Monday, July 24, 2017

Collection Now Available: Denise Provost papers on legislation concerning gender identity and nondiscrimination


Now available is a collection level record which includes a link to a longer finding aid.

A collection of papers from Denise Provost (Manuscripts Collection 165) is now available for research in the Special Collections Department of the State Library.  First elected in 2006, Denise Provost is the representative for the 27th Middlesex District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The collection of papers concerns her work on the Transgender Public Accommodations bill that was passed in 2016. The Transgender Public Accommodations bill was created to close a loophole in the 2012 Transgender Equal Rights Act that allowed for transgender people to be discriminated against in public accommodations like restaurants.

The papers include meeting materials of the Steering Committee working to pass the Transgender Public Accommodations bill. Included are the meeting notes and the names of local businesses they approached for support. Also included in the collection are documents related to a legislation briefing held for members of the House of Representatives in July 2015 regarding transgender rights and the Transgender Public Accommodations bill.

Of note in the collection are documents sent to Denise Provost from various organizations around Massachusetts, including the Massachusetts Family Institute and Freedom Massachusetts.  Organizations sent documents voicing their support or opposition of the bill to Denise Provost.

Also in the collection are documents Denise Provost used for research, including Massachusetts city ordinances, state laws, pamphlets, publications, as well as state guidelines on nondiscrimination. Denise Provost also collected newspaper clippings from local and national papers. These clippings document the discussion of transgender rights in the United States and more specifically Massachusetts from 2008-2017.  

Ariel Barnes
Special Collections Intern

Monday, July 17, 2017

Massachusetts Buildings That Once Housed Public Records

The State Library invites you to view our newest collection of photographs in Flickr! This collection comprises 182 black and white historic photographs of municipal buildings that once housed public records from various Massachusetts counties, cities, and towns. All of the photographs were taken between 1899 and 1905 by Robert Thaxter Swan, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Public Records at that time.

"City Hall and Public Library building, New Bedford, Mar. 4, 1902"

These photographs were pasted into a scrapbook, which was given the title Buildings in which Public Records are kept in Counties, Cities, and Towns in Massachusetts. Each photograph in the scrapbook is accompanied by a handwritten caption, which has been transcribed and included in the description for each image in Flickr. From Acton to Yarmouth, 102 of the 351 Massachusetts cities and towns (plus one New Hampshire city, Nashua) are represented in this collection.

"Town Clerk's house, Hamilton, safe in the porch, May 29, 1900"

"Vault intact, records slightly smoked, Hopkinton, Mar. 19, 1900"

This scrapbook is housed in the State Library's Special Collections Department in Room 55 of the Massachusetts State House and is available for viewing Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm.

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Friday, July 14, 2017

Monday, July 10, 2017

John Quincy Adams from Beyond the Veil

Of the many interesting books housed in the library’s collection, one in particular recently caught our eye: Twelve Messages from the Spirit of John Quincy Adams through Joseph D. Stiles, Medium, to Josiah Brigham.  The book was published in 1859 by Boston publisher Bela Marsh during a time in which the spiritualism movement was growing increasingly popular.  Followers and curious onlookers sought to gain greater knowledge from spirits and speak to their deceased loved ones, usually by attending séances or by consulting mediums.  Spirit photography arrived in the latter part of the 19th century, with one of the most famous examples being the image of a seated Mary Todd Lincoln with the ghost of her husband, Abraham, resting his hands on her shoulders.

According to the book’s preface, Josiah Brigham states that, from August of 1854 until March of 1857, the medium Joseph D. Stiles, while entranced, allowed the spirit of John Quincy Adams to communicate through him using automatic writing.  These sessions were held in Brigham’s home in Quincy, Mass. and at his son-in-law’s home in Boston, and it was Adams himself who requested that the messages be published.  Brigham further states:

Mr. Stiles is a respectable, unassuming young man, of only common-school education, with no pretensions to more than common capabilities.  He is a printer by trade, and worked at that business until he perceived he possessed mediumistic powers.  His organization is such that he is very susceptible to spirit-influence, and is one of the best writing-mediums in the country.

John Quincy Adams’ alleged discourse from beyond the veil is very Dante-esque.  Speaking from “Spirit Land, Sixth Sphere,” he vividly illustrates for the reader what he sees or has seen in the different spheres of the afterlife.  He also describes his meetings with relatives, as well as Biblical and historical figures in the spheres--delivering their many messages of philosophy and morality to the corporeal reader.  Adams also speaks of his visits to earth, during which he would visit living relatives and attempt to prove to mortals the existence of the afterlife.

This book is available online in its entirety and can be viewed by visiting: https://archive.org/details/twelvemessagesfr00stil 

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Dept.


