We have added new content to our Rotunda Founding Era collection representing a total of nearly 20,000 documents, from the papers of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington. Continue reading
The University of Virginia Press announces this week the launch of Founders Online, a website offering free access to the papers of six of the most important figures from America’s founding era—George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin. The site will make nearly 120,000 documents freely accessible to the public. Developed by the Press’s electronic imprint, Rotunda, Founders Online will be officially launched at a ceremony at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. on June 13. University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan will offer remarks on this unique collaboration between the Archives and the University.
Starting in 2011, Rotunda staff began developing the Founders Online platform under a cooperative agreement with the National Archives of the United States’ grant-making arm, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The content is derived from two sources: our Rotunda American Founding Era collection, based on published letterpress editions, and transcriptions of thousands of documents being made available on a “pre-press” basis thanks to the Early Access program undertaken by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities’ Documents Compass program.
Founders Online will include thousands of documents, replicating the contents of 242 volumes of the published print editions. As each new print volume is completed, it will be added to the database. All of the “Early Access” materials—an additional 55,000 unpublished and in-process documents—will be posted online over the next three years. Students and researchers will be able to view transcribed, unpublished letters as they are being researched and annotated by the documentary project editors and staff. Together, some 175,000 documents are projected to be on the Founders Online site.
“UVa Press is honored to be working with the NHPRC on Founders Online,” said Mark H. Saunders, Interim Director of the University of Virginia Press. “This resource brings together the papers of six major founders in a user-friendly website that gives Americans and people around the world a first-hand account of the historic conversation that formed our democracy and allowed our country to thrive.”
“This resource will be of immense value for the public to understand both the world and intentions of the nation’s founders,” said Kathleen Williams, Executive Director of the NHPRC. “Founders Online provides a bold economic, educational, and technical model that will yield important lessons as we plan for future online publication of historical materials.”
Founders Online represents the cumulative work of hundreds of historians, editors, publishers, and (more recently) computer programmers over the decades since the first modern documentary editions began with the publication in 1950 of the first volume of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson by Princeton University Press.
We wish especially to acknowledge the current and former UVAP staff members and collaborators who have made Founders Online possible. Thanks to former Rotunda staffers John Carlson and Mary Ann Lugo, who oversaw much of the digitization and XML conversion, under the guidance of editorial and technical manager David Sewell; Rotunda senior programmers Shannon Shiflett and Tim Finney, who developed the original delivery platform used in our Rotunda Founding Era collection; Rotunda editorial and technical specialist Markus Flatscher, who oversaw the bulk of our digital conversion and handled the XSLT conversion of files received from the Jefferson Retirement Series into our own XML format; editorial assistant Virginia (Annie) Kinniburgh for proofreading and formatting; former UVA Press director Penny Kaiserlian and current interim director Mark Saunders, who handled the negotiations for our collaborative agreement with the NHPRC; and The Ivy Group of Charlottesville, for initial design requirements, user surveys, mockups, and prototypes—the look and feel of Founders Online owes much to their work. All of the XML data analysis and conversion and MarkLogic XQuery/XSLT programming for the new Founders Online platform have been done by David Sewell and Tim Finney.
We could not have completed our digital editions without assistance from the Founding Fathers projects: Jeff Looney, Susan Spengler, and Lisa Francavilla of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson—Retirement Series; Mary Jo Kline, who served as the editorial consultant for our work with the Papers of Alexander Hamilton; Ted Crackel (retired) and Jennifer Stertzer at the Papers of George Washington; Sara Sikes and her staff at the Adams Papers; Martha King at the Papers of Thomas Jefferson; John Stagg and David Mattern of the Madison Papers; and Alysia Cain of the Franklin Papers and her graduate assistant, Michael Hattem.
Finally, we recognize the invaluable assistance of our third-party vendors and the creators of software that we use: HCL America for their XML conversion; MarkLogic, which produces the native XML database platform that delivers Founders Online; and IBM Global Business Services, partnering with SOASTA, performed state-of-the-art load testing on the completed FO platform. Our work with large and complex XML datasets would be much more difficult without the excellent software provided by SyncRO Soft, the creators of oXygenXML and Michael Kay, creator of Saxon.
A video about the making of Founders Online may be viewed below or through this link.
