Monday, December 30, 2019

January Author Talk: Vincent Brown

Tacky's Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War by Vincent Brown
Tuesday, January 14, 2020—Noon to 1:00pm
State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, Massachusetts State House

The State Library’s first author talk of 2020 will feature Harvard Professor Vincent Brown, author of Tacky’s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War. This new book is scheduled to be released on the same day as our author talk, on Tuesday, January 14.

As described by the publisher, Tacky’s Revolt is a gripping account of the largest slave revolt in the 18th-century British Atlantic world. This uprising laid bare the interconnectedness of Europe, Africa, and America, shook the foundations of empire, and reshaped ideas of race and popular belonging. The book focuses on a movement of enslaved West Africans in Jamaica who organized an uprising in 1760 that featured guerrilla-style warfare and which was part of a more extended borderless conflict that spread from Africa to the Americas and across the island. Tacky’s Revolt traces the roots and reverberations of this insurgency and expands our understanding of the relationships among African, European, and American history.

Author Vincent Brown is the Charles Warren Professor of American History and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Dr. Brown’s first book, The Reaper’s Garden: Death and Power in the World of Atlantic Slavery, won the James A. Rawley Prize, the Merle Curti Award, and the Louis Gottschalk Prize. His documentary, Herskovits at the Heart of Blackness, which was broadcast nationally on the PBS series Independent Lens, won the John E. O’Connor Film Award and was chosen as Best Documentary at both the Hollywood Black Film Festival and the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival.

We invite you to register today and join us at the State Library at noon on January 14 for Dr. Brown’s talk and book signing.

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Our upcoming Author Talks:

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Monday, December 23, 2019

Artificial Intelligence and Libraries

HAL9000 from the movie 2001:
A Space Odyssey.  (Image from
Wikimedia Commons)

artificial intelligence:  a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers (Merriam Webster)

bias:  an inclination of temperament or outlook especially : a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment : PREJUDICE (Merriam Webster)

Back in early November I attended the Law Librarians of New England (LLNE) fall 2019 meeting that focused on artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms in law libraries and legal practice.  AI is and will continue to be a hot topic with the development of “deep fakes,” facial recognition software, Alexa and Siri, targeted advertisement, and self-driving cars.  But how does AI affect libraries and their patrons?

Google’s algorithms use the billions of searches users perform on a daily
bases as data and learn from them in order to predict and/or suggest future searches.

AI has revolutionized both the ways in which we seek information and the speed at which we receive it.  When you use a database or search engine, however, you most likely aren’t thinking about the algorithm that is being used to retrieve results for you, who created the algorithm, and what kind of data it’s drawing from.  I left the fall meeting realizing that everyone should be asking these types questions.  There’s a dangerous expectation that computer and web-based programs are designed to give the user impartial results that represent the truth; however, what if an algorithm intentionally or implicitly reflects the bias of its creator and/or the biases fed into it by its millions of users?  University of Southern California communications professor Safiya Umoja Noble, for her book Algorithms of Oppression, spent 6 years researching Google’s search algorithms and found that the tool not only tends to reflect the values of white western men, who also make up the majority of its builders, but also fails to represent--and even perpetuates negative stereotypes of--minorities and women.  This is a problem that extends far beyond Google, which is why it’s important to consider the objectivity of the pipeline that is delivering information to you.

Another issue with AI is the lack of standardization and transparency.  Librarians love standardization, which is why there are rules for metadata creation that cataloging librarians across the world follow to create access to library materials (for example: MARC records and Library of Congress subject headings).  Library catalog records are usually completely transparent and users can see the “code” used to index an item.

Proprietary companies understandably do not want to share the secret inner workings of their products, but this poses a problem when the user wants to better understand why one database pulls X results while another database pulls Y results, or why the results are listed in a certain order, and most importantly where this data is coming from and if its complete.

Admittedly, I myself still know so little about AI and there are so many different facets and ethical and privacy issues to consider, but what I do know is that it’s important for library users from all backgrounds and disciplines to be aware of the repercussions of too much reliance on it when seeking information.  DON’T assume that AI is smarter than you, DO assume the probability of bias, DON’T assume that it draws from an exhaustive bank of quality data, and DON’T assume that having difficulty finding something in a search engine or database means that it doesn’t exist.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Further reading:

Monday, December 16, 2019

Boston Female Asylum: Records of Benevolence

    December is the time of year that resonates with giving and helping out our fellow neighbor.  The history of benevolence runs deep in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the State Library has the records to show the power of what a small group of women can do to help improve the lives of others.  This blog post highlights the Boston Female Asylum records.  The story of the Boston Female Asylum is about how the act of community organization built an enduring charitable institution.

     The Boston Female Asylum (BFA) was officially established in 1800 and incorporated in 1803. The BFA was the first public charity planned and established by women in the town of Boston.

Photo: Tom Nichols
     In early December of 1799, a letter by Mrs. Hannah Stillman printed anonymously in J. Russell’s
Gazette suggested that the ladies of Boston organize a society similar to one recently established in Baltimore for the care of the “fair fragile form.”

     Mrs. Stillman was the wife of Reverend Dr. Samuel Stillman, of the First Baptist Church of Boston.  The Stillmans had fourteen children and at 60 years of age, Hannah decided to form the Boston Female Asylum Society to help orphaned and destitute girls in Boston.  Although other women joined Mrs. Stillman, it was difficult to a get them to give their names for a published record because it was the first time that women had assembled for any public purpose. 

