Community Transcription-Closing in on Two Years

February 28th, 2013

It’s been twenty-two 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.

As of this morning, we have 1,272 users-fully 215 them have transcribed within the last 90 days, which is about 17%. This number has held remarkably steady for many months. Those transcribers have made more than 10,422 saves to War Department documents, which is about 900 more than at the last update. That works out to 1,902 finished documents, along with another 36 documents begun. Additionally, transcribers have initiated nearly 400 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 49,707 total page views.

By now we have an incredibly rich variety of folks transcribing,  from classroom teachers to journalists, from archivists to doctoral candidates,and from park rangers to genealogists. There are folks transcribing from every American state, and from six different continents. We have unaffiliated transcribers as well as those attached to institutions, ranging from major research universities to historical societies, and from the National Park Service to the Cherokee. Among those that specify an interest or focus, those interests range from professional research, to family research, 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 Some of our transcribers had extensive experience with historical documents when they began; for others, this is their first encounter with two hundred-year old letters and handwriting.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. Some describe internal disciplinary action. Others include nominations for military posts. Many documents request supplies or instructions; 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.

Fort Duquesne

February 25th, 2013

With the exception of perhaps West Point, no garrison is more frequently cited in this collection than Fort Pitt, along with its commander, Major Isaac Craig who restored the fort in 1791. But long before this bastion on the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers became a major supply depot for pushing provisions and supplies down the Ohio River to the western forts during the 1790s, the French  controlled this region,  using their  their own system of Indian alliances with the Six Nations of Iroquois and by constructing a series of forts running north-south from French Canada, including Fort Frontenac, (modern day Kingston Ontario, Fort Oswego, Fort Presque Isle (modern day Erie PA), and Fort LeBoeuf (Waterford PA).

Built by French and Canadians in 1754,  the construction of Fort Duquesne was a risky undertaking for the undermanned and under-resourced French, in many ways setting the stage for the beginnings of what Winston Churchill called “the first world war.”  For it was here that General Braddock, supreme commander of British forces in North America, along with his young aide George Washington,  aimed in 1755 to dislodge the French once and for all in a military campaign known as “Braddock’s March.”

But with his columns divided and strung out for miles, French and Indian forces inflicted a stinging defeat on Braddock’s army at the Battle of the Monongahela River.  Miraculously, Washington survived unscathed, even though he had two horses shot from underneath him.  After Braddock was killed, Washington took command of the general retreat back to Virginia.

Having taken measure of Braddock’s recklessness and refusal to engage in Indian diplomacy, General John Forbes (with Washington as his aide) advanced again toward Fort Duquesne in 1758 with 6000 British and Colonial troops.  Along the way Forbes systematically protected his lines of communications by creating a  system of forts, supply depots and blockhouses through modern day southern Pennsylvania, known as “Forbes’ Road.”  Hopelessly outnumbered, French forces blew up the fort and retreated to Fort Leboeuf.   Fort Duquesne became Fort Pitt, after William Pitt the Elder, where modern-day Pittsburgh stands today.

For more, see Fred Anderson (2000). Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1766. New York: Alfred Knopf.


“Much more promising than many of the Virginia gentlemen.”

February 7th, 2013

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching thoughts are turning to love, courtship, and those cute candy hearts with the phrases on them. But love can also be serious business – especially if you are trying to marry the niece of the President.

That was the situation that Andrew Parks found himself in while he was wooing Harriot Washington, niece of then President George Washington, in 1796. With no biological children of his own, Washington was known to be a doting uncle. Because of this, and because of the prominence of his family, Washington was hesitant about Parks and wanted to learn more about the young man’s character before supporting the relationship.

This could be a difficult task for some, but being the President has its privileges. Washington had Secretary of War James McHenry investigate the young man’s past. McHenry contacted the Baltimore merchant Thomas McElderry who had taken Parks on as a business partner. In his response to McHenry’s inquiry McElderry assured him that Parks was a man of upstanding character. He also spoke of his skills as a businessman, having started his own “business for himself before he was nineteen years of age.” Because of this McElderry assured “with much propriety and reputation, [I] believe he will make a good husband, much more promising than many of the Virginia gentlemen.”

Harriot Washington and Andrew Parks were married on July 4, 1796.

Interested in reading McElderry’s response? View the original document here: