Skip Navigation Links The Library of Congress >> Researchers
Manuscript Reading Room (Library of Congress)
  Home >> Special Collections

[image]Peter Force Library

Manuscripts and maps relating to American history, early American imprints, and incunabula

View images from the collection

The holdings of Americana in the Library of Congress owe much of their strength to the collecting zeal of Peter Force (1790-1868). In the course of preparing his "Documentary History of the American Revolution," a compilation better known today as American Archives, this Washington publisher and politician assembled what was probably the largest private collection of printed and manuscript sources on American history in the United States. The Peter Force Library was purchased by act of Congress in 1867. In one stroke, the Library of Congress established its first major collections of eighteenth-century: American newspapers, incunabula, early American imprints, manuscripts, and rare maps and atlases. Although no complete inventory survives, many of the approximately 22,500 Force volumes are recorded without source designation in the Catalogue of Books Added to the Library of Congress from December 1, 1866, to December 1, 1867 (Washington: Govt. Print. Off., 1868. 526 p. Z881.U5 1868).

Manuscripts from the Force Library as well as personal papers donated in 1875 by Peter Force's son, William Q. Force, and related material acquired in the twentieth century are kept in the Manuscript Division. While spanning the period from 1492 to 1961, the papers date chiefly from the years 1750 to 1868. Personal papers cover Force's work as a Washington printer and publisher, the genesis of his archival project, and his military service, political career, and participation in scientific and historical societies. Documentation compiled for American Archives includes transcripts of official records, private papers, and colonial publications; a twenty-five-volume Hispanic collection, consisting primarily of transcriptions of works concerning the New World by various Spanish writers, notably Bartolomé de Las Casas; material originating from the collections of Ebenezer Hazard and George Chalmers; and numerous original manuscripts, particularly from the colonial period. The collection includes extensive resources for the study of eighteenth century American history in the papers of Ephraim Blaine, John Davis, Pierre Du Simitiere, John Fitch, Nathanael Greene, Thomas Hamilton, John Paul Jones, Charles Simms, Edward Vernon, and others. The collection totals 150,000 items and is described in an unpublished finding aid. Some of the material has been reported to the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections and has been microfilmed. A small part of the papers has been indexed. An inventory uncovered in 1970 has enabled the Geography and Map Division to pinpoint the Peter Force maps dispersed throughout the division's general collections. The approximately 768 manuscript and printed maps range in date from the seventeenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries and include maps relating to the French and Indian War and the American Revolution, and of the District of Columbia, various American cities, and the West Indies. All of the maps of America dating from 1759 to 1790 are listed in the Library's computerized map catalog and will be described in a bibliography now being prepared by the Library's American Revolution Bicentennial Office.

Incunabula, pre-1801 American imprints, and other rare publications from the Force Library have been absorbed into the collections of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division. The division holdings include important compilations of pamphlets that were assembled by such collectors as William Duane, Ebenezer Hazard, Jacob Bailey Moore, Israel Thorndike, and Oliver Wolcott. It is estimated that over eight thousand of the approximately forty thousand pamphlets purchased from Force were printed before 1800.

Goff, Frederick R., "Peter Force," The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America Z10008.B51P), v. 44, 1st quarter 1950: 1-16.

U.S. Library of Congress, Rare Book Division. The Rare Book Division, a Guide to its Collections and Services (Rev. ed. Washington: 1965. 51 p. illus. (part col.) Z733.U63R23 1965), p. 5-6, 30.

Stephenson, Richard W., "Maps from the Peter Force Collection," U.S. Library of Congress. Quarterly Journal. (Z881.U49A3) v. 30, July 1973: 183-204.

U.S. Library of Congress, Special Report of the Librarian of Congress to the Joint Committee of the Library Concerning the Historical Library of Peter Force, Esq. (Washington: 1867. 8 p. Z733.U57S 1867).

  Top of Page Top of Page
  Home >> Special Collections
  The Library of Congress >> Researchers
  October 14, 2010
Legal | External Link Disclaimer

Contact Us:  
Ask a Librarian