Seattle General Strike Project

Sources and Research Guide to:

The Minute Men

By Susan Newsome

The Seattle Minute Men was a division of the American Protective League which operated under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice during the early 1900ís. It was a volunteer spy organization responsible for gathering and reporting information regarding all violations of war and espionage acts and proclamations. In Seattle it played an important role by investigating reports of T actions of the I.W.W. before, during and after the Seattle General Strike of 1919. The first recorded meeting of the Minute Men took place in 1917 at the Seattle home of William J. Alvay, but following this initial meeting, they were often held at a Public School near Ravenna.

Primary Sources:

This report will describe three sets of primary sources that I felt were useful in my research.

The Minute Men and Naval Intelligence spy records on suspected radicals and enemy aliens. These records are located at the National Archives and Record Center on Sand Point Way, Seattle. They cover the period 1917-1919 and are in Record Group 180, boxes 1-11. I found the most useful boxes and folders were:

Box 5, folder 300, which included reports between the A.P.L, the Minute Men and Aid for Information on suspected German or Russian radicals.

Box 9, folder 486, which included reports regarding Mr. Walter Ruloff who was a German speaking translator for the Postal Censorship Committee and was suspected of allowing important information pass through the censors unnoticed. The fact that makes this man so interesting is that he was being spied on by a University of Washington professor who also translated letters for the Postal Censorship Committee.

Box 10, folder 537, entitled Strike Situation-Seattle consists of more spy reports on suspected radicals and I.W.W meetings.

Box 10, folder 541 has the Minute Menís report on the strike conditions in Seattle. The spy reports vary, but there is a collection of information on a very vocal Russian Socialist gentleman by the name of James Engstrom, who has shown up several times in my research. He is active with the Soldiers, Sailors and Workingmenís Council, which is of great interest to the federal government.

Box 10, folder 543 is the Minute Menís report on the German/Bolsheviki conspiracy to send spies to America following the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918. The significance of these reports and letters is that they validate the fear of German invasion in America and attempt to justify the work by such groups as the Minute Men and American Protective League.

The Robert Friedheim Collection, accession #94, box 1, folder 10, located at the Manuscripts and University Archives at the University of Washington Libraries, Seattle. This collection includes the testimony of Harry J. Wilson in the People v. Lloyd trial. Wilson was a Minute Man who successfully infiltrated the Soldierís, Sailorís and Workingmenís Council as well as other groups associated with the Seattle General Strike.

The American Protective League. Minute Men Division, Precinct 1. Located at the Manuscripts and University Archives Division, University of Washington Libraries, Seattle. These records include the Constitution and by-laws of the Minute Men as well as numerous financial records with members names and contributions listed as well as addresses and professions. I came across the names of several University of Washington professors on membership lists in this collection. The first recorded minutes from meetings are in this collection as well as other historical information regarding the relationship between the Minute Men and the American Protective League as well as the attempts to close them down following WWI.

Secondary Sources:

There are no complete works dedicated to the Minute Men of Seattle, but the following books provide some insight into their purpose and history.

Robert Friedheim, The Seattle General Strike (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1964)

Joan M. Jensen, The Price of Vigilance (Chicago: Rand McNally & Company, 1968)

Emerson Hough, The Web (New York: Arno Press & the New York Times, 1969)

 

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