"Exactly as they appear": Another Look at the Notes of a 1766 Treason Trial in Poughkeepsie, New York, with Some Musings on the Documentary Foundations of Early American History
- Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 12, Number 1, Winter 2014
- pp. 202-237
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Seventy-two years ago the historians Irving Mark and Oscar Handlin typed up and published the manuscript notes taken at the renowned 1766 trial of the Dutchess County land rioter William Prendergast. Ever since, scholars of the Hudson Valley, of New York, of colonial America, and of American history more generally have relied on Mark and Handlin's version of this rich source to give voice to the historically silent, confident that the printed words are, as the editors wrote, "exactly as they appear" in the original document. Comparison of the two texts, however, reveals a plethora of errors large and small that, taken together, render the published account deeply flawed. After tracing these corruptions of the manuscript, this essay goes on to wonder how many of the other published annals of colonial records produced over the past two centuries, on which historians rely so heavily, similarly distort or otherwise obscure our view of early America.