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8 Posts authored by: victoriavanhyning Expert

This blog is by Library of Congress Manuscript Historian, Dr Julie Miller

June 4, 2020


The George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress mostly document the life of George Washington. There’s nothing surprising about that. What is surprising is that Washington’s papers also contain a lot of fragmentary, often eloquent information about the lives of much more ordinary people. These are people we would know nothing about except that their lives happened to intersect with Washington’s. They include servants, slaves, grocers, dentists, wine merchants, bakers, tavernkeepers, landladies, seamstresses, and laundresses. Many of them were women.


One of the best places to find out about these people in Washington’s papers is in the meticulous records he kept of his public and private spending. These invoices, receipts, and ledger books constitute the thirty-four volumes of Series 5. The receipted bills Washington kept of his spending during the Revolutionary War, in Series 5, Volume 29, are the focus of our latest crowdsourcing project, “Ordinary Lives in George Washington’s Papers: The Revolutionary War.”


I would like to introduce you to one group of women you will meet as you work your way through these receipts. They are the laundresses who worked for Washington during the Revolutionary War.


Washington’s steward Caleb Gibbs made an understandable mistake when he wrote that Margaret Thomas received “twenty eight pounds seventeen shillings & sixpence Pennsylvania currency in full for Washington done for his Excellency General Washington” for almost eighteen months of washing. Washington was on the move during this period, so Thomas probably traveled with his household. She signed the receipt herself.


Martha Morris probably lived in New York, since the single bill she submitted to Washington, in October, 1776, is dated from there. It describes her and her work this way: “cloas washd by Marther the negor wench.” The back of the receipt, similarly: “Negro wench’s bill for washing linnen.” When the British occupied New York after Washington fled, just after the date of this bill, they offered freedom to escaped slaves. If Morris was among them, she might have chosen to stay in the city. Read more about her here.


Between July and September, 1776 Andrew Marschalk submitted five bills for washing and mending performed by “Mrs. Marschalk.” Because Marschalk’s bills end when Washington left New York, it’s likely the family lived in the city. Mrs. Marschalk’s labor supported the family, but Anglo-American law entitled her husband to her earnings, as these receipts demonstrate.


In May, 1776 Sarah Einglis submitted a bill for washing Martha Washington’s aprons, handkerchiefs, and ruffles. George Washington’s letters show that he was in New York on that date. This receipt is a piece of evidence to show that his wife was there, too. Einglis appears to have written out this receipt herself.


The bills submitted by this diverse group of women are a window into their working and economic lives, and add a rich layer to our understanding of the Revolutionary war as it was experienced by ordinary people. We hope you enjoy puzzling out these receipts, and helping researchers and students of the future to more easily search and access these small, but important documents.

This blog is by Library of Congress Manuscript Historian, Dr Julie Miller


Today we're releasing a new By the People Campaign featuring handwritten receipts and interrogations of deserters--documents found in the George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress. Read this blog and then visit “Ordinary Lives in George Washington’s Papers: The Revolutionary War” to transcribe, review, or read these historic materials.


In 1782, during the Revolutionary War, the American artist John Singleton Copley painted this portrait of thirteen-year-old Augustus Brine, a sailor in the British Royal Navy. The boy’s capable hands and confident stance, startlingly combined with his rosy cheeks and curly hair, are a clue that the redcoats we learned about when we were children may not have been exactly as we imagined.


Augustus Brine (1769–1840) painted as a young boy by Anthony Copley. He stands with his body slightly turned away from us, his right hand in his pocket, his sandy hair long and falling around his shoulders. Artist: John Singleton Copley (American, Boston, Massachusetts 1738–1815 London) Date: 1771 Medium: Oil on canvas. Painting held at the Met and made available online under Creative Commons Zero (CC0).

More evidence to prove the truth of this is in two small notebooks in Series 6A of the George Washington papers at the Library of Congress. These contain notes made by Washington’s aides as they interrogated British deserters and escapees. The interrogations took place around New York City in 1782 and 1783 while the city was occupied by British troops.


These men constituted a diverse group. They were Americans pressed into British service, sailors captured from French ships, escapees from British prison ships, Hessian mercenaries, and Americans serving in loyalist regiments, including the one commanded by Benedict Arnold after his defection. Responding to a set of questions, they give their names and histories, describe conditions at British encampments, and tell where, how, and why they left.


