Monday, December 1, 2014

Digital Resource: Papers of the War Department, 1784-1800

Benjamin Lincoln to Nathaniel Greene, 1782, on supplies
The early papers of the U.S. War Office, from 1784 to 1800, were destroyed by fire in 1800. Continuing a project begun over a decade ago, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University has searched local repositories in the United States and Europe to find copies of the early documents and to digitize them. Over 45,000 documents have been found, consisting of hundreds of thousands of pages; the beginnings of the project are now available online at Papers of the War Department, 1784-1800. The archive contains many different kinds of documents in addition to traditional correspondence, such as accountant records, Indian treaties, inventories of equipment, and draft notes. According to the project website:
These Papers record far more than the era’s military history. Between 1784 and 1800, the War Department was responsible for Indian affairs, veteran affairs, naval affairs (until 1798), as well as militia and army matters. During the 1790s, the Secretary of War spent seven of every ten dollars of the federal budget (debt service excepted). The War Office did business with commercial firms and merchants all across the nation; it was the nation’s largest single consumer of fabric, clothing, shoes, food, medicine, building materials, and weapons of all kinds. “Follow the money,” it is said, if you want to learn what really happened, and in the early days of the Republic that money trail usually led to the War Office. For example, the War Department operated the nation’s only federal social welfare program, providing veterans’ benefits (including payments to widows and orphans) to more than 4,000 persons. It also provided internal security, governance, and diplomacy on the vast frontier, and it was the instrument that shaped relations with Native Americans.
 The War Office Papers project is using crowd-sourcing transcription techniques to bring the rediscovered documents on-line as quickly as possible.