New Jersey State Archives
225 West State Street-Level 2
P.O. Box 307
Trenton, NJ 08625-0307
In October 2004, the National Parks Service and the National Endowment
for the Humanities awarded full funding of New Jersey State Archives'
proposal to the Save America's Treasures (SAT) grant program. The
project, titled The American Revolution in New Jersey: Preserving
our Documentary Heritage, entails professional conservation
treatment of over 5,200 leaves of Revolutionary War documents. These
range from militia records, eyewitness battle accounts and inventories
of property damage caused by British and American troops, to court
books documenting treason cases, Loyalist papers, and legislative
petitions. The State Archives' proposal was among the highest scoring
out of nearly four hundred applications, making the preservation
of these manuscripts the SAT document conservation program's national
priority in 2004.
At the time of the announcement, the federal grant of $347,000 also
represented the largest paper conservation award made by the SAT
program since its establishment in 1998. The grant will be matched
dollar for dollar by the New Jersey Public Records Preservation
Fund established by New Jersey P.L. 2003, c. 117. In total, nearly
$700K will be devoted to treating these fragile, eighteenth-century
manuscripts and books.
Following a competitive bid process, and award of the project to
the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts in Philadelphia,
the first group of manuscripts was sent to the conservator in July
2005. Over a three-year period, the project preserved a vast
body of documentation enabling broader interpretation and understanding
of the conflict that gave birth to our nation. With professional
treatment, these national treasures will survive for many generations
to come—in their original form and also in microfilm and digital
images made possible by the preservation efforts we invest in today. See the schedule of conservation.
Chief of Archives Joseph Klett and Collection Manager Ellen Callahan
managed the project, with support from staff archivists Janet Jackson,
Vivian Thiele and others.
In 1777, New Jersey’s public records were in great peril.
Its citizens had established a new government just eight months
earlier under a state constitution that explicitly declared the
colony’s independence from the King of Great Britain. The
Continental Army had retreated across the state in 1776, though
it had regained control of the territory after major victories at
Trenton and Princeton. But British invasion by land and sea was
imminent. Thus, New Jersey’s fledgling legislature considered
the security of its public papers and their removal from the City
of Burlington. “Whereas the Preservation of the publick Records
is of the utmost Importance to the Inhabitants of this State ...”—thus
began an act passed 14 March 1777 authorizing the transfer of government
records to a safer place in anticipation of attack and the destruction
of property and buildings that would undoubtedly accompany it.
New Jersey's public records documenting the revolutionary conflict
are now in great peril due to the effects of time. As we celebrate
the 225th anniversary of our nation’s struggle for independence,
New Jersey State Archives has made the professional treatment of
war-related records our highest conservation priority. The proposed
project entails the repair of over 5,200 leaves of Revolutionary
War manuscripts (about 6% of the Archives’ war-period holdings).
Military records include: officer commissions, Loyalist papers,
orders to requisition supplies for Washington’s army, eye-witness
accounts of battles, and communications between military and political
leaders. Non-military records include: court minutes documenting
the prosecution of charges of sedition, treason and rioting; legislative
papers documenting efforts to ensure domestic security and restrict
trade across enemy lines; and claims inventorying the loss of property
and describing wartime turmoil.
In consultation with conservators, the State Archives selected twelve
groupings of Revolutionary War manuscripts most in need of professional
treatment. Selection decisions were based on: 1) the informational
value of the documents and their potential for use in research and
exhibitions; and 2) the level of damage and need for stabilization
and repair. For further information about the collections, see Themes
Assessment of the documents demonstrated that they were critically
in need of professional treatment. Continued use of the manuscripts
for over two centuries has taken its toll. Tears, separations, discoloration,
staining, water and insect damage, adhesives and residues, acidity
of papers and inks, and early attempts at mending have all threatened
the physical integrity and survival of the manuscripts. See before photographs. Through
SAT funding, conservators have begun the three-year project to chemically
stabilize and repair the documents using modern standards of treatment
and accepted best practices. Professional treatment of these manuscripts
will not only preserve the integrity of the documents themselves,
but will also enable the State Archives to move forward with several
initiatives to improve the public accessibility of these national
treasures. This includes preservation microfilming, scanning for
website and publication use, and exhibitions.
