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A Stain Indelible

Jan. 15, 1898, New York Times Saturday Review of Books and Art, Page 33,

New York State in American History

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The report of the State Historian, Mr. Hugh Hastings, from which passages are reprinted elsewhere in this issue, brings prominently to public attention the sad state of neglect in which important and valuable historical papers belonging to this State have remained for more than a hundred years. No one has ever attempted to investigate the colonial and revolutionary history of any part of the state without soon finding that much information he was in search of and ought to have could be obtained only from unpublished papers preserved in the capitol at Albany. Beyond the stately quartos published under Dr O'Callaghan's editorship and the few volumes Mr Berthold Fernow edited, there was little at his disposal in printed form. Calendars there were of state papers laid away there, but these simply told him what he might find by going to Albany; they served to emphasize still more the surprising indifference of state officers and legislators to the rich collections that are stored in the capitol.

The share of New York in the making of history on this continent has been far too great to make it any longer pardonable that any useful knowledge on the subject shall be concealed from those who wish to see it. Not only was New York one of the earliest places in the United States where Europeans founded settlements, but all through the formative history that embraced conflicts with the Indians, with the French, and with England, it was the vital center around which the long struggle, first between barbarism and civilization, next between Latin and Anglo-Saxon forms of government, and finally between English liberty and English personal government, was fought out and won. The valley of the Mohawk, the headwaters of the Susquehanna, the shores of lakes Champlain and George, and the valley of the Hudson supplied battlefields for a conflict extending over a full century and a half. Schenectady and German Flats, Lake George and Ticonderoga, Minisink and Cherry Valley, Elmira and Saratoga, Oriskany and Stony Point, Harlem Heights, Brooklyn, and White Plains recall those scenes and bring to mind the names of the men who on New York soil gave direction to the cause of humanity, which finally had its splendid triumph here— Sir William Johnson and Nicholas Herkimer, John Sullivan and Anthony Wayne, Israel Putnam and Nathaniel Greene, Philip Schuyler and George Washington.

There has never been lack of men competent and willing to undertake the laborious task of editing and printing these colonial and revolutionary papers. The thing lacking has been a legislature which would provide the funds for doing the work. No great sum would be needed whatever scale of typographic display might be proposed. Men whom the project has interested grow sick at heart when they reflect how small this sum would be, compared with expenditures that are constantly and easily made for less urgent purposes. Some years ago many thousands of dollars were expended on several resplendent quartos devoted to the Public service of the State of New York, volumes as striking in their form of manufacture as in their curious inutility.Those thousands of dollars expended in the publication of the colonial and revolutionary papers would have made a splendid start — something more than a start, in fact — toward their preservation for all time in print, and not only their preservation but their wide distribution.

In the stately edifice where these papers now find a resting place are staircases and corridors, vaulted ceilings, and wainscoted chambers to which the legislator points with pride, and upon which his untraveled constituents gaze with wondering eyes. But for men who think more of vital things in the life of a state, it is melancholy to remember how one of these show places represents outlays that might have saved New York from the disgrace which neglect of her historical manuscripts has fastened so deeply upon her. The stains of that neglect, though deep enough, are not indelible. A Legislature could at any time wipe them out.

On past Legislatures, however, stains must remain, and stains indelible. But shall the present and future Legislatures also bear them?


January 15, 1898, New York Times Saturday Review of Books and Art, Page 37, NEW YORK STATE IN THE REVOLUTION.

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Records of That Conflict and of Colonial Times Getting Published.

Men and women who have been seeking industriously for information concerning the part taken by ancestors of theirs in Colonial and Revolutionary times will be among the most diligent readers the State Historian of New York, Mr. Hugh Hastings, will have for his annual report, just published. It is a volume of more than a thousand pages, many of which are filled with muster rolls to which there is an elaborate index. The present volume, filled as it is with valuable records, is merely the beginning of a series that is to be devoted to Colonial records. How great the neglect of these papers has been by the State Mr. Hastings sets forth, as well as the demands that pour in upon him for the information they contain. Indeed, it is this topic and the extent of New York's contribution in men to the armies of the Revolution that form what are perhaps the most triking passages in the report. They are given below:

The declaration in the State Historian's report last year that New York State furnished forty thousand troops during the War of the Revolution was met with a storm of denials and criticism, that, beginning with a Philadelphia newspaper, swept through this State from Buffalo to New York. Several writers, with more presumption than judgment, even charged that such a "preposterous statement" utterly discredited the work of the department. Puerile State jealousy has in many ways and by many shallow writers striven to deny to New York credit for the exalted patriotism it has ever been her pride to display and her record to exert in the hour of her country's peril.

New York's placid indifference to exploiting her great achievements has encouraged a certain class of so-called historical writers of other States for a period running over a hundred years in belittling the Empire State at almost every historical crisis. From the adoption of the Federal Constitution New York has been exposed to virulent attacks from New England writers, not only for her position in the convention that adopted the Federal Constitution, but for her course during the second war with Great Britain.

And it seems perfectly appropriate that a writer from the sister State of Pennsylvania should ridicule New York's patriotism during the trying years from 1775 to 1789, but in the absence of positive proof to the contrary, the willingness with which certain influential newspapers in this State reproduced these denials and joined issues with New York's assailants to the detriment of their own State was as surprising as their motive was inexplicable. Fortunately, what was known by this department to be a fact a year ago will soon be established within the reach of the public generally, and the statement then made will be more than verified.

