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Embedded within those letters are references to far more letters than those that remain.
There was rarely any expectation of privacy in epistolary exchange, and letters served to consolidate relations that at times crossed from personal to political or financial exchange.
The materiality of letters was of course strikingly different as well, as scholars from Konstantin Dierks to E.
As the clearer and easier form of cursive known as the “round hand” replaced the far more complex and formal handwriting of earlier generations, writing became more accessible in the eighteenth century, as did the proliferation of copybooks through which novice writers developed and perfected their skills.
Whyman’s work reinforces what I and others have found in New England archives: the papers of writers who nobody thought could write.
Nonetheless, letter writing involves a set of shared practices and conventions that are gradually passing away at this moment.
It is perhaps for this reason that scholars have turned their attention with such enthusiasm and insight to the familiar letter of the past.
More often collections—especially letters collections—are a combination of the two, and as outsiders we can never really know with certainty which are the momentous documents and which are not.
Rather than establishing which is which, the Yale Indian Papers Project is an ambitious attempt to provide a more comprehensive digital repository for papers from multiple archives (Yale University, the British Library, the Connecticut State Library, the Connecticut Historical Society, the Massachusetts Archives, the National Archives of the United Kingdom, and the New London County Historical Society) documenting some element of Native New England for the last 400 years.
Along with letters, the YIPP includes such odd snippets as runaway ads for Native American servants, with their detailed descriptions of eighteenth-century clothing.
Also included in that archive are petitions, legislative reports, and summonses.