesy of the Library of Congress

The participants in the Boston Tea Party riot were described as disguised in “Indian dress,” though it seems unlikely that they would be mistaken for actual Native Americans. According to the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, the symbolism of the costumes is more likely to be a statement of citizenship, identifying the colonists as Americans rather than British subjects.  Numbering in the hundreds, these men climbed aboard the three ships and smashed open about 340 chests of tea, weighing over 92,000 pounds, dumping them into the Harbor. Curiously, the ships were not damaged, nor was anything other than the tea stolen or looted. The captains and their crew were not harmed.

After the Tea Party, many participants fled Boston to avoid arrest, and some participants remained anonymous for many years for fear of being arrested. Only one man, Francis Akeley, was caught and imprisoned for his participation. Still not all of the participants are known, but the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum has a list of men who took part on their website. What is remarkable about this list is that most of their names are not recognizable today. These everyday people were mostly of English descent, though men of Irish, Scottish, French, Portuguese, and African ancestry also made up the hundreds that participated that night. Recently, colonial reenactors working with the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum marked dozens of gravestones at the Central Burying Ground in Boston to indicate the final resting place of men who took part in the Boston Tea Party. This gesture will remind future visitors that the American Revolution and the creation of the United States took place because everyday people stood up to make a difference.

Tea leaves in glass bottle collected on the shore of Dorchester Neck the morning of 17 December 1773,
courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Alexandra Bernson
Reference staff

Monday, December 10, 2018

Unique Gift Ideas at the State Library’s Online Store

Are you looking to wrap up your gift giving this holiday season? Our online store is your go-to place for beautiful reproduction maps and notecards, as well as various items featuring the State Library’s logo, including mugs, aprons, tote bags, and magnets. New this year is a 2019 poster-style calendar featuring images of marbled paper from our collection!

Surprise the map enthusiast in your life with a reproduction map of a Massachusetts city or town! Bird’s-eye-view maps from nineteen different towns, including Boston, Arlington, Plymouth, and more, are available in our online store.

For more information, visit the State Library’s website at And remember, your purchase directly supports the services and programs at the State Library.

-State Library of Massachusetts Staff

Monday, December 3, 2018

Monday, November 26, 2018

December Author Talk: Dick Lehr

Trell by Dick Lehr
Wednesday, December 12, 2018—Noon to 1:00pm
State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, Massachusetts State House

Bestselling author of Black Mass and award-winning investigative journalist Dick Lehr will be speaking at the State Library on Wednesday, December 12, about his recent novel, Trell.

Soon to be adapted into a motion picture, Trell is the gripping story of a teenage girl who teams up with a Boston Globe reporter in an effort to free her wrongfully-convicted father.  Written for a young adult audience, this novel is a departure from Lehr’s previous true-crime bestsellers; however, much like his previous books, Trell focuses on the issue of social justice. The novel is inspired by the true story of Shawn Drumgold, a Boston man wrongfully convicted of the murder in the 1980s of a 12-year-old girl from Roxbury. Lehr’s investigative reporting on Drumgold’s case ultimately led to his release from a life sentence without parole.
Author Dick Lehr is currently a Professor of Journalism at Boston University and previously has worked as a reporter at the Hartford Courant and The Boston Globe. During his time at the Globe, Lehr was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in investigative reporting and served as a longtime member of the newspaper’s Spotlight Team.

We encourage you to register in advance and to join us on December 12 for this free author talk. Copies of Trell will be available for purchase and signing at the conclusion of the talk. For more information about the State Library and our Author Talk series, please visit our website at

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Monday, November 19, 2018

The World’s Fair

Did you know the State Library has books about various World’s Fairs? The guides to these expositions are quite diverse and include maps, advertisements, pictures of the fairgrounds (including iconic buildings), and sculptures.  The World’s Fairs are frequently called expositions or expo for short.  In 1928 an organization called the International Bureau of Exhibitions started running these fairs. The purpose of these exhibitions was to showcase achievements of nations. These fairs or expositions also provided entertainment, introduced artwork and architecture, celebrated history, technology and industry.

In 1876 Philadelphia hosted an historical exposition which celebrated the centennial of the Declaration of Independence and they hosted another exposition in 1926 for its 150th birthday. 

The Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889 put the Eiffel Tower on display.  In fact the tower was not finished and workman worked throughout the night to finish the 2nd floor observation deck. The Paris Exposition of 1889 is the centennial of the Storming of the Bastille which opened May 6, 1889. The Eiffel Tower was used as the entranceway for the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle.  This exhibition was devoted to the technological achievements of the past century.  Paris has been host to 6 World’s Fairs the most of any country, including 1855, 1867, 1878, 1889, 1900, and 1937.

In 1893 Chicago hosted the Columbian Exposition to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus coming to the New World in 1492.  The buildings were done in the beaux arts style which is a classical Greco-Roman style. There were many white buildings that were built and it became known as the white city. Some buildings from the fair still exist including the Museum of Science and Industry which is housed in the former Palace of Fine Arts.  The Art Institute of Chicago was built for the 1893 fair.  Various states in the U.S. put up exhibits including Connecticut who featured the Pope Manufacturing Company makers of the Columbia bicycle.  The Ferris Wheel was also introduced at the Columbian Exposition.

