Tuesday, September 19, 2023

New Exhibit: Education in the Commonwealth: A Timeline

The State Library invites you to view one of our newest exhibits, Education in the Commonwealth: A Timeline. The exhibit highlights a selection of milestones in regards to education in Massachusetts, starting in 1635 when Boston Latin School opened, becoming the first school in the colonies. The timeline continues on to include the passage of the first education laws in the 1700s, the opening of the first school for the blind in the 1800s, and the start of bussing for the desegregation of Boston schools in the 1900s. To conclude the exhibit, we cover some of the recent initiatives from Governor Healey’s education agenda, such as the free lunch program which applies to all public schools in Massachusetts, permanently.

You’ll find lots more information in addition to those events, so be sure to stop by to see this exhibit for yourself! The exhibit is up now through December 2023 and is located outside the State Library, Room 341 of the State House. Our hours are Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm. Be sure to check out our other display cases in the reading room while you’re here and to chat with our friendly reference librarians! You can also see the exhibit online through the library’s Flickr page.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Who was the real Johnny Appleseed?

It is nearly impossible to think about Fall and Back-to-School without thinking about apples. And an American figure who is closely associated with apples is, of course, Johnny Appleseed. Massachusetts is known for many notable politicians, athletes, and celebrities hailing from the Bay State, but did you know the legendary folk hero was born in Massachusetts? Yes, Johnny Appleseed was a real person—John Chapman. The son of a farmer, he was born in Leominster on September 26, 1774 to Elizabeth and Nathaniel Chapman.  

During his childhood Chapman was an apprentice at an apple orchard. His mother and a younger brother had died from tuberculosis when he and his sister were very young. His father, Nathaniel Chapman, remarried in 1780 and would have 10 children with his second wife, Lucy Cooley Chapman. The Chapmans relocated to Longmeadow, Massachusetts where John Chapman lived for the rest of his childhood into early adulthood.  In 1792 when Chapman was in his early twenties, he set out to seek his fortune outside of New England along with his younger half-brother. Some accounts say that in addition to Chapman’s half-brother venturing out West with him, his sister Emily joined them.  

His first destination was Pennsylvania, specifically the Wilkes-Barre region where he was a nurseryman and orchardist for apple orchards. According to accounts the first orchard he planted was in Warren, Pennsylvania. Now contrary to the myth the apples grown in these orchards were the juicy kind perfect for baking and snacking, the varieties Chapman specialized in growing were apples used for making hard cider. These apples were smaller, less uniform in shape, and sourer than their larger counterparts—hence earning the colloquial term “spitters.” Historians think during the 1790s he also embraced Swedeborgian Christianity and began proselytizing as he journeyed throughout Pennsylvania into the Potomac region of Virginia.   

Contrary to the legend, Chapman did not scatter the seeds randomly as he made his way West. Virginia is probably where he collected the seeds for free from the pomace left in cider mills after pressing apples; however, he may also have collected some seeds from Pennsylvania cider mills too. The owners of the cider mills encouraged Chapman to take the seeds from the mills since the more apple trees planted with cider-making varieties, the better for their cider businesses. Chapman then used the seeds in nurseries he planted en route to Ohio as part of an intentional plan to make a profit from apples and landownership. As he was pursuing success in the apple business, John would help struggling pioneers and sometimes give them seedlings for free. While offering aid to pioneers John would often do mission work—sharing stories about the Swedeborgian faith and gifting them with Bibles.  By the time John and his siblings reached Ohio in 1800, he was known as “Johnny Appleseed.”  

Two factors contributed to John’s success as a businessman. One was that many early American households consumed cider at meals. In fact, it was common for households to have small orchards for growing apples to make cider. This was because at this point in history the production of cider guaranteed a safe, bacteria-free drink. Since the Swedeborgian faith prohibited the practice of grafting apples, Chapman’s planting of the seeds directly into the ground would result in only apples suitable for cider. Grafting is a practice which allows for apples to be grown for consumption as a food source rather an alcoholic beverage. Many of Chapman’s contemporaries considered grafting to be a time-consuming process and preferred growing apple trees directly from seed.  

