Wednesday, July 18, 2018

We Hold These Truths

We celebrate America’s independence on July 4, but Bostonians in 1776 did not hear the stirring words of the Declaration of Independence until it was read from the balcony of the Old State House on July 18. For those who were not part of that large crowd, the Declaration was also published in Boston on the same date. Three Boston newspaper publishers--John Gill, Edward E. Powars, and Nathaniel Willis--came together to print the Declaration as a broadside and in newspapers. Similar to modern-day posters, the broadside was a large piece of paper with printing just on one side that was posted and shared throughout the city. To spread the news of the Declaration even farther, its text was printed in Gill’s Continental Journal and Powars and Willis’ The New-England Chronicle. These are the only two newspapers in Boston that published the Declaration of Independence, though it appeared throughout Massachusetts in newspapers in Newburyport, Watertown, Worcester, and Salem. The State Library has a copy of the printing from The New-England Chronicle as part of its Special Collections holdings.

Full image and detail of The New-England Chronicle,
vol. VIII number 413, published July 18, 1776.

The first official printing of the Declaration of Independence was a broadside made by John Dunlap in Philadelphia on the night of July 4, 1776. Copies of that broadside were then distributed to the Committees of Safety in the other colonies, and the text from Dunlap’s printing was used by printers throughout the colonies to set their own versions in type. The copies that were printed by Gill, Powars, and Willis are significant because they mark the first time that the Declaration of Independence appeared in type in a Boston newspaper. If you look closely, you’ll see that in many instances it looks like the letter “f” appears in the text where an “s” should be. Powars and Willis didn’t pepper their version with typos; what looks like an “f” is actually known as a “long s.” This form of the lowercase s is used when it appears in the beginning or middle of a word, and as the first s in a word that includes a double s. The “long s” was used in the majority of books published in English during the 17th and 18th centuries, but most printers stopped using it by the early 1800s. Since the newspaper and broadside versions were set in type by many different people throughout the colonies, each version differs slightly in terms of punctuation, capitalization, and even some human error. It was not as easy to make an exact copy in the 1700s as it is today!

As the Preservation Librarian, I couldn’t end this post without a note on the newspaper’s condition. I spend a fair amount of time working with yellowed paper from the 1900s that is extremely brittle, and I’m always struck by how much better preserved paper is from the 1700s. The reason is a difference in paper quality. Paper in the 1700s was sometimes referred to as “rag paper” and it contained a higher content of cotton, which resulted in a strong and durable paper fiber. By the 1900s, paper was more commonly made with wood pulp, which is more acidic and would degrade faster. This is part of the reason why this newspaper from 1776 is in good condition, but the newspaper you might have tried to save when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 is likely starting to deteriorate!

By Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Monday, July 16, 2018

Massachusetts City and Town reports: Paper and Electronic

The State Library holds a large collection of annual reports of Massachusetts towns and cities dating back to the nineteenth century, largely because of Massachusetts General Law chapter 40, section 50, which mandates that towns have to send us their annual town reports.  These reports provide much useful information about the Commonwealth’s many towns.

The cities and towns put a variety of information into the reports, and they are not uniform with their coverage.  Some cities or towns include vital statistics, including birth, marriage and death statistics.  Other town reports include the town budget, departmental reports of various offices in the town such as the town clerk, and information from the most recent town meeting.

For instance, the town report for Hadley 2017, which we have so far only in paper, has their town seal on the title page, a table of contents and some statistics about the town including the year settled (1659), year incorporated (1661), current population (5198) and registered voters (4035).  The town has some vital statistics which include the number of births, deaths, and marriages in the last five years.  They have various town agency reports.  This includes a report from the Public Health Nurse with a chart of reported diseases with Influenza and Lyme topping the list; and a report from Animal Control with the number of barking dog complaints, and other incidents.

In the last few years we have also collected some of the annual reports electronically.  We make these reports available in our Digital Repository called DSpace.  (See Hadley’s 2016 annual report here.) One can access the electronic reports from any computer.  We have a list of cities and town annual reports that we have currently in paper and electronically.

Naomi Allen
Reference Librarian

Monday, June 25, 2018

Davy Crockett in Massachusetts

Massachusetts may be just as proud of its folklore as it is about its history. Countless books have been written about legends and lore throughout the commonwealth and its regions, and Massachusetts’ official folk hero is none other than John Chapman, a missionary and gardener from Leominster who many know solely as Johnny Appleseed. But he isn’t the only folk hero to have traversed through New England: in 1834, Davy Crockett made a visit to Boston.

