Building Bridges to Hamilton's Birthplace
A spring meeting with Everson Hull, St. Kitts and Nevis’ Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States, and Hamilton students planning a service trip to Nevis resulted in yet another meeting and alliance between Alexander Hamilton’s birthplace and the college. During the March visit Hull met with Christian Goodwillie, director and curator of Special Collections and Archives, to review documents from Hamilton’s Beinecke Lesser Antilles Collection related to Nevis.
As a result of that meeting and further discussions with Goodwillie, the Ambassador purchased and donated a document scanner to enable the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society (NHCS) to scan larger documents in their collection, and Goodwillie began planning how the two organizations could work together to digitize and make available the society’s manuscript materials to the public. Hull saw the scanner during his trip to Hamilton and noted how important it could be in archiving Nevis historical documents. He explained. “This is especially true with Alexander Hamilton. Americans are becoming very interested in Alexander Hamilton’s history.”
In June, Goodwillie traveled to Nevis and St. Kitts to examine the society’s collection and those of other island organizations with manuscript materials that might be digitized for parallel collections with the college’s Beinecke Lesser Antilles Collection. According to Goodwillie, he discovered that the NCHS manuscript collections are far richer than he had imagined. They date primarily from the 18th and 19th centuries. “We visited archives and historic sites on both islands, and met with key stakeholders including Nevis Premier Vance Amory,” he reported.
There are multiple possibilities for programs with the NHCS in the future that could involve internships and collaborative digital projects. NHCS Executive Director Nicole Liburd was quoted in the St. Kitts & Nevis Observer on the importance of a partnership. “This project has great potential for Nevis. First we will be able to preserve our documents; … Plus more people will have access to the documents.”
Among the most exciting manuscripts Goodwillie examined in the NHCS archives were the minutes and correspondence of the Nevis Council during the ancillary naval conflict to the American Revolution that was fought between the English and French in the Caribbean prior to the Treaty of Versailles in 1783. Contained are letters from the Comte de Grasse, Commander of the French Naval force that assisted George Washington (and Alexander Hamilton) in defeating Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781, by the parallel naval engagement called the Battle of the Chesapeake. This victory forced the British to lobby for terms of surrender.
Also, an apparently unique surviving copy of a 1774 imprint, The Laws of Nevis, which covers 1680-1773, is held by the NHCS. Burke Library catalogers have been unable to locate another copy of this publication anywhere.
The college recently received word from the Board of Trustees of the Central NY Library Resources Council that the Burke Library's application for funding for the completion of the digitization of the Beinecke Lesser Antilles Collection was approved in the amount of $5536.50. The digitized items will be made available through the Digital Public Library of America.