Tuesday, December 27, 2022

2023 Mass Reading Challenge!

Are you looking for a fun new year’s resolution for 2023? Then look no further than the 2023 Mass Reading Challenge, hosted by the Massachusetts Center for the Book. Join with other book lovers across the Commonwealth (and beyond) for a literary adventure in the new year!

To participate in this challenge, sign up using this form, and then choose a book to read each month that fits the categories listed below:

When you’ve finished reading your book each month, fill out this online form to report on your selection. If you read and report on at least one book in 2023, you’ll be invited to a year-end celebration hosted by the Massachusetts Center for the Book. And if you submit an entry for each of the twelve months of the year, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win one of two totes filled with books and Massachusetts goodies! See this FAQ page for more information on how to participate in the challenge. 

When you’re ready to select your book for March, be sure to browse the Massachusetts Book Awards collection in the State Library’s online catalog. As the official depository library for all Massachusetts Book Awards books, we have a comprehensive collection of award-winning books that are available to check out via interlibrary loan. Simply submit an interlibrary loan request through your local library (preferably in mid-February to allow time for shipping), and we’ll send the book your way!

We’re also an official Reading Partner for this challenge, so don’t hesitate to contact us at reference.department@mass.gov if you’re looking for guidance on a book to read for a particular month.

Happy reading in 2023!

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Monday, December 19, 2022

Massachusetts Textile Schools

When you think of the higher education system in Massachusetts, UMass probably comes to mind, or maybe one of the state universities at Bridgewater or Worcester. Or maybe you think of Bristol Community College or even MassArt. But did you know at one time Massachusetts was home to three textile schools which offered courses in cotton manufacturing, chemistry and dyeing, and even knitting?  

In 1895, the legislature passed Act Chapter 475, An Act Relative To The Establishment Of Textile Schools, as a way to bolster the state’s textile industry and as a way to bring textile education to cities within the Commonwealth. Textile institutes would open in New Bedford, Lowell, and Fall River.  

Original building on Purchase Street.
In 1898, the New Bedford Textile School opened on Purchase Street. The original building included an office, library, classrooms, as well as space for the necessary machinery for the manufacturing of cotton yarns and fabrics. Throughout the years, the school would expand and evolve. In 1902, the school at New Bedford would be the first to offer a course in knitting. In 1947, the school would change its name to the New Bedford Textile Institute (NBTI) and offer more course subjects like rayon processing, hosiery finishing, physics, and electrical engineering. Just like other colleges, NBTI had a thriving campus life. Students could join fraternities and sororities, partake in school athletics, and even published their own yearbook, aptly titled, The Fabricator.  

The NBTI's football team, The Red Raiders. The team would play
against other state colleges, like Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
Image from the Fabricator, 1951.

The Lowell Textile School would open in 1897 in downtown Lowell. Like its New Bedford counterpart, the school offered courses in cotton and woolen manufacturing, chemistry, and mechanical engineering. In 1928 the school would also officially become a Textile Institute and would begin offering evening courses. While the textile school would close in 1971, the state college at Lowell would continue its focus in engineering and technology courses. Today, University of Massachusetts Lowell is known for its prestigious engineering program. For more information on the history of UMass Lowell’s College of Engineering, visit the UML site

From the Bradford Durfee College
of Technology Bulletin, 1962-64
Located in Fall River, the Bradford Durfee College of Technology first began as a state textile school. Along with the school in New Bedford, it would also become part of the larger University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Opened in 1904, the textile school in Fall River boasted a mill building and dye house for the education of its students. Unlike the schools at Lowell and New Bedford, the Fall River institution was named for a prominent, local textile leader. UMass Dartmouth notes that the land for the school was donated by Sarah S. Brayton, who had one request that the school be named in honor of her relative, Durfee. See the 1901 Act Chapter 175 authorizing the Trustees of the school to officially change the name from the Fall River Textile School to the Bradford Durfee Textile School. Like the others, the school would expand and change with the demands of the textile industry as well as with demands for more diverse course offerings. By 1957, the institute was now a recognized college adding courses in languages, business administration, and fashion design and illustration. For more information on the history of UMass Dartmouth and its role in textile education, see the University’s Archives and Special Collections guides

If you are interested in learning more about these textile schools, want to check out the historical course catalogs, or yearbooks, contact the Reference Department by email: reference.department@mass.gov, phone: 617-727-2590, or stop in for a visit! 


April Pascucci
Reference Librarian 

Monday, December 12, 2022

Genealogy Research at the State Library & Beyond

One of the more common types of questions we get at the State Library are questions related to genealogy. We have some great resources that can help you in your hunt for information.

The first is our Guide to Genealogical Resources. This guide is a great place to start your research as it can send you in so many different directions. We break down resources by topic, starting with geographical resources. You can search through tax valuations, vital records, and probate records. We even have an alphabetical list of Massachusetts city and town reports. Many of these reports, which contain vital information such as births and deaths, have been digitized and are available in our digital repository. Those that haven’t been can be viewed in our Special Collections Department with an appointment made in advance.

