What is that word?

October 14th, 2014

If you have transcribed a letter, rather than a bill or report, you might have come across a jumble of letters at the end of the letter, just before the sender’s signature. The most common would be “yr obt svt.” What does this mean?

Just as modern correspondence conventionally ends with “Sincerely” or “Best Wishes” (on paper, at least), there were phrases in common use for closing letters in the late eighteenth century. “Yr obt svt” is short for “Your obedient servant.” Sometimes letter writers used the longer “Your most humble and obedient servant,” which might get compressed to “yr most hmbl & obt svt.”

Abbreviations like these, as well as variations in handwriting, can be confusing for scholars and transcribers new to eighteenth century documents. Fortunately there are a number of resources to help decipher handwriting and become familiar with eighteenth century letters.

For paleography (the study of handwriting) visit DoHistory.org’s “How to read 18th century British American handwriting,” as well as Reed College’s Digital Collections study guide for Colonial American Handwriting and their letter matching game. For letter styles and conventions, Colonial Williamsburg offers a handout (pdf) for teachers to help students write their own eighteenth century correspondence. Read our post explaining just what, exactly, a letter book is. It also helps to read more letters, for which you can turn to modern print editions or this openly accessible online edition of the correspondence of major political figures of the founding era, provided by the National Historical Publications & Records Commission, part of the National Archives.

There are also a number of books on deciphering handwriting as well as the culture of letters and letter-writing in the eighteenth century. Talk to your local reference librarian to find out more.

Community Transcription – Forty-One Months

October 1st, 2014

It has been forty-one months since we opened the War Department archives to community transcription. We are still receiving regular requests for transcription accounts.

Here is a snapshot of transcription activity for September:
 As of this morning, we have 1,953 users, with approximately 41 new transcribers registered since the last update. Those volunteer transcribers have made 13,332 saves to War Department documents, which is about 96 additional edits since the last update. The average number of edits before a document is saved continues to be three. We have had 205,244 total page views.

Among those who signed up to transcribe in the last month, there were living history practitioners, students in a course on public history, and members of American Indian nations that are present in treaties and other historical documents in our collections. Transcribers include teachers at every level of education, elementary to university. Those who specified an interest or focus mentioned Post Vincennes, southeastern Ohio, Georgia frontier scouts, and the Whiskey Rebellion.

As we continue to move forward with the project, individuals may still register for a transcription account.

Community Transcription – Forty Months

September 3rd, 2014

It has been forty months since we opened the War Department archives to community transcription. We are still receiving regular requests for transcription accounts

Here is a snapshot of transcription activity in the last month:
As of this morning, we have 1,912 users, with approximately 49 new transcribers signed up since the last update. Those volunteer transcribers have made 13,236 saves to War Department documents, which is about 111 additional edits since the last update. We also know that, on average, each document is edited about three times before it is finished. Moreover, we have had 198,422 total page views.

A wide variety of people have volunteer as transcribers, including independent scholars, genealogists, and military veterans. Transcribers include teachers at every level of education, elementary to university. Those who specified an interest or focus mentioned native peoples, trade goods, North Carolina, and Warren Township, New Jersey. There were also transcribers who were interested in the Papers of the War Department project and the potential use of primary sources in secondary education.

As we continue to move forward with the project, users may still register for a transcription account.

Community Transcription – Thirty-Nine Months

July 31st, 2014

It has been thirty-nine months since we opened the War Department archives to community transcription. We are still receiving regular requests for transcription accounts

Here is a snapshot of transcription activity in the last month:
As of this morning, we have 1,863 users, with approximately 21 new transcribers signed up since the last update. Those volunteer transcribers have made 13,125 saves to War Department documents, which is about 240 additional edits since the last update. We also know that, on average, each document is edited about three times before it is finished. Moreover, we have had 188,031 total page views.

A wide variety of people have volunteer as transcribers, including independent scholars, genealogists, and military veterans. Transcribers include teachers at every level of education, elementary to university. Those who specified an interest or focus mentioned the Delaware Indians, veterans from Maine, late eighteenth century syntax, military engineering, and the desire to use primary sources in secondary education, among others. Recently transcribed documents include a brief note from Alexander Hamilton to James McHenry and one from McHenry to Governor Sevier regarding the Cherokee Nation. Not yet complete, but nonetheless impressive, is transcriber Filis’ work on a 131 page document from 1791.

As we continue to move forward with the project, users may still register for a transcription account.

Help Complete a Transcription

July 7th, 2014

Judith Sargent Murray (May 1, 1751 – June 9, 1820) was an early American proponent of women’s rights and equality of the sexes. An essayist, playwright, poet, and letter writer, her belief that women were just as smart and capable as men was considered pretty radical stuff in the 1790s .

We have some of her letters because her brother Winthrop was a soldier (he fought under Arthur St. Clair in the disastrous Battle of the Wabash) and later a territorial governor.

Box of Books and Loss of Garden Seed

Safe Conveyance of Box

Forward the Enclosed Speedily

Conducting Myself Through the Vexatious Labyrinth

Location of My Brother’s Books

I Cannot Apologize for these Extra Commissions

Community Transcription – Thirty-Eight Months

July 1st, 2014

It has been thirty-eight months since we opened the War Department archives to community transcription., and we are still receiving regular requests for transcription accounts.

