A Wonderful Gift to AAS and Other Worcester Cultural Institutions

In addition to the $1 million dollar gift to the Society from Jean McDonough last spring, we have this wonderful news to share about the extraordinary generosity of the McDonough family. We have shared the press release below.

McDonough party group image

The McDonough family, on behalf of the Myles & C. Jean McDonough Foundation, is pleased to announce $15.25 million in commitments to seven leading cultural institutions in Worcester and central Massachusetts. Pictured are (from left to right) Joseph Cox, president of the EcoTarium; Ellen S. Dunlap, president of the American Antiquarian Society; Matthias Waschek, director of the Worcester Art Museum; Jean McDonough; William Wallace, executive director of the Worcester Historical Museum; Katherine F. Abbott, chief executive officer of Tower Hill Botanic Garden; and Neil and Lisa McDonough.

John F. Hill, Communications Specialist
Office of City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Jr.
hillj@worcesterma.gov, 508-799-1175


October 2, 2015

Myles & C. Jean McDonough Foundation Announces More than $15 Million in Commitments to Seven Leading Cultural Institutions in Worcester and Central Massachusetts

WORCESTER, MASS. — The McDonough family, on behalf of the Myles & C. Jean McDonough Foundation, is pleased to announce $15.25 million in commitments to seven leading cultural institutions in Worcester and central Massachusetts. In a sweeping philanthropic act that will have profound and lasting benefits to Worcester and surrounding communities, the commitment will be used to support initiatives at the American Antiquarian Society, EcoTarium, The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts, Music Worcester, Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Worcester Art Museum, and Worcester Historical Museum.

C. Jean McDonough and her late husband Myles, founder of Spencer, Mass. manufacturer FLEXcon, have shown their passion for these seven institutions for decades, through philanthropic generosity and direct involvement. “These extraordinary institutions have long been a part of the cultural heart of central Massachusetts. We felt the time was right to present each with a gift to show our continued adoration of the role each plays in our community, with the desire to support their initiatives for years to come,” said C. Jean McDonough.

“Worcester takes great pride in our cultural institutions and in the city’s support of all things creative and historic. These organizations are the lifeblood of the heart of the Commonwealth,” said City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Jr. “This gift is perhaps the biggest to the Worcester cultural community this century, if not of all time. I’m so grateful to the McDonough family for its overwhelming support of these vital pillars of our community.”

Representing some of the oldest and largest cultural organizations in central Massachusetts, the seven institutions combined represent more than 850 years of serving the Worcester community and attract nearly 580,000 visitors each year. The impact of this gift to central Massachusetts in providing communities the opportunity to engage with culture in science, nature, art, music, performing arts and history, will be far reaching for decades to come.

The Myles & C. Jean McDonough Foundation gifts were committed as follows:

  • $4 million to the American Antiquarian Society (AAS). Founded in 1812 by Revolutionary War patriot and printer Isaiah Thomas, the American Antiquarian Society is both a learned society and a major independent research library. The AAS library today houses the largest and most accessible collection of books, pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers, periodicals, music, and graphic arts material printed through 1876 in what is now the United States, as well as manuscripts and a substantial collection of secondary texts, bibliographies, and digital resources and reference works related to all aspects of American history and culture before the twentieth century. AAS was presented with the National Humanities Medal by President Obama in a ceremony at the White House, the only research library to ever receive such an award.
  • $4 million to the Worcester Art Museum (WAM). Founded in 1896, the Worcester Art Museum’s encyclopedic 38,000 piece collection covers fifty one centuries of art. Highlights include the Medieval Chapter House, Renaissance Court, and Worcester Hunt Mosaic, as well as the recently acquired John Woodman Higgins Armory Collection of arms and armor. Internationally known for its collection of European and American art, WAM was the first art museum in America to acquire paintings by Monet and Gauguin, one of the first to collect photography, and one of the first to collaborate with local schools.
  • $2.5 million to Tower Hill Botanic Garden. The Worcester County Horticultural Society, incorporated in 1842, is the third oldest active horticultural society in the United States. The society is a nonprofit educational organization for the purpose of advancing the science, and encouraging and improving the practice of, horticulture. Its public garden, Tower Hill Botanic Garden, showcases carefully planned gardens and trails that enhance the natural features of this beautiful 132-acre property and is the first and only comprehensive botanic garden in New England.
  • $2 million to EcoTarium. Founded as the Worcester Lyceum of Natural History in 1825 and incorporated as the Worcester Natural History Society in 1884, the EcoTarium is well rooted in the Worcester community as an organization dedicated to the study of science and nature, and is the second oldest natural history society in the United States. With a three floor museum, historic collections, wildlife, educational programs and 55 acres of grounds, EcoTarium offer hands-on exploration of natural and physical sciences and the New England environment.
  • $1.5 million to the Worcester Historical Museum (WHM). The Worcester Society of Antiquity was founded in 1875 with the purpose to increase an interest in archaeological science, and to rescue from oblivion such historical matter as would otherwise be lost. WHM is the only institution devoted to local history. It includes a research library of over 7,000 titles, an archive that houses thousands of documents, and a collection of artifacts, all vital to the study of Worcester history.
  • $750K to Music Worcester. Music Worcester, Inc., formerly called the Worcester Music Festival, was founded in 1858 to bring live music and cultural events to the greater Central Massachusetts region. Music Worcester presents world-renowned musicians and artists from across all performing arts disciplines in addition to serving its community through far-reaching educational and outreach activities. Music Worcester programs include international orchestras, Grammy-award winning headliners, and celebrated soloists and chamber ensembles to inspire tens of thousands of audience members each season. The Worcester Music Festival was recognized by the Library of Congress as one of the oldest performing arts organizations in the country and the oldest music festival in continuous operation.
  • $500K to The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts. The Hanover Theatre opened in March of 2008 following a $32 million historic renovation. Over the last seven seasons, the theatre has established its place as a world-class performing arts venue, acting as a catalyst for the economic development of downtown Worcester and gaining recognition by Pollstar as one of the top theatres in the world. Serving the youth, education and accessibility are some of the values behind the theatre’s mission to foster a love and appreciation of the performing arts in audiences of today and tomorrow.

These commitments provide renewed vigor for the cultural institutions, which will use these gifts for current capital campaigns or endowments.

On behalf of all seven institutions, Joseph P. Cox, president of the EcoTarium and chair of the Worcester Cultural Coalition, said, “Words cannot express nor encompass the generosity and passion for culture that remains the legacy of Myles McDonough, and that has been the continuing mission of one of Worcester’s most gracious ladies, Jean McDonough.” He added, “Jean’s energetic enthusiasm and nurturing support for central Massachusetts remains unparalleled, enabling all of us to successfully fulfill our missions and inspire future generations of children and families to develop a passion for science, nature, art, music, performing arts and history. As we have inspired others, so she continues to inspire us.”

For more information about each of the cultural institutions, visit their websites: American Antiquarian Society at americanantiquarian.org, EcoTarium at ecotarium.org, The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts at thehanovertheatre.org, Music Worcester, Inc. at musicworcester.org, Tower Hill Botanic Garden at towerhillbg.org, Worcester Art Museum at worcesterart.org, and Worcester Historical Museum at worcesterhistory.org.


The Acquisitions Table: Daisy’s Death

Aunt Fanny (Frances Barrow). Daisy’s Death. Buffalo: Breed & Lent, ca. 1866-1872.

514937_0001Frances Barrow (1822-1894) authored some thirty books in the “Aunt Laura” and “Aunt Fanny” series, published in miniature format by Breed, Butler & Co. and its successor, Breed & Lent. Daisy’s Death is about Daisy, an older cat who has kittens, although she is struggling through a serious sickness. Her mistress is a girl named Fanny, who helps to find homes for Daisy’s kittens before Daisy is put out of her misery by being drowned in a sack by a hired man. Although death is a prevalent topic in nineteenth-century children’s books, this is a rare example of pet euthanasia.

Unusual Titles: The Answers

Last week we posted ten nineteenth-century newspaper titles, which included three fake ones. Here are the real titles from that list with images of the mastheads as proof.

1. Sucker and Farmer’s Record (Pittsfield, IL).  March 30, 1843.


At that time people of that region were sometimes known as suckers.  See the reply in this previous blog with one theory about the name “sucker.”

3. Horseneck Truth Teller and Gossip Journal (Greenwich, CT).  August 9, 1830.


This is the first issue of a paper where the intent of the editor was to expose the moral failings of the community.   It appeared in an earlier blog posting here.

4. Criminal Life of Albany (NY).  April 20, 1865.


Another unrecorded paper with the purpose of exposing the seamier side of politics and life in the state capitol.

6. Estabrook’s Great Public Chowder (Boston, MA).  May 8, 1847.


The subtitle is “A Journal of Entertainment for the People.”  As the name implies, they have included all sorts of items (stories, gift cards, jokes, etc.) to make up a chowder of a newspaper.

7. Stephen H. Branch’s Alligator (New York, NY).  July 17, 1858.

Stephen Branch's Alligator

Here is another newspaper aimed at exposing the corruption of a city, this time New York City.  It lasted just twenty-five issues and Branch edited some of them while in jail on charges of libel.

8. Mud Turtle (Alligator Bayou, TX).  February 8, 1864


This is a very rare humor paper out of Texas.   Based on surviving issues, it is surmised that Alligator Bayou was some place near Houston.

