Colonial North America: Portals to the Past

(The images shown on this page were part of an exhibit in the halls of Widener Library from May 2019 until December 2019.)

The items displayed in the hallways of Widener Library are portals into a collection of close to 650,000 images of archival and manuscript materials from the colonial era, all digitized and freely available. Each is connected to countless stories—of lives lived quietly and extravagantly, of encounters peaceful and volatile, and of places near and far. These documents, illustrations, and letters provide an opportunity to travel back in time, to rethink familiar stories, and to discover new ones.

European exploration and colonialism in North America took place over several centuries and affected the lives of millions of people across multiple continents. The breadth and scope of these materials reflect this long history and its many dimensions. Over 200 years of colonial history are represented in these items, and their diversity in focus, format, and content reflects the complexities of the era in which they were created.

Displayed here are representations of items from the 14 libraries and archives at Harvard that hold significant collections of colonial-era manuscript materials. These reproductions are not to scale, and some have been cropped for emphasis. All are available in high resolution online at the Colonial North America at Harvard Library web page.

Jump to:

Southwestern Wall

Northwestern Wall: Autographs and Signatures

Southeastern Wall

Northeastern Wall

Southwestern Wall

John Williams' illustrated notes on navigation with colorful drawings, 1779, MS Am 875, Houghton Library. See the object here.

 

Recipes, Sarah Fayerweather’s compiled cookbook, 1764, A/F283, Schlesinger Library. See the object here.

Plant lists, Stephen Elliott papers, ca. 18th century, gra00020 Box BH, Folder 4, Botany/Gray Herbarium Library. See the object here.

 

A prospect of Hollis Hall in Cambridge ca. 1800, Harvard University Archives. See the object here.

 

Drawings of North American lepidoptera, John Abbot, ca. early 19th century, MS Typ 426-426.5, MS Typ 426.3, Houghton Library. See the object here.

 

American insects, Latin description, John Reinhold Forster, 1771, bMs 8.41.1, Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. See the object here.

 

Receipt to Prince Demah, an 18th century enslaved man who painted portraits, 1774, Mss:733 1728-1803 B775 Box 8, Folder 9, Baker Library, Harvard Business School. See the object here.

 

Map of North Carolina, 1794, G3900 1794 .M3, Harvard Map Collection. See the object here.

 

Testerian hieroglyphs used by Catholic missionaries to teach the catechism in Mexico, 18th century, MEX.6 M 57, Tozzer Library. See the object here.

 

French fabric samples, Niviere, Rousseau & Co. to John & Thomas Amory, 1789, Mss:766 1761-1797 Volume 27, Baker Library, Harvard Business School. See the object here.

 

The writing-master’s amusement: a new alphabet in knot-work adorned with a variety of scripture-pieces…, Abiah Holbrook, 1767, MS Typ 473.2, Houghton Library. See the object here.

 

John Gordon notebook, 1793-1795, Monroe C. Gutman Library, Harvard Graduate School of Education. See the object here.

 

John Gordon notebook, 1793-1795, Monroe C. Gutman Library, Harvard Graduate School of Education. See the object here.

 

Watercolor drawing of four houses, Holmes Place, Cambridge, Mass., Joshua Green, ca. 1781, HUV 2181 Folder 2, Harvard University Archives. See the object here.

 

Dr. David Townsend’s account book, noting electroshock treatment for Gov. John Hancock, Dec., 1790, 1.K.14, Countway Library of Medicine. See the object here.

 

Back to top

Northwestern Wall: Signatures

Letter from Natick Indians to the Harvard Corporation, Jan. 1, 1753, UAI 20.720 Box 1, Folder 10, Harvard University Archives. See the object here.

 

George Washington to Benjamin Lincoln, Apr. 27, 1777, MS Am 1138.2, Houghton Library. See the object here.

 

Aaron Burr to Barbabas Bidwell, Feb. 1, 1802, MS Am 1649.23 (35), Frederick M. Dearborn collection, Houghton Library. See the object here.

 

A “royal sign-manual” of Queen Anne to Francis Nicholson, Apr. 20, 1708, MS Eng 1306, Houghton Library. See the object here.

 

Gauger’s certificate, Sept. 10, 1785, HUG 1306.5 Box 1, Folder 3, Croswell papers, Harvard University Archives. See the object here.

 

Document signed by Samuel Adams, Nov. 29, 1794, Autograph File, A, 1518-2002, MS.D.s, Houghton Library. See the object here.

 

Kitty Horock to Nathaniel Holmes, Sept. 23, 1766, MS Am 579, MS Am 580 Volume VIII, page 151, Bourne family papers, Houghton Library. See the object here.

 

Hezekiah Squamauge and Amos Ahatton’s petition on behalf of “Indian inhabitants in Punkapaugue,” Dec. 25, 1723, HUY 26 Box 2, Folder 19, Harvard University Archives. See the object here.

John Hancock to William Palfrey, Jan. 1, 1771, MS Am 1704.3. (82), Palfrey Family papers, Houghton Library. See the object here.

 

Penmanship specimens, 1786-87, HUG 1306.5 Box 4, Folder 1, William Croswell papers, Harvard University Archives. See the object here.

