Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Interconnected History of the State Library of Massachusetts and the “Law Library of Suffolk County Massachusetts”

Why doesn’t Suffolk County have its own, dedicated law library like every other designated county in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts? That is the question. The origins of a shared law library in Boston (which makes up most of today’s Suffolk County) go back to 1803 with the creation of what would come to be known as the “Social Law Library.” Formally incorporated on Oct. 21, 1814 by Ch. 79, Acts of 1814, the Social Law Library to this day still remains a quasi-public agency supported by both private membership fees and state taxpayer funds. A few years prior, on Feb. 16, 1811, the Massachusetts General Court passed a resolve that provided “for an exchange of laws with the several states in the Union”. The statute books collected in this exchange would eventually overwhelm the offices in the State House and would be assembled to make up the first collections of the State Library of Massachusetts, which was formally established as the Library of the General Court on Mar. 3, 1826 by Ch. 123, Acts of 1825.

The original “exchange of laws” that had begun in 1811 to start the Library of the General Court was expanded by a resolve on Mar. 11, 1844 to include “an exchange of reported decisions of the Supreme Court, with the several states of the Union” and then again by another resolve on Feb. 27, 1845  “to promote Mutual Literary and Scientific Exchange with Foreign Countries … to exchange copies of the state map … and bound copies of the laws and legislative documents of the Commonwealth … for books and other works of science and art from foreign countries, to be deposited in the Library of the General Court.”  This expansion in the scope of collections would lead to the Library of the General Court being called the “State Library” by Ch. 155, Acts of 1849 which put the library under the office of the Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education. Not long after this change, Ch. 182, Acts of 1850 placed the State Library under the “management and control of three trustees, appointed by the governor” but the Secretary of the Board of Education would remain also as the State Librarian.

State Library of Massachusetts
The State Library and its expanding collections moved to a newly dedicated library space in the State House “Bryant Addition” in 1856, however, this section would be removed by the later “Brigham Addition” to the State House where the State Library would eventually move again in 1895 (and where the main library still resides today in Rooms 341 and 442 of the State House) after having become its own department directly under the governor in 1893 (Ch. 86, Acts of 1893). The State Library is now under the administration of the Executive Branch Office for Administration and Finance (Ch. 329, Acts of 1980) after spending a short time under the former Executive Office of Educational Affairs (Ch. 704, Acts of 1969) until that department was reorganized. The State Library would officially and legally become the “depository library for Massachusetts state publications” by the passing of Ch. 259, Acts of 1966 (later amended by Ch. 412, Acts of 1984).

The State Library is laser focused on its legislative mandate to “maintain a complete collection of Massachusetts state publications, both current and historic” (M.G.L. Ch. 6, Section 39A) and on their digitization and addition to the State Library’s growing digital repository.  And what of practical legal research needs rather than the historical?  The State Library provides free in-library access to WESTLAW, Instatrac, the State House News Service, and Social Law Library legal databases. And what about those needs outside the scope of the State Library’s collections? Members of the public can freely use the collections of the State Library’s law library partners—any of the libraries of the Trial Court Library System (either in person or online), the First Circuit Law Library of the United States Court of Appeals in Boston, or by obtaining a courtesy pass to the Social Law Library at the John Adams Courthouse. We thank our legal partners for helping with the enormous and ever changing responsibility of excluding no one from accessing the legal resources they need.

Judy Carlstrom
Technical Services

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Great Elm on Boston Common

Did you know that the American elm (ulmus americana) is the official tree of Massachusetts?  Elm trees have played a significant role in Massachusetts history and folklore, many of which were venerated for their old age and associations with important people and events.  One famous American elm witnessed the founding of Boston, saw the excitement and violence during the American Revolution, stood through the city’s industrial age, and was finally felled by a winter storm in 1876—which caused an outpouring of sorrow in Boston and around the commonwealth.

