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The Papers of George Washington was established in 1968 by the University of Virginia and the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association in order to publish a comprehensive edition of the letters and documents written both by and to Washington. Of the 90 expected volumes, 61 have been published. The project is scheduled to be completed in less than 15 years at which time it will transfer to Mount Vernon, creating the greatest collection of copies of Washington correspondence and papers anywhere in the world.
The Papers are hosted by the University of Virginia whose staff spent much of the early years collecting Washington documents and preparing Washington’s diaries for publication. The search for documents extended to over 300 libraries and archives throughout the world, and today some 135,000 copies of Washington letters and documents are shelved in the project's document room. They represent a remarkably rich assemblage of early American historical manuscripts; there is almost no facet of life or enterprise in the late colonial and early national periods that is not illuminated in some respect by them.
In addition to the Diaries (six volumes), there are five chronological series: the Colonial Series (1748–1775), which takes Washington through the French and Indian War and then focuses on his political and business activities as a Virginia planter during the years before the Revolution (ten volumes); the massive Revolutionary War Series (1775–1783) which presents in documents and annotations the myriad military and political matters with which Washington dealt during the long war (18 volumes to date of a projected 41); the Confederation Series (1784–1788), covering the years at Mount Vernon after leaving the army and before becoming president (six volumes); the Presidential Series (1788–1797), which includes the papers of his two presidential administrations (15 volumes to date of a projected 21); and the Retirement Series (1797–1799), which includes his correspondence after his final return to Mount Vernon (four volumes). In addition, the project has produced a one-volume abridgement of the Diaries, and a single volume of The Journal of the Proceedings of the President, 1793-1797.
The Papers of George Washington, headed by Professor and Editor in Chief Theodore J. Crackel since 2004, is funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, and several private foundations, as well as the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association and the University of Virginia. In the fall of 2005 it was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President George W. Bush, the only documentary editing project ever to be so honored.
In 2007 the project published an online edition of the Washington Papers which was cosponsored by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and Rotunda, the digital imprint of the University of Virginia Press. Fifty-five of the 61 volumes in print are currently online and three more will go up later this year. This new digital edition provides unprecedented access to these records for students and teachers everywhere. A public version of the digital edition is available through Mount Vernon’s website.
In October 2009 the project launched an effort to publish Washington’s very extensive financial papers – almost certainly the most extensive set of records for any enterprise in the United Colonies and United States in the last half of the eighteenth century. These records – ledgers, account books, invoices, and receipts – will provide a new and more detailed view of Washington’s business activities including his farms, land holdings, fisheries, gristmill, distillery, and many craft operations.