In terms of biographical resources that can help you with your genealogy research, the State Library has a few different things to offer. Our historical newspaper collection spans the 18th-20th centuries with a focus mostly on newspapers from Massachusetts. We also have a collection of published family histories and a Legislative Biographical File, pictured on the left.

This file was put together by Caleb Tillinghast, the first State Librarian of Massachusetts. Consisting of over 20,000 hand-written cards, it is indexed alphabetically by last name and includes legislative biographical information for each member of the Massachusetts General Court and Constitutional Offices starting in 1780. It can be used on-site during the Library’s open hours.

Photograph of F. B. Dwier,
101st Infan. 3rd. Recruit Co.
If you’re interested in genealogy research related to Massachusetts soldiers and sailors, check out this guide for some helpful resources. We have a WWI Soldier Card File with close to 40,000 index cards containing biographical and service information for Massachusetts soldiers who served in WWI. That can be viewed in our Special Collections Department by appointment. If you’d like to take a look at some WWI soldier photographs that we have digitized, check out this collection on DSpace, our digital repository. These 8,500 or so photographs were given to the State Library by the Boston Globe in 1935. The photos appear to be the professional military photo of each soldier and contain the name, rank, unit, and division of each person. Some photos contain additional information, if an article had appeared in the Globe. 

Sergeant Andrew Jackson Smith
(from the Col. Alfred S. Hartwell
Additionally, we digitized volumes of Massachusetts soldiers, sailors & Marines of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. You’ll find biographical information in these resources, as well as information related to their service. We also have the Colonel Alfred Stedman Hartwell Papers. This collection contains photographs of Civil War soldiers in the 44th and 55th regiments of the Massachusetts Infantry. Our Special Collections Department holds these papers, so be sure to contact them if you’d like to take a look, but you can also view this collection on DSpace.

If you need further help with your research, we can point you in the direction of other organizations to reach out to. A few of these organizations include:

Massachusetts Archives: Repository for Massachusetts vital records (births, marriages and deaths) for the period between 1841 and 1920. A guide to their genealogical resources is available on their website. The Archives also houses the historical military records of the Massachusetts Adjutant General. This collection is one of the most complete state records of MA servicemen and women from 1775-1940.

Massachusetts Registry of Vital Records and Statistics: Official repository for all Massachusetts birth, marriage and death records from 1921 to the present.

Boston Public Library: Collection of governmental records, city and town directories, New England newspapers, family and town histories, and more. A guide to their genealogical resources is available on their website. Their newspaper databases include the Boston Globe (1872-present), New York Times (1851-2015), 19th-century and international newspapers. [BPL eCard required for access to their newspaper database; free to all Massachusetts residents]

Google newspaper archive: Includes the freely accessible Boston Evening Transcript (1851-1915), and the Boston Daily Evening Transcript (1866-1872)

For a more comprehensive list of outside sources, we’ll refer you once again to our Genealogical Resources guide and our guide on Massachusetts soldiers and sailors. You’ll find contact information for these other organizations towards the middle/bottom of those guides. For an easy-to-read version of genealogical resources, take a look at the digital version of our genealogical resources pamphlet.

The State Library has a lot to offer when it comes to genealogy resources and the research process itself can sometimes seem daunting to start. We’re here to help though! Feel free to contact us with any questions you may have and we’ll point you in the right direction. You can email us at reference.department@mass.gov, chat with us virtually, or visit us in room 341 of the State House (Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm).

Jessica Shrey
Reference Librarian

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Audubon’s Blackbirds land in the Library!

The fourth day of Christmas brought four calling birds as a gift – but did you know that some interpretations recite that as four "colly birds"? A colly bird is a blackbird, which is why this month's displayed Audubon print is Red-winged Starling or Marsh Blackbird (plate 67) – it is a happy coincidence that there are four of them depicted! Visit us from December 6 through January 10 to see this print on display.

Audubon has illustrated adult and young blackbirds, and "placed them on the branch of a water maple, these birds being fond of alighting on trees of that kind, in early spring, to pick up the insects that frequent the blossoms." In addition to the full print, we’ve included a close-up of the young male. Read more from Audubon's account here

Monday, December 5, 2022

On Display in the State Library

Photo credit Louis Oliveira,
Wikimedia Commons.
If you visit Boston during the holiday season and walk by the Common you can’t miss a large, brightly lit Christmas tree on display – this is the Boston Christmas Tree, Massachusetts’ official Christmas tree. In 1918 and from 1971 onward, the tree has been donated to the Commonwealth from Nova Scotia as thanks for the assistance that the Boston Red Cross and the Massachusetts Public Safety Committee provided in the aftermath of the Halifax Explosion. This month in our library display case, we’re exhibiting a selection of materials related to those relief efforts.