Christian Reidenby, a Hessian mercenary, deserted his regiment on Governor’s Island because he owned land in Georgia and preferred to stay in the United States. John Carrol, a sailor originally from Philadelphia, had been impressed by the British and imprisoned in Jamaica. Then he sailed on a privateer, and finally escaped from a British ship on Lake Champlain. Richard Green and Daniel Lane deserted from the loyalist corps headed by Benedict Arnold. They had enlisted with Arnold in order to get out of jail in British-occupied New York. James Nealy, a fifer, escaped his regiment on Long Island. He reported that “great uneasiness prevails” in his corps, probably because they had learned of the impending evacuation of New York and the shipment of British troops to the West Indies, where they knew that heat and disease threatened the lives of British soldiers.


George Washington used the information he learned from these and other deserters in his plans. Today these capsule biographies, which range from one sentence to several paragraphs each, should interest anyone who wants to gain a complex understanding of the British or British-allied men and boys who occupied New York during the Revolutionary War.

Hi all,


To round out Poetry Month (April) we're proposing a Walt Whitman challenge! Read more about it on the Library of Congress Poetry and Literature blog.


As part of this challenge we're joining with colleagues from the Learning and Innovation Office at the Library and the National Council of Teachers of English. Join us Friday, May 1 for a review-a-thon webinar geared towards educators to learn more about using By the People in their classrooms (virtual or in-person!) and Whitman primary sources such as his drafts and the printed journals where his works often appeared before he gathered them together in Leaves of Grass.


We won't be making daily updates on progress here as we normally do for challenges, but as of 11am on April 30, 2020 1,246 pages in the Poetry project still need to be reviewed. Once these are all reviewed we can bring all of the almost 4,000 Whitman pages back to the Library's main website where they'll enhance search and accessibility.


Thanks for your help!

Victoria and the By the People team

Many pages on By the People are written in languages other than English or contain words and phrases with accents, such as café or coup de théâtre. Writers such as Mary Church and Clara Barton spent time in Germany and France, and sometimes practiced their language skills by writing in the local language. Abraham Lincoln received correspondence from speakers of many other languages, and Alan Lomax and his collaborators wrote down songs and stories in French, Creole, German, Finnish, Swedish, Polish, and Hungarian. We want to capture these languages as they appear on the page, just as the authors wrote them down. Here’s how you can use or adapt your existing keyboard.


How to Type Accented Characters and diacritic marks on Mac

For accented letters:

  1. Press and hold down the letter you wish to accent until a menu with character accents appears
  2. Choose the character accent with the mouse or press the number corresponding below the accent in the menu. These numbers appear in light grey below the accents.


Another way to type diacritics and ligatures on a Mac is to use key combinations:


  • é, ó – Acute: Hold down OPTION key + e, then type the letter you want to accent
  • à
  • ô – Circumflex: Hold down OPTION key + i + the letter
  • ñ – Hold down OPTION key + n + the letter
  • ö – Trema: Hold down OPTION key + u + the letter
  • ç – Cedilla: Hold down OPTION key + c
  • ø – Hold down OPTION key + o
  • å Å – Hold down OPTION key + a
  • Æ – AE Ligature: Hold down OPTION key + ‘
  • œ – OE Ligature: Hold down OPTION key + q
  • ¿ – Hold down OPTION key and SHIFT key + ?
  • ¡ – Hold down OPTION key + 1


How to Type Accented Characters and diacritic marks on Microsoft Windows


Below you will find links to instructions on the Microsoft support pages for how to add and switch between different languages on your Windows device. You can install as many language keyboards as you want. Instructions vary for different versions of Windows.


If you are unsure which version of Windows is running on your device, here are instructions on how to find that information:


For entering Spanish, French, and German accents, install the "United States - International" keyboard. To add Finnish, Swedish, Hungarian and other languages, select the relevant language from the list of available keyboards in the Windows list. You can find this list by following the directions linked above.


To switch between different language keyboard settings on Windows


  • For Windows XP, 7 and 10 press left-Ctrl + left-Shift
  • For Windows 10 you may also press and hold the Windows key + Spacebar

Carrie Chapman Catt and other suffragists gather to fight for their right to vote. Protesters hold banners, shields, and American flags.


Today, June 4, 2019, we're releasing the papers of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Anna E. Dickinson for you to transcribe and review, in celebration of the centenary of women's suffrage and the passage of the 19th Amendment. The struggle for women’s voting rights—considered the largest reform movement in American history—lasted more than seven decades, from 1848 to 1920. Determined women organized, lectured, petitioned, lobbied, paraded, picketed, and went to jail for daring to demand the right to vote.


