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Thursday, January 8, 2015

January 8, 2015: Waltham Histories: National Archives at Boston

[Two years ago this week, I moved to my new home in Waltham, Massachusetts. Since then I’ve learned a lot more about the histories and stories of this great town, and wanted to share a few of them this week, leading up to a Guest Post from one of my favorite Walthamites!]
Three of the many compelling document collections held at Waltham’s National Archives.
1)      The Mount Vernon’s records: In 1803, the Mount Vernon, a tall ship out of Salem, Massachusetts, undertook its first international voyage. This was the era known as the Great Age of Sail, and we can learn a great deal about that era and its histories through the specific details provided in the Mount Vernon’s records. For example, the ship’s “Return of Goods” documents not only the cargo that the ship carried away from Salem but from where that cargo had originated, offering an illuminating glimpse into the multiple stages of the period’s Triangle Trade.
2)       Nathaniel Prentice Banks: The life story of Waltham’s own Nathaniel P. Banks reads like a primer on 19th century American history: an apprentice at a local cotton factory who studied law and became a state representative, marrying a fellow former factory employee along the way; then a Free Soiler who joined the new Republican Party and served as the state’s first Republican governor during the years leading up to the Civil War; then a Civil War General who gained some of the war’s most significant victories; and finally an activist Congressman in the tumultuous post-war decades. The Archives holds documents for every one of those stages, from a sketch of Banks’ childhood home to a letter from Grant to Lincoln relaying info about Banks’ role in the siege of Vicksburg.
3)      America on the Homefront: Despite our many prominent histories and stories of World War II, I don’t know that we have much of a collective sense of the wartime experience of average Americans and their communities. The American on the Homefront exhibition, a collection of documents and materials assembled from the Archives’ records, does a wonderful job highlighting a number of such experiences: from the broadly familiar (women in the workforce) to the mostly unremembered (coastal patrols watching for German submarines). Just another example of how much we can learn from a site like the National Archives at Boston!
Last history tomorrow,
Ben

PS. What do you think? Any histories and stories from your hometowns you’d share?

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