Conservation of the Brown Family Collection

The Brown Family Library was donated to the American Antiquarian Society in 2019 by Dr. John Goldsberry, Jr., and his wife Dr. Dorista Goldsberry, along with their family. The family’s library joins other part of the Brown Family Collections already at AAS, donated by earlier generations of the family starting in the 1970s. Together the collections consist of family papers, portraits, photographs, and over one hundred 19th-century books. The materials center around William and Martha Ann Brown and their descendants, a prominent Black family living in Worcester, Massachusetts, in the mid-1800s. 

Recently, a conservation survey was conducted to assess the overall condition of each of the 19th-century books. From this survey, books were pulled to be placed in custom housing for preventive conservation, or for treatment to help improve the longevity and stability of these historic materials. Below is a snapshot of the spreadsheet created to record the condition and treatment or rehousing measures taken for each Brown family book.  

Figure 1. Sample of Excel spreadsheet used for survey of Brown Family Collections.

Some of the main treatments included minor repair of the original cloth bindings using wheat starch paste or animal glue and toned Japanese papers, as well as reattaching loose spines and cover boards (figs. 2-7). Here is one example where the back cover board and spine were detached from the text block (figs. 2 and 3).

Figure 2. Cover of Bib. no. 79519.
Figure 3. Detached spine and board of Bib. no. 79519.

Due to the size and weight of the book, a piece of cotton was adhered to the spine with some excess to the side where the board was detached (fig. 4). The cotton was further secured with thread that was sewn through the first three signatures (fig. 5) 

Figure 4. Cotton fabric pasted to spine.
Figure 5. Awl used to pre-punch holes before sewing.

A “tube” made from strong paper was adhered using animal glue over the cotton and thread, then adhered to the loose spine (fig. 6). The endpaper on the back board was carefully lifted and the excess cotton piece was inserted under the paper, thus reattaching the board. Finally, a piece of toned Japanese paper was adhered over the interior joint to secure and hide the slightly exposed back cover board (fig. 7).

Figure 6. Paper tube adhered to spine.
Figure 7. Toned Japanese tissue paper guard on inner hinge.

In addition to these more extensive treatments, like the one seen above, some more minor treatments were performed on the Brown family books. These minor treatments included pasting down pieces of spines that were lifting; adding guard tissue to lose pages with wheat starch paste and toned Japanese paper; and adding partial tubes to the spine to ensure that the spine stayed attached to the book cloth and boards during repeated opening and closing of the volume.

Another issue addressed during the conservation survey was how to safely house the many newspaper clippings, bookmarks, and pressed botanicals that were found between the pages of several Brown family books. These added objects show how the book was used by Brown family members, which is of great importance not only for the curators, but for future researchers. However, these materials are not always compatible with the paper of the book and can cause staining through acid migration (fig. 8).

Figure 8. Example of acid migration from newspaper clipping housed between pages of book.

A discussion was had on how to best preserve the physical properties of the book while also respecting and preserving the history of its use. After much debate, conservation staff and the curator of books decided to house pressed materials into polypropylene sleeves with a note stating on which page the materials were found so that this information is not lost for future researchers (fig. 9).

Figure 9. Example of polypropylene sleeve with clipping and location information.

Due to the fragile nature of some of the clippings, an inner folder of translucent paper was added for safe removal of the clippings from the sleeves (figs. 10). These smooth, translucent, acid-free papers are often used to make folders because they allow for a preview of the object without opening the folder.

Figure 10. Open Reich folder.

These sleeves are then placed with the book in which they were found in a conservation binder (fig. 11) or a custom-made clamshell box (fig. 12).

Figure 11. Open Gaylord binder with book.
Figure 12. Open custom clamshell box with book.

After the collection survey, treatment, and rehousing of several books, the Brown Family Collections are in more stable condition and ready to be used for research! The goal of the survey and treatments was not to make the books look new or alter original material, but rather enhance their stability so that they can be safely accessed by current and future researchers.

Below is a snapshot of Brown family books that were treated and rehoused, and then placed safely back in the stacks (fig. 13).

Figure 13. Snapshot of Brown family books that were treated and rehoused.

Want to know more about the Brown Family Collections at AAS? Check out these links below to other blog posts and public programs!

