Monday, March 29, 2021

April Virtual Author Talk: Tobey Pearl

We invite you to join us for an online conversation with Tobey Pearl, author of the new book, Terror to the Wicked: America's First Trial by Jury That Ended a War and Helped to Form a Nation. This talk is presented in partnership with the Boston Public Library and American Ancestors/New England Historic Genealogical Society.

The year: 1638. The setting: Providence, near Plymouth Colony. A young Nipmuc tribesman returning home from trading beaver pelts is fatally stabbed in a robbery in the woods near Plymouth Colony by a vicious white runaway indentured servant. The tribesman, fighting for his life, is able with his final breaths to reveal the details of the attack to Providence’s governor, Roger Williams. A frantic manhunt by the fledgling government ensues to capture the killer and his gang. Their success and the trial that followed changed the course of America’s future, ending the two-year Pequot War and bringing about a peace that allowed the colonies to become a full-blown nation. 

Piecing together a fascinating narrative through original research and first-rate detective work, Tobey Pearl recreates in detail this startling, pivotal moment in pre-revolutionary America as she examines the evolution of our nascent civil liberties and the role of the jury as a safeguard against injustice.

Author Tobey Pearl earned degrees in law and international relations from Boston University and studied international law at the University of Hong Kong. She practiced law and taught at Emerson College, and she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

To register for this free online event, please visit:

And be sure to check out the other upcoming events hosted by our partners!

Author Talks Committee
State Library of Massachusetts

Monday, March 22, 2021

Old Photographs of Boston

During a major cataloging project at the State Library, the staff rediscovered many of our beautiful collections, including maps, photographs, and manuscripts. These collections are now fully cataloged and can be found in our online catalog.

One of my favorites is the “Photographs of Old Boston” collection, which we were able to digitize and can be found in the Library’s digital repository, DSpace or through the Library’s Flickr page.

Public Garden, 1857
This album was acquired by the State Library from G.H. Marsh in 1907 and consists of 49 black and white photographs that provide views of Boston during the 19th century. It shows historic buildings, storefronts, cathedrals, and well-known Boston sites like the Garden and the Old State House, as well as places that no longer exist like the John Hancock house. What is interesting about these photographs is how certain places have changed but also how they have remained the same.
John Hancock House,

 You can access the full collection from either   DSpace or the Library’s Flickr page.


 Silvia Mejia
 Special Collections Librarian
 State Library of Massachusetts


Monday, March 15, 2021

St. Patrick’s Day in Boston

While St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated by Irish-Americans throughout the United States, its significance in Boston has made it one of the biggest local holidays of the year.  How did St. Patrick’s Day become such a huge event, and why does it mean so much to the people of Massachusetts?

Saint Patrick's Day, March 17, 1870. Courtesy of Boston Public Library.

St. Patrick’s Day is traditionally a Catholic feast day that honors Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Celebrated on his supposed death day, Saint Patrick was a Romano-British missionary who brought Christianity to Ireland in the 5th century. His official feast day was placed on March 17th on the Catholic Liturgical Calendar in the 17th century and became a public holiday in Ireland in 1903.

Irish colonists have been present since the earliest days of Massachusetts Bay Colony, often arriving as indentured servants who were largely Protestant rather than Catholic. The early Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies were not welcoming places for Irish immigrants, where the Anglo-Saxon majority saw them as “members of a barbaric, inferior, and unmanageable race” (O’Connor, page 5). Irish Catholic immigrants in the 1600’s preferred to go to more hospitable colonies such as Maryland and Pennsylvania, as Massachusetts Bay had banned Catholic priests from living in the colony repeatedly and Irish Catholics in Boston were obliged to hide their religious identity. By the 1700’s the religious restrictions in Massachusetts had considerably eased (though certainly not disappeared), and more Irish Protestants found a home in and around Massachusetts, even founding towns such as Bangor and Belfast in what is now Maine.

Despite early resentment, the first observance of St. Patrick’s Day in the original thirteen colonies took place – you guessed it – in Boston in 1737. Prominent Irish Protestants chose the patron saint’s feast day to found the Charitable Irish Society, the oldest Irish society in the Americas. The Society was and continues to be dedicated to the assistance of Irish immigrants in the Boston area, though the Irish were still very much a minority in colonial Massachusetts.

Shamrock Quick Step for the Irish Harp,
composed for the anniversary of the
Charitable Irish Societies (1837).
Courtesy of Boston Public Library.