9. Striped Pig (Boston, MA).  [1838?]


The striped pig of the title and accompanying woodcut referred to a tale of someone being banned from selling alcohol at a fair in Dedham, Massachusetts, and instead took a pig, painted stripes on it, and charged admission to see it while offering attendees a glass of rum as refreshment.  It was supposedly a popular exhibit.  A striped pig indicates opposition to temperance movements.

The fake titles are:

2. Widow’s Bite and Lincoln Advocate  (Cleveland, OH)
5. Honest Politician (Washington, D.C.)
10. Pitch Fork of Righteousness (Philadelphia, PA)

It isn’t easy coming up with fake titles that sound like they could have been issued in the 1800s, but how did we do in tricking you?

Unusual Titles: The Challenge

husband always reading newspaper

“Portrait of the husband who is always reading the newspaper,” New York , 1864.

When you look at the names of current newspapers you see much sameness in the titles.  How often do you see Times, Post, Globe, Union, Herald, Sun, Independent, or Tribune as part of the title? Once in a while you might run across a paper still published today, such as the Quincy Herald-Whig (IL), which continues to hold onto a term that is now considered old-fashioned or obsolete, but generally there is little variety left in the names of papers.

Such was not the case in the nineteenth-century. Below is a list of ten titles of nineteenth-century newspapers or periodicals, but three of them are not real publications.  Can you pick out the three fake titles (without using online resources)?

Share your answers in the comments section below.  The answers will be posted next week with photos of the mastheads to prove they are real.

  1.  Sucker and Farmer’s Record  (Pittsfield, IL)
  2.  Widow’s Bite and Lincoln Advocate  (Cleveland, OH)
  3.  Horseneck Truth-Teller and Gossip Journal (Greenwich, CT)
  4.  Criminal Life of Albany  (NY)
  5.  Honest Politician  (Washington, D.C.)
  6.  Estabrook’s Great Public Chowder  (Boston, MA)
  7.  Stephen H. Branch’s Alligator  (New York, NY)
  8.  Mud Turtle  (Alligator Bayou, TX)
  9.  Striped Pig  (Boston, MA)
  10.  Pitch Fork of Righteousness  (Philadelphia, PA)


Meet AAS Fellow Linford Fisher

Linford1a - Version 2Linford Fisher is associate professor of history at Brown University, where he studies and teaches the religious history of colonial America and the history of Indian and African slavery and servitude. His first book, The Indian Great Awakening: Religion and the Shaping of Native Cultures in Early America, was published by Oxford University Press in 2012. While he was an AAS-NEH fellow at the AAS during the 2014-2015 academic year, he worked on his new book, Land of the Unfree: Indians, Africans, and the World of Colonial Slavery, and took a few minutes to talk about his work with Past is Present.

Past is Present: Describe your current project, its geographical and chronological scope.

Linford Fisher: My current project is a comparative study of New England and a few select English Caribbean islands, primarily Barbados, Bermuda, and Jamaica. It’s really centered on the question of Native American and African slavery from the beginning of colonization up through emancipation in 1834 in the English Caribbean. And in that time frame, I’m interested in the intersection of Indian and African slavery as well as regional difference and different kinds of slave regimes in these various locations. Like others in the field, I’m also trying to understand slavery not in terms of binaries (not just slave and free) but the way that people think about the experience of slavery in different ways at different times on a broader spectrum of unfreedom. People’s conditions change over time, their circumstances change over time. For a vast majority of slaves in the Caribbean, they were either born into slavery and died in slavery or else were enslaved and died a slave. But for others there was a diversity of experiences over time. The project is really an attempt to understand the dynamism, movement, migration of people in unfree conditions. One portion of the book focuses on the way that Native Americans were the subject of an Indian slave trade, whether from New England on the east coast of North America down to the Caribbean or from South America to the Caribbean or in other countless ways being forcibly moved around. So the Caribbean becomes this sort of crossroads of a wide variety of people. I’d like to bring at least some of these different pieces together, primarily with regard to the English Atlantic. I taught a class on Indian and African slavery a year ago, and the number of books and articles that I could have assigned that dealt with both Native American and African slavery in any of these contexts, well, you could list them on one hand. There’s a very small (but growing) literature. And so I’m trying to contribute this emerging literature in a positive way to that.


Past is Present: Who inspires you to do this work?

LF: I am personally drawn to two kinds of works that might seem like opposite intellectual currents. The first are works that tackle the big sweeping questions and huge issues about human life more generally. People like Jared Diamond and Guns, Germs, and Steel and Charles Mann and 1491 and 1493. Mann’s first book, 1491, is a hemispheric history and 1493 contains a global awareness. Guns, Germs, and Steel is asking really important questions about how cultures change over time and the origins of certain differences. I might not agree with his conclusions, but he’s asking really interesting questions. The second kind of works I am drawn to are super micro-historical studies. I think they remain powerful because they’re stories about people and their interior worlds and we can identify with them. So Carlo Ginzburg The Cheese and the Worms is a classic that I think every historian has read and has either mimicked or channeled at some point. But also Natalie Zemon Davis’s The Return of Martin Guerre and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale are other books that do really tight micro-historical work. In my own work I try to move back and forth between the two, to keep a larger context in mind but also to tell stories and to get inside, maybe not people’s minds, but at least their worlds. Other inspiring works are Walter Johnson’s Soul By Soul and Richard Dunn’s recent book A Tale of Two Plantations about a plantation in Jamaica and a plantation in Virginia. He takes plantation slave inventories and brings them to life. He puts flesh and bones on names that are in the register and is able to tell stories and create family lineages and describe in intimate detail plantation life. Another book that came out recently that exemplifies the kind of writing and the kinds of big questions that I’m drawn to is (and everyone’s talking about it) Ed Baptist’s The Half Has Never Been Told. Also Adam Rothman’s Beyond Freedom’s Reach. It’s a super micro-history, but it also tells a larger story. So these and many other books inspire me. I hope all of that comes together in this book. I want my readers to get both an intimate portrait of people’s lives and get a firm sense of what it all means, of the larger picture.


Past is Present: What keeps you dedicated to the work? What keeps you going?

LF: A little bit of craziness perhaps. I’m not really sure. In some ways it’s become a real passion and I’m not sure I have a rational explanation for it. Some people have a job and have to go to work. I’ve felt for a very long time that I’m fortunate because what I want to do most days and what I have to do are pretty much the same thing. I really enjoy the archival process, I really enjoy teaching, I really enjoy going out and talking to wider audiences and giving lectures. I really enjoy the writing process, even though it’s difficult sometimes. But it is not always easy to churn out pages of text. I came across a quote recently about this: “Writing is hard for every last one of us. . . . Coal mining is harder. Do you think miners stand around all day talking about how hard it is to mine for coal? They do not. They simply dig. You need to do the same.” It’s the same with writing. You just have to do it. I enjoy the whole package of academia, perhaps because of the diversity of things that is required of me each day. I find it inspiring to talk through issues in the field with graduate students and seeing undergraduates who come from such different backgrounds who have fresh ideas and so forth. But the core of it is the belief that the past has something to offer us in the present. I’m not trying to be presentist, but I do believe that we are doomed to repeat a history that we don’t understand. I want my students not just to think about the relevance of the past (that word has become kind of fashionable) but get them to think critically about the present. And if history is one tool for them for them to think critically about the present, then that’s great. I’m not just sitting in an ivory tower, thinking deep thoughts and writing about some obscure topic. I’m writing about race and power relations and colonialism and conquest and human violence and that’s all in the world we live in today, and I hope they see that.

You can read the whole interview here!

New Online Exhibition Launched: Women and the World of Dime Novels

Julie Le Roy is one of the more sensational dime novels, full of death and tragedy. Julie is seduced by a young man who promises marriage. When she realizes that he has no intention to marry her, she threatens to stab herself rather than continue as his mistress. She attempts to flee from him, but trips and falls onto her knife. She is one of many women in dime novels to come to a tragic fate as a result of premarital sex.

Julie Le Roy is one of the more sensational dime novels, full of death and tragedy. Julie is seduced by a young man who promises marriage. When she realizes that he has no intention to marry her, she threatens to stab herself rather than continue as his mistress. She attempts to flee from him, but trips and falls onto her knife. She is one of many women in dime novels to come to a tragic fate as a result of premarital sex.

I’ve written previously about my experiences cataloging the AAS dime novel collection.  I was still fairly early in the process when I discussed the relative quality of three publishing houses: Beadle and Adams, George Munro, and Elliott, Thomes & Talbot. As I have continued working with the collection since, I have had a chance not only to explore more novels by these firms, but also novels from even lesser known firms, in series that only lasted for a couple dozen, or even only five or six numbers.  As I’ve had the chance to delve into the truly wide array of dime novel publishing, I couldn’t help but notice how many tropes were common to the genre as a whole.  I found it absolutely mind-boggling how many novels included the following general plot device: a woman is in love with Man A, but Man B wants to marry her.  When the woman turns down Man B, he has her kidnapped in an effort to coerce her into marriage.  The woman is eventually freed to marry Man A and Man B’s villainy is revealed to the world.  It was then that I realized just how many of these tropes I’d been seeing, and how many centered around the women in the novels.

The AAS dime novel collection includes a wide array of publishers, from Beadle and Company to lesser known publishers like Hilton & Co. and Richmond & Company. Whatever the popularity or quality of a given publisher, many tropes are shared across the entire spectrum of dime novels.

The AAS dime novel collection includes a wide array of publishers, from Beadle and Company to lesser known publishers like Hilton & Co. and Richmond & Company. Whatever the popularity or quality of a given publisher, many tropes are shared across the entire spectrum of dime novels.

