All posts by John Tyler

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About John Tyler

John W. Tyler, longtime Editor of Publications for the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, recently retired from a thirty-six-year-long career teaching history at Groton School. Author of Smugglers & Patriots: Boston Merchants and the Advent of the American Revolution (1986), and a number of scholarly articles and reviews, Tyler received his Ph.D. at Princeton.

‘Strange and unusual Providence’

Rev. Samuel Willard. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I first learned the story of Elizabeth Knapp in 1982, when I read Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England by John Demos. Demos is a master storyteller, and much of the narrative as well the psychological insights are borrowed from his chapter on Elizabeth Knapp. With the exception of some irresistible passages lifted from William Bradford and Nathaniel Hawthorne in the first paragraph, all the quotations are taken from Samuel Willard’s “A Brief Account of the Strange and Unusual Providence of God Befallen to Elizabeth Knapp of Groton,” in John Demos, ed., Remarkable Providences, 1600–1760 (1972).

In 1671, Groton was an obscure frontier settlement on the far edge of Western civilization. To the west of the Nashua River, all was a “hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men,” “dangerous to travel to known places,” much less to venture into the unknown. Continue reading ‘Strange and unusual Providence’

Reading other people’s mail: Part Two

Hutchinson Jacket coverThomas Hutchinson (1711–1780) was the last crown-appointed civilian governor of Massachusetts. During his term of office, he dealt with the aftermath of both the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party. The Colonial Society of Massachusetts has recently published the first volume of his selected correspondence covering the years 1740–1766. It is most readily available through amazon.com. Here are further thoughts about the process of documentary editing by John Tyler, one of the volumes’ two co-editors.

It is often said that transcription (translating eighteenth-century handwriting into Microsoft Word) is about one-third of the work involved in documentary editing. For the Hutchinson papers, Malcolm Freiberg and Catherine Shaw Mayo had already established, in a preliminary way, the text of most key letters. Elizabeth Dubrulle and I would be negligent, however, if we did not check these against the originals, but Freiberg was very rarely wrong. Continue reading Reading other people’s mail: Part Two

Reading other people’s mail: Part One

Hutchinson Jacket coverThomas Hutchinson (1711–1780) was the last crown-appointed civilian governor of Massachusetts. During his term of office, he dealt with the aftermath of both the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party. The Colonial Society of Massachusetts has recently published the first volume of his selected correspondence covering the years 1740–1766. It is most readily available through amazon.com. Here are a few thoughts about the process of documentary editing by John Tyler, one of the volumes’ two co-editors.

The effort to bring Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s letters into print has a long history, much longer than the twenty years that I have been working on them. In 1951 and 1954, the National Historical Publications Committee at the Colonial Society of Massachusetts urged their publication. Later in the decade, Malcolm Freiberg and Catherine Shaw Mayo began transcribing the nearly 1,800 letters contained in Hutchinson’s letter books at the Massachusetts Archives. These transcriptions were an invaluable aid to anyone researching the Boston politics of the fifteen years before the American Revolution. Continue reading Reading other people’s mail: Part One