Deciphering the Handwritten Records of Early America
Since beginning my work with digitizing the General Assembly Session Records collection at the State Archives, I have had to do a bit of research on how to effectively interpret 18th century manuscripts in order create the appropriate metadata for the records and improve discoverability of these records in our digital collection. The following sections include a brief history of writing during this time period, characteristics of 17th and 18th century British-American handwriting, and some tips on deciphering the text found within these records. This is the first blog post of a series on how to read handwritten colonial documents.
As a skill most take for granted today, writing was not a widespread accomplishment during this time period; however, with the growth of commerce and industry, the need for this skill became more apparent.
According to Monaghan (1988), reading and writing were considered to be two separate endeavors, as the ability to read was not dependent on the ability to write. Initially, reading was simply a means to an end—a skill that provided direct access to the Scripture. The Bible was this era’s most popular book, so it comes as no surprise that it was the first text children learned to read. Thornton (1998) contends that “reading was taught first, as a universal spiritual need; writing was taught second, and then only to some.”
Session of November-December, 1768: Lower House Papers, messages to and from Governor Tryon. Available online through the NC Digital Collections.
The General Assembly Session Records collection is now available online via the North Carolina Digital Collections. This collection features records of early North Carolina state legislatures from the State Archives of North Carolina. The documents consist of bills and resolutions, petitions, committee reports, messages from the governor, legislative messages, tally sheets, election certificates, resignations, and other material related to the work of each session of the General Assembly. The physical collection includes items from 1709 through 1999, but the digital collection will focus on the earliest materials. This digital collection is currently in progress, and more items will be added as they are digitized. Check back for future updates on the status of this project.
While the first official assembly was said to occur around 1665, it wasn’t until 1776 that the first state constitution was ratified by the “representatives of the freemen” and the General Assembly was given full legislative power as well as the authority to choose all state executive and judicial officers. Several amendments have been made to the state’s constitution over time, which has altered the powers and structure of the General Assembly.
For more information on the history of the North Carolina General Assembly, please check out these NCpedia pages developed by the State Library:
For more information on the General Assembly Session Records collection, please search our MARS catalog. Another digital collection of interest includes the Federal State and Constitutional Materials, which highlight North Carolina government’s role in the ratification of federal amendments and its own internal efforts to protect the rights of its citizens dating back to the Declaration of Rights in 1776.
April 6, 2017 marked the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I. This summer several North Carolina institutions are teaming up to share World War I history through social media. Every Wednesday from June through August, they will post information about items from their collections using the hashtag #WWIWednesday. The groups taking part include:
Follow the conversation on social media this summer to learn more about North Carolina’s role in World War I.
Postcard: “When shall we meet again,” addressed to Warren McNeill, Sept. 14, 1918. From the Warren C. McNeill Papers, part of the Military Collection at the State Archives of North Carolina. Available online through the North Carolina Digital Collections.
Since the start of 2017, several new staff members have joined the Digital Services Section. All of us will be making regular blog posts on History For All the People, so we thought it would be nice for each of us to introduce ourselves, describe our roles in DSS, and preview the projects we’re working on.
Introducing Sara Pezzoni: Metadata and Digitization Assistant in the Digital Services Section
My first few weeks here have been a whirlwind of excitement, and I’m so happy to be here! I am a homegrown Tar Heel, grew up in Raleigh, and completed my BA in Communication Studies with a minor in English from UNCW. I also received my MLIS from Florida State University, which I completed through online courses. I look forward to working in Digital Services and undertaking associated challenges brought about by issues surrounding information lifecycle management, long-term retrievability, and access.
Before coming to the State Archives, I would say I’ve kept fairly busy in searching for my “place.” Like most in this field, I feel as though I have had many different past lives before focusing on archival work—I guess that’s what happens when you have a wide variety of interests pulling you in several different directions. I first fell in love with photography as a teenager, and decided I would give news photography a try at my college newspaper, which later led me into a photographer position post-college at a newspaper in Kinston, NC. I fell in love with telling stories through the art of photography, but never truly felt like it was the career path for me. Straight out of college, I side-tracked into a part-time position at a small publishing company due to my minor in English and interests in editing/writing—also not quite the desired career path for me. I then interned for a few months at NCMA in the Education Department to see if working with art as opposed to creating art was a better option for me. This experience led me to explore other opportunities in the world of art and photography, and I began two simultaneous internships at the National Archives II in College Park, MD and Magnum Photos in NYC—all while working on my MLIS. I might not have had much time to sleep, but that didn’t seem to matter at the time.
[This blog post comes from Olivia Carlisle, Digitization Archivist at the State Archives of North Carolina.]
The Troop Returns Digital Collection is now complete via the North Carolina Digital Collections. This collection includes lists, returns, records of prisoners, and records of draftees, from 1747 to 1893. The majority of records are from the Revolutionary War North Carolina Continental Line. Records dated after the Revolutionary War primarily deal with the county and state militia troops.
“Return of the North Carolina Brigade of Foot commanded by Brigadier General Hogun.” Troop Returns. Military Collection. State Archives of North Carolina.
Unique Items included in the latest upload:
The commission of William Darlet as 1st Lieutenant of the 1st Regiment of the North Carolina militia in 1815
Documents include Militia Regulations from 1808
An accounting of militia troops in the United States versus the state/territory
For more information on how the Troop Returns are organized and what may be included please see the first blog post on the collection, or consult the digital collection landing page. To view the items in the collection in a list format, please see the Troop Returns finding aid.
The Troop Returns from the State Archives of North Carolina Military Collection are now available online via the North Carolina Digital Collections. This collection includes lists, returns, records of prisoners, and records of draftees, from 1747 to 1893. The majority of records are from the Revolutionary War North Carolina Continental Line.
“A list of the troop of Dragoons commanded by Captain Lawrence Thompson”. Troop Returns. Military Collection. State Archives of North Carolina.
Militia records generally include the names of the officers and soldiers, and are usually organized by district or county. Continental Line records include field returns, general returns, draft records and enlistment records. These may be organized by military unit or location. When available, the commanding officers’ name is included in the item description and is searchable in the collection.
This digital collection is currently in-progress, and more items will be added as they become available. Check back for the future post on the completion of the collection.
For more specific collection information, including information on the items not yet available, please see the Troop Returns finding aid.