Enfilade

230th Anniversary of Robert Carter’s ‘Deed of Gift’

Posted in anniversaries, the 18th century in the news by Editor on September 6, 2021

Staggered over time, the manumission took decades to complete. A certificate of freedom for one of the freedmen reads, “Dennis Johnston, a Male Negro aged about twenty seven years of dark Complexion five feet ten or eleven inches, stout and well made liberated By Benjamen (sic) Dawson, trustee for Robert Carter by Deed dated the 3rd day of November 1799, and duly recorded in the County Court of Frederick. Registered this 2nd day of February 1809.” (Winchester, Virginia: Stewart Bell Jr. Archives, Handley Regional Library).

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As reported by Eliott McLaughlin for CNN, yesterday was the 230th anniversary of the start of the largest liberation of enslaved people in the United States prior to 1863.

Eliott C. McLaughlin, “Like Washington and Jefferson, He Championed Liberty. Unlike the Founders, He Freed His Slaves,” CNN (5 September 2021).

It was 230 years ago Sunday that Robert Carter III [1728–1804], the patriarch of one of the wealthiest families in Virginia, quietly walked into a Northumberland County courthouse and delivered an airtight legal document announcing his intention to free, or manumit, more than 500 slaves. He titled it the “deed of gift.” It was, by far, experts say, the largest liberation of Black people before the Emancipation Proclamation more than seven decades later.

On September 5, 1791, when Carter delivered his deed, slavery was an institution, a key engine of the new country’s economy. But many slaveholders—including founding fathers George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who knew Carter—had begun to voice doubts. That was the extent of their umbrage. . . .

Today, descendants of both Carter and the men and women he freed say more must be done to propel the largely uncelebrated deed of gift into the national conscience.

Meriwether Gilmore, who grew up in Westmoreland County, where Carter’s Nomini Hall estate once spanned 2,000 acres, is related to Carter on her mother’s side. Her sister is named after his mother and oldest daughter, Priscilla. Her father worked with Black churches in the area to commemorate the deed of gift’s bicentennial in 1991.

“I think the story of Robert Carter III is incredibly important,” she said, “and not just to glorify another rich, White man, but to show how personal convictions can be stronger than the status quo, that doing the right thing is often hard but important and that people matter—that people are more important than the work that they perform.” . . .

A religious wanderer drawn later in life to integrated churches, Carter III was not the first to free his slaves. Others, middle-class Quakers and Baptists among them, had released a few slaves here, a few there, but none rivaled Carter’s deed, which established a schedule to free 511 slaves, starting with the oldest and later their children.

Carter also allowed the freedmen to choose their last names so they could keep families together and pass down wealth. He ensured they had salable skills, arranged for them to buy or lease land, and bought their wares. He also spent a great deal on transporting them from his plantations to the Northumberland courthouse, and on lawyers to guarantee his heirs—some none too happy he was paring their inheritance—didn’t undo his wishes. . . .

The full article is available here»

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As noted in the article, the Nomini Hall Slave Legacy Project works to chronicle the descendants of the enslaved Africans who were freed by Robert Carter III from his Nomini Hall estate.

For Carter’s biography, see Andrew Levy, The First Emancipator: The Forgotten Story of Robert Carter, the Founding Father Who Freed His Slaves (New York: Random House, 2005).

Commodore Collection Now Preserved in Maryland

’30 Dollars Reward’ broadside for a man named Amos, detail, 11 February 1793 (Chesterton, Maryland: Commodore Collection). The full document with more information is available here.

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From The Washington Post:

Michael E. Ruane, “A Maryland attic hid a priceless trove of Black history. Historians and activists saved it from auction,” The Washington Post (28 June 2021). Among the artifacts is an account of escape from enslavement that is among the oldest ever found.

The 200-year-old document was torn and wrinkled. It had stains here and there. And it was sitting on a plastic table in the storeroom of an auction house near the Chester River hamlet of Crumpton, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Historian Adam Goodheart had seen it before, but only in a blurry website photo. Now, here it was in a simple framed box—a wanted poster for “A Negro Man named Amos” who had fled from his enslaver in Queen Anne’s County.

