Press "Enter" to skip to content

Stewards of the Hungerford Deed

When the Smithsonian Institution was founded “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge,” it was difficult to know how impactful this mission would still be 175 years on. To this day, the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives strives to further this goal, sharing our knowledge to make discoveries and expand our understanding together with you, our community of supporters. The Hungerford Deed, which quickly became a treasure of our collections, exemplifies this work, as does the special opportunity to become a close supporter of the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives by joining the Stewards of the Hungerford Deed. Read on to learn about how the Hungerford Deed illuminates the Smithsonian’s founding, and the impact you can make as a Steward.

The signature of Elizabeth Macie, James Smithson’s mother, on the Hungerford Deed, 1787, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Acc. 19-150.

The Deed is a 1787 property contract divvying up inherited lands between James Smithson’s mother and aunt. The insights shared by the Deed go beyond the legal decisions, illustrating a dramatic battle between the sisters and offering context via the family dynamics that shaped Smithson into the founding donor of the Smithsonian Institution. Like many archival discoveries, the Deed is an unpublished work that required ample preservation when it was anonymously donated to the Smithsonian in 2019. Preservation included carefully unfolding, stabilizing, and humidifying each parchment page so viewers can examine the pages, as interested parties might have three centuries ago. This process reveals and protects the original knowledge present in the Deed, contributing this knowledge to the collections that the Libraries and Archives safeguards as a resource for future generations.

The Hungerford Deed opened for the first time. Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Sharing knowledge often leads to exciting discoveries in collaboration with other scholars and curious minds. The Libraries and Archives is excited to facilitate this exchange through a virtual exhibition launching on August 10, offering a deeper dive into the Deed. Visitors near and far will be able to virtually turn the pages of the Deed and explore for themselves, with highlights of interesting facts and context right on the page to enhance their understanding. The Deed offers a wellspring of new information pertaining to the history of women’s property rights, the British legal system, and Smithson’s genealogy, and we are excited to make this knowledge available to evolve understanding alongside researchers.

The first page of the Hungerford Deed, 1787, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Acc. 19-150.

Our preservation, research, and outreach in connection to the Deed exemplifies just a few of the ways the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives protects and shares our collections. With scientific and cultural treasures ranging from oral histories to artists’ books, the Libraries and Archives is a resource where knowledge can be tested and expanded. Stewards of the Hungerford Deed champion this impact, ensuring this knowledge will continue to be safe and accessible. This special group will be celebrated in connection with the Deed and beyond, as the impact of these gifts reverberates through our crucial work.

The Archives conservation lab, where staff are working to preserve more of our treasures

You are invited to join our community of supporters, championing accessible educational resources, diverse collections, and critical preservation. Stewards are recognized beginning with a gift of $75, and benefits at a variety of giving levels include honoring Stewards on the virtual exhibition illuminating the Deed, a certificate recognizing your gift, and an exclusive invitation to view the Deed in person with fellow Stewards in the future. We are pleased to recognize donors with giving levels inspired by the real people behind the Hungerford Deed. Join their legacy today as a Steward in one of the following categories:

  • Steward – $75 and more
  • Keate Steward – $175 and more
  • Walker Steward – $575 and more
  • Macie Steward – $1,175 and more
  • Smithson Steward – $5,175 and more
  • Hungerford Steward – $10,175 and more

The Hungerford Deed illuminates the context for James Smithson’s commitment to knowledge, and the Smithsonian Libraries and Archives looks forward to re-committing and investing in this mission together with you.

Learn more about becoming a Steward of the Hungerford Deed!

P.S. Interested in learning more about the Deed and the upcoming virtual exhibition? Join us during our virtual program with conservator William Bennett on August 12! Attendees will take a closer look at the Deed and learn more about the significance of the discoveries it holds.


  1. Larry West

    Will we get to see the conservators detailed & actually working on a page— close up?
    Like dealing with fixing or folds?

    • Hi Larry,

      The program on August 12th will discuss conservation treatment of the Hungerford Deed but not include a live demonstration. You’d be welcome to ask any specific questions about the treatment.


      Erin Rushing
      Outreach Librarian

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *