Territorial Papers of the United States


‘Subject to Removal’: Highlights from Territorial Papers of the United States

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The May release of Territorial Papers of the United States, 1765-1953, includes an array of diverse documents chronicling the nation’s westward expansion in the nineteenth century.


Special List of Cartographic Records Relating to the Territory of Wisconsin; Entry 1, Manuscript and Annotated Maps and Related Cartographic Records, 1839

These large maps of Wisconsin Territory, “Exhibiting the Position of the Lands Occupied by Indian Tribes in Amity with the United States; and also The Lands Ceded to the United States by Treaty with various Indian Tribes,” are but two examples of the valuable cartographic records found in this collection.

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Segregated Records Relating to Ratified Indian Treaties, 1836-1847; Treaty No. 242, Nov. 19, 1842

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Treaty 242 is representative generally of the United States’ method of acquiring lands under Manifest Destiny and is but one of many such examples in this collection of that doctrine’s codification. 

‘Subject to Removal’: Highlights from Territorial Papers of the United States

‘A Melancholy Catalogue of Events’: Highlights from Territorial Papers of the United States

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The April release of Territorial Papers of the United States, 1765-1953, has added more than 350 additional documents to this unique digital collection. Among them are the two Civil War-era reports below from top officials of the New Mexico Territory: Henry Connelly and William Frederick Milton Arny. Both were appointed to their positions by President Lincoln.


Third Annual Message of Governor Connelly to Legislature, December 6, 1864

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Addressing “Gentlemen of the Council And House of Representatives,” Henry Connelly writes:

The mind of man is a mighty maze in which is engendered, not only the more amiable qualities of the heart, those which teach us charity towards our fellow-beings, and amiabilities of social life, but it is also the laboratory from which do sometimes issue the effects of passion, that lead to the unhappiness of the human race. Pride, envy, egotism, malevolence, and ambition, so unamiable in private life, frequently become criminal when carried into the discharge of public duties.

Connelly continues:

The exercise of these virtues is as essential in legislation as it is in the intercourse of social life. Courtesy in discussion, charity and consideration, with respect to the motives and intentions of your associates, and harmony in your councils, cannot fail to result in honor to yourselves and in benefit to the public.

‘A Melancholy Catalogue of Events’: Highlights from Territorial Papers of the United States

What makes a primary source interface a GREAT interface?

When Readex recently posed this question to a wide range of researchers, we heard four crucial things:

  • Modern styling—researchers want primary source databases that are visually engaging and feel “right”
  • Ease of use—both experts and novices want their path to primary sources to be simple and intuitive
  • Speed!—software must search quickly, deliver relevant results in a blink, and rapidly display large images
  • Flexible tools that optimize content use and which map to common user needs and workflows.

With this feedback front and center, Readex has been busy making fresh improvements to its interfaces.

Two months ago I had the pleasure of announcing a major overhaul of the America’s Historical Newspapers and World Newspaper Archive platform. User reaction has been extremely positive, and it’s gratifying to see more usage and better research outcomes.

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We’ve already saved many users a substantial amount of time, too, by introducing a number of efficiencies to the interface.

Of course the work is never done, nor should it be. It’s important to stay abreast of needs and to make continuous improvements to our interfaces and services.

During the past several months we’ve been focusing on the fourth bullet above—“flexible tools that optimize content use.” Much of our effort has focused on enhancing the “document view” experience (sometimes called the “image viewer”) in our products. This is where users encounter the actual primary source in image form.

Throughout 2018, we met with users and asked them about the image viewer. Here’s what they said:

What makes a primary source interface a GREAT interface?

‘Every honest man in Montana’: Highlights from Territorial Papers of the United States

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The March release of Territorial Papers of the United States, 1765-1953, includes several items relating to the fascinating history of the Territory of Montana.


Clipping, on Calling of Political Convention (1866)

Born in Waterford, Ireland, Thomas Francis Meagher (1823-1867) led the Young Irelanders in the Rebellion of 1848. He was convicted of sedition and sentenced to death. Instead, Meagher was “transported for life” to Australia.

