Monday, October 19, 2020

Cranberries: the Berry of Massachusetts

Did you know that the cranberry is the official berry of the commonwealth of Massachusetts? Just like apple picking, leaf peeping, or riding along a haunted hayride, the sight of those bright red cranberry bogs is an essential part of autumn in Massachusetts.

Cranberries are indigenous to the northern United States and were enjoyed by Native peoples in New England long before European colonists arrived. The Narragansett and Wampanoag called these berries sasemineash and used cranberries to make pemmican (sun-dried meat or fish cakes), nasampe (grits), or combined the berries with maple sugar to create a sweet sauce. In addition to being an important food source, cranberries were also used to dye fabric and also had medicinal properties good for blood poisoning and poultices.  

Cover of $5,000,000. of Cranberries: interesting
facts concerning the cultivation of cranberries
on Cape Cod (1930). Courtesy of SAILS Library Network.

Cranberries proved to be equally important to the British colonists’ diet when they arrived in 1620. Most historians believe that cranberries must have been part of the first Thanksgiving meal, though perhaps not in a form that might be recognizable to us in the modern day. However, we know for certain that both Native Americans and English colonists were making a version of modern-day cranberry sauce around this time thanks to English traveler John Josselyn. He mentioned cranberries in his 1671 work New England's Rarities, discovered in Birds, Beasts, Fishes, Serpents, and Plants of that Country, noting that the “Indians and English use them much, boyling them with Sugar for Sauce to eat with their Meat; and it is a delicate Sauce, especially for roasted mutton: Some make tarts with them as with Goose Berries.” This may be the first written reference to cranberry sauce! Despite this early reference however, it is difficult to find colonial recipes for New England staples like cranberry sauce. Author and blogger Peter Muise theorized that making cranberry sauce was so simple that it took 200 years for anyone to think about preserving a recipe for it: “I suppose it would have been like including a recipe for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”

John Josselyn’s description of cranberries, or “bear berries,” from his 1671 book
New-England's rarities discovered in birds, beasts, fishes, serpents,
and plants of that country.
Courtesy of University of Michigan Library.

Throughout colonial Massachusetts, cranberries continued to be a food gathered rather than cultivated. However, in the early 1800’s a sea captain and Revolutionary War veteran named Henry Hall transplanted cranberry vines to his property in North Dennis, Massachusetts. There on Cape Cod, Hall found that cranberries did best when they received sandy soil from the nearby dunes, and soon he was producing enough cranberries to ship them to Boston and New York. In 1860, Reverend Benjamin Eastwood published a book on cranberry cultivation and the practice surged in popularity, with farmers growing cranberries as far away as Oregon and Washington State. 

“Caroline, Helen, and Gorham Pulsifer cranberry picking” circa 1917-1920.
Courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Yarmouth.

By the late 19th century, Plymouth and Barnstable Counties had thousands of acres dedicated to the cultivation of the cranberry. The American Cranberry Growers Association was formed in 1871, and the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association was established in 1888. The growing and harvesting of cranberries was so essential to the economy of southern Massachusetts that up until 1927 children could be excused from school to work the bogs during harvest time.

Traditionally, cranberries grew in wetlands, and today even the manmade cranberry beds are referred to as cranberry bogs. Contrary to popular belief, these bogs are actually dry for the majority of the growing season and only flooded at harvest time. When the bogs are flooded, the cranberries are dislodged and float to the top of the water, making it easy to collect them. The vast majority of cranberries are harvested in this way and then are processed to make dried fruit, sauce, and the official beverage of Massachusetts: cranberry juice. A small percentage of cranberry bogs are “dry harvested,” or picked by mechanical harvesters or by hand rather than being flooded. Dry harvested cranberries are usually sold as fresh fruit.

Postcard showing an early reference to the Ocean Spray
cooperative. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Old Yarmouth.

While the contemporary cranberry industry in the United States now harvests over 40,000 acres of cranberries each year, many of the largest cranberry producers, researchers, and growers are still based in southern Massachusetts. In Carver you can find the not-for-profit Cranberry Institute, and in Wareham you can find the U.S. Cranberry Marketing Committee, for promotion of the American cranberry, as well as the UMass Cranberry Station, which focuses on outreach and research. A.D. Makepeace, also based in Wareham, is the world’s largest cranberry grower. In 1930, a group of cranberry growers, including A.D. Makepeace, formed the cranberry cooperative Ocean Spray in Hanson, Massachusetts. Today, Ocean Spray has over 700 members and is responsible for 70% of North American cranberry production. Based in Lakeville, you can view a live cam of their Lakeville cranberry bogs on their website.  

Vintage Ocean Spray canning label.
Courtesy of SAILS Library Network.

Cranberries have been and continue to be an important part of Massachusetts cuisine, agriculture, and business. To visit a Massachusetts cranberry bog or purchase local cranberries this fall, visit the Cape Cod Cranberry Grower’s Association’s website for more information.

For more information:

Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The State Library’s Guide on Researching Constitutional Amendments is Live!

