Community Transcription-Nine Months On

December 21st, 2011

Another month, another 30 users…

It’s been nine months now since we opened the War Department archives to community transcription. Way back in March we offered the Scripto transcription tool, and ever since then we have been steadily adding 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.

To date, we have 420 users-fully 82 of them have transcribed within the last 90 days-this is actually a few more than this time last month. Those transcribers have made more than 2,700 saves to War Department documents, which is about 300 more than last month. That translates to approximately 640 finished documents, along with another 152 documents begun. Editors have nominated an additional 160 for transcription. Additionally, transcribers have initiated approximately 172 conversations using the “talk” feature.

Our transcribers truly represent a cross-section of life: we have university professors, genealogists, hobbyists, editors, librarians, historical re-enactors, museum curators, and many other kinds of folks transcribing. There are transcribers from nearly every American state, from the Seneca Nation to the Daughters of the American Revolution, and from the Society of the Cincinnati to major research universities. Their interests range from personal research, to genealogy, to professional projects. Some of our transcribers had extensive experience with historical documents when they began; for others, this is their first encounter with two hundred-year old letters and handwriting.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 several have transcribed dozens of them.

The documents themselves vary widely in content. Some are rather routine descriptions of government or military business. Others describe treaty negotiations or terms. Many documents chronicle criminal proceedings; there are financial records and officers’ commissions.

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

Document Spotlight-Jesse Bowles’ Rental

December 19th, 2011

Transcriber Afoxconti recently brought us a document concerning a financial relationship between the government and Jesse Bowles, of Richmond, Virginia. Bowles had essentially rented his home to a Captain Eddins for nearly a year, during which time the home was used as a hospital. For the period beginning November 1798 and ending October, 1799, Bowles was to be paid the sum of $70.
Read the original document here:

There are many more documents awaiting transcription. Take a moment to register ( 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-West Point Inventory

December 13th, 2011

Recently transcriber Vjorden ran across a document detailing an inventory of public property held at West Point. All these items–which seem to be equestrian in nature–were in the custody of the Quartermaster there. Note the inventory contains not only quantities of the items, but also their disposition. The majority of items are fit for service, but a not insignificant number of them are either needing repair or are unfit for further service.

Also note the three different types of saddles in use, as well as the many different pieces that make up harnesses for horses (cruppers are used to prevent a horse’s harness from slipping forward on the horse). A relatively high number of collars are needing repair or out of service for some reason, as well.

You may view the original document here:

There are many more documents awaiting transcription. Take a moment to register ( 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!

Two Captured Soldiers Seek “Redemption’

December 12th, 2011

In the Summer of 1784 two American soldiers, William Moore of South Carolina and Thomas Ward of Maryland, describing themselves as “unfortunate subscribers,” submitted their third petition  for their release as “redemptioners” and asked that their pay be applied as their “redemption money.” They wrote their  letter on board the vessel “Favourite,” dated the 11th of August 1784. It was addressed  to the Commissioners of the Board of War, a standing committee created by the Continental Congress to supervise the army. Moore and Ward stated that they had been captured by the British on the 10th day of August 1780, following the “Capitulation of Charles Town,” and held for several months on British “prison ships and gaols [jails]” and then “forcibly compelled into the West Indies Service.”

Once they were released by the British, they had to find the means to make their way back to America. Having no money, they joined a crew on an American ship as “redemptioners,” meaning that, like identured servants, they had to provide unpaid service in exchange for their passage to America. “The instant we exercised our liberty we embarked for America as redemptioners, having no cash to pay our passage…” As soldiers “who have spilled their blood and hurt their Constitution[their health] for the Independent Liberty of their happy Country,” they are asking the Commissioners to make arrangements so that the states of South Carolina and Maryland will provide their army pay that can be used as “redemption money” so that they can at last–after almost four years–be released from service.

General Washington’s New Uniform

December 1st, 2011

In late January 1799, George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Armies, wrote to James McHenry, Secretary of War, to discuss an important topic: his new uniform.

New regulations on the Uniform for the Army of the United States had been released earlier that month, approved by McHenry and President Adams. The commander in chief was to wear the following uniform: “a blue coat, with yellow buttons, and gold epaulets, each having three silver stars, with lining, cape and cuffs, of buff…. The coat to be without lappels [sic], and embroidered on the cape and cuffs and pockets.”

Washington wrote McHenry to discuss the execution of this new uniform, particularly the embroidery. The regulations specified that the waistcoat should be buff, but not whether it should be embroidered in the same manner as the coat; Washington worried that an embroidered coat with an unadorned waistcoat might give “a disjointed, and awkward, appearance.” In addition, he expressed his preference for a “light & neat” embroidery over something more ornate.

The general was also interested in the other details. He gave his opinion on the proper size of an eagle for the center of the cockade, as well as its appearance, and requested that McHenry look for a few cockades – “tasty” but “not whimsically foolish” – to send down to Virginia. There was also the question of the style of cuffs and pockets: would they be slashed or not?

Why did Washington make the effort to write to McHenry? One reason is that both McHenry and Washington’s tailor, James McAlpin, were in Philadelphia. Washington enclosed an unsealed letter to McAlpin in the one to McHenry, so that the Secretary of War could review it and pass it along if he felt it described the uniform properly. Presumably McHenry was also expected to tell McAlpin, not Washington, the preferred style of cuffs and pockets.

Washington was also very aware of the importance of a proper appearance. In the letter to McHenry he acknowledged that embroidery and cuffs may seem like “trifling matters” but it was important that the attempt at a new uniform for the Army “should take a right direction,” setting the proper example from the highest rank at the very beginning. Well-executed uniforms provided a sense of unity to the troops, and gave the army a professional appearance. If the clothes make the man, the uniform makes the army.