This would change dramatically in the 19th century. Starting in the 1820’s, a huge number of European immigrants began to arrive in Boston, with the majority originating in Ireland. Unlike most colonial Irish immigrants, many of newly arrived Irish were Catholics, which the Protestant English majority saw as a cultural and political threat. Violence against incoming Irish immigrants was widespread, and included incidents such as the Broad Street Riot, when Yankee firemen and an Irish funeral procession brawled in the streets of Boston in 1837. 

Despite this violence, problems in their home country such as the Great Irish Famine (1845-1852) increased the numbers of Irish immigrants to Boston. By 1850, the Irish were the largest ethnic group in Boston and continue to be today. Nativist political movements such as the Know Nothing movement expanded around this time, hoping to combat the increasing Irish Catholic population by promoting “Temperance, Liberty, and Protestantism.” Further unfair treatment against Irish immigrants and their descendants occurred in Boston, banning Irish from being buried in public cemeteries, firing the first Irish Boston Police officer Barney McGinniskin, and requiring Catholic students to use the Protestant King James Bible, resulting in the Eliot School Rebellion (1859) and the creation of parochial schools in Massachusetts.

The lament of the Irish emigrant, a collection
of ballads and poems by William R. Dempster (1840).
Courtesy of Historic New England.

After the Civil War, the Boston Irish made up more than one-fifth of the city’s population. Many social and charitable societies were organized around this time to provide support and community to the Boston Irish population, with many unofficial parades and feasts in honor of St. Patrick taking place in the North End, Charlestown, and South Boston. The Ancient Order of Hibernians, originally founded in New York, held its first Boston gathering in 1878 and organized St. Patrick’s Day marches and festivities through the late 1800’s.

In 1901, the St. Patrick’s Day parade was moved to South Boston. It was a dual celebration: not only was South Boston largely Irish and Irish-American, but it also was the site of Dorchester Heights, where British troops were evacuated from Boston in the early American Revolution. In 1901, March 17th became an official holiday in the city of Boston known as Evacuation Day, and therefore the first South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade commemorated both Irish heritage and military service. Today, the parade continues to be a joint celebration of both St. Patrick’s Day and Evacuation Day. But funnily enough, the first parade was not held on the 17th but the 18th of March, as the 17th was a Sunday in 1901. Evacuation Day officially became a holiday throughout Suffolk County in 1938.

St. Patrick’s Day itself is still not an official holiday in Massachusetts. In 1941, Governor Saltonstall signed an act “making March seventeenth a legal holiday in Suffolk County” though does not mention the occasion for this holiday. However, he did sign the act in both green and black ink, a subtle nod to the Irish community. Several years later in 1947, Mayor Curley gave authority to sponsor the St. Patrick’s Day Parade to the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, who still organizes the parade today. 

Chapter 91 of the Acts and Resolves of 1941
making March 17th a holiday in Suffolk County.

Since 1901, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade has marched through South Boston annually, though not without controversy. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, reflecting political upheaval in Ireland commonly referred to as The Troubles, some Boston Irish affiliated with the Northern Aid group “marched with a coffin shrouded by the Irish Tricolor and held a sign proclaiming “England, Get Out of Ireland!” They all wore black armbands” ( Racial turmoil came to light amid the busing scandal in Boston when the NAACP entered a float in the St. Patrick’s Parade only to be met with rocks, bottles, and racial slurs thrown at them from the “lunatic fringe” present in the crowd. Most recently, the Irish American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston (GLIB) were repeatedly denied participation the parade. After suing the parade’s organizers for discrimination and winning in 1994, the organizers cancelled the event, leading Mayor Menino to boycott the parade throughout his term of office. However, in 2015, Boston Pride and Outvets, a gay veterans group, were able to join the procession, and as a result Mayor Walsh was the first mayor to march in the parade since 1995. Combatting the parade’s reputation as one of drunken revelry, some South Boston residents have made efforts to make the parade more family-friendly, such as creating “family zones” and sober sites from which to watch the parade and promote the cultural and military significance of the day.

St. Patrick's Day, South Boston 1943 from Doyle’s CafĂ©.
Image courtesy of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society.

Unfortunately Boston’s beloved St. Patrick’s Day Parade was cancelled in 2020 and again in 2021 due to concerns related to COVID-19. However, there are many ways to learn and celebrate Irish heritage throughout Boston. Visit the Boston Irish Tourism Association’s website and walk their Irish Heritage Trail to learn more about the long history of Irish and Irish-Americans in Massachusetts, and stay safe by participating in remote or online events for St. Patrick’s Day.