Halifax is the capital of the province of Nova Scotia, and its largest city. The Halifax Explosion occurred on December 6, 1917 when two ships, the SS Mont-Blanc and the SS Imo, collided in its harbor. The Mont-Blanc was transporting munitions from New York to France, and though the damage from the collision was not too severe, the Mont-Blanc caught fire. This led to a devastating explosion and subsequent tsunami that caused a large loss of life and structural damage to the city. When news of the explosion reached Massachusetts Governor Samuel McCall, he offered the mayor of Halifax unlimited assistance. In the immediate aftermath, a train of Massachusetts doctors, nurses, and medical supplies were dispatched to Halifax. In the weeks following, the Massachusetts-Halifax Relief Committee raised money to assist residents of Halifax who had lost their homes and all their belongings. More information about the explosion and aftermath can be found in a previous post on our blog.

This month’s display focuses on the efforts of the Massachusetts-Halifax Relief Committee. The State Library’s holdings include the Massachusetts-Halifax Relief Committee Records, 1917-1919 (Ms. Coll. 90), which was acquired from the Massachusetts Committee on Public Safety in March 1921. Through photographs, blueprints, reports, and meeting meetings, the collection documents the relief efforts undertaken by the committee to aid the residents of Halifax in the wake of the destruction caused by the explosion. The goal of the committee was to raise money for the replacement of homes and furnishings, as well as provide care for individuals who had been injured in the explosion. The Massachusetts-Halifax Relief Committee ultimately raised over $500,000 in donations from Massachusetts citizens.

We’ve chosen to display just two of the many pages of transcribed “thank you” notes that are part of this collection. The relief committee had determined that one of the best uses of the donated funds was to provide furniture to individuals who had lost their homes. The notes of appreciation are in response to that aid and are addressed to members of the Halifax Branch of the committee, meaning men and women who resided in Halifax and who represented Massachusetts in disbursement of the donated funds. Of note are the letters addressed to Mr. Pearson, as he was the chairman of the Halifax Branch. The notes are dated throughout 1918, showing the speed in which the funds were raised and distributed. The men and women who wrote the letters expressed extreme gratitude to the committee for replacing items lost in the explosion and helping them to feel as though they had a home again.

Also on display are two images of the Governor McCall Apartments, which were erected by the Halifax Relief Commission and are located on Massachusetts Avenue in Halifax. They are named after Massachusetts Governor McCall, as he was so quick to offer aid to Halifax immediately after the explosion. The group photograph was taken on November 8, 1918 on the occasion of Gov. McCall’s visit to Halifax – he is shown standing in the second row, second from the left. To his right is Fred Pearson, to whom many of the “thank you” notes described above were addressed. The children in the front row are all residents of the apartments. In total, the apartments housed 325 families or nearly two thousand people who had been displaced by the explosion. The full size of the apartment complex can be seen in the bird’s-eye view photograph, which shows the apartments when they were “roofed in” on January 28, 1918. Construction of the apartments began on Christmas Day 1917 and were completed in 320 working hours. Note the American, British, and French flags flying from the rooftop in recognition of the aid received. You can see many other photographs from this collection in our digital repository.


If you are in town to see the Christmas tree, head up Park Street to stop in and visit us and see some of the materials that shed light on the significance and meaning behind the tree. These materials are on display in our main library reading room through January 4.

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian                                


Thursday, December 1, 2022

State Library Newsletter – December Issue

December is here and with that comes a new issue of our newsletter! Pictured here is a preview, but the full issue can be accessed by clicking here. And you can also sign up for our mailing list to receive the newsletter straight to your inbox.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Massachusetts State Employees: We’re Here for You!

If you are a current, permanent state employee working anywhere within Massachusetts, we are at your service! You are eligible for borrowing privileges (and much more!) from the State Library.

We invite you to visit the State Library to see the resources available for you to access in person. Stop by our historic reading room, located in Room 341 at the rear of the Massachusetts State House, where our reference librarians can help you sign up for a library card, assist you with your research (including legislative histories), and check out circulating library materials to your account. 

As a state employee, you can also reserve our conference room. The conference room is available during the State Library’s regular hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. It consists of a table with 10 permanent chairs and can accommodate up to a maximum of 10 people. For more information on how to reserve the conference room, please see this page and/or email Library.Reservations@mass.gov

If you’re unable to visit us in person, don’t worry—many of our resources and services are available online! Check out the list below for everything you can do remotely:

  • Sign up for a State Library card – You’ll need a State Library card to access several of our other services, so visit our website to sign up for your card. Once you get your card, you can log into your account here.
  • Access our online databases – Once you have your library card, you can search our online databases and download newspaper and journal articles. Some of the databases we subscribe to include: 

