National Historical Publications & Records Commission

NHPRC News - April 2013


April 2013

Inside the Commission


Sequestration has reduced the National Archives' appropriated budget by five percent to $371 million, and to $4.738 million for the National Historical Publications and Records Commission Grants Program for Fiscal Year 2013. The Commission will meet on Thursday, May 30 at 11 am at the National Archives to recommend grants in publishing historical records, innovation projects, and access to archives endeavors. The meeting is open to the public. If you plan on attending, please contact Christine Dunham ( or (202) 357-5010.

Annotation Available

Refer to CaptionCover of Annotation, the FY 2012 Annual Report of the NHPRC, with woodcut illustration of Ulysses S. Grant by Barry Moser

Annotation, the annual report of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, has been published and a PDF is available online at The report covers FY 2012 and includes stories on a dozen projects supported by the Commission. A limited number of printed volumes are available, for free, upon request. Please email Keith Donohue at


Grant Deadlines

The following Grant opportunities are currently available:

  • Digitizing Historical Records
    For projects to digitize nationally significant historical record collections and make the digital versions freely available online.
    Final Deadline:   June 11, 2013
  • Electronic Records Projects
    For projects to increase the capacity of archivists and archival repositories to create electronic records archives that preserve records of enduring historical value.
    Final Deadline:   June 11, 2013
  • Publishing Historical Records
    For projects to publish historical records of national significance.
    Two annual competitions:
    Colonial and Early National Period - Final Deadline:  June 11, 2013
    New Republic through the Modern Era - Final Deadline:  October 3, 2013
  • State and National Archival Partnership Grants
    For projects to strengthen archives and historical records programs in each of the states and build a national archival network.
    Final Deadline:   September 5, 2013


News from the Field

Frederick Douglass and The Columbian Orator

Refer to CaptionLife and Times of Frederick Douglass, 1882. Courtesy Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

Born a slave in Talbot County, Maryland around 1818,Frederick Douglass became one of the leading voices of the abolitionist movement after his escape in 1838. Known for his dazzling oratory and incisive writing, Douglass was largely self-taught, and it was one book that proved the foundation for his early education. In the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, he writes:

  • When I was about thirteen years old, and had succeeded in learning to read, every increase of knowledge, especially anything respecting the free states, was an additional weight to the almost intolerable burden of my thought-I am a slave for life. To my bondage I could see no end. It was a terribly reality, and I shall never be able to tell how sadly that thought chafed my young spirit. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I had earned a little money in blacking boots for some gentlemen, with which I purchased or Mr. Knight, on Thames street, what was then a very popular school book, viz., The Columbian Orator, for which I paid fifty cents.
Refer to CaptionDouglass purchased the Columbian Orator in Baltimore for 50 cents, and it changed his life, helping him hone his literary and oratory skills. Courtesy Frederick Douglass National Historic Site

The Columbian Orator (1797) was one of the first textbooks on English grammar and rhetoric published in the United States, with short extracts from speeches of William Pitt, George Washington, and others, as well as short dialogues, plays, and poems on the themes of patriotism, education, and freedom. Douglass a speech from Richard Sheridan's as the "most brilliant vindication of the rights of man.. . . I had now penetrated to the secret of all slavery and all oppression, and had ascertained to their true foundation to be in the pride, the power, and the avarice of man."

The editors of the Frederick Douglass Papers rightly point out that while a speech by Richard Sheridan is included in The Columbian Orator, "Douglass is probably referring to another selection in the anthology entitled 'Part of Mr. O'Connor's Speech in the Irish House of Commons, in Favor of the Bill for Emancipating the Roman Catholics, 1795.' Arthur O'Connor, a liberal Protestant member of the Irish Parliament, was a stronger supporter of Catholic rights. . .who resigned his seat after delivering this speech." In later years, Douglass credited The Columbian Orator his first, and for a long time his only, book with clarifying and defining his views on freedom and human rights.