Friday, June 30, 2017

Canton, Mass. And the Old China Trade

Few may know that the town of Canton, Massachusetts was named for the city of Canton, China. The Anglicized name for the city Guangzhou seems an odd choice for the newly formed town separating from Stoughton, but the parish voted and approved the name on December 6, 1796:

“It has been a matter of much conjecture why the town was so called. It has frequently been asked whether this name was petitioned for, and whether it was given to the town on account of the China trade, which was at the time of its incorporation becoming important? To these questions a negative answer must be returned. The naming of the town was the whim of one individual… It is related that when the question of a name for the new town was discussed, the Hon. Eljiah Dunbar said that this town was directly antipodal to Canton in China, and for that reason should so be called. This argument, fallacious as it was, served to convince those who probably had nothing better to offer; and so this name, unmeaning and without any historical associations, was adopted.” – Daniel T.V. Huntoon, History of the town of Canton, Norfolk County, Massachusetts

View of Canton, Mass., 1878

While the story of how Canton got its name is puzzling, what is more interesting about this description is the quick sentence about how important the “China trade” was to early Massachusetts. After the Revolutionary War, though unable to trade with familiar partners like England or its colonies that remained in the West Indies, the United States was finally free to trade with areas previously monopolized or forbidden by their king. The Empress of China, financed by Philadelphian Robert Morris, was the first American ship to sail for the port of Canton, China in 1784. The significance of this attempt at commerce with China, “to us the unexplored country,” was immense, and accounts of the ship’s embarking were reprinted in newspapers throughout the states, including Massachusetts (Adventurous Pursuits: Americans and the China Trade, 1784-1844). While the new United States was completely foreign to the merchants in Canton, they were happy to engage in trade and the Empress of China returned the following year loaded with cargo. The experimental voyage had gone very well and had yielded a great profit for its financiers. The Empress has also brought to Canton Samuel Shaw, born in Boston, who would remain there to negotiate American-Chinese trade, becoming the first U.S. consul to China.

Many Massachusetts entrepreneurs followed suit, and the ports of Boston and Salem came to depend on Chinese trade. Salem’s Elias Hasket Derby’s ship, the Grand Turk, was by chance routed to Canton after dropping off cargo in Mauritius, and triumphantly arrived back in Salem in 1787 loaded with goods like tea, cinnamon, and chinaware. Derby’s continued trade with the Chinese eventually made him America’s first millionaire. Derby’s success would influence Thomas Handasyd Perkins, whose fur trade with Canton would make him one of the leaders in American-Chinese trade for over forty years.

Elias Hasket Derby of Salem, Mass.
But profits were not the only sign of success for Massachusetts merchants and financiers. Boston’s Joseph Barrell convinced five other investors to back a voyage to China that would go around the Cape Horn of South America rather than the traditional route, which ran across the Atlantic and around the Cape of Good Hope. The Columbia embarked on this trade experiment in 1787 and did not return to Boston until 1790. While financially the voyage was not a success, the ship had inadvertently become the first American vessel to sail around the world and was immediately outfitted for another venture that would lead to the “discovery” of the Columbia River in the Pacific Northwest and America’s claim to the Oregon territory.

Eventually trade with the Chinese declined, as it was increasingly more and more difficult to find goods marketable to the commercially independent Chinese. To counter this lopsided trade relationship, British and American ships began trading with opium, which led to the Opium Wars between England China in the mid-1800s. These wars, as well as internal strife in both China (Taiping Rebellion, 1850-1864) and the United States (American Civil War, 1861-1865), brought the era of the “Old China Trade” to an end.

However, trade with China was essential to the commercial success and development of Massachusetts and the rest of the United States in the early years of the country’s independence, and remembering this period of history may have been a better reason for the naming of Canton, Massachusetts than Elijah Dunbar’s faulty geographic facts.

Further Reading:



Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Summertime … and it’s time to take a vacation!


As I was sitting in a long line of traffic to get both on and off Cape Cod over Memorial Day weekend, I was thinking how some things stay the same no matter what—as long as there have been cars, there have been summer traffic jams. But what did people do for their summer vacations in the days before the automobile? Where did they go?  Cape Cod? The Berkshires? Martha’s Vineyard? Boston’s North Shore? Some interesting finds in the State Library’s collections give a glimpse into the typical summer vacation of the mid to late 1800’s and, believe it or not, the favorite Massachusetts summer vacation spots of today are not much different from those of the past!

