Monday, February 27, 2012

Digitization project to make Massachusetts atlases available on the web

As part of a grant-funded project, the State Library has started to digitize the Massachusetts Real Estate Atlases in its collection. The library has approximately 200 atlases, which include about 6500 maps in 12 counties and more than 80 municipalities throughout Massachusetts. These atlases provide information about property boundaries, plot size, ownership, building shapes and materials and are heavily used by genealogists, architectural consultants, people researching the history of their homes and others.

The image on the left is from George Washington Bromley’s Atlas of the City of Boston, volume 1, published in 1883. It shows the State House before the back half of the building was added in the 1890’s and before the east and west wings were added in the early 20th century. It also shows the properties that were taken to make room for these additions.

The image on the right is from the Atlas of Hampden County, Massachusetts, published by F. W. Beers in 1870. It shows the center of South Wilbraham.

The first group of 45 atlases currently being digitized include a statewide Massachusetts atlas, atlases from Middlesex, Franklin and Worcester counties and municipal atlases that cover 45 cities and towns throughout the state from Pittsfield to New Bedford. These materials should be digitized and in our electronic repository by late spring. The entire project is expected to be completed by summer, 2013.

The Massachusetts real estate atlas digitization project has been developed with federal funds provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and administered by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Remembering Black Heroes from the First World War

How much do you know about black servicemen? Buffalo Soldiers of World War II are often the first that come to mind, having been immortalized many times over in song, television, and film. In addition, with the recent release of the movie “Red Tails,” many people have learned about the Tuskegee Airmen and their significant accomplishments, but what about black soldiers before the Second World War? Few know of the Harlem Hellfighters, and still fewer know of the Blue Helmets. These brave regiments fought alongside the French in World War I because their American comrades had refused to do so. At a time when “colored” soldiers were always in separate units and rarely got the proper respect they deserved, these men were doubly courageous for their steadfast resolve whilst fighting two wars… the harder of which was amongst their countrymen.

Massachusetts’ Company L, Sixth Infantry was part of the National Guard, and the only black company to come out of the Commonwealth. As part of the 372d Regiment within the 93d Division, it was one of many companies that made up the entire “colored” division- between ten and fifteen thousand men. Originally the 93d Division was to fight under General John J. Pershing, but after pressure from France to provide U.S. assistance, Pershing decided to send the black troops to serve in the French Army.

Unlike the U.S. command, General Mariano Goybet and the French did not discriminate and were more than happy to have reinforcements. New York’s “Harlem Hellfighters” were the first of the 93d to reach France. They were soon joined by the “Black Devils” of Illinois and parts of the 92d “Buffalo Soldier” Division. Eventually the entire 93d would be nicknamed “The Blue Helmets” because of the blue Adrian combat helmets worn by the French Army.

Finally able to engage in combat instead of being relegated to labor-exclusive pioneer infantrymen, the men thrived. The efforts of the Americans were so extraordinary, over 500 awards and decorations were distributed by the French alone. The men of the 372d received a unit award of the Croix de Guerre with Palm (along with a second nickname, “The Bloody Hands”), many men received the Distinguished Service Cross, and Clarence Van Allen from Boston’s Company L even received the M├ędaille Militaire, which is one of France’s highest military honors.

When Company L returned to Boston they were given a parade, celebrated as heroes, and received formal recognition for the military honors that had been awarded at home and abroad. Evidently the pomp and circumstance was short lived, since so few people today remember their unique story. As we celebrate Black History Month, let’s remember not only the men of Company L, but all of the black men who served in the First World War at a time when equality was considered a luxury.

The above photograph of Company L is part of a collection of over 40 group photographs of units from Camp Devens. If you are searching for information on an ancestor from Massachusetts who served in World War I, visit the State Library’s Special Collections Department to check our database of soldier photos, or read even more about World War I in the Boston Globe by way of our microfilm collection.

Bianca Hezekiah
Program Coordinator, Reference Department

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Laws of the United States

As a federal depository, the State Library has a collection of the Laws of the United States (Statutes at Large) starting with the organization of the Government in 1789. The U.S. Statutes at Large is the permanent collection of laws and resolutions enacted during each session of Congress. The Statutes are also known as session laws, analogous to Massachusetts’ Acts and Resolves.

