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Your Good Friend, Victoria R

Citizen Archivists! You can transcribe this document as part of our #SunshineWeek Transcription Challenge!

The black-bordered letter sent to President Martin Van Buren relayed the official news that the king of the United Kingdom, His Majesty William IV, had died on June 20, 1837. The new monarch was the late king’s niece, 18-year-old Victoria.

Writing on June 23, the young new queen announced the passing of “Our Most Honoured and Beloved Uncle” and advised the President of her own accession to the throne. She assured him “that it will be Our most earnest desire to cultivate and maintain the Relations of Friendship and good Understanding which so happily subsist between the Two Countries.”

At the end of the letter, she signed herself, “Your Good Friend, Victoria R.” Just three days into her nearly 64–year reign, her signature is penned neatly and carefully. In later years, letters from the more mature queen show a looser, more flowing signature.

Several other letters from Victoria and other 19th-century monarchs (in the series “Ceremonial Letters from Great Britain”) are available in the online National Archives catalog. They announce births, deaths, and weddings of members of the royal family and diplomatic appointments. The foreign minister’s signature (Palmerston on this 1837 letter) appears below the monarch’s.

Letter from Victoria R to Martin Van Buren

Page 1 of a letter from Queen Victoria to President Martin Van

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Sara Dunlap Jackson: Archivist Extraordinaire

Today’s post comes from Jessie Kratz, Historian of the National Archives.

In honor of Women’s History Month, I want to celebrate one of our most cherished former employees—Sara Dunlap Jackson. After I was appointed Historian last year, numerous local historians approached me to say that I just had to research Sara Dunlap Jackson because she was so important to the history of the agency.

Sara Dunlap Jackson was born in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1919. After earning her B.A. in sociology, and a brief stint as a high school teacher, Jackson moved to Washington, DC. She began her 46-year-long career at the National Archives in 1944 as an archives assistant in the Military Archives Division. According to Jackson, the Archives offered her the job because she had been working in the War Department, and the Archives thought this meant she knew something about military history.

In reality, Jackson knew little about military history at that time, but by spending countless hours in the stacks and answering numerous reference requests she became the go-to person for anyone researching military records in the National Archives. Researchers reported how she went the “extra mile,” how her kindness and advice “mothered” many historians, and how she dedicated her entire career to helping others. To many, Jackson was the National Archives.

Retirees reception, June 30, 1972. Sara Jackson  is in the middle. (64-JR-2, Records of the National Archives)

Retirees reception, June 30, 1972. Sara Jackson  is in

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Inventing in Congress: Patent Law since 1790

Today’s post comes from Samantha Payne, intern in the Center for Legislative Archives in Washington, DC. 

In August 1791, two men received identical patents from the Federal Government. John Fitch and James Rumsey claimed to have invented the same technology: a steamboat.

After a two-year battle for exclusive rights to their discovery, with Fitch calling Rumsey his “most cruel hidden and ungenerous Enemy,” each was devastated by the result. Rumsey complained that in the United States, “no invention can be secured . . . for no better reason than because it can be varied into a different Shape,” and he moved to London, where he died trying to perfect his steamboat. Fitch ultimately committed suicide after his investors abandoned him.

Both inventors blamed the Patents Act of 1790 for their woes.

Patents Act, March 11, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate,  National Archives)

Patents Act, March 11, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

 

On January 22, 1790, Congress began preparing the Patents Act. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution empowers Congress to grant writers and inventors exclusive rights to their work, in order “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.”

The framers of the Constitution believed that patent law encouraged innovation by protecting private property. In Federalist #43, James Madison argued that creating patent law was a matter of “reason” and “public good.”

In February of 1790, a draft of the bill … [ Read all ]

Congress Counts: History of the U.S. Census

Today’s post comes from Samantha Payne, intern in the Center for Legislative Archives in Washington, DC. 

The Constitution requires that Congress conduct a census every 10 years to determine the representation of each state in the  House of Representatives. When the authors of the Constitution allocated seats in the House for the First Congress, they had no census data to guide them. As a result, the sizes of the first congressional districts varied dramatically. A Massachusetts congressman represented 96,550 people, while one from Georgia represented only 16,250.

To solve this problem, Congress had to determine how to conduct a census. The new nation was the first to institute a national, periodical census. The size of the United States made the task rather daunting. The Senate census committee worked for eight months before they decided to start from scratch in January of 1790.

An Act Providing for the Enumeration of the Inhabitants of the United States, March 2, 1790, Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives

An Act Providing for the Enumeration of the Inhabitants of the United States, March 2, 1790, Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives

Regional interests dominated the debate over the census. Northern representatives pushed for a rapid enumeration, but southerners insisted on more time, so that census-takers could canvas their large, rural states. On February 4, 1790, Congressman Theodore Sedgwick implied that Georgia’s population did not merit three representatives. A South Carolinian retorted that Sedgwick “would not be content until there were 24 members” representing … [ Read all ]

150th Anniversary of the Freedman’s Bank

Today’s post was written by Damani Davis, reference archivist at the National Archives in Washington, DC.

On March 3, 2015, the National Archives will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Freedman’s Savings & Trust Company, better known as the “Freedman’s Bank.”

The founding of the Freedman’s Bank was spearheaded by John W. Alvord, a Congregationalist minister and abolitionist originally from New England, who served as a chaplain accompanying Gen.William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops during their march through Georgia. During his time in Georgia, Alvord observed the destitute conditions of the former slaves and also noted a pressing need for greater financial literacy and some type of savings bank to serve the black soldiers of the U.S. Colored Troops.

The Twenty-ninth Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, shown here, were stationed in Beaufort, South Carolina. The Military Savings Bank at Beaufort, opened in 1864 by Gen. Rufus Sexton, eventually became one of the Freedman's Savings Bank's branches. (National Archives, 111-BA-1324)

The Twenty-ninth Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, shown here, were stationed in Beaufort, South Carolina. The Military Savings Bank at Beaufort, opened in 1864 by Gen. Rufus Sexton, eventually became one of the Freedman’s Savings Bank’s branches. (National Archives, 111-BA-1324)

To address this need, Alvord later went to New York, where he met with philanthropists and leading businessmen to plan a “benevolent banking institution that would provide black soldiers with a secure place to save their money and at the same time encourage the values of thrift and industry in the newly freed African-American community.”[1] John W. Alvord and the founding trustees succeeded in getting a charter for incorporation … [ Read all ]