I have some wonderful college and graduate school professors to thank for fostering my passion for women’s history, and my imagination was fired by the world of dime novel women. The novels certainly contained some of the stereotypical characters I expected, but they also included many strong, fiery, independent woman.  When Molly O’Hagan Hardy, our digital humanities curator, brought Ken Albers to AAS to train us in using Omeka, providing us with the opportunity to curate our own online exhibitions, it didn’t take much thinking to know I wanted to work with the women in dime novels.  Their stories were so funny and tragic and just unexpectedly sensational or delightful that I wanted to be able to share a glimpse of this world.

Dime novel exhibit screenshotThe exhibition, called Women and the World of Dime Novels, is divided into two main sections: the Tropes and the Women. The Tropes section provides an overview of six of the more common character tropes I have found in dime novels, such as the Brokenhearted Wife or the Ruined Woman.  The Women section explores specific characters from the dime novels, providing summaries of their stories, highlighting how they exemplify certain tropes.  These summaries include quotations from the novels, both to highlight key scenes and to provide a flavor of the writing styles present in dime novels. The Trope pages link to the relevant characters who exemplify them and the Women pages link both to the tropes and to pages providing information about the novels themselves, all of which come from the AAS collections.  These links and connections are provided to encourage readers to follow their own path through the exhibition, so please explore and enjoy!

The Acquisitions Table: The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit

Martin ChuzzlewitDickens, Charles. The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit. New York: Harper & Brothers, [1844].

The first authorized American edition of Martin Chuzzlewit was issued by Harper & Brothers in seven serial parts, all of which are present here in their wrappers. As such they are exceptionally rare; as the story goes they were hawked on the New York streets by newsboys who crowded into the store just before a part was issued to attend a speech of exhortation by Mr. James Harper. Martin Chuzzlewit is a novel of particular American interest, as in it Dickens satirically presented American characters he had envisioned after his 1842 tour of the United States.

The Girl Behind the Red Cloak

Sloane Perron graduated from Anna Maria College in May and is currently finishing her position as a summer page for AAS. As an English major, the prospect of working hands-on with archives and first editions excited the bookworm inside her. She has greatly enjoyed her experiences at AAS and liked learning more about the collections as well as the behind the scenes aspects of a research library.

Readers will immediately recognize images of a young girl in a red cloak, a wolf dressed in a grandmother’s night dress, and a mysterious forest as being part of the story Little Red Riding Hood. Over the centuries, there have been countless adaptations and retellings of the well-known fairy tale. A quick search of the AAS catalog alone will reveal over a hundred items relating to Little Red Riding Hood. Each new version of the text brings to light different symbols and emphasizes different societal values. While paging in the Children’s Literature Collection at AAS, however, I came across three adaptations of the tale which exemplify just how individualistic and different the stories can be despite the fact that they are all based on the same fairy tale. These contrasts are particularly apparent in the endings of the stories.

Cover of John McLoughlin's version.

Cover of John McLoughlin’s version.

One version of the tale, Little Red-Riding Hood published by John McLoughlin between 1854 and 1858, introduces the new characters of a wasp, a bird, an old woman, and a green huntsman. During her journey to “granddam’s” house, Red Riding Hood comes in contact with new characters and helps them. She saves the wasp, feeds the bird, cares for the old woman, and delivers a message to the huntsman. All of Red Riding Hood’s good deeds have delayed her visit to her grandmother’s where the wolf has already eaten her grandmother and now waits for the little girl. Just as the Wolf is about to eat Little Red Riding Hood, all of the creatures that she helped in the past repay her kindness by saving her life and killing the Wolf. It is later revealed that the old woman is actually a fairy and that the green huntsman is a mystical figure that only appears to those who are worthy. The story reveals that by respecting all of God’s creatures equally, Little Red Riding Hood was worthy of being saved herself.

The sweet and harmonic mood that I found in the first adaptation quickly turned macabre in the second story I read.

A page from the J.L. Marks version of the story.

A page from the J.L. Marks version of the story.

Published by J.L. Marks in London in the second half of the nineteenth century, The History of Little Red Riding Hood starts out as a sing-songy description of Red Riding Hood trekking through the woods on her way to grandma’s house. The trouble begins when she disobeys her mother’s orders not to loiter. Instead the little girl becomes distracted with playing in the woods and picking flowers when she runs into a Wolf. The naïve Red then makes matters worse by telling the creature that she is headed to her grandma’s house. The Wolf beats Red Riding Hood to the house where he eats grandma. Little Red Riding Hood pays the ultimate price for her disobedience when the Wolf gobbles her up as well. (The violence that was described in children’s literature during the 1800s was shocking!)

Last but certainly not least, is an adaptation of the fairy tale known as Little Red Riding Hood, published by Saxton & Kelt between 1845 and 1848. In this story, Red Riding Hood embodies perfection. She is beautiful, loved by all, industrious, creative, and compassionate. Her only flaw seems to be trusting the wolf and saving him. Predictably, the wolf races to the house and eats grandma and then proceeds to eat Little Red Riding Hood.

The wolf from the Saxton & Kelt edition.

The wolf from the Saxton & Kelt edition.

218542_0001 (2)However, my favorite moment occurs when the author hilariously inserts his own “voice” in order to create an alternate ending. Just when the end seems near for Little Red Riding Hood as she is consumed, the author adds, “This is the traditional ending of the Tale – but it is a grievous one, which most children dislike. – And as I heard a version related in which poetical justice is done to the wolf, I insert it for those who prefer it.” Instead of being the wolf’s dinner, this version of the story ends with Red Riding Hood being saved by a group of men working nearby while the wolf is killed.

In all three stories, Little Red Riding Hood is the epitome of stereotypical womanly beauty and virtue. Despite the vastly different ways in which the stories end, the Red Riding Hood tales all begin by describing this fairy-tale character in similar ways. She is used as a symbol to show what little girls should strive to be during this point in history. The stories demonstrate the limited behaviors that were socially acceptable for young girls. As a result, obedience seems central to the plot. The only time that the Red Riding Hood actually ends tragically is in “The History of Little Red Riding Hood” when the little girl blatantly disobeys her mother’s warning. As a consequence of not following the demands of her mother (and by extension the confines of socially acceptable behavior for women), Little Red Riding Hood is eaten by the Wolf.

The warning becomes horrifyingly clear for any child reading this version of the tale. Listen to your mother or bad things will happen! Can you imagine reading this right before bedtime?

Throughout the stories there is also a clear focus on Little Red Riding Hood’s physical features.  In each of these three instances, she is referred to as beautiful, but her attractiveness is depicted as wholesome and natural. When I was a child reading fairy-tales, I remember the pictures of Red Riding Hood being sweet, rosy-cheeked girls or glamorous figures traipsing about in the woods. However, in these three particular pamphlets the illustrations were not what I was expecting. Instead of glamorous, the illustrations of Little Red Riding Hood were somewhat plain. Even the usual image of a vivid red cape was changed due to the fact that many of the pictures were black and white. In the version published by Saxton & Kelt, the girl does not even wear a red hood, but rather wears a bonnet in every scene. By making the physical descriptions and scenes realistic rather than larger than life, children reading the story would be able to relate to the character. As a result, they would have been better able to absorb the tales’ underlying lessons.

My interest in Gothic literature and fairy-tales led to my quest for Little Red Riding Hood stories in order to see how the main character evolves. After reading them, I realized that the red cloak may remain a constant image but the actual character of Little Red Riding Hood changes with each story because of societal influences. As a result, the girl behind the red cloak will always remain a mystery because there are so many interpretations of her. But I’ll have fun reading some of the other Little Red Riding Hood stories in the AAS collection as I try to compare endings and embedded lessons in the text. Maybe one day I’ll be able to understand the girl behind the red cloak!

Now In Print from the AAS Community

Every quarter at AAS we release a list of recent publications by those who have researched at
the library as fellows, members, or readers. To see this list, as well as a list of works published
from 2000-2014, please visit our recent scholarship page on the AAS website. If your book, article, or other achievement is not included, just let us know if you’dserver like to see it there!


Ceccacci, Susan. Living at the City’s Green Edge. Bancroft Heights: A Planned Neighborhood in Worcester, Massachusetts. Cambridge: TidePool Press, 2015. (AAS member)

Child, Deborah. Soldier, Engraver, Forger: Richard Brunton’s Life on the Fringe in America’s New Republic. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2015.

McCaskill, Barbara. Love, Liberation, and Escaping Slavery: William and Ellen Craft in Cultural Memory. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2015.

Malanson, Jeffrey. Addressing America: George Washington’s Farewell and the Making of National Culture, Politics, and Diplomacy, 1796-1852. Kent: Kent State University Press, 2015. (Peterson Fellow, 2009-2010)

Michals, Teresa. Books for Children, Books for Adults: Age and the Novel from Defoe to James. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Ronson, Jon.  So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. New York: Riverhead Books, 2015.

Thompson, Todd Nathan. National Joker: Abraham Lincoln and the Politics of Satire. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2015.

Welburn, Ron. Hartford’s Ann Plato and the Native Borders of Identity. Albany: SUNY Press, 2015.