Escaping to the United States in 1852, he worked as a journalist, studied law, and lectured on Irish nationalism. At the outbreak of the Civil War Meagher joined the Army, eventually becoming a brigadier general. After the war President Andrew Johnson appointed Meagher as Montana’s Territorial Secretary of State; he also served as acting governor until Governor Green Clay Smith (1826-1895) arrived and assumed the executive duties.

Early in January 1866 the Montana Democrat reported:

Gov. Meagher has changed the time of the election of Delegates of the Convention, to Saturday, the 24th day of February, 1866, and the meeting of the same to Monday, the 26th day of March. The reasons for the change are given in connection with the Proclamation, which are quite satisfactory.

The Governor’s proclamation can also be found in this collection. Defending the Governor from accusations of political chicanery, the Montana Democrat continued:

‘Every honest man in Montana’: Highlights from Territorial Papers of the United States

‘The Language and Sentiments of Treason’: Highlights from Territorial Papers of the United States

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The February release of Territorial Papers of the United States, 1765-1953, includes a Civil War-era warning of an impending invasion from Texas, a petition to allow black suffrage under the Colorado constitution, and reports of murder and robbery on the Mexican border.


Address of Legislature to Citizens, on Invasion from Texas, January 29, 1862

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In 1862 Confederate General Henry Hopkins Sibley led a brigade of volunteer cavalry to invade the Territory of New Mexico. By advancing north along the Rio Grande from Fort Bliss, he hoped to eventually seize the gold and silver mines in Colorado. In the days leading up to the attack, the Territorial Legislature of New Mexico issued an address to the citizenry, warning them of the coming incursion and alerting them to the dangers they faced.

‘The Language and Sentiments of Treason’: Highlights from Territorial Papers of the United States

‘This Superannuated and Irritable Governor’: Highlights from Territorial Papers of the United States

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The December release of Territorial Papers of the United States, 1765-1953, includes a letter to President Van Buren from the secretary of the Iowa Territory containing his most recent contentious exchange with the territory’s governor; a follow-up petition by several territorial legislators seeking removal of the governor; and finally a memorial by the territory’s legislative assembly asking the president to remove the governor for his “total want of abilities.”


Dispute between the Secretary and Governor, January 8, 1839

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Writing to President Martin Van Buren, the secretary of the Iowa Territory (William Bernard Conway) describes the breakdown of his relationship with the territory’s governor (Robert Lucas).

The papers, which accompany this communication, will convey, to your Excellency, the unwelcome intelligence, that relations, between the governor and the Secretary of this Territory, have ceased to be friendly. This information will doubtless occasion regret, and, indeed, the necessity of communicating it, has been, and is, much regretted by the Secretary; but as mere regret can never settle principles, the attention of the President is respectfully, and very earnestly, invited to the facts connected with this misunderstanding, a fair and impartial examination of which, must lead an honest mind to an equitable decision.

‘This Superannuated and Irritable Governor’: Highlights from Territorial Papers of the United States

The Power of Metadata: Readex and the Territorial Papers of the United States

Earlier this year Readex published the Territorial Papers of the United States, 1764-1953, the most important early American content not yet digitized—until now.

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More than half of America’s states began as territories. From the 1760s to the 1950s the United States of America expanded southward and westward, acquiring territories that spanned from Florida to California to Alaska. Before they evolved into twenty-seven American states, these territories were managed by the U.S. State and Interior departments. The official history of their formative territorial years is recorded in Territorial Papers of the United States—a collection of Native American negotiations and treaties, official correspondence with the federal government, military records, judicial proceedings, population data, financial statistics, land records, and more.

About two thirds of these documents are in manuscript form. This means they cannot be made full-text searchable through the application of Optical Character Recognition (“OCR”) technologies. Yes, there are technologies today that can do a fairly decent job applying OCR to certain types of manuscripts, but the handwriting needs to be very clear, and extremely uniform, for the technology to work at all, and even then the results don’t match the quality that can be achieved from printed (as opposed to manuscript) documents.