    The first meeting for the purpose of forming the society was conducted at Mrs. Jonathan  Mason’s (Senator) house.  Mrs. Stillman asked for donations and helped establish a subscriber system where prominent women in the community became members by paying an annual $3.00 subscription fee.  Further donations would be accepted from women and men- “although gentlemen could not be members of this society, their names will be entered with peculiar pleasure on the list of its benefactors.”  The society took off quickly and at the second meeting, the first child, Betsy D. was admitted.

     Seeing so much need in Boston, the BFA developed swiftly and unanimously voted in Hannah Stillman to serve as its first director until her death in 1821.  Rev. Stillman noted at the first anniversary of the founding of the Asylum that girls “are to be placed under the care of a discreet, capable and virtuous Governess.”  When the children reached the age of ten, managers of the Asylum would place the children under the care of “good and virtuous families, till they shall be eighteen.”  During its first year, the BFA took in 13 girls and helped hundreds over the decades.

     The State Library of Massachusetts received the records of the Boston Female Asylum in 1926. The State Librarian, Edward H. Redstone, announced in the Boston Daily Globe how fruitful this collection would be for researchers of all disciplines. This fascinating collection has the register of orphans admitted to the BFA, sermons and other publications, an expense ledger, register of subscribers, donation account and the board of managers meeting records.

     Subscribers and donors over the years included, First Lady Abigail Adams, Mrs. John Quincy Adams, Mrs. Elizabeth Adams wife Governor Sam Adams, and several other well known families of Boston.

     Another very interesting piece of history from this collection is the ledger of monthly expenses.  The ledger shows what food and other necessities were purchased to care for the orphans over the span of several decades.  This documentation was very detailed and helps researchers see what particular items were used during this time and how much it cost to care for all
the girls.

     The BFA was a very active organization that changed with the times. From 1800 to 1811, the children were lodged in houses contracted by managers.  The BFA was first established in a house on Pleasant Street in Boston.  From Pleasant Street, the Asylum moved to Summer Street, then to South Street, and then to Lincoln Street.  In 1811, the Society purchased the estate of Daniel Sargent on or near Lincoln Street for $12,000.  In 1844, the Society purchased a lot in the south part of the city and built its own building.  The cornerstone was laid for this building at 1008 Washington Street on June 25, 1844.

     The volunteer nature of the Asylum gave way to the hiring of professional social workers.  In 1902, all girls were placed in private homes, and the building on Washington Street was closed.  In 1910, the name of the Asylum was changed to the Boston Society for the Care of Girls.  This Society joined with Children’s Aid Society in 1922.  Soon it would form the Children’s Aid Association, later to become Boston Children’s Service Association.  In the 2000s Boston Children’s Services, New England Home for Little Wanders, Parents’ and Children’s Services, and Charles River Health Management merged into The Home for Little Wanders, which provides a variety of services in Massachusetts.

                                                              For further reading:

 BFA. (1844). Reminiscences of the boston female asylum. Unpublished manuscript.

Boston Female Asylum. (1989). Boston female asylum: Historical account, by-laws, rules and regulations. Boston: Beacon Press.

Boston female asylum records (1800- 1866) located at the State Library of Massachusetts

Mock, E. (1979). Survey, inventory and guide to the records of the Boston Female Asylum and the Boston Society for the Care of Girls. Boston: University of Massachusetts at Boston.

Dava Davainis
Head of Reference

Monday, December 9, 2019

Popular Databases and How to Find Them

The State Library has been working hard to get many state publications and legislative history materials digitized and available online. In addition to these collections, we have access to several online databases that provide state employees and other patrons with access to academic journals, magazines, and newspapers. All you need is a State Library card!

The State Library provides access to legal and legislative databases and news sources like MassTrac/Instatrac, Westlaw, and the State House News Service. However, these online resources can only be used in the State Library’s Reading Room. In contrast, the State Library also provides access to several other databases not necessarily related to legislative history and research courtesy of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. These databases include JSTOR, BioMedCentral, PubMed, and several Gale academic databases that focus on subject-specific content. Further, patrons can access these databases remotely, either at home, in their office, or elsewhere outside of the State Library, using their State Library card.

You can access these databases here.

But how can you check and see what those databases have access to? If you are interested in journals and journal articles, you can search for a specific title without clicking into each individual database. Simply navigate to the first search bar and “Search by Title or Identifier”:

You can select search parameters such as “Title begins with” or “Title equals” and then enter the name of the journal you are interested in. If the journal is included in any of the databases, it will be listed as a result along with date range information and a link to the database that provides access.

You may notice that the date range of content available may not be completely up-to-date. This is because journal publishers often negotiate agreements with database companies about what content they can provide access to, as publishers often sell their own subscriptions to current journals and other materials. Because of these agreements, the database may only be able to provide articles published after a specified time period. This delayed access is referred to as an “embargo” or “moving wall.” If a journal is impacted by an embargo, this information should be listed on the journal’s page on the database.

This journal on JSTOR has a 3-year “moving wall”
embargo. In addition to this journal-specific
information, JSTOR helpfully provides more information
about different types of publisher embargoes.

If you are unsure what the specific journal title might be or would like to browse all journals available, you can do so alphabetically or by subject on the main database webpage:

The journal you are interested in may not be located in any of the databases we have access to – but don’t worry! If that is the case, you can always request a journal article via our ILL service.

