Document Spotlight-Overdue Salary Edition

June 26th, 2012

Recently transcriber Nsalomone brought us a document that reminds us of two important facts about the American Revolution: soldiers did not fight for free, and the new Congress was ill-equipped to perform some of its new responsibilities. It is very well known that Congress had a tough time raising money to support the military during the Revolution. In just a few short lines of text, “The Board of Treasury are so low in resources that they can scarcely make this payment,” we are reminded that soldiers often went months or longer without being paid. Moreover, once Congress found the money to begin paying soldiers, it did not happen all at once; as the letter points out, there was a line of people waiting to be paid: “these claims shall however be attended to in their order and the amount rendered as soon as possible.” It’s worth reflecting on the difficult positions facing both the new national government and the soldiers making sacrifices.

Read the original document here.

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!

Jonathan Jackson

June 25th, 2012

The name “Jonathan Jackson” appears in hundreds of War Department letters, especially documents from the accountant’s office. Who was he?

Jackson was born in Boston in 1743, attended Harvard, and later became a merchant in Newburyport, Massachusetts. As supporter of the American Revolution, he had some of his merchant ships converted to privateers, served as a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1777 and was a delegate to the Continental Congress. A solid Federalist with Revolutionary credentials, Jackson became the Federal Supervisor of Revenue for the District of Massachusetts from 1782 to 1800. He later became treasurer of Harvard University and president of the Boston Bank.

A lifelong public servant, Jackson complained that high rates of turnover in Congress and state legislatures undermined the effectiveness of government. Arguing against term limitations as a “capital defect,” he believed that government should be run by a few who made politics their lifelong profession.

Jackson’s daughter Hannah married Francis Cabot Lowell, who played a prominent role in the industrial revolution in America, and for whom the city of Lowell Massachusetts is named. Son Charles Jackson served on the Massachusetts Supreme Court, and one of Jackson’s great grandsons was Oliver Wendell Holmes, who was thrice wounded during the Civil War, (including Antietam and Fredericksburg) and who later became an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Document Spotlight-“Please, Sir, Could I Please Have Some Clothing?”

June 21st, 2012

Recently transcriber Vpgold transcribed a document that simultaneously recounts the trouble the young nation had keeping its soldiers fed and equipped, and also the troubles soldiers had getting what was owed to them. The letter, penned by army accountant Johnathan Elmer, recounts unfortunate Sergeant Ephraim Dayton’s troubles receiving his clothing allotment from the army. As of July 1788, his clothing vouchers were thirteen months overdue. Elmer seems to take an interest in the situation, and orders that it be resolved immediately.

Read the original document here.

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-Mr. Hamilton is Ill

June 19th, 2012

Recently transcriber Nsalomone brought us a document in the hand of General Knox. Knox writes to inform that Mr. Hamilton has been taken ill and is stuck in bed. Although he is pleased to report that Mr. Hamilton’s illness seems not to resemble a more serious (but unnamed) illness that is currently circulating, Knox appears concerned about Hamilton’s fever. To add to the concern, Hamilton’s doctor believes it extremely dangerous for Hamilton to leave his bed; consequently, Hamilton will be unable to attend to the President.

Read the original document here.

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!

Community Transcription-Where Did the Time Go?

June 14th, 2012

It’s been fourteen months now since we opened the War Department archives to community transcription. Nearly a year ago, 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 680 users-fully 110 them have transcribed within the last 90 days. This continues a trend of increased users, but also more active users. Those transcribers have made more than 4,262 saves to War Department documents, which is about 500 more than at the last update. That works out to more than 860 finished documents, along with another 68 documents begun. Additionally, transcribers have initiated approximately 230 conversations using the “talk” feature. We also know that on average, each document is edited between three and four times before it is finished.

Our transcribers truly represent a cross-section of life: we have university professors, genealogists, hobbyists, doctoral candidates, librarians, historical re-enactors, CEOs, and many other kinds of folks transcribing. There are transcribers from every American state, and from six different continents. Affiliations range 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 dissertation research. 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 intelligence reports detailing the movements of Indian parties. Others describe treaty negotiations or terms. Many documents chronicle criminal proceedings; there are financial records and officers’ commissions, as well as supply inventories.

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

What is a Nighthead?

June 6th, 2012

One of the many documents sent and received by Josiah Fox regarding the construction of frigates in 1796 discussed a rumor that the night heads had not been raised with the frames. From the context, a night head must be part of a ship, but what is it?

The term appears in a 1781 book Naval Architecture, or the Rudiments and Rules of Ship-Building spelled as “knighthead” not “nighthead”. It is used as a reference point when taking measurements, often referred to in conjunction with hawse-pieces. A hawse is the part of the bow, or forward part, of a ship in which holes (called hawse-holes) are cut for cables to pass through. Knightheads are therefore part of the bow. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, they are a large timber which rise from the keel to support the bowsprit, the large spar which extends forward from the bow. The knighthead is an important part of the strucutural integrity of the ship.

With this information, it makes sense that Fox wanted to reassure his colleague that the knightheads had, in fact, been raised with the frame of the frigate.

Document Spotlight-Whose Side Are They Really On?

June 5th, 2012

Recently transcriber Dawoogie brought us a document that highlights international intrigue and trickery. Jos. Harmar, a military officer, writes a letter to General Knox in which he references an intelligence report of some peaceful Indians. Harmar disputes the intelligence report, however, as he argues that the Indians are, in fact, only pretending to be friendly. He includes some reasons why he believes the Indians to be actually allied with troops from a nearby British fort. The document is quite a fascinating introduction to the problem of determining allegiances on the frontier.

Read the original document here.

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!