Marissa Maynard is the library and archives conservator. Marissa helps to ensure that collections are not only preserved but also usable by researchers, working closely with library staff to prioritize and assess conservation needs. Prior to joining AAS, Marissa worked at the Cleveland Museum of Art as an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in photograph conservation. Marissa has also worked in the conservation lab of libraries including the Indiana State Library and Syracuse University Special Collections. Marissa has a Master of Art Conservation (MAC) degree, specializing in paper and photograph conservation from Queen’s University. She also holds an MA in art history from Syracuse University and a BA in chemical microscopy from North Central College.

Reflections from a Returning Intern

As I near the end of my second summer at the American Antiquarian Society as an intern through the Library Internship for Nipmuc Community Members, supported by a grant from the United Way Central MA, I wanted to reflect on what this internship has done for me, and what I have been doing for it in return.

Sophia speaking to visitors during the meeting of the Northeast Regional and Digital Native American Archives Collective at AAS.

This internship has given me a passion for archives and librarianship – things I didn’t think I’d be interested in when I applied, as I’d mainly applied due to my love of books and history. I remember when I wrapped up my time at AAS last year, I was in disbelief at just how much I loved my time here and how much excitement for my future and career I came away with. It’s given me opportunities by way of admission to Simmons University for a library science degree and has given me hope for a future where I can steward cultural archives and give other youth from underprivileged communities the same opportunities I was gifted. It has fostered my love for research and has given me tools for hunting down topics I’m interested in, or for tracking down genealogies.

My main project upon returning to AAS was the John Milton Earle Papers. As a Nipmuc working under the Nipmuc Community internship, the Earle Collection was the end goal for me. Detailing land purchases and other dealings of mainly Nipmuc individuals in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Earle Papers are thought to be some of the most important manuscript items for the Nipmuc tribe. Last year, I assisted in rehousing the papers – a job that entailed poring over difficult to read handwriting and dividing items into categories of “surveys,” “deeds,” “correspondence,” etc. This year, I came back to focus on changing the description of the Earle Papers to center the Indigenous people the collection items are about. I wanted future researchers to be able to know right away that this collection is about Indigenous communities, not the white man for whom they’re named. As someone who’s struggled in research to find her people and any mention of past relatives, I wanted to make sure it’s known right away who may be found in this collection to trim down the time it may take for someone to find out if any one of these hundreds of documents mentions their tribe or their ancestors. This is what has motivated my work.

A folder from the Earle Papers containing correspondence and collected statements speculating on the relationship between a Nipmuc woman and an enslaved man. The dark brown document to the left reads “Depositions of several persons to ascertain whether a negro man by the name of Aaron was ever married to Sarah Muckamug.” (Earle Papers Folder 14)

A lot of the heart and effort I put into this work wasn’t exactly asked of me. I spent an hour or two creating a family tree of prominent Nipmuc names mentioned in the Earle collection, just for people to have an easier time visualizing the connections between these people. This amount of effort wasn’t asked of me, but I enjoyed doing it. I’d forgotten just how much I loved doing research and hunting information down with only a name and date to guide me.

A family tree following the Printer-Burnee and Printer-Lawrence Line, all of whom are referenced in the Earle Papers. The Printer family are lateral descendants of Wowaus (James Printer), the first Indigenous printer’s apprentice in North America and the printer of the first Algonquin Bible. The genealogy was researched by Sophia using the Native Northeast Portal.

I’m not totally set on what I’ll be doing in 5-10 years, when I’ve completed a degree in Library and Information Science. So far, I can only think in terms of ideals: It’d be ideal if I could support public libraries because they supported me. It’d be ideal if I could make cultural archives accessible. It’d be ideal if I could work in the National Archives, but also at Ivy League libraries, but also at my hometown public library, but also just do research for a playwright’s next historical piece, but also help my relatives create a tribal library. I don’t have a clear plan for my future, but that doesn’t worry me the way it would have only two years ago. I feel prepared for whatever path I may end up taking, because I’ve spent these two summers working at AAS making sure I’ll be equipped for anything the future has for me.