She was only fourteen years old when she died at James Fort, part of the Jamestown settlement, during the winter of 1609-10. That winter has been called the “starving time” because of its particular brutality. The settlers dared not stray far from the fort, for fear of being preyed on by the Powhatans, and so they had been driven to eat rats and snakes in order to survive. Until now, the possibility that human flesh was also devoured had been just speculation. Recent excavation at the former site of Jamestown, however, confirms that during the “starving time” the fort’s inhabitants did indeed resort to cannibalism.
William Kelso, chief archaeologist of the Jamestown Rediscovery Project and author of our Jamestown: The Buried Truth, led a team that discovered, in a pile of bones of slaughtered animals, the skull and leg bone of the young girl “Jane.” The marks found on Jane’s remains–marks made by manmade objects that show deliberate hacking and cutting–are consistent with findings on the bones of cannibalism victims. Using the skull, researchers were able to construct a replica of the girl’s head, seen in the photo top left.
This unnerving, but fascinating, episode in American colonial history is the subject of reports by the BBC and by U.S. News & World Report. The Jamestown Rediscovery Project has produced the video below, in which Dr. Kelso and other experts illustrate the significance of this remarkable discovery.
May 2 is National Prayer Day. John Ragosta, author of Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed, penned the following thoughts at the outset of the day and has shared them with us.
Today marks the official National Day of Prayer. Republicans and Democrats across the nation will soon sit down to meetings and meals bookended with an opening and closing prayer. Certainly there is much to pray for: action on global climate change, fiscal responsibility, justice for immigrants, wisdom, humility, and peace.
Yet with the National Day of Prayer, we inevitably witness another festival: the debate between those demanding its end in the name of separation of church and state, and others who will complain that government is censoring prayers in the name of political correctness. Upon what might be a welcome bipartisan interlude, shrill voices intrude.
Having spent time studying religious freedom at Monticello’s International Center for Jefferson Studies, I inevitably come back to the following question: What would Jefferson do? How would he react to a National Day of Prayer mandated by Congress and proclaimed by the President?
Several years ago, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb ruled the official Day of Prayer unconstitutional (before the case was thrown out for lack of standing). Judge Crabb was clear: the problem is not prayer, or even prayer by government officials; rather, the issue is government seeking to use prayer for political purposes, literally taking what is sacred and making it profane. Judge Crabb quoted the Supreme Court: “in the hands of government what might begin as a tolerant expression of religious views may end in a policy to indoctrinate and coerce.” This echoed James Madison’s admonition almost two hundred years earlier that official prayer proclamations “seem to imply and certainly nourish the erronious [sic] idea of a national religion.” It was for this reason that Jefferson emphatically rejected any “official,” government call to prayer. Not only did Jefferson see government prayer proclamations as unconstitutional, but he added: “I do not believe it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct it’s exercises . . . Fasting & prayer are religious exercises. . . . Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the times for these exercises, & the objects proper for them . . . and this right can never be safer than in their own hands, where the constitution has deposited it.” Jefferson undoubtedly would join Judge Crabb in insisting that prayer should not be government-directed or sponsored. Jefferson’s concern for mixing government and religion was both political and theological. Politically, government support of religion threatened “tyranny over the mind,” a country led by “priestcraft.” Theologically, Jefferson would have agreed with eighteenth century evangelicals, equally committed to strict separation of church and state, who understood that even government encouragement interfered with a “free will offering” to God, a wholly-voluntary decision to believe and pray.
To stop there, though, is to miss an important part of Jefferson’s learning. In both of his inaugural addresses, Jefferson invoked divine guidance. Some, ignoring his emphatic declaration to the contrary, insist that Jefferson supported official prayer. Others accuse Jefferson of inconsistency, saying that prayer proclamations which he insisted were unconstitutional and his inaugural prayers were “indistinguishable.” Jefferson did not see it that way. An official proclamation of a day of prayer is a government act – subject to the constraints of the First Amendment; a private prayer, even when made by a public official in a public setting, is not. Madison made a similar point when he concluded that an official congressional chaplain was unconstitutional, but Members of Congress, acting in their private capacity, could certainly gather to pray: “If Religion consist in voluntary acts of individuals . . . and it be proper that public functionaries, as well as their Constituents should discharge their religious duties, let them like their Constituents, do so at their own expense.” What they should not seek is government endorsement or funding for their prayers.Thus, Christian ministers rightly object that government should not tell them to omit Jesus’ name from their prayers, but that is the result of being officially-sponsored. Eighteenth century evangelicals rejected government assistance for this reason, recognizing that it would be “the first link which Draws after it a chain of horrid consequences, and that by Degrees it will terminate in who shall preach, when they shall preach, where they shall preach, and what they shall preach.”
