Columbia University's Libraries Launch The Papers of John Jay, 1745-1829

NEW YORK, December 13, 2002 - Columbia University Libraries has launched The Papers of John Jay, 1745-1829, an image database and indexing tool comprised of thousands of pages scanned from photocopies and abstracts of original documents gathered from over 50 repositories by the John Jay publication project staff during the 1960s and 1970s. This new tool provides access to correspondence, memos, diaries, and diplomatic papers written by or to Jay, diplomat and first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and an early graduate of King's College. These files, collected under the direction of the late Professor Richard B. Morris, were maintained as sources for items to be used in a planned four-volume letterpress series entitled The Selected Unpublished Papers of John Jay. On the database, four essays, in addition to a biographical essay, introduce Jay: "The Jay Treaty," "Jay and New York," "Jay and Slavery," and "Jay and France."

The papers of John Jay

The Papers of John Jay, 1745-1829 is now available on the Web without restriction at:

The original documents from which Morris made his copies are located at repositories in the United States, Britain, France, Spain and around the world. A full list of participating institutions, whose cooperation in the project is gratefully acknowledged, is available on the project's Web site. The core 5,000 documents in the database come from originals included in the John Jay holdings in Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Approximately 23,000 pages of the nearly 12,000 documents have been scanned as images linked to the collection's index, enabling researchers to examine the handwritten texts online. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and The Florence Gould Foundation, The Papers of John Jay, 1745-1829 makes available to students and researchers primary resources that have in the past been difficult to find or link to one another.

"John Jay is the forgotten man among the Founding Fathers," explained Professor Richard L. Bushman, Gouverneur Morris Emeritus Professor of History. "His name is rarely placed in the great pantheon. Yet in addition to being Chief Justice, he was Secretary of Foreign Affairs of the Confederation, an author with Hamilton and Madison of several issues of the Federalist, a leader in the fight for the ratification of the Constitution in New York, and George Washington's prime negotiator in the struggle with Britain that resulted in the controversial 1794 treaty that bears his name. The publication of the Jay papers in electronic form will permit scholars everywhere to learn more about the achievements of this eminent figure."

"Perhaps the most significant accomplishment of the Jay Papers project is the creation of a 'virtual archive,' bringing together the holdings of many different and widely-dispersed physical collections," said Stephen Davis, acting head of the Libraries Digital Program. "Because the project's technical design takes full advantage of Columbia's existing digital library infrastructure, including our locally-developed, SQL-based master metadata file, we were able to focus our energies on extending those tools to accommodate the specialized search, retrieval and display requirements of this new resource. For example, users of the Jay Papers database can not only retrieve all correspondence to or from specific individuals, and search through document abstracts by keyword, they can also step through each day, week, month and year of John Jay's life to study his and his correspondents' writings in context and in sequence."

Davis said, "The Jay Papers project has also provided us our first opportunity to use the newer 'mrsid' image wavelet compression technology. This was particularly important because of the wide variety of handwriting styles and document sizes involved. Using the multi-resolution, zoomable image display provided by 'mrsid' technology, readers can themselves adjust the size of the page as needed to display and analyze individual handwritten documents."

John Jay served as Governor of New York State from 1797-1801, in addition to his prominent national and international roles, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America. A founder of the New York Manumission society, he introduced legislation prohibiting slavery in the state as early as 1777, and, with his sons Peter and William, continued his anti-slavery activities after his retirement from public life.

The Papers include letters to and from many of the central figures in the struggle for independence and the early history of the United States - among them George Washington, John Adams, James Monroe, Louis XVI of France, the Marquis de Lafayette, Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, Gouverneur Morris, Abigail Adams, and Benjamin Rush. Correspondence between Jay and his lively, astute wife Sarah Livingston Jay captures the flavor of domestic life in the Federal period and serves to document the complex interplay between private and public interests that characterized the political scene. Topics that may be explored include farming, building, philanthropy, legal practice, the courts, education, political intrigue, health, and what might be called "memorializing the revolution" in the early nineteenth-century.

Morris collected the photocopies between 1959 and 1989 for his proposed four-volume edition of selected unpublished Jay papers. Only two volumes (John Jay: The Making of a Revolutionary: Unpublished Papers, 1745-1780 and John Jay: The Winning of the Peace: Unpublished Papers, 1780-1784) appeared before Morris's death in 1989. Originally at Columbia's Jay Project office, the photocopies were transferred to Columbia's Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 1996, where they supplement more than 38 linear feet of Jay family papers and an extensive Jay family collection. Volumes III and IV of the letterpress edition, to be edited by Dr. Mary-Jo Kline and scheduled for publication in 2005-2006, will take up where the Morris volumes left off, providing context and editorial enhancements for the most significant documents relating to or dating from Jay's final four decades.

The Papers of John Jay, 1745-1829 is a work in progress that will expand as new documents and additional searching features are added. It is a joint project of Columbia's Rare Book and Manuscript Library and the Libraries Digital Program Division. Together they will maintain the site and continue its development for research and teaching. Information about the Libraries Digital Projects may be found on LibraryWeb:

Columbia University Libraries is one of the top ten academic library systems in the nation, with 7.5 million volumes, 49,000 serials, as well as extensive collections of electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms and other non-print formats. The collections and services are organized into 22 libraries, supporting specific academic or professional disciplines. The Library's web site is a gateway to the print and electronic collections and to services.

For information:

Jean W. Ashton
Director, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
(212) 854-5153