If you are not interested in a specific journal or magazine but want to explore individual articles or topics, you can also select a general database at the bottom of the page:

These links will bring you to the database’s general page, where you can perform basic or advanced searches regarding whatever you are looking for. Some of the databases are focused on a particular topic, such as Gale OneFile: Criminal Justice or PubMed Central, which is a medical database. Other databases may include just one type of online resource, such as the Boston Globe, the Encyclopedia Britannica, or New York State newspapers. The Directory of Open Access Journals is the only database listed here that does not require your State Library card, as all of its content is “open access” and therefore publicly available.

The homepage for Gale’s Academic Onefile database.

You may notice some date range restrictions similar to embargoes for some of these databases. For example, ProQuest only provides access to the Boston Globe from 1980 to present. If you are interested in articles earlier than 1980, you may want to check to see if your public library, university, or college provides their own access the Boston Globe. Public libraries and schools often have their own subscriptions to different databases and online resources and will be happy to share their services with you.

If you have any questions about the State Library’s databases or how to use them, feel free to contact the Reference Department at 617-727-2590 or email us at

Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff

Monday, December 2, 2019

On Display in the State Library

Visit the State Library from December 2 to December 31 to see our next displayed item – Map of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island: Constructed from the Latest Authorities. Published in 1825 by Anthony Finley, the cartographer was David H. Vance and the map was engraved by James Hamilton. Since this map, and others published by Finley, was based on the latest authorities, it could be counted on to be precise and accurate. The counties located within each state were hand colored, and nearly two hundred years later the map is still a vibrant representation of New England.

In addition to identifying county boundary lines, towns, and geographical features of each state, this map also provides interesting information about population growth in the early 1800s. The population size of each county found in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, as well as an overall count for the entire state, is listed for both 1810 and 1820. This data was likely compiled from the Federal Census, which continues to be taken every ten years. From 1810 to 1820, Massachusetts increased from 472,040 to 521,725, Connecticut increased from 261,924 to 275,248, and Rhode Island increased from 76,931 to 83,059. The increase in each of these states during the ten year span matches the general population increase that occurred in the United States, which experienced about thirty-three percent growth.

Before the map went on display, it needed to undergo a fair bit of preservation treatment. It had previously been pieced together with adhesive tape and fabric, so we worked carefully to remove as much of those materials as possible. Surface dirt had accumulated after years of handling, so the map was also cleaned, and tears and paper loss were mended with thin Japanese paper and wheat paste.

Anthony Finley was a prolific map publisher, including a map of the United States in 1827 and Massachusetts in 1831, which is also part of the library’s collection. The State Library has an extensive map collection, which can be searched on our online catalog and through our digital repository, DSpace. And visit us through the end of December to see this map in person. If you’re from southern New England, be sure to find your own town and county!

By Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Monday, November 25, 2019

More than Gerrymandering: Elbridge Gerry

When most think of the “Founding Fathers,” they think of very famous central figures: George Washington, Sam Adams, John Adams, or Benjamin Franklin, to name a few. However, many other politicians other than these oft-remembered names were responsible for shaping the early years of the United States government and Massachusetts statehood. One of those figures is Elbridge Gerry.

Elbridge Gerry was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts in 1744 and, like many of his contemporaries, attended Harvard College. His father was a merchant who traded with many countries overseas, and Gerry became an active opponent to the taxes and laws that the British sought to implement surrounding American trade. In fact, Marblehead was almost as politically rebellious as Boston and resisted the British economic sanctions just as fiercely, which is understandable as it was an extremely important port and fishing town. It comes as no surprise, then, that Elbridge Gerry helped to begin the first committee of correspondence outside of Boston in his hometown, and when the port of Boston was closed in punishment for the Boston Tea Party protest, Gerry played a lead role in establishing Marblehead as an alternative port and transporting supplies to the people of Boston marooned under martial law.

Portrait of Elbridge Gerry from our Flickr set
Images of the Governors of Massachusetts, 1629-1894

During this time, Gerry was elected to the Massachusetts General Court and was later elected to the provisional Massachusetts Provincial Congress when the colony’s legislature was dissolved by General Gage in 1774. As part of the Congress’ committee of safety, he helped to collect weapons and munitions and store them in Concord before the Battle of Lexington and Concord. After the American Revolutionary War began, Gerry continued to coordinate supplying the Continental Army, made possible with his knowledge and connections in the shipping industry.

In 1776, Elbridge Gerry became a delegate for the Second Continental Congress, serving alongside John Adams, Sam Adams, John Hancock, and Robert Treat Paine. He fought hard to convince his fellow delegates to support the passage of the Declaration of Independence and was one of the five Massachusetts men to sign it. John Adams, a lifelong friend to Gerry, wrote that “If every Man here [at the Second Continental Congress] was a Gerry, the Liberties of America would be safe against the Gates of Earth and Hell” (John Adams to James Warren, July 15, 1776, Warren-Adams Letters, Massachusetts Historical Society). Adams, as well as Gerry’s other friends, considered him “a loyal and dependable friend, and a man of consistent political principles,” according to biographer George Athian Billias.