It was chilling. There, on cheap rag paper, was the story of American slavery. Amos was “a smart fellow,” about 20, who might be headed for his mother in Philadelphia. But in 1793 he was the property of one William Price, who wanted him caught.

The poster, or ‘broadside’, was one of hundreds of rare documents discovered earlier this year in the attic of an old house on the Eastern Shore and saved from the auction block by a group of Washington College historians and local Black activists. And the reward poster turned out to be one of the oldest known, said Goodheart, director of the college’s Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience in Chestertown, Maryland . . . .

The full article is available here»

Receipt for the ‘hire’ of an enslaved man, 15 July 1776 (Chesterton, Maryland: Commodore Collection). More information is available here.

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From Sumner Hall:

Sumner Hall is proud to share with our supporters the successful effort to rescue and preserve a significant collection of local records.

“The Commodore Collection of original historical documents on the early experiences of African Americans in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties is a rare find,” according to Dr. Ruth Shoge, First Vice President of Sumner Hall. “The documents, which are intellectually enriching, also evoke an emotional response to the harsh reality of the lives of enslaved and freed Black people in 17th- and 18th-century America,” she continued. “It is very important to Sumner Hall that this collection has been given to us in perpetuity. The ownership of this collection is an honor and, in a special way, a homecoming for the memories of our ancestors. This collection supports our mission of promoting an understanding of the African American experience within the overall context of American history and culture.”

Thanks to the efforts of local Black residents and the Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College, approximately 2,000 pages of documents were purchased from Dixon’s Crumpton Auction this spring. The collection, named after Washington College’s first local Black alumnus, Norris Commodore ’73, will belong to Sumner Hall but is being conserved and archived at the school’s Miller Library. Mr. Commodore, who has deep roots here, gave generously toward the acquisition cost and was joined by the Hedgelawn Foundation, the Kent Cultural Alliance and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The papers are being digitized as a part of the Chesapeake Heartland Project, and several can already be viewed online here.

President of Sumner Hall’s Board of Directors, Larry Wilson, says, “The Commodore Collection is a very meaningful record of African American life and survival. I believe that it is very important to know our history and to learn from the lives of our ancestors as we work together for equal rights, justice and freedom in this county and across the country. We look forward to having exhibits at Sumner Hall based on these materials soon.”

Congo Mango’s bond on behalf of Cato Daws, 31 July 1800. Mango (later known as Congo Mander), a free Black man, purchased Daws in order to grant his freedom (Chesterton, Maryland: Commodore Collection). As noted in the document description, “This small piece of paper opens a window into the life story of a man who was born in Africa, enslaved in Maryland, gained his freedom, and helped others become free. He gave rise to a Black family that can be traced to the present day.” More information is available here.

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Sumner Hall, located in historic Chestertown on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, is one of two existing African American Grand Army of the Republic buildings still standing in the United States. Built circa 1908 and fully restored in 2014, it serves today as a museum, educational site, performance stage, social hall, and gallery. Sumner Hall is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, funded by donations and memberships.

Shaker Museum Scheduled To Open in 2023

Posted in museums, the 18th century in the news by Editor on June 23, 2021

Rendering of the Shaker Museum in the village of Chatham, New York. Selldorf Architects is charged with the design of the $18million museum complex. Renderings are presented alongside select Shaker objects as part of a special pop-up exhibition The Future is a Gift, on view in downtown Chatham through August 29 (Image: Selldorf Architects/Shaker Museum). Additional views are available at The Architect’s Newspaper.

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From The NY Times . . .

Patricia Leigh Brown, “The Shakers Are Movers, Too,” The New York Times (20 June 2021). The country’s most significant collection of Shaker objects, out of public view for a decade, will relocate to an $18 million museum complex designed by Annabelle Selldorf.

In an earlier life, the moribund red brick Victorian at the foot of Main Street in this thriving Columbia County village [of Chatham, NY] had been a sanitarium, a hotel and tavern, a furniture store and an auto dealership. These were the warm-up acts for its latest incarnation: a permanent new home for the Shaker Museum, widely considered the country’s most significant collection of Shaker furniture, objects and archival material. The museum, set to open in 2023 and to include a new addition, is being designed by the architect Annabelle Selldorf, whose current projects include the expansion of The Frick Collection in New York and an addition for The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego La Jolla. . . .

