Guest Post: Sir James Wright and Jenny, his free “black servant”

Today’s guest poster is Greg Brooking (PhD, Georgia State University). His dissertation on Sir James Wright, royal governor of Georgia, is entitled, “‘My zeal for the real happiness of both Great Britain and the colonies’: The Conflicting Imperial Career of Sir James Wright.” He is the recipient of two fellowships from the David Library of the American Revolution and authored a chapter in General Nathanael Greene and the American Revolution in the South (University of South Carolina Press, 2012). He currently teaches at Kennesaw State University and Southern New Hampshire University. This is his first guest post for The Junto

I’ve just begun the arduous task of transforming my recently completed dissertation about colonial and revolutionary Georgia into a work worthy of an academic press. Part of this process, for me at least, has been to re-examine my notecards (actually an enormous Excel spreadsheet), seeking new gems, ideas, and angles. In so doing, I’ve rediscovered a tidbit that I want to further develop during the manuscript process and I humbly submit this post as a solicitation to the blog’s readers, seeking their varied and expert insights. Specifically, this tidbit relates to a caveat in the final will and testament of Sir James Wright (1716-1785), which calls for an annuity for his free “black servant,” Jenny. Continue reading

Guest Post: Working on The Papers of Francis Bernard

Christopher F. Minty (University of Stirling) recently completed his dissertation on the social and cultural origins of Loyalism in New York during the imperial crisis. He is the recipient of numerous fellowships, including the British Library, the Huntington Library, the David Library of the American Revolution, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and Houghton Library at Harvard University. This is his second guest post for The Junto.

In early 2013, Michael D. Hattem offered some thoughts on his role as a Research Assistant on the Papers of Benjamin Franklin. Since then, a variety of other online databases have established themselves as essential go-to sources for students and scholars of colonial British America, the American Revolution and the early Republic. With the launch of Founders Online, it has complemented a stream of other online resources that have given us an unparalleled insight into the lives of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James and Dolley Madison, the Adams family as well as documentary histories of the ratification of the Constitution and, well, “People of the Founding Era.”  Continue reading

Teaching Through Primary Sources: Henry Drax’s Plantation Instructions

draxhallPrimary sources form an important part of the assignments for any of my undergraduate classes. As with any set readings, some of these sources work more successfully than others. One source that has proven reliably successful is Henry Drax’s instructions on running a sugar plantation in seventeenth-century Barbados. Back in my graduate student days, I prepared an initial transcription of the instructions as a research assistant. Thankfully, my students don’t have to grapple with some of the more eccentric approaches to handwriting in the original copy, and can instead read the 2009 William and Mary Quarterly “Sources and Interpretations” piece written by Peter Thompson. [1]

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Reptiles of America

Timber Rattlesnake, from Catesby, Natural HistoryThanks to the Comte de Buffon’s comprehensive Natural History, every European in the eighteenth century knew that the American environment was conducive only to degeneration. Still, Buffon admitted, “though Nature has reduced all the quadropeds of the new world, yet she has preferred the size of reptiles, and enlarged that of insects.” As his Dutch colleague Cornelis de Pauw put it, giant insects and venomous snakes “so unhappily distinguish this hemisphere” from the more hospitable side of the Atlantic.[1] Leaving aside insects for the moment, reptiles—and especially serpents—have always had a powerful symbolic valence. In the American context, the ambivalent use of the reptile shows up some of the complex relationship between the colonists’ natural world and their political imagination.

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Litchfield Law School and the Revolutionary Elite

Tapping Reeve, Litchfield Historical SocietyJoel Barlow and Noah Webster graduated from Yale together in 1778 with little sense of what they might do next. Their experience will be familiar to graduates of our own day, except, of course that it was in the middle of a Revolutionary War. “We are not the first men in the world to have broke loose from college without fortune to puff us into public notice,” Barlow wrote to Webster. But if ever virtue and merit were to be rewarded, he went on, “it is in America.”[1] Both men would have their faith in America sorely tested over the following decades, as they struggled to gain entry into established social elites that were themselves experiencing tension and transformation. Continue reading

Guest Post: Rediscovering the Pamphlisphere

Today’s guest poster is Ariel Ron, who earned his PhD in history at the University of California, Berkeley, and is currently a visiting research associate at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies.

Henry Carey (National Portrait Gallery)

Three or four years ago, while doing research at the University of Pennsylvania’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library, I stumbled upon a lost cache of some ten-thousand pamphlets. I had been browsing the papers of Stephen Colwell, a nineteenth-century ironmaster and writer, when archivist John Pollack called me into the closed stacks behind the reading room. There he showed me Colwell’s personal pamphlet library, neatly bound into hundreds of volumes. The collection also included three thousand works from the library of Colwell’s friend, Henry C. Carey (see picture to right), without question the most important American political economist of the mid-nineteenth century. The sheer size of the corpus floored me. Continue reading

Historians Who Love Just a Bit

I’ve never met anybody, living or dead, who fits their name quite as well as Peregrine Foster did. I encountered Peregrine in the papers of his brother, Dwight Foster, at the Massachusetts Historical Society, where I was looking for compilations of meaty correspondence that depicted land speculators at work. Peregrine was the youngest of three; his older brothers were Congressmen from Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Peregrine, though, wasn’t destined for such prominence.

In 1780, at the age of twenty-one, he more or less flunked out of the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (now Brown University), complaining that his homework was eating him. “Though it is but only 23 Days since he began the 1st Vol of Blackstone’s Commentaries,” his oldest brother wrote, “he lost Flesh surprizingly and . . . is persuaded that it is not for his Interest to pursue his Books.”[1] Peregrine wanted to go to sea, but his brothers disapproved. So instead, after a few years of twenty-something idleness, he resolved to venture west in pursuit of a fortune through land speculation. Continue reading

Buy, Sell, Read

How did eighteenth-century print networks really operate? This week, The Junto asked Jordan Goffin, Special Collections Librarian at the Providence Public Library, how mapping Rhode Island’s early book trade led to the creation of a new digital atlas.

JUNTO: Can you describe the Atlas of the Rhode Island Book Trade in the Eighteenth Century, and why you chose a digital platform for the project? How did you select the software and organize your digital workflow? Continue reading