Altschuler, Sari. “ ‘Picture it all, Darley’: Race Politics and the Media History of George Lippard’s The Quaker City.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 70.1 (2015): 65-101.(Legacy Fellow, 2011-2012; Hench Post-Dissertation Fellow, 2013-2014)

Coleman, Dawn. “Mahomet’s Gospel and Other Revelations: Discovering Melville’s Hand in The Works of William E. Channing.” Leviathan 17.2 (2015): 74-88. (NeMLA Fellow, 2006-2007)

Crane, Jacob. “Barbary(an) Invasions: The North African Figure in Republican Print Culture.” Early American Literature 50.2 (2015): 331-358. (Schiller Fellow, 2013-2014)

Looby, Christopher. “Lippard in Part(s): Seriality and Secrecy in The Quaker City.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 70.1 (2015): 1-35. (AAS member)

Pender, Patricia. “Constructing a Canonical Colonial Poet: Abram E. Cutter’s Bradstreetiana and the 1867 Works.” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 109.2 (2015): 223-246. (Reese Fellow, 2013-2014)

Pritchard, Janet. “More Than Scenery: Yellowstone, an American Love Story.” Fraction Magazine 76 (2015). (Last Fellow, 2008)

Rebhorn, Matthew. “Ontological Drift: Medical Discourse and Racial Embodiment in Robert Montgomery Bird’s Sheppard Lee.” ESQ 61.2 (2015): 262-296.

Reynolds, David S. “Deformance, Performativity, Posthumanism: The Subversive Style and Radical Politics of George Lippard’s The Quaker City.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 70.1 (2015): 36-64. (AAS member; AAS-NEH Fellow, 1982-1983)

Roy, Michaël. “Cheap Editions, Little Books, and Handsome Duodecimos: A Book History Approach to Antebellum Slave Narratives.” MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 40.3 (2015): 69-93. (d’Héricourt Fellow, 2013-2014)

Winship, Michael B. “In Search of Monk Hall: A Publishing History of George Lippard’s The Quaker City.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 70.1 (2015): 132-149. (AAS member; Peterson Fellow, 1989-1990; AAS-NEH Fellow, 1993-1994; AAS-NEH Fellow, 2009-2010)

Wirzbicki, Peter. “ ‘The light of knowledge follows the impulse of revolutions’: Prince Saunders, Baron de Vastey and the Haitian Influence on Antebellum Black Ideas of Elevation and Education.” Slavery and Abolition 36.2 (2015): 275-297. (Packer Fellow, 2014-2015)


1775 Breaking News: The First Published Map of the Revolutionary War

Guest author Allison K. Lange is an assistant professor of history at the Wentworth Institute of Technology, was an AAS AHPCS Fellow in 2011-2012, and helped curate the Leventhal Map Center’s “We Are One” exhibition. Lange received her PhD in American history from Brandeis University. Currently she is completing a manuscript on the visual culture of the woman’s rights and woman suffrage movements in the United States. Her work has appeared in Imprint and The Atlantic. She also works with the National Women’s History Museum. Learn more about her research at allisonklange.com.

We see wars unfold on live video alongside satellite maps, but our eighteenth-century counterparts had to wait. Maps had to be drawn, engraved, and printed before they were sold to those who could afford them. The American Antiquarian Society houses the first battle map of the Revolutionary War, which gives us a glimpse into the way people learned about the war from afar. I. De Costa’s A Plan of the Town and Harbour of Boston depicts the battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. De Costa’s map is the only one to feature the marches of the British forces and battle sites.

I. De Costa A Plan of the Town and Harbour of Boston, and the Country Adjacent with the Road from Boston to Concord Shewing the Place of the Late Engagement between the King’s Troops & the Provincials. London, 1775. Engraving, hand colored 15 x 19.5 inches, on sheet 19 x 23.5 inches. American Antiquarian Society.

I. De Costa
“A Plan of the Town and Harbour of Boston, and the Country Adjacent with the Road from Boston to Concord Shewing the Place of the Late Engagement between the King’s Troops & the Provincials.”
London, 1775. Engraving, hand colored 15 x 19.5 inches, on sheet 19 x 23.5 inches.
American Antiquarian Society.

A Plan of the Town and Harbour of Boston was published in London on July 29, 1775, three months after the battles. Little is known about the mapmaker. He may have witnessed the skirmishes and sent his manuscript across the Atlantic to London engraver C. Hall. Or, De Costa could have drawn the original map in London using information from the battle and an existing survey of the area. He dedicated his plan to Richard Whitworth, a Member of Parliament from 1768 to 1780, who was likely his patron.

Detail of the De Costa map showing the placement and movement of troops.

Detail of the De Costa map showing the placement and movement of troops.

Unlike most of the era’s battle maps, De Costa’s is a pictorial map. He illustrated the progression of troops using human figures rather than rectilinear blocks. Small groups of soldiers represent the British troops’ march to Concord and back. They fire at their opponents, and the wounded figures fall to the ground. De Costa represented encampments with tents and cannons and showed specific British ships, labeled in his key, in the Boston harbor.

De Costa’s pictorial map was unusual, but not unprecedented. In 1756, Massachusetts mapmaker Samuel Blodget created a pictorial map of a battle in the French and Indian War entitled A Prospective View of the Battle Fought near Lake George. The left section situates Lake George on the Lake Champlain corridor, while the other two show the battle’s progression. The numbers correspond to an accompanying pamphlet with detailed explanations for each point of interest.

Samuel Blodget (1724-1807) A Prospective View of the Battle Fought near Lake George. London, 1756. Engraving, hand colored, 10.5 x 20.5 inches. Courtesy of Richard H. Brown.

Samuel Blodget (1724-1807)
“A Prospective View of the Battle Fought near Lake George.”
London, 1756. Engraving, hand colored, 10.5 x 20.5 inches.
Courtesy of Richard H. Brown.

Thomas Hyde Page (1746-1821) A Plan of the Action at Bunkers Hill, on the 17th of June 1775. London, 1778. Engraving, hand colored, 19.75 x 17.25 inches. Norman B. Leventhal Map Center.

Thomas Hyde Page (1746-1821)
“A Plan of the Action at Bunkers Hill, on the 17th of June 1775.”
London, 1778. Engraving, hand colored, 19.75 x 17.25 inches.
Norman B. Leventhal Map Center.

These pictorial maps differ from battle maps like this 1778 map of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Thomas Hyde Page used thin rectilinear blocks to represent troops and lines to show their movement. In De Costa’s map, everything occurs at the same time: the British troops march west, fire, and return to Boston. Page, in contrast, conveyed time’s passage by adding a leaf that can be lifted to show later troop positions.

De Costa’s map offered Londoners the earliest glimpse of the rebellion across the Atlantic. A map like this would have helped politicians, like Richard Whitworth, and military strategists make better understanding of the uprising in the colonies.

You can see the American Antiquarian Society’s copy of De Costa’s map on display in the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center’s exhibition at the Boston Public Library. The exhibition, We Are One: Mapping America’s Road from Revolution to Independence, uses maps to explore the tumultuous events that led thirteen colonies to forge a new nation. We Are One demonstrates that maps, from De Costa’s plan to early maps of the new nation, were central to the revolutionary process. The exhibition features maps as well as prints, paintings, and objects from the Leventhal Map Center’s own collection and those of twenty partners, including the British Library and Library of Congress. Visit zoominginonhistory.com to explore geo-referenced maps from the exhibition.

The exhibition will be on display at the Boston Public Library through November 29, 2015. We Are One then travels to Colonial Williamsburg from February 2016 through January 2017 and to the New-York Historical Society from November 2017 through March 2018.

The Leventhal Map Center also hosts the NEH-funded American Revolution Portal database. Researchers can access maps from the American Antiquarian Society, British Library, Library of Congress, and other institutions in one search. Users can download images for research and classroom use.

Access these resources and learn more about We Are One at http://maps.bpl.org/WeAreOne.

A Unique Thank-You from Our NEH Summer Institute

We recently hosted twenty-five educators who came to the Society from across the country to participate in a two-week Summer Institute funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Titled The News Media and the Making of America, 1730-1865, the program examined—through twenty-one seminar sessions and eighteen library workshops—how news was defined, reported, and disseminated from the Colonial period through the end of the Civil War. While participants examined the Society’s extensive collections of newspapers and periodicals, they also explored private letters and journals, pamphlets, books, and a wide variety of graphic materials to gain a greater understanding of the media milieu of each time period, the impact of technology on communications, and how social and political movements shaped and defined news and how it was communicated.

The program was co-directed by me and David Paul Nord, who is professor emeritus of history and journalism from Indiana University. Additionally, AAS staff members Lauren Hewes, Kayla Hopper, Marie Lamoureux, and Vincent Golden led workshops, and guests Joshua Brown, David Henkin, and Megan Kate Nelson conducted individual seminars and workshop sessions.

Jim call slipThe participating teachers came from ten different states: Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, and Vermont. They taught a variety of subjects, including history, English Language Arts, journalism, and graphic arts. They included seventeen high school, five middle school, and three elementary level instructors who taught in public, private, and charter schools.

One of these teachers, Philip Crossman, is also an accomplished artist. Throughout the Institute he quietly created caricatures of the staff and faculty and then solicited thank you notes from all of the participants. On the last day of the program he presented these to us. These thank you notes and caricatures also included mock library call slips (right) as a further tribute to the inspiration these folks found in the AAS collections.  One teacher echoed the sentiments of many when she wrote, “Thank you for this amazing opportunity to learn about this nation through the news media.  It has been eye-opening and a great pleasure.” We couldn’t think of a better way for them to say thank you!

David Nord and Jim Moran

David Nord and Jim Moran


Kayla Hopper and Marie Lamoureaux

Kayla Hopper and Marie Lamoureaux

Lauren Hewes

Lauren Hewes

Pulp Fiction Pamphlets: Judaism, Macbeth, and Murder?