Secondly there was a Frontier Law that stated if a person wanted to form a homestead beyond the first permanent settlement in Ohio, they would be granted 100 acres. In order to prove the permanency of the homestead and to make a land claim legitimate, a settler had to plant 50 apple trees and 20 peach trees within 3 years. Chapman certainly made sure each of his land claims from Ohio to Illinois were legitimate. When groups of pioneers arrived in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, Chapman would sell them the apple saplings. Chapman returned every two years to each of his land claims to tend to orchards. By the time of his death in 1847 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Chapman had established a 1,200 acre-estate of apple nurseries. 

Chapman’s actual appearance truly was simple and much like how he was described in folktales inspired by him, even long after he achieved success financially. A tall, lean, sinewy man with unkempt brown hair, he was frequently seen carrying around a sack of apple seeds with him. And the clothes he wore were threadbare and he was often barefoot. What type of hat he wore has never been authenticated.  

The legend of Johnny Appleseed continued to grow after he died in 1847. An 1871 issue of Harper’s Monthly Magazine published an article is credited to creating the modern-day mythos which surrounds John Chapman today. There are many places in the U.S. which commemorate “Johnny Appleseed”--one of which can be found in Leominster, Massachusetts today. In 1963 the Leominster Historical Society placed a marker near the site where John Chapman was born. Since 1993 Leominster hosts an annual Johnny Appleseed festival in late September celebrating his birthday and legacy with plenty of apple treats and fall fun. 


Emily Crawford
Technical Services Librarian

Monday, September 11, 2023

Researching Public Officers of the Commonwealth? Look no further!

Some of the most-used resources we have in the State Library are our collections of books that contain facts and images of legislators and public officials of the Commonwealth. These books, dating from 1885-2018, include the Official Gazette, the Souvenir of Massachusetts Legislators, and the Public Officers of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, also known as Bird Books. These books are particularly useful when researching the terms of legislators and for finding biographical information about them. They also contain photographs of legislators in the early 1900s which can be difficult to come by otherwise. 

The library’s copies of these books are very fragile, so if you’d like to use them to do your research, please handle them with care. As always, photography is welcome as long as you don’t use flash.

While the physical copies of the Bird Books are great, we also have them available on our digital repository. They are keyword searchable and are available as PDFs. Take a look at these volumes here.  

Back in 2008, the library undertook a project to preserve some of the more fragile volumes. The volumes that were focused on were from the 1920s-1940s, as many of their leather covers were deteriorating. Read more about this project in this blog post. If you have any questions about these resources, contact us at Reference.Department@mass.gov.

Jessica Shrey
Reference Librarian

Thursday, September 7, 2023

The Little Screech Owl Perches in the Library!

As students throughout the Commonwealth head back to the classroom, our selection from Birds of America is a bird associated with wisdom, change, and good luck - all appropriate symbols for a new school year! The Little Screech Owl (plate 97) will be on display in our reading room from September 7 through October 4.

This print shows both the young owl (reddish in color) and the adult (grey mottled) shown in the branches of the Jersey Pine. The Little Screech Owl is found in the eastern states and is most plentiful in the autumn and winter. The Audubon Society writes that “This robin-sized nightbird is common over much of the east, including in city parks and shady suburbs, where many human residents are unaware they have an owl for a neighbor. The owl spends the day roosting in holes or in dense cover, becoming active at dusk. Despite the name, screech-owls do not screech; the voice of this species features whinnies and soft trills.” You can hear the distinctive call of the screech owl here, courtesy of the American Bird Conservancy’s website.

We hope these owls bring good luck and wisdom to all the students beginning a new school year, and to anyone else who might need a little extra wisdom right now! Be sure to visit us to see them in person this month.

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

On Display in the State Library

From kindergarten to college, students in the Commonwealth are heading back to school! With that in mind, this month we're sharing two circulars associated with public schools in Dorchester in the 1800s – visit us to see “Rules and Regulations to be observed by the Teachers of the Public Schools in Dorchester” (1810) and “Order of Exercises at the Dedication of the Building and Installation of the Teacher of the High School” (Dorchester, 1852).

