Request for Transcribers: Beginning of the Quasi War with France, May 1798

January 24th, 2014

This important document highlights the initiation of the undeclared war with France,  later known as the Quasi War.  Here, Secretary of War James McHenry conveys instructions from President Adams to the Commanders of a number of United States naval vessels.

Community Transcription – Thirty-One Months

November 27th, 2013

In the thirty-one months since we opened the War Department archives to community transcription, we have been steadily adding transcribers. What started with just a dozen or so volunteers has grown into an active, vigorous community of volunteer transcribers.

Here is the monthly snapshot at our transcription activity:

As of this morning, we have 1,621 users, with approximately 79 new transcribers signed up since the last update. Those volunteer transcribers have made 11,506 saves to War Department documents, which is about 150 additional edits since the last update. Additionally, transcribers have initiated roughly 500 conversations using the “talk” feature. We also know that on average, each document is edited about three times before it is finished. Moreover, we have had 104,958 total page views.

By now we have an incredibly rich variety of folks transcribing, including undergraduate and graduate students, docents, genealogists, and history enthusiasts. Transcribers also include teachers at every level of education, elementary to university. Those who specified an interest or focus included the Haitian Revolution, Fries Rebellion, yellow fever, and historic sites. Some of our transcribers have no particular interest in the War Department Papers, but are evaluating Scripto to use in their own projects.

The documents also vary widely in content. Many of them deal with pay for soldiers or officers. Some are short receipts while others are lengthy transcripts of speeches or treaties. There are request from veterans and their widows for pension payments and applications by refugees from Canada for relief.

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

Community Transcription-Thirty Months In

October 30th, 2013

In the thirty months since we opened the War Department archives to community transcription, we have been steadily adding transcribers. What started with just a dozen or so volunteers has grown into an active, vigorous community of volunteer transcribers.

We offer here yet another snapshot at our transcription activity.

As of this morning, we have 1,538 users, with approximately 50 new transcribers signed up since the last update. Those volunteer transcribers have made 11,506 saves to War Department documents, which is about 200 additional edits since the last update. Additionally, transcribers have initiated 494 conversations using the “talk” feature. We also know that on average, each document is  edited about three times before it is finished. Moreover, we have had 93,069 total page views.

By now we have an incredibly rich variety of folks transcribing, from museum professionals to archivists, from students to veterans, and from writers to hobbyists. Transcribers also include teachers at every level of education, elementary to university.

New transcribers in the last month include genealogists, graduate students, teachers, self-described “history buffs,” and professional research historians. Those who specified an interest or focus included ship building, Native American history, and specific people and military units. Some of our transcribers have no particular interest in the War Department Papers, but are evaluating Scripto to use in their own projects.

The documents themselves vary widely in content. Many of them deal with pay for soldiers or officers. Some are short receipts while others are lengthy transcripts of speeches or treaties. There are request from veterans and their widows for pension payments and applications by refugees from Canada for relief.

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

What is a Letterbook?

October 16th, 2013

If you are looking at an image that contains multiple documents with unusually neat penmanship, you are looking at a letter book. Letter books are simply copies of original letters bound together in a book and usually organized chronologically. Making such hand written copies was the job of a clerk. Among many other qualities, clerks had to have good penmanship. That’s why these letters are so easy to read.
There are numerous letter books in the Papers of the War Department collections. The letter books of Generals such as Anthony Wayne, for example, furnish us a picture of his Fallen Timbers campaign-both in terms of what he sent to the War Department and what he received from Henry Knox. The letter books of accountants such as Joseph Howell and William Simmons have thousands of entries.

You might have wondered, if there was such a devastating fire at the War Department, where did all these documents come from? One of the reasons is letter books. Recipients kept copies of letters received from the War Department. So, while perhaps the original copy (and the letter book) in Philadelphia might have gone up in flames, a copy of the letter was sometimes recovered elsewhere. And it was for just that reason-having copies of documents in case the originals were lost-that letter books were designed.

Community Transcription-Twenty Nine Months In

September 17th, 2013

In the twenty-nine months since we opened the War Department archives to community transcription, we have been steadily adding transcribers as well as finished documents to our archive. What started with just a dozen or so volunteers has grown into an active, vigorous community of volunteer transcribers.

We offer here yet another snapshot at our transcription activity.

As of this morning, we have 1,490 users-fully 238 them have transcribed within the last 90 days, which is just under 15%. This number has dropped very slightly, but continues to hold relatively steady. Those volunteer transcribers have made 11,296 saves to War Department documents, which is about 90 more than at the last update. That works out to 2,112 finished documents, along with another 27 documents begun. Additionally, transcribers have initiated 491 conversations using the “talk” feature. We also know that on average, each document is edited about three times before it is finished. Moreover, we have had 86,757 total page views.