Susanna Sigler is currently a summer page at AAS. She is a junior at UMass Amherst majoring in history and minoring in Judaic studies. The opportunity to work at AAS for the summer appealed to her not just as a history major, but as a general lover of history and books, to be a part of the workings of a major research library/archives.

While doing a catalog search for possible blog post topics, I looked up broad subjects of interest to me—towns in Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania where my family has roots, as well as topics like Judaism and Jewish life in America.  As I scrolled through the search results for “Jewish” in the AAS catalog (not a very specific search term, I know), most items did not seem particularly out of the ordinary—records of old synagogues, more current histories, and—most prolifically—Christian evangelical materials.

However, about halfway through the list, the phrase “Asheville North Carolina” popped out to me.  My family is going to be passing through there this summer on the way to Georgia for a summer road trip.  I looked at the rest of the title.  “The life, confession, and execution of the Jew and Jewess, Gustavus Linderhoff and Fanny Victoria Talzingler who were hanged in Asheville, North Carolina, Oct. 27, 1854, for the triple murder of Abner, Benjamin, and Charles Ecclangfeldt, orphan children, who were left to the guardianship of the villain Linderhoff, together with twenty thousand dollars.”  Wow.  Okay then.  No spoiler warnings here, huh?  Even by nineteenth-century standards, this title was long and sensationalistic.

My first thought, after the initial double-take, was: “wait, how come I’ve never heard of this before?!”  I did know, though, that if this execution had really taken place, the crime allegedly committed by Gustavus and Fanny probably hadn’t.  And I had a pretty good guess as to what Fanny and Gustavus’s execution would look like.  This country is no stranger to the barbarous practice of lynching—extrajudicial murder by mob, often by hanging—which occurred as part of a campaign of terror against African Americans in the South for many decades following the Civil War. The lynching of Jews was rare, despite rampant, violent, Southern anti-Semitism, but it did happen. The most notable case occurred in 1915 with the hanging of Leo Frank, a factory superintendent accused of the murder of a young female employee.  With this knowledge and these assumptions floating around in my head, I honestly wasn’t quite sure of what I would really see with this pamphlet.  What would prove to be the truth?

When I actually got my hands on the material though, and began to do a little research, it became rapidly clear that the entire series of events—premeditation, triple murder, execution—had been completely made up.  Flipping quickly through, one interesting thing stood out to me—the story quotes the Shakespeare play Macbeth throughout.  The pamphlet proves itself to be in essence an anti-Semitic retelling of the Shakespearean tale.

Sensationalist pamphlets like this one, which was published by A. R. Orton in Baltimore in 1855, were the forerunners of the immensely popular dime novel.  The two categories overlapped a bit during the the mid-nineteenth century.  Both the pamphlets and dime novels shared low prices appealing to the masses, as well as a particularly melodramatic sense of story that capitalized on the prejudices of the time.  More specifically, many dime novels were similar to Gustavus and Fanny in that they contained grossly anti-Semitic portrayals of characters.

Orton, along with a publisher named E. E. Barclay, were the two main publishers of these pulp fiction pamphlets.  Little is known about them; any ideas about what their motives were for publishing these pamphlets, or about their readership, can only be speculative. Since these pamphlets were sold cheaply, often with several bound together, and judging by the popularity of the later dime novels, I would guess that the pulp pamphlets also enjoyed at least a considerable fraction of the dime novels’ popularity.

505566_0001The pamphlet’s title manages to squeeze in an impressive number of anti-Semitic tropes and stereotypes in its four lines.  “The Jew and Jewess” are the terms used to refer to its two subjects.  Mere tone can change the word “Jew” into an epithet, combined with the anti-Semitic, misogynistic term “Jewess.”  Gustavus is drawn, both in the text and in the illustrations that accompany it, as dark, smart, and cunning. He is a pawnbroker, one who started out a new life after running away from his apprenticeship with the money he felt he was due.  Fanny, his wife, is equally deceitful—they meet when she comes into his shop attempting to pawn stolen jewelry.  After his converted Christian cousin, a Mr. Ecclangfeldt, passes away, Gustavus becomes the guardian of Ecclangfeldt’s three children, Abner, Benjamin, and Charles.

Just as in Macbeth, it is the wife who becomes the driving force of the story’s evil.  Fanny is the one who pressures Gustavus into murdering the children, and she herself is the one who ends up carrying out the deed against her husband’s squeamishness.  In doing so, the story uses the plot of Macbeth to accommodate stereotypes that are not just anti-Semitic but a particularly misogynistic strain of that prejudice.  Fanny’s plan of murder, one that will provide them with the orphans’ $20,000, invokes one of the oldest anti-Semitic stereotypes, that of the greedy Jew.  So greedy, in fact, that the murdering of children becomes an obstacle easily conquered.  Fanny is portrayed in the way that Jewish women have been characterized for centuries—scheming, witchy, pushy, and overbearing. And in this characterization Gustavus is further stereotyped in the way that Jewish men have been characterized—weak-willed, emasculated, and beholden to their domineering wives.

Gustavus and Fanny are both drawn with a shadowy, sinister bent.  Neither of them is an overt caricature but their dark hair and crooked noses are unmistakably meant to convey their Jewishness.

Gustavus and Fanny are both drawn with a shadowy, sinister bent. Neither of them is an overt caricature but their dark hair and crooked noses are unmistakably meant to convey their Jewishness.

The interesting thing about this pamphlet in particular is that many of Orton’s other pulp fiction pamphlets contain didactic elements.  Some are stories of criminals, many given heritages vaguely exotic, but in others the characters are people who have strayed from a virtuous life and then ultimately urge the readers not to become the same cautionary tale.  One such yarn is the tale of beautiful Arabella Arlington, who commits suicide after a failed romance.

Gustavus and Fanny is different in that in claims no teachable moment, no moral lesson to be gleaned.  Once the bodies of the children are discovered, vigilante justice is swift to round up the couple and prepare them for execution.  Gustavus asks in his final moments to be allowed to repent, and is allowed no such luxury.

The pamphlet draws on prejudice that was entrenched in the history of the United States since the very beginning, carried over from Europe where it had existed for millennia.  Even before they commit their crime, Gustavus and Fanny are othered and demonized simply by the fact of their Jewishness.  In other words, they are already guilty.  It was written for an audience—a country—where many were largely accepting or passively accepting of anti-Semitic stereotypes, and this pamphlet plays directly into those expectations.

We can look at this pamphlet and see a piece of ephemera, something almost physically falling apart, relegated to an archive, and deservedly so.  But we know too that the stereotypes and sentiments depicted in these pages are unfortunately far from dead.  This piece of history, like all others, still needs to be learned from.

The Acquisitions Table: Caution Requisite in Marrying

Caution Requisite in Marrying. New York: Sold by E.P. Whaites, 1838-1840.

Caution requisite in marryingThis elegantly designed letter sheet features a spectacular border of flowers, foliage and moths surrounding engraved text by the English Bishop Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667) expounding on the dangers of marriage (“It is an ill band of affections to tie two hearts together, by a little thread of red and white, and they can love no longer…”).  The sheet was sold in New York around 1840 by an engraver and stationer who also offered silk ribbons, diplomas, certificates and calling cards at his shop on Cortlandt St.  Edward Percy Whaites first appears in the New York papers in 1837.  His engraving office seems to have been focused on job work and ephemera, although he also sold books.

AAS’s First Digital Humanities Project

After two years of working under the generous dome, I will no longer be the ACLS Public Fellow and Digital Humanities Curator at AAS. Instead, I will be the Digital Humanities Curator, a full-time staff member. My work will not change much, but this transition from fellow to staffer offers a chance for me to reflect on how we at AAS understand the relationship between digital humanities and special collections libraries.

Perhaps this position can most easily be summed up in a line I often use when explaining what I do as a digital humanities curator at a special collection whose founding was and whose collecting scope is at least a solid century before the digital was even a twinkle in anyone’s—let alone humanists’—eyes: Everything I know about digital humanities I learned from book history. When I deploy this maxim I am describing methodology: how the systems and systemization on which digital humanities rely, when done right, are those that bibliographers, catalogers, and scholars of the material record have been employing for decades. In 1912, W.W. Greg described bibliography, which he wanted to be at once more capacious and more pure as a science insofar as it is defined by how work is done, rather than what work is done to. He writes: “It is the method itself, not the object to which that method is applied, that gives [bibliography] unity.” It is this approach to the past through a particular method, through a sort of systemization that I think special collections librarians share most with digital humanists. And here at AAS it is our General Catalog that makes this connection most apparent to me. I suspect that the same is true at other libraries where decades, perhaps even centuries, have been dedicated to the work that falls under the general job description of cataloging, a term whose singlularity belies all that it entails. Special collections cataloging is after all, not one act, but instead it is multifaceted: it entails researching, describing, organizing, categorizing, referencing (and cross referencing), checking (and double-checking), formatting, coding, and programming.


The newspaper room in the second Antiquarian Hall.

All of this work is in the hopes of making the vast heap of history’s remains legible to those who come at it with myriad questions, dispositions, credentials, and experiences.

dhIn the past two years, as I have worked with my colleagues here to develop what are easily recognizable digital humanities projects—databases, Omeka web resources, TEI projects—I have come to understand that the AAS’s oldest and most important digital humanities project is in fact its Catalog.

The General Catalog, which functions as both a record of what we hold under our generous dome and as the North American Imprints Program, is the home of big data for early American bibliometrics.

