Monday, May 22, 2017

Who Is Robert Twelves?

Boston has a rich history of architecture, from historic buildings from the 1600s to contemporary architecture designed by all-stars like IM Pei & Partners and everything else in-between. Around the time when Massachusetts transitioned from a colony to a commonwealth, architecture was also changing from a (expensive) hobby of educated gentlemen to a studied practice by professionals. Today we like to know the identity of the individual or firm that designed our favorite buildings and structures, but in colonial America the mason or builder was often responsible for both the layout and the construction of the buildings, and therefore many early “architects” are unknown. However, there are two early Boston landmarks whose designers should be unknown but have been credited to the mysterious Robert Twelves.

The Old South Meeting House, built 1729.

Both locals and visitors to Boston are familiar with the Old South Meeting House and the Old State House, both built in the first half of the 1700s and both sites for iconic moments in American Revolutionary history. But who built these buildings? If you do a basic Google search for their architect, many webpages will inform you that the talented individual is none other than Robert Twelves. Wikipedia mentions Robert Twelves in their entries for both buildings; his name is also listed on websites and resources like iBoston.org, The Cultural Landscape Foundation, MIT’s DOME digital collections, and the Boston Public Library Fine Arts Department’s artist index. But if you try to dig deeper, the trail ends. Who is this so-called architect and why do we have no record of him?

According to Marian C. Donnelly, the first reference to Robert Twelves occurred in Hamilton A. Hill’s History of the Old South Church (1890). At the end of a citation regarding cornerstones, Hill casually throws in, “Robert Twelves is said to have been the builder” without any explanation as to where this information came from. Yet further architecture historians took this kernel for truth, and the attribution appeared in Charles A. Place’s Old Time New England (1923), Hugh Morrison’s Early American Architecture (1952), and Harold W. Rose’s Colonial Houses of Worship in America (1963) (Donnelly). Even some contemporary books like Howard S. Andros’ Buildings and Landmarks of Old Boston (2001) mention Twelves as the designer of Old South Meeting House.

Old State House, built circa 1712.

How Twelves was also credited with the design of the Old State House is less clear. It is possible that, because the Old State House in its current form was built less than two decades before the Old South Meeting House, contemporary sources have gotten the two buildings confused or assigned Twelves when no architect was known.

Donnelly was able to trace a Robert Twelves using colonial town records. In Braintree, a Robert Tweld “who erected the South Church at Boston” died March 9 in either 1696 or 1697. How could a man have built the Old State House when the original Town House of 1657 didn’t burn down until 1711, almost 15 years after his death? Similarly, how could he have designed a building for the Old South congregation when they voted to replace their wooden building in 1728? It is possible, at the most, that Twelves was involved in building the original Old Cedar Meeting House around 1670.

We unfortunately don’t know where Hamilton A. Hill found the name of Robert Twelves, whether he misread this limited Braintree obituary or viewed other records that mentioned Twelves. The proliferation of this seemingly insignificant fact can serve as an example of how historiography can so easily alter contemporary understandings of what happened in the past. Whether you are a student, established historian, or amateur researcher, always remember to check those citations!

Bibliography

Donnelly, Marian C. “Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians.” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, vol. 29, no. 2, 1970, pp. 204–204., www.jstor.org/stable/98866


Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff

Monday, May 15, 2017

Political Milestones of Christian A. Herter

Recently the library recognized Christian Herter’s anniversary on being appointed the 53rd United States Secretary of State on April 21, 1959 by then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  His official term as Secretary began the very next day on April 22nd.  While looking through the library’s collection for a portrait of Herter, I came across some fun pamphlets that mark the different milestones of his political career in Massachusetts.

Campaign pamphlets illustrating Herter's state and congressional
service, as well as a dinner program celebrating his gubernatorial victory.

