Complete a Transcription: History of a Canadian Refugee

December 16th, 2014

In an undated document, Benjamin Thompson set forth the history of his life during the era of the American Revolution. Although born in Boston, he was apprenticed at the age of fourteen to a merchant in Montreal. He recounts his efforts on the part of the American cause, prior to his departure from Montreal in 1776, all in an effort to qualify for compensation under the Act of Congress for the Relief of Refugees from the British Provinces of Canada and Nova Scotia.

The first eight pages of this document have been transcribed, but the last four (images 9-12) have not. Can you complete this transcription so its content can become part of the searchable archive of the Papers of the War Department?

Community Transcription – Forty-Three Months

December 2nd, 2014

November was the forty-third month 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 the month:

As of October 31, we have 2,049 users, with approximately 63 new transcribers registered since the last update. Those volunteer transcribers have made 14,072 saves to War Department documents, which is about 385 additional edits since the last update. The average number of edits before a document is saved continues to be three. We have had 217,451 total page views.

Among those who signed up to transcribe in the last month were public librarians, members of local historical societies, journalists, students at the graduate and undergraduate level, and members of the Cherokee and Chickasaw nations. Transcribers include teachers at every level of education, elementary to university. Those who specified an interest or focus mentioned the French colony at Gallipolis, Ohio, the treaties of Muskingum and Fort Harmar, the ratification of the Constitution, American Indian delegations and oratory, and James Swan. Transcribers also expressed interest in uncovering the history of American Indian tribes and nations which appear in the documentary record of the War Department, specifically the Lenape, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Choctaw, and Potawatomi.

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

Community Transcription – Forty-Two Months

November 4th, 2014

October marked the forty-second month 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 the month:

As of this morning, we have 1,986 users, with approximately 33 new transcribers registered since the last update. Those volunteer transcribers have made 13,687 saves to War Department documents, which is about 355 additional edits since the last update. The average number of edits before a document is saved continues to be three. We have had 209,975 total page views.

Among those who signed up to transcribe in the last month were independent researchers, students at the graduate and undergraduate level, museum curators, and members of the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations. Transcribers include teachers at every level of education, elementary to university. Those who specified an interest or focus mentioned Fells Point, Baltimore, gifts to the Indians, and conducting research for model scale building.

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

Help Complete a Transcription: Keeping Up Appearances at Fort Niagara

October 24th, 2014

In this Letter from Captain James Bruff to accountant William Simmons.  Bruff had recently assumed command of Fort Niagara after the British agreed to turn it over to the Americans as part of the Jay Treaty. He laments that his own government does not provide enough of an allowance for entertaining British officers, who are garrisoned just across the Niagara River at Fort George, while British government “makes an allowance for such purposes.”

This particular letter is cited in Eliga Gould’s 2012 work Among the Powers of the Earth: The American Revolution and the Making of a New World Empire.  Gould highlights Bruff’s perception that keeping up certain appearances with other Western nations was a sure sign of stature, sovereignty, and treaty-worthiness  “among the powers of the earth.”

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.

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

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

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!

Community Transcription – Thirty-Five Months

March 26th, 2014

In the thirty-five months since we opened the War Department archives to community transcription, we have continued to add transcribers. We are still receiving daily requests for transcription accounts.

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

As of this morning, we have 1,758 users, with approximately 34 new transcribers signed up since the last update. Those volunteer transcribers have made 12,280 saves to War Department documents, which is about 94 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 139,190 total page views.

We have an incredibly rich variety of folks transcribing, 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 India. Those who specified an interest or focus mentioned topics such as trade, pensions, events in Virginia, and the history of medicine.

The documents vary widely in content. Recently completed transcriptions include the daily business of a Navy Yard, explanation of a denied claim for supplies provided a party of Native Americans, and a query about the price of furniture in Philadelphia.

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