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Middle & Upper School Library: Colonial America


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

Primary Sources

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

Boston Tea Party

"The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor"
Lithographed and published by Nathaniel Currier

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