        -LexisNexis -Westlaw     -Digital Sanborn Maps   -Hein Online
         -MassTrac         -JSTOR       -Historical Boston Globe
Remote access to our databases requires a password in addition to your library card number, so if you need help with your password, please call the Reference Desk at 617-727-2590 or email us at reference.department@mass.gov
  • Request books and journal articles via interlibrary loan – If you need books or journal articles not held by the State Library, you can make an interlibrary loan request, and we will work to acquire the resources you need from our network of local academic libraries. To make a request, fill out the form on our website or email us the citation for the book or article that you need at interlibrary.loan@mass.gov
  • Borrow ebooks – We’re not all business at the State Library; we also offer popular fiction and nonfiction ebooks for you to read in your down time! Visit OverDrive to check out ebooks and magazines, many of which are available to borrow immediately.
  • Place a hold on books from libraries across the Commonwealth – Visit the Commonwealth Catalog to search through millions of items that are available for you to request using your State Library account.

In addition to these services, you can also access the following resources and services remotely, without a State Library card:

  • View and download online state government publications – The State Library’s online repository houses thousands of publications from Massachusetts government agencies, as well as historical materials that have been digitized. Also included are Massachusetts Acts & Resolves and the House and Senate Journals.
  • Get expert research assistance from our reference librarians – The reference librarians in our main library and in our Special Collections Department are here to help you with your research needs! You can get in touch by calling 617-727-2590, by emailing reference.department@mass.gov, or by chatting with us online.
  • Follow us on social media – We love sharing interesting facts about the Commonwealth and highlighting our resources on social media! You can follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Flickr. You can also keep up with the State Library's news and announcements by signing up for our newsletter!

Have other questions? Contact us!

State Library of Massachusetts
State House, Room 341
24 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02133

Monday, November 21, 2022

Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month! This designated month celebrates and honors the history, cultures, and contributions of Native Americans to the United States. The idea for a day to recognize and honor the American Indian was first promoted around 1911 by Dr. Arthur C. Parker. Parker, of Seneca descent, was director of the Rochester Museum of Arts and Sciences and once President of the Society of American Indians, worked to educate the public on Native American history. As part of his efforts, Parker suggested the Boy Scouts of America adopt a “First Americans” day. Then, beginning in 1916, many states enacted an “American Indian Day” as the result of campaigns by the American Indian Association. In 1990, under President George H.W. Bush, the U.S. officially proclaimed November as Native American History Month.  

To celebrate, the State Library is highlighting a few titles in our collection that enhance the historical narrative of the nation’s indigenous populations. These engaging, informative titles shed light on the often-untold events and experiences of Native Americans.  

Our Beloved Kin: A New History of King Philip's War (2018) by Lisa Brooks - Centered on the events of King Philip’s War (1675-76), or the First Indian War, which was primarily waged in southern New England between chief Metacom (also known by the English name Philip) of the Wampanoag Tribe and the English colonists of Plymouth Colony. Brooks crafts a compelling narrative of the war told through two different perspectives, one from Weetamoo, a female leader of the Wampanoag, and the other through James Printer, a writer and scribe of the Nipmuc Tribe. Lisa Brooks, a writer and historian of Abenaki descent, is an Associate Professor at Amherst College.  

Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory (2020) by Claudio Saunt - Described as “masterful and unsettling,” Saunt’s Unworthy Republic details the U.S. government's extreme efforts for ‘Indian Removal’ during the 1830s. This title provides an important and well researched retelling of the violence, betrayal, and political schemes to displace Native Americans from their lands and homes to benefit the expanding country. Saunt is a historian, author, and Professor in American History at the University of Georgia.  

Covered with Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America (2021) by Nicole Eustace - A gripping account of the 1722 murder of an indigenous man in the woods of Pennsylvania by two white colonists. Eustace relays the crime and the subsequent criminal investigation, while at the same time exploring the disparities between Native American forms of justice and the colonists’ ideas of British law. Eustace is a Professor of History at New York University.  

To learn more about Native American Heritage Month, including information on the exhibitions and webinars available for you to view this month, visit NativeAmericanHeritageMonth.gov. And for more information on the titles listed above, contact the State Library’s Reference Department by emailing reference.department@mass.gov, by calling 617-727-2590, or by chatting with us

April Pascucci
Reference Librarian

Monday, November 14, 2022

Food of the Wampanoag, Pilgrims, and Beyond

With the end of the calendar year approaching, it’s common for family and friend gatherings to take place in celebration of various holidays. In anticipation of lots of meals with loved ones, we wanted to highlight some of the cookbooks in our collection, plus books about the history of food and cooking in New England. Whether you have a sweet tooth or prefer something more savory, we’ve got a story or a recipe for everyone.

