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

Historians Describe the Scholarly Impact of the Digitization of Territorial Papers of the United States [Videos]

In the first of these two brief videos, UCLA Professor Stephen Aron explains why his published research on Western U.S. history might require reinterpretation now that Readex is digitizing the Territorial Papers of the United States. The comprehensive new online edition not only dwarfs the amount of content previously available in print form, but also includes intentionally omitted materials.

 

In this second short video, University of Tennessee Professor Daniel Feller clarifies why the new digital edition of Territorial Papers of the United States may provide fresh understandings of the presidency of Andrew Jackson. Researchers previously relying on Clarence Carter’s small sample of selected documents will now have access to an enormous range of newly searchable materials.

 

Historians Describe the Scholarly Impact of the Digitization of Territorial Papers of the United States [Videos]

Hostile Takeover: Utah Territory (Barely) Puts Up with its Imposed Territorial Governors

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At the beginning of the end of Utah Territory’s isolation there was Alfred Cumming, who in 1858 arrived with an army at his back to replace the popular Mormon leader Brigham Young as the federally appointed Governor. Readex’s Territorial Papers of the United States makes it clear that this was far from a casual undertaking:

Utah Affairs. Alfred Cumming appointed Governor, during recess of the Senate.

Instructed as follows: xxx “A detachment of the army is under orders to take up a position in that country, for the performance of the ordinary military duties of security and protection upon our frontiers, and alas, if necessary, to aid in the enforcement of the law. The commanding officer has been ordered to carry into effect your requisitions for the service of the troops in support of the public peace. A copy of these orders from the War Dep’t is herewith communicated. xx

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Cumming left after a couple of years; the army stayed. Relations were so fraught that in 1861 Cumming’s successor, John Dawson, couldn’t quite manage a month in the position. Following Dawson’s departure, Governor Stephen Harding eked out a few years from 1862-1863 before being driven out of office himself. For non-Mormons, being governor of Utah Territory was a thankless job exercised in a trackless waste over an intractable people.

Hostile Takeover: Utah Territory (Barely) Puts Up with its Imposed Territorial Governors

Reindeer Games: The U.S. Bureau of Education’s Reindeer Importation Program in Alaska

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It’s well established that reindeer only fly in a metaphorical sense, such as when bounding across the snowy tundra. In the 1890s, however, at the behest of the U.S. Department of Education large numbers of reindeer traveled by boat across the Bering Strait from Siberia, or by boat, rail, and boat again from Finland to what was then known as Alaska Department, or District. The following letter from Commissioner of Education William T. Harris in Readex’s Territorial Papers of the United States describes how that came to pass:

In 1890, Doctor Sheldon Jackson, General Agent of Education in Alaska, reported to me that owing to the rapid killing off of the whale and walrus in the Arctic waters of Alaska and the destruction of the fur-bearing animals of the land, the Eskimo of that region were on the verge of starvation.

With the approval of the Secretary of the Interior, Congress was asked to make a small appropriation for the introduction of the domesticated reindeer of Siberia into Alaska as a permanent food supply.

 

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Reindeer Games: The U.S. Bureau of Education’s Reindeer Importation Program in Alaska

Territorial Papers of the United States, 1764-1953: Its Unique and Extensive Coverage of American Indian History

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Materials related to American Indians or Native Americans make up a very substantial portion of the Readex’s new digital edition of Territorial Papers of the United States, 1764-1953. Indeed, few other topics in the database are covered in such depth. The reason for this is that the Territorial Papers of the United States contains all of the Territorial-era documents collected by the State and Interior Departments, and this means—crucially—that it contains all of the reports and correspondence of the Territorial Governors, whose chief duties and challenges often revolved around the American Indians within their territories. Because of this, this new digital resource will provide researchers with a vast amount of material on Native America—material that until now was only available by locating and researching the original documents or corresponding microfilm at the National Archives.

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Territorial Papers of the United States, 1764-1953: Its Unique and Extensive Coverage of American Indian History

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