This weekend the Rhode Island Historical Society will celebrate the publication of the thirteenth and final volume of the Papers of General Nathanael Greene with a festive (and fundraising) dinner featuring David McCullough, author of 1776.
Publishing the complete papers of any significant historical figure is a long undertaking—thirty-four years in Greene's case. It usually requires government funding, exacting standards, and management skills. At some point, I understand, participants start to suspect that the project will never end. So the RIHS deserves to feel proud about bringing this ship into port.
Unfortunately, Greene's papers shed limited light on the biggest mystery of his career: how he vaulted from being just one of several founders of the Kentish Guards militia company to being named general of the Rhode Island troops early in the siege of Boston. In that position he gained the respect of George Washington, and the rest was history.
The first volume of the Greene Papers does contain a marvelous example of eighteenth-century American spelling standards in the form of his orders for 14 Aug 1775, as transcribed by an unknown company captain into an orderly book:
The Camp Coloman of Each Ridgment to Clean the Spears three times a week against there Several alarm posts. The Corl are Requested to see it Don. There appears to be a Grate negtlect of the people Reparing to the Neserys agreeable to General orders but to Void there Exerments about the field pernishously and Dont fill the Vaults that are Dug as Directed by his Excelentsy. As the healths of the Camps is greatly Dangred by these Neglects it is Recomended to the ofisers of the Several Ridgments to pay due attention to futer transgresion and Let the Transgresor be ponished with the Utmost Severity. Generals Lee Gard to be furnished with Camp Cittels and to Draw provisions by them selves. The Cort marshal for Coln mansfield is agorned tomorow at 9 Clock as appointed in General orders. The Cort and the partis are to attend at the time and place appinted. Coln Gridly to Draw out a fetege party and to widen and Depen the Ditches Round these Linds at Lest 2 feet and from glaised 16 or 18 inches higt.Got that?