Dorchester was annexed into Boston in 1870, but when these two circulars were issued it was a separate town that had been founded in 1630. Its educational history dates to that period, too – the Mather School, which is the oldest public elementary school in North America, was established in Dorchester in 1639. The school was named after Richard Mather, a Congregational minister who had emigrated to Dorchester from England in 1635. The original Mather School was a one-room schoolhouse, and though the building has changed over the years, the Mather School is still in existence as an elementary school serving students in grades K through 5.

171 years after the founding of the Mather School, the displayed circular (above) was issued to teachers in Dorchester’s public schools. The notice is divided into ten rules or guidelines, with a notation that it was “first passed on August 26, 1805; with amendments and additions, June 27, 1810.” The regulations include instruction to begin the day with a devotional, which books are recommended for each grade, the school schedule, relationship between the School Master and School Committee, and how to assess if children are ready for school, as follows:

Children are not to be admitted to the Schools, till, they are able to stand up, and read words of two syllables, and keep their places."

On the back of the circular is a handwritten notation of “Mr. Lemuel Crane” and “5 School District,” who we assume was recipient of this notice. A brief search of Lemuel Crane revealed an entry in the Hyde Park Historical Register on the Butler School, which was founded in 1786 and listed a Lemuel Crane as assisting with the endeavor. Since Hyde Park was part of Dorchester at the time, we can speculate that this was the same Lemuel Crane who received the public school circular. The article went on to say that Lemuel Crane also served as a Representative for the 5th District in the General Court. You can read the full article on the Hyde Park Historical Society’s website (pages 9-12).

Jumping forward in time, we are also displaying a circular from the dedication of Dorchester High School, which occurred on December 7, 1852. The program for the dedication was as follows: remarks from the Chairman of the Building Committee, a reply and address by the Chairman of the School Committee, a prayer, a hymn sung by the pupils, an address to the pupils, a poem, another hymn sung by the pupils, and finally an introduction of the teacher followed by remarks from the teacher. That sounds like a long program, so we hope that there were also some refreshments on hand for the attendees! Take a close look at the image to see the content of the two hymns.

Last year, we marked the beginning of the school year by displaying the rules and regulations for Quincy Public Schools, published in 1835. You can read about that circular, and the textbooks that were displayed alongside it, here. And be sure to visit us through September 28 to see these Dorchester circulars on display in our main reading room. Happy back to school!

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Friday, September 1, 2023

State Library Newsletter - September Issue

From Author Talks, to new items on display in our reading room, to new books on our shelves, there's a lot going on at the State Library this month! Catch up on all of it in our September newsletter.

Pictured here is a preview, but the full issue can be accessed by clicking here. And you can also sign up for our mailing list to receive the newsletter straight to your inbox.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Rooted in Boston: The origins of a Revolutionary War symbol

The Liberty Tree, a popular symbol of resistance to British rule during the Colonial and Revolutionary War periods, has its roots in New England, specifically Boston, Massachusetts.

On August 14, 1765, a group of colonists in Boston, Massachusetts gathered under an elm tree on the corner of Essex and Orange Street with effigies in representing officials responsible for the Stamp Act. The group called themselves the Loyal Nine. Prior to their gathering under the tree, the Loyal Nine enlisted Ebenezer Macintosh, a shoemaker, to make the effigies. The effigies represented Andrew Oliver, who was chosen by King George III to enforce the Stamp Act in the colonies, and two ministers, the Earl of Bute and Lord George Grenville, who were considered responsible for creating the Stamp Act. 

Soon a mob gathered around the effigies led by Ebenezer Macintosh. The Loyal Nine began to “stamp” the mob’s belongings in mockery of the Stamp Act. At the end of the day, the effigies were removed by the mob and used in a mock funeral procession. One account written by Francis Bernard, the governor of Massachusetts, described the protestors beheading the effigy representing Andrew Oliver after parading it down the street in a coffin. According to Bernard, the mob’s actions culminated in the stamp office building being pulled down and the timber from it used for bonfire to burn the Andrew Oliver effigy. Bernard’s account also said Andrew Oliver narrowly escaped the stamp office as it was being ransacked. August 14, 1765 is considered by historians to be the first public protest against British rule.  It preceded the Boston Tea Party by eight years and the Pine Tree Riot by two years. 