Sophia Ramos is the summer 2023 Nipmuc Community Intern through the Library Internship for Nipmuc Community Members, supported by a grant from the United Way Central MA, returning to the role for a second summer. She is a transfer student at Simmons University where she is earning an accelerated Computer Science + Library and Information science degree. She hopes to turn her experience at AAS into a career in libraries and archives. Her summer project has been focusing on re-describing the John Milton Earle Papers.

DeWitt Clinton and the Common School Fund: Early Public Education in the Collection

For the past few months, I have had the opportunity to work as an intern in the manuscripts department here at the American Antiquarian Society. Usually, I spend my days the digitizing department working as a liaison between AAS and our vendors, paging newspapers and serials. I jumped at the chance to work in manuscripts and learn a little more about a different part of our collections.

I started my internship working with the miscellaneous oversized manuscripts. My task was to sort through the box, pull out items that needed different housing, and identify any items that should get their own catalog record. One item particularly caught my eye: a large, undated, hand-written document addressed to the New York state legislature signed by one DeWitt Clinton. Reading through the document without any context, it seemed as though Clinton was calling for less funding for New York public schools; but I knew there was more to the story, and in any case, I needed to figure out when the document was created to catalog it. So, with the permission and encouragement of manuscript curator (and my internship supervisor) Ashley Cataldo, I dove into the world of early 19th-century New York public education.

(Document from DeWitt Clinton addressed to the New York state legislature, undated.)

DeWitt Clinton (b. 1769- d. 1828) was a prolific New York politician and philanthropist. Clinton served as a New York state senator (1798-1802, 1806-11), a United States senator (1802-03), mayor of New York (1803-07, 1808-10, 1811-15), lieutenant governor of New York (1811-13), and governor of New York (1817-22). Clinton also served on the Erie Canal Commission from 1810 to 1824 and was instrumental in the construction and completion of the Erie Canal. (He was also elected as a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1814 and was voted vice president in 1821.) Clinton was a staunch supporter of public education. He founded and served as the president of the Free School Society of New York from 1805 until his death in 1823.

(Portrait of DeWitt Clinton, 1830.)

The Lancasterian system of education (now more commonly referred to as the Monitorial system) was a system of education popularized by Joseph Lancaster (1778-1838). The system relied on students to educate other students – a small number of adult masters would oversee the education, while students who mastered a topic were enlisted to help their less advanced peers. The system was cost-effective and efficient. Clinton was a dedicated proponent of free and accessible education in New York, and the Free School Society supported the Lancasterian schools, which made it even more confusing why this mysterious undated address was seemingly calling for less funding for the schools and less payment for the teacher.

The missing piece of the puzzle that I discovered through my research was the existence of the Common School Fund. By searching the AAS catalog, I found a legal memorial from the Free School Society published in 1823 that detailed the purpose of the Common School Fund (catalog record link here). According to the memorial, the fund was established in 1813. At the time, the New York legislature decided that the money in the fund should “be applied exclusively to the payment of teachers, and to no other purpose whatever.”

(Information on the Common School Fund.)

With this knowledge, the Clinton document started to make sense. Because the Lancasterian schools relied on students to educate their peers, there were fewer teachers who needed pay, meaning that the Common School Fund money allotted to pay teachers at Lancasterian schools was equal to “the pay of ten ordinary ones,” as Clinton wrote in the address. Clinton was asking the legislature for a reallocation of the Common School Fund to include funding for school buildings, textbooks, and even lower application and enrollment fees for students of Lancasterian schools.

(Reasoning for the reallocation of funds.)

 The 1823 memorial states that on April 5, 1817, the legislature passed an act containing a provision to grant Lancasterian schools the ability to use their excess funding for “the erection of buildings for schools, and to all the needful purposes of a common school education” – of course, after teachers had been granted “ample compensation.”

(Information on the reallocation of funds.)

After finding this date, I was able to finish describing the document before me. Though I didn’t know the exact date that Clinton delivered this address to the New York state legislature, I knew it must have been around the time that the act was passed. By using our catalog to find related collection materials, I put together the puzzle pieces and learned a lot more about early systems of education than I ever expected.


“An Opulence Unexpected”: Examples of Red Morocco’s Use in Bookbindings

The history of the book is predicated on the idea that the book itself as an object is significant in its own right, not simply on its printed content alone. Which materials were used, how they were made, and who made them all speak to a vast network of economic, environmental, and human systems that came together to create a printed volume; these elements of bookbinding are always interesting and worthy of investigation. And if those things are beautiful to behold, even better!