These principles were put to the test during the Constitutional Convention in 1787. As the delegates debated the framework of the new American government following independence, Gerry stood fast and opposed measures like the Three-Fifths Compromise, disgusted that the Southern States would insist on counting slaves as part of their population to increase their legislative representation while still maintaining that these people were property. Throughout the Convention he debated elections and governmental structure, successfully arguing to give the U.S. Congress’ power to override presidential vetoes. But primarily, he was most concerned about the lack of protections for personal rights and liberties. Gerry became a hugely controversial figure when he was one of only three delegates who refused to sign the U. S. Constitution. Further, he then wrote a letter to the Massachusetts Legislature articulating why he refused to sign, stating among his reasons that the document had “no adequate provision for a representation of the people.”

The U. S. Constitution (second printing) with annotations by Elbridge Gerry (1787),
courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

This letter was widely circulated, going through 46 printings and is considered one of the most popular Anti-Federalist tracts. However, it certainly made him many enemies among Federalists, and he was not a popular figure in the Federalist-dominated Massachusetts convention to ratify the Constitution. The debates were particularly contentious, almost erupting into a brawl between Gerry and convention chair Francis Dana when the former was not allowed to speak. Gerry left the convention, and the Commonwealth ratified the U.S. Constitution, though only with recommendatory amendments. Estranged by many in the Massachusetts political elite, he still had enough friends to be nominated for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he worked tirelessly on the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. These amendments, introduced by James Madison, are now known as the Bill of Rights and were exactly what Gerry felt the U.S. Constitution lacked. With the implementation of these amendments, Gerry felt vindicated his beliefs and withdrew his opposition.

Elbridge Gerry remained a controversial figure in early American politics, retiring and reentering the political field several times and repeatedly running for governor unsuccessfully. Speculation about his involvement with the XYZ Affair (1797-1798) further damaged his reputation despite support from John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Gerry had avoided joining a political party following the decline of Anti-Federalists, but finally aligned himself with the Democratic-Republicans in the early 1800’s. With their support, he finally became Governor of Massachusetts in 1810, calling for an end to partisan warfare.

Elkanah Tisdale’s famous cartoon of the Gerry-mander,
originally published in the Boston Centinel, 1812.

Ironically, then, did his term as governor become defined by partisan warfare. With war with Britain looming, Gerry became more and more distrustful of Federalists and replaced many within the state government with Democratic-Republicans. It was at this time that he inspired the phrase “gerrymandering,” the practice of manipulating district boundaries in order to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group. This controversial practice certainly did not originate in Massachusetts, but the name stuck thanks to Gerry’s enemies. In 1812, the Democratic-Republican-controlled Massachusetts Legislature passed a redistricting bill in which senatorial districts were carved into new shapes that would benefit their party in future elections. Gerry signed the bill into law reluctantly, believing that as governor he should not veto laws unless they were unconstitutional, but that did not stop his Federalist opponents from blaming him for the new partisan districting. According to an 1892 article by John Ward Dean, an illustrator, ridiculing the shape of one of the new districts in Essex County, drew the district into a dragon-like beast. Someone remarked that the beast looked like a salamander, while another corrected that it looked more like a “Gerry-mander.” Today, we still refer to the creation of partisan districting as “gerrymandering.”

Gerry was not reelected as governor in 1812, though he did become James Madison’s running mate in the presidential election of the same year. He became the Vice President in 1813, but was only in office for less than two years before he died November 23, 1814. Despite his involvement in the Continental Congress, his work to amend the U.S. Constitution to protect individual rights, and other diplomatic and political work throughout his life, he is still widely remembered for his connection with partisan redistricting, a law he did not support in the first place.

Further Reading:

Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff

Monday, November 18, 2019

December Author Talk: Richard A. Johnson

The Pats: An Illustrated History of the New England Patriots 
An Author Talk with Richard A. Johnson Monday, December 2, 2019—Noon to 1:00pm State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, Massachusetts State House

Attention New England sports fans—our next author talk is for you! Join us at the State Library on Monday, December 2, for a conversation with Richard A. Johnson, curator of The Sports Museum at TD Garden and co-author (with Glenn Stout) of The Pats: An Illustrated History of the New England Patriots (published in 2018). 

A New York Times and Boston Globe best seller, The Pats chronicles the complete history of this legendary team, from its beginnings as the Boston Patriots with founding owner Billy Sullivan to the current Brady/Belichick dynasty. This comprehensive history of the Patriots features essays by Upton Bell, Lesley Visser, Howard Bryant, and others, and is richly illustrated with over 200 photos.

Sports historian Richard A. Johnson has authored or co-authored over 20 books, including The Bruins in Black & White, The Boston Marathon, and A Century of Boston Sports, among others. A graduate of Bates College, he joined The Sports Museum in 1982 as its first employee. He has served as a consultant to projects and clients including the Boston Celtics, New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox, Cambridge Seven Associates, WGBH, ESPN, HBO, and the Boston Museum of Science.

Registration is now open; don’t miss your chance to hear all about the Patriots over the years and to purchase a signed copy of The Pats, just in time for holiday gift giving!

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Our upcoming Author Talks:

Monday, November 11, 2019

United States Census 2020

A federal employee using 1960s census machines to process
census records. (Image from the U.S. National Archives
and Records Administration)
Next year the United States Census Bureau will be reaching out to each household in the country by April 1st, 2020 in order to collect data for the decennial census.  The census “counts every person living in the 50 states, District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories,” which are Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Households will be asked to fill out a short questionnaire, with the option of doing so by phone, snail mail, or online.

