December 11, 2023
WESTCHESTER COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY RECEIVES FEDERAL GRANT TO TRANSCRIBE AND DIGITIZE SIGNIFICANT REVOLUTIONARY WAR COLLECTION
The Westchester County Historical Society was recently awarded a federal grant from the National Historic Publications and Records Commission, a part of the National Archives, to make an important collection accessible to the public of over 1,100 pages of hand-written interviews with Westchester County residents who endured the impact of the Revolutionary War.
Named after the compiler of the documents, The McDonald Papers consists of over 1,100 pages of hand-written interviews conducted between 1844 and 1850 with eyewitnesses to the Revolutionary War. The $75,875 grant will provide funding for a professional archivist and librarian to transcribe the interviews from long-hand, annotate the accounts (to provide contemporary perspective of place names, for example,) and digitize the entire collection, allowing for greater accessibility on the websites of WCHS, the County Archives and New York Heritage, a repository for hundreds of digital collections from different libraries and organizations.
This collection contains rare primary-source information: first-hand accounts of individuals experiencing the American Revolution as it unfolded in the geographically-significant area of the war, which is now Westchester County. These accounts allow researchers and the public to gain a better understanding of life in the late 18th century, and how men and women, from various walks of life, survived the struggle for independence. These include enslaved individuals, those who formed a military unit, and those who took up arms to defend their enslavers’ properties from British and colonists of Loyalist persuasion. Among those interviewed were Andrew Corsa, one of the Westchester Guides who led American forces through the county, and John Peterson, an African American soldier who participated in several actions in Westchester. “As the country engages in America 250, these records graphically reveal a realistic perspective of life and opinions during the Revolutionary War, profoundly felt through real-person accounts,” said WCHS Co-Director Barbara Davis.
The compiler of the documents, John M. Macdonald (1790-1863), was a former attorney who devoted much of his life to the study of the Revolutionary War. Macdonald recorded, by hand 407 interviews with Westchester residents who participated in or witnessed the Revolutionary War. Although the original papers in Macdonald’s handwriting were lost in the late 1800s while housed in the Lennox Library in NYC, they had been hand-copied into a book by John English. This copy, now in possession of the Westchester County Historical Society, was acquired by local historian Otto Hufeland in 1925. The transcribed, annotated and digitized records will be an invaluable asset to thousands of individuals, including historians and curators of Westchester’s historic house museums, educators, students and the general public. The project is anticipated to take 12 months.
In announcing the grant, WCHS Co-Director Susanne Pandich said, “Westchester County endured the travesties of the Revolutionary War for seven long years as the colonies fought for their independence from English rule. For the first time, the story of the length, severity, and impact of that war on our County and its residents will be told through the voices of those who endured it.”
Make a Donation to the Westchester County Historical Society
Established in 1874, the Westchester County Historical Society is one of the oldest historical societies in America and the only organization that collects and promotes the countywide history of Westchester. The Society’s comprehensive and accessible collection of books, pamphlets, periodicals, newspapers, manuscripts, maps and atlases, and images pertaining to the history and genealogy of Westchester County is housed in the state-of-the art temperature- and humidity-controlled environment of the Westchester County Records Center located at 2199 Saw Mill River Road, Elmsford, NY, 10523.