Semiquincentennial Grants

US National Park Service is Accepting Applications
By Cecilia Fábos-Becker

American Independence Semiquincentennial

American Independence Semiquincentennial

We recently learned about the planned commemoration of the 250th Anniversary of the American Revolution. Back in 2020, Congress authorized some significant funding for this celebration, with most events and projects being coordinated and managed by the US National Park Service. There are also grants available for more events and projects. Here is a link to the website with more information about the commemoration, including how to apply for a grant.

In 1908, Congress declared that the official beginning of the American Revolution was the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774. This battle occurred during what is sometimes called ‘Lord Dunmore’s War’, along the Ohio River in what is now West Virginia (also the state where the last official battle was fought). However, the Continental Congress finally wrote the American ‘Declaration of Independence’, and sent it to King George III in London in 1776, and nearly all such commemorations have focused on that year instead. Thus, this upcoming Semiquincentennial commemoration is being planned to be in full swing in 2026.

One such grant project that is already planned is to digitize, index and upload all 80,000 records related to the pension applications and awards of Revolutionary War Veterans, but this is only partly what is really needed. Congress only agreed to pensions for Revolutionary War and War of 1812 veterans in about 1830 and the first applications were not taken until 1832. This meant a veteran had to have been not much older than about 25 in 1776 to have a chance of surviving both the war and living long enough to apply for a pension in 1832 If he was born in 1776, he was already 56 years old in 1832, and if he was 25 in 1776, he was 81 in 1832. Only a small percentage of all who fought, or participated in the Revolution, such as providing food, transportation services, clothing, even guns are covered by this project.

Since private collections and archives have some of the land awards made to veterans in the 1790’s (again to either those who survived or known brothers), these may be included in this particular, one-stop to find it all, collection but that’s not certain.

What is really needed is additional projects to get more records online for both general historians trying to understand the whole of the Revolution and what led to it, and the immediate aftermath, and family historians for more colonial records to be digitized, organized and indexed and uploaded. One collection on Microfilms and only available in some hard for the public to access universities and two other libraries, the LDS main library in Salt Lake City and the Library of Congress is the Lyman Draper Collection of primary and secondary source interviews with veterans, families of veterans and their close friends, companions in the war, etc.. This collection also includes letters going back to before the war, journals and more. It has records of persons and events that are nowhere else. Many courthouses have suffered fires, and some were deliberately started by the British officers raiding in some areas, or Union army soldiers. Then there were fires from the courthouses having wooden interiors or being entirely of wood in the days when open candles and fireplaces lit and heated them. Many veterans of the French and Indian War aka the 7 Years War also served later in the Revolution and were officers in the latter event. Most historians believe strongly that the French and Indian war and how British American colonists were treated during and after this war directly led to the Revolution. George Washington himself, and many contemporaries certainly believed this, and they were there.

Also the private papers, journals and more of George Washington are themselves scattered in several university libraries and some at Monticello and have themselves never been all put online in a single easily accessible site. The same with the papers of Jefferson, Madison and other founding fathers. There were many letters in these collections that showed the beliefs of many, and identified many family members, close friends and close business and political or wartime associates who have all largely been forgotten.

The war was not just fought by those who lived long enough to apply for and get a pension, nor did it occur in a vacuum, or an isolated moment of time. It deserves to be better and more completely remembered with far more gathered and put online, including the remaining county records, vestry records (the Church of England was the official STATE church until 1783 and had civil community roles far beyond that of fining someone for missing Sunday services), and there are additional special collections besides the Lyman Draper collection. We encourage people to contact both the National Park Service, and their local Congresspersons to enlarge the records online project and add funding to do this.

Some states have put abstracts and indexes of some counties’ records online but not all on one website or linked sites. The state of Virginia half way funded a project to gather and digitize all the county records up to the year 1911 but only funded the gathering and sending of originals or copies to the Virginia State Library and Archives, not hiring and paying employees, even if project only, to digitize, organize, index and upload them all, or buy or lease equipment needed. So, more than 10 years after this project was started, it is largely unfinished and the vast majority of records are not yet online.

There were several large states who contributed the most soldiers, and suppliers to the war effort: Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Virginia were the three largest, with Maryland, New Jersey, and the Carolinas together following. These colonies and first states were also the parent states of the first states added to the Union after the Revolution, where lands had been awarded to veterans, or surviving brothers or sons. These states’ unfinished projects should be added to the records project of the U.S. National Park Service with additional federal funding given to them. After all, in some of these states it was the UNION army that destroyed some of the courthouses and even some churches, and many, if not all the records therein. It was not the people who fought in the Revolution and helped create this nation that later seceded. We should not have been at war with past Patriots and the dead.

So let’s help make this commemoration much bigger and better with more complete commemoration of all the people and events and what led into them, and what immediately followed and contact our Congresspersons and the U.S. National Park Service about this.

For more on this anniversary and American Revolutionary history , check out the Season of Independence Exhibit at the Museum of American Revolution website.

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