The 2020 census will mark the 24th time the country has counted its population, which started in 1790—7 years after the end of the Revolutionary War.  Collecting this type of data is important as it is used by federal, state, and city governments and other stakeholders to make decisions regarding budgets and representation, as well as to better understand how to support American communities.

Keep in mind that the Census Bureau will never ask for sensitive information, such as your Social Security number, or bank or credit card numbers; they will also never solicit money or donations.

And for those historical and genealogical researchers out there, the National Archives will be releasing 1950 census records in April of 2022!

Federal Resources:
2020 Census Research, Operational Plans, and Oversight

Massachusetts state resources:
Massachusetts 2020 Census

Other resources:
Counting for Dollars 2020: The Role of the Decennial Census in the Geographic Distribution of Federal Funds

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Friends Newsletter - November 2019

Monday, November 4, 2019

On Display in the State Library

This November, the State Library is exhibiting a Proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer, issued by Governor John Hancock on November 8, 1783. Printed as broadside and distributed throughout the Commonwealth to notify citizens of the upcoming observance, this document established Thursday, December 11 as a day for all Massachusetts residents to devote themselves to prayer and giving thanks.

The day of thanksgiving established by John Hancock and his council in 1783 is different from the Thanksgiving holiday that we know of today. During his presidency, George Washington issued a proclamation for a national day of thanksgiving in 1789, as did subsequent presidents like John Adams and James Madison. But Thanksgiving was not established as a federal holiday until Abraham Lincoln’s presidency in 1863, and it was not until 1941 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt set the date as the last Thursday in November. Prior to Washington’s proclamation in 1789, church leaders or governors of individual colonies (and then states) would periodically declare days of thanksgiving and prayer for a variety of reasons. Most frequently, these days celebrated a bountiful harvest and were very religious in nature, which is reflected in the proclamation’s wording of giving thanks to the “Almighty Being” and “Bountiful Benefactor.” During the Revolutionary War, proclamations also drew a strong connection between religion and military affairs, as days of thanksgiving were often established to give praise to God after the colonists achieved a victory against the British.

When Gov. John Hancock issued the Proclamation for a Day of Thanksgiving in November 1783, he was following a recommendation made by the Congress of the Confederation (the precursor to the United States Congress) that all thirteen states observe an especially significant event. That year marked the official end of the Revolutionary War, when the Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3 and Great Britain acknowledged the United States as free, sovereign, and independent states. Following the conclusion of a war that began eight years prior, Congress requested that all states establish Thursday, December 11 as a day of thanksgiving and prayer. The language of the proclamation was set by Congress, though it appears as though various states edited their own versions slightly. The Massachusetts proclamation reads that citizens should give thanks “that he [creator] hath been pleased to conduct us in safety through all the perils and vicissitudes of the war; that he hath given us unanimity and resolution to adhere to our just rights; that he hath raised up a powerful ally to assist us in supporting them, and hath so far crowned our united efforts with success, that in the course of the present year hostilities have ceased, and we are left in the undisputed possession of our liberties and independence.”

Though our current Thanksgiving holiday is not the same as colonial days of thanksgiving and prayer, it does have its roots there. Today, we may not be celebrating the specific events that colonial citizens did, but we do share their observance of giving thanks for a bountiful year, successful events, and general well-being. This proclamation urged citizens to “assemble to celebrate with grateful hearts and united voices,” a sentiment that continues today, much as it did well over two hundred years ago.

Through December 1, be sure to visit the State Library to see this proclamation in person. Click here to view it in our digital repository and explore other Thanksgiving proclamations issued by various governors here.

By Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Monday, October 28, 2019

Lysander Spooner

Massachusetts was a hotbed of intellectual, political, and philosophical thought in the 19th century. Amid the many philosophers, writers, and statesmen from the commonwealth, Lysander Spooner is often forgotten or overlooked in favor of other Abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison. However, Spooner’s writing was cited in Constitutional amendments and court decisions both then and now. He remains a vital figure in the early history of American anarchism, and an integral member of the once vibrant community of Bostonian anarchists.

Lysander Spooner

Lysander Spooner was born in Athol, Massachusetts on January 19, 1808. After working on his father’s farm, he studied law under John Davis, future Governor of Massachusetts and U.S. Senator. However, at that time law students who had not attended a college were required to study for two extra years, even though a college education was largely based on the humanities and did not provide a legal background. He started his own practice after three years of study despite this law, and published a petition to the Massachusetts Legislature in the Worcester Republican about the social inequality in legal education in 1835.

Spooner believed strongly in natural law, that is the unwritten body of universal moral principles that underlie the ethical and legal norms by which human conduct is sometimes evaluated and governed, as opposed to positive law, the written rules and regulations of a government. He was considered a radical, especially after he wrote several pamphlets critical of Christianity, and his legal career suffered as a result. He left Worcester and moved to Ohio to try his hand at land speculation, but unfortunately failed due to the economic impact of the Panic of 1837.

This financial crisis inspired much of Spooner’s economic writing. In Constitutional Law Relative to Credit, Currency and Banking (1843), Poverty, Its Illegal Causes and Legal Cure (1846) and A New System of Paper Currency (1861), he created an anarchist banking system and basis for paper currency. While different political factions in the United States were arguing about whether currency should be based on gold and silver, Spooner’s banking system was structured around land. He believed that this would be far more stable and completely independent from the government, which would allow individuals to borrow money more freely with which to establish themselves. Ultimately, according to Poverty, Its Illegal Causes and Legal Cure, this would result in an even distribution of wealth in a harmonious society where class conflict did not exist. Further, this society absolutely did not include slave labor.