Nelson Byrd Woltz has been tasked to design a Shaker-inspired landscape for the complex, pictured here in the landscape site plan (Nelson Byrd Woltz/Courtesy Shaker Museum).

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The museum’s exhibitions are still in the nascent stages. Maggie Taft, a guest curator, said the permanent exhibition will address the fundamental aspects of Shakerism, which reached its Zenith in the 1840s with 18 villages from Maine to Kentucky, but also the unexpected subtexts. The sect—an international Protestant monastic community—was founded in 1774 by Mother Ann Lee, the charismatic illiterate daughter of an English blacksmith (a swatch of one of her aprons is among the museum’s most prized possessions).

Although the sect was known for gender equality, Ms. Taft noted that women and men were “divided in ways that resembled worldly labor divisions”—with men toiling outside on agriculture and other tasks while the women worked indoors. The exhibition will also explore the different generations of Shakerism, especially the third generation after Mother Ann Lee’s death in 1784, when young women’s ‘encounters’ with her were manifested in drawings and texts thought to be ‘gifts’ from the spirits. . . .

The full article is available here»

Tailor’s counter painted blue, pinewood, ca. 1815
(Shaker Museum)

Napoleon Two Centuries Later

Posted in anniversaries, books, catalogues, exhibitions, the 18th century in the news by Editor on May 10, 2021

Two centuries after his death (the anniversary of which arrived last week on May 5), Napoleon’s legacy remains combustible. From the Musée de l’Armée:

Napoléon n’est plus / Napoleon Is No Nore
Musée de l’Armée Invalides, Paris, 31 March — 31 October 2021

The death of Napoleon I on 5 May 1821—although it went relatively unnoticed in the eyes of the world—was extremely well documented by his companions in exile. Despite the abundance of memories, letters, sketches, relics, and stories, this history nevertheless includes grey areas, uncertainties, contradictions. In this exhibition, we examine the major themes surrounding the death of Napoleon by changing the perspectives. By calling in new scientific disciplines (archaeology, medicine, chemistry) in order to complete already known historical sources and material evidence of this history, the musée de l’Armée provides visitors with all the necessary elements to enable them to conduct the investigation by themselves.

This exhibition is part of the 2021 Napoleon Season organised to celebrate the bicentenary of the Emperor’s death. The musée de l’Armée will present a rich and varied cultural offering evoking the end of Napoleon’s personal adventure, while opening up to the topicality and the current reality of his legacy to the world. . . .

Napoléon n’est plus (Paris: Gallimard, 2021), 296 pages, ISBN: 978-2072931604, 35€.

From the Musée de l’Armée:

Napoleon? Encore!
Musée de l’Armée Invalides, Paris, 7 May 2021 — 13 February 2022

Curated by Éric de Chassey and Julien Voinot

This contemporary art tour evokes the figure of Napoleon as well as his legacy. Thirty contemporary artists received carte blanche to question this symbolic and historical figure.

Echoing the commemorations of the bicentenary of the death of the Emperor, the musée de l’Armée is presenting, for the first time in its history, a contemporary art tour at Les Invalides. The presentation of pre-existing works and specially commissioned orders entrusted to renowned or emerging artists, from France and abroad, evokes the figure of Napoleon as well as the impact of his action in today’s world. Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Napoleon Is No More, the curation of this contemporary tour was entrusted to Éric de Chassey, Director of the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art, and Julien Voinot, Collections Manager in the Department of 19th-Century and Symbolic Art of the musée de l’Armée.

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From The New York Times:

Roger Cohen, “France Battles over Whether to Cancel or Celebrate Napoleon,” The New York Times (5 May 2021). President Emmanuel Macron laid a wreath at the emperor’s tomb on the 200th anniversary of his death, stepping into a national debate over the legacy of Napoleon.

