Brief Account of the American Antiquarian Society
The American Antiquarian Society (AAS) is a learned society, founded in
1812 in Worcester, Massachusetts. The Society
maintains a research library of American history and culture in
order to collect, preserve, and make available for study the
printed record of the United States. AAS is the third oldest
historical society in this country and the first to be national
rather than regional in its purpose and in the scope of its collections.
With holdings numbering close to three million books,
pamphlets, broadsides, manuscripts, prints, maps, and newspapers,
this library preserves the largest single collection of printed
source material relating to the history, literature, and culture of
the first 250 years of what is now the United States. It
specializes in the American period to 1877, and holds two-thirds of
the total pieces known to have been printed in this country between
1640 and 1821, as well as the most useful source materials and
reference works printed since that period. Its files of
eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American newspapers, numbering
two million issues, are the finest anywhere.
The Society began with one man--Isaiah Thomas--a product of
the American Revolution. Thomas (pictured above) was born in Boston
in 1749 into a
family so poor that at the age of six he was taken from his mother
by the Overseers of the Poor and apprenticed to a printer.
Thomas' sympathies were with the popular faction during the
genesis of the American Revolution. He made his newspaper, "The
Massachusetts Spy," the voice of the Whig party. Three nights prior
to the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Thomas smuggled his
printing press out of Boston and set it up in Worcester. Thomas
became the leading printer, editor, publisher, and bookseller in
the United States after the war.
In 1802, Thomas retired and turned his attention to the
preservation of the records of the origins and growth of the nation
he had helped to make. Believing that the answers to the liveliest
historical questions lie in the lives and thoughts of common
people, one of his first steps was to make the rounds of newspapers
of Revolutionary days to buy up their office files. In his search
for historical material, he one day went into the largest music
store in Boston and bought one copy of every ballad on its shelves.
His purchase forms the cornerstone of our present great collection
of early American music.
In the war year of 1812, Isaiah Thomas, with a group of like-
minded men, founded the American Antiquarian Society. To the
Society he gave the then-substantial sum of $20,000 and his library
of 8,000 volumes. Worcester was chosen as the site because it was
an inland town, safe from the guns of the British fleet.
Today, the AAS collections serve a growing community of historians,
literary scholars, genealogists, graduate students, teachers, creative
artists, and independent historical researchers.
Research undertaken at the AAS is published as scholarly books,
historical novels, genealogies, plays, documentary films, and articles in
a wide variety of periodicals.
Researchers come to the AAS from all parts of the United States, as well
as Canada, Great Britain, Europe, and the Far East.
Detailed descriptions of the Society's resources may be found in "Under
Its Generous Dome: The Collections and Programs of the American