Tools: Huntington Library transcription experiment

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We are uploading two sets of images from Huntington Library manuscript collections for collaborative trancription

The Huntington Library has a wide variety of rare manuscripts for historians of seventeenth century England. A large proportion of these documents relate to the Admiralty and merchant shipping, and are therefore of interest to the MarineLives project.

For instance, the Ellesmere Collection (one of the most studied collections at the Huntington) reveals a lot of information about the formation of commercial connections between England and the wider world. It also provides insights into how the state and monarchy were talking about trade in the late sixteenth century and early seventeenth century. Reports on the state of shipping, merchant petitions, and papers concerning legal cases related to English commercial activity are strong points of the collection.

The Huntington also houses an array of rare books and almanacs from the seventeenth century, many of which are of relevance for people interested in colonial affairs and international trade. Finally, the Huntington's renowned collection of early modern maps (which remain underused by historians) offer new visual perspectives on the world that merchants, mariners, and explorers inhabited in the seventeenth century.

Manuscript sources

Image set one

  • The first set of images are of the Humphrey Slaney vs. Thomas King court case (c. 1627-1630). Some of these documents are lengthy, while others are very short. They are from the Ellesmere Collection (EL 7007 - EL 7040). Humphrey Slaney was a prominent member of the London merchant community in the early 17th century, and his commercial networks spanned the Atlantic. He was active in the Newfoundland fisheries, financed voyages to Guinea, and also participated in the tobacco trade with nascent English colonies in the Americas. He often conducted business in partnership with Nicholas Crispe, John Wood, and William Cloberry.[1]. The lengthy court case documented in these manuscripts resulted from a dispute between two former business partners (Slaney and King), who fell out when their merchant vessel, the Anne, took a Portuguese ship as a prize. The goods seized were very valuable, and included 'Shuger, Hides, Tobacco, Cotton Wooll, greene ginger, and ginger to the valew of twentite thousand pounds', as well as silver bullion 'to the valew of two thousand pounds'.[2]. King was suing Slaney for refusing to give him the half share of this prize.

Image set two

  • The second set of images relate to the state of the Royal Navy and merchant shipping in England c.1627. This set of documents is also from the Ellesmere Collection (EL 7002). They provide a lot of information about the state of the navy in the early seventeenth century; a formative period for English naval expansion and the extension of English trade networks across the globe. Of particular interest is the quantitative data relating to vessels belonging to the Royal Navy, and the various propositions for how the state might improve the efficiency of the navy by reducing costs.
  • 158 images in total

Sample transcription

Take a look at our first piece of collaborative transcription of Huntington Library materials by Warwick history department undergraduates Joshua Calloway, Celine Romano and Dominic Webb.

Transcription of EL 7007 f.1v by Joshua Calloway, Celine Romano and Dominic Webb, University of Warwick second year undergraduate historians


Documents have been imaged by Michael Bennett (Sheffield), using a hand held digital camera, with the permission of the Huntington Library. Images are gradually being uploaded to the MarineLives wiki in two volumes:

EL 7007-7040

EL 7002

  1. Robert Brenner, Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict, and London's Overseas Traders, 1550-1653 (Princeton, 1993), pp.163-164 & 187.
  2. Huntington Library, EL 7018, ‘The informacon of Captane Thomas Kinge plaints against Humphry Slaney merchant defendant.’