In 1904 St Louis, Missouri hosted a World’s Fair for the one hundredth anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase which was in 1803.  Originally this fair was going to be held in 1903 but more time was needed to allow more states and foreign countries to participate.  It is also known as the fair that introduced the most food.

New York is the only city to have a World’s Fair where one fair lasted more than one year.  They did this twice from 1939-1940 and 1964-1965.  The 1939 World’s Fair has a guidebook which features descriptions of exhibits such as the bobsled ride, which was nicknamed “The Flying Turns” where “visitors hurtle at terrific speed down a banked runway reminiscent of a real bobsled course. Some of the turns are taken at a stomach-jolting ninety-degree angle, the sleds being held to their course by centrifugal force.”  Various companies display their products such as the Continental Baking Company, which have a demonstration of Wonder Bread and Hostess Cake being slo-baked. The guidebook uses Art Deco imagery and architecture.

We have two guides for the World’s Fair in New York City from 1964-1965: one for 1964 and one for 1965. The metal globe and the bronze statue from the Fair are still at the location where the fair was held.  Tennis fans might recognize this picture because it is where the US Open of tennis is held in Flushing Meadows, NY.  Nowadays there still are World’s Fairs just not as often as in the past.  Instead they now focus on such topics as the environment.

For more information consult these resources:

Philadelphia Exposition 1876

The Columbian Exposition 1893

St Louis World’s Fair of 1904

Philadelphia Exposition 1926

Naomi Allen
Reference Staff

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Magazines are Now Available in Overdrive!

That’s right!  Nearly 100 popular magazine titles have now been added to Overdrive.  What is
Overdrive?  Overdrive is a free service offered through libraries that allows patrons to borrow eBooks, audiobooks, movies, and now magazines from a collection of millions of titles.  And the best thing about the magazines is that they are always available to anyone who wants to read them—no holds, no waiting!

So how do you get in on this awesome deal?  State government employees can access Overdrive with their State Library card by logging in here (choose “CW MARS Patrons” in the dropdown menu).  If you are a government employee and have not yet applied for a card, you can do so by visiting this page on our website.

Not a state employee?  No problem!  Most local public libraries offer this service, so get in touch with one today.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Monday, November 5, 2018

A Broadside Trapped in Plastic

Recently an item came to the Preservation Lab that needed a fair amount of work. This 11 x 17.5" document had vertical and horizontal crease lines from when it had previously been folded, and had been encased in what looked like clear, adhesive, plastic casing, almost like what we think of today as a laminating sheet. The plastic casing is not original to the document; it was added by a library employee in the 1920s or 1930s in an effort to preserve the document. They likely had good intentions, but this repair does not align with the techniques or supplies that we use to preserve our important documents today. Text was printed on the front of the document, though the back had no text, and there were no handwritten notations. The paper itself was in good condition, so I knew that I wanted to try to remove it from the plastic casing. I also noticed that the document was torn along its creases, so the plastic casing was keeping it together, and when it was removed the document would be in four different pieces and would need to be reconnected.

The document covered in plastic, with one section removed.

Before I began the task of removing the plastic casing I noted that the entire front had been covered, along with a good portion of the back.  Some of the plastic had lost its adhesion and become brittle as it aged, so I used a microspatula to work my way under the plastic and lift it up from the document, and then snipped it away with scissors. This process took some patience because I needed to be careful not to lift up any of the paper along with the plastic. The document also spent a bit of time in a humidification chamber, in an effort to introduce some humidity to loosen up the areas that remained firmly adhered. This process, while slow, resulted in the document being almost entirely free from its plastic casing. There are some areas where the plastic remains, since trying to lift it from the document would have resulted in too much loss of paper and text.

Once the bulk of the plastic casing was removed, the document was in four pieces. I used a thin Japanese paper and wheat paste to back all four individual sections and then join them together. The Japanese paper served two purposes; it reconnected the sections, and provided an extra layer of support on the back of the document, thus making it stronger and easier to handle. After the document was backed with Japanese paper, I covered it with a sheet of spunbonded polyester and a sheet of blotter paper, and then placed it under weights overnight. This would ensure that the paper dried flat and evenly. The next morning, I did some light cleaning and made a custom folder as a new enclosure.

A few pieces remain, but most of the plastic was
removed from the document. 

I spent a lot of hours hunched over this document, so I got a close look at what exactly I was working on. This document is a broadside addressed "To the Electors of the Counties of Bristol and Norfolk" from "An Elector" - an anonymous individual who wrote what is essentially a political endorsement for Caleb Strong, running for Governor of Massachusetts in 1812. Strong had previously served as governor from 1800 to 1807, and he would go on to win this election and serve again from 1812 to 1816. The broadside also endorsed William Phillips for Lieutenant Governor, and Samuel Crocker, Sylvester Brownell, and Joseph Heath for Senate. It goes into detail about current events of the early 1800s and provides opinions about commerce, trade, and taxes. While that content might not be very relatable today, the broadside begins with a more general plea that still applies in 2018. It states, "You will soon be called to the polls to exercise once more the right of suffrage; a right which though often neglected is of inestimable value, though often irksome in practice may secure your permanent prosperity and peace . . ." Occasionally when I'm working with historical documents, I am struck by how an idea or sentiment may still ring true today, even though decades or centuries have passed. With Election Day on the horizon, please keep this plea in mind - confirm your polling location and make time in your schedule to vote. It may be irksome, but it was important in 1812 and it's important today!

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian