One of the richest stores of source materials relating to the trans-Appalachian frontier from the mid-18th century until after the War of 1812 is the Draper Collection in the State Historical Society of Wisconsin Library. The collection was amassed by Lyman Copeland Draper (1815–91), who devoted his life to gathering records of border heroes and their descendants. In his quest he traveled more than 60,000 miles, many of them on foot or bicycle. The manuscripts deal with the frontiers of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, and the Carolinas. Those dealing with West Virginia matters are especially useful for the French and Indian War, Dunmore’s War, and the Revolutionary War, as well as persons such as George Rogers Clark, Daniel Boone, Simon Kenton, Samuel Brady, and others.
Draper’s hopes of writing biographies of Clark, Boone, Brady, and others were never realized. Nor did he accomplish his dream of using the Draper materials to annotate and produce a new edition of Joseph Doddridge’s famous Notes on the Settlement and Indian Wars of the Western Parts of Virginia and Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, Reuben Gold Thwaites and Louise Phelps Kellogg of the Historical Society drew upon the papers to publish five volumes of valuable documents, one on Dunmore’s War and four on the Revolutionary War. Thwaites used the collection for a new edition of Alexander Scott Withers’s Chronicles of Border Warfare, another classic of West Virginia history. The Draper Collection also enabled Virgil A. Lewis to complete his History of the Battle of Point Pleasant, in which he corrected the mistaken view, which he himself had once held, that the battle was the first engagement of the American Revolution.
As the value of the Draper Collection became better known, some people in areas from which Draper had obtained materials regretted that they had allowed such useful records to be moved to Wisconsin. Librarian John Trotwood Moore of Tennessee tried in vain to persuade the Wisconsin legislature to order the State Historical Society to return to Tennessee 90 volumes of records from that state. In the 20th century, however, the advent of microfilm resolved difficulties faced by distant scholars desiring to use the Draper Collection, and the Draper records became readily available to researchers everywhere.
This Article was written by Otis K. Rice
Last Revised on July 17, 2012
Hesseltine, William B. Pioneer's Mission: The Story of Lyman Copeland Draper. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1954.
Cite This Article
Rice, Otis K. "Draper Collection." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 17 July 2012. Web. 25 March 2017.