“An Opulence Unexpected” brings together a variety of books bound in red morocco leather, which have been prized for centuries for their beauty and exemplification of a binder’s craft. Also known as “Turkey leather,” it was first produced in North Africa from Turkish goats and exported to Spain as early as the 11th century. It is made traditionally with tawed goatskin stained with sumac (a tangy spice prevalent in Middle Eastern cuisine) for its iconic deep red color. The use of morocco in western book binding became popular in the 17th century, as goatskin leather was supple, long lasting, and took color and tooling well, especially gilt tooling, a method of finishing bindings by pressing gold into covers and bindings with specific tools to create ornate, sometimes lavish, designs. Continue reading “An Opulence Unexpected”: Examples of Red Morocco’s Use in Bookbindings

“Your cooperation is requested”: The American Antiquarian Society and Operation Alert

Operation Alert was a Cold War exercise designed to assess how prepared both government agencies and citizens were in the event of a nuclear attack on the United States. Starting in 1954, about 200 cities around the country took part in these drills until the project ceased in 1962. Worcester, Massachusetts, the home of the American Antiquarian Society, was one of these cities.

This fall I’ve been an intern at AAS as part of my graduate program in public history and archives, and one of my projects has been cataloguing the objects in the Society’s archives. While working with these objects, I came across a sign that reads, “There will be a civil defense exercise during the course of this morning May 6, 1958. If you are still in the Library when the alarm sounds your cooperation is requested.” On that day, alarms and air raid sirens would have gone off and people were required to stay indoors, sheltering in place for fifteen minutes. Depending on the location, certain penalties were in place for noncompliance. For example, in New York City, there was a fine of $500 for people who didn’t follow the directions of the Civil Defense Agency.

This agency had a clear situation in mind when they devised drills and exercises. Not only did they plan the drill itself, but they created an entire fictional story around what might cause a scenario where the United States was under attack. In this case, the story goes that tensions around the world increased to the point where, during the week prior to May 6, 1958, things came to a head. On May 6, with only a couple hours’ warning, an “attack” was launched on the country. This drill scenario evaluated government and citizens’ reactions to a potential event when little time was available to develop a strategic plan to protect themselves and their constituents as best they could. The 1958 test was taken extremely seriously, with members of multiple organizations coming up with reasonable facsimiles of a nuclear attack plan that was as realistic as possible.

The exercise was also meant to test preparedness in general. At the time of “attack,” was there enough food and clothing in a city’s holdings to supply people who were sheltered? What about medical supplies? Was there a plan for transporting people to places where they would be safe? Was there a power supply and fuel that could be depended upon? As part of the drills, communications would black out on the day following the “attack” in order to replicate what might really happen and gauge the responses of the local and federal agencies. The plans were very detailed, even down to using the actual weather conditions of the day to model potential nuclear fallout.

Not everyone cooperated with the sign requests like the one at AAS, however. A great many Americans protested, some because they felt the drills were terror-inducing and not actually effective, and others because they were pacifists. Many protesters said it was laughable that the government thought they could protect people during a nuclear attack and proposed putting the money and resources that went into these drills toward attaining peace. Peace was, they claimed, the only defense against nuclear war.

The final Operation Alert exercise occurred in 1961, when over two thousand people protested in New York City, and even more at college campuses and other locations nationwide. The project itself was canceled in 1962. You can read the full standards for the 1958 Operation Alert exercise issued by the Office of Defense Mobilization and the Federal Civil Defense Administration here.

Adultery, crime, and the “professedly obscene”: The beginnings of book bans in the United States

Book bans and challenges have been on the rise in libraries and schools across the United States: according to the American Library Association, who have tracked book censorship since 1982, over 1,600 titles have been affected in 2022 alone. These challenges, whether for political, legal, religious, or moral motivations, illuminate a variety of the nation’s current cultural anxieties, are not the first instances of books being banned in America. The American Antiquarian Society holds a panoply of materials that have been repressed, hidden, and censored, including a facsimile of the book which lit the flame of North America’s relationship with the concept of literary obscenity and government sanctioned censorship. In 1651, William Pynchon’s 1650 writing The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption was publicly burned in Boston via court order for its perceived criticism of the Puritans, who dominated local governance; Boston’s common executioner personally carried out the order. The book was so efficiently destroyed that only four copies are known to be extant, and are held at the Congregational Library in Boston, the British Museum, the New York Public Library, and the Connecticut Historical Society. 