Let’s start by highlighting some food popular among the Wampanoags. The Wampanoags were the Indigenous people who settled the modern-day Plymouth area before the Pilgrims arrived in 1620. They were here long before Europeans arrived in North America and in the 1600s had around 40,000 people that made up the 67 villages of the Wampanoag Nation. Plimoth Patuxet Museums provides some information on the kinds of foods these Indigenous people consumed and cooked. Wampanoag families were assigned a plot of land on which they could garden, though there was food sharing amongst the community.They grew corn, beans, squash, and melons. Land shared among the community was where hunting, gathering, and fishing took place. Meat only made up about 20% of the Wampanoag diet since it wasn’t as readily available, while the foods they farmed made up the majority of their diet. They gathered berries, roots, and other plants to supplement their food supply as well. Today there are between 4,000 and 5,000 Wampanoag still living in New England and they continue to honor their ancestors and appreciate their way of life.

Plimoth Patuxet Museums also put together recipes based on primary sources and research done by their experts. You’ll find traditional Wampanoag dishes of the Indigenous people of Patuxet on their website, as well as some English versions of dishes.

Once the Pilgrims arrived in the Plymouth area, food developed further. Here are a few recipes from the book Plimoth Plantation: 1627 Autumn Recipes, which contains recipes similar to those of the Pilgrims’. Keep in mind that their food was influenced by the Wampanoag and was made according to what was available on the land where they just arrived rather than on the food they made while living in England. Many recipes needed to be adjusted based on what they had on hand, which you can read more about in the excerpt below along with a recipe for “pudding of native corn with dried blueberries.”

You can find more recent recipes based on the traditions of the Wampanoag in this cookbook, written by the former chief of the Mashpee Wampanoags and owner of The Flume restaurant in Mashpee, MA, Earl Mills Sr.  

The Flume is now closed, but over the 20+ years it was open, it was a warm, welcoming place abuzz with customers. Mills Sr. filled his menu (and this book) with recipes inspired by the traditions of his people and of his family growing up, as well as recipes that his customers shared with him.

We of course cannot talk about food in New England without talking about the chocolate chip cookie. The chocolate chip cookie was designated the state cookie of Massachusetts on July 9, 1997, but its history with our state started well before then. This now-classic cookie was born thanks to Ruth Wakefield, baker and owner of the Toll House Restaurant in Whitman, Mass., during the Great Depression. You can see the original recipe below and find more of Ruth’s recipes in her book titled Ruth Wakefield’s Toll House Tried and True Recipes. Be sure to also take a look at one of our previous blog posts for more information.

Moving forward in time, let’s take a look at recipes that some of our Massachusetts elected officials liked to make in 1987. Yes, it’s true: we have a cookbook titled What's Cooking under the Dome?: The Massachusetts State Elected Official's Cookbook. This book was compiled by Rep. Thomas Finneran and published in 1987 to benefit the Boston Center for Blind Children. It contains recipes for appetizers, soups, main dishes, and desserts, all from elected officials in the Commonwealth, including Governor Michael Dukakis.  

There are even helpful hints at the back of the book. For example: according to this book, did you know that if you’re baking, you’ll get better results if you preheat your cookie sheet, muffin tin, or cake pans? 

For more books related to cooking and food in New England, take a look at these titles below. You can read these books in person by visiting the Library (Monday-Friday, 9-5pm) or you can request them via interlibrary loan through your local public library.

Jessica Shrey
Reference Librarian

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Audubon’s Wild Turkey arrives in the Library!

The Wild Turkey (plate 6) has made its way to the library! It will be on display in the main reading room through December 6. Depicted in the print is the female turkey, surrounded by nine young turkeys. 

This is the second wild turkey print included in Birds of America, its companion is the male wild turkey (plate 1). Audubon writes that starting in October the males and females separate, and the females "are seen either advancing singly, each with its brood of young, then about two-thirds grown, or in connexion (sp) with other families, forming parties often amounting to seventy or eighty individuals." Read more of Audubon's account of the wild turkey here, and stop by this month to see this print in person.

Monday, November 7, 2022

On Display in the State Library

Election Day is tomorrow, November 8! With that occasion in mind, this month's displayed item is a
broadside of a resolution passed by the Massachusetts State Senate on November 19, 1788 stating that the Commonwealth would be divided into eight districts “for the purpose of choosing eight persons to represent the people thereof in the Congress of the United States.” The resolution further stated that selectmen should call town meetings on December 18 so that those qualified to vote should gather to cast their ballot for their respective representative.  The broadside in our collection was sent to the selectmen in the town of Manchester.

The Massachusetts state legislature was formed and a state Constitution ratified in 1780, but it would be nearly a decade later that the early republic would ratify the United States Constitution, form the federal government, and elect officials. The eight individuals elected from the districts announced in this resolution would serve in the very first session of the United States House of Representatives. 

