Henry Clay Barnabee Collection

Henry Clay Barnabee was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 1833, the son of a stage-driver turned innkeeper in Portsmouth. At the age of twenty, Barnabee moved to Boston, where he worked in the dry goods business while also pursuing acting and amateur singing. In 1859, he married Clara George of Portsmouth in Warner, New Hampshire, where her family originated. They made their home in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. In 1865, Barnabee made his formal performance debut and began touring New England with a concert troupe. In 1878, he joined the Boston Ideals, a group formed to present Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta, H.M.S Pinafore, though the Ideals would go on to perform other operettas. Barnabee and two other actors from the Boston Ideals formed the Bostonians in 1887. The latter group toured widely, making a number of transcontinental trips, until it finally disbanded in 1904. Its mainstay production was Smith and DeKoven’s comic opera, Robin Hood, in which Barnabee played the role of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Clara George Barnabee died in 1906, the year in which Barnabee’s career essentially ended. Henry Clay Barnabee published his autobiography, My Wanderings, in 1913 and died in 1917.

According to the Library Trustee Meeting Minutes Volume, Dec. 1883 – Oct. 1939, page 62, meeting of September 24, 1907, the Henry Clay Barnabee Collection was offered to Portsmouth Public Library in September of 1907 by Barnabee himself. The Library Trustees accepted the gift and were to confer with Barnabee about his wishes for the collection. An article in the States and Union newspaper, September 9, 1909, leads one to wonder when the collection actually physically arrived at the Library. Plans were being made at that time to house the collection in a special room described in great detail in the article. Barnabee was working on an exhibition to be mounted in the Library in 1909. It is unclear from available materials if that exhibition ever materialized or if the collection was even on site at that time.

The original collection was assembled between 1866 and 1906 by Henry Clay Barnabee and his wife, Clara George Barnabee. Some of the collection was reportedly transferred to the Lamb Club in New York City according to Hannah Fernald in 1943, as quoted in the Portsmouth Herald April 23, 1943. The current collection consists of approximately 10 linear feet of materials, including scrapbooks, photograph albums, loose photographs, musical scores, and books, as well as a small number of other loose items such as a large daguerreotype of a child (probably Barnabee) and two framed watercolors of Barnabee in costume. Most of the material dates from 1866-1906. There are a few items before and after that range, most notably the program from a testimonial held in Barnabee’s honor in Boston during March of 1907. It is arranged in eight series, outlined in a series-level finding aid.

The collection was arranged by Woodard D. Openo, an Archives student in the Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the time, in the fall of 1995. Library staff and Simmons College interns have been working on a detailed finding aid since spring of 2010. During the spring of 2014, the New England Archivists Community Outreach Project spent time indexing and scanning parts of the Barnabee collection. In 2018, funds from the Rosamond Thaxter Foundation were procured for the specific use of cleaning and rehousing items from Box Series II B. 1-9 and Box VII Libretto Series.
Browse 479 items in Henry Clay Barnabee Collection