Peter Force papers (1774-1868, bulk 1820-1867)

Collection processed and finding aid created by Clements Staff and Meg Hixon, January 2014
Manuscripts Division, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

Summary Information

Title: Peter Force papers
Creator: Force, Peter, 1790-1868
Inclusive dates: 1774-1868
Bulk dates: 1820-1867
Extent: 3 linear feet
This collection is made up of correspondence, research notes and extracts, bibliographies, financial records, and other items related to printer, publisher, and historian Peter Force. Most of the items pertain to Force's interest in early American history and to the source materials he gathered for publication in American Archives, his multivolume documentary history of the Revolutionary War era.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use

Acquisition Information

1941-1992. M-157, M-418, M-566, M-1456, M-2891.13.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information

Cataloging funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). This collection has been processed according to minimal processing procedures and may be revised, expanded, or updated in the future.

Preferred Citation

Peter Force Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection is arranged in the following series:
  • Series I: Correspondence
  • Series II: Notes, Extracts, and Bibliographies
  • Series III: Financial Records
  • Series IV: Printed Items

The Correspondence series is arranged chronologically, with undated items placed at the end. The Notes, Extracts, and Bibliographies series is partially arranged by topic. The pamphlets, which are bound into two volumes, are housed separately.


Peter Force was born in Passaic Falls, New Jersey, on November 26, 1790, the son of William Force and Sarah Ferguson. The family later lived in New Paltz, New York, and New York City. Force learned the printer's trade while living in New York City and, in 1815, he moved to Washington, D.C. As a printer and publisher, he became known for his interest in early American history and for his large library of books, manuscripts, and other materials, which he sold to the Library of Congress in 1867. He is recognized for his efforts to collect and edit historical documents. One of his most important projects was American Archives, a published version of primary source materials related to the American Revolution; the project was only partially completed after Congress pulled Force's funding in 1853. Force served as mayor of Washington, D.C., from 1836 to 1840. He and his wife, Hannah Evans, had at least one son, William Quereau (1829-1880), who also became a publisher. Peter Force died on January 23, 1868.

Collection Scope and Content Note

This collection is made up of correspondence, research notes and extracts, bibliographies, financial records, and other items related to printer, publisher, and historian Peter Force. Most of the items relate to Force's interest in early American history and to the source materials he gathered for publication in American Archives, a documentary history of the Revolutionary War era.

The Correspondence series (approximately 1 linear foot) largely consists of incoming and outgoing letters regarding Peter Force. The earliest group of items is copied and original manuscripts dated between August 17, 1774, and February 26, 1793. They concern the Boston Port Act (August 17, 1774), George Measam's desire to leave the bulk of his estate to the United States Treasury in support of the war against Great Britain (June 20, 1781), Kentucky residents' efforts to form a state (January 2, 1784), early efforts to collect primary sources related to American history, and other subjects.

The bulk of the material (April 18, 1820-December 25, 1867) pertains directly to Peter Force, and frequently concerns his efforts to collect and publish primary source materials regarding the history of North America (particularly the United States). Force's correspondents asked about and otherwise discussed letters, documents, pamphlets, and other materials from the 18th century (and, rarely, earlier), including some owned by Force and others held in state historical societies and similar repositories. The letters concern many aspects of early American history, including relations between Native American tribes and the government, and the years leading up to the Revolution. Charles Fenton Mercer wrote at length about the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (August 2, 1827).

Many items concern Force's publishing career, including a group of letters from William Thompson, who wished to work for Force (May 1825-July 1825), and items exchanged by Force and Matthew St. Clair Clarke, his collaborator on American Archives. Force, Clarke, and other writers discussed the project and similar efforts, such as a documentary history of Parliament. A significant group of letters and financial documents relate to a dispute between Force and John Cook Rives, another collaborator onAmerican Archives. Two letters from April 1861 mention the Civil War; Charles B. Norton offered to store Force's large library of Americana on account of the possibility of an attack on Washington, D.C., but Force refused the offer. Other items include a copyright document for Tracts & other Papers, relating principally to the Origin, Settlement, & Progress of the Colonies in North America, from the Discovery of the Country to the year 1776, Volume 1 (March 26, 1836). A small number of letters postdate Force's death; these concern historical manuscripts and related publications.

