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Massachusetts Commonwealth Museum

The Commonwealth Museum is the public face of our state archives.  On this tour, museum director Stephen Kenney will introduce us to the museum’s permanent collection, which traces the development of rights through a series of period galleries.

The museum’s permanent collection includes treasures such as the 1629 Massachusetts Bay Colony charter, the 1691 Province of Massachusetts charter , the 1780 state Constitution, an official copy of the Declaration of Independence sent by the Continental Congress to Massachusetts and signed by John Hancock, and an original 1789 copy of the Bill of Rights signed by John Adams.  In addition to these foundational documents, the museum holds the copper plate that was cut by Paul Revere and used in creating his famous etching of the Boston Massacre (that we saw on our trip to We Are One last May).


Paul Revere’s copper plate original of the Boston Massacre etching

Nicole Topich will guide us through the current special exhibition, “Freedom’s Agenda: African-American Petitions to the Massachusetts Government 1600-1900.” The exhibit highlights petitions from African Americans to the Massachusetts government dating to colonial times.

As part of a Harvard University project supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, a digital archive was created with thousands of petitions preserved at the Massachusetts Archives.  Signatories include historical figures like Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth and lesser known characters whose experiences are no less fascinating. Among the petitions is an 1850 document for women’s suffrage which was one of the earliest in the nation from black or white petitioners including women descendants of Toby Gilmore. Taken from Western Africa as a young man, Toby was enslaved in Raynham and eventually gained his freedom after serving in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. The exhibit emphasizes personal stories and highlights efforts by black abolitionists in the nineteenth century on school desegregation and discrimination in public accommodations that anticipated the modern civil rights movement.

The tour is expected to take 90 minutes, and the museum will be open to browse until 3pm.


Saturday, May 14 at 10am

(Please note: This event was originally scheduled for April, so as of now there is no April event planned.)


The Massachusetts Commonwealth Museum is located adjacent to UMass Boston and the John F Kennedy Presidential Library.

  • Mass transit: Updated May 14: This is not currently running. It appears that there is a free weekend shuttle from Copley Square: “Each Saturday and Sunday from May 2-Nov 1, hop on the FREE TROLLEY from the bus shelter at the corner of Dartmouth Street and St. James Avenue. Look for the Columbia Point shuttle.”
  • From the north: Rte 3/I-93 South to exit 15 (Morrissey Blvd/JFK Library). Follow signs for UMass and JFK Library.
  • From the west: Rte I-90/Mass Pike to I-93 South to exit 15 (Morrissey Blvd/JFK Library). Follow signs for UMass and JFK Library.
  • From the south: Rte 3/I-93N to exit 14 (Morrissey Blvd/JFK Library). Follow signs for UMass and JFK Library.


Take the MBTA Red Line to JFK/UMass station. Free shuttle Bus #2 stops at the Archives Building and the JFK Library. The bus runs every 20 minutes from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on the hour and 20 minutes after and before the hour.


Although the tour is free, please register below so we know who is coming. Because the number of tickets is limited, please let us know if you can’t make it, so we can make your tickets available to others.

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History Camp® events presented by The Pursuit of History®

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