The State Library’s new guide on researching Massachusetts constitutional amendments is now live!  The guide includes a brief introduction to the Massachusetts Constitution, common questions asked by researchers, and links to suggested resources where researchers can find the information they are seeking.  While it is not intended to be an exhaustive guide, it aims to point researchers toward important primary collections and secondary publications.

In addition, the Library has improved the look and content of the page: State Library Resources On Past and Current Massachusetts Political Figures.  It now includes links to even more collections and publications, and also shows some examples from these collections.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Monday, October 5, 2020

On (Virtual) Display in the State Library

This October, we’re changing our virtual display case to feature a women’s suffrage pamphlet from the early 1900s. Titled “Why Women Should Vote” the pamphlet was published by the National American Woman Suffrage Association as part of the Political Equality Series. With Election Day only one month away, we thought this was a fitting time to share a suffrage publication! 

This pamphlet was written by Alice Stone Blackwell, a well-known suffragist, feminist, and journalist who spent much of her life in Massachusetts. Blackwell was the daughter of Lucy Stone, an abolitionist and one of the most prominent early advocates for women’s suffrage. Among her many accomplishments and activities, Lucy Stone was the editor of the Woman’s Journal, the periodical of the American Woman Suffrage Association. Alice Stone Blackwell followed in her mother’s footsteps by serving in that same role, and she was also instrumental in facilitating the reunification of two suffrage groups - the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association, which merged into the National American Woman Suffrage Association, the organization that published the Political Equality Series

Pamphlets published in the Political Equality Series covered a variety of topics related to women’s suffrage, including “Suffrage for Women Wage Earners” and “Equal Suffrage in Australia,” which was essentially a case-study from a country where women already received the right to vote. When the pamphlet in our collection, “Why Women Should Vote,” was published in 1905, women were still over a decade away from obtaining the right to vote. But this pamphlet lists out sixteen reasons why women should vote alongside men, and gives an explanation for each of those reasons. A selection are included below: 

Because laws unjust to women would be amended more quickly           It cost Massachusetts women 55 years of effort to secure the law making mothers equal guardians of their children with the fathers. In Colorado, after women were enfranchised, the very next Legislature granted it. After more than half a  century of agitation by women for this reform, only 13 out of 45 States now give equal guardianship to mothers.

Because it would help those women who need help the most
Theodore Roosevelt recommended woman suffrage in his message to the New York Legislature. On being asked why, he is reported to have answered that many women have a very hard time, working women especially, and if the ballot would help them, even a little, he was willing to see it tried. Mrs. Maud. Nathan, president of the National Consumers' League, said in an address at the National Suffrage Convention in Washington, in February,. 1904: "My experience in investigating the condition of women wage-earners warrants the assertion that some of the evils from which they suffer would not exist if women had the ballot. In the state where women vote, there is far better enforcement of the laws which protect  working girls. 

Because woman's ballot would make it harder for notoriously bad candidates to be nominated or elected
In the equal suffrage states, both parties have to put up men of respectable character, or lose the women's vote.

Click on the image to see a closer look of page one of the pamphlet and read the full four-page pamphlet on DSpace.

2020 marks one hundred years since the passage of the 19th Amendment, which legally granted women the right to vote. However, some states had discriminatory voting laws in place that kept minority women from exercising their right even after the amendment passed. It is undeniable that the 19th Amendment was a huge accomplishment that was hard fought by many women’s organizations starting in the 1840s, but we must also remember that the struggle to vote continued after 1920. 

As you make your voting plan this November, be sure to visit the Massachusetts Elections Division website for answers to any questions you may have, as well as a number of other useful voting resources.

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Friends of the Library Newsletter - October Edition

To download a copy of the newsletter visit our digital repository, DSpace

Monday, September 28, 2020

Halloween in Massachusetts

October is right around the corner, and many have already started putting up their spooky decorations in celebration of Halloween! However, Halloween was not always a major holiday, especially in New England.

Halloween has its origins in the ancient Celtic festival Samhain. This festival celebrated the Celtic new year, which took place on November 1, and marked the end of harvest and the beginning of winter. For the Celts, this line, between the life-giving harvest and the cold of winter, marked a boundary between life and death itself. They believed that on October 31st, the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead were blurred and that the dead returned to earth at this time, causing ruckus like destroying crops. To avoid this mayhem, the Celts would build large sacred bonfires where they burned offerings to the Celtic gods. They would also wear costumes to distract or confuse the spirits trying to cause trouble. Celts also carved turnips with hideous faces to ward off evil spirits, a precursor of the modern Jack O’ Lantern.

Cover of The Item, a Dorchester High School
newspaper, featuring iconic harvest and
Halloween imagery (November 1920).
Courtesy of the Boston City Archives.

By the early 8th century, the Roman Empire had long since conquered the Celts and had converted to Christianity themselves. Pope Gregory III attempted to transform old pagan holidays into Christian holidays, and therefore declared November 1 to be All Saints Day, which is still celebrated by Catholics today. The day before All Saints Day was called All Hallows Eve, the eve of the holy day, and slowly became “Halloween.”

