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