Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Fellow's Perspective: The significance of Revolutionary Committee Meetings

 In this installment of Fellow's Perspective, Dr. Ken Owen, who conducted research at the Library during the Spring of 2010, shares his finding on the meetings of Revolutionary committees. Most readers will be familiar with the stereotypical drudgery of committee work, something that has largely remained unchanged over the centuries. Beneath this veil of discussion, debate, and reams of notes, however, lay a social process that was vital to the formation and application of American revolutionary ideology, as Dr. Owen notes below. Dr. Owen received his DPhil from The Queen's College, University of Oxford, after completing his research at the Library and now teaches at the University of Sussex.


Committee meetings may not seem the most exhilarating events in the historical record. These meetings, though, were crucial in determining how Americans declared Independence and what governments they formed when they did. In the winter of 1773-4, individuals throughout the state of Pennsylvania met at county courthouses to elect committees charged with prosecuting resistance to the British Crown. These committees then began to seize political leadership in the state, eroding the authority of the colonial legislature and ultimately resulting in the adoption of the most radical constitution created by any of the newly-independent states.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Swain Report Special: War Office 28, Regimental HQ Papers Part 3

War Office 28, Regimental Headquarters Papers
Swain Report Special, Installment 3

This report is the third in the series of Volunteer Research Assistant David Swain's catalog of War Office 28, Miscellaneous Headquarters Papers of British and Provincial Regiments in Canada. As noted in previous installments, David's work is one-of-a-kind and is making this often over-looked series of documents easily accessible for the first time in its archival history.  This installment covers papers of the Royal Provincial Corps and Butler's Rangers, units consisted of American Loyalists raised for British Service. Butler's Rangers was separate from the Royal Provincial Corps, which was recognized as part of the British Army, while Butler's Corps was treated in a manner comparable to modern civilian contractors. Aside from the Walter Butler Papers at Library and Archives Canada, War Office 28 represents one of the largest assemblages of documents from this crucial unit. The papers of the Royal Provincial units provide vital material for understanding the very unique experiences of these soldiers and their families, which contrasted significantly with that of the Royal Provincial regiments with the British Army on the American east coast. In addition, this section includes files from the Canadian Fencible Corps, covering the years 1802-1805.



British War Office 28—American Headquarters Records
Annotated List of Contents—Part 4 (Reel 3)

By David Swain

The David Library holds microfilm copies of the British War Office 28 Records, parts 2 through 10 (1775-1785), contained on 8 reels, as follows:

28.2 Letters, returns, etc (reel 1, 176 documents)
28.3 Letters, returns, etc. continued (reel 2, 197 documents)
28.4 Butler’s Rangers; Canadian Fencible Corps; Jessup’s Rangers; Roger’s Rangers; Royal Highland Emigrants (84th Regiment); McAlpin’s Volunteer Corps (reel 3 (part), 223 documents)
28.5 Royal Regiment of New York, Rogers’ King’s Rangers, Barrack Master General’s Department (reel 3 (part); reel 4)
28.6 Engineers; garrison returns; General Hospital Department (reel 5)
28.7 Montreal; ordnance; Quartermaster-General’s Department; St. Johns; Sorel (reel 5, reel 6)
28.8 Three Rivers, petitions and memorials; Germans; Carleton Isle, Cataraqui, Oswego (reel 6)
28.9 Miscellaneous letters, memorials, order books, etc. (reel 7)
28.10 Miscellaneous returns etc. (reel 8)

Note: The compiler of this annotated list has numbered the microfilmed documents consecutively within each reel. These numbers do not appear on the microfilm and are used here only to maintain a sense of order in the contents.

“Letterbooks” among these documents are not actually bound books but are folders of separate-page letters kept at the time by regiments. The microfilm copies of these letters are mostly in chronological order, with a few exceptions. Apparently at a later time, archivists added consecutive printed numbers to the letter pages within each part. These printed numbers are noted in this list for each letterbook or document set.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St. Patrick's Day in the British Army

March 17, 1777 fell in the midst of a sober period for the British Army in America. Barely two months earlier, George Washington and the Continental Army unraveled British Commander-in-Chief Sir William Howe's occupation of the Jerseys through their victories at the Battles of 2nd Trenton and Princeton, and their re-location to Morristown. From this position, the Congressional forces could threaten all of the smaller British occupation posts with impunity, with none of these posts being sufficiently large to defend itself. As a result, Howe ordered the evacuation of the Jerseys, confining the British Army to a few ports, including New Brunswick and Perth Amboy, where a majority of soldiers were confined aboard transport ships. The redcoats spent most of their time between decks due to the foul weather, unable to either exercise or keep warm, due to the prohibition of fires on board and the slow delivery of the new clothing issue. As a result, the British Army suffered serious losses from disease, both in terms of the men who died and others who were incapacitated and unable to do duty.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fellow's Perspective: Rachel Herrmann on Food Diplomacy

Rachel Herrmann is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin and joined us as part of the 2010-11 Fellowship Program. Rachel is a confirmed foodie and brings her love of all things eatable to her scholarship, revealing the hidden worlds of food in history. The historical study of foodstuffs, their preparation, and the socio-econo-cultural significance thereof has been a growth field since the mid-1980s, so Rachel stands in good company. Her dissertation, examining the symbolic and pragmatic usage and value of food during the American Revolution, promises to provide new insights for further work on how what we eat shapes who we are and what we do.


Figuring out Food Diplomacy

by Rachel Herrmann

I arrived to take up my research fellowship at the David Library last October (2010). When I got there I thought I was interested in Revolutionary foodways of free blacks, enslaved Africans, and Native Americans. After a month at the library, I’d figured out that I was more interested in starvation and what food meant to people in the Revolutionary period, and that the types of foods people were eating were less important to me. The historical sources are much more likely to say interesting things about food when there isn’t enough of it. My time at the library allowed me to come to terms with the idea of food diplomacy, and to think about how I was going to use that concept in my research on Creek and Cherokee Indians in the American South.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Fellow's Perspective: Dangerous Liaisons in the Pennsylvania Backcountry

In this installment of Fellow's Perspective, Prof. Ken Miller of Washington College discusses a brawl between captive British officers and local whig notables in the Pennsylvania backcountry. Prof. Miller's research, which will figure in his forthcoming book, focuses on the experience of British prisoners of war during the Revolution, particularly those confined at Lancaster. His entry highlights the value of the Library's microfilm collection for uncovering episodes of micro-history that can help to link together larger pieces of historical puzzles.


During my fall 2010 academic leave from Washington College, I undertook my second David Library of the American Revolution residential fellowship to complete the research for my book manuscript, Dangerous Guests: Enemy Captives and Revolutionary Communities during the War for Independence. Among other matters, my study investigates the manifold tensions springing from the hosting of British and German prisoners in the diverse wartime communities of the Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia interiors. Before commencing my recent fellowship at the David Library, I had attempted to unravel a violent confrontation between the captive British officers and the militant Whigs of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the leading detention site for enemy prisoners of war. Earlier research had yielded clues of an early 1782 brawl between the officers and their patriot hosts, but I had yet to discover what had sparked the conflict.