Jacques Chirac couldn’t stand him. Nicolas Sarkozy kept his distance. François Hollande shunned him. But on the 200th anniversary this week of Napoleon Bonaparte’s death, Emmanuel Macron has chosen to do what most recent presidents of France have avoided: honor the man who in 1799 destroyed the nascent French Republic in a putsch.

By choosing to lay a wreath Wednesday at Napoleon’s tomb under the golden dome of Les Invalides, Mr. Macron stepped into the heart of France’s culture wars. Napoleon, always a contested figure, has become a Rorschach test for the French at a moment of tense cultural confrontation.

Was Napoleon a modernizing reformer whose legal code, lycée school system, central bank and centralized administrative framework laid the basis for post-revolutionary France? Or was he a retrograde racist, imperialist, and misogynist?

By paying his respects to Napoleon, Mr. Macron will please a restive French right dreaming of lost glory and of a moment when, under its turbulent emperor, France stood at the center of the world. The French obsession with the romantic epic of Napoleon’s rise and fall is undying, as countless magazine covers and talk shows have underscored in recent weeks. But in the current zeitgeist, Napoleon’s decisive role as founder of the modern French state tends to pale beside his record as colonizer, warmonger and enslaver. . . .

The full article is available here»

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Rendering from Pascal Convert of his Memento Marengo as envisioned at Les Invalides in Paris.

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From Apollo Magazine:

Laura O’Brien, “The Celebrity Horse That’s Putting Napoleon in the Shade,” Apollo Magazine (6 May 2021).

On a cold December day in 1840, Napoleon Bonaparte’s body made its final journey through the streets of Paris for reburial at the Dôme church at Les Invalides. Nineteen years after his death on Saint Helena, on 5 May 1821, the former emperor’s remains had been repatriated to France. The procession to Les Invalides included a lone, riderless white horse. In the emotionally charged atmosphere of that day, some witnesses even believed for a moment that this was the emperor’s most famous mount: Marengo.

Now, 200 years after Napoleon’s death, Bonaparte and Marengo are to be reunited, albeit temporarily. As part of Napoleon? Encore!, an exhibition of contemporary art responding to Napoleon’s image and complex legacies [on view from 7 May 2021 to 13 February 2022], the French multimedia artist Pascal Convert has created Memento Marengo: a life-sized, 3D-printed copy of the skeleton of the Arab horse said to have been Napoleon’s favourite—or one of his favourites, at least. Convert had originally hoped to use the real skeleton, which is usually on display at London’s National Army Museum, but its fragility made this impossible. Memento Marengo will hang from the ceiling of the Dôme church, the equine skeleton suspended a few metres above the enormous red quartzite tomb of its ex-master. On 5 May, President Emmanuel Macron placed a wreath of red, white, and blue flowers at the foot of the tomb, as part of the official commemorations—not celebrations, as the Élysée Palace has carefully insisted—of Napoleon’s death. Memento Marengo was not in place during the solemn ceremonies at Les Invalides, but with these now completed, the artwork can be installed ahead of the planned reopening of the museum later this month. . . .

The full article is available here»

Williamsburg Bray School Initiative Launched

Posted in on site, the 18th century in the news by Editor on February 27, 2021

Established in 1760, the Bray School educated enslaved and free Black children in Williamsburg, Virginia. This 1921 photo shows the front elevation of the building, subsequently the Dudley Digges House, in its original location on Prince George Street. The school operated in the building from 1760 until 1765. It is likely the oldest extant building in the United States dedicated to the education of Black children. (Earl Gregg Swem/2010 The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation).

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Press release from Colonial Williamsburg:

A small, white building tucked away on the William & Mary campus once housed the Williamsburg Bray School, an 18th-century institution dedicated to the education of enslaved and free Black children, researchers have determined. Now, the university and Colonial Williamsburg are working together to ensure current and future generations learn about the complex history of what is likely the oldest extant building in the United States dedicated to the education of Black children—and the stories of those who were part of it. The new partnership calls for relocation of the Bray-Digges House to Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area, where it would become the 89th original structure restored by the foundation. It also establishes the Williamsburg Bray School Initiative, a joint venture of the university and foundation to use the site as a focal point for research, scholarship, and dialogue regarding the complicated story of race, religion, and education in Williamsburg and in America.

