The following is a report from William Fenton (Fordham University), recipient of an Omohundro Institute Digital Collections Fellowship and founder of Digital Paxton, a digital archive of more than 1,650 open-source images related to the 1764 Paxton pamphlet war. The Digital Collections fellowship program is funded by the Lapidus Initiative.
by William Fenton
When I set out to create Digital Paxton in 2017, I wanted to create a digital companion to the first major pamphlet war in the Pennsylvania colony, the 1764 Paxton pamphlet war. The project began as an open access digital collection of pamphlets, broadsides, and political cartoons at the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. However, as the project has evolved, so too has its digital collection.
Over the past 18 months, Digital Paxton has grown to accommodate artworks and engravings from the Library of Congress and Philadelphia Museum of Art and letters, diaries, and other manuscript materials from the American Philosophical Society, Haverford College Quaker and Special Collections, and Moravian Archives of Bethlehem. With each new partnership, the project has grown more diverse in its materials and expansive in its scope, furnishing students and scholars with the resources they need to locate the 1764 Paxton pamphlet war in a longer crisis of colonial governance that emerges during the Seven Years’ War and extends through the American Revolution.
Despite its increasing capaciousness, Digital Paxton has, to date, suffered a key limitation: it lacks newsprint that would provide a sense of the context against which colonists weighed the arguments about the conduct of the Paxton Boys and the efficacy of the colony’s settlement policy. To access those materials, I, like many other scholars, have relied upon America’s Historical Newspapers (Readex), for which my institution has purchased a subscription. However, other researchers may not be so fortunate. That changes today.
I am delighted to announce that, thanks to a Lapidus Initiative Digital Collections Fellowship from the Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture, Digital Paxton now features approximately two-dozen curated issues of The Pennsylvania Gazette.
One of the most prominent newspapers in colonial America, the Gazette was printed by none other than Benjamin Franklin. Given Franklin’s active role in the Paxton crisis and subsequent print debate, his paper offers a valuable backdrop against which to read Paxton critiques and to measure changes in colonial settlement policy. The Gazette also offers a rich, weekly record of affairs within in the Pennsylvania colony and across the Atlantic.
I selected the issues at the American Antiquarian Society, the same ones available behind a paywall on Readex. All digitized issues are available in full (typically around four pages), and include metadata scholars may use to locate the originals at the American Antiquarian Society. In addition free and open-source availability (CC 4.0), all pages are accessibly as color, print-quality (300 dpi) scans. As with other materials in the digital collection, I will add transcriptions in the coming months.
Digitized issues traverse Pontiac’s rebellion (summer 1763), the Paxton pamphlet war, and situate the Paxton massacre in a wider context of indigenous warfare. I embraced this wider frame in accordance with recent scholarship. In his introduction to a recent special issue of Early American Studies, Patrick Spero pairs Pontiac’s rebellion with the Paxton massacre as two related and formative events in colonial America. As Spero describes it, “putting Pontiac and Paxton together makes the Stamp Act Crisis of 1765…appear a piece of something begun two years earlier” (202). As I curated the Gazette, I sought to select issues that would foreground the interconnectedness of two events.
Researchers will discover 22 complete issues that span from Pontiac’s Rebellion through the 1764 election. I have labored to include issues cited in recent publications of Nicole Eustace, Jeffrey Kaja, Kevin Kenny, Angel-Luke O’Donnell, Daniel Richter, and Peter Silver. Visitors to the Digital Paxton will discover descriptions of the attacks on Fort Pitt (July 7, 1763) and letters from Detroit (August 11, 1763); news of the Royal Proclamation (December 8, 1763); accounts of the Paxton Boys marching on Germantown (February 9, 1764); reports from the royalization debate (April 12, 1764); and glimpses into the fallout of the November elections (December 27, 1764). Notably, at the height of the Paxton pamphlet war, researchers will discover reprinted reports from Fort Pitt, the previous summer (March 15, 1764).
In addition to the support of Omohundro, without which these issues would not be available, I am indebted to the expertise and resources of the American Antiquarian Society. Special thanks are due to Nathan Fiske (Photographer), Marie Lamoureux (Collections Manager and Image Librarian), and Jim Moran (Vice President of Programs and Outreach) who have supported digitization and metadata collection, as well as Molly Hardy (Director of Library and Archives at Cape Ann Museum) who helped me to secure funding for this effort.
All issues are available today in a Newsprint pathway in the Digital Paxton digital collection. I look forward to learning about your discoveries, and I invite your insights, requests, and contributions to the project. Please do not hesitate to email me (fenton at fordham dot edu) or connect on Twitter (at williamfenton). Thank you for your generosity.