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Turning Points
Ideas from the National Archives for National History Day

Resources at
NARA's Northeast Region (New York City)


The Colonial Period: Records of the Vice Admiralty Court

NARA's Northeast Region (New York City) houses records of the Vice Admiralty Court of the Province of New York (Record Group 21) from 1685 to 1775. Documenting various aspects of New York's early history, the records concern importing slaves in violation of the Royal Africa Company monopoly, the seizure of enemy warships during the French and Indian War, piracy, crime on the high seas, customs regulations, wages, cruel and unusual treatment of seamen, insubordination, mutiny, and even cutting down white pine trees reserved for masts of vessels of the Royal Navy.

Creating a New Nation: The Early National Period

Records of District Courts of the United States (Record Group 21), available from NARA's Northeast Region (New York City), dating from the creation of the federal court system in 1789, document the early national period for New York and New Jersey. Many of the new nation's leading figures practiced in these courts--men like Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, Edward Livingston, Elias Boudinot, Richard Stockton, Joseph Bloomfield, and Aaron Ogden.

Antebellum Period: Slave Cases

The records of District Courts of the United States (Record Group 21) at NARA's Northeast Region (New York City) contain records related to numerous slave trading cases and several cases involving fugitive slaves.

The Admiralty Court During the Civil War

The most active admiralty court during the Civil War was in New York. Its records, which are available in Record Group 21 from NARA's Northeast Region (New York City), include not only legal and financial details concerning the seizure of Confederate blockade runners but private letters from the South that never reached their intended recipients. The files contain extensive information on life in the Confederacy between 1861 and 1865.

Woman Suffrage Movement: U.S. v. Susan B. Anthony. U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, 1873

Women's rights pioneer Susan B. Anthony became involved in a celebrated case when she registered and voted in the Rochester city elections of 1872 in a plan to test the legality of woman suffrage. Records from this criminal case are available in the Online Catalog (OPA) and are housed at the National Archives at New York City.

Immigration

Naturalization Records (Record Group 21)--In addition to passenger lists for immigrants coming into the port of New York, NARA's Northeast Region (New York City) houses naturalization records for New York and New Jersey. Dating from 1792, the records for New York City help document immigration patterns over the past two-hundred years.

Chinese Exclusion Records (Record Group 85)--Reacting to anti-Chinese sentiment on the West Coast, Congress enacted legislation in 1882 prohibiting the immigration of Chinese laborers for a period of ten years. Subsequent treaties and acts passed between 1884 and 1930 strengthened the restrictions on immigration. The New York facility has extensive case files documenting Chinese immigration and life from the late 19th century until about 1960. A database is available at NARA's Northeast Region (New York City) and through Ancestry.com, and a small sampling from the files can be found on the Online Catalog (OPA).

Inventions

NARA's Northeast Region (New York City) houses patent records (Record Group 21) for a number of inventors and inventions that changed American history: Charles Goodyear and vulcanized rubber, Samuel F.B. Morse and the telegraph, Alexander Graham Bell's telephone, Cyrus McCormick and the reaper, the Wright Brothers and their flying machine, the automobile, and a host of patents by Thomas Alva Edison.

The Rise of Big Business

Records related to antitrust suits from Record Group 21, Records of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, include cases involving sugar and tobacco. They are available at NARA's Northeast Region (New York City).

Sinking of the Lusitania -- Limitation of Liability Suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Record Group 21)

On May 1, 1915, the German Embassy in Washington issued a warning that Americans entering the war zone around the British Isles would do so at their own risk. Six days later a German submarine sank the British transatlantic steamer Lusitania off the Irish coast without warning, causing the loss of 1,198 lives, including 128 Americans. Dismissing German arguments that the Lusitania was armed and carried contraband, President Woodrow Wilson through his Secretary of State warned Germany that a repetition of such acts would be regarded as "deliberately unfriendly." The incident helped turn public opinion against Germany and contributed to American involvement in World War I. NARA's Northeast Region (New York City) houses the records of the admiralty case, which grew out of the sinking.

The Atomic Bomb and the Cold War

NARA's Northeast Region (New York City) has both court and U.S. Attorneys records for two of the most famous atomic spy cases of the Cold War period -- Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and Alger Hiss (Record Groups 21 and 118). The attorneys' files include evidence used in the trials. Related materials are available in the Online Catalog (OPA).

Computers -- IBM Antitrust Case in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Record Group 21)

In antitrust cases that went on from the 1950s well into the 1990s, the Justice Department accused IBM of monopolizing the market for the pre-computer tabulating machines of the day and the punch cards for storing information on these machines. It anticipated today's battles over computer software by about forty years. The case files are held in Record Group 21 at NARA's Northeast Region (New York City).


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