Dendrochronology analysis of the building’s wood framing in 2020 by Colonial Williamsburg researchers confirms that the structure at 524 Prince George St. once housed Williamsburg’s Bray School, an institution that educated many of the town’s Black children from 1760 to 1774. Suggested for establishment in Williamsburg by Benjamin Franklin, the Bray School’s mission was to impart Christian education to Black children and for students to accept enslavement as divinely ordained.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam was scheduled to join the Williamsburg community for a special event at 5pm Thursday commemorating the history of the Bray School, its rediscovery, and plans for site and interpretation. Due to COVID-19 guidelines, the event was not open to the general public to attend in person but was available virtually via live stream.

“It is hard to overstate the importance of this discovery, of the robust history that will be uncovered through this partnership between William & Mary and Colonial Williamsburg” said William & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe. “So much of our history as a nation has gone unrecorded—the history of African Americans, their oppression, and resistance. By studying the legacy of the Bray School students, we will uncover and illuminate some of the most important impacts of education in the story of America.”

Colonial Williamsburg’s initial work to restore and interpret the Bray School’s historic structure is possible in part thanks to a grant of $400,000 from the Gladys and Franklin Clark Foundation. Cliff Fleet, president and CEO of Colonial Williamsburg, said the project is a critical step toward fostering a broader understanding of Americans’ shared history. The grant from the Clark Foundation will allow Colonial Williamsburg to relocate the structure to the Historic Area, and additional funds will be raised to complete the restoration and interpretive work.

“Colonial Williamsburg and William & Mary’s partnership to research, restore, and interpret the original structure of the Bray School is critical to our ongoing work to uncover our common past and expand our understanding of America’s founding,” Fleet said. “We’re very grateful to the Clark Foundation, whose generous support makes this effort possible. We invite guests, the community, and the nation to join us as we continue to pursue and present a more complete story of all who lived in Williamsburg during the Revolutionary era.”

A Virginia Department of Historic Resources marker commemorating the school’s 18th-century location was unveiled at Brown Hall, a William & Mary residence hall, in early 2019, and Rowe noted that the new joint venture aligns with other William & Mary initiatives that address the institution’s historical involvement with slavery. Construction is to begin this year on Hearth: Memorial to the Enslaved, a monument dedicated to the enslaved individuals who labored at William & Mary, while the Lemon Project is a scholarly and educational initiative that investigates slavery and its legacies— and particularly William & Mary’s involvement in the practice. The Lemon Project takes its name from Lemon, an enslaved worker at William & Mary.

Jody Allen, the Robert Francis Engs Director of the Lemon Project, explained that the Bray School legacy has long been a part of the Lemon Project’s programming. Identification and engagement of descendants of Bray School scholars are among the priorities of the Williamsburg Bray School Initiative. Allen was recently appointed by Governor Northam to Virginia’s Commission to Study Slavery and Subsequent De Jure and De Facto Racial and Economic Discrimination. She said she expects the Bray School Initiative to allow scholars to follow more closely the intriguing line of evidence of a Bray School education having influence that is deep and wide among Williamsburg’s Black population.

“When we talk about the history of slavery and the history of the African American experience at William & Mary, we include the Bray School,” Allen said. “We believe the Bray School not only impacted the children who actually attended the school, but it impacted their descendants. We believe very strongly that they went on to share their knowledge with brothers, sisters, neighbors.”

William & Mary and Colonial Williamsburg are both neighbors, and frequent collaborators. The Bray School has been the object of numerous research initiatives focusing on archival as well as material-culture sources aimed at expanding the collective understanding of history, including the joint archaeological excavation of the historic Bray-Digges House site at Prince George and Boundary streets. Currently, the university and foundation are partners in work led by the city’s Historic First Baptist Church to research and interpret its first permanent site on South Nassau Street. The Bray School partnership will facilitate continued research and interpretation, and a deeper examination of a number of aspects of history through the lens of the Bray School, including perspectives from families whose children attended the school and the motivations of white slaveowners who sent them there.