 

Thomas Jefferson to George Washington, Feb. 10, 1780, MS Sparks 49.3 (72), Jared Sparks collection, Houghton Library. See the object here.

 

Benedict Arnold to Middletown, Apr. 15, 1778, MS Am 1446 (19), Benedict Arnold papers, Houghton Library. See the object here.

 

Benjamin Franklin to M. Le Veillard, Oct. 24, 1788, MS Am 1408 (147), [Parkman family, …] papers, Houghton Library. See the object here.

 

Letter from Paul Revere, Sept. 9, 1779, MS Am 1649.10 (169), Frederick M. Dearborn collection, Houghton Library. See the object here.

 

Warrant for pay, signed by King George III, Dec. 14, 1791, MS Am 1649.10 (73), Frederick M. Dearborn collection, Houghton Library. See the object here.

 

Midwives’ testimony regarding a paternity declaration, Apr. 11, 1727, Small Manuscript Collection, Harvard Law School Library. See the object here.

 

Passport signed by King Louis XIV, Nov. 30, 1695, in Nova Scotia correspondence MS Am 1249 (24), Houghton Library. See the object here.

 

Sarah Rood to John Winthrop regarding “a falling out of [the] wome”, 1653, B MS c56 17, Countway Library of Medicine. See the object here.

 

Alexander Hamilton to Jon Kean, March 28, 1792, MS Am 2191 (20), Alexander Hamilton correspondence and documents, 1777-1800, Houghton Library. See the object here.

 

Back to top

Southeastern Wall

The Hermit by Isaac Story, 18th century, MS Am 549, Houghton Library. See the object here.

 

Bill of sale of a Negro slave manuscript, 1747 June 2. See the object here.

 

Mariner’s compass, Samuel Griffin mathematical manuscript, 1783-84, HUC 8784.353, Harvard University Archives. See the object here.

 

The World by William Shayler, 1768, G3200 1768 .S5, Harvard Map Collection. See the object here.

 

The grounds and rules of musick...Thankfull Hubbard, 1759, Merritt Room MT870.W34, Loeb Music Library. See the object here.

 

Manual of navigation, ca. 1697, MS Typ 805, Houghton Library. See the object here.

 

Illustration by Henry Hamilton of Pacanne, Miami chief who supported the British army, ca. 1776, MS Eng 509.2, Henry Hamilton drawings, Houghton Library. See the object here.

 

Quebec: ville de l’Amerique septentrional dans la Nouvelle France…, 1707, G3454.Q4 1707 .Q4, Harvard Map Collection. See the object here.

 

Proceeding against Diego Ximenez Munino of Puebla de los Angeles, 1602-05, Harvard Law School Library. See the object here.

 

Hebrew-to-English dictionary, Judah Monis, Harvard’s first Hebrew instructor, 1735, HUC 8635.235.2, Harvard University Archives. See the object here.

 

Record book, First Church of Christ in Roxbury, 1779-1883, bMS 626/4 (1), Andover-Harvard Theological Library. See the object here.

 

Indenture of William Bond, Sr., 1769, hsi00001 Box 2, folder 2, Bond papers, Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments. See the object here.

 

Carl von Linné manuscript on amphibians and snakes, 18th century, bMs 19.41.1, Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology. See the object here.

 

Recipes for “A very fine cake,” “short cakes,” and “orange cream,” 1793, A/S339, Folder 1, Marion King Schlefer Recipe Collection, 1793-1826 (inclusive). AS339. See the object here.

 

Lyman Spalding's botanical specimens, 1800-10, H MS c2 Box 4, Folder 5, Lyman Spalding Papers, Countway Library of Medicine. See the object here.

 

Back to top

Northeastern Wall

Recovery in Lythall and Hooper vs. Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Among the Natives of New England, Nov. 28, 1658, Deeds 820, Harvard Law School Library. See the object here.

 

Account of imports, ca. 1790s, gra00062 Box AI, Folder 13, Cutler papers, Botany/Gray Herbarium Library. See the object here.

 

Bill of mortality, First Church of Christ, Roxbury, Mass., 1791, bMS 300, First Church records, Andover-Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School. See the object here.

 

Moravian missionary dictionary, words in English, German, Onondaga, and Delaware, 18th century, MS Am 767 (1), Houghton Library. See the object here.

 

From Harvard student Samuel Griffin’s mathematical manuscript, 1783-1784, HUC 8784.353, Harvard University Archives. See the object here.

 

Halifax in Nova Scotia, 1800, G3424.H2A3 1800 .M6, Harvard Map Collection. See the object here.

 

Proceedings against Ana de Narváez, July 29, 1577, Harvard Law School Library. See the object here.

 

French revolution permit for free passage, member of the Jumelle family, ca. 1790s, A/J94, folder 2, Jumelle family papers, Schlesinger Library. See the object here.

 

Norwich, Connecticut farming account book noting work done by African-American laborers, 1799, Mss:1 1797-1799 N892, Baker Library, Harvard Business School. See the object here.

 

Map of Maine, 1779, G3730 1795 .C3, Harvard Map Collection. See the object here.

 

Back to top