23 May 2022
John G. McCurdy is Professor of History at Eastern Michigan State University, and was a 2021 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.
What was it like for homosexual men in the era of the American Revolution? For the past few years, I have been trying to answer this question. Little has been written about same-sex intimacy in the eighteenth century and almost no one has attempted to connect homosexuality to the creation of the United States.
Specifically, I have been researching the case of British Lieutenant Robert Newburgh who was accused of buggery in 1774 and faced a court martial. Newburgh’s case (which I found at the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan and at the UK's National Archives at Kew) is highly detailed. It is full of homophobic stereotypes but also a stirring defense of sexual freedom that was centuries ahead of its time.
In February and March 2022, I was privileged to spend four weeks at the British Library thanks to the generous support of the Eccles Centre for American Studies. Although I had already located most of the materials related to Newburgh’s case, I needed to contextualize his trial. How typical was his court martial and how did it compare to contemporary British military legal actions? Also, how did people in the eighteenth-century Anglo Atlantic talk about same-sex intimacy? Fortunately, I found a great deal of information at the British Library!
I spent my first two weeks going through manuscripts. The Download Haldimand guide are an especially rich collection that I strongly encourage all researchers to take a look at. Frederick Haldimand was commander in chief of North America from 1773 to 1774 and governor general of Canada from 1778 to 1786. Accordingly, he collected all types of reports about life and events during the American War for Independence. Although Newburgh’s letters to Haldimand were the only ones to mention homosexuality, I found information on other courts martial, marriage and families, and unusual individuals who ran afoul of the British establishment.
There are many interesting stories that I found in Haldimand Papers. In 1781, Stephen Tuttle wrote to Haldimand asking for his help finding his wife. Apparently, Tuttle’s wife had “entertained” some American rebels and then run away with his money. I also found the court martial of Ensigns Archibald MacDonnell and Stephen Blackader for fighting with a Canadian colonist. The colonist—who was a French speaker—called the two officers “foutre” and “Bougre” (fucker and buggerer). Also in the Haldimand Papers, I located several letters from Rev. Thomas Charles Hessop Scott. Like Newburgh, Scott was an army chaplain who found himself on the outs with the officers. Although Scott was heterosexual, he was forced out of the army when he defended civilians against soldiers’ theft and criticized his commanding officer.
I also scoured the manuscripts for any mention of homosexuality. In the Harley Papers, I located transcriptions of late-seventeenth-century accounts such as “Jenny Cromwell’s Complaint against Sodomy” which condemns England for encouraging vice, as well as “Petition of Hassan a Turk” in which a Muslim asks King William III to set aside his execution for sodomy because of cultural differences. The Miscellaneous Papers and the Morley Papers include accounts of “macaroni”: a term applied to fashionable young men in the 1770s. Many writers lampooned the macaroni as queer, that is, either asexual or homosexual. Finally, the Sloane Papers contain accounts of John Atherton who introduced the sodomy law to Ireland and was also the first man to be executed under the law.
In my third week at the British Library, I moved on to the Rare Books and Music room. I quickly discovered many pamphlets, plays, and books that discussed homosexuality. Not surprisingly, most portrayals were negative and mocking. Satan’s Harvest Home from 1749 fretted over the preponderance of “vile Catamites” (a classical reference to homosexuals), which it blamed on the current fashion of “Men kissing each other.” This pamphlet also contains one of the few references to lesbianism, which the author terms “the Game of Flatts.” I also found sermons against sodomy, the play The Macaroni: A Comedy, and attacks on Samuel Foote who was accused of having sex with another man.
Yet not all of the accounts are entirely negative. I was delighted to find The State of the Case of Captain Jones from 1772, a pamphlet who urged that King George III to pardon a man who had been convicted of sex with another man. Although the author believed that sodomy was a capital crime, he nevertheless made an appeal for compassion and the rule of law over mob violence. I also found An Address from the Ladies from 1754, a mocking account of an Irish archbishop who fell from power over rumors that he had a male lover. Pretending to be letters between the two men, the correspondence made the case for an acceptance of homosexuality with classical allusions including: “You may read Virgil and there you’ll find he was one of us.”
Since returning to America, I have been sorting through my findings. These will greatly enrich my findings and will certainly appear in my forthcoming book on Robert Newburgh and what his case can tell us about homosexuality in the American Revolution. I am grateful to the Eccles Centre and the British Library for giving me this wonderful opportunity.