A facsimile of a map drawn by John Bonner in 1722
 providing an early depiction of Boston, including
the Great Elm. (Source:  Library of Congress).
The “Great Elm” was considered old even as far back as the early 18th century, and it was estimated to have been planted sometime between the 1620s-1670s.  It stood in a central location on the Boston Common and later in its life drew many visitors due to its age and unusually large size; in 1855 the City Engineer measured it as “height, seventy-two and one-half feet; girth one foot above the ground, twenty-two and one-half feet; girth four feet above the ground, seventeen feet; average diameter of greatest extent of branches, one hundred and one feet.” (Source, p. 51)  In fact, one of the tree’s earliest depictions is on a 1722 map of Boston by John Bonner, which reveals it as being much larger than other trees in the area.

An engraving, circa 1792, that shows the Great Elm
centered on the Boston Common (Source). 
The Boston Common, founded in 1634, is a historically rich location, and it goes without saying that the elm bore witness to many events throughout its lifetime.  The British Red Coats encamped on the Common for eight years starting in 1768, and the colonial militia also mustered here; it is also said that the Sons of Liberty often met in the neighborhood near the tree during the Revolutionary era.  Methodist Episcopal clergyman Jesse Lee delivered a sermon under the Great Elm in 1790, and some believe that this was the origin of Methodism in New England.  A memorial of Jesse Lee’s sermon, published in 1875, traces the history of the elm and describes a duel that occurred nearby in 1728 between Benjamin Woodbridge and Henry Phillips.  The elm is also believed to have been the site of public executions, including the hangings of Quakers William Robinson and Marmaduke Stevenson in 1659, and Mary Dyer in 1660.

Over time, the effects of age, its size, weather-related events, and constant visitors caused the tree to weaken; Jerome V. C. Smith, the mayor of Boston from 1854-1855, took special interest in its care and preservation and built an iron enclosure around it—upon which was a tablet that read:

This tree has been standing here for an unknown 
period.  It is believed to have existed before 
the settlement of Boston, being full
grown in 1722.  Exhibited marks of
old age in 1792, and was nearly
destroyed by a storm in 1832.
Protected by an iron
enclosure in 1854.
J. V. C. Smith, Mayor

A photograph of the 1866 New England Centenary Convention,
with the Great Elm pictured in the background.(Source)

The elm weathered a damaging storm in 1860 and stood for another 16 years until a strong gale took it down on February 15, 1876.  People sought to collect pieces of its wood as mementos, and some even repurposed the wood to build various items, such as a chair that can be found today in the Boston Public Library’s rare book department.

For more information about the Great Elm and other famous trees in Massachusetts history, check out the following resources below.

Resources and Further Reading

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Friends Newsletter - April 2018

Monday, April 2, 2018

Laws during the Dominion of New England

The Province of Massachusetts Bay, far before it was ever a commonwealth in the United States of America, had the ability to form a legislative body or “General Court” in order to pass laws as part of their original charter. At the State Library, we have several volumes of laws from both the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Plymouth Colony, though these volumes stop at 1685. The laws then resume in 1692, and each of these acts and resolves are available online. But what happened between 1686 and 1692?

In 1684, King Charles II of England revoked the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s 1629 charter. The Puritans had been ignoring English civil law in favor of their own biblical teachings and voting requirements, specifically those regarding trade with other nations (known as the Navigation Acts) and the Crown had insisted that they revise their charter so that English civil law would be back on top. When the colony refused, Charles II revoked their charter. He died soon after, and his successor James II took action a step further: in an effort to organize and centralize government administration in the colonies, he combined the northern colonies including Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, and Connecticut, as well as the Provinces of New Hampshire and later New York, East Jersey, and West Jersey in 1688. Together, they were the new Dominion of New England.