After the events of August 14, 1765 the elm tree became the default meeting place for the Loyal Nine, who eventually became leaders of the Sons of Liberty.  Soon the tree was known as the Liberty Tree.  Ebenezer Macintosh was responsible so often for hanging effigies and gathering mobs around it that he was called the “Captain General of the Liberty Tree.” Eventually it became the regular meeting place of the Sons of Liberty. When the Stamp Act was repealed in 1766, people gathered in celebration around the Liberty Tree. During the festivities a commemorative sign was nailed to the tree. It had the following words: “This tree was planted in the year 1646, and pruned by order of the Sons of Liberty, Feb. 14th, 1766.”

After 1766 the tree continued to be a political meeting place and a protest site. During the Liberty Riot of 1768 a mob dragged a British naval ship all the way from the Boston Harbor to the Liberty Tree to protest the seizure of John Hancock’s ship. There were many protests about the Tea Act of 1773 held there. In 1774 John Malcom, a Loyalist and customs official, was seized by mob and brought to the site of The Liberty Tree where he was promptly stripped to the waist, tarred and feathered, and forced to resign from his office. By 1775 The Liberty Tree in Boston became so renowned as a political meeting place and symbol, Thomas Paine was inspired to write a poem about it. The Liberty Tree in Boston inspired other towns and cities across the 13 colonies to designate their own liberty trees.

Planted in 1646, the Liberty Tree’s life was cut short during the Siege of Boston in 1775.  A party of British soldiers and Loyalists cut down the tree and used it to build a fire. After the British evacuated from Boston, a liberty pole was erected on August 14, 1776 near the stump of the Liberty Tree.  For many years after the Liberty Tree stump was a local landmark occasionally mentioned in newspapers but for the most part forgotten. Marquis de Lafayette visited Boston in 1825 and visited the stump, remarking, “The world should never forget the spot where once stood Liberty Tree, so famous in your annals.” When the stump was removed from its location is unclear, but it most likely would have been sometime between 1825 and the 1850s. The Massachusetts Historical Society has fragments of the Liberty Tree’s roots.

Fragments taken from the roots of the Liberty Tree. Object.
Digital Commonwealth, (accessed August 15, 2023).

In the 1850s a wooden plaque commemorating the Liberty Tree was placed on the exterior of the third floor of a building located on Essex Street and Washington Street (formerly Orange Street). The Liberty Tree plaque can still be viewed today across the street from Liberty Tree Plaza. In Liberty Tree Plaza an elm tree was planted to commemorate the original Liberty Tree. 

 Other known former locations of liberty trees in Massachusetts are in Acton and Quincy. 

The Acton Liberty Tree was thought to have been planted by Henry Sparks who had built a house on the property 1715. Eventually the house was purchased in 1755 by Simon Hunt, Junior. During the Revolutionary War an elm tree in the southern yard of Simon Hunt was chosen as Acton’s Liberty Tree. The Acton Liberty Tree died in 1925. Near its former location the Acton Peace Tree was planted in 1915 by schoolchildren where it still stands today next to the Simon Hunt Homestead. A sign on the maple tree reads: “The Peace Tree planted with due ceremony by the school children of Acton on Arbor Day 1915 as a stand-in for the Liberty Tree.” 

In Quincy, Massachusetts, a liberty tree was located near Brackett’s Tavern. Very little is known about the tree and the role it played in the community. An entry from John Adam’s diary dated May 4, 1766 contains details about its location and its status as a liberty tree: “I saw for the first Time, a likely young Button Wood Tree, lately planted, on the Triangle made by the Three Roads, by the House of Mr. James Brackett. The Tree is well set and well guarded and has on it, an Inscription ‘The Tree of Liberty,’ and ‘cursed is he, who cutts this Tree.’”  The Brackett’s Tavern Liberty Tree was located on a triangular patch of land where Hancock Street, Elm Street and Mechanic Street intersect. In 1959 the Quincy Granite Manufacturer’s Association placed a commemorative stone to mark the site. The City of Quincy also installed a sign designating the location where the tree once lived.   

Photo credit: Jessica Shrey

Emily Crawford
Technical Services Librarian