On the eve of the American Revolution, an unlikely band of ministers and benefactors devised a plan to send John Quamine, a free black man, and Bristol Yamma, a slave, as missionaries to Africa. The project was conceived by the two would-be missionaries themselves, and supported by controversial Congregationalist minister Samuel Hopkins and his more moderate colleague Ezra Stiles. In 1774, Stiles and Hopkins arranged for the duo to be sent to the College of New Jersey, where Presbyterian minister (and president of the College) John Witherspoon would train them. Their proposed mission gained some notoriety, and a diverse lot of supporters championed their cause, including Quaker abolitionist Anthony Benezet, New Jersey lawyer and politician Elias Boudinot, Scottish theologian John Erskine the noted black poet Phyllis Wheatley, Eleazar Wheelock and his Mohegan pupil-turned-preacher Samson Occum, and black Anglican missionary to Africa Phillip Quaque (though his endorsement came with serious reservations). The outbreak of war in 1775 and the subsequent death of Quamine in 1779 ultimately thwarted the planned mission. In spite of its failure, though, it remains an important but oft-ignored episode in what Edward E. Andrews calls “the tangled history of cultural encounter between Europe, Africa, and the Americas” (188). Continue reading
George Wythe represented the best of the Revolutionary-era Virginia gentry. Wythe, as a law professor, instructed and inspired many of the leading lights of the Patriot movement, including Thomas Jefferson. Wythe was also a racial liberal. After his wife’s death he freed the family’s slaves and even went as far as to adopt and pay for the education of one of their number, a young man named Michael Brown. By the opening years of the nineteenth century Wythe served as chancellor of Virginia’s court of equity where he handed down a monumental decision in the case of Wright v. Hudgins, which held that the burden of proof in cases of runaway slaves rested with the enslaver – not the accused runaway.
Over at Slate last week, our Junto colleague Eric Herschthal reviewed some of the latest popular histories of revolutionary America, including two new studies of the years around 1776 by Richard Beeman and Joseph Ellis. Eric takes a very critical view of the analytical stance of the books–arguing that they are too in thrall to outdated and invalidated historical techniques; focusing too much on elites and ‘leadership’ at the expense of more recent trends in scholarship, such as the new emphasis on those who stayed (or tried to stay) neutral during the Revolutionary War.
Perhaps the most provocative part of the review is this statement:
“If you bought a popular book on science, one that came with a similar sheen of intellectual prestige, and learned that it essentially ignored years’ worth of scholarship, you’d demand your money back. Why should history be any different?”
To me, the answer seems self-evident. Continue reading
“The Revolution may be the most important event in American history,” James P. Byrd reminds us. Many of the readers of this blog will likely agree with him in that. Fewer, perhaps, will agree with one of the central arguments of his (very) recent Sacred Scripture, Sacred War: The Bible and the American Revolution that “the Bible was arguably its [the Revolution’s] most influential book.” At the recent OIEAHC conference in Baltimore I was able to get my hands on a copy of this excellent new book and Sacred Scripture, Sacred War has given me a lot (despite it’s relatively conciseness) to chew on over the last two weeks. Continue reading
Every sub-field has its classic books. It should not take long for most of us to rattle off a couple of titles. In my field of church-state relations in the early American republic (particularly in the upper South), few books tower over the field more than Thomas E. Buckley’s Church and State in Revolutionary Virginia, 1776-1787. Despite being published thirty-six years ago references to this classic litter the footnotes of subsequent books from fellow classic histories like Rhys Isaac’s Transformation of Virginia to more recent works such as David Sehat’s Myth of American Religious Freedom. Anyone grappling with the politics of religion in early national Virginia, that overheated cauldron of disestablishment, must grapple with Buckley’s work. But this great historian did not stop there; in a series of articles Buckley expanded his analysis to include much of the evolution of religious freedom in the Old Dominion over the nineteenth century. Continue reading
If there is a better purpose for an academic blog than to make lists of must-have books and dents in your Amazon budget, I am not aware of it. As the first of what I hope will be an annual tradition, here are ten of my favorite books from the past 12 months. It is obvious that I have particular interests and tastes (early republic, religion, politics), but I tried to expand my comfort zone and include a few titles from other fields. So if you are looking for books you may have missed, need a reminder for books you still need to buy, or require evidence to present to your significant other, you have come to the right place.
(Placing any of these books on your holiday book list, of course, assumes that you have already purchased this year’s “must have” gift for early Americanists, the Aaron Burr/Alexander Hamilton duel t-shirt, seen to the right.) Continue reading