The eight districts in the resolution are as follows:

  • The County of Suffolk, be one district
  • The County of Essex, one district
  • The Count of Middlesex, one district
  • The Counties of Hampshire and Berkshire, one district
  • The Counties of Plymouth and Barnstable, one district
  • The Counties of York, Cumberland and Lincoln, one district
  • The Counties of Bristol, Duke’s County and Nantucket, one district
  • The County of Worcester, one district

This looks different from today’s Congressional districts - there are currently nine districts, and they aren’t cleanly divided by county (for example, cities/towns from Worcester County can be found in five different Congressional districts). Also of note is the district that included the counties of York, Cumberland, and Lincoln - you may not recognize those as Massachusetts counties because they are in Maine! It wasn’t until 1820 that Maine was granted its statehood and separated from Massachusetts.

The voting process was also different in 1788 than it is today. This resolution instructs town selectmen to call for those eligible to vote to gather on December 18 to vote for a representative from their town. Specific candidates were not listed on a ballot – basically everyone was a write-in candidate. The town selectmen shall then “sort and count the votes, and form a list of the persons voted for, with the number of votes for each person.” Those results were announced at the town meeting and then the tabulation of votes for that town were sealed and sent to the Secretary of the Commonwealth, with a submission deadline of the first Monday of January 1789. The Secretary would then present all the town votes to the governor, who at the time was John Hancock, and the Governor’s Council. Several towns made up each district, so whichever candidate received the most votes within each district would receive a certificate from the governor announcing their election. If there was not a majority within a district, then the governor would issue a certificate with the names of the two individuals who received the highest number of votes to all of the towns within the district. The selectmen in those towns would then call a second town meeting for those eligible to vote to decide between those two candidates. As it turned out, of the eight districts, four of them did not have a majority in the first vote and went on to hold a second. More information about this election can be found in A Documentary History of the First Federal Elections, 1788-1790

This resolution was issued during a formative time in American history, as members of Congress were elected for the first time, and just before George Washington was elected as the first president. But it’s important to note that in many states it was only white landowning men who were eligible to vote. When you head to the polls this week, think about the changes and expansions that have occurred in the 234 years that have ensued since this resolution was issued, and if you’re in the area stop by through November 30 to see it on display in our main library reading room.

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian

Thursday, November 3, 2022

State Library Newsletter – November Issue

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

Monday, October 31, 2022

A Pickle for the Knowing Ones: A brief account of Lord Timothy Dexter

Lord Timothy Dexter with his dog.
From Kapp's biography
Happy Halloween from the State Library! ‘Tis the season to explore the legends, folklore, and odd tales of the Commonwealth. To celebrate, we are highlighting one North Shore tale from the mid-18th century that still to this day entertains many. The tale revolves around the life and times of one Lord Timothy Dexter of Newburyport. Dexter was a wealthy businessman residing in Newburyport around 1769 until his death in 1806. Dexter made his fortune in unconventional dealings and some would say his fortune was made through happenstance rather than smart business sense.

To start, Timothy Dexter was not a Lord, it was a title he granted himself and this best sums up Dexter’s eccentric nature and grandiose self-image. Dexter was not originally from Newburyport and was from a very modest background. Born in Malden in 1743, Dexter received little formal education and apprenticed in a leather workshop. Always driven by his desire to make money and be part of high society, Dexter first made his fortune by buying Continental currency during the Revolutionary War. At the time, the new paper money held little to no value, but once the war ended, Congress was able to make good on the new money and Dexter amassed quite a fortune. We do not know if Dexter had the foresight to know this transaction would turn in his favor, but in any case this started Dexter’s string of “lucky” business dealings.

Example of a bed-warmer.
Via Digital Commonwealth
One business venture included Dexter’s accrual of bed-warmers that he sent in bulk down to the West Indies. Mocked by his contemporaries for sending a tool used to keep beds warm during cold New England nights to a tropical climate, this business venture proved profitable for Dexter. The bed-warmers sold, not for their intended purpose, but to be used as ladles to scoop the West Indies' popular export, molasses. At the same time, Dexter sent mittens to the West Indies, and again this seemingly illogical idea proved fruitful. It just so happened that a vessel docked nearby destined for the Baltic, an area known for its long, cold winters, bought them up for the voyage (Marquand, p. 98).

With his fortunes, Dexter invested in his own mansion on Newburyport’s High Street. Dexter adorned the outside of his property with wooden statues resembling the nation’s leaders and prominent figures. In his Life of Lord Timothy Dexter, Dexter’s personal biographer, Samuel L. Knapp, writes “...in his rage for notoriety, created rows of columns, fifteen feet at least, high, on which to place colossal images carved in wood. Directly in front of the door of the house, on a Roman arch of great beauty and taste, stood General Washington in his military garb. On his left hand was Jefferson; on his right, Adams, uncovered, for he would suffer no one to be on the right of Washington with a hat on” (p. 25).  

View of Dexter's mansion and statues.
Via Library of Congress

In another example of Dexter’s antics, he faked his own death. Complete with a coffin, funeral services, and reception at his mansion. During the reception, Dexter “entered the wake-room with the highest glee; shared in the wine, and threw small change from his window to the gaping crowd of boys who had gathered to witness the last solemn scene” (Knapp, p. 53).