Seal of the Dominion of New England

The new government under the Dominion of New England consisted of an appointed gubernatorial council and no representative legislature, and in protest many of the individuals who were appointed to the council (and those elected to be military officers) refused to serve. The colonists in Massachusetts Bay also resisted paying taxes and establishing an Anglican congregation. When Edmund Andros, previously Royal Governor of New York and new Governor of the Dominion of New England, arrived in Boston at the end of 1686, he decided to pursue a hardline position with the rebellious colonists, arresting those rallying the people to protest and resist taxes, limiting town meetings to once a year, and challenging land titles. He also established the first Anglican congregation (today’s King’s Chapel) by claiming land by eminent domain. This choice was extremely unpopular due to the land being next to the oldest Puritan cemetery in Boston (now known as the King’s Chapel Burying Ground).

King's Chapel, Boston, Mass. circa 1930-1945

Needless to say, Andros’ reign was not popular and religious leaders like Cotton and Increase Mather petitioned the Crown to hear their case against Andros. At the same time, England’s Glorious Revolution began, and James II was replaced by sovereigns William and Mary. Increase Mather, who had gone to England to press charges against Andros, was there just in time to meet with the new monarchs regarding a new charter. At the same time, the news of the Glorious Revolution caused a political revolt in Boston in 1689, during which the insurgents arrested Andros and set up a new temporary government known as the Council for Safety.

The new Massachusetts Bay charter created the Province of Massachusetts Bay and absorbed Plymouth colony and Maine, but many of the original aspects of the 1629 charter were forever lost. While the province once again had a representative legislature, they had lost many of its other self-governing rights, including electing their governor, who would now be appointed by the Crown. English civil law was also elevated above the Puritans’ congregation-based laws to uphold as the Navigation Acts and remove religious restrictions on voting.

During this short period of time, the colony of Massachusetts Bay did not exist politically, which may account for the gap in laws at the State Library of Massachusetts. But where would the laws, passed by Governor Andros and his council, actually be located? In our collections, we have a 1928 reprinting of the Laws of the Dominion of New England from 1686, but no other years. The cover page states: “From the only known copy of the original issue, now in the archives of the State of New Hampshire.” A handwritten note adds, “These orders and others… may be found in Laws of New Hampshire (ed. By Batchellor) vol. 1, p. 102-138.”

Laws of the Dominion of New England

The 1902 edition of the Laws of New Hampshire, compiled by Albert Stillman Batchellor, appears to be the only time that the laws of the Dominion of New England have ever been published. It is possible that Batchellor traveled to England for certified copies of these laws so that his compilation would be as complete as possible. Thankfully, it is available online on HathiTrust.org courtesy of Harvard University and Google Books. Manuscript copies of the laws and council minutes are also available in the Massachusetts State Archives. These original engrossed acts have never been digitized, but thankfully researches can still locate laws from this time period via Batchellor’s edition.

Special thanks to Brian Buford of the New Hampshire State Archives and John Hannigan of the Massachusetts State Archives for their assistance in tracking down these laws.

Further Reading:

Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff

Monday, March 26, 2018

New acquisition: 1897 “Boston Souvenir Calendar”

Images of the building we all work in make welcome additions to the State Library’s collection of artifacts relating to the State House. This small calendar (4 ¾” high by 3 ½” wide) has six sheets, with our own building featured prominently on the front. Other images include Old South Church, the Old State House, Faneuil Hall, Old North Church, and Trinity Church.

The calendar was published in 1896 by L. Prang & Co., Boston, the firm owned by Louis Prang (1824-1909), who was best known for his work in chromolithography. Except for a small loss in the lower left corner of the top card, the calendar is in very good condition. It came as a gift in March, 2018.

We plan to add it to Souvenir 90: Artifacts relating to the Massachusetts State House, 1865-2014.

Beth Carroll-Horrocks
Special Collections Department

Monday, March 19, 2018

April Author Talk: Amber Moulton

The Fight for Interracial Marriage Rights in Antebellum Massachusetts 
By Amber D. Moulton 
Wednesday, April 4, 2018—Noon to 1:00pm
State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, Massachusetts State House

The State Library of Massachusetts invites you to join us on Wednesday, April 4, to hear author Amber Moulton speak about her book The Fight for Interracial Marriage Rights in Antebellum Massachusetts.

