Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Dinwiddie Collection

Saving America's Treasures
During the middle nineteenth century the famous English autograph collector Henry Stevens assembled an extraordinary collection of manuscript items relating to the service of Robert Dinwiddie as lieutenant-governor of Virginia. When it was offered for sale at auction in the early 1880s, W. W. Corcoran, a prominent American banker and collector in his own right, secured the papers and donated them to the Virginia Historical Society, an organization of which he was then vice president. The Society, recognizing the collection's immense value as a historical resource, commissioned its corresponding secretary, Robert A. Brock, to produce an edited version of the documents, with copious annotations and transcriptions of some additional, related documents from other sources. That two-volume work, The Official Records of Robert Dinwiddie, Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony of Virginia, 1751–1758 (1883), has provided the primary access to this collection for more than a century.

Contents of the collection
The Robert Dinwiddie papers consist of twenty-two separate items. These include four letter books, which contain contemporaneous copies of letters written by Dinwiddie as lieutenant-governor of Virginia (the absentee governor's personal appointee directly responsible to the British crown and ministry) from the date of his arrival in Virginia in 1751 through his retirement from office in 1758. These copies were made by clerks in the governor's office, but also include emendations in the hand of Dinwiddie himself. More than 900 in number, the letters provide a remarkable window on the administration of Great Britain's largest, wealthiest, and most influential North American colony. They focus squarely on the coming and early years of the war against France and its Native American allies on the colonial frontier. In addition, the collection includes seventeen letters written by George Washington, then a young militia officer, between March 1754 and April 1756, primarily to Governor Dinwiddie, as well as a contemporary record of a court martial of a Virginia militia officer in 1756 related to wartime events on Virginia's western frontier.

About Robert Dinwiddie
Robert Dinwiddie's name is little known today, but this Scottish merchant turned government official played a key role in the coming of the French and Indian War (known as the Seven Years' War in England and Europe) and in early successes in it by the British in North America. Frank Grizzard, former senior associate editor of the Papers of George Washington, in turn describes this collection of Dinwiddie’s papers as "the foundation of our understanding of the American colonial experience during the early years of the French and Indian War."

Restoration of the collection
Given the significance of this collection, its restoration has long been a goal of the VHS, one that has now also garnered the support of the Save America's Treasures program jointly administered by the National Park Service, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

The Battle of Five Forks - Dinwiddie County

In 2006 the Virginia Historical Society acquired an oil painting, measuring 40 x 65 inches, capturing a scene from the April 1, 1865, battle of Five Forks. Charging Union cavalry, led by a flag-waving Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, are shown slamming into a wall of Confederate defenders near the important crossroads west of Petersburg. The scene represents a dramatic moment in the pivotal battle of the last major campaign of the war in Virginia.
The battle of Five Forks ushered in the final moments of the nearly ten-month-long siege of Petersburg. Since June 1864 the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia had extended its entrenched positions to the south and west of that rail center to protect the army's supply routes. By April 1865 the only major one open to Robert E. Lee's army was the Southside Railroad, which entered the city from the west. Ulysses S. Grant saw an opportunity to cut that rail line and compel Lee to abandon his Petersburg defenses. To accomplish this, Grant ordered his aggressive subordinate, Philip Sheridan, to take a combined force of infantry and cavalry and attack the thinly held right end of the Confederate line, located on the White Oak Road. Beginning at 4 p.m. and lasting for three hours, roughly 17,000 Federal troops under generals Sheridan and Gouverneur Warren collided with 10,000 Confederates commanded by generals George E. Pickett and W. H. F. "Rooney" Lee. The fighting ended after the Union troops successfully overwhelmed both flanks of the southern line, which was centered on the crossroads that gave the battle its name. Sheridan's losses numbered around 800 men, while Pickett lost 3,000, most of whom were captured in the fight. Lee's last major supply route had been broken. The next day, after suffering an all-out assault against the remaining Confederate positions around Petersburg, his army began a march that would end at the small village of Appomattox Court House.
In 1879 the French artist Paul Dominique Philippoteaux (1846–1923) came to the United States to paint a memorial cyclorama of the battle of Gettysburg. That 360-degree circular oil painting depicting Pickett's Charge went on display in Chicago in 1883. Another version of the cyclorama ended up at Gettysburg, where it remains today. Other Philippoteaux Civil War paintings are on display at the Pollard Memorial Library in Lowell, Mass. Around 1885, he turned his talent for capturing military combat on canvas to the battle of Five Forks. It is that painting that the VHS acquired. The Battle of Five Forks, given in memory of Peter Charles Bance, Jr., by his mother and father, is now on display in the long-term exhibition, The Story of Virginia

