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Rifling through Washington's Receipts with Dr. Julie Miller

Take a receipt out of your pocket. What does it say about you? Receipts can tell us a lot about people and the world in which they lived. And George Washington kept receipts.

On today’s show, Dr. Julie Miller joins Jim Ambuske to discuss the hidden lives we can find in Washington’s receipts and similar documents. Dr. Miller is a historian and the Curator of Early American Manuscripts at the Library of Congress, where she oversees a vast array of archival material, including Washington Papers.

She’s also one of the forces behind the Library of Congress’s Crowdsourcing Campaign, By the People, which encourages citizens to transcribe manuscripts in the library’s collections. Last year, the Library asked folks to transcribe two groups of unpublished Washington Papers dating to the Revolutionary War, a collection of receipts and a bundle of British deserter interrogations, with the goal of learning more about people like Mary Smith, Washington’s housekeeper.

Dr. Miller helps us see the stories we can tease out from these sources. They also touch on the Library of Congress’s collaboration with the Georgian Papers Programme and their future exhibit, The Two Georges, which will explore the commonalities shared by George Washington and George III.

She also has recently published a new book, Cry of Murder on Broadway: A Woman’s Ruin and Revenge in Old New York, which is out now from Cornell University Press. If you like true crime, this book’s for you.

About Our Guest: 

Julie Miller, Ph.D., is the author of Abandoned: Foundlings in Nineteenth-Century New York City. She is the Curator of Early American Manuscripts at the Library of Congress. She taught in the history department at Hunter College, City University of New York, before moving to Washington, DC.

About Our Host:

Jim Ambuske, Ph.D. leads the Center for Digital History at the Washington Library. A historian of the American Revolution, Scotland, and the British Atlantic World, Ambuske graduated from the University of Virginia in 2016. He is a former Farmer Postdoctoral Fellow in Digital Humanities at the University of Virginia Law Library. At UVA Law, Ambuske co-directed the 1828 Catalogue Project and the Scottish Court of Session Project.  He is currently at work on a book about emigration from Scotland in the era of the American Revolution as well as a chapter on Scottish loyalism during the American Revolution for a volume to be published by the University of Edinburgh Press.

Receipts mentioned in the program:

Martha Morris, New York, October 19, 1776 (front). Laundress.

Martha Morris, New York, October 19, 1776 (back). Laundress.

Frederick Rhinelander, May 4, 1776. China.

Michael Rap, White Marsh, PA, December 5, 1777.
Food for Servants.

Michael Rap, White Marsh, December 5, 1777, Food for Servants, p.3.

Richard Holcombe, Coryell’s Ferry, PA, June 22, 1778.
“trouble &c made in the house”

Hannah Stewart, [West Point, NY], August 14, 1779. Table Linens.

Christopher Ludwick, Morristown, NJ, March 28, 1780
Gingerbread Ingredients.

Interrogations Mentioned in the Program: 

John Spooner, August 17, 1782. 

John McLane, September 2, 1782.

Richard Green and Daniel Lane, [November 23, 1782].

Remains of the Sugar House, Duane Street, New York.
Reassembled at Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx, New York.