Constitutional law, relative to credit, currency and banking (1843)
by Lysander Spooner. Part of the State Library's collections.
These ideas regarding free markets and competition led Spooner to his next venture in 1844: he moved to New York City and established the American Letter Mail Company. The U.S. Post Office had a legal monopoly on letter carrying, and its rates were notoriously highly in the mid-1800’s. People were getting more and more creative in order to avoid the high costs of sending letters and packages, some even sending newspapers with the message underlined throughout different articles as newspaper delivery was exempt from the government law. However, in 1843, federal case United States vs. Adams & Company (1843) confirmed that while it was illegal for anyone to set up a company to transport mail, it was not forbidden for commissioned passengers to carry mail. Private businesses, including Spooner’s American Letter Mail Company, were thus founded and prospered in competition to the expensive U.S. Postal Service. Spooner openly advertised his company, which thrived on a postal route between Baltimore and Boston, and published a pamphlet challenging the U.S. Post Office’s legal monopoly entitled The Unconstitutionality of the Laws of Congress Prohibiting Private Mails (1844). Because of this high publicity, the Postmaster General legally targeted the American Letter Mail Company, and eventually the federal government enacted a law in 1851 that further strengthened their postal monopoly. However, postage rates did dramatically decrease as a result of their competition with private letter carrying companies and remained that way after the 1851 legislation. Spooner continued to fight for postal rate reduction, but did not receive credit from his contemporaries, even publishing a pamphlet in his defense entitled Who Caused the Reduction of Postage in 1845? (1850), which was generally ignored.

Lysander Spooner’s pamphlet
Who caused the reduction of postage?: Ought he to be paid? (1851).
Part of the State Library's collection.

Despite, or perhaps because of, these failings, Spooner was not discouraged. After moving back to Massachusetts, he focused on the question of slavery. His entire family had been ardent Abolitionists, and he used his legal education to attack the institution of slavery through legal arguments. While many individuals believed that slavery was morally wrong, Spooner believed he could prove that it was legally unconstitutional. This would undermine many politicians from the South who believed that the U.S. Constitution upheld slavery and could be a way to use government to end slavery entirely. He obtained financial support from Gerrit Smith, a wealthy philanthropist and abolitionist living in upstate New York, so he could focus on researching and writing this treatise. In The Unconstitutionality of Slavery (1845), Spooner argued that the preamble “We the people” included all in the United States regardless of skin color, and thus that those bound in slavery were therefore citizens that could claim the all the rights and benefits as White citizens. His arguments would later be written into the Fourteenth Amendment, one of the three Reconstruction Amendments to the Constitution after the Civil War.

Spooner further wrote that if a law was unconstitutional, it was the duty of a citizen to resist that law. He continued to apply this concept to slavery in Defence for Fugitive Slaves (1850), stating that it was legally and morally correct to escape slavery and for others to assist those escaping slavery. In Plan for the Abolition of Slavery (1858), he called for the use of guerilla warfare against slaveholders. His writing would inspire many Abolitionists, including John Brown, whose 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry in what is now West Virginia attempted to initiate an armed slave revolt. However, the Abolitionist movement was highly factionalized, and Spooner was attacked by William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips, both prominent Abolitionists who believed in moral suasion, while Spooner himself attacked prominent anti-slavery politicians like Charles Sumner and William H. Seward for supporting a vengeful war based on maintaining the Union rather than ending slavery. Once the Civil War broke in 1861, Spooner denounced the North’s military action against the South, stating that the Confederate States had the legal right to secede from the Union.

The front page of A plan for the abolition of slavery (1858)
by Lysander Spooner. Part of the State Library's collections.

Lysander Spooner continued to write and publish works through the end of his life, especially regarding his ideas regarding banking systems independent of government and other doctrines such as jury nullification. He became friends with notable early American anarchists such as Clarence Lee Swartz and Benjamin Tucker, who created Liberty, an anarchist periodical newspaper for which Spooner wrote articles regularly. He remained in Boston for the rest of his life and was a regular at the Boston Athenaeum until his death in 1887. He is buried at Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, Boston.

Further reading

Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff

Monday, October 21, 2019

November Author Talk: Richard W. Judd

“Was Henry a Hippie? Locating Thoreau in a Changing Modern World”
An Author Talk with Richard W. Judd
Wednesday, November 6, 2019—Noon to 1:00pm
State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, Massachusetts State House

On Wednesday, November 6, the State Library will welcome renowned environmental historian Dr. Richard W. Judd, author of the recent book, Finding Thoreau: The Meaning of Nature in the Making of an Environmental Icon. Please join us for Dr. Judd’s talk, “Was Henry a Hippie? Locating Thoreau in a Changing Modern World.”

Henry David Thoreau is one of America’s most widely-recognized authors, but at the time of his death in 1862, he was relatively unknown as a writer. In his book Finding Thoreau, Dr. Judd details Thoreau’s reversal of fortune over the years, from obscurity to fame as an environmental icon. By studying how critics in different ages responded to Thoreau’s writings, this well-researched book explores the ways in which the concepts of the environment and nature have evolved in American culture over the decades.

