boston public library

Overview: The Boston Public Library’s archives are particularly rich in materials related to the history of Boston with materials ranging in date from the colonial era to the twentieth century. The archives include a number of government documents such as tax bills, city clerk files, and legal documents. Other materials include papers from local businesses and individuals, and documents from many Boston-area clubs and organizations.

The Boston Public Library houses collections of rare books, medieval manuscripts, and incunabula from the tenth through eighteenth century, with particular strengths in Shakespeare and religious books. Documents from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries include materials related to colonial and revolutionary Haiti, the John Adams library, a collection of materials associated with Benjamin Franklin, an image collection focused on the American Revolution and the War of 1812, letters related to Civil War-era Boston, an extensive anti-slavery collection, and materials related to the history of women. There are also a great deal of materials from the twentieth century including newspapers, a collection related to the Sacco-Vanzetti trial, and photography collections detailing the evolution of Boston. The library also possesses a number of rare books from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries including work by John Baskerville and Dove Press.

The Boston Public Library is also rich in documents and images connected to the visual and performing arts. Again, the city of Boston is particularly well-represented by the collection as the archives include manuscripts, images, and papers from many Boston-based artists, writers, entertainers, and performers, as well as the photography collection of the Boston Herald and scrapbooks from the Boston Symphony Orchestra. That being said, there is also an extensive collection of materials related to the performing and visual arts in America as a whole, including a photography collection of American actors, actresses, and theatrical scenes and a collection relating to American artists, dealers, critics, museum personnel, and collectors active between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. Finally, the collection includes papers, images, and letters of numerous notable American and European writers, artists, and architects including Charles Bullfinch, Samuel Clemens, Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, Francisco Goya, and Frederick Law Olmstead.

American Revolution Materials: The Boston Public Library’s Revolution War-era collection includes several general collections: the Boston Town Papers, Selectmen’s meeting minutes, and manuscripts of the American Revolution. The Town Meeting and Selectmen’s minutes are the official records of events that took place in Boston and feature community leaders including Samuel Adams, John Hancock, John Scollay, and Samuel Austin. The manuscripts collection documents topics including the military and naval campaigns of the war, foreign alliances and opinions, and economic aspects of the war. Together, the collection provides a comprehensive record of the day-to-day governing of Boston during the American Revolution, the activities of the Bostonian patriots both prior to and during the war, and military strategy of the era.
The collection is particularly strong in material related to the Boston Massacre: the Boston Public Library possesses Paul Revere’s sketch of the event, John Adams’s trial notes, eyewitness accounts of the conflict, and the indictments of the grand jury. Other subjects covered relating to the lead-up to the war include the quartering of British troops, non-importation agreements made by Bostonian merchants, the Boston Tea Party, civil disobedience, and daily life.

The Boston Public Library also houses materials related to the impact of the war on Boston, which discuss topics such as the preparations for war, the siege of Boston, and the British evacuation. Included within this category is George Washington’s letter discussing the defense of Boston and the medal he received from the First Continental Congress for evacuating the British from the city. There is also an unknown soldier’s diary kept in April and May of 1775 which discusses deserters, life in camp at Cambridge, American Indian troops, prayer meetings, and rumors of the day.

In addition to its extensive holdings connected to the American Revolution in Boston, the Boston Public Library houses materials related to several prominent men of the era. It is the location of the John Adams library, which includes hundreds of books annotated by Adams himself. The Boston Public Library also possesses materials related to Benjamin Franklin including books and pamphlets, by, about, or printed by him and engraving illustrating his life. There is also an extensive collection of George Washington memorabilia consisting of early biographies, pamphlets, broadsides, and newspapers. Particularly well-represented is Washington’s Farewell Address and funeral orations given at his death in 1799.

The Boston Public Library also houses prints, broadsides, and maps from the Revolution, books from the era, orderly books, receipts, account and log books, muster rolls, diaries, and sermons.

Key Words: John Adams, Samuel Adams, almanacs, American Indians, Samuel Austin, books, Boston, Boston Massacre, Boston Tea Party, British Army, Cambridge, Continental Army, diaries, foreign relations, Benjamin Franklin, government documents, John Hancock, legal documents, letters, libraries, manuscripts, maps, non-importation, quartering, receipts, Paul Revere, periodicals, prints, John Scollay, sermons, siege of Boston, soldiers/militia, treatises, George Washington

Collection Policies: The Boston Public Library active expands its collection both by purchasing relevant acquisitions and accepting donations. Finding aids may be accessed online through Archon. The Boston Public Library lends materials for exhibits and has both participated in and hosted exhibits in the past.