Punctuation page from "A Pickle"
Finally, Dexter sought to add author to his resume and he did just that. First published in 1802, Dexter’s “A Pickle for the Knowing Ones,” is mostly a run-on compilation of Dexter’s thoughts and philosophies with no plot or punctuation. Dexter published a second edition, and addressed his critics in the appendix, adding one full page of punctuation, suggesting readers, “peper and solt it as they plese” 

A lot can be said about Dexter’s eccentricities, but he was a noted benefactor to the town of Newburyport. He commissioned and bought a new bell for the town meeting house. He bequeathed a large donation to the town after his death and also to his native town of Malden. Newburyport accepted the donation with “gratitude and thankfulness” (Coffin, page 274). Dexter was known to partake in municipal matters such as being named a proprietor for the erection of the Essex Merrimack Bridge. See the 1791 Act Chapter 35 naming him as such.

All of Dexter’s odd endeavors have cemented him as a notable figure in the annals of North Shore history books. For more reading on the one and only Lord Dexter, see below: 

April Pascucci
Reference Librarian

Monday, October 24, 2022

October Mountain State Forest: A Scenic Destination Any Month of the Year

Massachusetts state parks and forests are popular destinations during leaf-peeping season, when the fall foliage is on display in vibrant shades of red, orange, yellow, and purple. The Commonwealth is home to over 150 state parks and forests, but there's one state forest in particular that might come to mind this month due to its timely name: October Mountain State Forest. Located in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, in the towns of Washington, Lee, Lenox, and Becket, October Mountain is the largest state forest in Massachusetts at nearly 16,500 acres.

Detail from Massachusetts Outdoor Recreation Map,  
showing the location of October Mountain State Forest

The name “October Mountain” is said to have been coined by the author Herman Melville, who owned a home in nearby Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Perhaps best known for his novel Moby-Dick, Melville also penned short stories, and it was in one of these stories, titled Cock-A-Doodle-Doo!, where he wrote, “…a densely wooded mountain on one side (which I call October Mountain, on account of its bannered aspect in that month)….” 

In the 1890s, before it became a state forest, the October Mountain region was part of the estate of William C. Whitney, who was the 31st United States Secretary of the Navy, under Grover Cleveland. During this period the estate was home to wildlife such as elk and bison, and moose from Canada were released on the estate in the early 1900s.

Bull moose on the Whitney Estate, 1915, from 
The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife: 1866-2012,
by James E. Cardoza, published 2015

Eventually, in 1922, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts acquired the Whitney Estate and renamed it October Mountain State Forest. This purchase was authorized in 1921 by An Act to Provide for the Taking of October Mountain in the County of Berkshire as a State Forest, which stated, “The commissioner of conservation is hereby authorized to acquire by purchase, gift or otherwise, on behalf of the commonwealth, land known as the Whitney estate, situated on or about October Mountain, in the county of Berkshire.” The newly acquired forest was put under the management of the Massachusetts State Forester. 

Panoramic view of October Mountain State Forest,
published by the Massachusetts Division of Forestry, 1935

The forest conservation efforts of a century ago continue to benefit the Commonwealth’s citizens today, as October Mountain State Forest is open for recreation year-round. The state forest is traversed by a number of trails, including a portion of the Appalachian Trail, and natural features in the state forest include the Schermerhorn Gorge, Felton Pond, and Buckley-Dunton Lake, among others. Visitors can enjoy hiking, fishing, mountain biking, canoeing and kayaking, as well as seasonal snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and camping. To learn more about recreational activities at the state forest, be sure to visit the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation’s website.

Autumn colors at October Mountain State Forest,
courtesy of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation's website

References and further reading: 

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian

Monday, October 17, 2022

Legends and Lore of Massachusetts

Did you know that you can view the State Library's past exhibits through our Flickr page? One that might be of interest to those who celebrate Halloween is our Fall 2014 exhibit, Legends and Lore of Massachusetts. This exhibit features selected stories based in the Commonwealth, from the ghosts at Edith Wharton’s home—The Mount—in Lenox to the famous Sea Serpent in Gloucester Harbor. Check it out and let us know what other legends were born in Massachusetts. 

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Audubon’s Raven lands in the Library!

October is settling in, and spooky season is underway . . . even in the library! Visit us now through November 8 to see the Raven (plate 101) on display in the Audubon case in our main reading room. The male raven is depicted perched amongst the leaves of the shellbark hickory tree.

Of the raven, Audubon wrote, "There, through the clear and rarefied atmosphere, the Raven spreads his glossy wings and tail, and, as he onward sails, rises higher and higher each bold sweep that he makes, as if conscious that the nearer he approaches the sun, the more splendent will become the tints of his plumage." If you look closely at this image, you can see that the various tints are visible in this image. Read Audubon’s full account here.

