Part I: Clifford Kenyon Shipton and his Works

    Clifford Kenyon Shipton, 1902–1973

    By Harley P. Holden*

    CLIFFORD K. Shipton came to Cambridge from his birthplace of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, as a Harvard freshman in 1922, and continued a relationship with that institution of varying degree and occasional brief interruptions for the next half century. After receiving an S.B. in 1926, he entered the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences where he took an A.M. in 1927, spent the following year in research for Samuel Eliot Morison on the Tercentennial histories of the University, and two years, 1928 to 1930, as an instructor in history at Brown. In 1930, he returned to Harvard to carry on Sibley’s Harvard Graduates for the Massachusetts Historical Society while at the same time working for a doctorate (1933). He also tutored, taught in the Harvard Summer School, and was involved in the setting up of the Cambridge School of Liberal Arts during this same period. During the Depression, he served a brief stint for the Federal Government as director of the Writer’s Projects for the Commonwealth. In 1938, he became the Custodian of the Harvard University Archives, a post in which he served until retirement in 1969. The Archives position was only part time. The major part of his professional career was spent, successively, as Librarian (1940) and Director (1959) of the American Antiquarian Society, from which Society he retired in 1967.

    During the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, when plans were being laid for Harvard’s Tercentenary and Samuel Eliot Morison was conducting research for his Tercentennial histories, the need for a central gathering together and organization of the University records and historical collections and memorabilia became evident. Although an archival collection of sorts had existed at the University for two centuries, gathered by such nineteenth-century antiquarians as Josiah Quincy, Jared Sparks, and John Langdon Sibley, its holdings were small and only partially organized for use. Clifford K. Shipton, through his researches for the Morison histories and for the Sibley’s biographies, was particularly aware of the need for establishing an archival collection that would serve both the administrator and the scholar. In 1938, Keyes Metcalf asked him to take charge of this undertaking. He spent thirty years in gathering records, Harvard memorabilia, and other historical materials from the attics and cellars of the University; in organizing and preserving this material; and in making the informational content available to the administrator and the scholar. When Clifford K. Shipton came to the Harvard Archives in the 1930’s, it was a small and largely unrecognized collection; when he left in 1969, it was the largest and richest in content of any university archives in the world.

    Clifford K. Shipton’s influence as an archivist was felt far beyond Harvard. In the early 1930’s, there were no officially established college or university archives in the United States and, indeed, the National Archives was not founded until 1934. Shipton was a founding member of the Society of American Archivists in 1936, became a Fellow of the Society in 1958, and its President in 1967. For thirty years, he gave freely of his time and knowledge to archivists all over the United States and Canada as the number of college and university archives in those two countries grew from a handful in the 1930’s to the over six hundred that now exist. The vote of the Harvard Corporation in February 1939, establishing the Harvard Archives and defining its goal and function, was partially the work of Shipton and became in his words “the Magna Carta of the trade.”

    Clifford K. Shipton’s position as Librarian, and later as Director of the American Antiquarian Society, provided a wonderful opportunity for a colonial historian to work with what he once described as “the largest collection of printed material relating to the present United States over the period 1620–1820,” a fertile ground particularly for material relating to the Sibley’s project. One of his foremost accomplishments while at the American Antiquarian Society was the completion of Evans’s American Bibliography and his participation, through the Society, with the Readex Microprint Corporation for a cooperative project of “reproducing in microprint the full text of every non-serial item listed by Evans, or turned up subsequent to the printing of the Evans volume, a gathering together of nearly 40,000 items.” He also designed a subject classification system for all books, replacing the old alcove and shelf arrangement. Finally, at the time of his death, Shipton had nearly completed the indexing of the Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society from its founding through 1960.