AAS Catalog Keyword Search

The keyword search page in the AAS General Catalog

As our participants at the Digital Antiquarian Workshop learned, the data in it can serve as the backbone for all sorts of maps, visualizations, exhibitions, and databases that address specific questions about print culture in the early republic. We at AAS deploy it for such purposes in house all the time, and one of my most important jobs has been teaching others how they too can make use of this data in efficient and effective ways.

AAS Catalog Export Results

An export page from the AAS General Catalog that can serve as the backbone for databases, maps, exhibitions, and other digital humanity projects.

And one of the most exciting parts of my job is finding out from scholars what they need from our Catalog. At the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing (SHARP)’s recent conference in Montreal this opportunity arose on a number of occasions, both in the Twitter stream and in person.

SHARP_smallA society founded over two decades ago, SHARP is the international home of the study of the history of the book, and in recent years, I have been increasingly impressed with its thoughtful, but enthusiastic embrace of the digital (to put my biases on the table: I am the e-resources editor for SHARP News). I was first drawn to SHARP as a graduate student, not only because of my burgeoning focus in the history of book for my dissertation, but also because it was one of the few places where I found academics and librarians having meaningful exchanges. Given this history of SHARP as a home for both the professor and the curator, the PhD and the MLIS, people on both sides of the reference desk, it is no surprise that the work of cataloging should be paramount in SHARP discussions, especially as SHARP embraces new tools for the work of bibliography and book history in the digital age. To these conversations, I was able to respond both in person and virtually with details of AAS’s cataloging practices. Our deep cataloging once again gave AAS much to be proud of, though I was also happy to bring back to Worcester ways in which we might improve our Catalog further. Specifically, in the year ahead, we are planning to examine if we could include subject headings for female provenance before 1900, and we also want to further examine how we might be more detailed in the subject headings we include for Native American texts.

I am thrilled to continue my work here at AAS, and I hope that if you have any other ideas for or suggestions concerning or needs from our General Catalog, you will be in touch with me.

Emerson and Whitman: Sage Meets Free Spirit

A carte de vsite of Ralph Waldo Emerson

A carte de visite of Ralph Waldo Emerson

When preparing an exhibit for our recent Digital Antiquarian conference we included items related to the famous interaction of two writers at different points in their public careers: Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman.  (This was prompted by the participation of the Whitman Project in our digital projects showcase.) Whitman used Emerson’s private correspondence to promote his own work, and, it would seem, reveal Emerson as the successful and generous mentor. Whitman does not fare as well in this interaction: he comes off as the eager, young upstart willing to engage in indecorous means to advance his career.

Emerson cultivated his role as mentor and generous benefactor.  His many disciples included Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Louisa May Alcott, and some lesser lights. As the reigning lion of American thought and literature, he didn’t necessarily need to nurture young minds, but he relished the role. Long before they met, Whitman respected and admired Emerson. It is even possible that his attendance at Emerson’s 1842 New York lectures on “Poetry,” in which he described “man” as a symbol, explicitly similar to grass, may have suggested Whitman’s title for his book of poetry.

Whitman portrait from frontispiece of the first edition of Leaves of Grass

Whitman portrait from frontispiece of the first edition of Leaves of Grass

Emerson was a force for a strong and innovative American literature. He was destined to be a champion of Whitman, and disdainful of poets like Poe, calling him a “jingle man.” He was impatient with the genteel and derivative literature of the current Boston literary scene. But he was also a product of it, and often self-censored subjects that were uncomfortably explicit or vulgar.

Whitman was the representative new American: brash, self-reliant, confident, proud of himself, inventive, and a product of a hard-scrabble up-bringing. He never achieved the public acclaim of Emerson and struggled for recognition, but forged on undeterred.  His unprecedented free-verse volume of poetry, Leaves of Grass, was printed in 1855 to an unreceptive and even hostile public. Oddly, it was printed without authorial attribution, even though it listed Walter Whitman as holding the copyright. As a professional printer, he set the type himself and used a distributor. Sales were disappointing.

leaves of grass title pageNot content to leave reviews of his book to critics, Whitman wrote several anonymous reviews himself, hoping to drum up interest. “An American bard at last!” he hailed himself in one review. His subterfuge easily exposed, he was only mildly embarrassed.

When Leaves of Grass came out, Whitman anonymously sent it to Emerson who eagerly read it. Emerson was impressed, although squeamish about its sensuality. Eager and excited  to provide support to a powerful new voice in poetry, on July 21 he wrote an encouraging letter to Whitman, calling Leaves of Grass a “wonderful gift” of the “most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed.” He enthused, ”I have great joy in it,” and wrote, ”I greet you at the beginning of a great career.”  The letter continued in this vein and concluded with a promise that Emerson would soon visit Whitman in New York. The letter was effusive and must have thrilled and validated Whitman.  (Here is the full holograph manuscript and transcript.)


NY Tribune, Oct 10, 1855: publication of Emerson’s private letter

Whitman was undoubtedly elated, even reputedly carrying it around for months. He did not reply, but passed on the letter to the friendly editor of the New York Tribune, where it was printed on October 10, 1855. He neglected to ask or notify Emerson that his private letter would be printed. Either he was afraid that if he asked permission it would be refused, or he just felt that this was an opportunity not to be missed.

Seizing opportunity, as any entrepreneur would, he had the idea to use Emerson’s endorsement to promote the next edition of his book, and circulated a broadside of the letter (see below).

He re-issued Leaves of Grass and printed some copies with the letter as an appendix, but then decided to save the precious endorsement for his new expanded edition. He thus included the Concord Sage’s letter of praise in the text block of the second edition printed in 1856, along with added poems and essays.


“Greeting you at the beginning of a great career – R.W. Emerson,” quoted on side of second edition

And then, to make sure no potential buyer would miss the endorsement, he printed “I greet you at the beginning of a great career – R.W. Emerson” on the spine binding to ensure visibility (see left).

Emerson had visited innovative Whitman, as promised in his letter, in December 1855, and even though Whitman was planning to print the letter in his next edition, he made no mention of it. Some of Emerson’s friends reported that he was extremely angry upon discovering the letter’s inclusion. And by normal standards, he had a right to be. Others, who admired Whitman’s poetry, indicated no such anger (Thoreau and Bronson Alcott, for example). Mutual acquaintance Moncure Conway reported that Emerson was amusedly awkward at the situation, expressing only a wish that he had written more purposefully for publication, and hadn’t been so impulsive.  It is tempting to think that people who reported the Emerson outrage were themselves more upset at Whitman’s explicit sexuality in his poetry than with the questionable reprinting of the letter. Emerson’s strongest wording about the situation was in a letter to Longfellow, noting that Whitman has “done a strange thing in printing…my letter [in the newspaper]”. A Boston newspaper, on the other hand, called it “the grossest violation of literary comity and courtesy that ever passed under our notice.”

Whitman’s friends were nonplussed. If Emerson “had expected common etiquette from you… they were sadly mistaken in your character,” one of his most ardent supporters and friends wrote fondly to Whitman.

Broadside advertising the second edition of Leaves of Grass

Broadside advertising the second edition of Leaves of Grass

Their initial friendship and mutual admiration cooled gradually, with Whitman frustrated over what he viewed as antiquated timidity in his former idol, and Emerson disappointed with Whitman’s artistic roughness in someone he once regarded as his transcendental disciple.  Whitman’s scandalous reputation was awkward, as when on a visit to Concord, mothers and wives of Emerson’s friends and family all refused to allow him in their houses.

It is probable that Leaves of Grass would have been ignored without Emerson’s support, and possible that Whitman might have been discouraged without it. It is also likely that Whitman’s ongoing self-promotion helped stimulate interest in his work and ensured a wider audience.

Further Reading:

Kaplan, Justin. Walt Whitman: A Life. NY: Simon and Schuster, 1980.

Loving, Jerome. Walt Whitman: The Song of Himself. Berkeley: University of California, 1999.

The Walt Whitman Project

The Acquisitions Table: My Lady’s Casket of Jewels and Flower for Her Adorning

My Lady’s Casket of Jewels and Flowers for Her Adorning. Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1885.

Lady's CasketThis book was made for gift-giving, and we at AAS were thrilled to have received such a stunning color plate book as a gift ourselves – along with many similarly gorgeous volumes – from Joanne Gill. An excellent example of the apex of chromolithographic technique and at the nadir of the holiday gift book tradition, this small oblong quarto format in a decorated cloth binding was offered by publishers Lee and Shepard as a Christmas gift book. The volume was illustrated by Eleanor W. Talbot with sixteen chromolithographic plates (two with movable doors revealing hidden illustrations behind) that illustrated articles of a woman’s toilette. Each plate was accompanied by an appropriate selected text – usually verses from a famous poet such as Shakespeare – ascribing a symbolic meaning for that article of a woman’s toilette. For instance, the “Best Eye Water” was described as “These drops the poor and wretched can supply / They add fresh lustre to the brightest eye” and the answer was “compassion’s tears.”


Read all about it! The Conservation of a Racy Newspaper

This issue of the Subterranean (“Independent in everything, Neutral in nothing”), dated August 26, 1843, was acquired by AAS circa 2001 as part of a generous donation of Racy newspapers from Leo Hershkowitz.  Published in New York City and reaching their peak in the 1840s, the contents of these papers are full of colorful stories about various “fanatical traitors, bigoted sectarians, swindlers, speculators, robbers, bankers and brokers….” People were named outright, so it’s not surprising these papers were found in the N.Y. District Attorney’s office for possible slander lawsuits.