Dr. Judd is the author of numerous books and articles on the topics of conservation and environmental history, focusing especially on Maine and northern New England. Recently retired, he spent over three decades as a Professor in the History Department at the University of Maine. He has also served as the editor on a number of projects, including Historical Atlas of Maine, the Journal of Forest History, and the periodical Maine History.

The State Library’s author talks are free and open to all. For more information, please visit our website at

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Monday, October 7, 2019

Monday, September 30, 2019

On Display in the State Library: The Witches of Dogtown

What better way to celebrate the spooky month of October than by learning about some Massachusetts lore? This month, the State Library’s exhibit case features a few items from the collection related to Dogtown, the now-abandoned town in Gloucester that was rumored to be home to a few witches.

Today, Dogtown is a forested area with trails to hike and boulders to clamber over, but from its founding in 1693 until the early 1800s, it was an inland village with approximately 80 homes. The village was originally known as the Commons Settlement, but according to legend, the name Dogtown derived from the dogs that women kept with them while their husbands were fighting in the Revolutionary War. Due in part to its distance from the coastline, the village fell into decline and was abandoned by about 1830. All that remains from the settlement are cellar holes that mark some of the original foundations. An abandoned village often carries an air of mystery, but Dogtown’s is heightened by the lore that some of its last remaining residents practiced witchcraft. 

Thomazine “Tammy” Younger was born in 1753 and later in life she was referred to as the “Queen of
the Witches.” Tammy was known to have a colorful vocabulary, to host card games, and to tell fortunes. She accosted those who passed by her home and demanded that they give her any food or other items that they might be carrying. When she died in February 1829, her neighbor John Hodgkins prepared her coffin. Upon completion, John kept the coffin inside his home, but the rest of the Hodgkins family was so frightened of it they insisted that it be removed from the house before they went to sleep.

Luce George, who was Tammy’s aunt, and Peg Wasson were other local women who were rumored to practice witchcraft. Both of them would “bewitch” oxen to stand still in front of their homes and not move onward until they received some of the load – whether it was corn or wood, or any other product. According to local legend, Peg was also known to fly on a broomstick or to take the form of a crow, and once fell down with a broken leg at the same time a crow was shot down from the sky.

On display is In the Heart of Cape Ann, or, The Story of Dogtown, written by Charles Edward Mann in 1896 and “The Broomstick Trail” by Sarah Comstock and published in Harper’s Monthly Magazine in December 1919. Each of these sources tell the fascinating story of Dogtown and the legends that surround it. Stop by the State Library now through November 3 to see these items in person – if you dare!

By Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

October Author Talk: Edwin Hill

The Missing Ones (A Hester Thursby Mystery), 
by Edwin Hill
Thursday, October 3, 2019—Noon to 1:00pm
State Library of Massachusetts—Room 341, 
Massachusetts State House

©Thomas Bollinger
We have a treat for you this October! Edwin Hill, author of the critically-acclaimed Hester Thursby mystery series, will speak at the State Library on Thursday, October 3, about his new novel, The Missing Ones.

Edwin Hill’s debut novel, the psychological thriller Little Comfort, introduced us to Hester Thursby, a Harvard librarian who uses her research skills to find missing persons. The Missing Ones finds Hester dealing with the trauma of her last case and questioning her interest in searching for those who don’t want to be found. But soon a mysterious text from a long-lost friend leads Hester to a remote island off the coast of Maine, where she discovers strange disappearances and finds herself working to untangle the secrets at the center of a small community. Heralded by Library Journal as “a wonderfully complex and intricate mystery,” The Missing Ones can be read either as a stand-alone novel or as a companion to Little Comfort.

Author Edwin Hill teaches courses on writing literature and publishing at Emerson College; previously, he served as the vice president and editorial director for Bedford/St. Martin’s, a division of Macmillan Learning. He has written for such publications as LA Review of Books and Publisher’s Weekly, and his first novel, Little Comfort, was an Agatha Award finalist. To learn more about Mr. Hill and his books, visit him online at

At the conclusion of his talk, Mr. Hill will sell and sign copies of both The Missing Ones and Little Comfort.

For more information about the State Library’s author talk series, please visit our website at

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Oldest Items in the Library’s Collection

A very popular question that visitors ask our reference staff is what is the oldest item in your collection? When I get this question I usually gesture to our facsimile copy of William Bradford’s manuscript Of Plimoth Plantation, which is both old and interesting—but also incorrect.  The shame of not knowing hangs heavy on me, so I have decided that it’s time to finally get the correct answer.  What is the oldest item in our library?  You might be surprised to know that Bradford’s manuscript, written during the years 1630-1650 by Plymouth Colony’s 2nd governor, doesn’t even make the top ten list.  What you won’t be surprised about is that our oldest item is, of course, a book.  Here is a list that includes the oldest item and its 3 other book “runners-up”:

1. Justiniani sacratiss. principis institutionum : seu elementorum iuris libri quator, by Fran├žois Baudouin, 1546.

This well-loved book is the oldest item in our collection, printed some 473 years ago!  In fact, it was printed less than 100 years after the Gutenberg Bible, which was the first major book published in Western Europe using movable metal type; it also marked the beginning of the mass production of books.  It is written in Latin and covers part of the Corpus Juris Civilis (“Body of Civil Law”) of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, specifically his volume of Institutiones, which was originally used as a manual for student jurists in the 6th century.  Although it’s hard to make out, the cover of the book has a stamp that reveals “Willimus Chesholme” as its original owner.