Based on information from court and church records, family histories, and popular literature, The Fight for Interracial Marriage Rights in Antebellum Massachusetts chronicles the grassroots movement to overturn the Commonwealth’s ban on interracial marriage that culminated in its repeal in 1843. Even though Massachusetts was known as an abolitionist stronghold before the Civil War, a powerful racial caste system persisted, reinforced by a law prohibiting interracial unions. Dr. Moulton’s well-researched book details the work of activists and reformers to overturn this law and thereby help shape this early chapter in the fight for civil rights.

Author Amber Moulton leads the Unitarian Universalist
Service Committee’s emergent research program, where she conducts multidisciplinary research into human rights abuses to support advocacy and policy reform. Prior to her work at UUSC, Dr. Moulton taught at Harvard University, Northeastern University, and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She holds a Ph.D. in African American Studies from Harvard University and has published several articles on environmental justice and human rights.

Dr. Moulton will be selling and signing copies of The Fight for Interracial Marriage Rights in Antebellum Massachusetts at the conclusion of her talk at the State Library.

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Upcoming Author Talks at the State Library:

Monday, March 5, 2018

A Closer Look at the MacArthur Scrapbook

I recently wrote about a scrapbook documenting General Douglas MacArthur's visit to Massachusetts that made its way to the preservation lab because it needed to be re-housed. When an item comes to the lab, my primary concern is addressing its preservation needs but I also spend a little time examining these items and appreciating their historical value. When I started working on this scrapbook I initially thought that it only contained photographs, but I was surprised to find that nestled amongst the pages was a menu for a dinner held in General MacArthur's honor. Personally, one of my favorite items in special collections are historical menus. On an aesthetic level, I love looking at the intricate designs, illustrations, and ornaments that adorn menus from the 19th and 20th centuries. On a research level, I appreciate the information that we can glean from them, which often provide insight into popular foods and dinner customs, entertainment culture, class, and the economy during a specific point in history.

The MacArthur menu is a dinner menu from the Oval Room at the Sheraton Copley Plaza (now the Fairmont Copley Plaza) and is dated July 25, 1951. According to the hotel's current website, the Oval Room is considered one of the most beautiful rooms in Boston with a sky and cloud mural painted on its ceiling. Given this location and the fact that a special menu was printed for the occasion, we can guess that MacArthur's dinner was a formal affair. The cover of the menu is illustrated with his profile and a welcome message, and our copy also includes his signature, written in pencil. The following two pages list the wide variety of items that were available for dinner, ranging from the "Chef's Special" - a grilled ham steak Hawaiian style for $2.00 - to the sirloin steak for two, which at $9.00 is the priciest item on the menu. When I come across a historical menu, I always like to examine the options and figure out what I would have ordered and how much it would have cost me. I also usually find that there are at least a few menu items that aren't familiar to me, or that don't sound appetizing at all to my 21st century palate. I encourage our readers to take a close look at the menu and do the same!

Beyond food items, the menu also tells us a little bit about nightlife culture in the 1950s. The menu indicates that music and dinner service was until 9:00 p.m., followed by dancing until close. There was no cover charge at the Oval Room, but I was curious about two taxes that were printed on the menu - a Massachusetts old age tax of 5% and an amusement tax of 20% (but only after 9:00 p.m.). A little bit of digging revealed that the Massachusetts old age tax was a 5% state tax on meals that cost over $1.00 to help fund the Old Age Assistance Fund, a state program that was similar to Social Security and was in existence from 1941 to 1955. A version of the amusement tax, also referred to as the fun tax, is still around today. Tickets to sporting events, concerts, and other "fun" activities are exempt from sales tax, but they can be subject to separate amusement tax. Luckily, eligible amusement and recreational services today are not taxed at 20% today like they were in 1951!  

The MacArthur menu is now housed in an acid-free paper sleeve and stored along with the photographs from the scrapbook. Taking some time to look deeper into the content of the items that I work on is a fun part of my job, and I look forward to the next interesting item that makes its way to the preservation lab.

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian