Abby Chandler, PhD

Loyalists and the Birth of Libraries in New England: The Marriage of Martin and Abigail Howard

Martin Howard was a Revolutionary War era Loyalist whose life spanned the Anglo-American Atlantic world, while Abigail Greenleaf was the daughter of Stephen Greenleaf, the last Suffolk County, Massachusetts sheriff to receive a royal appointment for his position.

Their marriage in the summer of 1767 brought together the political interests of two Loyalist-leaning families on the eve of the American Revolution. It also brought together a couple with a shared interest in community libraries.

Martin Howard served as librarian for the newly formed Redwood Library in his native Newport, Rhode Island, in the early 1750s. After Howard’s death in London, Abigail Greenleaf Howard returned to her native Boston in 1781. A decade later, she purchased a home in the newly created Franklin Place where she helped found the Boston Library Society in 1794, an organization which later merged with the Boston Athenaeum. Abigail Howard’s 1801 will left the Boston Library Society most of the books from the shared personal library created by the Howards during their years together.

Given their shared commitment to libraries, it seems likely that she saw the bequest as a living memorial for a man otherwise considered a disgraced Loyalist by many of her Boston neighbors. This session explores both the marriage of Martin and Abigail Howard and the emergence of community libraries in New England in the late eighteenth century.

Abby Chandler, PhD

Abby Chandler, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Early American History at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Her book, Seized with the Temper of the Times: Identity and Rebellion in Pre-Revolutionary America, will be published by Westholme in the fall of 2023. She also serves on the 250th American Revolution Historical Commission for Massachusetts.

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