The Notes, Extracts, and Bibliographies series (approximately 1.75 linear feet) contains materials related to Peter Force's interest in early American history. Much of the series is comprised of lists of and extracts from historical manuscripts and publications, most frequently related to the American Revolution. The bulk of the series concerns the period from 1763 to around 1780, including commentary on the Stamp Act and economic relations between Great Britain and the North American colonies, the Continental Congresses, the Articles of Confederation, and the Revolutionary War. Items of note include a daily timeline of the mid-1770s, a 42-page bibliography of works on American history and travel published between 1742 and 1788, and an essay about the history of the United States flag. Some of the materials relate to slaves and to Native Americans, and many are arranged into bundles centered around topics such as the Declaration of Independence. A group of Revolutionary War songs is also present.

Additional subjects include disputes about the United States-Mexico border (April 5, 1853), a proposed history of Kent County, Maryland (April 5, 1852), and Force's book reviews and newspaper articles. A bound volume contains a list of publications printed at his shop between April 1826 and October 1839. The series includes a document by Force about his progress on American Archives and a few items respecting Congressional debate over funding for the project. A large group of materials relates to the early history of European printing and the evolution of standardized typography, including notes and extensive lists of early printed works.

The Financial Records (approximately 0.25 linear feet) pertain to Peter Force's professional interests, particularly with regard to the compilation and publication of American Archives. Accounts, agreements, receipts, and other items reflect the costs of printing, illustrating, binding, and publishing the work. Other items concern Force's attempts to defend the value of his work to Congress and Congress's role in funding the project. Many relate to Force's business relationships with Matthew St. Clair Clarke and John C. Rives. Personal records, such as an account of expenses during a trip to North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, are also present.

The Printed Items series (approximately 0.25 linear feet) consists of newspapers, newspaper clippings, and pamphlets. Peter Force and others wrote articles about the disputed United States-Mexico border, the possible discovery of the Northwest Passage, Force's personal library, and the founding of the United States. The series includes a number of pamphlets (housed in the Book Division) and whole issues of periodicals such as the Army and Navy Chronicle, Daily National Intelligencer, Daily National Republican, and other newspapers. The pamphlets concern the Revolutionary War, United States and Maryland politics between the 1830s and 1850s, and a panorama by "Sinclair" about the life of Napoléon Bonaparte after 1815. "Epeögraphy," a pamphlet by Joseph B. Manning, is a proposal for a phonetic writing system.

Subject Terms

  • Chesapeake and Ohio Canal (Md. and Washington, D.C.)
  • Editing.
  • Indians of North America--Government relations.
  • Printers--United States.
  • Printing--Europe--History.
  • United States. Congress.
  • United States--Historiography.
  • United States--History--Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
  • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Historiography.
  • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Sources.
  • United States--Politics and government--1775-1783.
  • United States--Politics and government--1815-1861.
  • Clarke, M. St. Clair (Matthew St. Clair)
  • Rives, John C. (John Cook), 1795-1864.
  • Mercer, Charles Fenton, 1778-1858.
  • Norton, Charles B. (Charles Benjamin), 1825-1891.
Genre Terms:
  • Accounts.
  • Bibliographies.
  • Clippings (information artifacts)
  • Copyright certificates.
  • Essays.
  • Extracts.
  • Letters (correspondence)
  • Lists (document genres)
  • Newspapers.
  • Notes.
  • Pamphlets.
  • Receipts (financial records)
  • Songs (document genre)
  • Subscription lists.
  • Timelines (chronologies)

Contents List (Request Materials)

Request materials for use in the Clements Library
Container / Location Title
Correspondence [series]
Box   1  
 August 17, 1774-November 25, 1839
Box   2  
 January 25, 1840-December 17, 1852
Box   3  
 March 8, 1853-April 21, 1903, and  undated
Notes, Extracts, and Bibliographies [series]
Boxes   4-8  
Financial Records [series]
Box   7  
Printed Items [series]
Box   8  
 1801-1868     Pamphlets and newspapers are located in the Book Division. 

Additional Descriptive Data

Alternate Locations

The newspapers are housed separately. An inventory is located in the control file. The Peter Force Pamphlets, which are housed in the Book Division, have been catalogued separately.

Related Materials

The Clements Library holds many publications edited by and written about Peter Force, including the nine volumes of American Archives.

Materials from Peter Force's original library of manuscripts, books, newspapers, and maps are now located at the Library of Congress.


Drake, Francis S. "Force, Peter." Dictionary of American Biography, Including Men of the Time; Containing Nearly Ten Thousand Notices of Persons of Both Sexes, of Native and Foreign Birth, Who Have Been Remarkable, or Prominently Connected with the Arts, Sciences, Literature, Politics, or History, of the American Continent. Boston: Houghton, Osgood & Company, 1879.

"Force, Peter." The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans. Ed. Rossiter Johnson, et al. Volume 4. Boston: The Biographical Society, 1904.