“Our knowledge of history is not static; it continues to reveal itself through critical work like the investigation of the Bray-Digges House,” said Stephen Seals, a Colonial Williamsburg interpreter, program development manager and community liaison. “The Bray School represents another complex chapter in our nation’s story, and its restoration and interpretation will be critical to our community’s work to foster a more complete understanding of our shared history.”

Nicole Brown, an actor-interpreter and scholar who portrays Colonial Williamsburg Nation Builder Ann Wager, the white teacher at the Williamsburg Bray School, is also a graduate student in William & Mary’s American Studies Program. Currently, Brown is studying the history and impact of the Bray Schools in Williamsburg and beyond. Her work has taken her to Oxford’s Weston Library, where she dove into some 8,000 pages of records of the Associates of Dr. Bray, the London organization that established or tried to establish Bray Schools throughout the New World in Philadelphia, Nova Scotia, and the Bahamas. Brown’s work with Colonial Williamsburg is supported by the Mary and Donald Gonzales Field Experience Fund.

“This research gave me a great deal of insight into Ann Wager and her students. You can learn a great deal about the school based on the books she used at the school,” Brown said. “Quite frankly, you learn a lot about the pro-slavery ideology of the school when you see how many of the books are extremely rooted in systemic racism.”

Julie Richter, a lecturer in William & Mary’s Department of History and the director of the National Institute of American History & Democracy (NIAHD), itself a partnership of William & Mary and Colonial Williamsburg, said there are surviving student lists from only three years: 1762, 1765, and 1769.

“I’m eternally optimistic that there will be a few more lists that someone will find in time,” Richter said. “But right now, we have these three slices in time to try to tease out what students were at the school and who sent them.”

Brown and Richter said slaveowners had varied motivations for enrolling enslaved children. Literacy and math skill increased the auction value of any enslaved individual, while Brown pointed out that a Bray School education increased a person’s usefulness to the slaveowner, in particular one who operated a commercial establishment. Students likely also had varying intentions for use of their education, often in direct contradiction with their owners’, Brown noted.

The first dots establishing the Bray-Digges link were unearthed and connected by Terry Meyers, Chancellor Professor of English, Emeritus, at William & Mary. Meyers was reading a memoir by a local resident when he came across a reference to an 18th-century cottage that in 1930 had been moved down Prince George Street from the corner of Prince George and North Boundary streets. He visited Colonial Williamsburg’s John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, where there was a file on the building.

“From that, I was able to go back and look at what is now 524 Prince George St.,” Meyers said. “And I realized that if you look at that structure and erase the two additions on the right and the left and change the roofline from a Dutch colonial roof to a proper cottage roof, you actually do have an 18th-century cottage.”

Researchers led by Matt Webster, Colonial Williamsburg’s executive director of architectural preservation and research, discovered the reconfigured roof line that Meyers had noticed and a window sash that dates to the original construction date.

“Our analysis of the structure’s oldest elements conclusively places the timber’s harvest between the winter of 1759–60 and the spring of 1760, with the establishment of the Williamsburg Bray School in 1760,” Webster said. “That, combined with existing evidence of the Bray School’s historical location on Prince George Street, makes a compelling case that this is the original structure, and the building still has a great deal more to teach us.”

Meyers found that the Bray School operated in the Digges building from its 1760 founding until 1765, when the school was moved, possibly out to Capitol Landing Road.

Meyers noted that “education is almost invariably subversive.” Like Allen, he said there is evidence that students at the Bray School took their literacy skills back home and spread them around.

“If you are taught to read the Bible,” Meyers said. “you will be able to read other things. Once you educate people, they are better equipped to think critically.”

The timeframe for relocation of the Bray-Digges building is yet to be determined, and Colonial Williamsburg and William & Mary are considering a number of potential sites. The building most recently housed offices for William & Mary’s Department of Military Science and has been known as Prince George House.