24 November 2021
In this second instalment of our Americas e-resources blog series we will focus on US newspapers, both historic and contemporary. All of the databases referred to here are full-text and many of them can be consulted remotely once you have a British Library Reader’s Pass.
Published by Readex, Early American Newspapers (Series 1, 1690-1876 & Series 2 1758-1900) is one of our absolute favourites. With facsimile coverage beginning in the late 17th century, when newspapers were often published by small-town printers reflecting the interests and values of the communities they served, its hundreds of titles chronicle the evolution of American society and culture through eyewitness reporting, editorials, obituaries, letters to the editor, advertisements, and much, much more. Search options include material type, date, keywords, name of publication, place of publication and language. The content is printable, downloadable and accessible remotely. Included among its riches is the first multipage colonial newspaper, Publick Occurences Both Forreign and Domestick; published in Boston on 25 September 1690, it was immediately suppressed.
Also published by Readex and remotely accessible is African American Newspapers (Series 1, 1827-1998 & Series 2, 1835-1956). This extraordinary resource offers facsimile copies of more than 350 newspapers published by or for African Americans in more than 35 states. Coverage spans life in the Antebellum South; abolitionism; the growth of the Black church; the Jim Crow Era; the Great Migration to northern cities, the West and Midwest; the rise of the NAACP; the Harlem Renaissance; the civil rights movement; political and economic empowerment; and more. Many of the titles are rare and historically significant, including Freedom’s Journal, the first Black owned and operated newspaper in the United States, which was founded on 16 March 1827 in New York City by John Russwurm and Samuel Cornish.
American Indian Newspapers was made possible by the permission and contribution of the newspaper publishers and Tribal Councils concerned and is published by Adam Matthew. It includes over 170,000 pages from 9,000 editions of Indigenous US and Canadian national periodicals, local community newspapers, and student papers and magazines. Coverage runs from 1828 to 2016, although the bulk of its 45 titles were founded during the 1970s and document the proliferation of Indigenous journalism that grew out of the occupation of Wounded Knee. There are numerous bi-lingual and Indigenous-language editions, and many titles – including Ak-Chin O’Odham Runner, the Cherokee Phoenix and the Navajo Times – are digitised in runs of more than 500 issues. Unlike Early American Newspapers and African American Newspapers, it has to be consulted at the Library.
Service Newspapers of World War Two contains over 300 publications for soldiers serving in all of the major theatres of that conflict. More than 60 of these were published for US military forces, including the Stars and Stripes, which was printed in dozens of editions in numerous locations. In addition to maintaining the troops’ morale and helping to create an atmosphere of solidarity, these newspapers played a vital role in keeping servicemen informed about events in their unit and immediate locality, as well as delivering news from home and about the war at large. A large number were written by the servicemen themselves, although some were sanctioned by senior staff and had a more official agenda. Most contained a mix of articles, news reports, op-ed pieces, letters, military facts, trivia, cartoons and photographs. Like American Indian Newspapers, it is published by Adam Matthew and needs to be consulted at the Library.
Currently, the British Library subscribes to three of Proquest’s Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2017), The Baltimore Afro-American (1893-1988) and the Communist Historical Newspaper Collection. All offer full-text facsimile copies, but they are not accessible remotely. The New York Times probably needs no further discussion. The Baltimore Afro-American was founded in 1892. Five years later, its printing presses were purchased at auction by John H. Murphy, Sr. Murphy had been born into slavery in Baltimore in 1840 and in 1868 married Martha Howard, the daughter of a well-to-do free black farmer. Although the Library's digital coverage of the Afro-American ends in 1988, this weekly publication is still in print and is the longest running African American family-owned newspaper in the United States. At its peak, regional editions were being printed in 13 major US cities; it has campaigned with the NAACP on a huge range of civil rights cases; and noteworthy contributors include writer Langston Hughes and artist Romare Bearden.
The Communist Historical Newspaper Collection offers the full-text editions of nine Communist newspapers published in the US, including The Daily Worker (1924-1958), Daily World (1968-1986), and the Ohio Socialist (1917-1919).
