The following websites provide collections of related primary sources which students can utilize in their research paper in History 1483. Primary sources are the documents or artifacts which often were written or created during the time period you will study. Other documents were produced later by historical participants, perhaps as interviews, oral histories, or memoirs. Primary sources might include letters, diaries, speeches, newspaper articles, government reports, speeches, census materials, laws, court records, corporate reports and minutes, maps, photographs, or pottery, for example. Thise website gathers related materials which will help you complete research on a specific topic.
Colonial Experience & Exploration
Letters written by settlers, visitors, and bureaucrats detail life in Jamestown between 1550 and 1749. Beginning with Spanish explorers and concluding with English colonists these works tell of voyages to the colony, the hardships experienced there, and relations with local Native Americans. All letters include a brief summary and have been transcribed for easy reading. The homepage at virtualjamestown.org also includes select court records, labor contracts, and public records under “Resources” but these are more difficult to use and not as well organized.
Colonial Williamsburg: Online Collections
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has put thousands of pieces of material culture on digital display. Anything from furniture, textiles, toys, tools, weapons, and paintings from the 17th, 18th, and early 19th century can be found here. Images of these items and their descriptions can give you a better sense of colonial life. However, these are best used a supplements to other primary sources.
Salem Witch Trials: Documentary Archive and Transcription Project
The collection consists of primary source materials relating to the Salem witch trials of 1692. Under “Documents and Transcriptions” you will find a transcription of court records, documents from Essex County, and church record books are all available. You can also find some personal letters between colonial leaders, as well as Samuel Parris’ diary and several sermons. Other “Archival Collections” include digital documents available from the Boston Public Library, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the Essex Institute Archive.
Early Americas Digital Archive
This wide ranging collection includes writings related to the Americas from 1492 until the early 19th century. The website is a work-in-progress so it is not as user friendly as others, but it does contain a wealth of important documents. Select “Archive” to find texts housed within the EADA database. (Choosing “Gateway” will link you to external sites which may or may not be useful.) Within the EADA archive use the “Advanced Search” feature to browse by subject, person, or period. Not every search will be successful and some primary sources have yet to be translated into English, so experiment with different search combinations to find what you are looking for.
Expansive and easy to use, this site is a dream for anyone interested in European and Euro-American exploration of North America. Travelers’ accounts of their journeys, encounters with various Native Americans, the landscape, and much more. Use “Find a Document” and then “Select a Field” followed by “Select a Topic” to help narrow your search. Advanced search features are useful if you want to find a particular explorer, expedition, or settlement.
Southeastern Native American Documents, 1730-1842
Documents relating to the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Seminoles, and many others have been collected and are available here. About 2,000 primary sources provide a glimpse into the lives of these peoples as they interacted with British colonists, experienced the American Revolution, and confronted American imperialism. Browse by collection to gain context on the individual collections within this assembly. You can also browse by date or keyword search for a particular tribe, person, or event.
Cherokee Nation: Trail of Tears
This compilation of newspaper articles, letters, and government documents detail the Cherokee Nation’s struggles to retain their ancestral homeland against the state of Georgia’s encroachment and President Andrew Jackson’s removal policies. Eloquent arguments made by Cherokee leaders, pleas from their Euro-American allies, and the decisions of the US Supreme Court (known as the Marshall Trilogy) still could not prevent their forced removal to Indian Territory, modern-day Oklahoma.
Yale Indian Papers Project
This database stores papers related to the history of New England Indians from the 1630s-1840s. Browse or search from a host of topics including individual colonies (YIPP) and Indian nations/communities, along with culture, military, education, food, and many more subjects. If you’re interested in New England Indians this is the site for you.
The Geography of Slavery in Virginia
Here you will find transcriptions of advertisements requesting the return of runaway African slaves and European servants placed in newspapers between 1736 and 1803. Slaveholders did this hoping to reclaim their “property,” but they reveal much about unfreedom in Virginia. Court records, laws, personal correspondence, and narratives (all written by slaveholders) document Virginia’s reliance on servant labor and its transition into a full-blown slave society. Be advised the Explanatory Essays, Personal Profiles, and Resources are NOT primary sources although they provide useful context.
Voices from the Days of Slavery
The Library of Congress stores twenty-six audio recordings of interviews with former slaves. This particular collection allows you to read or listen to seven of these. Based on their personal experiences Fountain Hughes, George Johnson, Uncle Bob Ledbetter, Uncle Billy McCrea, Isom Moseley, Wallace Quarterman, and Charlie Smith each talk about their lives as slaves and later as free men. (To see the transcription of these interviews select “Read” and then “View text” in the next window.)
Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1938
Collected by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the midst of the Great Depression these interviews chronicle the experience of slavery according to those who lived it. African-American men and women born into slavery were interviewed and the transcriptions are available here. This is an essential collection for professional historians and students alike. You can search by keywords or browse the interviews. (“Volume” and “State” work best for browsing.) Having made your selection click “View page images” to read the interview.
The Avalon Project: Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy
A collection of digital documents pertaining to law, history, economics, politics, diplomacy, and government. These works span the entire colonial era through the 19th century and beyond. Having selected a timeframe, documents appear in alphabetical order. The 17th c. collection is a rich source of colonial charters, declarations, and land grants. 18th c. documents continue this trend, but also include an assortment of works relevant to the American Revolution and the adoption of the US Constitution. The 19th c. assemblage combines presidential writings, US foreign relations, and select domestic affairs.
