Project History

1966: Virginia state archivist, William J. Van Schreeven, proposed that the University of Virginia sponsor a new documentary editing project for Washington’s papers.

1968: The University of Virginia and the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association launched a new effort to publish the papers of George Washington. Donald Jackson, formerly of the University of Illinois Press, was named the editor-in-chief.  Jackson’s Papers of George Washington determined to be the most comprehensive compilation yet and include not just letters Washington wrote, but those he received. The project also sought to include all other documents attributable to Washington, including military orders, council of war minutes, intelligence reports, addresses, financial records, farm reports, and ledgers. In addition, the new Papers of George Washington commenced a massive search to locate documents across the globe. As a result, copies of 140,000 documents were identified and procured, making the Papers of George Washington the largest such collection ever compiled.

1976-1979: The Diaries of George Washington, a six-volume set containing all of Washington’s diary entries from 1748 to December 13, 1799, is published by The Papers of George Washington.

1981: The Papers published a one-volume daybook from the later years of Washington’s presidency, titled, The Journal of the Proceedings of the President.  Donald Jackson’s successor as editor-in-chief, W.W. Abbot, devised a new system through which to present Washington’s papers.  Abbot divided the documents into five series, each corresponding to a different period in  Washington’s life:

The Colonial Series (1744 – June 1775)
The Revolutionary War Series (June 1775 – December 1783)
The Confederation Series (January 1784 – September 1788)
The Presidential Series (September 1788 – March 1797)
The Retirement Series (March 1797 – December 1799)


2004: The Papers of George Washington embarked upon a massive digitization project with Mount Vernon and the University of Virginia Press’s digital database, Rotunda. It was the first of the major Founding Father documentary editing projects to do so. The result was the Papers of George Washington Digital Edition, an online publication of the 55 volumes that had been published up to that point. The PGWDE is updated regularly with revised and improved annotations, new documents, and the latest print volumes.

2005: Editor-in-chief Ted Crackel, staff members Christine Patrick, Phil Chase, and John C. Pinheiro, as well as the chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Bruce Cole, presented President George W. Bush with what was then the latest volume of the Presidential Series. After a brief ceremony in the Oval Office, the editors donated a full set of the Papers of George Washington to the White House.

2010: The National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the University of Virginia Press announced plans to create a new web site to provide free access to the papers of the Founding Fathers. The project, entitled The Founders Online, will include all of the content from the print volumes, such as full transcriptions and annotations, and will be continuously updated to reflect new volumes and discoveries.

How is the Papers of George Washington Project at the University of Virginia different from the George Washington Papers American Memory database at the Library of Congress?

The Papers of George Washington project is different from the George Washington Papers American Memory database at the Library of Congress in two major ways:

  • Their goals and purposes are very different
    In presenting transcriptions of documents that are heavily annotated, the Papers of George Washington seeks to serve as a vital informational resource for academic research on Washington. In contrast, American Memory’s George Washington Papers displays images of documents, few transcriptions, and even fewer annotations, making it an excellent resource for accessing original manuscripts, not for thorough research.
  • The the size and scope of each of these collection
    The American Memory collection primarily includes documents from the Library of Congress, whereas the Papers of George Washington includes copies of documents from small and large American repositories, private collectors, and international libraries.

How has the Papers of George Washington project progressed?
Since its inception in 1968, the Papers of George Washington has published 63 of its projected 90 volumes and completed the Colonial, Confederation, and Retirement series. It remains on the schedule to finish the complete Papers in about 2023.