Among the laws one can find in this collection is the federal health care law passed in 2010, known officially as Public Law 111-148, “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”. Much of this law was modeled after Massachusetts’ own universal health care law, Chapter 58 of the Acts of 2006.

The Library’s collections of both public and private laws (also known as slip laws) are available digitally from 1951-2007 (vols. 65-115). The digitized collection starts with the 82nd Congress (1951) and continues through the 110th Congress (2007). Prior to 1951 the collection is available in hard copy.

The collection is available for use in room 341 of the State House, the main reading room of the State Library. To access Government and Congressional publications visit the website of the Government Printing Office (GPO) at:

Monday, February 13, 2012

Brown bag on The Salem Witch Trials

Join us for a Brown Bag lunch
Thursday, February 16th, 2012
State Library of Massachusetts
Room 442 State House
12 until 1:30 PM

Bring your lunch and hear Theresa Gillis McDougall, amateur historian and Salemologist, speak about this troubling period in Massachusetts history. Ms. McDougall has deep roots in New England ancestry, with relatives who participated in both sides of the trials. She has given presentations and led historical walking tours of Salem, Plymouth, Boston and other New England towns for over ten years.

She will give a brief history of the Salem Witch Trials and its victims from the social origins, trials and aftermath, to the much-overlooked Boston connections and deep involvement in the trials of 1692.

To register, please go to:

You may also call the Reference Department at 617-727-2590 or e-mail to to let us know you will attend.

Sponsored by the Friends of the State Library

Friday, February 10, 2012

Boston Immigrants: Bringing Four Centuries of Tradition and Innovation to The City Upon a Hill

The Library invites you to view the newest exhibit, Boston Immigrants: Bringing Four Centuries of Tradition and Innovation to The City Upon a Hill. This exhibit shows materials from the State Library of Massachusetts’ collections highlighting the history of Boston’s immigrants and their contributions to the Commonwealth.

The exhibit runs through May 25, 2012 and can be viewed outside of the Library, Room 341 of the State House. Library hours are Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm.

Photo credit: North American Civic League for Immigrants Annual Report 1912-1913.

Monday, February 6, 2012

I am an Abolitionist

February 7, 2012 marks the 161st anniversary of the publication of the lyrics to William Lloyd Garrison’s “I am an Abolitionist” in his anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator. Although there had been anti-slave trade and anti-slavery meetings in Philadelphia as early as 1794, the abolitionist movement did not gain momentum until the 1830s.

William Lloyd Garrison, born in Newburyport, Massachusetts in 1805, was one of the leaders of the movement. He was originally involved in the temperance movement, and after meeting abolitionist Benjamin Lundy, Garrison shifted his focus to the immediate abolition of slavery. He promoted emancipation through “moral suasion,” which was nonviolent and nonpolitical resistance. The Liberator was published weekly from January 1831 until after the 13th Amendment was ratified in December of 1865. While considered an important abolitionist publication, the weekly newspaper ran largely at a financial deficit.

Garrison, well-known for his oratory skills, helped to found the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1832 at the African Meeting House on Beacon Hill. He was also a major force behind the American Anti-Slavery Society, formed in 1833 in Philadelphia, a hub of the anti-slavery Quaker religion.

The Museum of African American History held a rededication ceremony in December 2011 to celebrate the recently finished historic restoration and the 205th anniversary of the African Meeting House, which opened in 1806. The meeting house, the “oldest extant African American church building in the nation constructed primarily by free black artisans,” played host to several significant events during the abolitionist movement.

The State Library holdings relating to Garrison include original issues of The Liberator from August 1859 through December 1865, and microfilm of issues from February 1861 through the last issue on December 29, 1865. The State Library also holds pamphlets of Garrison and other abolitionists’ speeches, a memorial to William Lloyd Garrison printed by the city council in 1886, reprints of records of the New England Anti-Slavery Society as well as many books on abolitionism and the people who led the abolitionist movement.

Jennifer Hornsby, Special Collections intern