By now we have an incredibly rich variety of folks transcribing, from museum professionals to archivists, from students to veterans, and from writers to hobbyists. There are folks transcribing from every American state, and from six different continents. Transcribers also include teachers at every level of education, elementary to university. We have unaffiliated transcribers as well as those attached to institutions, ranging from major research libraries to archives and from the National Park Service to more than a dozen Native American tribes. Among those that specify an interest or focus, those interests range from professional research, to personal enrichment, to classroom activities. Some of our transcribers had extensive experience with historical documents when they began; for others, this is their first encounter with two hundred-year old letters and handwriting. Many of our transcribers have only worked on a few documents, but we have a growing number of people who have transcribed dozens of them. Some of our transcribers have no particular interest in the War Department Papers, but are evaluating Scripto to use in their own projects.

The documents themselves vary widely in content. Many of them deal with pay for soldiers or officers. Others are transcripts of speeches or treaties. Some documents detail disciplinary action; there are supply lists and officers’ commissions, as well as intelligence or action reports.

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

Nominated Document Spotlight-Oversight, or Overcharge?

September 12th, 2013

Are you a new transcriber who wants to see begin your transcription with a short, easy-to-read document? Are you a seasoned transcriber discouraged by very challenging historic handwriting? This week we ask for your help with another document that has not yet been transcribed. Written by James McHenry to William Simmons, this two-page document alleges that a William Colfax (who makes a living selling rations to the military) has been selling goods at a higher rate than is allowed by his contract. McHenry asks that Colfax be formally notified about the discrepancy and given a chance to correct it.

Please help us get this document transcribed and into the historical record.

You may read and transcribe the original document here.

Next week we’ll feature a statistical update from PWD/Scripto.

This is one of many–there are many more documents awaiting transcription. Take a moment to register (http://wardepartmentpapers.org/scripto/register.php) and choose a document to begin your adventure. You will be doing important work by adding to the historical record, and you never know what you will read!

Nominated Document Spotlight-Murder and Mischief

August 8th, 2013

Are you a new transcriber who wants to see how hard it is to unravel historic handwriting? Are you a seasoned transcriber looking for a bigger challenge? This week we ask for your help with another document that has not yet been transcribed. Written by Robert Rankin to Thomas Lewis, this four-page document includes a report on incidents of murder and theft on the Ohio River by assailants in boats. The letter references whiskey, and murder, and the taking of prisoners. It is a slightly challenging document-the handwriting is good, but the image is not perfect.

Please help us get this document transcribed and into the historical record.

You may read and transcribe the original document here.

Next week we’ll feature another installment in our transcriber spotlight series.

This is one of many–there are many more documents awaiting transcription. Take a moment to register (http://wardepartmentpapers.org/scripto/register.php) and choose a document to begin your adventure. You will be doing important work by adding to the historical record, and you never know what you will read!

Document Spotlight-The Government Helps a Widow

July 18th, 2013

Today’s letter, brought to us by volunteer transcriber Deblegs, describes the government’s role in helping a widow recover some money owed her. The writer, a Mr. Dunscomb, reports to Josiah Howell that Mrs Williams has applied several times for benefits resulting from her husband’s death in service. It appears that another officer had been given funds to pay Mr. Williams, but had not; Dunscomb suggests that the widow’s money be taken from that officer to help Mrs. Williams as much as possible. He writes with compassion for her situation-”it will be of much use to Mrs Williams”-but also with some irritation at her many requests for help: “you will not only serve the concerned but rid me of frequent unnecessary applications.” All in all, a slightly complicated look at the world of accounts and bureaucrats. Moreover, it highlights some of the tensions between wanting to help and being inundated with desperate cases-all of which required investigation and diligence.

Read the original document here.

Next week we’ll feature another installment in our transcriber spotlight series.

It is not too late–there are many more documents awaiting transcription. Take a moment to register (http://wardepartmentpapers.org/scripto/register.php) and choose a document to begin your adventure. You will be doing important work by adding to the historical record, and you never know what you will read!

Document Spotlight-Zebulon Pike, Settlement of Accounts, and Stolen Vouchers

July 11th, 2013

Today’s letter, brought to us by volunteer transcriber Deblegs, concerns Captain Zebulon Pike (the father of explorer Zebulon M. Pike) and a settling of accounts with him over expense monies. The writer, Thomas O’Hara, explains that Pike may be owed some two hundred dollars for expenses. The remainder of the letter is remarkable for its discussion of a possible counterfeiting charge. An unnamed man was found in possession of counterfeited government vouchers-vouchers that had been stolen from a Mr. Pierce-and O’Hara expected to testify before the local grand jury in that matter.

Read the original document here.

Next week we’ll feature another installment in our transcriber spotlight series.

It is not too late–there are many more documents awaiting transcription. Take a moment to register (http://wardepartmentpapers.org/scripto/register.php) and choose a document to begin your adventure. You will be doing important work by adding to the historical record, and you never know what you will read!

A War Department of Twelve

May 15th, 2013

Today, the Pentagon alone employs upwards of 30,000 people. Contrast this with Secretary of War James McHenry’s diminutive War Department Staff of 1798, working out of an office “at the Northeast corner of Chestnut and Fifth Street,” in Philadelphia.