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NEW-ENGLAND

HISTORICAL AND GENEALOGICAL REGISTER

ISO

ANTIQUARIAN JOURNAL.

Vol. XXIV. JULY, 1870. No. 3.

DISCOURSE
OF THE REV. EDMUND F. SLAFTER, A.M.

Before the N. E. Historic, Genealogical Society, March 18, 1870, being the twenty- fifth Anniversary1 of its incorporation.

In the autumn of 1844, there were several gentlemen residing in the city of Boston, who added to a long cherished taste for antiquerian subjects in general, a deep interest in historical and genealogical studies, and had already made wide explorations in this hitherto unrecognized, but important field of investigation. After casual consultations with each other, reaching through some months anterior to this, they met' at the residence of one of their number, where they entered into a full and free discussion of the expediency of associated effort in behalf of their favorite study. At a second * meeting held on the 1st of November of the same year, they advanced so far as to appoint a chairman and secretary, to determine upon the establishment of a Society, to discuss the name that should be given to it, and to provide for its proper organization.

1 For a full account of the celebration of this anniversary, see Proceedings Of N. E. H. 4 G. Society, in this number of the Register.Ed.

* This meeting was in October, 1844, at the house of William H. Montague, Esq., No. 4, Orange-street. There were present, besides Mr. Montague, Charles Ewer, Esq., Lemuel Shattuck, Esq. and John Wingate Thornton, Esq. No formal action was taken at this meeting.

3 This meeting was at the residence of Lemuel Shattuck, Esq., No. 79 Harrison-avenue. There were present Mr. Charles Ewer, Mr. Samuel G. Drake, J. Wingate Thornton, Esq., Mr. William H. Montague, and Mr. Shattuck. Mr. Ewer was chosen chairman, and Mr. Thornton, secretary.

Until March, 1845, the meetings of the Society were held severally at the law-office of Mr. Thornton, No. 20 Court street, at the residence of Mr. S. G. Drake, No. 56 Cornhill, and at the house of Mr. Shattuck, as above. On the 7th of March, 1845, the Society met at the rooms of the American Education Society, No. 15 Cornhill, and continued to hold its regular meetings at the same place for the space of a year. This was a commodious room on the second flat of the four-story building, now in the joint occupancy of the American Education and Massachusetts Bible Societies. All the subsequent meetings of the Society have been held at their own rooms, with the exception of a few commemorative and other occasions, where larger space has been needed. For a full account of the different apartments leased by the Society see note further on, under the subject of a new building.

Vol. XXIV. 21

Successive meetings continued to be held at frequent intervals, during the next three months, at which we find that the Society had been organized, a full corps of officers elected, a compact but comprehensive constitution' elaborated and adopted, and an application made to the general court of Massachusetts for an act of incorporation.

On numerous important subjects falling within the scope of their aims, committees had already been raised, and several judicious and practical schemes had been submitted and approved, for laying broad foundations for the future, and for entering at once upon the Society's appropriate work. This formative period did not pass without grave and important discussions, the repeated survey of their chosen field in all its aspects, profound penetrations into the wealth of its chaotic treasures, and prophetic forecasts and brilliant visions of the rich harvest of historical truth, that they knew would come of patient and persevering toil. They were indeed entering upon an experiment which had no antecedent. Anterior to this no historical Society, directing its energies to the same line of investigation, existed anywhere on the face of the globe. The first thought comprehending our aim and purpose, certainly in its practical bearings, sprung into being among the founders of this Society- Why it should have had its birth here in the heart of New-England, and at this particular juncture, offers a theme of interesting and curious speculation.

It may have been the synthetic method, the inductive principle, slumbering in its application to the study of history since the days of Bacon, awaiting, as the seed cast into the earth often does, the slow, mysterious processes of time to quicken it into active, positive life.

Or it may have been, that the best field for this particular application of historical study was to be found here, on this corner of the western continent, among a people of unusual political and social equality, coming of the Anglo-Saxon stock, with an inheritance of many elements of character of which they always feel a just but not ostentatious pride.

But whatever unseen and quickening influences were brooding over them in the progress of thought or the ripeness of time, our gratitude is due to the five gentlemen who entered into the primary organization, and to them must the honor forever be accorded of giving form to the idea and method of historical study, inaugurated by this Society, and on which its whole fabric has been firmly and persistingly reared.

On the eighteenth day of March, 1845, since which time has to-day just filled up the circuit of twenty-five years, an act of incorporation was made complete by the signature of the governor of this Commonwealth, and we received on that day our charter under

1 The constitution was adopted December, 1844. The first full board of officers was elected January 7, 1845. After the incorporation of the Society, the constitution was again formally adopted by vote on the 1st of April, 1815.

the title of the New-england Historic, Genealogical Society. The name1 itself fully indicates the aim and purpose of the institution. Historical and genealogical are abbreviated into historic, genealogical, and in this more compact form, clearly express the two elements or constituents of our work. We are not a genealogical society merely, neither are we a historical society without limit or qualification. If we were the former our purpose would be consummated in the construction of tables of descent, family trees, and of little more than simple catalogues of names. However engrossing the investigation confined to such a narrow field as this might be to the persons immediately concerned, to all others it would be barren of interest and unedifying to the last degree.

In the completeness of our work the two elements are of necessity combined, the one always supplementing the other; the historical is the more prominent and engrossing, requiring broader and more diversified investigations; while the genealogical, however essential, is limited and narrow, relating to little more than the successive links by which the continuity of family history is maintained. Genealogy may be compared to the golden chain that holds a collection of jewels together, and keeps them in their proper order and in their due relations; while history deals with each and the whole in the largest way, dilating with the greatest freedom, and saying all it may of their origin, their nature, their qualities, their size, their uses, and their value.

Under this two-fold aim a unity of design pervades all our investigations; all of them converging to the same point, terminating, as an ultimate purpose, in the construction and building up of complete, distinct, family histories. But the process by which this constructive work is accomplished opens to us a field of historical study, replete with interest, diversified in character, and inexhaustible in extent. Running far back to the early voyages to these western shores, and to the period when the Indian pursued his game among our mountains and along our lakes and rivers, and passing down through the eight or ten generations that have lived and flourished here since Anglo-Saxon blood became indigenous to New-England soil, and following them in their dispersion over the broad surface of our own land, and into nearly every corner of the civilized world, we shall find no deed or event, which may come to us of tradition or of record, that will not add some tint or coloring, some light or shade, to the grand historical mosaic, which it is the office of this Society to construct. Having the New-England families as the basis of our study, whatever serves to influence or illustrate New-England life or charac

1 The full purpose and design of the Society appears to have been arrived at through the discussion by the founders of the name to be given to it. One proposed " historic or historical, genealogical," another "gcnealogicd," a third "genealogical and heraldic," and a fourth desired that "New-England" should he prefixed. The name finally settled upon appears happily to incorporate, with a slight exception, the views of all of them, and proves anew that "in the multitude of counsellors there is safety." See Proceedings (MS.), vol. i. p. 1; Register, vol. ix. p. 11.

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