Here’s a short timeline of Herter’s life and the political seats to which he was elected or appointed in Massachusetts and beyond:
  • March 28, 1895:  Christian Archibald Herter was born in Paris, France to expatriate parents.
  • 1915:   Graduated from Harvard University.
  • Jan. 1931-Jan. 1943:  Served as a republican state representative for the 5th Suffolk district; during the latter part of his tenure he was also appointed Speaker of the House.
  • Jan. 1943-Jan. 1953:  Served the 10th Massachusetts congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Jan. 1953-Jan. 1957:  Served for one term as Governor of Massachusetts.
  • Feb. 1957-Apr. 1959:  Served as Under Secretary of State, appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
  • Apr. 1959-Jan. 1961:  Served as Secretary of State, appointed by Eisenhower.
  • Dec. 1962-Dec. 1966 (his death):   Served as the first United States Trade Representative, appointed by President John F. Kennedy.
I also came across a very fragile comic book in our collection that criticizes Herter’s political record and asks its readers to instead vote for then-gubernatorial incumbent and Democrat Paul Dever.  The comic book was published by Massachusetts United Labor in 1952 during Herter’s campaign and refers to the governor hopeful as a “reactionary” and a man who “cannot wish to stand on his record.”  Dever ultimately lost the election to Herter and retired from political life.

For more information on Christian Herter’s life and career, please visit:
https://history.state.gov/departmenthistory/people/herter-christian-archibald

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Librarian

Monday, May 8, 2017

May Author Talk: Gregory N. Flemming



                        Register Online

At the Point of a Cutlass: The Pirate Capture, Bold Escape, 
and Lonely Exile of Philip Ashton, by Gregory N. Flemming 
Tuesday, May 23, 2017—Noon to 1:00pm
State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, Massachusetts State House
Join us at the State Library on Tuesday, May 23, to hear author
Gregory N. Flemming share the story of the Marblehead fisherman who has been called “America’s real-life Robinson Crusoe.” This intriguing tale is at the center of Mr. Flemming’s 2014 book At the Point of a Cutlass: The Pirate Capture, Bold Escape, and Lonely Exile of Philip Ashton.

A Boston Globe bestseller, At the Point of a Cutlass tells the true story of Philip Ashton, a nineteen-year-old Massachusetts fisherman who was captured by pirates in 1722 and forced to sail across the Atlantic and back under the command of the notorious pirate Edward Low. Ashton managed to escape his captors while anchored off the coast of a deserted Caribbean island, where he survived for more than a year as a castaway. Meticulously researched, At the Point of a Cutlass is based on trial records, logbooks, colonial newspaper reports, and Ashton’s own first-hand account of his ordeal.  

Author Greg Flemming is a former journalist with a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During the three years that he spent researching his book, Mr. Flemming traveled to many of the key locations in Philip Ashton’s story, including the Nova Scotia harbor where Ashton was taken captive as well as the remote island of Roatan, where Ashton was marooned.

Copies of At the Point of a Cutlass will be available for sale and signing at the conclusion of the talk at the State Library.

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Lost Bradford Manuscript

The Mayflower Compact from
William Bradford's journal 
On Plimoth Plantation, also known as the Bradford Manuscript, may be the jewel of the State Library of Massachusetts’ collection. But the manuscript had many other homes along the way, was coveted by other institutions, and was even considered lost at one point during the 19th century. So how did the manuscript find its way back to the Commonwealth?

The Bradford Manuscript is so called for its writer, William Bradford, who was the governor of the Plymouth Colony generally from 1621 to 1657. The journal includes the original Mayflower Compact, a list of Mayflower passengers, and the most authoritative account of life in the early years of the colony. Most famously, it includes an account of the first Thanksgiving between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags led by Massasoit. After the death of William Bradford, the manuscript was kept by his descendants and lent to historians throughout the 17th and 18th centuries such as Cotton Mather, Samuel Sewall, and Thomas Hutchinson. Thomas Prince, a clergyman, historian, and collector, eventually obtained the manuscript from the Bradford family and deposited it, along with the rest of his historical collection, at the Old South Meeting House in the mid-1750s. However, from there, the manuscript appears to have disappeared during the American Revolution. For almost a century, the Bradford Manuscript was lost.

Did a British soldier or statesman steal the volume during the tumultuous period in Boston leading to the American Revolutionary War? Was it in the possession of a Loyalist historian or clergyman for research purposes when they decided to return to England, perhaps Thomas Hutchinson? We do not know how the Bradford Manuscript arrived in London, but some antiquarians with an eye for detail noticed that several histories published in London in the 19th century included passages that had been attributed to Bradford’s manuscript by American historians before the manuscript’s disappearance. Eventually word of these theories made its way to Charles Deane, chairman of the Massachusetts Historical Society’s publishing committee. Deane reached out to Reverend Joseph Hunter, vice president of the Society of Antiquaries of London and correspondent of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and asked that he examine the manuscript cited in these histories to verify if it was the long-lost On Plimoth Plantation. Not only did the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) want to recover the manuscript, but they also wished to produce the first publication of the document in American history.

