Home > Coursework Examples > Primary Sources Can Be Fun

Primary Sources Can Be Fun

One of the courses I’m taking this semester is a history course concerning the Revolutionary War as it was fought in and affected the province of Maine (which was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony at the time, and after the Revolution was part of the state of Massachusetts until 1820).  One of the documents we’re using in the course is called the Baxter Manuscripts, and is a compiled transcription of various letters, notes, legal documents etc., mainly pertaining to the provincial assembly of Maine and its communications with the Massachusetts legislature in Watertown.

Now, as anyone who has read anything about the American Revolution probably knows, the state of the art in English written communication in the 18th century was, er, interesting as compared to today.  There was a great deal less standardization as regards orthography, in particular, and the rules of capitalization and punctuation were observed somewhat less conscientiously even by well-educated people like the Founders.  And there was that whole thing with the two versions of lowercase s, so that you ended up with sentences that looked like they were saying “at which point the foldiers were told to take themfelves outfide or face the confequences.”

Even by these liberal standards, though, there are some utter gems in the Baxter Manuscripts.  Take, for instance, this letter to the Massachusetts revolutionary council regarding militia units in Falmouth (now Portland), Maine:

To the Honorabel the Counsel of the Massachetts Bay

Gentlemen – you may Remembr that you gave ordors for Raising Two Companys To Be Stashond on Nashone the Captns have Borth Ben With me Sence & Returnd and Say they Cannot Inlist any men By Reson of the Wages Being So Loo  I have Ben Indavoring to forawd the mater But find that To Be the younavarcel Compaint – if your Honers Are pleasd To Give any farther ordors About the Mater I Shall Indaver To Conduct Agreabel thair to
I am yours To Sarve

Joseph Dimuck

Dated att Falmouth Desembr ye 23 1776

Now that, my friends, is a missive.  I particularly enjoy (as does our instructor) the word “younavarcel”.  The younavarcel Compaint would make an excellent band title for an American Revolution-themed punk rock band (there must certainly be at least one making the rounds of the historical re-enactment community).

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