The documents in Territorial Papers of the United States are from many time periods and in many handwritings, making them poor candidates for OCR application.

The Power of Metadata: Readex and the Territorial Papers of the United States

Boundary Issues: Iowa Territory and Missouri Deploy their Militias against Each Other during the Honey War

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Spoiler alert: it wasn’t about the honey. Rather, this 1839 border dispute between Iowa Territory and Missouri involved conflicting survey lines that left the boundary there at best ambiguous, at worst contentious. According to the apocryphal story, in lieu of collecting taxes a frustrated Missouri official chopped down a valuable stand of trees inhabited by industrious bees, on land owned by a person who had reason to believe that he (and the bees) lived in Iowa Territory. No blood was shed, but militias were mobilized, property seized, and a sheriff jailed.

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The map above shows four survey lines varying by almost ten miles at their greatest extent. There was the Sullivan Line (Line 1), run in 1816 by John C. Sullivan to delineate an Indian treaty, but effaced by time and later found to be inaccurate. Then there was the Brown Line, established by John C. Brown in 1836 at the behest of the governor of Missouri; this was the northernmost line (Line 4). Then there was the survey by Albert Miller Lea (Line 3), on behalf of Iowa Territory and the federal government, which put the border south of Missouri’s claim. The fourth line was the one Sullivan should have drawn if he had taken magnetic declination into account in his survey (Line 2).

Boundary Issues: Iowa Territory and Missouri Deploy their Militias against Each Other during the Honey War

Keeping the “Death Angels” from the Door: Healthcare in New Mexico Territory, 1909

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The digital edition of Territorial Papers of the United States, 1764-1953, features a great deal of material by and about famous and influential people struggling to extend the structures of federal government to the Western frontier. At the margins of that endeavor the researcher often encounters pioneers in desperately humble circumstances struggling to stay alive.

Such was the case in Doris, New Mexico Territory, in 1909, as described in a lengthy series of letters relating to the medical practice of James R. Franz, whose services were much in demand by the poor persons of that rural place. Doris was more of a mining settlement than a town, in Quay County, New Mexico, on the Texas border near Tucumcari. Doris was in a rugged and arid region known as the Llano Estacado, the Staked (or Palisaded) Plains. It was so small that it does not appear on this 1910 mineral survey map of the area from the Readex digital edition of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1994.

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Doris might not have attracted any notice at all but for letters such as the following [excerpted; original in six pages]:

Doris, N. Mex., June 14, 1909

Keeping the “Death Angels” from the Door: Healthcare in New Mexico Territory, 1909

Un-Compromising: Sovereignty and Slavery Sow the Seeds of Rebellion in 1850s Kansas

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If the present state of political discourse calls to mind the analogy of blood sport, spare a thought for “Bleeding Kansas,” that period from 1854-1861 when pro- and anti-slavery forces faced off in a violent prelude to the U.S. Civil War.

In Readex’s digital edition of the Territorial Papers of the United States, 1764-1953, the politics of division becomes personal through handwritten accounts such as the following letter from Kansas Deputy Marshal William J. Preston to Governor John W. Geary, written on October 12, 1856. Preston described a party of approximately 240 “immigrants” who were stopped by federal troops near the Kansas-Nebraska border:

There was nothing in the appearance of this party indicating that they were peaceable immigrants. They had no stock of any kind, except those of draught. There were only seven families among them, with no visible furniture, agricultural implements, or mechanical tools, but on the contrary, they were amply supplied with all the requisite articles for camping and campaigning purposes. These were seen protruding from their vehicles.

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Lieutenant Colonel Philip St. George Cooke gave Deputy Marshall Preston an exact reckoning of the baggage of these “peaceable immigrants:”

Un-Compromising: Sovereignty and Slavery Sow the Seeds of Rebellion in 1850s Kansas

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