Jefferson was a prayerful man, but he rejected as both inappropriate and dangerous government intrusion into the sacred realm. So, what would Jefferson do? Paul advised to “pray ceaselessly,” but he certainly did not ask the government to sponsor his prayer meetings. Jefferson would agree.
We have released three new digital editions of volumes from the Adams Papers project (sponsored by the Massachusetts Historical Society and published by Harvard University Press) in Rotunda’s Adams Papers Digital Edition. As for previously released volumes in the Adams Papers, we include the full textual content of the letterpress volumes and all graphics for which permission is available, and a hyperlinked version of the indexes for each volume.
New in this release, and added to all previous volumes of the Adams Papers Digital Edition, are mouseover expansions of all of the Adams family code abbreviations used in the edition (such asfor Abigail Adams [1765–1813], daughter of John and Abigail).
Adams Family Correspondence, volume 8, drawing from nearly 250 letters, follows the Adams family from March 1787 to the close of 1789. The correspondence covered in this volume evokes a period of transition both for both the nation and the Adams family. John Adams made the transition from the first Minister to the Court of St. James to first Vice President of the United States under the new Constitution, after only a brief respite at their newly acquired farm in Quincy, which John Adams named Peacefield. Meanwhile, their daughter Nabby, married in 1786, gave birth to John and Abigail’s first grandchildren, and their sons, John Quincy, Charles, and Thomas Boylston, furthered their studies at Harvard and embarked on their own legal careers.
Volume 9 of the Adams Family Correspondence chronicles the early years of the American republic under the new Constitution with Vice President John Adams faithfully presiding over the Senate. Internationally, the United States faced diplomatic challenges as the outbreak of the French Revolution raised questions about the position and response the nation should take in regard to both France and Europe in general. On the domestic front, all of the Adams children completed their transition to adulthood, with the youngest son, Thomas Boylston, graduating from Harvard. The correspondence of the children, both among themselves and to their parents, takes center stage in this volume of nearly 300 letters spanning from January 1790 to December 1793 and reveals not only their sentiments on national and world events, but also the intimate details of family and farm.
The 350 letters of The Papers of John Adams, volume 14, explore the slow and difficult diplomatic conclusion to the American Revolutionary War from October 1782 to May 1783. Wary of France’s motives and desirous of establishing a fully independent way, John Adams and the American Peace Commissioners determined to strike a peace with Great Britain separate from France, but issues ranging from loyalists to fishing rights slowed progress. Meanwhile, Adams continued his role as minister to the Netherlands overseeing the distribution of funds of the Dutch-American loan, followed fifteen-year-old John Quincy’s long journey from St. Petersburg to The Hague, and took a keen interest in how best to write an accurate history of the American Revolution. As always, Adams’s letters reveal a wealth of insight into not only the history of the period but his own thought processes.
(UVA Press wishes to thank Sara Sikes of the Adams Papers, and her staff, for assistance with proofreading of the digital volumes.)
Our Dolley Madison Digital Edition, edited by Holly C. Shulman, has been updated with 300 new documents, 360 additional identifications of people, places, and terms, and six new editorial essays exploring aspects of Dolley’s life during her widowhood in the 1840s.
This latest installment of the DMDE takes the reader through 1844 and the sale of Montpelier, the Madisons’ estate in Orange County, Virginia. In 1844 Dolley finally realized that her debts (and those of her son, John Payne Todd) had become too great for her to continue running the property; her only choice was to sell. This she did to a Richmond merchant with local family connections, Henry Wood Moncure. After 1844 Dolley would never again return to Virginia. As of this installment the reader has now twenty editorial essays on topics ranging from the enslaved community at Montpelier to the nineteenth-century “autographomania” that led collectors to seek out James and Dolley Madison’s signatures. Among the new biographical identifications are entries on nearly twenty members of the Montpelier slave community. Also new are three high-resolution images of Montpelier survey plats from the Orange County Courthouse that accompany an editorial essay by Ann L. Miller.
The images in the gallery below are scans of plats based on surveys in preparation for the sale of the Montpelier estate. The largest plat, covering two pages, includes the entire plantation and immediate surroundings.
Forthcoming installments of the DMDE will focus on Dolley’s life after her return to Washington, DC, locally honored and publicly feted, while privately still struggling to keep herself financially afloat.