The Huntington recently acquired six pages of diary entries recounting events leading up to, and immediately following, the Battle of Lexington Green. The manuscript was penned by the noted Boston preacher and patriot Samuel Cooper (1725–1783), a friend of Benjamin Franklin. Two things make these pages particularly exciting for historians: They constitute a never-before-published eyewitness account of one of the first military engagements of the American Revolution, and they match up precisely with a larger portion of Cooper’s diary already in The Huntington’s collection.
“It’s a perfect fit—written in the same hand and on the same paper,” says Olga Tsapina, the Norris Foundation Curator of American Historical Manuscripts. “When put together, these two look like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. This kind of thing hardly ever happens.”
Tsapina explains that diaries like Cooper’s were often written on loose sheets of paper that were tucked inside a printed almanac, creating a portable month-to-month record. In the case of Cooper’s diary, the pages had become separated at some point and ended up in various private and institutional collections.
The newly acquired pages, says Tsapina, are both a “prequel” to the portion of the diary already in The Huntington’s holdings and a sequel to it. The first portion covers events through April 18, 1775. The Library’s previously acquired diary picks up the narrative on the following day. Cooper then returned to this fragment of the diary on May 6 to recap the events that had taken place since his leaving Boston, where “the Troubles” were increasing.
Among the fascinating entries is Cooper’s description of his encounter with “a Lad of about 16 in ye Neighborhood…ardent to join his Friends & Neighbors in going to meet ye British Forces who had unprovok’d fired upon the People at Lexington.” The boy was begging for “ye Loan of a Gun” and finally obtained “a small old & almost useless Piece…declaring He w’d soon obtain a better.” That he did: “soon after He shot a Br. Soldier—stript him of his Arms & Cartrach [Cartridge] Box.”
Visitors will be able to view the manuscript for themselves during the month of April, when it will be on view in the Treasures Case in the east foyer of the Library Exhibition Hall.
See more behind-the-scenes photos of American historical manuscripts from last year’s “Clash of Empires” exhibition, and hear curator Olga Tsapina discussing that exhibition in a lecture archived on iTunes U.
Captions: Curator Olga Tsapina (left) consults with Chief Preservation Officer Holly Moore, who found the manuscript to be in excellent condition; Newly acquired pages of Samuel Cooper’s diary (at left) match up perfectly with a larger portion of the diary already in the Library’s holdings (right). Photos by Lisa Blackburn.
Lisa Blackburn is communications coordinator at The Huntington.