    The last day of Clifford K. Shipton’s life was spent in the Harvard University Archives, working on the project of epic proportion that had occupied much of his time, energy, and devotion for the entire period of his professional career, Sibley’s Harvard Graduates. In 1859, Harvard Librarian John Langdon Sibley formally began work on the biographies of Harvard men. What he conceived was a kind of biographical dictionary which would record the “intellectual and moral power which, during more than two centuries, had been going out from the walls of Harvard.” Before his death in 1885, Sibley completed three volumes of biographies covering the Harvard classes of 1642 through 1689. In his will Sibley provided that, after the death of his widow, his estate should go to the Massachusetts Historical Society for the purpose of continuing the financing of the series. It was more than forty years before someone was found to continue Sibley’s work with the dedication that he had shown. That someone was Clifford K. Shipton who, in forty-five years of involvement with Sibley’s, during which he published fourteen volumes consisting of 2,500 biographies containing 3,000,000 words, found the lives of “those who were hanged just as important as the ones ordained.” The first Shipton volume of Sibley’s (Volume IV) was published in 1933 and covered the Harvard classes from 1690 to 1700. By the time of his death in December 1973, just a century after Sibley had published Volume I in 1873, Clifford Shipton was bringing to completion the seventeenth volume in the Sibley’s series, covering the classes of 1768 through 1771.

    Throughout the nearly forty-five years that Shipton spent on Sibley’s, he was aided by his wife Dorothy Boyd MacKillop Shipton, who, between stints of housekeeping and child rearing, spent an unrecorded but immensely productive number of hours poring through the newspapers and diaries of eighteenth-century America and proofreading completed manuscripts. She was responsible also for providing the supportive atmosphere in which a great scholar could work and accomplish.

    In the introduction to New England Life in the Eighteenth Century, a selection of Sibley’s biographies published by a group of his friends in 1963, Shipton stated the following:

    In 1930 the Sibley work appealed to me because it afforded an opportunity to demonstrate that the intellectual history of New England as written by such influential historians as J. T. Adams, Beard, Jernegan, Parrington, and Wertenbaker was about as far from the facts of the case as it was possible to get. Surely there was no better way to answer them than to present the detailed biographies of hundreds of ministers, teachers, physicians, and lawyers.

    Answer them he did and, as Samuel Eliot Morison has written, did so with a delightful style which afforded “enjoyment as well as instruction in what New England was really like between 1689 and the American Revolution.”

    Clifford K. Shipton was involved professionally in much more than his duties at Cambridge and Worcester and his research and writing of the Sibley’s series. During a career of nearly half a century he was a member and, in some cases, an elected officer of the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, the American Antiquarian Society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Society of American Archivists, the Grolier Club, the Worcester Torch Club, the Club of Odd Volumes, and the Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Indians and others in North America. He also served, at various times, as a member of the Standing Committee of the Bunker Hill Monument Association, a member of the Council of the Institute of Early American History and Culture (Williamsburg, Virginia), a member of the editorial board of the William and Mary Quarterly and the New England Quarterly, a trustee of Fruitlands and Waywide Museums, and a trustee under the will of Edward Hopkins (1662). From this multitude of professional activities came many honors and expressions of appreciation during the later years. Two of those which pleased him most were his election to honorary membership in Phi Beta Kappa in 1962 and his honorary degree from Harvard in 1964 with the citation: “Eminent historian, persistent Sibley of our century, sympathetic intimate of a thousand of our kin.”

    Not all of Shipton’s prolific publication was confined to fourteen Sibley’s volumes, though they would have served as monument enough. In 1945 and 1947, individually published biographies of Roger Conant and Isaiah Thomas appeared and, in 1969, the National Index of American Imprints Through 1800: the Short-Title Evans, two volumes done with James E. Mooney. Numerous articles, as well, were published over the years on various aspects of colonial America, Harvard history, and the field of archives. His many lectures to historical societies and similar gatherings and his lectures on American historiography at Clark University have not been published.

    These are the facts of the productive and distinguished public career of Clifford K. Shipton. But there was another man as well, the man known to his friends as Ted—for he was never called Clifford by anyone who really knew him. In the introduction to New England Life in the Eighteenth Century, Ted Shipton wrote as follows: “Several institutions have asked me what kind of man they should select to do a Sibley of their graduates. He should be a man who finds the problem interesting enough either to devote full time to it, or to give up his bridge and golf, his evenings and week-ends, and make it his chief recreation and hobby.” True, he did not play bridge and golf and Sibley’s was his chief hobby, but he found time to do much else as well.