Last but by no means least, we want to flag up the remotely accessible Newsbank Access World News. Despite its rather understated interface, it is an absolute goldmine if you are doing contemporary US research. It currently offers up-to-the minute full-text (non-facsimile) access to over 1300 US dailies, including Boston Herald (1991 – ); the New York Daily News (NY) (1995 – ); Los Angeles Times (1985 – ); Miami Herald (1982 – ); New York Post (1999 – ) and San Francisco Chronicle (1985 – ). It also offers access to more than 20 news magazines, including The New Yorker, The Nation and The Atlantic; the transcripts of more than 200 major TV news and radio programmes, including 60 Minutes (CBS; 2004 – ) ; CBS Evening News (2005 – ); CNN (2004 – ); Face the Nation (CBS; 2010 – ); Fox News’s various channels (2003 – ); Meet the Press (NBC; 2012 – ); MSNBC (2003 – ); NPR (1990 – ); and PBS NewsHour (2006 – ). On top of this it includes more than 300 web-only news sources and more than 80 newswires, including Associated Press (1997 – ); AP State Wires (from all states, 2010/2011 – ); CNN Wire (2009 – ); and UPI NewsTrack, (2005 – ). It is a truly unique and remarkable resource and we cannot recommend it enough.
Next month we will be having a look at some of our broad-brush ‘bibliographic e-resources’. This type of database offers you lists of sources (books, journal articles etc) that you will then need to track down elsewhere. These e-resources are particularly useful at the beginning of a project when you are trying to get a sense of the research landscape, but are equally valuable at the end, when you need to make sure you have caught everything that has been published in the previous few months.
02 November 2021
Seynabou Thiam-Pereira was a 2020 Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library.
As an Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow at the British Library in September 2021, I was interested in material from late eighteenth-century British North America relating to American Loyalists and race issues in Atlantic Canada. The economic, political, military and social consequences of the American War of Independence had been major for the British empire. However, my focus was on the exiles from America and the relocation of thousands of Loyalists and disbanded soldiers within the empire.
After the outbreak of the war in 1776, 'Tories' - Loyalist inhabitants of the Thirteen Colonies - together with their slaves, Black and Native Loyalists, as well as disbanded soldiers, migrated to Atlantic Canada, the British West Indies, Great Britain and Botany Bay to seek refuge. The first evacuation took place in 1776 when Loyalists from Boston chose to settle in Nova Scotia. Formerly called Acadia, it had been a British territory since the end of French and Indian War when many New Englanders migrated there after the expulsion of the French Acadians. The largest evacuations occurred years later from Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, in 1782, from New York City in 1783 and from St-Augustine, in East Florida until 1785.
Propaganda promoting the reception of Loyalists within the empire spread rapidly in pamphlets and newspapers. The image below, for example - 'The reception of the American Loyalists by Great Britain, in the year 1783' by H. Moses - details the variety of social status and ethnicities of the Loyalists. We can see Britannia opening her arms to American loyal subjects, to Natives and to Blacks.
A wide range of documents illuminating these massive departures still exist, including petitions, muster rolls, letters, handbills, maps, and official registers either written by British officials or civilians. At the British Library, the Clarkson Papers and the miscellaneous letters and papers relating to American affairs, contain several petitions from disbanded soldiers and Loyalists to obtain land in order to settle in British American colonies.
Unsurprisingly, the question of land seems to have preoccupied the British government and the settlers throughout the War; not owning property meant being excluded from the shareholder status and its ensuing political rights. In 1782 a strong push began in Britain to offer land in Jamaica, Bermuda, St-Lucie, Barbados and the Bahamas islands to Loyalist planters from the southern colonies. The main arguments used were the possibility of bringing the slaves to the British West Indies which offered the accustomed warm climate and agricultural system. The opportunity to bring thousands of new planters or white settlers with slaves to the British Caribbean was essential in order to maintain the slave societies on these islands. But how could Free Black and Native Loyalists be integrated into this slaveholding system with their liberated, manumitted or free-born status?
In order to accommodate this massive arrival of Loyalist settlers, towns were founded or extended and provisioned. Land had to be quickly divided into lots in order to be distributed to about 10,000 people in Jamaica, 5,000 in the Bahamas and hundreds in St-Lucie, Bermuda and Barbados. In some cases these Loyalists doubled or tripled the black and white population of the territories. One must bear in mind the challenge of rapidly organising the evacuation and resettlement of so many refugees while dealing with the peace treaty and trade regulations between Great Britain, France and the United States of America. If we take the example of Canada, muster rolls indicate the large number of disbanded troops, Loyalists and slaves who arrived in Upper/Lower Canada, and Nova Scotia. In 1784, while the province of Quebec was receiving more than 5,500 new settlers, Nova Scotia had more than 28,000 Loyalists including about a thousand slaves and 3,000 Black Loyalists (Native Loyalists were excluded from general musters).