As our nation celebrated the 225th anniversary of the American Revolution,
the New Jersey State Archives made conservation of sources documenting
the war its highest preservation priority. New Jersey played a central
role in the revolution that formed our nation, with more military
engagements in our state than in any other (nearly 300 during the
period 1775-1782). The fact that British and American interests
focused on New Jersey for most of the war stems from its location
between the British stronghold of New York City and the seat of
the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. General Washington commanded
his army in New Jersey for nearly half the war. American forces
engaged the British in major battles at Trenton, Princeton, Monmouth
and Assunpink, and in lesser battles and skirmishes in every county.
Washington and his troops encamped here three winters, at Morristown
and Raritan. And amidst the armed conflict raging around them, New
Jerseyans faced ongoing civil strife. The clashing ideals of independence
and loyalty to the British crown brought desperate and sometimes
deadly conflict to nearly every community.
Revolutionary activity in New Jersey is documented most thoroughly
in the records of government: from the political victory of a new
regime declaring the state’s independence in 1776 to the ousting
of Loyalists at the close of the war. Government papers document
New Jersey’s contributions to the American military cause as the
British invaded and occupied the state, through General Washington’s
campaigns, and as the tide of the war shifted. They show how the
state dealt with issues of security, treason and economy. As New
Jersey’s official repository for government records of enduring
historical value, the State Archives is the central source for information
on revolutionary activity in the main theatre of the war. The State
Archives holds the official records of colonial and state government,
as well as certain county and municipal records dating back to the
colonial period. Over two hundred cubic feet of manuscripts document
military service in the war and several hundred cubic feet document
non-military wartime activity.
Themes and Collections
American Military Activity
The 1776 retreat of the Continental Army, Washington’s crossing
of the Delaware and the surprise victory at Trenton, the death of
General Mercer at Princeton, and the Battle of Monmouth: these New
Jersey events are part of the national iconography of the American
Revolution. The detailed records of New Jersey’s executive
branch of government—including the Adjutant General’s
Office—are the main source for documenting the key
role New Jersey’s militia played in the conflict, the procurement
of supplies and equipment for the troops, and the activity of military
leaders and Governor William Livingston.
collections related to this theme were selected for conservation:
General's "Numbered Manuscripts"
(1,250 leaves to be treated) – The Adjutant General’s
Revolutionary War “Numbered Manuscripts” consist
of over 11,000 original documents relating to every aspect
of military activity during the war: orders to raise troops,
testimonies of service and battle accounts, communications
between officers in the New Jersey militia and the Continental
Army. Professional assessment determined that roughly 1,250
leaves are in desperate need of stabilization and repair.
See Before and After Photographs
for sample documents.
of the Quartermaster and Commissary Generals, 1776-1785
(579 leaves to be treated) – New Jersey’s location
and resources made it strategically vital to both the American
and the British forces. Accounts, receipts and correspondence
in this collection document the requisition and acquisition
of supplies needed to support the Continental Army and the
ongoing struggle to protect resources from enemy raid. See
Before and After Photographs
for sample documents.
Papers, Commissions/Appointments and Expense Accounts, 1776-1785
(127 leaves to be treated) – These papers supplement
the two collections listed above, documenting military casualties
and desertions, officers’ commissions, wartime expenditures,
and the provision of goods, medical services and housing
to soldiers as part of the war effort.