Title page of a reproduction copy of The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption, including details of Pynchon’s main argument, directly opposing Calvinist theory of the time.

Over 200 years later, after an aggressive morality campaign led by Civil War veteran and founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, Anthony Comstock, the Comstock Laws of 1873 were passed in Congress which would effectively outlaw the distribution, sale, and possession of “obscene” materials, especially those solicited and sent through the U.S. Postal Service. U.S. obscenity laws were largely overturned through a series of Supreme Court decisions in the late 1950s, backed up by the First Amendment, which ended a nearly 90 year crusade on novels, valentines, song sheets, textbooks, contraception, newspapers, and erotica. Materials were confiscated and destroyed en masse during this time, significantly impacting the history of material culture in the United States.  

Evidence of the volume and variety of materials seized during this time can be found in an 1874 report of the Committee for the Suppression of Vice, which urges readers to destroy its words after reading, as it contains information on contraband seized in “the work of Mr. Comstock,” and such materials were “a fruitful source of demoralization and crime.” Listed alongside “indecent playing cards,” “rubber goods,” and abortifacients are not only books (134,000 lbs. worth, both bound and unbound), but materials and information used in their production, including names of “persons likely upon receipt of circulars, etc., to send orders.” AAS’s copy was personally given to the Society by Comstock in 1893.  

Full list of goods and their amounts seized and destroyed by Comstock roughly between 1872
and 1874.

Many of what are now to be considered classic works of Western fiction were affected by Comstock Laws, including John Cleland’s Fanny Hill, Daniel DeFoe’s Roxana and Moll Flanders, Candide by Voltaire, and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. 

The novel Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, also known simply as Fanny Hill, is considered to be one of the most prosecuted and banned books in United States history due to its overt representation of pornographic sex. It has been explicitly banned by the US government twice, once in 1821 and once in 1963 (both times for “obscenity”), before being legally cleared for publishing again in 1966. This 1820 copy lacks portions of the text, most of the plates, and is significantly worn. 

The only plate in the AAS 1820 copy.

Considered an essential text of Western canon, Voltaire’s literary satire Candide has been historically censored from the reading public in France, Switzerland, the United States, and by the Catholic Church since it was first published in 1759 for containing religious blasphemy and political sedition. Both the U.S. Customs and Post Offices have influenced circulation of Candide, from seizing inbound copies from France for obscenity to demanding the work be omitted from the shelves of major book retailers. 

Front matter from Candide, published in New York in 1864, marketed as “the spiciest, wittiest, and most exciting book in the French language.”

Throughout the 19th century, the Portsmouth Athenaeum, a membership library located in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, regularly published advertisements in local newspapers with lists of books missing from their collections alongside a plea for their prompt return. Beginning in March of 1873 (just as Comstock Laws were being passed), Moll Flanders — rife with allusions to sex outside of wedlock, adultery, prostitution, and crime — populated that list for the first time. Its loss from the Athenaeum’s collections may have happened through honest mistake, political cowardice, or perhaps a patron looking to squirrel away a title that would prove harder and harder to come by, as Moll was banned from shipment in the US post, drastically affecting available supply.  

Title page of a well-worn copy of Moll Flanders, and advertisement listing missing books from the Portsmouth Athenaeum, published in the Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics, March 15, 1873.

Described as “professedly obscene” and “objectionable” since its first publication in 1855, it wasn’t until the 1881 edition of Whitman’s magnum opus Leaves of Grass that its production was halted due to legal concerns. Under pressure by Comstock himself, Boston’s District Attorney advised Whitman’s publisher James R. Osgood that the book could not continue to be legally published without significant alterations to the text. Initially open to changes, Whitman later refused to revise his work due to the sheer volume of objections and was forced to find a new publisher. Due to the publicity this action caused— which increased further after the subsequent arrest of activist Ezra Heywood of Princeton, MA, for mailing excerpts of Leaves of Grass alongside other contraband—its popularity rose and under a different publisher the new edition’s first printing sold out in a single day. Heywood went on to publish a rebuke of both his treatment by Comstock’s goons and more broadly of federally backed, morality-based censorship titled “The Impolicy of Repression” in the Boston Commonwealth. Heywood was pardoned by President Harrison in 1878 after a successful, highly publicized petition and protest movement.  

