Unfolding Histories: Cape Ann before 1900

March 31, 2018 — Sept. 9, 2018

In the first major exhibition to bring together historical and archival material from nine Cape Ann institutions, Unfolding Histories: Cape Ann Before 1900 illuminates the area’s wideranging stories from Native American life to the first European settlers in the 1640s, the temperance movement, African American history and civil rights, women’s history, the advent of railroad and mass transportation as well as work, literary, and cultural life during Cape Ann’s early years.

As the region prepares for the 400th anniversary of the first English settlement on Cape Ann in 2023, the Museum seeks to highlight significant historical materials from its own collection as well as those from historical societies in the region for this exhibition. Lenders to Unfolding Histories include: Annisquam Historical Society, Cape Ann Museum, Essex Historical Society and Shipbuilding Museum, Essex Town Hall, Gloucester’s City Hall, Gloucester Lyceum & Sawyer Free Library, Manchester Historical Museum, Sargent House Museum, and Sandy Bay Historical Society and Museums.

Organized thematically, Unfolding Histories lets the documents tell the history of Cape Ann including some often neglected experiences and perspectives. The exhibition is designed to appeal to both scholars, looking to deepen their understanding of life for the disenfranchised in colonial America and the early Republic, as well as for local residents looking to appreciate the many factors that have shaped the place. Archival records depict the political and social structures of the nation before its founding up to 1900 and offer informative, enriching windows into the region that became a haven for some of America’s most renowned artists and writers.

“From the start, exhibition planners realized that getting everyday people excited about fragile scraps of paper and hard-to-read penmanship would be no easy task,” says Martha Oaks, Cape Ann Museum’s Curator. “As such, it was decided early on that the exhibition would be organized around broad themes that tell untold stories, uncover hidden histories, and highlight experiences of everyday people on Cape Ann. Ten themes were selected: African American history, charity and welfare, education, Native American history, literary imagination, religion, temperance, transportation, wartime, and women’s history.”

Dr. Molly O’Hagan Hardy, Director for Digital and Book History Initiatives at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, served as guest curator. A full color catalog, written by Dr. Hardy, accompanies the exhibition.

Unfolding Histories Online

In this online archival exhibition, users can explore topics including Native American life and the first European settlers, African American history and civil rights, the temperance movement, women’s history, the advent of railroad and mass transportation, as well as work, literary, and cultural life during Cape Ann’s early years. Find out more ...



Exhibition Catalog $30 – available here

Unfolding Histories: Cape Ann before 1900

By Dr. Molly O'Hagan Hardy
and an introduction by Stephanie Buck

Published by the Cape Ann Museum ©2018


The Museum is grateful to the sponsors of this exhibition:

Jack & Anne Haley   |   Susanna Natti & Alan Willsky
Linzee & Beth Coolidge
J. J. & Jackie Bell   |   Arthur Ryan
Institution for Savings


Top, left to right: Logbook from the Schooner Lark, 1799, Cape Ann Museum; Daguerreotype of Abigail Trask and her friend, late 1840s, Manchester Historical Museum; Old Farmer's Almanac, 1839, Sandy Bay Historical Society and Museums; Certificate from teacher for Amanda Babson, January 1823, Cape Ann Museum. 

Sign up for e-news