J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Door into Harbottle Dorr’s Newspapers

A couple of years ago, I mentioned the newspapers that Boston hardware dealer and selectman Harbottle Dorr collected, annotated, and indexed during the Revolution. Three of the four big volumes have long been owned by the Massachusetts Historical Society. In 2011 the society bought the fourth.

The M.H.S. has now digitized the complete Harbottle Dorr Newspaper Collection so anyone can check it out. I got a sneak peek at that website earlier this year, and it promises to be a very valuable resource.

As shown in the advertisement above, Harbottle Dorr was a hardware merchant. But he had the  mind and soul of an archivist. Just above his own shop notice, you can see he penned a cross-reference from the essay by “Junius Americanus” to another item in the collection. He inserted such notes and highlights throughout his newspapers, along with occasional (one-sided) editorial commentary and educated guesses about who wrote pseudonymous essays.

Dorr also compiled an index with nearly 5,000 entries, covering both the newspapers and some pamphlets he thought deserved to be bound with them. The M.H.S.’s Beehive blog shared this glimpse of how Dorr indexed the articles:
  • Cold Water, the Pernicious effects of drinking too much in hot weather &c. 212
  • Dogs Mad, Symptoms of 11
  • Drowned Persons Recover’d 638
  • Earth opening & swallowing Person’s at Quebec 601
  • Mcdougal Capt. [Alexander] presented with venison (in Prison) 50
  • Rum Danger of drawing it by candlelight 192
  • Speaker of the House of Commons in Great Britain Sir John Cust died because the House would not let him go to ease the Calls of Nature; They Alter that Custom 85
  • Tea, Ladies of Boston sign not to drink any vid. Under Agreement 31.
  • Thunder Terrible, Broke on a Magazine & produced terrible Consequences. 418.
The index and archivists’ descriptions are searchable, producing one of the best doors into the collection. (The newspapers themselves aren’t transcribed.) Another entry is through the dates of important events. And if one has a citation to a Boston newspaper story from someone else’s footnote, it’s worth checking out whether Harbottle Dorr had anything to say about that item.


John L Smith Jr said...

I have already been reading some issues of the Essex Gazette, June 22-28 1775, #361 and have found some excellent perspectives on events instant (Bunker Hill); but as always am struck by the beauty of handwriting script in those days - in this case the penmanship of Harbottle Dorr. Just awesome! ... and thank you again, J.L.!

Joe Bauman said...

Thanks so much for bringing this resource to our attention, Mr. Bell. Besides the annotations, the newspapers are amazing. I can't wait to study them and the other material.

J. L. Bell said...

If you like browsing this newspaper collection, you might also like Colonial Williamsburg’s web archive of the Virginia Gazette. The index and page views are based on older technology (P.D.F.’s), so it’s not always easy to use, but it’s another great free resource.