See the full article here. 

For more information on the banned books discussed here, and others, check out the resources below. An exhibit featuring some of these works will be on display in the reading room at the American Antiquarian Society from November to December 2022.


American Library Association. (2022, September 16). American Library Association Releases Preliminary Data on 2022 Book Bans. News and Press Center. 

Crown, D. (2015, November 15). The Price of Suffering: William Pynchon and The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption. The Public Domain Review. 

Joseph P. Hammond, “Stevens, Oliver (b. 1825)” (Criticism) – The Walt Whitman Archive. (n.d.). Retrieved October 26, 2022, from 

Ockerbloom. (n.d.). Banned Books Online. 

Sohn, A. (2021, July 20). How Anthony Comstock, Enemy to Women of the Gilded Age, Attempted to Ban Contraception. Literary Hub. 

Stern, S. (n.d.). Fanny Hill. Retrieved October 26, 2022, from 

Poetry (and Portraits) of the Past and Present

“The world is full of poetry, the air is living with its spirit, and the waves dance to the music of its melodies.” ~ James Gates Percival’s “Poetry” copied into Martha Ann Brown’s commonplace book from 1849.

Please join us at the American Antiquarian Society this Thursday, November 17, at 7 p.m. (register here to attend in-person or virtually) to explore the power of poetry and its role connecting us to the past. What did poetry mean to Martha Ann Brown, a nineteenth century woman of color integrally connected to the local Black and Indigenous communities, and what does poetry mean to us today? How did women in the Brown family pass along forms of artistic expression through generations, and how are similar generational connections maintained today?

In partnership with the Worcester Black History Project, Thursday evening’s event in the new AAS Learning Lab will be moderated by Deborah Hall and begin with a brief historical introduction to the Brown Family Collections at AAS by Kimberly Toney. Then we will hear new original poems from three Black women poets working in Worcester today – Rev. Catherine Reed, Xaulanda Thorpe, and Ashley Wonder – who will reflect on connections especially among the women of the Brown Family as well as in their own families and lives.

The women of the Brown family expressed themselves artistically in many ways.

→ Martha Ann Brown kept a commonplace book that included artistically arranged pressed flowers and poetry in the 1840s. (The entire book is digitized here thanks to funding from the Delmas Foundation.)

Page from Martha Ann Brown’s commonplace book.

→ Emma Griffin Brown (Martha Ann’s daughter-in-law) wrote her own penciled annotation into the margins of a printed book of “Moore’s Poems,” commenting on favorite poems or expressing philosophical angst, in the 1890s.

Page from Moore’s Poetry with annotations by Emma Griffin Brown.

→ Bernice Brown Goldsberry (Martha Ann’s granddaughter and Emma’s daughter) inked her own illustrations in a book in the family’s library and became a professional commercial artist producing Valentines and greeting cards in the 1910s-20s.

Page from novel with ink illustrations added by Bernice Brown Goldsberry.

BONUS EVENT: Intrigued by the Brown Family and interested in learning more about them and their descendants? There is another event you can attend in Worcester on Thursday, November 17 (learn more and register here). At 7 a.m. there will be a networking breakfast at Mechanics Hall to learn more about their Portraits Project, a plan to increase representation of women and people of color among the portraits on display at Mechanics Hall. Martha Ann Brown and William Brown are among those for whom new portraits are to be commissioned, and one of the descendants of the Brown family, James Goldsberry, will be speaking at the breakfast.

If you then come to the American Antiquarian Society at 185 Salisbury Street for the evening’s poetry event at 7 p.m., you will see on permanent display in the reading room a portrait of one of the Brown family’s ancestors, John Moore, Jr., as well as photographs brought out for this event of Martha Ann and William Brown, that will help provide inspiration for today’s artists to create new portraits of the family.

From left to right: Oil on canvas portrait of John Moore, Jr. (b. c. 1800) and carte-de-visite photographs of his nephew, William Brown (1824-1892), and William’s wife Martha Ann (Tulip/Lee/Lewis/Lewey?) Brown (1818-1889).

