Citizen Archivist Discovers National Treasure in the Stacks

Written on: May 24, 2010 | 1 Comment

At the National Archives and Records Administration, we care for our nation’s most beloved documents. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights are our most well known national treasures, but in the stacks there are many others, some of them not yet discovered. At a researcher meeting last month, I met Jonathan Webb Deiss, a researcher at the National Archives. His knowledge, passion, and enthusiasm for discovering treasures makes him a model citizen archivist. Jonathan told me how he found a previously undiscovered Revolutionary War diary in Record Group 46, Records of the U.S. Senate. As a knowledgeable and skilled researcher, Jonathan knew that Samuel Leavitt’s Journal to Westpoint was important. One can easily imagine his excitement and anticipation in that moment of discovery.

cover-page-and-pages-16-and-17

Jonathan told me that Samuel Leavitt was a soldier from Stratham, New Hampshire. He enlisted in early July 1780 to serve a three month tour. The journal starts on July 5, 1780 and covers his march to West Point, his tour of duty, and march back to New Hampshire in October 1780. On page 17 of the diary, Samuel Leavitt describes General Washington at West Point and hearing the “news of Gen’l Arnold the commander of the Garrison deserting to the Enemy.” Watch the following video of Jonathan describing his discovery, details of the diary, and research he has done on Samuel Leavitt.


Read the transcript of the video.  

Jonathan’s discovery proves there are still treasures to find within our records. With almost 10 billion things, we don’t know what researchers, historians, and citizen archivists will find in the future, and what kind of impact their discoveries will have on scholarship and our understanding. Citizen archivist discoveries, like the Revolutionary War diary, will be added to our existing descriptions of our records. As I said in my earlier post, “Cultivating Citizen Archivists,” I think this type of collaboration is crucial. In rethinking our traditional approaches, we need to leverage the knowledge and expertise of citizen archivists. In the following video, Jonathan discusses the importance of citizen archivist discoveries.


Read the transcript of the video.

It’s great to see Jonathan still so excited about his discovery. Have you discovered a record that you know is important, but only a few people have seen? I hope you’ll consider sharing your discoveries on our Archives wiki, a pilot project that will be launched this summer. This space will allow you to share your researcher, tips, and treasures. If you’d like to be involved in this project, please email socialmedia@nara.gov for more information.

In the meantime, it would be great to hear from you about your research experience.

What is your most exciting find in the records of the National Archives?

What are you still hoping to discover?

One Response to “Citizen Archivist Discovers National Treasure in the Stacks”

  1. Jonathan W. Deiss said:

    My preliminary transcription of pages 16 and 17 :

    (page sixteen)
    Tuesday 5th.. Nothing peticular
    Wensday 6th Express came up from the Lines
    for 300 men to go down which Accordingly
    they Did in Batteoas 60 out of Col’o
    Bartlett’s Reg’mint theOccasion they were
    Sent for we have not yet heard—
    Thursday 7th Nothing peticular.
    Frid 8th Satur 9th Nothing of any
    Consequence —————————
    The party mentioned that went of the
    point are stationed at Kingsferry
    In order to carry over troops
    Sunday 10th had the opportunity of
    Writeing home which Accordingly we
    Did ~~~~~~~~~~~———————
    Monday 11th (crossed out)
    Tues 12th Wen 13th Thir’d 14th
    Nothing peticular: ———————
    Tuesday 19th Nothing of any consequence
    From 9.. 14th.. Wensday 15th 20th heard
    A brisk cannonading down the River
    Thurs’d 21st The cannonading down the
    River Yesterday was occasioned by a
    party of the Enemys coming up the River

    (page seventeen)
    Had a brush two or three killed & some wounded
    Friday 22th Saturday 23’d Sunday 24th..
    Nothing peticular
    Monday 25th cannon to the point General
    Washington Attended by a Number of
    General Officers att which time there were 13:
    cannon fired in Answer to the 13 United
    States of America —————————
    Tuesday 26th Last Night 9 of Clock was Alarm
    all turned out a party of 50 men myself
    one of them went Down the River of 4 or
    5 Miles Landed on the other side were we
    Were to Lay Whilst further Orders.——–
    I went before Day Coll Meggs Rigement of
    Leather Cap’s came Down & crossed over on
    the point at five of clock in the Morning
    had the news of Gen’l Arnold the commander
    of the Garrison Deserting to the Enemy:–
    Upon which we expected the Enemy to pay
    Us a visit as Arnold know’d What Strength
    there was on the point & had taken plans of
    All the forts & in short had sold us all to
    the Enemy: When by the last account we
    have since learnt we were all to have
    Been put to the Sword……__________
    Wensday 27th Very stormy Attend the
    Name of Fort Arnold to Fort Clinton


    (May 24, 2010 at 8:41 pm)