Discoveries from the Vault


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.



Recent Acquisition: 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.



Fredericksburg, Then and Now

The Sunken Road, May 2, 1863, Fredericksburg, Va. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

by Elena Colón-Marrero, Christopher Newport University Class of 2014



Respected General turns traitor, 1780

Benedict Arnold to Ebenezer Foote, September, 4 1780. (The Gilder Lehrman Collec

Benedict Arnold, whose name is now synonymous with the word “traitor,” was once a well-respected American officer responsible for key victories at Fort Ticonderoga, Crown Point, Fort Stanwix, and Saratoga. Arnold’s contemporaries were shocked when his plot to surrender West Point to the British was discovered in September 1780. Historical records indicate that Arnold’s betrayal had begun in the spring of 1779 when he handed over military intelligence to the British.



Robert E. Lee writes about friends and “the daughters of Eve” at Fort Monroe, 1834

Robert E. Lee to John MacKay, June 26, 1834. (The Gilder Lehrman Institute)

This gossipy and personal letter captures the close friendship between Robert E. Lee and John “Jack” MacKay. It offers an example of letter writing in the days before the instant communication provided by telephones and the Internet. It also demonstrates the camaraderie and easy-going friendship of army officers as well as the relatively carefree life enjoyed by US soldiers prior to the Civil War. It serves as a reminder that even the greatest of historical figures were human and spoke of girls, babies, and “blushing.”



Robert E. Lee’s condolence letter to his son Rooney, 1864

Robert E. Lee to William F. Lee, April 24, 1864. (Gilder Lehrman Collection, GLC

In this beautifully written letter, Confederate general Robert E. Lee attempts to console his son William Fitzhugh “Rooney” Lee on the loss of his wife. The letter demonstrates the emotion that Lee felt for his family and offers a glimpse of the strength that carried Lee through the war. His faith in God, his empathy for others’ misfortunes, and his belief in the Confederate cause, all granted Lee the fortitude he needed to endure the war. One can see all of these attributes in this single, short missive.



Playing ball for the troops: Yankees/Dodgers/Giants exhibition benefit game, 1943

[Unused ticket, Yankees-Giants-Dodgers Double Header], April 14, 1943 (GLC09414)

There’s no denying the important role that baseball has played in America’s past. It has always been considered more than a game, whether played by professional athletes or kids at the sandlot. This was never more obvious than during World War II. By 1943, the war was raging in Europe and the Pacific. American mothers and fathers sent their sons to war and those who stayed home made whatever sacrifices they could, great or small.


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