Beyond the British empire, land acquisition was also a huge issue in the settlement of the Black Loyalists and the Black Poor out of Britain and Atlantic Canada to Sierra Leone, Africa, in 1787 and 1792. Promises of land - between five and twenty acres - were given by the Sierra Leone Company to the 1,190 coloured men, women and children from the Black Loyalists community in Canada willing to participate in the British project 'Back to Africa'.
Land was also very much linked to economic concerns, since each Loyalist and their descendants were allowed to request financial compensation from the British government for any loss in the Thirteen Colonies. In the 1784 Land Claim Commission register extending to 1815, 47 Black Loyalists out of thousands of claimants gave lists of their lost properties in America. Consequently, the massive arrivals of new settlers shaped a Loyalist mosaic and participated in creating multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-linguistic societies in the late eighteenth-century British empire.
These documents unquestionably permit a more detailed research of the Loyalist diaspora and the under-studied question of land distribution. Social studies of Loyalists can also encompass these records in order to examine a broader cultural outcome in modern British societies.
18 December 2017
As described in my previous blog Early American Science: Benjamin Franklin, scientific investigation was a central part of eighteenth century philosophical enquiry. A desire to understand the detailed workings of the natural world was not seen to be antithetical to the idea of God the creator, but rather a means of studying and thereby celebrating the infinite variety of his creation. Indeed, far from there being a psychological or theological block on scientific enquiry, it had been institutionally and culturally encouraged since the late 17th century, becoming not only acceptable but also fashionable.
The basic ground rules of this spirit of enquiry are encapsulated in the title of Benjamin Franklin’s ground-breaking work Experiments and Observations on Electricity (London, 1751; shelfmark: 538.l.5.(6)) just as they are in Medical Inquiries and Observations (4 Vols., Philadelphia, 1805; shelfmark MFR/3019 1 Reel 36:1), the most important writings of Franklin’s friend and fellow Philadelphian, Benjamin Rush (1746-1813).
Benjamin Rush: an engraving by James Barton Longacre (1794-1869) from a painting by Thomas Sully (1783-1872). Courtesy Wikipedia.
Like Franklin, Benjamin Rush was a practical empiricist. He became the first professor of chemistry in America (at the age of twenty-two), was the United States’ most eminent contemporary physician, and is still regarded as the father of American psychiatry. And just as many contemporary politicians on both sides of the Atlantic are attempting to unify health and social care, so Rush – himself a politician and a signatory of the Declaration of Independence – saw no divide. He firmly believed that both physical and mental health were intrinsically affected by social conditions and mores, and was a keen advocate of government intervention on a considered basis, akin to the modern practice of nudge theory.
A glance at works written by Rush and listed in Early American Science: A Selective Guide to Materials at the British Library illustrates both the breadth of his interests and the continuing importance of his areas of concern. These include: ‘An account of the state of the body and mind in old age’ in Sir J. Bart Sinclair, The Code of Health etc., Vol. 4 (Edinburgh, 1807; shelfmark 41.d.18); Medical Enquiries and Observations upon the Diseases of the Mind (2nd edition, London, 1789; shelfmark 1039.k.31); An Inquiry into the Influence of Physical Causes upon the Moral Faculty (Philadelphia, 1839; shelfmark 8404.e.33.(2)); A Dissertation on the Spasmodic Asthma of Children (London, 1770; shelfmark T.991.(2)); and An Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits upon the Human Body and Mind (Boston, 1812; shelfmark 1507/278).
Rush was a man of strong opinions and could sometimes be fractious. He certainly did not lack either physical or moral courage. As surgeon general of the army he fought alongside General Washington at the Battle of Princeton, but was later sacked for ‘disloyalty’ after he sought to bypass Washington while attempting to reform the administration of the army’s hospitals.
In this painting by John Trumbull - The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777 - Benjamin Rush can be seen behind George Washington; both are on horseback. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Even more famously, Rush stayed in Philadelphia to treat the sick (including himself) throughout the 1793 yellow fever epidemic that killed one in ten of the city’s population. Indeed, Rush was uniquely influential in the development of medicine in the early years of the Republic. In 1792 he became the first Professor in the Institutes of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. In the following two decades he taught an estimated 3,500 students. His Sixteen Introductory Lectures (shelfmark: X.329/1803) influenced many more after his death and has been republished three times during the past half century. 
A humanitarian, Rush was an active campaigner for penal reform and a lifelong opponent of slavery. His 1773 Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements on the Slavery of Negroes in America (shelfmark MFR/3017 *1* Reel 140:14 140:13) led the next year to the creation of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, the first such institution in America. 
Benjamin Rush, like Benjamin Franklin, is buried in the Christ Church Burial Ground, Philadelphia.
