Selections from the Institutional Archives: The Beginnings of the SAR- The First Congress of 1889
By Sam Dunn
For over a year, the SAR Archives and Education staff has been digitizing the materials that comprise the SAR Institutional Archives located in the SAR Genealogical Research Library. The staff uses a variety of tools, such as scanners and a DSLR camera, to produce high-quality images of each object in the archive. To date, over 30,000 files have been recorded and placed in digital storage. The first priority of this effort has always been preservation, but it also presents an opportunity to share some of the most unique and interesting materials with the membership. The first file chosen for this series showcases the exceptional historical depth of the SAR; it is the Record of Proceedings of the Convention of Delegates, convened on April 30th, 1889.
This document records the first Congress of the SAR; when delegates from across the country came together to formally unify the different state societies. Until then, each state society functioned as an independent organization. However, members had come to believe that a national society should be created. To this end, delegates from 17 states met in New York City in 1889. Fittingly, it was the one-hundredth anniversary of the inauguration of President George Washington.
The first to speak was Mr. W.O. McDowell of New Jersey. As the document notes, Mr. McDowell was “Chairman of the Special Committee of the New Jersey Society that has been instrumental in calling the National movement.” Mr. McDowell offered a brief address to the delegates and paid particular attention to the location of the convention. As shown on the document, the meeting was held at Fraunces Tavern, an appropriate site for the founding of the national society.
Fraunces Tavern has long been associated with the American Revolution and the founding of the nation. Before the Revolution, it was a clandestine meeting place of the Sons of Liberty, a secret society dedicated to resisting unfair British taxation. In 1775, as the British attacked New York, a shell from a British ship passed directly through the roof. Still, the tavern continued to operate and the leaders of the young nation frequently met there.
In 1783, the tavern hosted the most prominent leader of them all, General George Washington. On the night of December 4th, at Fraunces Tavern, General Washington bid farewell to the officers of the Continental Army. Washington gave an impassioned speech and then delivered a personal word to each of the men who had helped secure American independence. Under the Articles of Confederation, which placed the capitol of the nation in New York City, Fraunces Tavern served as the offices of the Foreign Affairs, War, and Finance Departments. Over 100 years later, as the first delegates of the SAR gathered there, it would once again be the backdrop to a scene of national unity and patriotism.