Monday, October 10, 2022

A Woman of the Witch Trials: The Story of Elizabeth Howe

Howe during her trial,
courtesy of Historic Ipswich
With October comes thoughts of falling leaves, cool weather, cozy sweaters and for many people, Halloween. Tourism peaks in Salem, Mass. around this time of year due to “spooky season” events and of course the town’s history with the Salem witch trials. The State Library has done other posts on Halloween and the witch trials (see here and here), but I want to focus this post on one woman in particular who was impacted during this time in history. Today I want to tell the story of Elizabeth Howe.

I came across Elizabeth Howe’s name while browsing our stacks for some “interesting items” to show to a tour group. A book titled A short history of the Salem village witchcraft trials: illustrated by a verbatim report of the trial of Mrs. Elizabeth Howe, a memorial of her stood out to me on the shelf and it quickly became one of my favorite items in our collection.

The book sparked my interest and I wanted to learn more about Howe. I found out that she was born near Yorkshire, England around 1635 and moved to the Massachusetts Bay Colony when she was three years old. She married James Howe and the couple had six children, living in an area known as Ipswich Farms near Rowley, Mass. James lost his sight around age 50 and Elizabeth assumed responsibility for the farm and children, taking on more than was typical or accepted for a Puritan housewife. 

Elizabeth and her neighbors, the Perely family, did not get along and there had been animosity between them for quite some time. Samuel and Ruth Perley’s daughter, Hannah, experienced episodes and said that she felt like she was being pricked by pins and put the blame on Elizabeth. Mr. and Mrs. Perely took Hannah to see several doctors, one of whom said she was under the influence of evil. The Perely daughter grew ill and eventually passed away, but the strife between Elizabeth and the Perelys did not end there. The rivalry continued with the Perelys even preventing Elizabeth from joining the Ipswich Church.

The backdrop of the Salem witch trials is best thought of by looking at the Puritans who had recently settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. As many are familiar, they were a deeply religious group of people who thought it was each person’s individual responsibility to fight against the devil. The first accusation of a witch came in February 1692 and soon after the Salem witch trials began. The Perely family, with their deep-seated anger towards her, were the chief accusers of Elizabeth Howe. A warrant was put out for Howe’s arrest and on May 29, 1692, she was taken into custody by the constable of Topsfield.

Elizabeth, among other women accused, sat in jail enduring difficult, inhumane conditions. Elizabeth was lucky in that her family would visit regularly, bringing some items from home to her. On May 31, 1692, however, her trial began. The Perely family testified the next day, along with several others who attacked Elizabeth, blaming her for things that happened with their families’ health, livestock, and property. Howe’s own brother-in-law even testified against her. Despite Elizabeth’s friends and family coming to her defense, saying that she had been a wonderful person who never brought harm to another, she was found guilty of witchcraft and hanged on July 19, 1692.

Elizabeth Howe memorial stone,
courtesy of Historic Ipswich

Less than 10 years later, public opinion of the witch trials changed. People admitted the trials were a mistake that happened out of paranoia. The courts issued a written apology as a result of the shifting public opinion and families of the victims were compensated. There is no record, however, that Samuel or Ruth Perely ever apologized about the accusations against Elizabeth Howe.

The book that we own serves as a memorial to Elizabeth. It was written in 1911 by Martin Van Buren Perley. What is most interesting to me about this book is that the author was a member of the same Perley family who were the chief accusers of Howe. Martin Van Buren Perely wrote it as a memorial to Howe for everything that she endured during the Salem witch trials. The book contains a transcript of Howe’s trial, as well as a picture of her arrest warrant and background information on the Howe family. More than two hundred years after Howe was put to death in part due to the Perely family, one of their relatives published a book to memorialize her. There are almost countless books on the Salem witch trials, but this one stands out to me for that reason. While it doesn’t change the outcome of what happened, it brought closure to an innocent woman and her family. You can view this book in person at the State Library or on the Internet Archive.

Centuries later, the aftermath of the Salem witch trials is still being felt. 329 years after being convicted, the last person accused of witchcraft in the Salem witch trials was pardoned. Thanks to an 8th grade class at North Andover Middle School, Elizabeth Johnson Jr., who died in 1747, was officially exonerated on July 28, 2022. Fortunately the Governor of Salem at the time threw out her punishment to be hanged as the truth about the injustices of the Salem witch trials began to surface. Her name was never cleared though, until this year. Take a look at this New York Times article to find out more about the work that this class and their teacher did to make this happen.

For more information on Elizabeth Howe and the Salem witch trials, please see:

If you’re interested in other books that we own on the Salem witch trials, take a look at this list. Feel free to view these, and more, in the Library’s Reading Room. We’re open Monday-Friday, 9-5pm. You can also request them via interlibrary loan through your local public library.

Jessica Shrey
Reference Librarian

*Please note that images 2-4 & 6 come from Martin Van Buren Perley’s book