George is an Eccles Centre Makin Fellow at the British Library and author of Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life of America's Founding Father. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2016. (Shelfmark: YD.2016.a.3841).
1. Benjamin Rush, Sixteen Introductory Lectures. Oceanside, N.Y: Dabor Science Publications, 1977. Repr. of the 1811 edition published by Bradford and Innskeep, Philadelphia. (Shelfmark: X.329/18023)
2. Benjamin Rush, Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements on the Slavery of Negroes in America by Benjamin Rush. Philadelphia: J. Dunlap, 1773. (Shelfmark: MFR/3017 *1* Reel 140:14 140:13)
Claire G. Fox, Gordon L. Miller and Jacqueline C. Miller, comps. Benjamin Rush, M.D.: A Bibliographic Guide. Westport, Conn.; London: Greenwood Press, 1996. Shelfmark: 2725.e.3276.
Lyman Butterfield, ed. Letters of Benjamin Rush (2 vols). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1951. Shelfmark: 5577.100000 30(1).
Carl Binger, Revolutionary Doctor: Benjamin Rush, 1746-1813, New York: W.W. Norton, 1966. Shelfmark: 5577.100000 30(1).
04 July 2017
I was fortunate that April was the chosen month for my recent Fellowship at the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, because 13 April is the day when Mr Jefferson’s birthday is warmly celebrated at his home at Monticello. There are speeches, awards, a marching band and even a vast birthday cake. Monticello is open every day of the year bar Christmas Day and runs a host of public events. Two days though are particularly special: 13 April, known as Founder’s Day as it also marks Jefferson’s foundation of the University of Virginia; and, twelve weeks’ later, the Independence Day celebration of 4 July.
Marching band at Monticello celebrating Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, 13 April 2017
Jefferson has long been recognised as the chief and near total author of the Declaration of Independence. It was not always thus. The committee given responsibility for drafting the Declaration was one of five people: John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, Robert Livingston of New York, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut. The resulting Declaration was deemed, at the time, to be a collaborative effort of the five men and Jefferson’s true role was not recognised until the 1790s. It was then revealed that the other four had delegated the drafting to Jefferson and that Adams and Franklin had only seen his work at its final stage. As to their comments, Adams later wrote that ‘I do not now remember that I made or suggested a single alteration’ and Franklin proposed the substitution of just a few alternative words and phrases, although one of these was to prove extremely consequential.
The 1823 William Stone Facsimile version of the Declaration of Independence and the full-size statue of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello (photographed on Jefferson’s birthday)
The multi-talented Benjamin Franklin liked to describe himself as, first and foremost, a printer. That description preceded all others in his last will and testament. Part of Franklin’s success as a printer was that he was his own, brilliant, writer and editor. That brilliance was common knowledge and thus, when Common Sense was first published, it was assumed – as Thomas Jefferson later attested – that ‘Thomas Paine’ was a pseudonym for Benjamin Franklin. Some might therefore wonder why the authorial role for the Declaration was not given to the prestigious Dr Franklin, bearing in mind that he was then the most famous American in the world and a man of extraordinary intellectual ability. It certainly was not because he was debarred from writing the Declaration because others feared he might include a joke! That asinine schoolboy ‘myth’ was not ‘created’ until 1896 and was the result of a humorous article in Harper’s magazine. Franklin himself chose not to take the lead, partly because Jefferson was a Virginian and Franklin believed that a representative from that colony should take charge, but also, more mundanely, because Franklin was not in the best of health. Most importantly, though, it was because Franklin had already seen the quality of Jefferson’s writing in publications such as A Summary View of the Rights of British America.
Like Franklin, Jefferson was not an orator but a master of the written word. Franklin, recognising this, merely suggested a few deft editorial tweaks to the Declaration. One of these small changes was, however, to prove exceptionally significant. Franklin proposed that ‘We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable’ should be replaced by ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident’, and with a remarkable sleight of hand he instantly created the Declaration’s most important and best-known element. This substitution neatly took God out of the equation and created the basis for a secular state based on rationalism rather than religious justification. It was a fundamental change with immediate consequence for America and with future ramifications for the entire world.