Here is a snapshot of transcription activity in the last month:

As of this morning, we have 1,842 users, with approximately 33 new transcribers signed up since the last update. Those volunteer transcribers have made 12,885 saves to War Department documents, which is about 360 additional edits since the last update. We also know that, on average, each document is edited about three times before it is finished. Moreover, we have had 179,488 total page views.

A wide variety of people have volunteer as transcribers, including undergraduate and graduate students, independent scholars, genealogists, filmmakers, and librarians. Transcribers include teachers at every level of education, elementary to university. Those who specified an interest or focus mentioned topics such as the Ohio frontier, Revolutionary War debt, the Harmar expedition, and the Whiskey Rebellion. A number of transcribers were interested in specific people, including John Graves Simcoe, Abraham M. Mordecai, Amos Stoddard, and John Watts.

As we continue to move forward with the project, users may still register for a transcription account.

Community Transcription – Thirty-Seven Months

May 29th, 2014

It has been thirty-seven months since we opened the War Department archives to community transcription. Even after three years, we are still receiving regular requests for transcription accounts.

Here is a snapshot of transcription activity in the last month:

As of this morning, we have 1,809 users, with approximately 16 new transcribers signed up since the last update. Those volunteer transcribers have made 12,525saves to War Department documents, which is about 67 additional edits since the last update. We also know that, on average, each document is edited about three times before it is finished. Moreover, we have had 162,982 total page views.

A wide variety of people have volunteer as transcribers, including undergraduate and graduate students, independent scholars, genealogists, veterans, and ROTC students. Transcribers include teachers at every level of education, elementary to university. Those who specified an interest or focus mentioned topics such as the early Navy, treaties with Native Americans, particular regiments, and specific regions including Long Island, the Northwestern frontier, and Georgia and Alabama. Some also expressed a general interest in contributing to transcription projects.

As always, users may still register for a transcription account.

Help complete a Transcription!

May 9th, 2014

Treaty of New York with the Creek Nation of Indians

At the behest of President Washington and Henry Knox, in the summer of 1787 several Creek leaders, along with their leader Alexander McGilivray, traveled all the way to New York City for treaty talks.  The Treaty of New York was important because it represented Washington’s and Henry Knox’s more enlightened views about dealing with Indians-that is, negotiating rather than simply taking lands away.

Williams writes Knox from London on the French Revolution

Here Williams, a successful businessman and  grand nephew of Benjamin Franklin, waxes enthusiastically about the justness of the French Revolution.  His viewpoint is particularly interesting because it predates the execution of the King Louis XVI and the onset of  the so called “Reign of Terror.”

The next four documents are some of our earliest in the collection,  detailing General Nathanael Greene’s supply problems during the Southern campaigns during the Revolutionary War.  Considered by Washington one of his ablest officers, Greene went into personal debt to feed his soldiers.

General Greene’s Southern Army and problems with supply during Revolutionary War

Clothing for General Greene’s Southern Army

Procurement of Clothing for General Greene’s Southern Army

General Greene’s Report on Clothing for the Southern Army

Community Transcription – Thirty-Six Months

May 1st, 2014

It has been thirty-six months since we opened the War Department archives to community transcription – three years! We are still receiving regular requests for transcription accounts.

Here is a snapshot of transcription activity in the last month:

As of this morning, we have 1,793 users, with approximately 35 new transcribers signed up since the last update. Those volunteer transcribers have made 12,458 saves to War Department documents, which is about 178 additional edits since the last update. We also know that, on average, each document is edited about three times before it is finished. Moreover, we have had 150,842 total page views.

A wide variety of people have volunteer as transcribers, including undergraduate and graduate students, independent scholars, genealogists, veterans, preservationists, and living history practitioners. Transcribers include teachers at every level of education, elementary to university. In addition to the many transcribers in the United States who registered in the last month, we have transcribers from the United Kingdom, Canada, and Mexico. Those who specified an interest or focus mentioned topics such as the Society of the Cincinnatti, loyalists in the aftermath of the American Revolution, specific regions such as Tennessee or the tidewater area of Virginia, and diplomatic affairs both international and with native tribes.

The documents vary widely in content. Recently completed transcriptions include issues with paying the troops in Connecticut, dealing with prize ships taken by the French, and finding a location for establishing headquarters.

As we continue to move forward with the project, users may still register for a transcription account.

Help complete a Transcription!

April 9th, 2014

Every now and then, a document gets only partly transcribed. It’s important to keep this in mind when you are looking through the documents nominated for transcription; if the first page has already been transcribed, read through to make sure it is the whole page, and then click through the document. You may be able to help us by completing the transcription!

If you are interested in helping us to wrap up these loose ends, here are a few documents which were started but have not yet been completed:

Treaty of Peace, Amity and Commerce between the State of Georgia and the Creek Nation, November 3, 1786. Two out of four pages need to be transcribed (pages 5-13 are alternate copies of the same text).

Henry Knox to Otho H. Williams, June 11, 1788, regarding the ratification of the Constitution. Two out of three pages need to be transcribed.

Opinion of Hamilton & Knox Respecting the Brigantine “Little Sarah”, July 8, 1793. This is an eight page document, of which only half the first page has been transcribed.

John Pierce to John White, concerning various accounts, October 28, 1786. One page needs to be transcribed.

Discussion of Possible Decisions by Board of Treasury Regarding Army Contracts, November 22, 1786. The address leaf and second page of the document need to be transcribed.

John Pierce regarding pay due Virginia Officers, December 1786. One page needs to be transcribed.

Examination of the claim of John Morrill. Two pages to transcribe.

Thanks to all our transcribers for their great work!