Friday, April 20, 2007

Tell Congress to save the NHPRC

The National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC)--the grant-making arm of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)--is targeted in the President's proposed FY 2008 budget for zero funding for grants and zero funding for staff to administer the agency and its programs. For FY 2008, the National Coalition for History supports full funding for national grants at $10 million plus an additional $2 million for staffing and other administrative costs. Now is the critical time to contact Congress and make your voice heard on saving the NHPRC!The newly created House and Senate Financial Services and General Government appropriations subcommittees have jurisdiction over the NARA appropriation, including the NHPRC. These subcommittees currently are drafting appropriations bills for the programs under their jurisdiction.If you support funding for the NHPRC grants program, please contact your Congressional representatives now, especially if they are members of the House and Senate subcommittees on Financial Services and General Government. The two subcommittees can be accessed at:
To contact your Members of Congress about funding for the NHPRC grants program, go to the Humanities Advocacy Network at
The website allows you to send a pre-written electronic letter to your Member of Congress or to edit the letter to include your own story and express your own views.You can also fax letters or call your Congressional representatives and senators asking them to support $10 million for the grant-making arm of the NHPRC, and an additional $2 million for staffing. All Members of Congress can be reached through the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121. In addition, most Members of Congress list their fax number on their website. Find your representative at
and your senator at:

If you can, give specific examples of NHPRC funded projects in your congressional district or State. For more information about lists of grants made in your state, visit the National Historical Publications and Records Commission grants program website at:
The NHPRC is the only grant making organization, public or private, whose mission is to provide national leadership in the effort to promote the preservation and accessibility of historical records and to publish the papers of significant figures and themes in American history. If Congress allows the NHPRC to be zeroed out of the federal budget, this important program, which has played an essential federal leadership role and has an outstanding success record of using a small amount of federal funds to leverage other contributions, would come to an end. This would be devastating to projects such as editing and publishing the papers of nationally significant individuals and institutions; the development of new archival programs; the promotion of the preservation and use of historical records; regional and national coordination in addressing major archival issues; and a wide range of other activities relating to America's documentary heritage.Please take a minute to contact the members of these key subcommittees or your Members of Congress and let them know how vital the NHPRC is to the historical and archival communities. Without your help today, the NHPRC may be eliminated!

The Co-Chairs of the Congressional Humanities Caucus, Rep. David Price (D-NC) and Rep. Phil English (R-PA), have prepared a "Dear Colleague" letter, which is currently circulating in the House of Representatives, in support of a $36 million increase for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in FY 2008. The deadline for signing on to this letter is Tuesday, April 24. You can view the text of the letter at This increase would return funding for the agency to its 1994 nominal level and signal that the Congress is ready to make a significant new investment in the nation's education and research infrastructure through the National Endowment for the Humanities. Please call, email, or fax your Representative and ask him/her to sign on to this letter today.
The easiest way to show your support is through the Humanities Advocacy Network. The website allows you to send a pre-written electronic letter to your Member of Congress or to edit the letter to include your own story and express your own views.A large number of signatures on the "Dear Colleague letter," particularly if they represent both sides of the aisle, will send a very important message to the leadership of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee as they begin to work on the mark-up of the FY 2008 spending bill for NEH. All members of Congress can be reached by phone through the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121.