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U-M Clements Library announces online access to popular Revolutionary War manuscript collection

Angela Oonk

ANN ARBOR—The University of Michigan William L. Clements Library has made available volumes 1-11 of the English Series of the Thomas Gage Papers.Thomas Gage was a famed British commander-in-chief in the decade leading up to the American Revolution and also the governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay from 1774 to 1775. 

The papers are being digitized through a $350,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to digitize over 23,000 items from one of the Clements Library’s largest and most utilized collections.

“Multiplying modes of access to our collections is one of our primary goals,” said Paul Erickson, the Randolph G. Adams Director of the Clements Library. “We will always remain committed to welcoming the many scholars who travel to Ann Arbor from around the world to do research in the Clements Library, but we are also committed to making it possible for people anywhere in the world to study landmark collections like the Gage papers.”

A premier destination for the study of 18th and 19th century American history, the Clements Library’s archive is particularly strong in their papers and artifacts related to the American Revolution.

“The Gage papers, which are one of the crown jewels of the Clements Library, have been studied by generation after generation of historians,” said Cheney J. Schopieray, curator of manuscripts at the Clements and project director. “They contain extraordinary documentation of colonial America through the paperwork of the highest echelons of British administration in the colonies during the tumultuous years leading up to the Revolutionary War.”

According to Schopieray, though there are materials related to the French and Indian War, the majority of the collection focuses on the years between 1763 and 1775. It includes handwritten letters, documents, journals, financial records, military orders and more. 

“When you think of the flashpoints leading up to the American Revolution and independence—it’s all here,” he said. “There are materials on British-Native American relations, responses to the 1765 Stamp Act and nonimportation agreements, eyewitness accounts of the Boston Massacre, draft orders by Thomas Gage for the Concord Expedition—which led to the opening shots of the war—and an abundance of military and administrative activities. One very important and exciting aspect of the collection, however, is its documentation of everyday lives in colonial America. Gage’s papers contain evidence of women’s experiences and challenges; enslaved men, women, and children of African descent; local labor; and other aspects of life in 1760s-early 1770s America.”

In addition to the Gage manuscripts, the Clements Library is also home to papers of other high ranking British officials of that era, including Prime Minister William Petty 2nd Earl of Shelburne, General Henry Clinton, Secretary of State George Germain, Undersecretary William Knox, as well as patriots such as one of George Washington’s most effective officers, Nathanael Greene, among others. 

The library’s project was one of 225 awarded nationwide in 2021 to support the preservation of historic collections, humanities exhibitions and documentaries, scholarly research and curriculum projects through the NEH’s Division of Preservation and Access.

Audiences can expect that additions will continue to be added to the archival collection site and the complete collection is expected to be available by May 2024, with support from the U-M Library’s Digital Content and Collections service. The public will be invited to assist in transcribing the papers in a remote crowd-sourcing project, making the papers fully searchable once complete.