In addition to these four new Campaigns we've added new functionality called "Topic", which allows us to group materials thematically. You'll now find the papers of Mary Church Terrell, advocate for the rights of African Americans and universal suffrage, alongside the papers of other leading suffragists such as Stanton and Anthony, whose works were we've just added.

Explore the daily lives of these determined leaders and their stories of hope, perseverance, sacrifice, courage, creativity, and conviction. Learn how everyday Americans and people around the world participated in and reacted to the suffrage movement. You can choose from letters, diaries, speeches, articles, address and appointment books, and much more!


Find your perfect page


You can use the exciting new activity prototype to search for suffrage papers to transcribe or review. Log in and search for materials by Campaign or Topic. Further instructions about the prototype are available here, and you can fill out this survey to tell us about your experience.


A new exhibition


The "Suffrage: Women Fight For the Vote" Topic is launching the same day as the Library of Congress's fantastic new exhibition, "Shall not be denied: Women Fight for the Vote", which tells the story of the suffrage movement through documents, images, and objects housed at the Library. The exhibition will be open from June 2019 to September 2020 and is free to visit. Watch out for free tours and talks, and learn more about this key period of American history.

On April 16 the By the People/Concordia web development team released several new features, including social share, "Resources", and an updated homepage!  We hope that you'll enjoy these new features, and find it easier to share pages with friends and fellow volunteers online.


Social Share


If you find something cool or interesting that you want to share with members of your Twitter or Facebook community or which you just want to copy to your clipboard and paste into a document or email you can now do this from the site in just a few easy clicks.



For example, I've found a page in the Letters to Lincoln Campaign that needs review. I carefully check the transcription and hit accept, and then I decide to share this page, which makes reference to conflict avoidance in a battle.



First I decide to share this with my Facebook friends and family, so I click the 'F' icon. This opens Facebook or prompts me to log in:

Next, I decide I want to share this page with my Twitter followers, so I click the bird icon.


Then, I decide I want to email this page to a historian friend of mine who boycotts all social media platforms, so I copy the link to the page I've transcribed by clicking the chain-link icon, which copies this link to my clipboard:…




We've added a new tab in the menu bar: Resources. The resources page links to our "For Educators" page, includes detailed documentation for hosting a transcribe-a-thon in your community, and has some recently requested information on volunteering for school or community service credit.  We'll continue to add to this page as we build out our program.


Homepage and other content updates


You may have noticed some changes to the words we use on the homepage and our instructions pages.  The By the People Community Managers are undertaking a content review of all the words and images on the site to work toward clearer and friendlier language and make any changes needed since our October 2018 launch.  Look for more tweaks in the coming months and please share suggestions that would help us continue to improve the volunteer experience.

This is a guest post by for the Library of Congress blog by Julie Miller, a historian in the Manuscript Division, and Victoria Van Hyning, a senior innovation specialist in the division. This post coincided with National Handwriting Day on January 23, 2019. Reblogged here on January 25, 2019. Visit the original.

Washington, D.C., students learn to read cursive at a Nov. 19 event at the Library celebrating the 155th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address and a new crowdsourcing initiative for transcribing historical documents. Photo by Shawn Miller.

“That’s so beautiful, but what does it say?” This is what we often hear from visitors to the Library of Congress when they see letters and other documents written by hand. This phenomenon — the inability of so many people to read handwriting — is the byproduct of a moment of technological change that is every bit as significant as the one that began with the introduction of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the middle of the 15th century. The digital age has transformed us from people who read and write by hand to people who type and read on a screen, from letter-writers to emailers, texters and tweeters.

This change is so recent that our population now includes a mixture of people born before the digital age, who learned the techniques and conventions of handwriting and letter writing, and younger people, who grew up online. While older people have had to learn the ways of the digital age, younger people know less and less about the ways of the analog world, even when its language and symbols persist into the digital — “cc,” for example, which appears inklessly atop every email message, recalls the inky blue sheets of carbon paper typists rolled into their typewriters to make copies.

Why does it matter? This isn’t just a question of nostalgia, of regret for the old ways, such as the lost art of cursive, which few children now learn in school. It matters because when people are unable to read old documents, they lose the ability to make personal contact with the past.

Some very old documents necessarily require interpretation by experts. For example, the Library’s collection of cuneiform tablets, written by the Sumerians on clay more than 4,000 years ago. Or the leather-bound volume of town records, in Spanish, from 16th-century Peru in the Library’s Harkness Collection. Or the 17th-century manuscript law books, in Shakespeare’s English, collected by Thomas Jefferson.

This is from an outline of a speech Alexander Hamilton gave at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. Note where he uses the long “s,” as in “Importance of the occafion.” Can you find more?

