Resources for online research have proliferated over the last twenty years. The following online databases are particularly valuable for research on the American Revolution.
Open Access Research Resources
The following research databases include important research resources on the American Revolution and are available to anyone with an internet connection, without charge:
This database reproduces the contents of American Archives, a nine-volume collection of materials—chiefly manuscripts—documenting the events of 1775-1776. American Archives was created by Peter Force (1790-1868), a printer, publisher, public official, and pioneering archivist who amassed an enormous personal collection of materials relating to the colonial and Revolutionary origins of the United States. Force published some of the material documenting the colonial period in his four-volume Tracts and Other Papers, Relating Principally to the Origin, Settlement, and Progress of the Colonies in North America, published between 1836 and 1846. His nine-volume American Archives was published between 1837 and 1853. In 1867, Congress purchased the entire Force collection—over 150,000 items—for $100,000. It has since been one of the most important collections in the Library of Congress. While the published edition American Archives is widely held by research libraries, its massive scale and complicated organization makes it difficult to use. Recognizing the value of the material and the difficulty involved in using the printed version, Professor Alan Kulikoff conceived an effort to digitize American Archives, which was first funded by the National Endowment of the Humanities in 2001. The project was undertaken by the Northern Illinois University Digital Library, which now maintains the database.
Chronicling America provides access to millions of searchable digitized newspaper pages published between 1789 and 1963. Chronicling America is a project of the National Digital Newspaper Program, a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress, which is engaged in a long-term effort to develop a comprehensive searchable online database of U.S. newspapers. Since 2005, the National Endowment for the Humanities has provided grant support to participating institutions in forty-eight states as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to digitize newspapers for the National Digital Newspaper Program. Despite the prodigious number of pages already digitized and available online, the project has millions of pages to go. The database is maintained and hosted by the Library of Congress.
Colonial North America at Harvard University
Colonial North America at Harvard University is an initiative to digitize and provide online access to approximately 650,000 pages, including all the known archival and manuscript materials in Harvard’s several libraries. These materials provide important insights on the American Revolution, and include documents that illiminate education, trade, finance, law, science, medicine, religion, family affairs and social life, women, American Indians, slavery, food and agriculture as well as politics. Many of the documents include drawings, sketches, maps, and other illustrations.
Created by the National Historic Publications and Records Commission, an agency of the National Archives, in partnership with the University of Virginia Press, Founders Online provides electronic access to over 185,000 documents transcribed and edited by the modern founding fathers editorial projects, including the papers of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay, and the Adams family. These papers have been, or are being, published in letterpress documentary editions distinguished for their comprehensive scholarly presentation of manuscripts held by hundreds of repositories and private collections. Unlike editions of the papers of the leading figures of the American Revolution published in the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, these documentary editions include incoming as well as outgoing correspondence. Founders Online includes the annotation associated with the documents published in the letterpress editions. The Franklin, Hamilton, and Jay papers editoril projects are completed. The Papers of George Washington is nearly complete, having only the papers from the last stages of the Revolutionary War to edit and publish. The Jefferson, Madison, and Adams Family Papers editorial projects are ongoing. Founders Online includes working transcripts of documents not yet published by these projects.
Naval Documents of the American Revolution
The Naval History and Heritage Command and its predecessor, the Naval History Division of the United States Navy, began publication of the printed edition of Naval Documents of the American Revolution in 1964. To date, thirteen volumes have been published, carrying the naval history of the American Revolution from December 1, 1774, through to August 15, 1778. Unlike the documentary editions included in the Founders Online database, which are published by university presses, the printed volumes of Naval Documents of the American Revolution are published by the Government Printing Office. The Naval History and Heritage Command website provides downloadable PDFs of the thirteen volumes published to date. The volumes include correspondence, petitions, ship’s logs, muster rolls, orders, official reports, diary excerpts, and newspaper accounts on naval affairs documenting the American Revolution in the North American and European theaters of operation.
Rev War ’75 Index of Orderly Books
Orderly books were among the among the most important records kept by eighteenth-century armies and are fundamental to the study of the Revolutionary War. The private website RevWar75.com, created by John K. Robertson and Bob McDonald, provides a cross-referenced index of some 950 surviving orderly books of the Continental Army.
Southern Campaigns Revolutionary War Pension Statements & Rosters
Pension applications and the associated documentation are among the richest resources for studying the experience of Continental soldiers and sailors and militiamen who served in the Revolutionary War. Applications for pension benefits provided for by the Pension Act of 1818 and the Pension Act of 1832 and their various amendments and related legislation are preserved in the National Archives, while applications for state benefits and records of state bonus claims are preserved in some state archives. Revwarapps.org is an extraordinary private website providing transcriptions and basic annotation for thousands of pension applications of veterans who served in Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia (including the frontier regions out of which West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama were later formed). The transcription and annotation is the work of Will Graves and C. Leon Harris, to whom historians, students of the American Revolution in the South, and genealogists are all deeply indebted.
Fee Based Research Resources
The following databases are available to subscribers for a fee. The American Revolution Institute makes them available for research on site in our library free of charge:
Early American Newspapers
Early American Newspapers is a website constructed and maintained by Readex, a corporation founded in the 1940s as Readex Microprint Corporation to take advantage of advances in photographic technology that made it possible to reduce images of single pages to a tiny fraction of their original size and print them on cards, each holding hundreds of pages. In 1955 Readex formed a partnership with the American Antiquarian Society to produce a microcard edition of all of the works in Charles Evans American Bibliography, a nearly comprehensive list of American imprints from 1639 to 1800. Readex followed this with a microcard edition of the works listed in the Shaw-Shoemaker bibliography of American imprints from 1801 to 1819, and Early American Newspapers, 1690-1876. The dissemination of these microcard editions, which were acquired by research libraries along with the specialized opaque projectors to read them, transformed American Revolution research, providing access to rare materials to any researcher with access to a major university or special collections library that purchased them. Early American Newspapers has been digitized and made available online, includes more than 340,000 fully searchable issues from over 730 historical American newspapers.
Fold3, a website owned by Ancestry.com, provides access to millions of pages of military service records, including pension applications submitted by Revolutionary War veterans, which are among the richest sources available for studying the experience of Continental soldiers and sailors and militiamen who served in the Revolutionary War. The largest body of Revolutionary War material available on Fold3 is a digitized version of National Archives National Archives microfilm publication M804, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, which are a part of Record Group 15: Records of the Veterans Administration. The digitized microfilm images are indexed, and the navigational tools make reaching the files of individual veterans almost effortless. Once there, the researcher has to read the documents, mostly early nineteenth-century manuscripts, in the files. The texts are not individually catalogued or transcribed. The database is nonetheless a remarkable advance over going to the National Archives or a federal depository library to search for service records buried in reels of microfilm.
Created in 1995 by a former president of Princeton University, JSTOR (short for journal storage) was originally intended to overcome the problem faced by research libraries of acquiring, cataloging, and storing the proliferating number of academic journals. JSTOR’s answer was to digitize them and make them available to subscribing institutions over the internet. JSTOR now archives and indexes over 1,900 journal titles containing millions of academic journal articles. JSTOR is still only accessible to subscribers—chiefly institutions—but individuals can purchase access to a specific number of journal articles as well. Titles of particular value for research on the American Revolution include the William and Mary Quarterly and the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography.