John Hannigan

John Hannigan and the Massachusetts Archives

As soon as restoration of the Robbins House was complete, our nonprofit group turned its attention to the families of color who first lived there. Supported by a Research Inventory grant from MassHumanities in 2012, we sought out John Hannigan, a Brandeis PhD student whose focus was on black soldiers in the Revolution.

As the Robbins House Scholar-in-residence, John produced our first family trees and local connections for the Robbins, Garrison and Hutchinson families. Over the summer of 2014, John researched Patriots of Color for Minute Man National Historical Park as their Scholar in the Park. (See John’s research papers )

John has been working for the Massachusetts State Archives since 2004, and is now their Head of Reference Services. Six years, countless research discoveries and three children later (his third due any day now), John recently gave us a tour of the Massachusetts Archives. Along with colleague Susan Foster of the Concord Museum, John helped create their five interactive, student-friendly Commonwealth Museum galleries exploring Massachusetts’ history:

  1. Native Americans/Indigenous People
  2. The American Revolution
  3. The Massachusetts Constitution and its influence on the US Constitution, as well as the abolition of slavery through the freedom lawsuits of Quock Walker and Elizabeth (Mum) Bett
  4. Reform Movements of the mid-to-late 18th century – women’s suffrage, education reform, abolitionism, and industrialization
  5. Faces of the Industrial Revolution: children and immigrant factory workers (Click here for a virtual tour)

“And now the crown jewels of the Mass Archives collection,” John said as he led us to the Massachusetts Archives Treasure Gallery Documents. These five original documents are permanently on view to the public thanks to the MIT Department of Engineering who designed and installed cases with specialized lighting that uses argon gas. Up until 2009, these fragile, original documents were seen only upon request.

“At the National Archives in Washington DC, people stand in line for hours to see the Bill of Rights,” according to John. “Here they can walk in and see it instantly, along with the Declaration of Independence and these other original documents, usually with nobody else around!” 

  1. The 1629 Charter of Massachusetts Bay
    Also known as the Winthrop Charter, this manuscript was brought from England to the New World by John Winthrop on the ship Arabella in 1630.
  2. The 1692 Charter of the Province of Massachusetts Bay
    The American Revolution began in Massachusetts as colonists rebelled against violations of the provisions of this document. In his famous portrait by John Singleton Copley, Samuel Adams defiantly points to this manuscript.
  3. The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1780
    Authored by John Adams, this is the oldest written constitution still functioning as a structural foundation of government in the world.
  4. The Bill of Rights
    One of the original 14 copies (one for each new state, one for Congress), this priceless manuscript is signed by John Adams. The copy kept by Congress is now on display in the rotunda of the National Archives.
  5. The Declaration of Independence
    One of the original 14 “authentic copies” authorized by Congress in 1777, it is the first document to publicly identify the signers of the Declaration.

The Massachusetts Archives • 220 Morrissey Boulevard, Boston, 02125 • 617-727-0268 • FREE • www.sec.state.ma.us/mus/