100 Milestone Documents
This is a list of 100 documents that shaped U.S. political history from 1776 to 1965. Those of most interest include the Declaration of Independence (1776), Federalist Papers, No. 10 & No. 51 (1787-1788), Louisiana Purchase Treaty (1803), and the Emancipation Proclamation (1863). High resolution PDFs of the original documents are available as are transcripts for easy reading.
American Presidency Project
This archive contains documents related to the American Presidency from George Washington through the present. The “Documents” tab provides the most relevant primary sources for the years 1790-1869. Here you can find Inauguration speeches, State of the Union addresses, Proclamations, and Executive Orders among other things. In the left-hand column under “Search the Entire Document Archive” you can keyword search and limit your results by year. This will be helpful to avoid documents outside of your chronological scope.
Papers of the War Department, 1784-1800
These papers record the military history, Indian affairs, veterans’ matters, naval considerations, and the business dealings of the War Department. Frustratingly, this collection has yet to be entirely digitized and transcribed. The process is currently underway so some documents include an image of the original text with a transcription, others have only an image, and the rest lack an image and a transcription. However, the finished texts are of immense value and others are constantly being completed. Browse the collection by year, or keyword search to find specific people, places, and events.
Secession Era Editorials Project
Editorials from Democratic, Whig, and Republican newspapers chronicle some of the most controversial events of the antebellum era. Notice how writers in the North and South reacted to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the caning of Sen. Charles Sumner, the Dred Scott decision, and John Brown’s Raid. Not only is the material fascinating, it’s also easy to use.
The Valley of the Shadow
This expansive project seeks to compare the experience of two neighboring counties, one in the North and the other in the South. Thousands of primary documents from Franklin Country, Pennsylvania and Augusta Country, Virginia are available to help make this possible. Resources are divided into three time periods spanning from John Brown’s Raid through Reconstruction. Within these honeycomb-like partitions, headings labeled “Letters & Diaries” and “Newspapers” will be of most use for your assignment.
Civil War Diaries & Letters Collections
This collection consists of diaries and letters from the Civil War era. Diaries from soldiers, spies, and one of President Lincoln’s bodyguards have been transcribed for easy usage. Letters range from private correspondence to official war-related affairs making this an interesting and accessible assemblage.
History Hubs, pre-1492-1865
This website contains documents and media subdivided by eras beginning with “The First Americans” pre-1492 continuing up until “The 21st Century.” However, for this project limit your research to eras prior to “Reconstruction.” Dragging your mouse through the digital timeline you can select periods such as the “American Revolution,” the “Early National Period,” and “Civil War” in addition to others. Rows labeled “Media” and “Documents” produce a range of songs and written sources for your chosen era. Having made your selection, tabs titled Events, People, Images, and Do History may also be useful.
Documenting the American South (DocSouth)
A wealth of transcribed source material dealing with all aspects of the American South. Select “Subjects” in the heading banner, and you can browse subject listings in alphabetical order. For example, selecting “A” pulls up documents relating to abolition, African Americans, agriculture, and antislavery movements. Subjects range from individual people, particular religious denominations, specific Native American tribes, cities and towns, plantation life, and the Confederate States of America. The variety of subjects is expansive, but they are not divided chronologically so make sure you select sources within the parameters of the assignment.
The National Archives Experience: Digital Vaults
An assembly of digital images from the National Archives. Choosing “Search” in the banner at the bottom of the screen allows you to keyword search or browse the collection using tags. Presidents, states, specific wars, and even taxes are among the various tags. Once you’ve made your selection the archive may produce photographs, maps, or documents related to your topic. These are digital images of original sources so there are often imperfections and handwritten correspondence. Most likely this site will be a useful supplement to your research but not the main source of information.
National Archives: Docs Teach
Thousands of primary source documents ranging from the Seven Years War through the present are available from the National Archives. This is American history in the raw, only short descriptions accompany images of original documents, photographs, and maps. Limit your search to three historical eras: Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s), Expansion and Reform (1801-1861), and Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877). Having selected an era you can browse or keyword search to help locate your subject of interest.
Teaching American History: Documents
Historical eras are used to divide a limited number of historically significant letters, speeches, and government documents. Transcriptions of primary sources from the Colonial Era through the Civil War Era make this library particularly easy to use. Important topics and/or people are included within each time period although the number of documents included for each varies significantly.
Designed for history students, this site functions as a gateway to primary sources as well as a repository for them. Under “Topics” select a time period from the far left column, then a topic from either column to the right. Then check “Many Pasts” near the bottom of the page under “Features” before beginning your search. (You should now have a time period, topic, and Many Pasts selected.) Your search will generate a list of primary source documents from within the History Matters website. Some period and topic combinations produce more results than others.
America in Class
The National Humanities Center has assembled a collection of primary sources including personal correspondence, government documents, and even artwork. Choose between six relevant historical eras beginning with “American Beginnings” (1492-1690) through “The Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing” (1815-1850). Among these “The Making of African American Identity” (1500-1865) is a particularly compelling resource. Having selected a time period choose a topic such as settlement, culture, or religion among many others, and follow the links provided to discover primary source documents related to that subject.