Hunter obtained the manuscript from its keeper, Bishop of Oxford Samuel Wilberforce, and verified that its identity using attached documents from the Bradford family and Thomas Prince. Deane commissioned a copy of the manuscript, which arrived in Boston on August 3, 1855. While the MHS did publish the manuscript, its members were not satisfied and wanted the manuscript to be restored to the United States. So began a struggle that would persist for almost half a century. In 1860, MHS President John Charles Winthrop attempted to secure the return of the Bradford manuscript during an upcoming visit to the United States from the Prince of Wales as a “conciliatory act,” but this plan was foiled by an inability to push legislation allowing this transfer through Parliament. After the Civil War, Justin Winsor, librarian at the Boston Public Library, met with John Lothrop Motley, newly appointed minister to the Court of St. James, to organize an act of reciprocity by returning the Bradford Manuscript in a similar manner to the return of several British manuscripts by the Library Company of Philadelphia in the 1860s, but again the transfer was considered out of the question without an act of Parliament. Further appeals were made to various church officials in England by Winsor and other members of the Massachusetts Historical Society throughout the 1860s and 1870s to no avail. Finally in 1896, MHS member and U.S. Senator George Frisbie Hoar visited the manuscript and petitioned the Bishop once again for its return: “Why, if there were in existence in England a history of King Alfred’s reign for thirty years, written by his own hand, it would not be more precious in the eyes of Englishmen than this manuscript is to us” (The Massachusetts Historical Society: A Bicentennial History, pages 212-213). The Bishop responded that he thought “myself that it ought to go back, and if it depended on me it would have gone back before this” and that he would petition Queen Victoria directly about the manuscript’s transfer.

But who would the manuscript be transferred to? Those involved considered the manuscript Massachusetts property and therefore did not want to deposit it in a federal institution such as the Library of Congress. The Boston Public Library, the Plymouth Registry of Deeds, and other organizations were considered before it was decided that the manuscript would be presented to Governor Wolcott.  On May 26, 1897, the delegates of the General Court presented to the governor the Bradford Manuscript in a public ceremony. While the governor had the option to deposit the document with the state government or the Massachusetts Historical Society, Wolcott decided to keep the manuscript in the State House’s collection. Hence, the Bradford Manuscript was finally recovered and returned to the Commonwealth and has been part of the State Library’s collections since the turn of the century. Today, this precious manuscript is kept in secure storage in the library’s Special Collections department, with high-quality facsimile reproduction for anyone who wishes to view or research the manuscript both in person or online.

Further reading:

The Massachusetts Historical Society: A Bicentennial History (1791-1991) by Louis Leonard Tucker (1996)
The Surrender of the Bradford Manuscript by Justin Winsor (1897)


Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff

Monday, April 24, 2017

Will the REAL State Library of Massachusetts please stand up?!

Entrance to the State Library
 of Massachusetts
It may be known by many other names: the “legal name” George Fingold Library, Massachusetts State Library, or State House Library … but no matter what it is called, it remains the same place (and is just as sweet—apologies to Shakespeare). The mix-up does not only extend to the name of the “State Library” but also to the confusion as to the differences (and similarities) between the State Library of Massachusetts and our two other Commonwealth “partners in library business”—the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners and the Massachusetts Archives.

This confusion is understandable, because in many other states what is called the “state library” has the combined responsibilities of both the State Library of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners in one, and even in some cases, the responsibilities of the Massachusetts Archives added on for good measure. Still, in other states, the “state library” is a law library that serves the state courts like the Massachusetts Trial Court Libraries. However, in Massachusetts, the somewhat labyrinthine structure of state government that has evolved over the years has meant that these three agencies continue to remain under completely different branches of government oversight.

The State Library of Massachusetts is the oldest, having been formally established in 1826, is under the oversight of the Executive Branch Office for Administration and Finance, a Cabinet Secretariat directly under the Governor. The Executive Office for Administration and Finance is known mainly as being the “budget office” but also manages the Commonwealth’s administrative agencies, “including revenue collection, information technology, human resources, procurement, and state facilities” and results in a diverse mix of agencies under the Secretariat--including the State Library of Massachusetts.