Portrait of David "Davy" Crockett from
An Account of Col. Crockett's Tour to the North and Down East (1835)

David “Davy” Crockett had made a name for himself in East Tennessee for his hunting and storytelling prowess before he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1827. During his lifetime, he was already the stuff of legend: a satirical play centered around a Crockett parody character named Nimrod Wildfire had opened in 1831, starring popular actor James Hackett in the title role.

This play, as well as an unauthorized biography of Crockett, appropriated his image and reputation and inspired him to create a biography “written by himself.” The memoir was politically driven and not as factual as he claimed, but it led him on a book tour that eventually brought him up to New England. After the book tour, he also wrote an account of the three-week tour itself.

The second publication, An Account of Col. Crockett’s Tour to the North and Down East, was published 1835. After visiting Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City, he arrived in Boston.  “I must… tell you where I stopped in Boston – and that was just where anyone that has plenty of cash, and plenty of goodwill for pleasure, would like – in a clean street, with a tavern on one side, and the theatre on the other, and both called Tremont,” he wrote.

Like many tourists that visit Boston today, Crockett saw the sights: “Fanuell Hall,” as he spelled it, where he saw the “accourtrements of war for several companies of infantry and riflemen”; Quincy Market, described as simply, “the market… mayor Quincey’s hammers were keeping time on the big granite stones, and the beautiful pillars were rising up as if he had just ordered them”; the Bunker Hill monument, which was still being built during his visit; the Old State House, where he gave a speech; and the current State House, where there was a statue of George Washington of which he did not approve: “They have a Roman gown on him, and he was an American: this a’n’t right… he belonged to this country-heart, soul, and body: and I don’t want any other to have any part of him – not even his clothes.”

He included an amusing dig at his nemesis Andrew Jackson in his record about the trip: the USS Constitution had a new figure-head in the likeness of Jackson, and when Crockett was asked if it was a good likeness, he responded, “I had never seen him misrepresented; but that they had fixed him just where he had fixed himself, that was – before the Constitution.”

Crockett declined a visit to Harvard University in Cambridge during his trip, comically fearing that “they keep ready made titles or nicknames to give people [there]… I would not go, for I did not know but they might stick an L.L.D. on me before they let me go; and I had no idea of changing ‘Member of the House of Representatives of the United States,’ for what stands for ‘lazy lounging dunce.’” He also visited Roxbury, or “Roxborough,” before heading up to witness the planned industrial city of Lowell, Mass.

“Mill Girls” in the Making-up room, Lawrence Hosiery Co., Lowell, Mass., ca. 1865.
Image courtesy of Historic New England.

Lowell had only been incorporated less than ten years earlier in 1826 and Crockett was absolutely marveled by the brand new manufacturing center. The female workers, Crockett observed, were “all well dressed, lively, and genteel in their appearance; indeed, the girls looked as if they were coming from a quilting frolic.” He toured the factories, speaking to the young girls who worked there, noting that “not one expressed herself as tired of her employment, or oppressed with work: all talked well, and looked healthy.” His accounts of Lowell make the manufacturing center sound like heaven on earth and certainly contain propaganda in favor of the mill-owners that were leading his tour. Only months before his visit, the Lowell mill girls had organized an unsuccessful strike against wage reduction.

Despite these literary works, Crockett was not re-elected in 1835 and famously (or infamously) damned his Tennessee constituents that “they might go to hell, and I would go to Texas.”  He arrived in Nacogdoches as the turmoil of the Texas Revolution began. Later he went to San Antonio, where he famously fought in the Battle of the Alamo and died on March 6, 1836, the last day of the 13-day siege. His death further catapulted him into the annals of American folklore, and today he is one of the most instantly recognized folk heroes in America.

The Fall of the Alamo (1903) by Robert Jenkins Onderdonk.

Further Reading:

An Account of Col. Crockett’s Tour to the North and Down East (1835) available online:

Thompson, Bob. “David Crockett, celebrity pioneer, went from wrestling bears to wrestling with his image.” Washington Post, February 8, 2013. <>

Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff

Monday, June 18, 2018

Online Guides to Manuscript Collections

In the past couple of years the Special Collections department with the help of our interns, has processed several collections that chronicle the history of Massachusetts and its people. Processing is the intellectual and physical organization of records. After processing is done the processor writes a finding aid (guide) describing the content of the records following archival standards. The finding aid serves as the first point of contact for researchers and it will help them determine if the collection would be of use to their research or if it would contain the information they are seeking.

