Sol Feinstone was a noted collector of Revolutionary-era manuscripts He was also passionately interested in educating the American public about the early history of the United States. He considered several options for sharing his collection of books and original eighteenth-century manuscripts on the Revolutionary period acquired over five decades, but eventually conceived and brought to fruition an idea to construct on his farm in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania a library devoted to the study of the American Revolution.
The nucleus of books and manuscripts initially donated by Feinstone has now grown to include 40,000 printed materials in bound volumes and microcards, as well as 10,000 reels of microfilm containing original American, British, Loyalist, French and German records. The collections also hold a wealth of material on women, families, African Americans and Native Americans.
Today, the David Library is primarily a microform archive of approximately 10,000 reels that contain an estimated 8 million pages of documentation. Although the main focus is on the American Revolutionary period, in recent years the Library has augmented its materials on the French and Indian War and early national periods. The holdings constitute a significant, centralized research collection assembled from repositories throughout the world.
The Library is particularly strong in British materials, some of which are not available elsewhere in this country. It has gathered documents from the British National Archives and other British repositories, as well as from various Canadian and German archives. The David Library also has a formidable collection of early American Government and military records from the National Archives, the Library of Congress, state and local historical societies, and other institutions. Microfilm collections also include official and personal correspondence, diaries, business records, church records, and selected British and American doctoral dissertations on our period of specialization. In addition, the Library has a large collection of newspapers and periodicals on microfilm that span the eighteenth century. Keeping abreast of changing technology, the David Library has several collections in CD-ROM format.
The Library’s Sol Feinstone Collection of historically significant original items, pertinent to many research projects, is available on microfilm (the actual manuscripts are on deposit at the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia). Author David McCullough has called the Sol Feinstone Collection “a national treasure of the first rank, a window on our founding times like no other.”
The collection that inspired that praise is a true rarity in American public history: a large body of original letters brought together by one remarkable man as a tribute to his adopted country’s founding event, the American Revolution.
Sol Feinstone built his Collection from the 1930s to the 1970s, eventually amassing one of the largest privately-held bodies of Washington letters as part of his collection of 2,482 manuscripts related to the founding period of the United States. Over 80% of the items in the Sol Feinstone Collection date between 1774 and 1800. The Collection focuses on George Washington and his principal military and political associates from the beginning of the Revolution until the General’s death in 1799. In addition to more than 260 letters by George Washington (many entirely in his hand) and some 40 letters to him, the unique treasures in the Sol Feinstone Collection include 55 letters by Alexander Hamilton, 65 letters by Thomas Jefferson, 40 letters by the Marquis de Lafayette, and some 10 to 20 each by John Adams, Nathanael Greene, Henry Knox and James Madison.
Feinstone’s basic criteria for an item in his Collection, however, was that the manuscript include historically significant text, that it be written between 1760 and 1800 by direct participants in the American Revolutionary War. The writers could be military or civilian; Patriot or Loyalist, and of American, British, German or French nationality. “Guide to the Sol Feinstone Collection of the David Library of the American Revolution” (1994, The David Library of the American Revolution) by David Fowler is a comprehensive index to the Collection. It is available for review at the Library.
The David Library is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am - 5 pm. It is closed Sunday, Monday, and holidays. Admission is free. Collections are non-circulating. To facilitate on-site research, reader-printers capable of copying from microfilm, CD-ROM computer and printer and a photocopier are available. Patrons will be charged per copy. To ensure the availability of a microfilm reader or the computer, advance appointments are encouraged (215-493-6776 ext. 102).