From a 2017 perspective, a somewhat amusing Book of Summer Resorts: explaining where to find them, how to find them, and their especial advantages, with details of time tables and prices published in 1868 claims to be “a complete guide for the summer tourist.”  In its introductory chapter it outlines the five top things that an “experienced traveler makes a particular care:”

  • He owns a good trunk
  • He carries thick clothing, even in the hottest weather
  • His hand-satchel is never without camphor, laudanum, and brandy for medicine
  • He does not drink water in unaccustomed places
  • He buys through tickets, even when not going beyond a local station

I suppose we can translate most of this sage advice for today by substituting “suitcase” for trunk, “layers” for thick clothing, “tylenol” for laudanum (no comment on the brandy) and it is still good advice to not to “drink the water” but as for buying “through tickets,” I am mystified as to why I would buy a ticket to somewhere I don’t intend to go!  The book continues on to describe in great detail the history and attractions of numerous summer vacation spots (including the nearest hotels and telegraph locations) in Massachusetts and beyond that were places in the Eastern U.S. and Canada accessible by rail from Boston, Philadelphia, or New York. In the book’s section on “Lakes, Rivers, and Mountains,” the author singles out Massachusetts’ Williamstown as “stand[ing] at a considerable altitude, and boast[ing] the purest of mountain air” and Pittsfield as one of the “most beautiful villages in all New-England.”

If you prefer the seashore, then how about going where “fashionable Boston” used to move during the month of July in the mid-19th century: Swampscott (!?!)--although the author of the Book of Summer Resorts sees “little which can account for its extraordinary popularity” excepting its proximity to Boston—only a 40 minute train ride in that day. Today we would probably say the preferred North Shore summer hot spots have moved a bit farther north from Swampscott to encompass the Cape Ann peninsula and the beaches of Salisbury, Rockport, and Plum Island.  However, once the railroad was extended to Provincetown in 1873, Cape Cod became the foremost summer vacation location by the seashore in Massachusetts and arguably remains so to this day.

Cape Cod summer vacations also include the much beloved islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket—still reached by the famous island ferries--the same as in the 19th century. In The Cottage City, or, The season at Martha's Vineyard, published in 1879, the author professes on the title page that “there can be found in New England no other summer resort presenting so many attractions and affording so many comforts with so few undesirable attendants, as Martha's Vineyard gives to the thousands who every year throng her well managed hotels and dwell in her pretty cottage homes” which was true then and continues now, 138 years into the future, as any visitor to this beautiful island can tell you (including the 42nd and 44th Presidents of the United States!). Happy travels this summer, whether it be woods or beaches!

Additional sources:


Judy Carlstrom
Technical Services



Monday, June 19, 2017

The History of a Massachusetts Business or How NECCO Got its Start



Everyone is familiar with NECCO candies (especially their wafers), however do you know what the acronym NECCO means?  Did you know that they were and still are headquartered in Massachusetts?  This blog will cover some fun historical facts about the famous candy-making company.

In 1901 three of the leading confectionary firms in Massachusetts came together under the name of the New England Confectionary Company or NECCO.  The companies were Chase and Company, Bird Wright & Company, and Fobes, Hayward & Company.  Oliver Chase of Chase and Company was originally a druggist at a pharmacy, a field in which it was already a common practice to put bitter tasting medicine into sweet lozenges. In 1847 Chase invented a medicinal lozenge cutter, which increased the production of lozenges and made it possible to also make wafer candies. He patented his invention and then started his own confectionery company with his brother Silas in 1847.  His lozenge cutter is considered the first candy-making machine, and in 1866 another brother Daniel invented a machine that could print words onto candy—leading to the invention of Conversation Candy or Sweethearts.

NECCO Wafers are made in the same original eight flavors that are made today:  orange, lemon, lime, clove, chocolate, cinnamon, licorice and wintergreen. In 2009 they experimented with changing the flavors so there would be no artificial flavors or colors, however consumers objected to the changes and in 2011 they went back to the original flavors.  During the Civil War they were called “Hub wafers” and given to soldiers.  During WWII the wafers were part of the K-rations for soldiers. In 1913 Donald MacMillan took NECCO wafers on an Arctic expedition for nutrition and as rewards to Eskimo children. Other candies they make include Candy Buttons, Canada Mints, Clark Bars, Sky Bars and Mary Janes.

NECCO is the oldest continuously-run candy factory in the country.  In 1902 NECCO was located at 253 Summer Street and 11-27 Melcher Street in the Fort Point Channel area of Boston.  Although the company has since moved from the Fort Point neighborhood, Necco Street and Necco Court remind us of where it once was located.  In 1927 the company built its factory in Cambridge on Massachusetts Avenue near the Charles River and remained there until its move to Revere in 2003.

In 1947 the Boston Globe said that NECCO was one of the world’s largest candy producers and that New England was leading the country in boxed candies.  The latest developments in the NECCO story come from an April 27th, 2017 article in Banker and Tradesman: “Framingham-based developer Atlantic Management has acquired New England Confectionery Co.’s 50-acre headquarters in Revere, the candy manufacturer’s home since 2003, for $54.6 million.”

Naomi Allen
Reference Librarian