But documents from the 18th century, when the United States was founded, are written in English that, with a couple of differences, is essentially modern. We sell ourselves short when we think we can’t read them. There are a few things to learn, such as the long “s,” which looks like an “f,” the relatively nonstandard spelling and punctuation and some unfamiliar abbreviations. Another key to learning how to read 18th- and 19th-century writing is just to spend time looking at it, learning the writing conventions of the relatively recent past, as well as the idiosyncrasies of individual writers. In time, the letters of George Washington will become as familiar to you as, say, a postcard from your Uncle Melvin.

We saw living proof of this at a Nov. 19 event at the Library marking the 155th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Members of the public and students from local Washington, D.C., schools were invited to the Library to view a copy of the Gettysburg Address and try their hands at transcribing letters and other documents in the Abraham Lincoln Papers on the Library’s newly launched crowdsourcing website. Titled “By the People,” the site makes images of thousands of original documents available to volunteers online, inviting them to type documents, tag them with keywords to make them searchable and review typed documents for accuracy. The transcripts are then added to the Library’s website alongside the original documents.

Here is an example of what the long “s” looked like in print. From “The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved,” a 1764 book by James Otis.

At first, many of the visitors on Nov. 19, viewing 19th-century handwriting, said “I can’t read this.” But when asked to pick out a letter or word anywhere on the page and then build on that kernel of understanding, they soon started to identify familiar words, then phrases. By the end of a half hour, they were able to read 70 percent or more of documents. Dozens teamed up to arrange the full text of the Gettysburg Address using a large-format printed “puzzle” made of the words composing Lincoln’s speech. They eagerly hunted through piles, looking for letters and words that were becoming increasingly familiar.

Patrons, and students from local DC schools learn cursive with a large printed version of the Gettysburg Address where each word is cut into pieces. A dozen patrons work together to arrange the words in order.

Many said they wished that cursive was still taught in schools, as do many people who come to the Library. Some teachers and students vowed to take the project back into their classrooms or afterschool clubs.

Although we live in a world where writing by hand is less necessary than before, it is vital that we keep the knowledge of cursive and other handwriting alive. “By the People” is just one way in which you can encounter original documents and hone your skills, but we encourage you to give it a try. The more you transcribe and review, the more you will learn. At the same time, you will help to make Library of Congress collections more readily available for everyone.

Scroll down for more examples.

George Washington used the long “s” only occasionally. In this 1782 letter, written during the Revolutionary War, paragraph two begins: “I am fully perswaded that it is unnecefsary.”


Thomas Jefferson routinely used some idiosyncratic spellings, and he generally did not capitalize the first word in a sentence. In this 1788 letter to James Madison, the second sentence begins: “the first part of this long silence in me was occasioned by a knoledge [knowledge] that you were absent from N. York.” Then he complains that a pamphlet Madison sent him “unluckily omitted exactly the pafsage [passage] I wanted, which was what related to the navigation of the Mifsisipi [Mississippi].”

Help us transcribe 30,000+ pages of the Abraham Lincoln Papers by the end of 2018!

Around half of the digitized Abraham Lincoln Papers, primarily materials written by Lincoln, have been transcribed by other volunteers at Knox College and elsewhere, and are already keyword searchable at The remaining 10,000+ items including letters and other materials sent to him have not yet been transcribed. These include materials by writers ranging from friends and associates from Lincoln’s Springfield days, well-known political figures and reformers, and constituents writing to their president. There's even the occasional document in Lincoln's own hand! Completing the Letters to Lincoln Challenge will make all of the digital Lincoln Papers word-searchable and accessible to future readers. Just imagine the new research that will be possible once we've achieved this goal.

Your Community Managers, reference librarians and curatorial staff here at the Library of Congress will be cheering you on with bonus historical context and resources all along the way, as well as some special rewards for goals met!

Our first challenge milestone is completion of all the material in the first two Campaign projects: "1830-1839, first forays in politics and law" and "1840-1849, marriage, election to Congress" by November 1. Can you transcribe even just one letter and share the challenge with one friend to help push toward our goal?  When the project completes we’ll move onto the next exciting decade of Lincoln's life, the 1850s when he returned to politics.

As you dig in to the Letters to Lincoln Campaign, we hope you'll take time to share news of your experiences here on History Hub. What exciting things are your finding? Is this having an impact on your research or the books you're reading for pleasure? What requests did the general public have for Lincoln and how did they make their arguments about the causes that mattered to them?  How did his friends address him once he became President?  What personal connections can you make to the writers and their subjects?  We can’t wait to hear what you learn!