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Colonial, Revolutionary, and Early National America: Primary Sources

The following websites have been reviewed by your librarians and found to be good, authoritative sources for your research. If you have questions about the credibility of websites not on this list, feel free to ask a librarian.


100 Milestone Documents
Covering the years 1776-1965, these documents are curated by the National Archives and Records Administration.

American Indian Records
Highlights from the thousands of records held by the National Archives on the history of American Indian removal.

American Journeys
Contains eyewitness accounts of North American exploration, from the sagas of Vikings in Canada in AD1000 to the diaries of mountain men in the Rockies 800 years later. Read the words of explorers, Indians, missionaries, traders and settlers as they lived through the founding moments of American history.

Archiving Early America
In-depth background and primary sources covering the early years of the United States.

Brock Center for the Study of Colonial Currency
Pamphlets and articles exploring the history of America's colonial currencies.

Colonial Williamsburg Digital Library
The collections focus on the history and culture of colonial British America, the American Revolution, and the early United States. Includes manuscripts, research reports, Virginia Gazettes, and York County estate inventories.

Digital History
This site from the University of Houston includes annotated primary sources, timelines, and essays on slavery, and United States, Mexican American, and Native American history.

Digital Public Library of America
The Digital Public Library of America is a searchable database of digitized primary materials from libraries, archives, and museums around the United States. Of note are the primary source sets compiled by librarians and teachers on a range of topics, from early American life to the 20th century.

Discovering American Women's History
This database simplifies access to digital collections of primary sources (photos, letters, diaries, artifacts, etc.) that document the history of women in the United States. These diverse collections range from 1730s to the late 20th century.

The Duke Collection of American Indian Oral History
Typescripts of interviews conducted with hundreds of Indians in Oklahoma regarding the histories and cultures of their respective nations and tribes. Related are accounts of Indian ceremonies, customs, social conditions, philosophies, and standards of living.

Ferrand's Records: The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787
Farrand's Records remains the single best source for discussions of the Constitutional Convention. The notes taken at that time by James Madison, and later revised by him, form the largest single block of material other than the official proceedings. The three volumes also includes notes and letters by many other participants, as well as the various constitutional plans proposed during the convention. (LOC)

Founders Online
Correspondence and other writings of six major shapers of the United States.  Over 177,000 documents fully annotated from the National Archives.

Historical Maps of the United States
Historical maps including early inhabitants, exploration and settlement, territorial growth, military history, and more.

Many Pasts – History Matters
Contains primary documents in text, image, and audio about the experiences of ordinary Americans throughout U.S. history. The documents are accompanied by annotations that address their larger historical significance and context.

National Archives
A rich source for documents, records, and images from U.S. history.

New Netherland Institute
The New Netherland Project was established under the sponsorship of the New York State Library and the Holland Society of New York. Its primary objective is to complete the transcription, translation, and publication of all Dutch documents in New York repositories relating to the seventeenth-century colony of New Netherland.

New York Public Library – Archives and Manuscripts
NYPL's archives contain drafts of literary works, financial records, meeting minutes, reports, memorabilia, as well as sound recordings, videos, film, databases, and software. On this site, you can search The New York Public Library's vast holdings, initiate a research visit, submit a query to an archivist, and access digitized material.  In particular the Thomas Addis Emmet collection 1483-1876 includes thousands of digitized colonial era documents.

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database
Includes information on more than 35,000 slave voyages that forcibly embarked over 12 million Africans for transport to the Americas between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. 

U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates: 1774-1875
Includes the records (journals, letters, debates, bills, resolutions, statutes, and more) of the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, and the United States Congress.

What is a Primary Source?

A primary source provides direct or firsthand evidence about an event, object, person, or work of art. Primary sources include:

  • historical and legal documents
  • eyewitness accounts
  • results of experiments
  • statistical data
  • pieces of creative writing
  • audio and video recordings
  • speeches
  • art objects
  • interviews
  • surveys and fieldwork
  • Internet communications via email, blogs, listservs, and newsgroups 

-- Adapted from Ithaca College Library

What is a Secondary Source?

Secondary sources describe, discuss, interpret, comment upon, analyze, evaluate, summarize, and process primary sources. Secondary source materials can be:

  • articles in newspapers or popular magazines
  • book or movie reviews
  • articles found in scholarly journals that discuss or evaluate someone else's original research

-- Adapted from Ithaca College Library