Douglass wrote several autobiographies, eloquently describing his experiences in slavery in his 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which became influential in its support for abolition. He wrote two more autobiographies, with his last, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, published in 1881 and covering events through and after the Civil War. The Frederick Douglass Papers, undertaken at the Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis with NHPRC support, has just published an annotated edition ( Yale University Press) which reintroduces readers to a long-neglected essential of African-American literature. Life and Times revisits the events of his earlier autobiographies, demonstrating their connection to later events in his life: his political abolitionism, his connection to John Brown, the Civil War, his relationship with Abraham Lincoln, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow Era, and women's suffrage.

The Blackwell Family

The Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study has launched a new Blackwell Family digitization project supported by a grant from the NHPRC. The two-year project to digitize five Blackwell Family collections, which span from 1784 to 1981 and detail the activities of members of the Blackwell family, who were leaders in abolition, prohibition, health care, women's suffrage, and education.

The grant enables the Schlesinger Library to digitize nearly 190,000 pages of the Blackwell Family collection, featuring correspondence, diaries, financial records, photographs, drawings, writings, and other papers of four generations of the U.S. branch of the family, assembled by George Washington Blackwell and his descendants.

The Blackwell family story begins in earnest with Hannah (1792-1870) and Samuel (1790-1838) Blackwell. Samuel was a lay preacher and sugar refiner troubled that his livelihood was derived from the product of slave labor. His involvement with the English movement to abolish slavery led him to immigrate to the U.S. with the hope that he might replace cane sugar with beet sugar. He and Hannah were committed to raising all of their children, male and female, with concern not only for their material well being but also for their moral and spiritual health. Both were supporters of women's property rights as evidenced by their signatures on a petition "re: amendment of women's property rights in the estate of Ohio."

Each of the nine children grew to maturity with a passion to lead an ethical, intellectual, and productive life. They thought deeply about earning their livings in a manner that was moral and just. Because the affairs of Samuel and Hannah's children were entwined professionally, socially, and financially, their correspondence offers a panoramic view of the movement toward social justice and reform in the 19th century.

Refer to CaptionElizabeth Blackwell, ca. 1850-1860. Courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.

Among the most well known are Elizabeth (1821-1910) the first woman to obtain a medical degree and Emily (1826-1910), also among the first woman doctors. The two were at the forefront of the struggle for equal education and medical training for women, active in public health reform, and founders of the New York Infirmary and College for Women. Their brother Henry Browne Blackwell (1825-1909), his wife Lucy Stone (1818-1893), and their daughter Alice Stone Blackwell (1857-1950) were known for their leading roles in the abolition, woman's suffrage, and prohibition movements; and their sister-in-law Antoinette Brown Blackwell (1825-1921), wife of Samuel Charles Blackwell (1823-1901), was the first woman ordained as a minister in the United States and an active speaker on behalf of abolition, women's rights and prohibition.

Refer to CaptionPortrait of Lucy Stone (Blackwell) seated at a table and holding a book. Courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.

Blackwell family papers illuminate a broad sweep of 19th and early 20th century U.S. social history: abolition; the women's rights and woman's suffrage movements in the U.S. and England; temperance and prohibition; education of women and the entrance of women into the professions (medicine, the ministry, and journalism); public health; vice; indigence; Utopian movements; and family life in the U.S. in the 19th century.

Pioneer Days in Florida

  • "We know as little of Florida as we do of the interior of Africa. Every foot we advance in the country we make new discoveries and meet with more obstacles to surmount, but they all vanish before our little band who are deserving of a better fate. The people of our country do not appreciate our exertions . . ." --Joseph Van Swearingen to his sister, Kissimmee River, 15 December 1837
Refer to CaptionTwo leaves of the memoir of British Loyalist Mary Port Macklin (1828) recounting her experiences in South Carolina and Florida during the American Revolution, Courtesy Yonge Library, University of Florida

The Pioneer Days in Florida: Diaries and Letters from Settling the Sunshine State, 1800-1900 Collection will digitize 19th century manuscript materials from the Florida Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection within the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History.