Jefferson did not hesitate to take up Franklin’s suggestion. There was a great deal of respect between the two men who had much in common. The age gap of thirty-seven years was easily bridged. Their written reflections of each other show that their mutual admiration was bolstered by affection. Each was an autodidact who had been fascinated from an early age by philosophy and science. As well as being men who had a brilliant command of the written word, they were both inventors, with Franklin, in particular, renowned for the electrical experiments and invention of the lightning conductor that had led Immanuel Kant to describe him as ‘The Prometheus of Modern Times’. Amongst the greatest influences on the young Franklin were Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton and John Locke and he took inspiration from them into his adult life. Indeed, such was Franklin’s respect for Newton that the bust in David Martin’s 1766/7 portrait of Franklin (below) is of Newton.
Benjamin Franklin by David Martin, 1766/7 (White House Art Collection)
Bacon, Newton and Locke were also extremely important influences on Jefferson. The evidence for this can be seen in one glance in the parlour at Monticello. There, in pride of place on one side of the door are portraits of these three great men. They are balanced on the other side by another person who inspired Thomas Jefferson and who deserved to be among such exalted company -- that someone being, of course, none other than Benjamin Franklin.
© Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello. Photograph by Bill Moretz
By George Goodwin, 2017 Eccles Centre Makin Fellow at the British Library
George Goodwin MA FRHistS FRSA, 2017 Eccles Centre Makin Fellow at the British Library, is a 2017 Peter Nicolaisen International Fellow at the Robert H. Smith Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello. He is the author of Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life of America’s Founding Father and Author in Residence at Benjamin Franklin House in London
Further Reading at the British Library
David Armitage, The Declaration of Independence: A Global History (Cambridge, Mass. & London : Harvard University Press, c2007) [YC.2007.a.7862]
Lester J. Cappon, editor, The Adams-Jefferson Letters / the complete correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail and John Adams (Chapel Hill & London, University of North Carolina Press, c1988) [YH.1989.b.258]
Jefferson Looney, editor , [et al], The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Retirement series / J. Jefferson Looney, editor (Princeton & Oxford, Princeton University Press, 2014--) [YC.2005.a.1851 vol. 1 etc.]. See also
Peter S. Onuf, The Mind of Thomas Jefferson (Charlottesville & London , University of Virginia Press, 2007) [YC.2007.a.10052]
Andrew O’Shaughnessy, The Men Who Lost America: British Command during the Revolutionary War and the preservation of the empire (London, One World, 2013) [YC.2013.a.14413]
See also ‘Founders Online’
. “From John Adams to Timothy Pickering, 6 August 1822,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Adams/99-02-02-7674.
 The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, ed. Albert Henry Smyth, X: 493 (New York, Haskell House, 1970) [BL Document Supply A71/4290 vol. 10]
 e.g. Jefferson’s amusement at the story of Abbé Raynal, Benjamin Franklin and Miss Polly Baker’. See: “The Speech of Miss Polly Baker, 15 April 1747,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Franklin/01-03-02-0057. [Original source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 3, January 1, 1745, through June 30, 1750, ed. Leonard W. Labaree. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961, pp. 120–125]
14 June 2017
I recently had the great pleasure of spending time at the George Washington Library at Mount Vernon, where I both researched for my new book on Benjamin Franklin – the subject of my Eccles Centre Makin Fellowship – and contributed some new material to the George Washington Digital Encyclopaedia. Another joy of Mount Vernon is the house tour. This is not just because of the interest of the house itself and the glory of its position overlooking the Potomac, but also due to the warmth of the regard of the American visitors for Mount Vernon’s most distinguished owner. The Americans are proprietorial in the nicest possible way: not nationalistic, but personal. Stories about Washington abound, as they talk of him as a greatly-admired ancestor. That of course, as the “Father of his Country”, is what he is.
Washington is seen as part historic figure and part icon. Emanuel Leutze’s painting ‘Washington Crossing the Delaware’ depicts a general truth above individual details. Certainly, the actual boats used in Washington’s famous river crossing were more steeply sided and higher in the water. The ice in the river did not resemble arctic icebergs and even the men’s clothing was rather different. However, the portrait was painted as a propaganda piece, three quarters of a century after the event, by a German American who hoped that the campaigners for reform in the country of his birth would take inspiration from America’s own liberation. Yet it is the iconic image of Washington that grabs the attention – and rightly so.
The image is iconic because the Washington characteristic that the Leutze portrait conveys so strongly is his leadership. Washington’s solid stance and foot thrust forward dramatically reflect his ability to inspire. He is the still calm centre of the painting, anchoring the frenzied activity of all those moving urgently around him, while serving his and his new nation’s purpose in mounting a hazardous raid following a succession of defeats.