All these years later, the condition of the paper was critical: discolored, brittle, creased, and mutilated, with losses, tears at every fold, and, oh goody, adhesive tape.  The paper was in nine fragments, repaired with five pieces of Magic Mend tape keeping the various sections somewhat connected.  One quadrant of the front page was missing.  Another section was secured by tape in the wrong place.  There’s iron gall ink manuscript along the bottom of page 52 that had begun eating through the paper, ready to crumble away.  The tiny 6 pt. type was in danger of being lost in many places.  It was so fragile that one couldn’t really handle the paper until the tape came off.

This issue of the Subterranean before treatment.

This issue of the Subterranean before treatment.

Close-up of tape and tears before treatment.

Close-up of tape and tears before treatment.

After photo documentation and a condition write-up, the tape was successfully removed in a bath of 200-proof ethanol.  First, the carrier was lifted, and then the adhesive was gently scraped off with a spatula.  The small bits of paper that had been attached to the tape, which were still sticky, were bathed in ethyl acetate, twice, to remove any residual adhesive.

InBath_0001The newspaper was then washed with subsequent baths until the water was clear, and given a final alkalizing bath with magnesium bicarbonate (a 50:50 solution).  After drying, the paper was resized with gelatin (a .7% solution) and dried between Hollytex sheets and woolen felts.

Fragments that needed to be placed in their original location.

Fragments that needed to be placed in their original location.

The mending required joining all the various sections, mending tears, filling losses, and restoring the little bits of text.  That last part was like working on a jigsaw puzzle. Each time the right spot for a wee little couple of letters was found felt like cause for celebration.  There is a plentiful assortment of Japanese tissues available here in the lab, ranging from very transparent to opaque (see below).  The thinnest tissue was used over the text so it could still be easily read, and the most opaque was used to fill the areas of loss. The tissues were toned in a bath with watery acrylic paints to match the original material, so that it would blend with the newspaper and not be distracting to the eye.  Zin Shofu wheat starch paste was used to adhere the Japanese tissue mends. The process is reversible with a little moistening , should there be a reason in future to do so.

Samples of tissue used for repairs.

Samples of tissue used for repairs.

Even after washing and alkalizing the paper, it’s still thin and delicate and prone to edge tears.  The newspaper unfolded measures 21 x 28”. Because of its still-fragile condition, it seemed safer to leave it in two pieces, and place them each in clear polyester folders for extra protection within the archival paper folders.

See here for all of the photographs documenting the conservation of this issue! 




Moses Paul to Samson Occom: Rediscovering a Treasure

Libraries like the American Antiquarian Society exist not just to preserve material, but also to help people find it. Detailed descriptions of items in our catalog records and thoughtfully designed systems of organization ensure that items in our collection can be located. But AAS also relies to a great extent on institutional memory—the knowledge of the collection gained by the members of the staff over years of service. With over four million items in the Society’s collections, however, it’s inevitable that some items that librarians knew about at one point eventually become forgotten, as staff members come and go. This is the story of one particularly exciting item in the AAS collections and how we became reacquainted with it, as well as a set of questions about how it came to be here in the first place.

Samson Occom is now one of the best-known Native American literary figures from early America, and is generally considered to be the first Native American writer to publish a book under his own name. Occom was born in Mohegan country, on what is now the Connecticut coast, in 1723. As a young man he studied English, theology, and Hebrew with Eleazar Wheelock (who would later go on to found Dartmouth College), and would eventually be ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1759 after already having served as a teacher and preacher to the Pequot community in Montauk, on Long Island. In the 1760s, Occom traveled through Great Britain preaching sermons to large crowds to help raise money for Wheelock’s charity school for Native students in Lebanon, Connecticut, only to find on his return that Wheelock had diverted the significant funds Occom had raised to support Dartmouth (and its Occom_0002white students) instead. Occom then ministered to the Mohegan people in southern New England. In 1770, he would have been one of the most famous Native American men in the northeast.

The “first” publication that made Occom famous is known as the “Sermon at the Execution of Moses Paul.” Occom’s sermon was published soon after Paul’s execution, in both pamphlet form and as a verse broadside, and then reprinted in numerous editions well into the nineteenth century. The title page of most editions of the sermon read “A sermon, preached at the execution of Moses Paul, an Indian, who was executed at New-Haven, on the 2d of Sept. 1772. For the murder of Mr. Moses Cook, late of Waterbury, on the seventh of December, 1771. Preached at the desire of said Paul.” It is this final sentence—“Preached at the desire of said Paul”—that is of most interest here.

As the title of the pamphlet states, Moses Paul (Wampanoag) killed a white man, Moses Cook, after a fight in David Clark’s tavern in Bethany, Connecticut, on December 7, 1771. Cook had beaten Paul after Paul objected when the proprietor of the tavern refused to serve him liquor. Moses Paul was tried in New Haven, convicted of murder, and sentenced to hang. As was the custom in early New England, a sermon intended to encourage the community to reflect on the solemnity of the occasion was preached before the execution. Paul’s first execution sermon was delivered by Jonathan Edwards, Jr.—a scholar of Native languages, and the son of the famous Puritan minister—on June 7, 1772, ten days before the date that was originally scheduled for Paul’s execution. An appeal to the Connecticut General Assembly delayed Paul’s execution, which was rescheduled for September 2, 1772.

On July 16, 1772, Moses Paul wrote to Samson Occom, “considering that we are of the same nation,” with the “earnest & dying request … that you would preach a sermon to me at my execution.” Occom would doubtless have been aware of Paul’s trial and impending death, and he accepted the invitation, delivering the sermon that would make Occom one of the most widely reprinted American authors of the 1770s. (The full text of the sermon is available via the Evans Text Creation Partnership here.)

Occom_0001Scholars have long known that Paul specifically asked Occom come to New Haven to preach his execution sermon–the title page of the published version of the sermon tells us so (see left). In an 1899 biography of Occom, William DeLoss Love wrote that Paul “naturally turned to the man of his own race upon whom the Indians generally had come to look as their friend in trouble,” but offered no details (170). A 1935 biography by Harold Blodgett, however, offered a full transcription of Paul’s letter to Occom making the request, adding: “It is printed by courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society, which possesses the original.”

Which is true. This incredibly significant letter has been in the Society’s collections since 1931. A note in the “Miscellaneous Manuscripts P” folder, written by R.W.G. Vail, then the Society’s librarian, indicates that the letter to Occom came from “Mr. Edward F. Coffin, of Worcester, Feb. 19, 1931.” Yet, in the decades between the time that Blodgett transcribed the letter and today, the letter disappeared from AAS’s institutional memory (but not from our shelves). Almost all scholars who have written about Occom since the 1930s have relied on Blodgett’s faithful transcription of the letter instead of visiting Worcester to see the original. And since the letter is the only manuscript item in our holdings written by Moses Paul, it was never classified as its own collection, and thus was not included in our manuscript finding aids (our checklist of “miscellaneous manuscripts” was written by hand, and is only available in a binder in the reading room).



Mike Kelly, the head of archives and special collections at Amherst College, is at work on a bibliography of Occom’s execution sermon (he has thus far identified 23 distinct editions of the sermon from 1772 to 1829, 14 of which are held at AAS). He saw a reference to the letter in a 2004 article on Paul’s trial in the New England Quarterly by Ava Chamberlain (who did visit Worcester to see the original), and wrote to ask if we actually did have the letter. We looked in the Miscellaneous Manuscripts P folder, and it was exactly where it was supposed to be. But the question remained: how did it get there?

Edward Francis Coffin was born in New Hampshire in 1873. His father, E. W. Coffin, relocated the family to Worcester, where he ran a business selling store fixtures. Edward followed his
father into the family CoffinFixturesbusiness; the 1910, 1920, and 1930 U.S. Censuses all list his occupation as “store fixtures,” either as a salesman or proprietor.

But his heart was clearly not with display cases and cash registers, as he embarked on a side career as a collector of and dealer in Americana—a field to which Coffin was sufficiently dedicated to have had separate letterhead made. AAS has only one box of correspondence from Edward Coffin in our manuscript collection, covering the years 1912 to 1915. A note in the file from AAS librarian Clarence Brigham indicates that Coffin retired  from business in 1939, CoffinAutographand continued dealing books and prints until his death in 1949. The note also states “Most of his correspondence was destroyed by him at his office, but this 1912-15 file happened to be saved at his home, and was sent to the Society by his son.”

The letters in the collection at AAS are from fairly early in Coffin’s career as a collector and dealer, and at times do not reflect a terribly high level of sophistication. A series of letters between Coffin and a lawyer in Richmond, Missouri, inquiring about the descendants of a local family goes through several rounds before Coffin reveals the purpose behind the correspondence: he was inquiring (on behalf of a customer) if it would be possible to purchase the manuscript of the Book of Mormon, which he had heard had been handed down through the Whitmer family. His correspondent quite politely replied, “This manuscript can not be procured for love nor money as it is the rock upon which the church is founded….”

Several months later, Coffin wrote to the Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., asking the jurist to provide details about the date and origin of an ivory miniature of his father that Coffin had recently acquired. There is no evidence that Justice Holmes took the time to reply to the inquisitive store fixture salesman from Worcester.

In an April 30, 1914, letter to a book dealer in England, Coffin described himself thus: “I would say that I am a dealer in a general line of early American items, my chief line being material of an autographic character…. I also do something with early paintings, including miniatures, engravings of places, and especially Revolutionary subjects.” Clifford Shipton’s remarks in the AAS Proceedings in 1949 on Coffin’s passing note that he was “well versed in the field of early American art, and wrote occasional valuable monographs on historical subjects, such as the early maps of Worcester, the beginnings of photography in Worcester, and the contributions of Mary Baker Eddy to newspapers and magazines.” The extant materials paint a picture of a dedicated collector of specific genres of items who could be quite dogged in pursuing potential customers (his repeated efforts to find a buyer for a daguerreotype of Stephen A. Douglas were notably fruitless).

