Massachusetts Archives Collection: 1603 - 1789

Call Number: HIL-MICL FC LPR .A4P8C6M5C6
Category: United States
Creator: America. Massachusetts. Office of the Secretary of State.
Description: 22 microfilm reels of textual records (23 volumes) ; 35 mm

Massachusetts was one of the original thirteen colonies in North America that broke away from Great Britain in the aftermath of the American Revolutionary War (1775-83). The last royal government, that of General Thomas Gage, existed de facto until early October 1774, when members of the General Court (legislature) met and established the Provincial Congress. On May 1, 1776, the Provincial Congress declared the province to be independent of the crown. The Commonwealth formally adopted the State Constitution in 1780, electing John Hancock its first Governor. It enacted a Frame of Government that included the following: an elected Governor, an elected Lieutenant-Governor, a Council chosen by the Senate and Representatives to advise the Governor in the executive part of government, and a General Court as the legislative body formed by two elected branches, the Senate and House of Representatives. The Board of War's role was to organise Massachusetts' military logistics and manpower. When the Continental Army left Massachusetts for the campaign in New York, the Board of War also supported the military effort in the northeastern section of the state. Maine was a part of Massachusetts until 1820. In the British colonies there were local courts to deal with local maritime matters known as Vice-Admiralty Courts, also known as Maritime Courts. In relation to privateering, upon receiving authorisation by the Continental or state Congress, a vessel became a privateer which enabled it to seize British merchant vessels and cargo and sell them. Once in port, the agent for the privateer would bring a suit (called a libel) against the prize ship in a local Maritime Court. If it was deemed an enemy ship, it was sold at auction (a vendue). The money made from a prize was shared with the owners, partners, prize agents, captain and crew.

            The Collection, originally organised by Rev. Joseph Felt in the 1830s, includes original records of the governing bodies of Massachusetts during the years of controversy leading to the American Revolution, as well as material relating to Indian/Indigenous affairs dated earlier. These include for example, documents generated by the Governor, Provincial Congresses, General Court, Treasury, as well as judicial bodies such as Prize Court and the Court of Appeal. Topics covered range from international affairs to local concerns, and include subjects for example that relate to politics and government, towns or local history, military affairs, relations with Great Britain, finance, trade and commerce, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Indigenous/native peoples, American loyalists, privateers and maritime affairs, justice, and family (divorce).

Detailed Contents as described by the Massachusetts Archives:

Reel 1, Volume 137 (starts at page 164, first document with date is 5 June 1777*). Reports, 1774*-1783 - Reports from the General Court or various legislative committees during the Revolutionary era on a variety of subjects

Reel 1-2, Volume 138 Revolutionary Miscellaneous, 1774-1783 (partial: p. 164-end). Legislative records from the Provincial Congresses and the General Court, including instructions to the Continental Congress and printed broadsides. Also includes records relating to losses by the enemy at Lexington, Bunker Hill, Dorchester, and Falmouth

Reel 2-3, Volume 139 Revolutionary Miscellaneous, 1786-1789. Records obtained from the Treasury Department and arranged in 1844 on a variety of subjects:

Records relating to the Penobscot Expedition (1779): Orders for pay for service on brig Pallas, Commander James Johnson; 
Orders for pay for service on ship Vengeance, Commander Thomas Thomas

Data in documents pertaining to crew, aside from their names, may include: role on ship, place of residence, and family member when crew member deceased.

Bonds given to whaling ships (1775)

Bonds with the Treasury for a certain sum that vessels bound on whaling voyages shall bring into Massachusetts Bay (except ports of Boston and Nantucket) all the oil and whalebone which they take, and produce a certificate within 18 months from selectmen of nearest town adjoining the port.

Conditions stated in the bond: bring into Massachusetts Bay, except ports of Boston and Nantucket, all oil and whale bone taken, and to produce a certificate within 18 months from the selectmen of the town adjourning port attesting to this obligation.

Data distinguishes name of commander or master of the vessel, and often if any of the bond holders are merchants; also reasons for cancellation of and the conditions for obtaining the bond).

Bonds given to privateers (1776-1781)

Bond between government and invested interests, such as owners, backers and commanders of a vessel, to proceed as obligated therein upon a cruise against enemy vessels

Data includes: names of persons with vested interest in vessel - such as owners, backers, commanders, their places of residence and if merchants, along with the name and type of vessel; as well as the obligated conditions; data may include: quantity of guns and men on vessel, distinguishing principals and sureties relating to bond; articles of agreement contain a bit more information pertaining to the vessel.