    The Shiptons moved to Shirley Center in the summer of 1936 and soon became involved in so many community activities that, at one point, they held, between them, twenty-one local offices. Among the local positions Ted filled were Chairman of the Finance Committee, Clerk, Moderator, and Member of the Standing Committee of the First Parish; Director of the Shirley Taxpayers’ Associations; member of the Historic Districts Study Committee; and Chairman of a committee to provide employment for returning World War II veterans.

    I was in an advantageous position to observe and know the private Ted Shipton, for I was born across the Shirley Center Common from the Shiptons the year after they moved to Shirley, and grew up and went to grammar school with Ted’s sons. For many years I was in and out of their home nearly as much as my own. Ted Shipton was the kind of man who would let a ten-year-old peck away at his ancient L. C. Smith typewriter (the same instrument that typed so many Sibley’s manuscripts), or answer patiently and fully a child’s question about history. I remember him also as a woodchopper, wielding his axe in a Shirley valley while son George and I played nearby, and as the man who won prizes for vegetables from his Victory Garden at the local Grange Fair.

    In most recent years, I had the pleasure of serving with Ted Shipton on the Shirley Historic Districts Study Committee. The task assigned to Ted and me was to lay out the boundaries of the proposed districts. One November Sunday afternoon, we set out perambulating a great circle around Shirley Center, climbing over stone walls, walking through briar patches, and wading through bogs. Exhilarated by this experience, we went on to visit Paradise, a local gorge on whose banks grow the remainder of the primeval hemlock forest that once covered the area, and then on further to Shaking Swamp, a quaking bog, where we examined carnivorous pitcher plants and picked wild cranberries. These experiences were all within the scope of Ted’s interests. On many summer evenings, I detoured from my usual bicycle path to see what new wonder had blossomed forth in his magnificent flower garden. One treasured memory is of an eight-year-old wandering up to the Shirley Common on a Sunday afternoon in fall. The Shipton family and some of their friends were playing touch football. Enticed into the game, I suddenly found the football in my arms and went running for the goal. Ted Shipton ran interference for me all the way as he did so many times in so many ways in later years.

    Ted was introduced to the Colonial Society of Massachusetts in the late 1920’s by Samuel Eliot Morison while at the same time continuing his graduate studies in history at Harvard. Morison failed to inform him that it was the custom at that time to attend all Colonial Society meetings in formal attire. It was with some embarrassment that he found himself at his first Society meeting, the only one dressed in “street clothes.” Election as a resident member came at the April meeting in 1932. Nearly four years later, at the December meeting in 1935, he delivered his first paper before the Society, at the home of Augustus Peabody Loring, Junior, at No. 2 Gloucester Street. The paper was entitled: “The New England Clergy of the Glacial Age.”

    After several years of intensive Sibley’s research, Ted concluded that many historians were presenting an inaccurate portrait of the late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century clergy as austere, colorless, and humorless. He concluded his paper thusly: “Fed on such misinterpretation, the modern intelligentsia use the picture of the Puritan priest to frighten their children at cocktail time, but one should not forget this glimpse which Cotton Mather gives of himself: ‘I would always have about me some little Matters (as Pennies, or Fruits, or Paints), proper to be bestow’d on little children.’” During the ensuing four decades of membership, the Colonial Society was among the foremost of Ted’s interests. He served as a council member from 1952 to 1955, was elected a vice-president in 1960, and served as president from 1961 until 1973. At the annual meeting in 1973, possibly sensing that death was near, Clifford K. Shipton retired as president. After the meeting, we delivered Admiral Morison to 44 Brimmer Street, Robert Lovett to North Station, and then drove together to our respective homes in Shirley Center. It was a good drive; we talked of many things, including his hope that his son Nathaniel might follow him as a member of the Colonial Society. Two weeks later, he died.

    Many benefited from his kind advice and wise counsel. He was a man who crowded an uncommon amount of accomplishment and living into his allotted years of three score and ten. It would take several men to carry on the work that this one man accomplished if, indeed, they ever could.

    2. Ted Shipton at an informal moment.

    Harvard University Archives