ASECS Repudiates Report of 1776 Advisory Commission

Posted in the 18th century in the news, today in light of the 18th century by Editor on January 28, 2021

This statement repudiating the “1776 Report”—which was released by the Trump Administration on 18 January 2021—was approved by the ASECS Executive Board on 22 January 2021. The statement follows the condemnation offered by the American Historical Association (AHA), which was signed by 42 organizations, including the College Art Association. As Tina Nguyen reports for Politico (19 January 2021), the “1776 Report” appears to contain multiple instances of self-plagiarism from prior texts by commission members Thomas Lindsay and Matthew Spalding, including direct quotes left unacknowledged in the document (the report includes neither a bibliography nor notes of any kind). HECAA is an affiliate society of both ASECS and CAA.

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The American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies stands in solidarity with other academic organizations that condemn the Trump Administration’s “1776 Report,” issued on January 18, 2021. We reject the report’s caricature of the transformative period of American and global history that we study. The report proffers a facile myth of cardboard great men creating a Utopian nation and fails to represent the fullness, the complexity, and, critically, the failures of the American experiment in instituting Enlightenment philosophical ideals.

We decry in particular the following distortions and falsehoods:

Government: The report ignores the ways in which the American experiment in republican form of government emerged in crisis and conflict and disagreement in 1776 and 1789. Those events—winning independence from the British Empire and founding a new federal republic on principles of liberty and equality—seeded the new nation with democratic ways of mediating conflict and negotiating difference. This enabled the early reform movements like Abolition and Women’s suffrage.

Religion: The report advances the false belief that the Founding established a “common American morality” by promoting religious faith and revelation as components of political discourse. The Founders did not fuse but separated church and state.

Slavery: We deplore the report’s minimization of slavery’s role in the formation of our nation and the creation of its wealth and power in the modern world. It ignores the role of racism in perpetuating slavery, as well as slavery’s persistent effects in American society today. We reject the false characterization of the Founders as uniformly opposed to slavery; of course, many prominent Founders owned slaves and enshrined slavery in the Constitution.

Indigenous First Nations: We denounce the glaring omission from the report of any mention of indigenous peoples, as well as the failure to acknowledge the oppression, violence, and erasure done to our First Nations, who, as the report evidences, continue to be banished from our collective history.

We support the decision by the new administration inaugurated on January 20, 2021, to remove this report from the White House website and to dissolve the 1776 Commission. The rejection of the report by the new administration, however, has not prevented other institutions from posting it on their websites, and the false narrative that it promotes may still be exploited.

The history of the United States is often a painful one. Rather than ignore or underplay its dark side, we hope that future scholars will interrogate comforting narratives of America’s greatness and replace them with a clear-eyed understanding of our history in all its complexity. Our wish can be summed up in the words of Amanda Gorman: “It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit, it’s the past we step into and how we repair it.”

London to Re-Site Statues of Two Politicians Tied to Slave Trade

Posted in the 18th century in the news by Editor on January 24, 2021

Left: Replica of a statue by Louis-François Roubiliac of Sir John Cass (1661–1718), original from 1751. As noted in the Wikipedia entry on the statue, the original bronze sculpture “stood for many years on Aldgate High Street, before being relocated to the John Cass Institute in Jewry Street in 1869. The statue was finally relocated to the Guildhall in 1980.” Right: John Francis Moore, Statue of William Beckford (1709–1770), 1772 (London: Guildhall).

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As widely reported, including in this piece by Tessa Solomon for ARTnews (22 January 2021). . .

The City of London Corporation, which manages London’s historic center and financial hub, has voted to remove two monuments to British politicians linked to the transatlantic slave trade. The statue of William Beckford, a two-time mayor of London who made his fortune in plantations in Jamaica in the late 1700s, will reportedly be re-sited and replaced with a new work. The monument to Sir John Cass, a 17th-century member of Parliament, philanthropist, and merchant who profited from the Royal African Company, a major force in the slave economy, will be returned to the Sir John Cass Foundation. His name has already been stripped from the City University of London’s business school. . . .

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For the decision in light of a forthcoming UK government policy aimed at safeguarding historic monuments, see Gareth Harris’s article for The Art Newspaper (22 January 2021). Pushed by Boris Johnson, the new policy goes in to effect in March.

Both statues were discussed over thirteen years ago in this essay by Madge Dresser, “Set in Stone? Statues and Slavery in London,” History Workshop Journal 64.1 (Autumn 2007): 162–99, the abstract of which opens as follows: “This article examines public monuments in London and their relationship to slavery and abolition, a topic that has attracted remarkably little empirical research.”

