George Washington on the abolition of slavery, 1786

A primary source by George Washington
Resource type: 
Primary Source
Primary Sub Era: 
Year of Resource: 
1786
Creator: 
George Washington
Synopsis: 

Washington gradually came to realize that slavery was immoral and contrary to the Revolutionary ideals of liberty and equality. Although he never spoke out publicly against the institution, he did express his objections privately in this letter to John Mercer in 1786.

George Washington to John Francis Mercer, September 9, 1786. (Gilder LehrmanOf the nine presidents who were slaveholders, only George Washington freed all his own slaves upon his death.

Inline body image(s): 
"Life of George Washington--The farmer,"  by Jumius Brutus Stearns (LOC)
George Washington to John Francis Mercer, September 9, 1786. (Gilder Lehrman
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Two versions of the Preamble to the Constitution, 1787

A primary source by Constitutional Convention
Resource type: 
Primary Source
Primary Sub Era: 
Year of Resource: 
1787
Creator: 
Constitutional Convention
Synopsis: 

The two different preambles to the US Constitution illustrate the new view of a united nation that emerged in the last weeks of the Constitutional Convention.

On May 25, 1787, the fifty-five delegates to the Constitutional Convention began meeting in a room, no bigger than a large schoolroom, in Philadelphia’s State House. They posted sentries at the doors and windows to keep their “secrets from flying out.” They barred the press and public, and took a vow not to reveal to anyone the words spoken there. There were speeches of two, three, and four hours. The convention, which lasted four months, took only a single eleven-day break.

Inline body image(s): 
Constitution [printing of first draft] [Committee of Detail], August 6, 1787.
Constitution. Printed Dunlap & Claypoole edition inscribed to Jonathan Williams,
Constitution [printing of first draft] [Committee of Detail], August 6, 1787.
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Henry Knox’s Order of March to Trenton, 1776

A primary source by Henry Knox
Resource type: 
Primary Source
Primary Sub Era: 
Year of Resource: 
1776
Creator: 
Henry Knox
Synopsis: 

This copy of Washington’s orders for the Battle of Trenton, with a map of Trenton drawn on the back, belonged to Henry Knox, chief artillery officer, and was written in his own hand. Also presented here is Knox’s firsthand account of the battle, in a letter written to his wife Lucy on December 28.

Henry Knox, Order of march to Trenton, December 26, 1776 (Gilder Lehrman Collection)On Christmas Day in 1776 the American Revolution was on the verge of collapsing.

Inline body image(s): 
The Passage of the Delaware, by Thomas Sully, 1819 (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,
Henry Knox, Order of march to Trenton, December 26, 1776 (Gilder Lehrman Collect
Henry Knox to Lucy Knox, December 28, 1776 (Gilder Lehrman Collection)
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Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre, 1770

A primary source by Paul Revere
Resource type: 
Primary Source
Primary Sub Era: 
Year of Resource: 
1770
Creator: 
Paul Revere
Synopsis: 

Produced just three weeks after the Boston Massacre, Paul Revere’s historic engraving,“The Bloody Massacre in King-Street,”  was probably the most effective piece of war propaganda in American history.

Paul Revere, “The Bloody Massacre in King-Street, March 5, 1770.” Boston, 1770. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

Paul Revere, “The Bloody Massacre in King-Street, March 5, 1770.” Boston, 1770.
Paul Revere, “The Bloody Massacre in King-Street, March 5, 1770.” Boston, 1770.
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Carte de la Louisiane et du cours du Mississipi, 1718

A primary source by Guillaume De l’Isle
Resource type: 
Primary Source
Primary Sub Era: 
Year of Resource: 
1718
Creator: 
Guillaume De l’Isle
Synopsis: 

This map of “la Louisiane,” published by French geographer Guillaume de l’Isle, is the first detailed map of the Gulf Coast region and the Mississippi River, as well as the first printed map to show Texas and identify New Orleans.

Carte de la Louisiane et du cours du Mississippi [map of North America], by Guil

Carte de la Louisiane et du cours du Mississippi [map of North America], by Guil
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A Jamestown settler describes life in Virginia, 1622

A primary source by Sebastian Brandt
Resource type: 
Primary Source
Primary Sub Era: 
Year of Resource: 
1622
Creator: 
Sebastian Brandt
Synopsis: 

This 1622 letter from Jamestown colonist Sebastian Brandt to Henry Hovener, a Dutch merchant living in London, provides a snapshot of the colony in flux.

Sebastian Brandt to Henry Hovener, January 13, 1622. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)The first English settlers in Jamestown, Virginia, who arrived in 1607, were eager to find gold and silver. Instead they found sickness and disease.

Inline body image(s): 
Detail of Jamestown from 1624 map of Virginia engraved by William Hole. (LOC)
Sebastian Brandt to Henry Hovener, January 13, 1622. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)
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Late seventeenth-century map of the Northeast, 1682

A primary source by Nicholas Visscher
Resource type: 
Primary Source
Primary Sub Era: 
Year of Resource: 
1682
Creator: 
Nicholas Visscher
Synopsis: 

This map, made by Nicholas Visscher and printed in 1682, depicts not only the former Dutch holdings of New Amsterdam (which had been taken over by the British), but also New England and New Jersey.

Novi Belgi Novaeque Angliae [New Netherland and New England], 1682.Like many other explorers, Henry Hudson stumbled upon North America almost by accident.

Inline body image(s): 
Novi Belgi Novaeque Angliae [New Netherland and New England], 1682.
Novi Belgi Novaeque Angliae [New Netherland and New England], 1682.
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The surrender of New Netherland, 1664

A primary source by Richard Nicholls
Resource type: 
Primary Source
Primary Sub Era: 
Year of Resource: 
1664
Creator: 
Richard Nicholls
Synopsis: 

In 1664, Peter Stuyvesant was forced to surrender the Dutch colony of New Netherland to England, under the “Articles, Whereupon the Citty and Fort Amsterdam and the Province of the New Netherlands Were Surrendered.” 

True copy of articles, whereupon . . . the New Netherlands were surrendered, September 29, 1664. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

Novi Belgi Novaeque Angliae [New Netherland and New England], 1682.
True copy of articles, whereupon . . . the New Netherlands were surren
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Cotton Mather’s account of the Salem witch trials, 1693

A primary source by Cotton Mather
Resource type: 
Primary Source
Year of Resource: 
1693
Creator: 
Cotton Mather
Synopsis: 

The myths surrounding what happened in Salem make the true story that much more difficult to uncover. Cotton Mather wrote this account in 1693, a year after the trials ended. Mather’s account of the witch trials reinforced colonial New Englanders’ view of themselves as a chosen generation of men.

Cotton Mather. The Wonders of the Invisible world....,1693 (Gilder Lehrman Colle

Cotton Mather. The Wonders of the Invisible world....,1693 (Gilder Lehrman Colle
Cotton Mather. The Wonders of the Invisible world....,1693 (Gilder Lehrman Colle
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The Doctrine of Discovery, 1493

A primary source by Pope Alexander VI
Resource type: 
Primary Source
Primary Sub Era: 
Year of Resource: 
1493
Creator: 
Pope Alexander VI
Synopsis: 

The Papal Bull “Inter Caetera,” issued by Pope Alexander VI on May 4, 1493, played a central role in the Spanish conquest of the New World. 

Demarcation bull, granting Spain possession of the New World, May 4, 1493.The Papal Bull “Inter Caetera,” issued by Pope Alexander VI on May 4, 1493, played a central role in the Spanish conquest of the New World.

Inline body image(s): 
Demarcation bull, granting Spain possession of the New World, May 4, 1493.
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