The State Library itself,  as an agency under the Secretary for Administration and Finance, has its own Board of Trustees for oversight that is comprised of 6 members—President of the Senate, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Secretary of State (or their designees), and three members of the public appointed by the Governor.

4th floor, State Library of Massachusetts

The State Library of Massachusetts’ first collections began from an informal documents exchange program between Massachusetts and other U.S. states and has evolved over the 19th and 20th centuries into a research library with rich legal and historical collections to support the work of the legislature, governor, other public officials, and the work of Massachusetts state agency employees in all branches of government but it is also open to the general public and its collections are available to anyone to use and view—especially now as more library collections are being digitized and added to the State Library’s digital repository. The State Library’s main focus, past and present, is to maintain a complete repository of *published* Massachusetts state documents and preserve these collections (in both paper and electronic) for future access and retrieval. The State Library of Massachusetts moved into its current location in Rooms 341 and 442 of the State House “Brigham Addition” in 1895 and established a separate location for the Special Collections Department in Room 55 in the basement of the West Wing of the State House in the 1970’s.

And What About Our “Library Partner” agencies?”

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners is an independent state agency governed by 9 commissioners appointed by the Governor and was established in 1890 as the Massachusetts Free Public Library Commission (the oldest state library agency in the United States in fact) and became the “Board” in 1952. From its current offices on North Washington Street in Boston’s North End, it promotes library services at the free public libraries throughout the Commonwealth by administering funding (from the General Appropriations Act, a.k.a. “final budget”) and grants to individual libraries, supporting resource sharing and technology in libraries, as well as providing library services to the blind and physically handicapped residents of the Commonwealth.

The past histories of the State Library of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners intertwine in the years from 1870-1909 when Caleb Benjamin Tillinghast served as both the chairman of the Board (from its inception in 1890) and as State Librarian (the first to hold the official title after serving as “acting librarian” from 1879-1893) until his death in 1909.

Massachusetts Archives facade

The Massachusetts Archives is overseen by the Massachusetts Office of the Secretary of State, headed by the elected Constitutional Officer, Secretary of State, currently William F. Galvin.  As somewhat of a counterpart to the State Library of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Archives mission is to preserve and provide access to the “original and permanent records of state government”—that is, records that Massachusetts state government agencies produce as part of government business that document government actions taken.  The State Library of Massachusetts concentrates on preserving and providing access to the output of the agencies—published documents, reports, and the like.  The Massachusetts Archives in conjunction with the Public Records Division of the Office of the Secretary of State also have the responsibility of helping state and municipal Massachusetts government agencies in managing their records and compliance with the Massachusetts Public Records Law.

The Massachusetts Archives moved from its previous location in the State House to its current home on the UMass Boston Columbia Point campus in 1985 where it counts among its treasures the state’s foundation documents--the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, 1780 Massachusetts Constitution, and the 1629 Charter of Massachusetts Bay which can be seen on display at the Archive-operated Commonwealth Museum that is definitely worth a visit.


Judy Carlstrom
Technical Services


Friday, April 14, 2017

Special Event: Treasures of the State Library of Massachusetts

Thursday, May 4th, 2017—3:00-3:45pm
State Library of Massachusetts, Special Collections—Room 55
Massachusetts State House

Detail of Aprosmictus splendens.
(Peale.), from the atlas volume “Mamalia
and ornithology,” United States
Exploring Expedition: During the
Years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842,
Under the Command of Charles
Wilkes, U. S. N. Philadelphia, 1844-1874.
The State Library is once again participating in ArtWeek Boston!  On May 4th from 3:00-3:45pm the Library’s Special Collections Department will be hosting the event “Treasures of the State Library of Massachusetts.” Visitors will be able to view and learn about materials that are normally not on public view.  Items include some of the earliest published laws of Massachusetts, a realistic facsimile of Mayflower passenger William Bradford’s manuscript journal Of Plimoth Plantation, broadsides recruiting soldiers for the Civil War, photographs of African-American soldiers from the Massachusetts 54th and 55th Regiments, a handwritten journal by a Civil War soldier from Massachusetts, early maps of Boston, and beautifully illustrated books on natural history.  Space is limited so register today!

To register or learn more about the event, please visit: Treasures of the State Library of Massachusetts

Have a question?  Contact the library’s Special Collections staff directly via e-mail or by phone:
E-mail: special.collections@state.ma.us
Phone: 617-727-2595

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department


Monday, April 10, 2017