Community Transcription-Closing in on 1,000 Transcribers

September 27th, 2012

It’s been seventeen months now since we opened the War Department archives to community transcription, 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 977 users-fully 149 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 6,374 saves to War Department documents, which is about 500 more than at the last update. That works out to 1167 finished documents, along with another 61 documents begun. Additionally, transcribers have initiated approximately 299 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 elementary school teachers, librarians, hobbyists, doctoral candidates, journalists, 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 major research universities to historical societies, and from the National Park Service. 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 Some of our transcribers had extensive experience with historical documents when they began; for others, this is their first encounter with two hundred-year old letters and handwriting.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 orders to military officers. Others describe treaty negotiations or terms. Many documents request supplies or instructions; there are financial records and officers’ commissions, as well as transcripts of disciplinary proceedings. One recent document included an allegation of forgery.

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

On the Job Market

September 25th, 2012

Many people today can relate to the trials and tribulations of being on the job market during an economic recession. The frustrations that this can cause have to be balanced with an upbeat willingness to sell your skills and appeal to your potential employer.  Samuel Newman found himself in this same situation more than 220 years ago.

Hoping for a political appointment in the War Department, Newman wrote to Secretary of War Henry Knox. Knox received the letter on January 17, 1790. Though serving as a Captain in the US military Newman was still having a difficult time supporting his family. 1790 was a time of economic hardships in the country. Having just adopted the Constitution and still trying to rebuild following the Revolutionary War, the American economy was not strong because there had not been enough stability to foster growth. State taxes were also a huge burden on residents as states attempted to repay their war debts by levying huge taxes. This was especially true in Massachusetts, where Newman lived.

Like any good applicant, Newman opened his letter with flattery. Calling the Secretary “The Honorable Major General” and “honored sir.” But Newman also backs up his compliments with his qualifications. Newman points to his esteemed military service with the Second Regiment. He argues that through this service he has proven his competence. This experience will also cut down on his need for training, as he is already versed in military procedure, making him a great asset to the War Department.

Perhaps Newman’s letter can serve as a rough guide for others on the job-hunt today.  Read the original document here.

Document Spotlight-Horse and Rider Edition

September 20th, 2012

Recently transcriber Mystakaphoros brought us a somewhat lighthearted letter detailing the ragtag conditions that soldiers and government officials often faced. Now, it isn’t the conditions that are funny; it’s the way the writer describes them. He describes the equipment given to the cavalry as “catchpenny;” he laments that some horses could go “scarce a mile but something broke.” And yet another horse is “is so miserably jaded with the journey thus far that I am afraid to risk him.” It is possible to sense the writer’s frustration, even while we are chuckling at his language.

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-Questions of Forgery

September 13th, 2012

Transcriber Rhdkbrown recently brought us a document that raises more questions than it answers. The document appears to be an 19 August 1796 affidavit from Theophilus Beckman, referencing another document dated 9 August 1796. The 9 August letter contains  a statement vouching for a George Wood, declaring that he (Beckman) knows Wood to be an honest man. Curiously, Beckman recognizes his signature on the letter, but does not recognize the statement, and declares it to be a forgery. Another letter dated 14 August contains Beckman’s testimony that he believes that a paper with his signature and seal on it were taken from his office and used to forge a letter of introduction.

So who was George Wood? Did he forge Beckman’s letter of introduction? What was the disposition of the case?

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-Captivated Prisoner Edition

September 11th, 2012

This week we read from a document transcribed by Leo. The letter concerns an investigation into a claim made by John Shatcher. Shatcher had claimed to be owed $275 in pay, requested help in proving that claim. Government accountants found no record of a John Shatcher, but did find record of a John Thatcher, who curiously had been captured (captivated, according to the letter) and heldprisoner for a time; their records indicated that Thatcher had received $275 in pay. The writer asks a series of questions in order to authenticate Shatcher’s claim, and further requests that Shatcher answer them under oath if possible. It’s an interesting look at the ways in which officials investigated claims; how did one prove one’s identity? How could officials be sure they were dealing with the right people? How common were fraudulent or improper claims?

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!

Who was Isaac Craig?