2. M. Tullii Ciceronis Rhetoricorum secundus tomus : horum catalogum sequenti pagella inuenies, by Marcus Tullius Cicero, [155?]

Our first runner-up book has an interesting history.  It was donated to the library in 1936 and is purported to have been owned by William Bradford, the 2nd Governor of Plymouth Colony, who is said to have brought the tome with him on the Mayflower.  A handwritten note on the front endpaper of the book resembles Bradford’s handwriting, which can be seen in his manuscript journal Of Plimoth Plantation.  It is a little difficult to read, but the note derives from a quote from one of Seneca the Younger’s epistles, which praises the writing style of Cicero: compositio ejus (Ciceronis) una est: pedem servat, curata, lenta, et sine infamia mollis (“the composition of this man (Cicero) is one that: keeps the foot [idiom probably for keeping a good rhythm], is carefully prepared, is easy, and is gentle without notoriety.”)

3. The historie of Guicciardin : containing the warres of Italie and other partes, continued for manie yeares vnder sundrie kings and princes, together with the variations and accidents of the same : and also the arguments, with a table at large expressing the principall matters through the whole historie, by Francesco Guicciardini, 1599.

Our second runner-up traces the wars and other events that occurred in the 15th and 16th centuries under Italy’s monarchy.  Originally written in Italian by Francesco Guicciardini, it was translated into Elizabethan English and was published in London by Richard Field, who personally knew William Shakespeare and printed early editions of some of the playwright’s poetry.

4. Selectarum disputationum ad jus civile Justinianaeum : quinquaginta libris pandectarum comprehensum volumina duo, by Hieronymus Treutler, 1603.

Our last runner-up is another book written in Latin containing selected arguments regarding the civil code of Justinian.  While not as old as the other books on this list, it was still printed 27 years before the Mayflower landed in Plymouth.  So it’s still pretty old!  One of the book’s original owners wrote and then scribbled out a note on the title page.  I stared at it for a while but can’t make out what it says or what language it’s written in.

The above-mentioned books, as well as other early publications in our collection, can be found in our Special Collections Department in room 55 of the State House.  If you have any questions, you can email the librarians at or call 617-727-2595.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Monday, September 9, 2019

Fall Exhibit: One Hundred Years Ago - Massachusetts in 1919

If you were to travel back in time to Massachusetts in 1919, you would be met with a world that was in the middle of great change. The First World War, the fight for women’s voting rights, strikes and labor issues, and prohibition were just a few of the current events that were affecting the social, political, and economic climate of the day. Our new fall exhibit, One Hundred Years Ago - Massachusetts in 1919 uses materials from the State Library’s collection to examine these stories and more, as well as exploring the Commonwealth under the direction of Governor Calvin Coolidge. 

Visit the library from September 9, 2019, through January 3, 2020, to step back in time and place yourself in the middle of the conflict, change, and hope that profoundly shaped life for Massachusetts citizens in 1919 and beyond. This exhibit will be available to view online as a set of images on the State Library's Flickr site.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

On Display in the State Library

From August 30 to September 30, the State Library is exhibiting a broadside from Special Collections, titled “Shipwreck! A memorial account of the unfortunate and distressing catastrophe of Capt. Samuel Soper and his crew, of the Brig Ardent.” The broadside commemorates the September 28, 1823 wreck of the whaling ship Ardent.

The Ardent was based out of Provincetown, Massachusetts, which was one of the leading ports for the whaling industry, as well as home to Captain Soper and many of his 13 man crew.  While on its return from a successful expedition, the Ardent was caught in a severe hurricane. Three crewmen were washed overboard and the ship took on significant water and damage to its masts. Though it righted itself and did not sink, the ship remained adrift at sea for 26 days, during which many of its crew members died from starvation, dehydration, and exposure. In an account of the wreck in Provincetown, author Herman Atwell Jennings wrote, “the British packet Lord Sidmouth, bound for Falmouth, England, sighted the wreck and took off the sufferes, who could not have lived but for a short time longer.” Only five men still survived when they were picked up by the Lord Sidmouth, and one man died shortly after being saved from the wreck. The four remaining survivors then traveled with the crew of the Lord Sidmouth on to England before returning back home to Massachusetts. Among the survivors was Capt. Soper, who continued in the whaling industry and died on December 8, 1860 in Provincetown.

This dramatic wreck of the Ardent led writer Seth T. Hurd to pen a “memorial account” of the disaster. The broadside includes a narrative of the wreck, followed by Hurd’s “poetical reflections” of the event. The poem uses strong and emotional language to convey the full tragedy of the Ardent and its crew – it progresses from the calm before the storm, to the wreck, aftermath, and rescue. Near the end of the poem Hurd provides closure when he writes, “Ye mourners of the fated crew! O may we all lament with you; and o may virtue be our guide, whatever storms through life betide.”

The broadside on display in the library was likely printed in 1873, on the 50th anniversary of the wreck. The State Library received it as a gift to the collection in January 1942. Prior to going on exhibit, some adhesive tape was removed from the back of the broadside and creases and tears were repaired and reinforced with thin Japanese paper and wheat paste.

Visit us this month to examine the commemorative broadside in person, or access it through DSpace, our digital repository!

By Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian