Guest Post: [Enter Catchy Title Here]: Working towards a Book Title

Today’s guest poster, Christopher Minty, is a Bernard and Irene Schwartz Postdoctoral Fellow at the New-York Historical Society and Eugene Lang College at The New School for Liberal Arts. He received his PhD from the University of Stirling. His current book project examines the role of popular partisanship and its effects on New Yorkers’ allegiances on the eve of the American Revolution. He is also the author of two previous guest posts at The Junto, “The Problem of Loyalism before the American Revolution” and “Working on the Papers of Francis Bernard.”

UntitledI like eye-catching book titles. Who doesn’t, right? A good title should run of the tongue without too much fuss, while also championing the main argument(s) of the book. Recent books with titles that caught my eye include Benjamin Irvin’s Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty, Jessica Roney’s Governed by a Spirit of Opposition, and Albrecht Koschnik’s “Let a Common Interest Bind Us Together.” To be sure, there are others, and they are held together by a common thread: Despite looking at different periods with different objectives, each title offers a snapshot of what the reader can expect to find.

I am working on two books. One is an extension of my dissertation. The other will provide a collection of edited documents centering on the correspondence of Myles Cooper between 1775 and 1785. My first project is a long way from completion. I am still collating manuscripts, writing new chapters, and refining my argument. My second project, however, is coming along nicely. I have collected a majority of the manuscripts, transcribed (and proofread) them, and began writing the introduction. Of course, it will not see a reviewer’s desk anytime soon, but, perhaps, within the next 18–24 months. But ever since I started this project, I have found it difficult to center on an appropriate title.

A few months ago, I thought it landed on my desk. Written on a folder from what will be the volume’s main collection, I saw the words “Letters from America.” I had my title: “Letters from America”: The Revolutionary Correspondence of Myles Cooper. It seemed like fate. The President of King’s College, Myles Cooper, was somehow linked to a well-known Edinburgh band, The Proclaimers. Even though The Proclaimers are really famous for one song, they also released a song titled “A Letter from America.” A title had been found, or so I thought. Little did I know that multiple books have already been published under a similar title.[1] It was not fate, and a new title had to be found. Thus, I returned to the revolutionary correspondence of Myles Cooper.

Myles Cooper arrived in New York City on October 30, 1762, to assume an appointment as assistant to the president of King’s College, Samuel Johnson. In 1765, Cooper succeeded Johnson, swiftly cloaking student life at King’s in Oxfordian robes. Instead of focusing on science and mathematics—as the other colleges tended to do—Cooper’s King’s College concentrated on ethics, poetry, and politics. Latin and Greek grammar and logic.

By May 1775, as a symbol of imperial authority and a personal friend to many who would oppose a developing opposition movement, Cooper was placed in a precarious position. Cooper’s tenure in New York City had become untenable. Royal governance had been supplanted by a Provincial Congress and, on April 25, 1775, hundreds of New Yorkers had sequestered weapons from City Hall upon hearing of Lexington and Concord. The American Revolution had hit New York, and Cooper wanted no part of it. He returned to Great Britain, arriving first in London before moving on to Oxford and eventually Edinburgh. It is on his arrival in Great Britain when my to-be-named second project begins.

Before Cooper arrived in Britain, correspondence was waiting for him. Charles Inglis and John Weatherhead, two of his closest friends, dispatched impassioned letters in early June 1776, less than two weeks after Cooper departed. Inglis described himself as “Distress[ed]” when he heard of Cooper’s self-enforced exile. Weatherhead was more positive, hoping that Cooper would “Enjoy security, Protection & all the Freedom a Man ought to have for his Comfort in this World.”.[2]

Neither Inglis nor Weatherhead were alone in conveying their feelings to Cooper. Other Loyalists that were based in or around New York also dispatched emotionally charged letters to Cooper, including Samuel Seabury, Cadwallader Colden, Jr., John Tabor Kempe, Peter Middleton, and Isaac Heron. On October 31, 1775, for instance, Seabury wrote: “When shall I have the happiness of seeing you again in this Country? I sometimes fear that I shall see you again no more; & the Apprehension gives my heart a pang that I cannot express.” Similarly, on January 3, 1776, Middleton began his letter: “The Beggars Benison to you, in these Days of Jollity & good Wishes; provided you are disposed to use tither Puns or Person.” These are just two examples. There are more. A common topic of the letters Cooper received was if and when he would reply. All of his friends in New York—especially Inglis—indicated that they sought an emotive reply.[3]