The University of Florida will digitize and make available 36,530 pages of diaries and manuscripts describing life in Florida from the end of the colonial period to the beginnings of the modern state. Work will entail digitizing 14 family papers collections, 134 diaries, and 240 individual folders containing letters, reports, and sketches. The materials range in date from 1784-1912 and concern native peoples, European settlers, soldiers, women, and enslaved and free African Americans. Key themes within the collection include westward expansion, assertions of Manifest Destiny, conflict between European settlers and Native Americans, and Florida's development into a modern state. Two family papers collections, one set of diaries, and numerous letters contain materials relating the aftermath of the American Revolution and the United States acquisition of Florida from Spain. Five collections of family papers, three sets of diaries, and many letters give Floridians' accounts of the Civil War. Other materials document the tensions that led to the Seminole Wars.

Refer to CaptionPages from the diary of Lieut. Henry Prince written during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), Courtesy Yonge Library, University of Florida

The Yonge Library was an affiliate institution for the University of Florida's America's Swamp: the Historical Everglades Project, a three year NHPRC project to digitize and make available 99,690 pages related to the development of South Florida during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Augusta County Chancery

Refer to CaptionA broadside advertising a land sale made by decree of the Augusta County Circuit Court circa 1856, courtesy Library of Virginia.

Circuit court chancery records, rich in historical and genealogical information, are windows into the past. In Virginia, the Circuit Court Records Preservation Program has funded, in part, a massive archival project overseen by the Library of Virginia to create an online database of some 229,000 indexed cases, containing nearly 7 million images from the past. Because the records rely so heavily on testimony from witnesses, they offer a unique glimpse into the lives of Virginians from the early 18th century through the First World War.

A chancery cause is one that could not be decided readily by existing written laws. Decisions were made by a county justice or judge, not a jury, and on the basis of fairness, or equity, in place of the strictly formulated rules of common law. These justices administered most facets of local government and were the face of government for most people during this period. As justices made decisions based on equity, they expressed social mores and values that governed everyday life in communities. The Index is available through the Library's Virginia Memory portal and is linked to, in numerous electronic finding aids and the Library's online catalog.

The original court papers are flat-filed, indexed, and conserved using a set of standards developed by the LVA. Since the tri-folded records are often in poor condition, special attention is paid to preparing them for digital reformatting. This laborious process is undertaken so that the best quality images can be captured in one effort. The valuable original records are then retired to secure storage. The reformatted images-whether digital scans or microfilm-can be viewed at the Library of Virginia, at the circuit court clerk's office, or, in the case of digital images, online. The indexed but-not-yet-reformatted original records in the Library's care can be viewed in the Archives Research Room prior to reformatting.

In FY 2011, The Library of Virginia received NHPRC funds to support its two year project to digitize the 460 cubic feet of Augusta County Chancery Court records covering the period from 1745 to 1912. Augusta County included portions of West Virginia, Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania as well as most of western Virginia during the pre-revolutionary period. The Augusta County chancery causes are the most voluminous of any locality in Virginia and are one of the longest and most complete continuous collections of chancery records of any locality in the country. They also document an unusually large geographic area. These records are invaluable to family history researchers looking for their roots in several states. These records are particularly significant to historians in three ways: they enable historians to study landholding and economic development in the backcountry, and the extent to which the frontier provided opportunities for upward mobility in the eighteenth century; they document slavery, particularly industrial slavery, in a rural setting; and they contribute to recent historiography of the Civil War and the impact of slavery on modernization in the South.

Refer to CaptionThe Ebony Bridal -- Wedding Ceremony in the Cabin, engraving from Frank Leslie s Illustrated Newspaper, 19 August 1871. (Image used courtesy of Library of Virginia Special Collections.)

The project kept a blog of some of their most interesting finds in Out of the Box, including a case for bounty land for soldiers who served in the French and Indian War. During that war, George Washington led a regiment of Virginia soldiers in the Battle of the Great Meadows, also known as the Battle of Fort Necessity. Another case details the first African American marriage on record after the Civil War in Augusta County, its unhappy cause and aftermath. An EAD finding aid is also available.


NHPRC News is published every other month. If you have news you wish to share or would like to receive an e-mail alert when the next issue is available, please contact Keith Donohue, Director for Communications, at