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Early America Collection

Records relating to the settlement of America, the War for Independence, and the foundation of the United States government.

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Creating a government for the new United States of America was a formative endeavor by men with visions of a just and democratic system for all. Through debate, wisdom, experience, and plenty of mistakes, they launched a great and rather successful government that became a model to other nations around the world.

In the Early America Collection, you can explore the early months and years of America's history through the words of the founding fathers, and even those who came before them. Read the private letters and public reports penned by influential leaders dedicated to forming a great nation with a strong and fair government. The infancy of democracy, rife with differences of opinion on slavery, Indian treaties, taxation, and interstate commerce, makes for fascinating reading especially when you view the original records from which our government emerged.

Whether they be from the colonial, state, or federal level, documents within this collection lay down important rules and procedures for assuring that the new land remain free from tyranny and prepared to meet the future. Powerful men are seen in a more intimate light as we view their handwriting, read their private concerns, and try to understand their consciences. Vital decisions are made within these pages.

Within these documents you can see first-hand how General Washington financed his troops, figure out what the big fuss about interstate commerce was all about, discover an early marriage record, locate a soldier in the Continental Army, and view the signatures of famous men. No longer will you need to pore over microfilm, make a trip to Washington, or rely on another scholar's interpretation of historic documents. You will find them here.

If you've ever wondered about the historic debates, the give and take of planning things on a national scale, and whether the stories in your history books are accurate, this is where you'll find out.

Papers of the Continental Congress (1774-1789)

These are official records - correspondence, journals, committee reports, and more - penned by the founding fathers of the original colonies and the early United States. The First Continental Congress (1774) addressed "intolerable acts" by the British. The Second Continental Congress (1775-1781) created the Declaration of Independence and the first national government. The Congress of the Confederation (1781-1789) followed. Read important papers, letters, treaties, and reports--famous and obscure--relating to the formation of the new nation, as penned by the founding fathers.

Example: George Washington was a great communicator. His handwriting is easy to read and his words are exceptionally descriptive. In the document you see here, Washington describes Boston after the evacuation of British troops in 1776. His distinctive signature is at the bottom of the page.

Explore the Papers of the Continental Congress (1774-1789)

Records of the Constitutional Convention of 1787

Convened in Philadelphia in May 1787, the Constitutional Convention created one of the most important documents of the new nation - the United States Constitution. Under this title you will also find Bankson's Journal, which includes the important delegate credentials from "Ratifications of the Constitution," and drafts of the Virginia Plan, which ultimately led to a bicameral Congress consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Example: The image here is a copy of a delegate credential for representatives of the state of Connecticut. It appoints William Samuel Johnson, Roger Sherman, and Oliver Ellsworth to represent the state, dated the second Thursday of May, 1787, in Hartford.

Explore the Records of the Constitutional Convention of 1787

Pennsylvania Archives (1664-1880)

An important reference covering the earliest days of Pennsylvania history and the birthplace of government in the United States. If you are interested in Pennsylvania history and want information relating to historical events, facts about ancestors, or original documents to support a research paper, the Pennsylvania Archives is an important publication to explore. This series contains essential records relating to one of America's earliest colonies, from 1664 to 1780, including military, tax, marriage, and land records, as well as documents from American history covering the Revolutionary War and the Whiskey Rebellion.

Example: In Series 6, Volume XII, you'll find a list of Forfeited Estates, Inventories and Sales. In this image (one of over 900 presented in this section), you can peruse a list from Philadelphia County, dated August 6th 1778, of an "Inventory of Sundry Household Goods &c. Found in the House of John Tolly Inholder." It includes a speaking trumpet "in the Back room" and "One Black Wench Named Betty two small Children" in the cellar (page 776).

Explore the Pennsylvania Archives (1664-1880)

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