Bonds given for the safe return of firearms (1777)

Legislative orders concerning losses at Bunker Hill and Lexington (1776-1777)

Records relating to absentee estates (1776-1777)

Bonds from loyalists (1775-1781)

Reel 3-4, Volume 140 Revolutionary Miscellaneous, 1775-1788. Materials relating to the Revolutionary era government in Massachusetts and military expenses:

Original minutes of the Committee of Safety (1775)

Original minutes of the Provincial Congress (1775)

Original minutes of the Committee of War (1775)

Accounts of military stores at the Boston Laboratory (1776-1778)

Expenses of the state mint at Dedham (1787)

Account of depredations at the Isle of Sables (1788)

Record book of the Court of Appeals regarding divorces and abandonments (1780-1786)

Reel 4, Volume 141 Revolutionary Miscellaneous, 1777-1782. Accounts relating to the Revolutionary era government, including payments made to towns for military purposes (1777-1782), and statistics of clothing supplied by towns (1778-1781)

Reel 4-5, Volume 142 Revolutionary Miscellaneous, 1777-1783. General Court records from the Revolutionary era, including orders, resolves, letters, accounts, and printed broadsides on a variety of subjects

Reel 5, Volume 143 Revolutionary Miscellaneous, 1772-1781. Discrete groups of records relating to the Revolutionary era government in Massachusetts and the Board of War, as follows:

Colonial agents in Great Britain (1773-1775)

Claims of the Housatonuck Proprietors (1772-1773)

Council committee journal of accounts (1775-1777)

Invoices of cargoes shipped by the Board of War (1777-1779)

Board of War accounts (1777-1780)

General Court orders and resolves addressed to the Board of War (1778-1781)

Reel 6, Volume 153 Board of War Letters, 1777-1780 (partial: 31 July 1777, page 86-end). Letters received by the Massachusetts Board of War relating to the state's armed forces and navy and to military supplies and provisions; includes some copies of letters written by the Board

Reel 6-7, Volume 154 Revolution Royalists, 1775-1779. Records of the Provincial Congresses and the General Court relating to persons suspected of being loyalists; includes petitions, reports by town committees, resolves, and warrants and records of trials

Reel 7-8, Volume 155 Revolution Royalists, 1778-1784 Records, arranged by county, relating to persons suspected of being loyalists; includes inventories of estates, indentures, and accounts. Also included are sections regarding claims on absentees' estates, agent's accounts of estates, and reports of commissioners appointed to apportion the estates of insolvent absentees

Reel 8-9, Volume 156 Revolution - Provincial Congress, 1774-1778. Votes taken by towns on subjects relating to independence and a constitution and proceedings of conventions

Vote for delegates to a Provincial Congress (1774-1775)

Vote for independence (1776)

Votes for a constitution (1776, 1778)

Proceedings of the Legislature relative to a constitution (1777-1778)

Proceedings of a convention held at Ipswich (1776)

Reel 9-10, Volume 157 Maritime Miscellaneous, 1777-1782

Maritime records related primarily to prizes taken by Massachusetts privateers (1777-1783)

Contains a variety of documents providing detailed data surrounding the business of privateering: the vessels, cargo, etc. and the people involved, as well as some insight into its ill effects on trade, insurance, and government’s ability to support the war. 

Also contains a few documents pertaining to the Penobscot Expedition, and a few family letters from England.

Miscellaneous records from the Provincial Congresses and the General Court concern supplies for the military and truck house provisions

Reel 10-11, Volume 158 Revolutionary Messages, 1775-1783. Messages from the Council and House, concerning prosecution of the war and state business; after 1780 primarily messages from the Governor; also contains several groups of records on miscellaneous subjects:

Papers of Crean Brush - land speculator, lawyer, prominent political figure from Cumberland County, New York and loyalist (1776)
Contains documents relative to his role in Boston to gather up merchandise to take with the British when they evacuated Boston (mentions some businesses); and his proposal for a military offensive in Cumberland County and lands west of the Connecticut River (including the disputed New Hampshire Grants)

Papers relating to Portuguese prizes seized by Capt. Joseph Cunningham of American privateer schooner Phoenix: St. Joseph and Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St. Antonia; and the international controversy surrounding the taking of a vessel in violation of the laws of nations, (1776-79)

Follows the matter in detail, from the perspectives of both sides until it is finally resolved; includes Americans John Rowe as agent and Robert Morris as owner; Juan Garcia Duarti, commander of Our Lady of Mount Carmel; as well as different levels of the American government.

