History and Description of the Jay Papers Project

The Papers of John Jay is an image database and indexing tool comprising some 13,000 documents (more than 30,000 page images) scanned chiefly from photocopies of the originals. Most of the source material was assembled by Columbia University's John Jay publication project staff during the 1960s and 1970s under the direction of the late Professor Richard B. Morris. These photocopies were originally intended to be used as source texts for documents to be included in a planned four-volume letterpress series entitled The Selected Unpublished Papers of John Jay.

Unfortunately only two volumes of the series appeared before Morris’s death in 1989, John Jay: The Making of a Revolutionary, Unpublished Papers 1745-1780 (New York: Harper & Row, 1975) and John Jay: The Winning of the Peace, Unpublished Papers, 1780-1784 (New York: Harper & Row, 1980).

When the project closed in 1996, the photocopied documents were transferred to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Shortly thereafter Elaine Sloan, then University Librarian, established an Advisory Board, consisting of Barbara Black, George Welwood Murray Professor of Legal History at Columbia; Patricia Bonomi, Professor of History Emerita at New York University; Barbara Oberg, then editor of the Benjamin Franklin Papers at Yale University; and Herbert Sloan, Professor of History at Barnard College, and convened by Gouverneur Morris Professor of History Richard L. Bushman, to make recommendations about the future of the project.

Letterpress Edition and Database. The Advisory Board recommended that Columbia continue to pursue plans for the letterpress edition under a new editor. Funding was secured in 2004 from the National Historical Publication and Records Commission for a revised and updated selective letterpress edition that would include seven volumes and be completed by 2012. The Advisory Board also recommended, however, that the Libraries address the more immediate need for scholars to have access to the still-unpublished material collected for the original project by seeking funding to digitize and mount those documents on the Web.

The National Endowment for the Humanities agreed with this aim and provided a two-year grant for the project for the years 2000-2002. Additional funding was provided in 2001 by the Florence Gould Foundation.The Papers of John Jay database was launched initially in December 2002.

Expansion & Enhancement Initiative. From March 2003 to March 2006 Columbia University Libraries continued to expand the content and enhance the functionality of the database, drawing upon staff and funding provided by the new Columbia Libraries Digital Program initiative, which had been established in 2002. At the time of its initial launch in December 2002 the database included Jay documents from about fifty institutions; by 2006 this number had risen to ninety. During this period over 1,500 new documents (ca. 12,000 page images) were also added, including 1,300 color scans from original documents in Columbia’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Future Prospects. The Papers of John Jay Papers is designed to be a working tool for students, scholars and the interested public. It remains a work in progress. New documents can be added, corrections to existing information made, and identifications completed by using the comments form or by writing to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia. We look forward to collaborating with our users in making this an effective and useful resource.

Rights and Permissions. Intellectual property rights to the materials on this database remain with the owning repositories. People wishing to publish or otherwise use images found on this database must contact these institutions for information and permission. Please consult as well the Copyright & Use statement referenced on the John Jay Papers home page.

Image Quality. Please note: the quality of some of the images is not ideal. Because we were attempting to make available as soon as possible material that had been collected forty years ago, salvaging some of the hard work that had been done by various generations of project editors and assistants, we approached the project differently than we would have had we been starting from scratch with new scans and new photography. Although digitization has in some cases made the documents far more legible than they are in the original, we are aware that in other cases they remain hard to read. Scans, photocopies and microfilmed images of 18th-century manuscripts under the best of circumstances are not always clear, due to deterioration of ink or paper, bleed-through, and uneven surfaces. The quality of computer monitors also varies dramatically. To assist readers, we have provided some capacity to enlarge and enhance the images. Better images and information about the documents themselves may be found by contacting the owning repositories, using the contact information provided. Messages indicating that images are not available at this time may occur for a variety of reasons, including the reluctance of an owning institution to allow its property to be included. In the few cases where we have not been able to decipher a repository name and the source is listed as “Unknown,” questions may be directed to the Columbia University Libraries by using the “Comments” field.


We are grateful to the many people whose hard work and generosity have made this project possible. Among these are James Baird (Project Editor, 2000-2002), Alison Ward, Rose Bautista, Bernard Crystal, Ellen Wurtzel, James Basker, Theodore Crackel, Janet Gertz, Beryl Abrams, Robert Wolven, Patricia Renfro, Mary-Jo Kline, Pat Moran, Kari Smith, and Matt Hampel; Columbia Libraries' Digital Program and Systems Office staff members Angela Bukowy, David Arjanik, Roberta Blitz, David Ortiz, Dmitri Laury, Emily Holmes, Stephen P. Davis, Gary Bertchume and Breck Witte; and the members of the Advisory Board. Alix Schnee, Alan Weinreb and the very loyal staff of volunteers at the John Jay Homestead in Katonah, New York have also been of great assistance. Michael Hall, at the National Endowment for the Humanities, gave helpful advice. Financial help from the Florence Gould Foundation and the Peck Stacpoole Foundation came at crucial moments as we moved forward. Elaine Sloan, University Librarian and Vice President for Information Services, encouraged the project; her successor, James Neal, has continued to support it with energy and enthusiasm.

Without the hard work of Richard B. Morris and the many researchers and assistants who served as his staff over the years, there would have been no material to digitize. Particular credit must go to Ene Sirvet, Editor of the Jay papers until 1996, whose efforts on behalf of the Jay papers were long-lasting and heroic.

Comments and Quotes

Dr. Richard Bushman, Gouverneur Morris Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University, (March 2006):

"John Jay is no longer the forgotten founding father. The Columbia Jay Papers project has installed a nearly comprehensive collection of the Jay Papers manuscript on line for all to peruse. Constant improvements have made the site more and more convenient to use. In a time when the founding fathers are coming back into a spotlight, we can now get better acquainted with this critical contributor to the establishment of the Constitution and the beginnings of the new republic."

Diane Shewchuk, Director of the John Jay Homestead State Historic Site in Katonah, N.Y (Feb. 2006):

"The Papers of John Jay is a marvel of accessibility that makes it possible for anyone to make detailed searches of documents without having to travel to multiple repositories, or spend hours reading page after fragile page seeking that one elusive bit of information. It allows one to follow up each new discovery quickly with a fresh inquiry, taking one on an investigatory odyssey that would be far slower and more difficult without it.”

Dr. Elizabeth M. Nuxoll, editor of the new Jay letterpress edition:

"All of us will find our work simplified by the improved search capacities and revised abstracts now being made available, and enhanced by the addition of so many documents to this publicly available database. So too will the countless teachers, students, writers, genealogists, and history buffs unknown to us, who will log on to explore these varied and fascinating documents and to use them as building blocks for the scholarship of the future.”