EXTRA BONUS EVENT (not related to the Brown Family): As if that weren’t enough, AAS also will be holding a virtual book talk on Thursday, November 17, at 2pm. Marcy J. Dinius will talk about her book, The Textual Effects of David Walker’s “Appeal”: Print-Based Activism Against Slavery, Racism, and Discrimination, 1829-1851 (learn more and register here).

So consider bookending your day on Thursday, November 17, with the amazing Brown Family: 7 a.m. at Mechanics Hall for breakfast and 7 p.m. at AAS for poetry!

This Day in History: Great Chicago Fire Erupts

October 8, 1871 – On this day in 1871, the Great Chicago Fire erupted. The fire burned for two days, destroying buildings, claiming about 300 lives, and causing an estimated $200 million in damages. In all, the fire decimated a four-by-one-mile area of Chicago, including the city’s business district. The city quickly began reconstruction efforts, fostering a newly booming economy and a population to match.

Map from Hartford Fire Insurance Co. showing the burned area of Chicago.

On October 18, 1871, The Chicago Times reported on the fire and the destruction it caused, as well as the rescue and reconstruction which was already underway. Continue reading This Day in History: Great Chicago Fire Erupts

This Day in History: Stamp Act Congress Convenes in Protest

October 7, 1765 – On this day in 1765, the Stamp Act Congress convened in New York City. Representatives from nine colonies met to protest the Stamp Act, which imposed the first direct tax by the British Crown on American colonies. The passage of the Stamp Act is often cited as one of the first catalysts of the American Revolution, as some people living in the colonies felt they were being unfairly taxed without representation in Parliament.

The Boston Gazette and Country Journal published a page-long criticism of the Stamp Act on that day. The newspaper reads, in part:

“AWAKE! – Awake, my Countrymen, and, by a regular & legal Opposition, defeat the Designs of those who enslave us and our Posterity. Nothing is wanting but your own Resolution…Be Men, and make the Experiment. This is your Duty, your bounden, your indispensable Duty.” Continue reading This Day in History: Stamp Act Congress Convenes in Protest

This Day in History: Lincoln Proclaims, ‘Turkey Day!’

October 3, 1863 – On this day in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation designating the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day. The proclamation came in the midst of the Civil War. In his address, Lincoln chose to focus on the country’s prosperity:

Closeup of the text of Lincoln’s proclamation as published in the Evening Star.

“[T]he country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”

His words throughout the address encourage unity during the Civil War.

Continue reading This Day in History: Lincoln Proclaims, ‘Turkey Day!’

In-person & Hands-on Early Worcester History, Featuring the Brown Family

Who and what springs to mind when you reflect on early Worcester history?

Figure 1: Portrait of Brown family ancestor John Moore, Jr.

Isaiah Thomas & his printing press? Major Taylor & his bicycle? Esther Howland & her Valentines? These classic Worcester historical figures will all be represented at AAS’s upcoming Chat with a Curator open house this Wednesday, but we hope many of the materials and stories are new to you. We are especially excited to feature items related to the Brown Family Collections from one of Worcester’s early Black families. Of particular interest books from the family’s library, which is one of the earliest and largest intact nineteenth-century Black family’s libraries in existence. Continue reading In-person & Hands-on Early Worcester History, Featuring the Brown Family

A Snapshot of the Past: Celebrating Worcester’s 300th Anniversary

The Court House and second American Antiquarian Society building on Main Street, ca. 1905-1910.
Traffic at the intersection of Main Street, Front Street, and Pleasant Street, 2022






In 1900, Theodore Clemens Wohlbrück, a professional photographer from New Jersey, moved to Worcester and opened a small but successful photo studio on Main Street. Known for his city views and postcards, Wohlbrück left Worcester in 1910, but his photographs of the city remained. The collection, now housed at the American Antiquarian Society, contains over 180 glass plate negatives of views of businesses in downtown Worcester, City Hall and the Common, churches, houses, Memorial Hospital, and Lake Quinsigamond. A handful of images also capture President William Howard Taft’s visit to Worcester in April 1910. Browsing through the now-digitized collection,  I wondered how much the streets of Worcester have changed over the past one-hundred and twelve years. So, with camera in hand, I made it my mission to trace Wohlbrück’s footsteps and capture modern-day views of the city.

