Miscellaneous Notes from the Draper Collection

Lyman Copeland Draper (as is inevitable when the subject of investigation is the recent history of a comparatively undeveloped community) encountered in his inquiries many sons of the pioneers who were still in possession of original papers illuminating, with the white light of contemporaneity, the theme of his researches. Such papers supplemented the resources of that description which had been previously known to historians, and their discovery and preservation in some cases would certainly not have been effected but for his efforts. Sometimes he examined such papers on the spot and made notes from them, as he did from similar papers collected in libraries; again, he borrowed them to copy or summarize at his leisure, or he received them as gifts from those who were proud to assist in advancing his work. A considerable number of such original papers containing records contemporaneous with the subjects he was investigating repose in the Draper Collection. It is a popular misconception that the collection consists wholly or mainly of such original documents, given or lent to Draper by their custodians and ultimately bequeathed by him to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. As a matter of fact, the collection comprises mainly material of the other two descriptions namely, memoirs and notes. In the assembling of these. Draper actually brought into existence new historical data most of which without his stimulation would certainly never have been written down. In some cases, even the original documents transcribed by him were afterwards lost, so that Draper's notes are now their sole representation; and some of the men who wrote most in the way of memoirs, under his guidance and inspiration, died soon after completing their manuscripts, which obviously would never have seen the light or been preserved save for Draper's agency.

Too much cannot be said in praise either of Draper's earnestness in the pursuit of exact information or of the generous manner in which his efforts were seconded by western men and women to whom he appealed for aid. One cannot read the correspondence which passed between Draper and these good people without reaching the conviction that the little historian evoked unmeasured confidence in the hearts of the big men who, with their immediate forebears, had made the history of tlie New West. They were not merely willing but eager to help; and while composition to some of the feeblest and most aged was a labor attended with much discomfort, they nevertheless wielded the pen with patient heroism and gave him the results.

Draper began gathering these materials with the object of writing a "little book" which he spoke of as Sketches of the Pioneers. Later, finding that his resources mounted ever higher and that his information was broadening and deepening, like Gibbon and almost every other genuine scholar he expanded the original idea. The biographical aspect of it now took the form of a series of separate volumes, and he also planned a history of the King's Mountain campaign, the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, and perhaps other works. However, Draper was less ready in composition than expert in accumulating notes, documents, and memoirs. He disliked intensely to go to press while harboring any lingering doubts about the completeness of his investigations. Therefore, he published reluctantly, tardily, and on the whole far less voluminously than he had once hoped to do. Nevertheless, he did bring out one monumental work, the history of King's Mountain, and he also published in Appleton's Cyclopopedia a series of biographies amply sufficient to redeem his early promise to write Sketches of the Pioneers.

The correspondence with pioneer families reveals that their enthusiastic support of Draper's plans was in part due to the expectation of seeing his proposed books in print, especially such of them as should treat of the histories of their ancestors. Filial piety with most of his collaborators was a motive quite as strong as historical interest. It was doubtless the chief motive prompting them to place in Draper's hands such ancestral records as had survived the usual vicissitudes of fire, mold, and other agents of destruction.

Volume 99

Transcriptions of documents written 1792-1796 concerning military actions in the Old Northwest.

 

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