Ken Price, the Hillegass University Professor of American Literature and co-editor of The Walt Whitman Archive at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, needs our help. Mining the records of the Office of the Attorney General here at the National Archives, Price has discovered 3000 documents in Whitman’s hand. His discovery is described in a 2011 Prologue article, “Whitman, Walt, Clerk.”
Portrait of Walt Whitman taken at Mathew Brady’s studio in Washington, D.C. between 1865 and 1867. National Archives Identifier 526439
It seems likely that additional documents exist in archives scattered around the country. The items Price located were written between July 1865 and December 1871, when Whitman worked as a clerk in the Office of the Attorney General. These documents were identified through recognition of Whitman’s handwriting, though in a few rare cases Whitman did include his initials or signature. The documents preserved here at the National Archives were internal office copies of correspondence sent out to a wide array of officials in various states and territories. Although Whitman was often charged with creating the copy of record for the office, he also inscribed outgoing letters. I offered to help Price with his ongoing treasure hunt and I hope you will help us with this search since there may be hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of additional documents in Whitman’s handwriting that have gone undetected until now. These documents promise to illuminate the life, writings, and government employment of the national poet.
Please check your files for documents coming from the Office of the Attorney General from July 1865 to December 1871 and from the Office of the Solicitor of the Treasury from December 1871 to March 1873. Whitman’s handwriting is quite distinctive. Examples of his handwriting can be found in the “scribal documents” section of The Whitman Archive. Ken would be pleased to learn of your discoveries at kprice2.@unl.edu.