It is possible that some of the early European colonists in Plymouth or Massachusetts Bay Colony knew about Halloween, but they did not celebrate it. Certainly, they would not have celebrated a “pagan” holiday like Samhain and their schism with the Church of England would have discouraged them from celebrating All Saints Day. However, in southern American colonies like Maryland, some Halloween traditions were performed by Scotch Irish settlers, such as “guising” or wearing costumes on October 31st. 

The House of the Seven Gables in Salem,  Massachusetts

But the traditions of Samhaim were not completely lost. As European and Native American beliefs and customs began to mesh together, New England settlers began to celebrate the end of harvest just like the ancient Celts, with dancing, singing, telling stories of the dead, and perhaps (most likely secretly) telling their neighbors’ fortunes. Autumn festivals like these evolved into parties where costumes, pranks, and ghost stories were commonplace as early as the mid-1800’s. John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) remembered the “wild, ugly faces we carved” into pumpkins as a boy, “glaring out through the dark with a candle within!” in his poem “The Pumpkin.” Stories like “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” during which a shattered pumpkin is found next to Ichabod Crane’s hat after his encounter with the headless Horseman, popularized not only the carving of pumpkins, but also the smashing of pumpkins by mischievous youths – all in the name of Halloween.

 As more and more Irish immigrants arrived in Massachusetts, the celebration of All Hallows Eve and All Saints Day became more widespread. The carved pumpkins of New England harvest festivals were merged with the Irish tradition of Jack O’ Lanterns, and Halloween became a popular community-centered holiday where neighbors would come together to have parties, dress in costumes, and make foods synonymous with Fall. Community leaders cautioned against vandalism and indulging in the frightening or gruesome parts of the holiday, which secularized Halloween and removed many of the superstitious and religious overtones of Samhaim or All Hallows Eve. Trick or treating, as the name suggests, may have also began around the 1920’s as a way to curb vandalism by promising children a treat of sweets in order to spare a “trick” later in the night.

A 1902 Dance card for Halloween dance,
Sarah (Sallie) M. Field, Abbot Academy. Courtesy of
Phillips Academy Andover Archives and Special Collections.

Today, Halloween is extremely popular, and Massachusetts history, architecture, and literature has had a tremendous impact on the modern imagery of American Halloween. New England writers from Washington Irving to Stephen King have created iconic horror characters, and historical events like the Salem Witch Trials are so synonymous with Halloween tradition that thousands of tourists visit Salem every year in October. Some theorists draw a direct line between the black cat image popular at Halloween and Pilgrims shunning witchcraft in the Plymouth Colony. 

Postcard circa 1919 courtesy of
Historic New England

Halloween 2020 may look a little different this year, but the people of Massachusetts will certainly find a way to celebrate one of their favorite holidays! For more about anything spooky in Massachusetts, check out our blog posts on graveyards and burial grounds, the rise of spiritualism, the Witches of Dogtown, and an entire exhibit on the Legends and Lore of Massachusetts.

Further Reading: 

Exhibit on Halloween by the Massachusetts Office of the Secretary of State:

Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff

Monday, September 21, 2020

October Virtual Author Talk: David Michaelis


  • Eleanor by David Michaelis
  • Thursday, October 8, 2020—6:00pm on Crowdcast
  • Presented by American Ancestors/New England Historic Genealogical Society, the State Library of Massachusetts, and Porter Square Books

You’re invited to our next virtual author talk with David Michaelis, author of the biography Eleanor, a breakthrough portrait of America’s longest-serving First Lady, rich with family history. Join us at 6pm on Thursday, October 8, for this free event presented in partnership with American Ancestors/New England Historic Genealogical Society and Porter Square Books.

This cradle-to-grave biography—the first single-volume portrait in six decades—rediscovers Eleanor Roosevelt’s life of transformation, from her Gilded Age childhood as the orphaned niece of President Theodore Roosevelt; to an irreconcilable marriage with her ambitious fifth cousin Franklin, with whom she became a New York “power couple;” to her life-culminating role as world-circling activist, diplomat, and chief architect of international human rights.   

Drawing on new research, Michaelis’s riveting portrait is rich with insight into Eleanor’s emotional life and relationships, her struggles with motherhood, and role as her husband’s surrogate in which she transformed the career-ending storm of polio into the sunrise of the U.S. president who brought the nation out of the Depression and on to victory in World War II. Don’t miss learning more about this major American figure, a role model for heartfelt and effective political engagement.

David Michaelis is the bestselling author of Schulz and Peanuts and N.C. Wyeth, which won the Ambassador Book Award for Biography & Autobiography.

To register for this free virtual event, please visit: 

Be sure also to check out the other upcoming events hosted by our partners:

Author Talks Committee
State Library of Massachusetts

Monday, September 14, 2020

Exhibits at the State Library of Massachusetts

Did you know that you can access past library exhibits through the library’s Flickr page? The library exhibits cover an array of topics including education, wildlife, WWI soldiers, histories of the State House and the State Library, and many more. 

We invite you to browse these interesting and colorful exhibits online. Feel free to reach out to the library's Special Collections Department with any questions at

Special Collections Department
State Library of Massachusetts