Detailed listing of the Records of the Ancient
and Honorable Artillery of Massachusetts

Our finding aids are divided into two main categories: legislators’ papers and manuscript collections. You can learn more about these collections by reading their online finding aids, located in our DSpace repository:

Guides to Legislators' Papers:
Guides to Manuscript Collections:

Have a question?  Contact the library’s Special Collections staff directly via e-mail or by phone:
Phone: 617-727-2595

Silvia Mejia
Special Collections Librarian

Monday, June 11, 2018

New Exhibit at the State Library: Massachusetts Firsts

For almost four hundred years, Massachusetts has led the country and the world in many ways. This exhibition celebrates a selection of the inventions, innovations, and events known as “Firsts” in Massachusetts.

This exhibition describes our Commonwealth’s Firsts in a number of categories, including Firsts in Massachusetts, Firsts in the United States, and Firsts in the world. Although the Bay State lays claim to a multitude of historic Firsts, only those that could be verified through a number of reliable sources were included in this exhibition.

The exhibition runs from June 11 through August 31, 2018 and can be viewed outside of the Library, Room 341 of the State House. Library hours are Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm. Can't make it to the library? View the digital exhibit on the library's Flickr site!

Monday, June 4, 2018

June Author Talk: Patricia Harris and David Lyon

Historic New England: A Tour of the Region’s Top 100 National Landmarks
By Patricia Harris and David Lyon
Thursday, June 21, 2018—Noon to 1:00pm
State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, Massachusetts State House

The State Library invites you to our final author talk of the season: on Thursday, June 21, authors Patricia Harris and David Lyon will speak about their new book, Historic New England: A Tour of the Region’s Top 100 National Landmarks.

Just in time for your summer road trip, this author talk will focus on some of the most interesting historic destinations in all of New England. This region contains one of the highest concentrations of National Historic Landmarks in the country, and although many of these landmarks are historic houses, other New England landmarks are surprisingly quirky, including carousels, submarines, a weather observatory, and a bird sanctuary.

Authors Patricia Harris and David Lyon have traveled and written together for decades and are the authors of more than thirty books about travel, food, and art. They live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, not far from the Longfellow House, and they can be found online at their Hungry Travelers food and travel blog:

Join us at the State Library at noon on June 21st for a lively discussion of New England’s unique historic landmarks and to get your signed copy of Historic New England.

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Monday, May 21, 2018

State Government Open Data

From March 12th to April 30th I completed the Civic Data Ambassadors program, which was offered by the City of Boston in collaboration with the Engagement Lab at Emerson College.  The program was advertised to Boston librarians who were curious about civic data and were interested in becoming Civic Data Ambassadors.  As student ambassadors, we learned about what civic data is, how it can be used to answer questions, how it impacts the Boston community, methods on searching and filtering open data, tools that can be used to create visualizations that can help with analysis, and how to identify when someone else can make use of such data.  “Open data,” as defined by the Open Data Handbook, is data that “can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone;” “use” could mean simply viewing the information for general interest or research purposes, or it could mean using it to create a helpful tool (i.e. weather app, traffic app, etc.).  As part of the course we completed projects using primarily the open data published in Analyze Boston; however, I came out of the program wanting to learn more about open data that is published by the Massachusetts state government.  It’s important to keep in mind that data is just as important and useful for research as published reports are—maybe even more so!  Below are examples of open data portals available online that are maintained by state and quasi-state agencies on a regular basis; they also allow data to be downloaded or exported into user-friendly formats (i.e. CSV and Excel files).

Dataset titled “Lead and Copper Drinking Water Results in Schools/Childcare,”
published via the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Data Portal.

MassData: the Open Data Initiative for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Massachusetts Department of Higher Education Data Center
MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) School & District Statewide Reports

Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) Open Data Portal
Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Data Dashboard

Office of the Comptroller’s CTHRU:  Financial Records Transparency Platform
Massachusetts Water Resources Authority Open Checkbook
Division of Banks Foreclosure Petition Website
Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance Contributions and Expenditures Data
Department of Unemployment Assistance - Labor Market Information (LMI)

Energy and Environment
Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Data Portal
Mass Save Data

Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA) Databooks
Massachusetts Environmental Public Health Tracking

Division of Local Services (DLS) Municipal Databank
Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) Open Data

If you are interested in Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping, check out our earlier blog about shapefiles, data layers, and mapping tools published by the state: 

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department