AWA’s Conservation of Ferroni’s Pair of Hospital Paintings

Posted in the 18th century in the news, today in light of the 18th century by Editor on January 4, 2021

An aerial view of conservators in their studio with Saint John of God Heals Plague Victims (1756) by Violante Ferroni; its pendant Saint John of God Feeds the Poor is also being conserved. Photo by Francesco Cacchiani / Advancing Women Artists.

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On Saturday, Sylvia Poggioli reported for NPR on the work of AWA (Advancing Women Artists), including the conservation now in progress of Violante Ferroni’s two large oval canvases, painted for Florence’s San Giovanni di Dio, a former hospital founded in the fourteenth century: “‘Where Are The Women?’: Uncovering The Lost Works of Female Renaissance Artists,” NPR Weekend Edition (2 January 2021). Last month, Alexandra Kiely wrote on Ferroni’s pictures for Daily Art Magazine: “Healing Violante Ferroni’s Paintings at San Giovanni di Dio Hospital.” And the latest issue of the AWA newsletter includes an interview with conservator Elizabeth Wicks, who in the May issue shared these thoughts:

Elizabeth Wicks, “‘The Art of Healing’ Becomes Literal” Inside AWA (May 2020): 54–59.

In October 2019, we began conservation work on the first painting of our project ‘The Art of Healing’, Violante Ferroni’s large oval canvas painted in 1756 and entitled St. John of God Heals Victims of the Plague. . . When we learned that the monumental atrium of the former hospital where the painting is situated had been used as a place of triage for plague victims, it seemed like a calamity from a faraway era, disconnected from our more fortunate present-day lives. Now that we are fighting a global war against a virus, defined as a ‘modern-day plague’, my connection to the figures in the painting has become a deeply emotional one. I have never been surer about the power of art to connect and heal us all (54).

A conversation with AWA director Linda Falcone and Elisabeth Wicks is available on YouTube: “Restoration Conversations: Art Rescue in Progress” The Florentine (13 November 2020).

Conservator Elisabeth Wicks at work in her studio in Florence. Photo by Francesco Cacchiani / AWA 

Turner on the Twenty, Replacing Adam Smith

Posted in the 18th century in the news by Editor on March 12, 2020

As reported several weeks ago by Simon Read for BBC News (20 February 2020) . . .

You’ll soon no longer find Adam Smith in your wallet or purse. The economist has been replaced as the face of the £20 note by artist JMW Turner. . . . It includes two see-through windows and a two colour foil to help beat forgers. . . . The new £20 is the third plastic banknote to be issued by the Bank of England after the fiver featuring Winston Churchill—launched in 2016—and the tenner featuring Jane Austen, which was first issued in 2017. It replaces the paper one featuring Adam Smith which has been in circulation since 2007.

The portrait is based on Turner’s ca. 1799 Self-Portrait now part of the Tate Collection.

Site of Cook’s ‘Endeavour’ Likely Identified

Posted in the 18th century in the news by Editor on September 21, 2018

HM Bark Endeavour Replica in Darling Harbour, Sydney
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons, 30 September 2013)

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As reported by Matthew Knott for The Sydney Morning Herald (19 September 2018) . . .

Marine archaeologists believe they have finally identified the resting place of HMB Endeavour, the ship James Cook commanded to Australia on his first voyage of discovery, an achievement that would solve one of the greatest maritime mysteries of all time.

The breakthrough has raised hopes the remains of the vessel will be excavated next year, in time for the 250th anniversary of Cook’s arrival in Australia. The ship is historically significant to many countries—including the US, Britain, New Zealand and Australia—and its excavation could spark a battle over where the wreckage should be housed. The Rhode Island state government claimed official ownership of the fleet of shipwrecks including Endeavour in 1999, suggesting Australian officials would have to negotiate for any remnants to be brought to Australia.

The breakthrough, to be officially announced on Friday, follows an arduous 25-year search for the historic ship off Newport, Rhode Island, on the north-eastern coast of the US. . .

The full article is available here»