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“What, here? Really?” Finding Native Americans in the Royal Archives

Harrison Cutler, a third-year undergraduate student in History at King’s College London, reports on his project “Marginalised Indians: Native Americans in British Archives, 1763 to 1795” (supervisor: Dr Angel-Luke O’Donnell), as part of the King’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship scheme.


“What, here? Really?” – the potential difficulty of finding Georgian sources on Native Americans was encapsulated succinctly by a fellow researcher upon a visit to the Royal Archives at Windsor. Nevertheless, over the course of July and August 2016 I was able to accumulate two vast bibliographies of both pamphlets and books regarding Native American peoples from the library catalogues of George III located in the British Library.

Portrait of Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant) by Gilbert Stuart, 1786.

Before embarking on upon the Library reading rooms, Dr. O’Donnell and I discussed potentially illuminating themes and terms via which Native American sources might be found within the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century context. That George himself was such a keen naturalist suggested environmental texts might be fruitful. The French and Indian War, which culminated in the Royal Proclamation of 1763 (restricting colonial settlement to east of the Appalachians), as well as the American War of Independence highlighted that texts pertaining to warfare might be useful considering the significance of Native Americans in these military engagements. I was also wary of significant figures in colonial relations with Native Americans, including Indian Agent Sir William Johnson, whose regular relations with Native Americans would inform any authored works. These themes, amongst others, provided the starting point for beginning the databases.

The crucial source for these bibliographies were the unpublished Catalogue of King’s Pamphlets (9 vol., 1850s, L.R.419.b.3) and F. A. Barnard’s Bibliotechae Regiae Catalogus (10 vol., 1820, RAC Rare Books and Music Reading Room), which exhaustively detailed the contents of the King’s Library. Whilst systematically poring through each volume, I produced two longlists, each containing c. 500 potential sources by applying the selection criteria pre-established, which was continually broadened as I grew better accustomed to the nature of the respective collections.

From the catalogues, I noted the shelf reference, the author or reference name, the title, size, location and date of publishing, as well as the edition of the print. Taking down all of this information enabled me to further reduce the longlists I had created using the Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO), a fully digitised database of over 180,000 books, pamphlets and much beyond. Since these documents are fully text-searchable, having found each of the documents from my longlists I used a series of key terms to identify whether Native Americans appeared therein.

Using the terms ‘Indian*’, ‘Tribe*’, ‘Native*’, ‘Savage*’, ‘Iroquois*’, ‘Mohawk*’, and ‘Cherokee*’, with the asterisk serving to broaden the search to similar terms or derivations, I was able to roughly quantify the preponderance, or absence, of Native Americans in each of the sources. Consequently, I reduced the longlist to a shortlist, ordered by the number of my key terms that appeared within each, taking the assumption that the greatest number of references would provide the best starting point for further investigation

This process was completed in full for the pamphlet database, taken from the Catalogue of King’s Pamphlets, which was the first task I undertook on my project. From a Catalogue of around 19,000 titles, I noted 673 titles, which produced 234 titles which struck at least one of my keywords. As Dr. O’ Donnell and I had predicted, the books database longlist was smaller, at only 310 titles. The mentioned process of reducing this to a shortlist is ongoing.

Overall, this was an extremely valuable experience for me to engage in broader academic investigation beyond my degree at King’s. I am very grateful for the support of Dr. O’Donnell, as well as manifold others including the staff at the Royal Archives for their invaluable tips into making the best of any archival visit. It has been fantastic to bear witness to the display of the Georgian Papers Programme at King’s, and I look forward to maintaining an eye on the progress of the project.

‘The Improvements of George Washington: Agriculture and Slavery in a Transatlantic Context’ A Lecture by Bruce Ragsdale

By Dr Angel Luke O’Donnell, Academic Liaison for the Georgian Papers Programme, and Teaching Fellow in North American History, King’s College London.

On 28th November 2016, Bruce Ragsdale, the 2016 Mount Vernon Ladies Association Fellow, delivered a paper entitled ‘The Improvements of George Washington: Agriculture and Slavery in a Transatlantic Context’. The lecture was hosted by the Georgian Papers Programme, the Centre for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine, and the Centre for Enlightenment Studies at King’s.

In his paper, Bruce explored George Washington’s reorganisation of the farms at Mount Vernon. The aim was to implement what he called a “compleat course” of English husbandry. Relying on British agricultural treatises and hiring an English farm steward to advise him, Washington set his enslaved labourers to the enormous tasks of reorganizing fields and constructing farm buildings common to large British estates. Washington devised an innovative process for supervising and accounting for the weekly work of his enslaved labourers as they carried out his experiments in crop rotation and livestock management.

Over the next fourteen years, Washington was in regular correspondence with leading British agriculturalists who reinforced his determination to realise the goals of the New Husbandry. This lecture explored how Washington’s pursuit of British agricultural methods increased his dependence on slavery and later persuaded him to investigate alternative organisations of labour in the years leading up to his decision to manumit his slaves.

Over the course of the lecture and the questions that followed afterwards, Bruce teased out some intriguing parallels between George Washington and King George. The chair for the lecture, Abigail Woods, head of the history department at King’s, said it was:

“a fascinating talk, that appealed to a wide range of historians, as evidenced by the quantity and variety of questions it inspired. It revolved around the difficulties that George Washington faced when he tried to import and apply a distinctly English form of agricultural improvement to farms that were worked by a distinctly un-English form of slave labour. In looking at how Washington coped with these difficulties, Bruce shed fascinating new light on Washington’s obsession with English agricultural improvement, and how experience of its methods led him to change his attitude towards slave labour.”

