The early archives collection chronicles the organization and activities of the Society of the Cincinnati from the time of its founding to the early twentieth century. The minutes, correspondence, rosters, reports, artwork and other official papers offer scholars a rich record of the history of America’s oldest national veterans’ organization, whose interests and concerns overlap with many of the major issues of their times. In its first decades the Society faced public scrutiny and criticism, especially over the hereditary aspects of membership, but the organization emerged as a leader in national and local commemorations of the Revolution and its heroes. Correspondence about the establishment of the French branch of the Society provides a window into relations between the two nations in the years between the American and French revolutions. The Society’s benevolent work of supporting Revolutionary War veterans and widows carried on up to the time of the Civil War. Though greatly reduced in numbers during this period, the members of the constituent branches held fast to their founders’ vision to remain “One Society of Friends,” despite sectional divisions. And, inspired in part by the centennial celebrations in 1876, the Society underwent a major revival in the late nineteenth century, recommitting itself to its original mission to perpetuate the memory of the achievement of American independence.

From its earliest meetings, the Society took great care in organizing its official records, commissioning a special mahogany box in 1787 to house and protect them. For more than a century, the growing archives collection was kept in the personal custody of the Society’s secretary general, moving from house to house until 1911, when the Society arranged to have the collection housed with the Lincoln Safe Deposit and Storage Company in New York City. In 1930, the archives were placed on deposit at the Library of Congress, where they were made available to researchers and microfilmed. After the establishment of the library in the Society’s headquarters at Anderson House, the archives were returned to the Society’s care in 1973.