J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Continental Army Paperwork to Transcribe

The Newberry Library in Chicago announced it has just digitized a collection of Continental Army receipts for clothing, food, and other supplies. And it’s asking for volunteers to help transcribe those documents.

More detail:
Found in the papers of Chauncey Whittelsey, a Yale-educated clergyman and Connecticut-based merchant who served as purchasing agent for the Continental Army during the American Revolution, the receipts help reveal another front-line in the Revolutionary war: supplying the Continental Army. Yet a problem remains: no digitally searchable transcriptions of the Whittelsey papers presently exist.

In order to help scholars make use of Whittelsey’s receipts and other similar manuscripts, the Newberry developed Transcribing Modern Manuscripts, a crowdsourced transcription site that allows members of the public to help transcribe almost 30,000 pages of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American manuscripts. Once completed, these transcriptions promise to deepen our understanding of American history and shed light on overlooked but important actors like Chauncey Whittelsey.

And certainly, Whittelsey’s role was important. As purchasing agent, he was responsible for supplying the Continental Army with those essential goods – from frock coats, stockings, and beaver hats to axes, firearms, cheese, and rum (lots of rum) – that enabled the war effort to proceed. His receipts thus provide a glimpse into the commercial networks that sustained the Revolutionary Army.
So far the collections on the Transcribing Modern Manuscripts page all seem to come from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, after Americans dropped the long s and dictionaries codified spellings. But presumably expressions of interest from volunteers interested in eighteenth-century documents might widen the scope.

Library staffer Matthew Clarke posits that the transcriptions could lead to “a map that displays the geographic nodes in this commercial network, along with the names of town authorities, sums of money transferred, and types of goods exchanged.”

1 comment:

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