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Trenton, NJ 08625-0307

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Document recovery and amnestry public notice missing documents

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.

Project Summary

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 and Collections.

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.

National Significance

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.

Three collections related to this theme were selected for conservation:

Adjutant 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.
Records 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.
Militia 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.

Loyalty and Security

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.

Three collections were selected relating to this theme:

Council 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.
Loyalist 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 the war.
Records 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.

Legislative 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.

Three collections relating to this theme were selected for conservation:

Petitions 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.
Oaths 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.
Oyer & 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.

Loss 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.

Three collections were selected for documenting economic losses:

Damage 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.
Lost 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.
Shopkeepers 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.