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Hannah Lawrence Schieffelin's Journey Through Revolutionary America

On September 15, 1780, Hannah Lawrence Schieffelin “abandoned the paternal mansion that so long bounded my wishes,” boarded a “small vessel,” and left her home in New York.  So began a long journey that took this twenty-two-year-old woman through much of British Canada, first to Quebec and from there through Montreal, Fort Niagara, and ultimately to Detroit.  

Schieffelin made the trip with her new husband, Jacob Schieffelin—they were married in August of 1780—a Detroit merchant who had received a government appointment from the British during the American Revolution.  Along the way, they encountered a range of peoples: British military officials, French and English traders, and Indians, including the famed Mohawk leader Joseph Brant.  Schieffelin recounted her experiences in an extended narrative.

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A page from Hannah Lawrence Schieffelin's narrative, describing her departure from New York in 1780. Image ID: 5444234

The bulk of Schieffelin’s narrative describes events, peoples, and places far removed from the center of the American Revolutionary struggle.  Canada remained British territory.  And though the United States technically gained control of Detroit with the 1783 Treaty of Paris, for all intents and purposes, it remained under British control until the Jay Treaty of 1795.  

Schieffelin’s narrative pulls our gaze north and west, and it also draws attention not to the citizens of the new United States, but to the many people who left the thirteen colonies at the very moment their independence was assured. Thousands of loyalists would make similar journeys in the wake of the American victory in the Revolutionary War.  Viewed from Schieffelin’s vantage, the American Revolution looks unfamiliar.  But Schieffelin’s experience is, nevertheless, fundamentally a part of that same revolutionary history.

Schieffelin’s account of her experience, a "Narrative of events and observations that occurred during a journey through Canada in the years 1780-81," was recently digitized and made available by the Library as part of the ongoing Early American Manuscripts Project.  

About the Early American Manuscripts Project

With support from the The Polonsky Foundation, The New York Public Library is currently digitizing upwards of 50,000 pages of historic early American manuscript material. The Early American Manuscripts Project will allow students, researchers, and the general public to revisit major political events of the era from new perspectives and to explore currents of everyday social, cultural, and economic life in the colonial, revolutionary, and early national periods. The project will present on-line for the first time high quality facsimiles of key documents from America’s Founding, including the papers of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. Drawing on the full breadth of the Library’s manuscript collections, it will also make widely available less well-known manuscript sources, including business papers of Atlantic merchants, diaries of people ranging from elite New York women to Christian Indian preachers, and organizational records of voluntary associations and philanthropic organizations. Over the next two years, this trove of manuscript sources, previously available only at the Library, will be made freely available through nypl.org.

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