The success of the crossing, and victory in the Battle of Trenton that followed, rekindled belief among the American patriot forces and provided a turning point in the War of Independence. The key to Washington’s success was that he was able to withstand that run of defeats and to appear steadfast until the tide of the war turned, when Benjamin Franklin secured the support of the French and when the Battle of Yorktown was won. The authority Washington gained never left him. It served him well as President of the Constitutional Convention: he was crucial in reconciling the substantial differences between the States. It perhaps latterly served him too well, as he was persuaded to serve a second term as President and reluctantly but dutifully did so.
It is partly that sense of Washington’s authority that accounts for some of the appreciation of him by those visitors to Mount Vernon, but there is more to it than that. Like the Roman general Cincinnatus, he gave up retirement on his farm to take up arms and return to public service once more. Unlike Cincinnatus he was unable to return to private life after a season, but had to wait for more than quarter of a century before he could finally, and gratefully, do so. He thus astounded the European monarchs who expected him to be like them and to die in kingly state. The Cincinnatus story was well-known at the time, hence the foundation of the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization for officers who served in the Revolutionary War, with Washington as its first President. But that was in 1783, well before Washington became President of his nation.
It is perhaps the fact that Washington was determined to limit his power as President that is responsible for his reputation today. This was made clear by his actions, but the key to his approach is outlined in the most precious book in the George Washington Library -- one acquired by the Library at vast cost and added to their already extensive collection of George Washington’s books. It is Washington’s own copy of The Acts of Congress including the United States constitution, marked up with his own notes on what he was empowered and not empowered to do. It is evidence of a very happy conjunction of man and measures and why, both in America and around the world, there are so many statues to Washington and constitutions based on the American model. It is also, of course, an important ongoing guide to executive action for his successors as President.
George Washington’s personal copy of The Acts of Congress containing the US Constitution and his own annotations on the extent and limits of presidential power
The Rare Books Vault at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon with The Acts of Congress in pride of place. The Library, opened in 2013, is centred around the books and legacy of George Washington, every bit as much as the British Library has the Library of George III, Washington’s great opponent, at its centre.
George Goodwin sharing George Washington’s view from the porch at Mount Vernon
George Washington’s annotated version of The Acts of Congress is available online
George Goodwin is the author of Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life of America’s Founding Father (see British Library catalogue) and 2017 Eccles Centre Makin Fellow at the British Library
Further Reading at the British Library:
Douglas Bradburn, The Citizenship Revolution: Politics and the creation of the American Union, 1774-1804 (Charlottesville & London, University of Virginia Press, 2009) [m09/.28708]
Ron Chernow, Washington: A Life (New York, Penguin, 2011; London, Allen Lane, 2010) [YC.2011.a.12554]
Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency, George Washington (New York, Vintage; London, Faber 2005) [YC.2008.a.3908]
Flora Fraser: George & Martha Washington: a Revolutionary Marriage (New York, Knopf; London, Bloomsbury, 2015) [DRT ELD.DS.72252]
John Rhodehamel, George Washington: The Wonder of the Age (New Haven & London, Yale: 2017) (Soon available from Explore.bl.uk )
27 January 2017
Founding Mothers (I): Postage Stamps depicting women’s contributions towards the formation of the United States of America
As state sponsored government art, stamps offer an incredibly rich visual resource for gender studies, a fact most apparent when looking at how women have been commemorated on postage stamps issued by the United States of America. This first article will illustrate some of the stamps depicting women from the earliest British colonial settlements up until the American Revolutionary War. What immediately becomes apparent is that during the course of the twentieth century, the American Postal Authority recognised and honoured the central role women played in the nation’s formative history.
From the very first waves of British migration to the New World during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, women accompanied their husbands and families to form settlements. Some settlements were successful, others less so. The first English child born in the United States was a girl named Virginia Dare, born in August 1587 at the ill-fated “lost” colony of Roanoke in modern Dare County, North Carolina. Since the colony mysteriously vanished soon after her birth, Virginia’s fate is unknown. However, she subsequently became an icon in American folklore and politics being referred to in poems, books, comics and films. Although little is known about Virginia besides her historic birth, she has become famous enough to warrant her own commemorative postage stamp, depicted in Image 1. The stamp portrays Virginia as a baby being cradled by her mother Eleanor with her father Ananias standing close by.