Further Reading: 

Alexandra Bernson
Reference Staff

Monday, March 8, 2021

March Virtual Author Talk: Carla Gardina Pestana

Join Plimoth Patuxet Museums and the State Library of Massachusetts for a free online conversation with Carla Gardina Pestana about The World of Plymouth Plantation, as part of the State Library’s virtual author talk program. Richard Pickering, Plimoth Patuxet Museums’ Chief Historian, will serve as interviewer, and Beth Carroll-Horrocks, Head of Special Collections at the State Library of Massachusetts, will introduce the program. Please register for the event here:

The English settlement at Plymouth has usually been seen in isolation. The 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s arrival in 1620 and the events of our recent past have prompted a fresh look. In the past, the colonists gained our attention in part because we envisioned them arriving on a desolate, frozen shore, far from assistance and forced to endure a deadly first winter alone. Yet Plymouth has been, from its first year, integrated with the world around it. Going beyond the tales we learned from schoolbooks, Carla Gardina Pestana offers a new and illuminating account of life in Plymouth Plantation.

Carla Gardina Pestana is Professor of History and Joyce Appleby Endowed Chair of America in the World at the University of California, Los Angeles. A Guggenheim Fellow, she is the author of The English Conquest of Jamaica: Oliver Cromwell’s Bid for Empire and The English Atlantic in an Age of Revolution, 1640–1661.

Author Talks Committee
State Library of Massachusetts

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Friends of the Library Newsletter - March issue

The March issue of the Friends of the Library newsletter is out! Click here to download your own copy.

Monday, March 1, 2021

On (Virtual) Display in the State Library

This March, our virtual display case features an item in honor of the anniversary of the Boston Massacre, which occurred on March 5, 1770. We are sharing a pamphlet-style program that dates to 1888 and was published for the dedication ceremony of the monument to Crispus Attucks, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, Samuel Gray and Patrick Carr – the five victims of the Boston Massacre. 

The pamphlet, “Exercises at the ceremony of unveiling and dedication of the monument to Crispus Attucks, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, Samuel Gray and Patrick Carr,” complements the ceremony that occurred on November 14, 1888 for the dedication of the monument and a procession of government official and invited guests throughout the city. The procession route was from the State House to the site of the monument on Boston Common, then on to the site of the Boston Massacre (in front of the present-day Old State House), before culminating at Faneuil Hall. The pamphlet describes the commemorative events that occurred at the monument and at Faneuil Hall, as well as a physical description of the monument and some historical background into the massacre and aftermath. 

In the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, tensions in Boston were running high. On the night of March 5, a crowd of colonists gathered on King Street (now State Street) and began taunting and throwing snowballs and other items at a British soldier stationed in front of the Customs House. Soldiers from the British 29th Regiment of Foot joined the sentry and during the confrontation that ensued opened fire on the colonists. Crispus Attucks, a man of African and Native American descent, was the first victim. James Caldwell and Samuel Gray were also shot and killed that night, Samuel Maverick died of his injuries the next morning, and Patrick Carr succumbed to injuries two weeks later. Posthumously, the men were treated as heroes and the Boston Massacre itself was a rallying cry throughout the colonies to resist against British rule. When the day of the victims’ funerals and burial arrived, shops throughout the city were closed and bells were ordered to toll a solemn peal. A procession moved from their funeral locations to the Granary Burial Ground, where they were laid to rest. Pictured is an excerpt from the Boston Gazette and Country Journal, part of our Special Collections historical newspaper holdings, which describes the day as well as depicts an image of four coffins (Patrick Carr was buried at a later date).

Over one hundred years later, the victims of the Boston Massacre were honored again with the dedication of the monument, which is also known as the Crispus Attucks Monument and Victory. Erected by the Commonwealth and designed by Robert Kraus, the monument includes a bas-relief depiction of the moment that the British fired shots, with a slain Crispus Attucks in the foreground. Crispus Attucks is widely considered the first victim of both the Boston Massacre and the Revolutionary War and became an icon for the abolitionist movement in the 19th century; in 1858, Boston abolitionist William Cooper Nell established March 5 as Crispus Attucks Day. Attucks’ legacy lived on throughout the 20th century and up to today, as his name and actions were remembered again last summer during Black Lives Matter protests

You can read the dedication pamphlet in its entirety on DSpace. And there are countless resources to check out about the Boston Massacre, including the recently published The Boston Massacre: A Family History by Serena Zabin. You can also learn more about Crispus Attucks by visiting Revolutionary Spaces’ virtual exhibit Reflecting Attucks, available on their website.

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian