Rare manuscripts depicting the life of American Indians from 1763 to 1842 soon will be in the domain of ordinary readers, under a venture by the University of Georgia and the University of Tennessee to post the documents on the world wide web.
The collections depict everything from the first contacts of whites and American Indians to the bacon-and-bread rations that defeated natives were given upon being forced from their lands.
“Original manuscript material of this type and from this time period generally exists only in paper form, buried within vaults and closed stacks, available only to the persistent researcher,” said Bob Henneberger, project head with the University of Georgia’s libraries. “Digitization of these materials will provide web access to a substantially larger audience.”
The site will display 1,000 or more original documents and pictures, and will centralize collections from Tennessee and the University of Georgia’s Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
The year-long digitization project will be funded through a $330,000 grant from the national Institute of Museum and Library Services.
“The average historian doesn’t have a clue these things exist; there’s a number of different collections, but there was no real intelligent control,” Henneberger said.
Among the documents are a bloodstained letter signed by two wives of a murdered Coweta Indian chief and a Baptist missionary’s notes on the “majestic and warlike” Creeks. There also are documents detailing the Seminoles’ capture of several Georgia slaves and their $20 apiece return price.
One of the rarest pieces from Georgia is a Creek grammar book compiled by the Southern Baptist missionary, the Rev. H.F. Buckner, who lists the Creek alphabet and offers insights into the people.
“The Creeks are brave; and they have been emphatically a warlike people, their history bears ample testimony,” Buckner wrote. “Accordingly, we find that their language is majestic and warlike in its tone, with barely enough vowels to dissolve its consonants with ease.”
The site also will include field notes from decades of archaeological digs at Indian mounds by Tennessee researchers and the first 18 months of a weekly Cherokee newspaper.
It won’t be the first time the University of Georgia has put such rare historical documents on the internet. The Athens school already has a rare map collection on its web site that gets more than 40,000 hits a week.
“I think the web basically just opened up everything,” said Mary Ellen Brooks, director of the university’s Hargrett Library.
University of Georgia
University of Tennessee
Institute of Museum and Library Services