Image 1: United States of America, 18 August 1937 Anniversary of Birth of Virginia Dare, 5c stamp
Women also played a key role in the debates and military campaigns surrounding the American Revolutionary Wars (1775-1783) which resulted in the independence of Britain’s thirteen American settlements from colonial rule and the birth of the United States of America. The founding mother of the United States, Abigail Adams (1744-1818) depicted on the United States Postage stamp in Image 2 was the wife and closest advisor of John Adams (1735-1826), a founding father and Second President of the United States. Her son John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) became the Sixth President of the United States. A member of one of America’s first political dynasties, Abigail was also politically active corresponding on a variety of issues including women’s rights and the abolition of slavery.
Image 2: United States of America, 14 June 1985 Abigail Adams Commemorative, 22c stamp
The first American flag, one of the most iconic symbols of America’s independence and national identity, is also credited to having been made by a woman named Elizabeth Griscom “Betsy” Ross (1752-1836), who presented it to General George Washington in 1776. The presentation of Betsy’s flag to George Washington has been depicted on the United States Postage Stamp issued for the bicentenary of her birth depicted in Image 3
Image 3: United States of America, 2 January 1952, Birth Bicentenary of Betsy Ross (maker of the first American flag), and 3c stamp
Women’s contribution to the supply and production of essential military equipment during the American Revolutionary Wars has also been commemorated on the United States Postage stamp. Image 4 depicts a female seamstress producing military uniforms for Washington’s Continental Army.
Image 4: United States of America, 4 July 1977 American Revolution Bicentennial “Skilled Hands for Independence” issue, 13c stamp
Finally the United States Postage Stamp overprinted “MOLLY PITCHER” depicted in Image 5 was issued in 1928 to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the 1778 Battle of Monmouth. The overprint “Molly Pitcher” refers to a nickname given to Mary Ludwig Hays (1754-1832), she was purported to have provided much needed supplies of water to help keep American cannon from overheating, in addition to loading cannon herself during the battle’s height under heavy enemy fire. Now regarded more as folklore than history, the nom-de-guerre is widely regarded as a symbol representing the brave and selfless acts of heroism and patriotism conducted by countless women during the American Revolutionary War.
Image 5: United States of America, 20 October 1928 2c., carmine stamp overprinted “MOLLY PITCHER.”
Richard Scott Morel
Curator, Philatelic Collections
Source: Images from the British Library, Philatelic Collections UPU Collection
16 November 2016
Have you visited the British Library in Boston Spa yet? Did you know that you can access millions of books, journals and newspapers from the Boston Spa Reading Room? If you live in the north of England, the British Library at Boston Spa may be the most convenient way to view our collections.
Last Friday the Americas Team and the Eccles Centre for American Studies joined forces for a special training session on resources for American Studies at the British Library at Boston Spa.
50 students from the universities of Leeds, Chester, Birmingham, York, Northumbria, Sunderland, Central Lancashire, Sheffield and Dundee, among others, joined us on a misty autumnal morning in North Yorkshire to explore the British Library’s North American holdings.
The British Library at Boston Spa from the sky (we went by train)
The day began with an introduction to the British Library holdings and the history of the American collections within the Library. We had a look at the different catalogues for printed items, manuscripts, and the sound archive, as well as our collection of e-resources. This was followed by a virtual show and tell of highlights in our American collections (take a look at our American Revolution and American Literature in Europe sites to see a few of the items we discussed).
Our day continued with a fascinating presentation about the Boston Spa site and the UK newspaper collections by our colleagues Joanne Cox and David Clayforth, where we heard about how the Library’s different sites and collections have been reconfigured over time. The Eccles Centre’s Fran Fuentes illustrated how the newspaper collections holds vast potential for researchers working in the Americas, and guided students through a case study focussing on holdings of regional US newspapers. This was followed by two parallel sessions: one on resources for the study of American literature, where we looked at the research potential of comparing UK and US editions as well as our wonderful collection of fine press books, and one on US official publications, where Jennie Grimshaw helped students navigate our immense and sometimes challenging collection.
We are hoping to organise a similar training day in 2017 and we will advertise it widely on the blog and our twitter accounts @_Americas and @BL_EcclesCentre. Do let us know if there are any areas in the collections about which you would like to learn more!
Americas and Oceania Collections blog recent posts
- The Revolution Will Be Sexualized
- E-resources: US historic and contemporary newspapers
- Loyalists, Race and Atlantic Canada
- Early American Science: Benjamin Rush
- Franklin and Jefferson – An Understanding that Crossed the Generations
- George Washington’s Legacy of Liberty
- Founding Mothers (I): Postage Stamps depicting women’s contributions towards the formation of the United States of America
- American Studies Training Day in Boston Spa
- Loyalist Lawyers: Exiles from the American Revolution
- Old bits of Trees by Andrea Wulf