Wreck of the Somerset on Cape Cod (1778)

Documents relative to the conduct of Jerathmal Bowers of Swansea (1778)

Account of donations sent to relieve the suffering of inhabitants of South Carolina and Georgia (1781-1782)

Reel 11, Volume 159 Revolutionary Prize Cases, 1776-1780. Records relating to prize vessels captured by American privateers

Cases of libelled vessels heard before the Prize Court of the Middle District

Contains trials of the vessels began at 120th Libel; incomplete holdings: gap in dates after 9 July 1777 and before 10 Dec.1779 (between libel number 175-638)

Data includes: prize vessel's name, tonnage and captain; captor's vessel's name and captain; (contains one French snow L'Amiable Susannah

Data may include: goods on board, where vessel was taken and the date, and background on prize as to why taken

Also includes 2 listings of salt allocations to each town

Prize accounts (1776-77)

Includes sales, charges and net proceeds; provides class, name and captain of the prize and privateer vessels. Data also may include: types of cargo, prices and values, those involved: merchants, agents, appraisers, prize pilots, and auctioneers; often shows who bought what cargo

War Office Accounts relating to prizes (1777-1780)

Reel 11, Volume 160 Revolution - Constitution, 1778-1779

Votes from towns relating to the proposed state constitution of 1778-1779 and two groups of miscellaneous papers

Votes relative to a constitution (1778)

Votes on two questions concerning a constitutional convention (1779)

Votes on a resolve for a constitutional convention (1779)

Accounts for the support of General Warren's children (1777-1786)

Papers relative to the conduct of Abiel Wood of Pownalboro (1775-1776)

Ree12, Volume 29. Indian Conferences, 1713-1776. Conference proceedings between Native Americans and the Massachusetts Bay government. Table of contents and name index.

Reel 13-14, Volume 30. Indian, 1603-1705. Records detailing interactions between the Massachusetts Bay government and Native peoples in New England and New York. Table of contents and name index.

Reel 15-16, Volume 31. Indian, 1705-1750. Records detailing the interactions between the Massachusetts Bay government and Native Peoples in New England and New York. Table of contents and name index.

Reel 17-18, Volume 32. Indian, 1750-1757. Records detailing interactions between Massachusetts Bay government and Native peoples in New England and New York. Table of contents and name index.

Reel 19-20, Volume 33. Indian, 1757-1775. Records detailing interactions between Massachusetts Bay government and Native peoples in New England and New York. Table of contents and name index.

Reel 21, Volume 144 Convention, 1776-1782 (partial: pages 1-423). Reports and proceedings from various New England conventions relating primarily to concerns over trade and paper money; also records concerning the inhabitants of the county of Sunbury and Cumberland, Nova Scotia; and a large amount of material detailing relations with various Indian tribes, including the correspondence of Col. John Allen, agent to the Eastern Indians.

Reel 22, Volume 147. Indian Truck House Accounts, 1776-1779. Accounts kept by Colonel John Allen of Machias (today in Maine), superintendent of Indian affairs, of furs and feathers received from various Indians and the supplies traded with them. Name index.

Produced from the Records of the Massachusetts Archives

Archival Ref. No.:


Finding Aids:

Online: Searchable database for Maritime Miscellaneous, 1777-1782 (vol 157), as well as for volumes 29-33 relating to "Indians" available at: Massachusetts Archives.

Electronic: Table of contents available at the start for each of the volumes, excepting volumes 137, 138 and 153, provides a breakdown of the documents within each (with reel numbering). A typed copy also available in The Loyalist Collection red binders in print and electronically; see Electronic Finding Aid section.

Electronic: Document listings with subject matter available for volumes 29-33; see Electronic Finding Aid section.

Name Index available at the start of the reel for each of volumes 154 and 155: Revolution Royalists, 1775-84

Index to divorces (in notebook) for the Record Book of the Court of Appeals regarding divorces...1780-86 (vol. 140)

Microfilm Shelf List available electronically (see below), and in print in the Loyalist red binders, providing a quick look at the reel numbers for each of the volumes.

Electronic Finding Aid Record: Massachusetts Archives Collection. Microfilm Shelf List.pdf
Massachusetts Archives Content List.pdf
vol 29 Document List.pdf
vol 30 Document List.pdf
vol 31 Document List.pdf
vol 32 Document List.pdf
vol 33 Document List.pdf

Collection is also known as the Felt Collection.

Related documents:

  • Journals of the House of Representatives of Massachusetts, 1715-1761 are found in the Colonial Records of Massachusetts (MIC-Loyalist FC LPR .A4P8C6M5 reels 12-18).
  • Electronic editions of the Journals of the House of Representatives of Massachusetts are found online at Hathi Trust Digital Library, specifically for the years 1715-1779 (vols. 1-55), but scattered others as well. These are keyword searchable and there is an index found within the volumes.
  • Electronic edition of the Speeches of the governors of Massachusetts, from 1765 to 1775; and the answers of the House of Representatives, to the same; with their resolutions and addresses for that period are found online at Hathi Trust Digital Library.
Part Of: Massachusetts Archives Collection (328 vols.), 1603-1799
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