On 2 July 1776, New Jersey’s first
state constitution declared independence from the King of Great
Britain and replaced his colonial government. Yet, as British troops
invaded a few months later, most of New Jersey’s population
had not yet chosen sides. In fact, an estimated one third of New
Jerseyans remained faithful to the crown throughout the war. Deep-seated
loyalty in New Jersey was a key factor in military strategy during
the early part of the conflict; moreover, it supplied the British
with six battalions of volunteer soldiers to fight not only in New
Jersey, but in other states. Matters of security and the effort
to root out Loyalists were vested in the state’s Council of
Safety during the early war years.
collections were selected relating to this theme:
of Safety Records, Oaths of Allegiance and Abjuration, and
Performance Bonds, 1776-1783 (386 leaves
to be treated) - This collection includes minutes, inquisitions,
petitions and oaths documenting the effort to root out Loyalists
and strengthen the resolve of the citizens in support of
independence. The Council of Safety was the state’s
primary organ for “expediting laws” to promote
the patriot cause and for suppressing treasonous activity
against the newly established state government. See Before
and After Photographs for sample documents.
Manuscripts, 1776-1785 (234 leaves to be treated)
- Through regimental rolls, accounts and orders, this series
documents the activities of local men who joined the Loyalist
regiments, fighting in New Jersey and other states throughout
of Forfeiture and Confiscation of Loyalist Estates, 1777-1785
(807 leaves to be treated) - These papers document the State’s
confiscation of property belonging to those who served in
the Loyalist regiments or remained sympathetic to the British
forces. As these records span the entire war period, they
are vital in understanding the shifting influence of Tories
in New Jersey. Also, since no comprehensive study has been
made of the loyalty of New Jersey citizens, these records
will be invaluable to future scholarship on the subject.
and Judicial Efforts
Following the removal of Royal Governor William Franklin in June
1776 and the adoption of the new constitution a few days later,
New Jersey’s legislature and judiciary were faced with serious
problems. British invasion was imminent, and the Loyalist faction
at home presented an enormous threat, as did continued trade across
the Hudson River into enemy territory.
collections relating to this theme were selected for conservation:
to the Legislature, 1777-1785 (42 leaves to
be treated) – The Legislature received petitions from
military contractors seeking payment, local citizens seeking
to expel Loyalists, and accused traitors seeking pardon.
A 1778 petition describes the British threat along the Atlantic
coast: “... they will again infest our shores and
do all the mischief in their power: And the many threats
repeatedly uttered by the enemy, that they will destroy
our Saltworks, burn our houses, and plunder the Country,
all tend further to confirm us in our apprehension of danger
...” See Before and After
Photographs for sample document.
of Office, Election and Attendance Certificates, 1775-1783
(74 leaves to be treated) – These papers document
the election and service of New Jersey revolutionary leaders
in public office, including the Provincial Congress, and
their allegiance to the new state constitution which declared
independence from the crown.
& Terminer and Quarter Sessions Court Records, 1775-1787
(399 leaves to be treated) – This collection documents
the prosecution of wartime criminal cases including charges
of rioting, sedition and treason as judicial authority transitioned
from the crown to the state. See Before
and After Photographs for sample volume.
of Property and Livelihood
For New Jerseyans, the home front and the battlefront were one and
the same during most of the war. Armies marched through communities
destroying buildings. Foraging troops pillaged crops and pressed
equipment and livestock into service. When the conflict ended in
1783, New Jersey was devastated and impoverished.
collections were selected for documenting economic losses:
Claims, 1776-1782 (1,077 leaves to be treated)
– New Jersey’s legislature authorized the inventorying
of wartime damages to property by both American and British
forces. While no payments were ever made on the claims,
the documentation provides excellent evidence of destruction
and losses resulting from military engagements, foraging
of troops, and commandeering of goods. See Before
and After Photographs for sample volume.
Deeds Files, 1776-1795 (168 leaves to be treated)
– Wartime turmoil and the destruction of buildings
resulted in the loss of legal papers such as land titles.
This fascinating series of filings in the New Jersey Supreme
Court provides accounts of families who lost their deeds
during the war. See Before and
After Photographs for sample document.
Licenses, 1781 (99 leaves to be treated) –
To prevent commerce with the British and their sympathizers,
the state required shopkeepers in counties bordering the
enemy territory of New York to petition for a license to
sell goods, and to provide witnesses attesting to their
loyalty to the newly formed state government.