Massachusetts Historical Society

History of the MHS

The Founding

On 24 January 1791, the Rev. Jeremy Belknap invited nine like-minded Bostonians to join him in creating what they would call simply, "The Historical Society," now the Massachusetts Historical Society, the oldest organization in the United States devoted to collecting materials for the study of American history.

As he envisioned it, the society would become a repository and a publisher collecting, preserving,and disseminating resources for the study of American history. Through their pledges of family papers, books, and artifacts from their personal collections, the founding members made the Society the nation's first historical repository by the end of their initial meeting. With the appearance of their first title at the start of 1792, they also made the MHS the nation's first institution of any description to publish in its field.

In the absence of any other American historical repositories in the 1790s, the MHS took on a broadly national role, one still apparent in both its collections and its publications. As other historical institutions were founded elsewhere, including the New-York Historical Society in 1804 and the American Antiquarian Society in 1812, the Society started to direct special attention to Boston, Massachusetts, and New England. The continuing legacy of its early years as the nation's only repository of American history, however, is a program of collections and activities of national and international importance.

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