Keepers of Our past: Local Historical Writing in the United States, 1820s-1930s

By David J. Russo | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
The New England Pioneers

The domination of early local historical writing in North America by authors from Massachusetts can be somewhat explained by reference to several interrelated factors. The founding of Puritan towns as special, planned, model religious communities was a phenomenon -- temporally -- mostly of the seventeenth century and -- spatially -- largely of the coastal region of New England centering on Boston. Here were the towns that in the 1820's had (1) the age and family continuity, (2) the records, (3) a tradition of historical writing stretching back to the religiously oriented Puritan accounts, and (4) a still-important Congregational clergy who, along with others of long-term connections, continued to view their communities as sufficiently special and religious to be worth writing about. What moved these men to act by the 1820s and thereafter was their sense that such towns (and cities) were old enough and worthy enough to have their past recalled, especially before their origins and early development were permanently distorted in folklore or irretrievably lost with the destruction of badly secured records.

Many of the fifty-seven men and two women who wrote book-length histories of towns and cities in Massachusetts before the Civil War were of such little prominence that no biographical information has survived. It was rare for these early local historians to be marked out for posterity unless their achievements went beyond the confines of antiquarian research and historical writing. Even membership in the Massachusetts Historical Society, the New England Historical and Genealogical Society, of the American Antiquarian Society did not guarantee an extended obituary or "memorial," unless more than exceptional service had been rendered.

The fifty-nine names read like a roll call of early settlers: Allen, Snow, Worthington, Lincoln, Lewis, Abbot, Biglow, Deane, Hudson, Thacher, Graves, Shattuck, Bliss, Read, Willard, Mitchell, Gage, Field, Draper, Stone. All shared a strong sense of identity with the places they wrote about;

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Keepers of Our past: Local Historical Writing in the United States, 1820s-1930s
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in American History ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Copyright Acknowledgments vii
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction 1
  • PART I The Early Antiquarians 7
  • Chapter 1- The Early Setting 9
  • Chapter 2- The New England Pioneers 27
  • Chapter 3- Their Histories 43
  • Chapter 4- Elsewhere: John F. Watson 63
  • Part II- The Later Antiquarians 77
  • Chapter 5- The Later Setting 79
  • Chapter 6- Town Historians 91
  • Chapter 7- City Historians 109
  • Chapter 8- Repeaters 125
  • Part III- Formulaic Local History 147
  • Chapter 9- Local History as a Publishing Venture 149
  • Chapter 10- Local History as an Editorial Project 165
  • Chapter 11- Local History as Literature 183
  • PART IV The Coming of the Academics 189
  • Chapter 12- Amateurs and Academics 191
  • Conclusion 205
  • Notes 215
  • Bibliography 255
  • Index 275
  • About the Author 282
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