Research Opportunities: The Joseph White murder

Michael Widener

The November 2010 issue of Smithsonian magazine, available online, has a feature article, “A Murder in Salem” by E.J. Wagner, on the notorious 1830 murder-for-hire of Captain Joseph White in Salem, Massachusetts and the several trials of its alleged perpetrators. The case spawned a slew of pamphlets and broadsides, and is cited as an inspiration for Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart” and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. (Thanks to PhiloBiblos, the blog of my colleague Jeremy Dibell, for bringing the article to my attention.)

Earlier this year the Rare Book Collection more than doubled its holdings on the Joseph White case with the acquisition of a collection formed by the Hon. Raymond S. Wilkins (1891-1972), a Salem native who served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts from 1956 to 1970. As a result, we now have ten of the twelve items on the White case listed in McDade’s Annals of Murder, and eleven of the fifteen items in Morris Cohen’s Bibliography of Early American Law (BEAL). Six of the titles in Wilkins’ collection are not in either McDade or BEAL:

 In addition, there is a collection of 26 letters, clippings, and other ephemera on the Joseph White case collected by Wilkins, some of it dealing with Wilkins’ unsuccessful effort to get a book on the case published by the Harvard University Press.

You can view the records for most of the Joseph White items by searching our online catalog, Morris, for the subject “White, Joseph, 1747 or 8-1830”.

Altogether, the collection provides rich and varied sources for research on the Joseph White murder.

Stay tuned for more “Research Opportunities.”


Rare Book Librarian

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