In order that all the records extant should be amalgamated, what co-operation New York rendered to her sister Colonies during the War of the Revolution, a project was set on foot last Spring which had in contemplation the consolidation of all the Revolutionary records in the possession of the State of New York and the War Department at Washington, D. C. Early in May, 1896, Col. D. S. Lamont, Secretary of War, put himself in communication with Gov. Morton and made a formal request that the State, through the Regents of the University, should loan the United States Government whatever Revolutionary muster rolls were filed away in our State Library. Gov. Morton's interest in the subject was at once aroused, ande without delay he submitted the matter to the Regents, supplemented by request that Col. Lamont's project should be consummated.

At the annual convocation in June last, the Regents failed to see the expediency of the request made by the Federal Government and the Governor, and declined to permit our Revolutionary records to leave the State, on the ground that the risk covered in transportation to Washington and return was altogether too hazardous. It was contended that the policy of the Regents never to permit the State archives to leave the fire-proof and water-proof vaults in which they were kept should not be broken. Besides, it was contended, a dangerous precedent would be established--that by loaning the records to the Government the door was opened to those of our sister States that might be disposed to make the same sort of a request. As a concession, however, the Regents offered the National Government every access, should the War Department see fit to detail a number of copyists for the purpose of transcribing the records. Inasmuch as the War Department had no funds fixed by statute--and therefore no authority--for the transportation of clerks from Washington to Albany and return, or for their maintenance while they remained in this city, the laudable enterprise fell through. This refusal of the Regents left New York State in any but an enviable position when the National Government determined to print its Revolutionary records. The State of New York would have had no position whatever commensurate with the services it ahd rendered to the cause. Its record, as a matter of fact, would not have appeared. The State would have been at a marked disadvantage.

Fortunately, however, State Controller Roberts had in the Summer of 1895 discovered in the attic of the old State Hall a great mass of Revolutionary records that had lain undisturbed for nearly eighty years. Realizing their value and the necessity of putting them in shape for public use, Controller Roberts, governed by a high sense of public spirit and patriotism, entered into an agreement with Secretary Lamont, through Col. Fred C. Ainsworth, United States Army, Chief of the Record and Pension Office, for the interchange of these records with those relating to New York State on file in the War Department. This patriotic demonstration of reciprocity has proved of incalculable value to the history of this State and of the United States. So that to-day in the War Department in Washington, D. C., and in the State Controller's office in Albany the muster and pay rolls of the troops furnished by New York State to the War of the Revolution are in more complete condition as to names and numbers furnished than at any previous time in the history of this State or of the United States. From documents and rolls whose authenticity cannot be questioned, of which each one bears the stamp of official accuracy, the statement can be iterated without the fear of successful contradiction that the number of troops furnished by New York State during the War of the Revolution will aggregate between 40,000 and 41,000.

In addition to these nuster and pay rolls there are other records bearing the name of regiments with their field, staff, and line officers, without the name of a single private, thus indicating that there were skeleton regiments, duly officered, whose ranks, it is safe to assume, were only partially filled. Then again, in the Controller's possession there are the names of pensioners whose claims are duly certified as New York soldiers, but whose names cannot be found on any of the existing muster or pay rolls. The fact that they obtained the pension is a sufficient guarentee that they must have seen service. In the consideration of the lists of regiments and organizations prepared from the official rolls there can be no question that if all the facts could be brought to light, it would be found that New York State supplied nearer forty-five thousand troops than forty thousand.

The resources of the department have been sorely tried during the past year by the many queries, letters, and demands for information from people interested in their ancestors who settled in this State during the Colonial period, or who enlisted from this State during the War of the Revolution or the War of 1812. These queries have come from nearly every State in the Union, demonstrating the constantly expanding interest in matters of this kind. The study of American history and of American ancestry has become a very prominent part of our political existence; a scarcity of material has only whetted the appetites of the people for more detailed information. To satisfy this demand, which is as healthy as it is natural, our sister States of Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Massachusetts, and Maryland are pushing forward the publication of Colonial and Revolutionary Records--records that have long lain neglected, and have only been accessible to a limited number of influential persons. Up to the present time the State of Pennsylvania has printed three series of her Colonial archives, embracing thirty volumes; the fourth series, constituting twenty volumes, is now in process or preperation. The example set by the three States mentioned above should certainly be followed by the State of New York, the peer of them all. Even the comparatively modern States of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Montana have printed their early archives.

It is a crying shame that this great State ever abandoned printing its records, so well begun and continued by the late Dr. E. B. O'Callaghan. The Colonial records and other valuable manuscripts now in the State Library belong of right to the people, and the people will never have the true history of the early period of this State until these records are printed and distributed. The collection of manuscripts owned by the State of New York is more valuable and their contents are more interesting than those of any other collection in the country outside of the City of Washington. The longer this work is neglected the more difficult will be the transcribing of our archives. Year byn year the ink becomes less legible, and year by year the danger of mutilation and destruction increases. It is the fashion for a few alleged economists to decry the expense necessary in the preperation and publishing of valuable records of this character. The growth of patriotic societies in this State, male and female, the constantly developing interest manifested in our early history, would seem to indicate that a very large class of our people who are not active in politics except on election day beleive that the State should use its resources in giving the public in printed form all the historical records that are now under lock and key.

The American Historical Review for January contains many articles of exceeding interest. Among these are Edward Channing's "Justin Winsor," Charles H. Haskin's "The LIfe of Mediaeval Students as Illustrated by Their Letters," Herbert Tuttles's "The Prussian Campaign of 1758, II.," Herbert L. Osgood's "The Proprietary Province as a Form of Colonial Government, III.," Max Farrand's "The Taxation of Tea, 1767-1773," Gaillard Hunt's "Office Seekers During Jefferson's Administration," and Arthur M. Mowry's "Tammany Hall and the Dorr Rebellion."

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