I was particularly interested in the scathing criticism that Washington heaped on his overseers for their slovenly work on his farms. The lecture gave me the impression that Washington had a very fastidious character and it is always interesting as a historian to get those insights into the daily life of historical actors. I believe it creates a useful mental context for some of the big decisions that Washington made, especially as Commander-in-Chief. George III displayed a similar attention to detail, sometimes to the consternation of his subordinates and ministers. Another revelation for me was that many of the slaves at Mount Vernon were fed by fish rather than more customary diets of pork and corn.

Overall, Bruce’s lecture brought together scholars from a number of different disciplines and research interests from throughout King’s. I was grateful to both the Centre for the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine as well as the Centre for Enlightenment Studies at King’s for their support and for bringing together an audience with a diverse range of interests. Everyone’s contributions enlivened the questions and informal conversation afterwards. The success of the lecture underlines the significance of academic networks to the Georgian Papers Programme.

Following the success of Bruce’s lecture, we are looking forward to Flora Fraser’s tenure as the 2017 Mount Vernon Ladies Association Georgian Papers Fellow. Flora is working on two upcoming projects (working titles): “In Search of Flora Macdonald (1722-1790): Her Life in Skye and the Western Isles and, as a Highland Emigrant, during the American Revolution” and “Lord Nelson of Burnham Thorpe, the Nile and Trafalgar: The Life on Land and at Sea of Horatio, Viscount Nelson (1758-1805).”

For more information about Flora’s appointment, please go here.

Coffee Mornings: Powering the Exploration of an Unfamiliar Archive

By Dr Angel Luke O’Donnell, Academic Liaison for the Georgian Papers Programme, and Teaching Fellow in North American History, King’s College London.

On the 20th October and 15th December 2016, King’s College London hosted coffee mornings for the fellows of the Georgian Papers Programme. These coffee mornings were opportunities for King’s academics to get to know the research undertaken in the Royal Archives. Most importantly, they were an opportunity for the fellows to share their research, their plans, and their ideas. As academic liaison, my hope, and the hope of my colleagues on the programme, is to encourage the development of a cohort of scholars sharing their knowledge of the archives.

While the Georgian Papers Programme will digitise the collections in the Royal Archives associated with the long eighteenth century, part of this process involves understanding the papers George and his family left to posterity. This is one of the most exciting parts of the process because so little is known about the contents. For a long time these papers were housed by the Duke of Wellington before he graciously donated them to the Royal Archives.

However, the full extent of the collections is still unknown and a lot of activity on the programme is about learning what is in the archives. There are index cards that record the addressee and receiver for correspondence, and our colleagues at the archives have initially surveyed the collections, giving us researchers an overview of the material, then alongside the digitisation there is a team cataloguing the items. Moreover, after the material goes up on the website another team enrich the catalogue by adding metadata information that provides keywords to help navigate. Finally, there is an exciting computer programme being written that can read the handwriting of George and some of his family, so there will also be the ability to search the collections through a keyword search. However, until all this is complete, researchers working in the archives still rely heavily on the expertise of the archivists and the experience of fellow scholars. And this is why these coffee mornings are so useful.

During the first meeting, we were joined by Bruce Ragsdale, Suzanne Schwarz, Felicity Myrone and Adam Crymble. There was also a good collection of King’s academics, including a welcome from Paul Readman, Vice Dean for Research in the Faculty of Arts & Humanities, giving a sense of the institutional context of the Georgian Papers Programme and the work of King’s. We also were joined by Katie Sambrook, who provided an overview of the possible connections with the College’s special collections, such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office collection. Likewise, Geoff Browell described the King’s College archives.

Each of the fellows gave a brief sense of their research plans. Bruce presented a short overview of his work on George Washington and the possible connections between Washington’s interest in agriculture and George III’s interest. Adam gave us a fascinating oversight of his project to create a digital archive of a single meal of George III. Suzanne shared images of the sources about Sierra Leone that were fundamental to her research. Finally, Felicity Myrone described her current project cataloguing George’s maps and its intersections with her work on the provenance of material in the Royal Archive. We discussed issues related to agriculture, digital humanities, the history of collections and the Royal Navy. Taken together, I was struck by the breadth of projects associated with the Georgian material.

For the second meeting, Arthur Burns welcomed the fellows to the College and described his interest in the programme and his vision for the future as he takes the leadership of developing the academic programme at King’s and further afield. Afterwards, Cindy Kierner presented an overview of the ideas in her project, focusing especially on the natural disasters she is interested in examining further. Meanwhile, Daniel Reed told us about the work that he has undertaken so far connecting ecclesiastical material from a wide variety of archives. He explained his aim was to make further connections with the Royal Archives. There then followed an interesting discussion about the various intellectual and practical linkages between both Cindy and Daniel’s work. Ultimately, the session was a fantastic opportunity to exchange ideas about incorporating the Royal Archives material into broader strands of eighteenth-century research.

In each case, it has been a pleasure to see the connections that have developed and our aspiration is that over the next five years there will be a growing scholarly community discovering and writing about the Georgian Papers.

In fact to develop this aspiration, King’s College London have announced a new fellowship scheme for Summer 2017. The deadline is 31 March 2017. Please go here for more information and to apply.