Discoveries from the Vault


The diary of a sailor on the eve of Pearl Harbor

In the fall of 1941 Thomas Barwiss Hagstoz Askin Jr. was on board USS Memphis counting down the days until his enlistment in the United States Navy ended. He recorded his experience in a diary he entitled “Memorys and Incidents of My Last 60 (?) Days in the United States Navy.”



A Civil War soldier’s sketchbook

Title p“A Few Scenes in the life of A ‘SOJER’ in the Mass 44th” (GLC08200.00002)

Between battles, marches, and military exercises, Civil War soldiers spent their free time in camp playing music, writing and reading letters, and, for those with the skill, sketching scenes from the day. This unknown soldier’s sketchbook from 1863, “A Few Scenes in the life of A ‘SOJER’ in the Mass 44th,” recounts the adventures of a soldier named “Gorge,” or “George.” We do not know if George is a fictional character or loosely autobiographical.



Portraits of Jane and Franklin Pierce

Miniature portrait of Franklin Pierce, attributed to Moses Russell, ca. 1835.

These miniature portraits of Jane and Franklin Pierce, attributed to artist Moses B. Russell, were painted shortly after the couple was married in 1834. Measuring only 4 ¼ inches tall by 3 ½ inches wide, the paintings have gilt-metal frames and are set in a fitted leather case.They were meant to be carried.



A letter from a slave to his mother, 1859

First page of a letter from an unidentified slave to his mother, October 8, 1859

Sometimes documents leave us with more questions than answers. That is definitely true for this letter of October 8, 1859, from an unidentified man to his mother—both of whom appear to be slaves!



Ulysses S. Grant at West Point, 1839

Ulysses S. Grant to R McKinstrey Griffith, September 22, 1839. (Gilder Lehrman C

The Gilder Lehrman Collection includes a letter and a painting by Ulysses S. Grant when he was a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. These unique items reveal Grant as the equivalent of a modern-day college student.

Inline PDFs: 


The cost of living in New York City in 1787

Henry Knox. An Estimate of the annual expense of family

The Henry Knox Papers in the Gilder Lehrman Collection contain more than 10,000 documents dating from 1750 to 1820. The bulk of the archive chronicles the American Revolution and early founding era. The depth and complexity of the Knox Papers have made it a favorite with the curatorial staff. One particularly interesting document from this archive is the Knox family’s living expenses in New York and when Henry served as secretary of war under the Articles of Confederation.



Photographs of the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor

USS Arizona, December 7, 1941. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

A good primary source will give you a sense of immediacy and awe that makes history come alive and leaves you with a deeper understanding of an event. It is one of the key elements we look for when adding materials to the Gilder Lehrman Collection. When we first learned of these photographs taken during the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor and in its immediate aftermath, we knew they would be a good fit in our Collection, and when they arrived, the staff was struck by the power of the images.



Civil War soldiers: Thomas Burpee and his sons

Charlie Burpee to Thomas Burpee, n.d. (The Gilder Lehrman Collection)

The Gilder Lehrman Collection has more than 10,000 letters written by soldiers during the American Civil War, and when you read dozens or even hundreds of letters by the same person, it is very much like reality television. You become involved in the drama of their lives—the war, relationships, finances, and losses.



The Pierce Butler Papers from the US Constitutional Convention

Pierce Butler's Notebook, page 1. (The Gilder Lehrman Col

This archive of twenty-six documents was compiled by Pierce Butler when he served as one of South Carolina’s delegates to the US Constitutional Convention in 1787. It includes the printed first and second drafts of the Constitution; two small notebooks of proceedings; contemporary copies of the Virginia (or Randolph) Plan favoring larger states in Congress, the New Jersey (or Patterson) Plan favoring smaller states, Hamilton’s plan for a bicameral legislature and permanent executive, and Franklin’s compromise—all of which were used by Butler during the debates.

Inline PDFs: 


Fighting discrimination during World War II: Eleanor Roosevelt’s “four basic rights,” 1944

Eleanor Roosevelt to Addie Frizielle, May 13, 1944. (GLC09544)

In this newly received donation to the Gilder Lehrman Collection, Eleanor Roosevelt responds to a correspondent who was apparently worried about the desegregation of restrooms and forced social interaction between the races in the government’s movement toward racial equality in some spheres. Mrs. Roosevelt enumerates the “four basic rights which I believe every citizen in a democracy must enjoy.


Syndicate content