Continue reading A Snapshot of the Past: Celebrating Worcester’s 300th Anniversary

Major Taylor letters featured in new video

In 2020, letters from a young Marshall “Major” Taylor were donated to the American Antiquarian Society by Constance L. Whitehead Hanks. Taylor, a Worcester resident, was the first African American to win the title of cycling world champion, in 1899, and the second Black athlete to win a world championship in any sport. He is considered by many to be the greatest American sprint cyclist of all time. Continue reading Major Taylor letters featured in new video

Discovery: Herald of Freedom and Peter H. Clark

Newspapers are a huge and important part of our collection here at the American Antiquarian Society. They take up over five miles of shelving here. From establishment papers like the New York Times to amateur prints, preserving newspapers gives readers a glimpse into the mundane and day-to-day, as well as insight on relevant social issues during the centuries where there was no Twitter to catch up on the world’s goings on. But newspapers during the nineteenth century also served as a platform for social change and activists, including for African American abolitionists like Peter Humphries Clark. The Newspapers and Periodicals Department at the Society has discovered what is believed to be the only known copies of Clark’s newspaper, Herald of Freedom. These issues were published on June 2 (Volume 1, Number 1) and June 23 (Volume 1, Number 3), 1855.

Peter H. Clark is most known for his abolitionist speaking and writing. Born on March 29, 1829, in Cincinnati, Ohio, he was the son of a successful barber and became the first teacher hired to Cincinnati’s independent Black public schools in 1849. In 1866, Clark founded Ohio’s first public high school for Black students, Gaines High School, where he served as principal and educated a generation of Black teachers. He also ran for Congress in 1878, representing the Socialist Labor Party for America. For this reason, he is remembered as the United States’ first Black socialist.[i]

The masthead of the Herald of Freedom. / Nate Fiske, AAS

Continue reading Discovery: Herald of Freedom and Peter H. Clark

Worcester Review Showcases Work of Creative Fellows

In its most recent issue, The Worcester Review featured original poetry and artwork by AAS creative artist fellows. Edited by Kevin Wisniewski, Director of Book History and Digital Initiatives, the feature is the first of a two-part series to be included in the print literary/art journal.

Founded in 1972, The Worcester Review is published annually by the Worcester County Poetry Association (WCPA). The journal has evolved to celebrate the rich literary history of Central Massachusetts, to enhance it with work from beyond that region, and to serve as a conduit to promote that richness to a national audience. For this issue, Wisniewski collaborated with outgoing editor Kate McIntyre and incoming editor Carolyn Oliver.

This feature is a continuation of our celebration of the 25th anniversary of Creative and Performing Artists & Writers Fellowships here at AAS and our Artists in the Archive showcase. Along with original work that was the product of fellows’ time under the generous dome, each fellow also includes a personal statement or reflection about their time at AAS. Former fellows appearing in this issue are Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon (Wallace Fellow, 1996), Tess Taylor (Baron Fellow, 2006), Margaret V. Rozga (Baron Fellow, 2014), Catherine Sasanov (Baron, Fellow, 2016), Marianne R. Petit (Jay and Deborah Last Fellow, 2020) with collaborator Laurel Daen, and David Mills (Hearst Fellow, 2019).

The second part of the feature appear in the 2022 issue of the journal later this year.

Here’s a sample of the wonderful work included in the issue, as well as recent videos from fellows Catherine Sasanov, Tess Taylor, and David Mills:

At the Archives
Margaret V. Rozga (2014 AAS fellow)

I read school catalogs. Campaign pamphlets.
Cartoons. Popular magazines. Newspaper
advice columns, lists, humor, editorials.

Congressional speeches: background
facts, extravagant praise, skillful
concessions, biting satire, caricature,

long balanced, rhythmic sentences,
quick left jab of understated insult,
the cause, the effect, the reiteration.

Documents covered in faded blue-gray
or tan-yellow paper. Hand-stitched binding,
resilient thread. Or perfect bound and crumbling.

Pages thin as dust,
dust, maybe mold: sneeze.

Sneeze: quick intake of something in the air
the body can’t yet process