Historians have written on the personal nature of friendships in eighteenth and nineteenth-century America. These documents add nuance to that field.[4] Because they were written during the War of American Independence by individuals that we might not ordinarily associate with the intimacy and sensibility, the letters indicate how war, revolution, Loyalism, masculinity, and distance could strengthen male friendships.[5] Historians have written on friendship in the early national period, illustrating how emotional significance was added to male friendships. As Anya Jabour argues, “Evidence from William Wirt and his friends suggests that male friendship in the early national South, as in postrevolutionary New England, was characterized by a new emphasis on affection and companionship.” “Male friendship in the early national period,” Jabour concludes, “meant emotional intimacy and mutual loving support.”[6]

The correspondence of Myles Cooper complicates the thesis. Not only does Cooper’s correspondence illustrate that male friendship during the revolutionary period was filled with emotional intimacy and intensity, but because of the frequency of the letters and the fact that they were written during a period of volatility, it suggests that the music of friends’ words brought letter-writers closer together. And if the letters stopped, so too did their friendships. When Inglis had not received a letter from Cooper “in a long Time,” he lamented, “There is a strange Fatality attending our Letters.” “This is the Sixth that I have written to you within this Twelve month; & yet I have received ^but^ one from you in all that Time.” Inglis went on to comment on how the Revolution had affected his friendships:[7]

Few Circumstances attending the Continuance of this detestable Rebellion are more disagreeable to me, than the Separation between me & several of those Friends whom I most sincerely love, which it occasions. Believe me, I think of you often, I fervently wish for your Return; & you certainly lay on all your Friends here under great Obligations by the strong Attachment you have for them. – May the Period speedily arrive when we shall meet here again, & be happy as formerly!

I cannot imagine that Inglis was alone in making such statements. On the contrary, I would suggest, throughout the Revolution male and female friendships developed because of the struggles friends experienced together (figuratively, as with Inglis and Cooper, or literally). And there it was—a title. Because many of Cooper’s correspondents signed off their letters in a similar way, I thought the title should convey the intimacy of the letters within the book’s pages. So, as of January 2015, the tentative title is: “Let me Hear from you soon”: The Revolutionary Correspondence of Myles Cooper.


[1] When I typed “Letters from America” into the New York Public Library’s online catalogue, on January 7, 2015, I was greeted with 475 items, of which 370 were classified as books.

[2] “A Real Churchman” [Charles Inglis] to Myles Cooper, June 6, 1775, Fettercairn papers, Box 75, Folder 1, National Library of Scotland [hereafter cited as NLS]; John Weatherhead to Myles Cooper, June 7, 1775, Ibid.

[3] Samuel Seabury to Myles Cooper, October 31, 1775, Ibid; Peter Middleton to Myles Cooper, January 3, 1776, Ibid, Folder 2, NLS.

[4] E. Anthony Rotundo, “Romantic Friendship: Male Intimacy and Middle-Class Youth in the Northern United States, 1800–1900,” Journal of Social History 23, no. 1 (1989): 1-25; Katharine W. Swett, ‘“’The Account between Us’: Honor, Reciprocity and Companionship in Male Friendship in the Later Seventeenth Century,” Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies 31, no. 1 (1999): 1-30; Anya Jabour, “Male Friendship and Masculinity in the Early National South: William Wirt and His Friends,” Journal of the Early Republic 20, no. 1 (2000): 83-111; Richard Godbeer, The Overflowing of Friendship: Love between Men and the Creation of the American Republic (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009).

[5] One might even say “3,000 miles”—instead of “500 miles”—brought them closer together.

[6] Jabour, “Male Friendship,” 90. See also Jan Lewis, The Pursuit of Happiness: Family and Values in Jefferson’s Virginia (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983), esp. chap. 5.

[7] Charles Inglis to Myles Cooper, November 6, 1779, Fettercairn papers, Box 75, Folder 4, NLS.

One response

  1. Sounds like some interesting work, Christopher. Thanks for sharing. I’ve often wondered whether the tropes of early republic letter writing expressed the earnest feelings of their authors or simply the social conventions of the time.

    And just as an ironic aside, I have to confess that the title of the post had me expecting a piece about broad trends in quality book titling. I was probably halfway through – and wondering why on earth you were still discussing your own work – when I realized that I’d made a faulty assumption.

    – Your Humble and Most Obedient Servant


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