The University of Michigan’s William L. Clements Library has been awarded a $350,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to digitize one of its largest and most utilized collections.

The funds will support a three-year effort to digitize more than 23,000 items related to Thomas Gage, a famed British commander-in-chief in the early days of the American Revolution who was also the governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay in 1774-75.

“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 its papers and artifacts related to the American Revolution.

Photo of Cheney Schopieray, curator of manuscripts at the Clements Library, pointing to Thomas Gage’s original draft of his order to seize military stores at the town of Concord, west of Boston, April 18, 1775.
Cheney Schopieray, curator of manuscripts at the Clements Library, points to Thomas Gage’s original draft of his order to seize military stores at the town of Concord, west of Boston, April 18, 1775. This expedition resulted in gunfire at Lexington and Concord, the hostilities that began the fighting war of the American Revolution War. (Photo courtesy of the William L. Clements Library)

“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 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, although 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 our 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 so much more.”

Photo of curators and staff members Lloyd Brown, Howard Peckham and Margaret Webber with four trunks of Thomas Gage papers in 1937.
Curators and staff members Lloyd Brown, Howard Peckham and Margaret Webber with four trunks of Thomas Gage papers as they arrived at the William L. Clements Library in 1937. (Photo courtesy of the William L. Clements Library)

In addition to the Gage manuscripts, the Clements Library also houses 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 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 to be able to view parts of the digitized collection via the library’s online finding aid as progress is made over the course of the grant. The complete collection is expected to be available by May 2024, with support from the U-M Library’s Digital Content and Collections service.

While the Clements Library currently is only open to U-M Mcard holders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, staff members are preparing plans for a safe reopening in the near future.

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