September 11th, 2012

There are many letters in the Papers of the War Department written by Major Isaac Craig, Deputy Quarter Master and Military Store Keeper Pittsburgh. He was a conscientious storekeeper, taking the trouble air out goods potentially infected by yellow fever. But who was this efficient Major in Pittsburgh?

Isaac Craig was born in County Down, Ireland, around the year 1742. As a youth he apprenticed as a carpenter, and emigrated to Philadelphia when he was in his early twenties, between 1765–1766. He joined the Marines in 1775 then transferred to the Artillery in 1777; his experiences of the Revolutionary War included the famous crossing of the Delaware and the Battle of Brandywine. In April 1780 he was ordered to Fort Pitt, and, with the exception of brief assignments elsewhere, he stayed in that area for the rest of his life.

After the war, Craig went into business with Stephen Bayard. The partners were among the first to purchase lots in the area which became Pittsburgh, setting up a mercantile business near the Fort at the junction of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers. Craig’s involvement ended in 1788, bought out by Philadelphia partners, and he spent three years living on a farm with his wife and in-laws before he was offered a position with the War Office in 1791.

Isaac Craig’s in-laws also show up in the papers of the War Department. His wife Amelia was the daughter of General John Neville, one of the central figures on the US side during the Whiskey Rebellion. One of the officers at Pittsburgh during the Rebellion was Major Abraham Kirkpatrick, who Craig recommend for the position of Head of Commissary in December 1794. Kirkpatrick was a brother-in-law of General Neville, and therefore Craig’s uncle by marriage. Craig’s own brother-in-law, Presley Neville, was Chief Burgess, or Mayor, of Pittsburgh in 1804.

Issac Craig was not only a War Department official in Pittsburgh. He was one of the earliest residents, connected by marriage to some of its most notable citizens.

A major source for this post was a short biography of Craig written by his son. Neville B. Craig, Sketch of the Life and Services of Isaac Craig, Major in the Fourth (Usually called Proctor’s) Regiment of Artillery, During the Revolutionary War (Pittsburgh: J. S. Davison, 1854).

Who are these transcribers, anyway?

September 6th, 2012

We now have more than 800 transcribers signed up to work on documents at the Papers of the War Department. Some have only ever worked on one document, while some have transcribed dozens. We have not done this in many months, so today we turn to a short interview with one of our more active transcribers, Nicole Salomone, to learn a little more about her background and experiences with the Scripto/PWD project:

PWD: Can you briefly describe your background with respect to history and transcribing?

NS: I am an independent scholar with over 15 years of research behind me, primarily focusing on the History of Medicine as Published in London in the Late 18th Century and the Physical Health and Mental Well-Being of Washington and His Advisors (Cabinet) 1789-1797.  Both foci have lead me to handwritten documents, which I have transcribed for my research.

PWD: How did you hear about Scripto?

NS: The first time that I heard about Scripto was for the Papers of the War Department Project.

PWD: Were you surprised by anything you found in the papers?

NS: Due to the decorum of appropriate topics to discuss in the late 18th century, I have been positively surprised by how frequently other people’s medical conditions are discussed.  Conversely, I have been minorly disappointed by how seldom the care that they received for the ailments is touched on in the discussions.  I have also been surprised by how many officers who served in the American Revolution were later given administrative positions in the government of the Early Republic.

 

It is not too late for you–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-Expense Report Edition

September 5th, 2012

This week we read from a document transcribed by Timetrvlr. The document actually consists of three short expense reports from 1795. In the first, John Stagg is due $148.60 for expenses related to the education of two Indian youths. In the second, Private Luthor Ludden is due $16.20 for his military service. In the third, Lieutenant Horatio R. Dayton is due $83.01 for his rations. Note that two of the requests are dated a year after the period of service, meaning that soldiers and officers are waiting a long time to be paid.

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!

PWD featured in Chronicle Article

September 5th, 2012

This week the hard work of the PWD editors and volunteer transcribers was featured in an article entitled “Historians Ask the Public to Help Organize the Past,” in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Reporter Marc Parry offered the story of the archive’s original reconstruction, its innovative online-first format, and our use of community transcription. The piece includes interviews with Editor-in-Chief Christopher Hamner, archive originator Ted Crackel, and the director of the Scripto community transcription tool project Sharon Leon.