Letters in the AAS archives from the 1930s show that Coffin was still carrying on a fairly miscellaneous trade, offering for sale to the AAS items ranging from children’s books and juvenile magazines to a second edition of the Federalist to early American editions of Hoyle. He clearly did occasionally come into possession of some remarkable items. The AAS archives include an invoice from Coffin to the Society dated October 5, 1938, for $600.00 (over $10,000 today) for the 1855 first edition of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, one of the treasures of our collection.

So the letter from Moses Paul to Samson Occom does not seem to fit with the rest of Coffin’s interests. It is not autographed by a well-known figure, it does not concern Worcester history or the Revolution, nor does it involve the graphic arts. Where did he get the letter? Where was it between 1771 and the early twentieth century? Did Coffin try to sell the letter before placing it at AAS? If so, to whom? Given that he destroyed his correspondence, we may never know the answers to these questions. But we are delighted to have (re)-encountered this letter.

Further Reading

William DeLoss Love published the first full-length biography of Samson Occom, Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England (Boston: Pilgrim Press, 1899). The first full transcription of Moses Paul’s letter to Occom appeared in Harold Blodgett, Samson Occom (Hanover, N.H.: Dartmouth College Manuscript Series Number Three, 1935).

The most thorough account of Moses Paul’s trial is Ava Chamberlain, “The Execution of Moses Paul: A Story of Crime and Contact in Eighteenth-Century Connecticut,” New England Quarterly 77:3 (2004). Additional recent scholarship on Occom includes Joanna Brooks, American Lazarus: Religion and the Rise of African-American and Native American Literatures (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003); Brooks, ed., The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan: Leadership and Literature in Eighteenth-century Native America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006); and Phillip Round, Removable Type: Histories of the Book in Indian Country, 1663-1880 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010).


The Acquisitions Table: A Proclamation for the Encouragement of Piety and Virtue

Province of Massachusetts-Bay. By the Governor. A Proclamation for the Encouragement of Piety and Virtue… Boston: Margaret Draper, July 23, 1774.

Province of MassachusettsThis important broadside was printed in Boston by Margaret Draper, a loyalist printer who enjoyed the support of Province of Massachusetts Royal Governor Thomas Gage.  Gage had been appointed by King George in the spring of 1774 to implement what became known as the Intolerable Acts (or Coercive Acts). Gage was, to put it mildly, very unpopular in Boston.  He closed the port and enforced the quartering act, raising the ire of the locals. This proclamation, issued in July of 1774 calls for calm and asks royal subjects to “avoid all Hypocrisy, Sedition, and Licentiousness, and all other Immoralities.” In addition, the proclamation asks for “all People of this Province, by every means in their Power to contribute what they can towards a general Reformation of Manners, Restitution of Peace and good Order.”  Gage’s proclamation was met with scorn and his actions to inforce the Acts in Boston helped to fire up the revolutionary spirit in other colonies.  By September, the First Continental Congress was holding meetings in Philadelphia to discuss independence.  This copy of the proclamation was owned by Elisha May (1739-1811), a justice of the peace and farmer in Attleboro, Massachusetts, who served in the Massachusetts militia from 1775 to 1781. The sheet was reused by the family in 1811 to tally up the holdings in May’s estate, listing more than 130 possessions, from his gun to sheep shears to bundles of hops.

The Asylum Journal Presents Presidential Candidates

Asylum Journal  (Brattleboro, VT)  November 22, 1842
Published every Tuesday, By the inmates of the Vermont Asylum.


The Asylum Journal was published at the Vermont Asylum for the Insane, a private institution founded in 1834 by Anna Hunt Marshall.  It used a humane form of treatment on its patients, based on the theories of William Tuke that insanity was a medical condition and not due to problems of character or moral issues.  This issue shows that they used the activities of editing, printing, and publishing of a weekly journal as a form of therapy for its inmates.

This particular issue is interesting and oddly relevant as various people start declaring themselves as candidates for the upcoming presidential election.  In the nineteenth century it was common practice for a publication to print an election ticket for the party they supported.  The following appeared on page three of this issue:

AsylumJournal_0002The Crazy Man’s Ticket


As the public are, no doubt, waiting with no small anxiety, to see what course we shall take in the coming Presidential election, we present them above our ticket, reserving to ourselves the privilege of substituting another candidate for either office, should we hereafter discover a more crazy politician.

We have selected one from each of the great political parties of the day, believing that if we can unite the crazy ones of both parties, we shall most certainly elect our candidates.

We are aware of the mighty influence our paper is destined to exert upon this great question, as it has now a tremendous subscription list, and we already receive more than seventy different newspapers and other publications in exchange.  The public may, however, rest assured that we shall exercise that influence most conscientiously, and if we succeed, (as we think we shall,) no one need fear but that we shall be at least as well governed as for the last several years.

If we are permitted, we may, on some future occasion, more fully define our position, and urge the claims of our candidates.

Of course today it is difficult to select just one candidate from each party.

Spreading the News of the Declaration of Independence

As the United States is gearing up to celebrate its independence for the 239th time, here in the Outreach Department at AAS we’re also gearing up for another kind of event, taking place for the first time: hosting an NEH Institute for K-12 Teachers.

Among the many sessions in this institute, titled The News Media and the Making of America, 1730-1865, is one exploring the dissemination of the Declaration of Independence throughout the colonies in the days after July 4, 1776. Despite our current visual associations with the Declaration in its calligraphic form, complete with the proverbial “John Hancock,” the first copies of the Declaration shared with the public circulated in printed form. (In fact, the calligraphic version of the Declaration wasn’t even finished and presented for signing until almost a month later.) The first printing of the Declaration, done by John Dunlap, printer to Congress, was set in type immediately after its approval by Congress and printed overnight.  From there copies were dispatched to each of the colonies, making their way through cities and towns, spreading the news along the way.

These broadsides worked in two ways. For one, they could be read aloud to gathered crowds, instantly and exponentially expanding their reach. In one such instance, AAS founder Isaiah Thomas waylaid a post rider on route to Boston with a copy of the Declaration and publicly read it to a Declar of Indep - Salem-Charltoncrowd in Worcester – the first public reading of the Declaration in New England – before giving it back to the rider and sending him on. Secondly, they also acted as copy for printers throughout the colonies, who immediately started cranking out their own broadsides and reprinting the text of the Declaration in newspapers. Both forms of communication – oral and print – were necessary and effective ways of spreading the momentous news.[1]

Proof of the ways in which printed and oral dissemination of the Declaration were intertwined in these early days can be found in a unique document in AAS’s collections (see right). At first glance this broadside edition of the Declaration, printed in Salem, Massachusetts, less than two weeks after the Declaration’s approval, doesn’t look much different from the Dunlap or other contemporary versions. But a closer look reveals an added paragraph at the bottom beneath the “signatures” of Hancock and secretary of the Continental Congress, Charles Thompson  (see below). This section reveals that the Revolutionary Council of the State of Massachusetts ordered this broadside printed and a copy sent “to the Ministers of each Parish, of every Denomination, within this State,” so that they could read the Declaration to each of their respective congregations. After doing so, they were to deliver their copies to the “Clerks of their several Towns or Districts,” who were “required to record the same in their respective Town, or District Books, there to remain as a perpetual Memorial thereof.”

Declar of Indep - Salem-Charlton - crop

Here we have the governing body of Massachusetts – now given a new layer of authority with the approval of the Declaration – not only ordering more copies of the Declaration to be printed, but also prescribing ways in which it would reach the largest numbers of the populace. With the vast majority of citizens attending church services, this was in many ways a surefire way to get the most bang for their buck.

But, as scholars of reader response and print networks will tell you, it’s one thing to know something was distributed in such a way, but an entirely other thing to know if it was actually read as intended. What this particular document in our collections tells us is that, at least in one case, the local minister followed the order to the letter.  Accompanying this broadside is a small scrap of paper with a handwritten note that reads, “The original copy of the Declaration of Independence, sent by the Council at Boston to the Town of Charlton July 17, 1776 and there read by the minister, Rev. Caleb Curtis, as directed. (See the order below the Declaration.)  E. I. Comins.” How’s that for a historical smoking gun?

Charlton Decl of Indep note

The Reverend Caleb Curtis was a member of what Peter Oliver, the last chief justice of the province under Royal rule and the author of “The Origin and Progress of the American Rebellion,” referred to as the “black regiment.”  So called because of their black ministerial robes, the black regiment were ministers who advocated resistance and eventually independence from Great Britain. Curtis, the town’s first minister, was active in local politics and a staunch Whig. He served as a member of Charlton’s Committee of Correspondence and was present at a statewide convention of the Committees of Correspondences held in Worcester on August 9, 1774. Curtis also preached before the Charlton Militia, providing a blessing to them as they headed off to fight the Regulars at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. One can easily imagine such a firebrand minister eagerly reading the Declaration of Independence before his congregation at the first opportunity.

So this Fourth of July, as our social media feeds fill with celebrations, well-wishes, and news articles about the holiday’s history, we’ll also be taking a moment to think about that first Independence Day(s), and how the colonial news and social networks, though not as quick as a click of a button, were no less interdependent, effective, and resourceful.

[1] For a full description of the early dissemination of the Declaration of Independence see Thomas Starr, “Separated at Birth: Text and Context of the Declaration of Independence,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, 110 (April 2000).