Judd Manuscript Collection

Digitized materials from the Judd Manuscript Collection available on archive.org

The Judd Manuscript Collection consists of 70 bound volumes of handwritten accounts and transcriptions of documents, letters, court records, and diaries created by newspaper editor and local historian Sylvester Judd. Judd compiled tens of thousands of pages of information gathered from archival material and oral histories, documenting New England history from the 1650s – 1840s. The majority of the collections were transcribed by Judd, but there are some volumes which contain original pages from account books and letters covered with transparent silk using a ‘crepeline process’ and bound into the volume. The collection was purchased from Judd’s heirs, bound and entered the library’s collection in 1904.

Sylvester Judd’s account of Sojourner Truth speaking and singing at his grandson’s funeral. October, 1845.

In 2023, Forbes Library was able to digitize 73 volumes of the Judd as part of an Internet Archive administered grant from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission for Collaborative Access to Diverse Public Library Local History Collections. The library has been an active participant in the Internet Archive’s Community Webs program since 2017, and this grant was intended to digitize and provide access to a diverse range of local history archives that contain materials that represent the experiences of immigrant, indigenous, and African American communities throughout the United States.

Judd’s extraordinary volumes cover a wide variety of local history subjects, including content not preserved elsewhere, on Indigenous life, the lives of the enslaved and free black people, and the everyday life of women and the poor and working class in early New England. He transcribed documents from state and local archives, many no longer extant, interviewed townspeople about their experiences and stories that had been handed down through the generations, and observed and recorded the world around him.

His sister-in-law Arethusa Hall described the volumes as “filled with an immense variety of little known, but curious matters, drawn from divers times and divers peoples, and gleaned from a wide variety of miscellaneous reading”. The sheer size, fragile materials, unique organizational system, and limited indexing have made it largely inaccessible to the casual scholar and the general public. Researchers have noted that Judd’s history represented a “new sort of American scholarship”, one which explored the “native experience” and “focused in a unique way on the details of everyday life for the common man”. It contains a wealth of information on Indigenous lives in the 17th and 18th centuries in the region, including extensive lists of terms and names culled from numerous sources. These accounts and the information found within them, are based almost entirely on colonial perspectives, and repeat stories which contributed to the historical erasure of the region’s Native inhabitants. 

Entry on Slaves in Northampton. Judd Manuscript, Northampton Prices and Account Books, page 305.

Recently, the collection has been used extensively in Historic Northampton’s Slavery Research Project and the “Documenting Early Black Lives in the Connecticut River Valley” project, allowing researchers and historians to identify numerous enslaved and free Black people from the area and recover details about their lives which were previously unknown. It is our hope that increased access to the wealth of information in this collection, and collaboration with Indigenous and Black scholars to provide context to the accounts within, will provide the public with a more complete understanding of the lives within these ‘hidden histories’.

For more information on how the Judd Manuscript Collection has been used to research people historically underrepresented in the archives:

Addressing Underrepresentation in Rural New England Community Archives: Documenting the History of Black Lives in Rural New England (March 2024 essay by Dylan Gaffney for the Internet Archive)

Searching for Black History in a Public Library Archive (December 2021 essay by Dylan Gaffney for Documenting Early Black Lives in the Connecticut River Valley)

Available Indexes for the Sylvester Judd Manuscript Collection: