Category Archives: Biography

First Folio, the book that gave us Shakespeare: On tour from the Folger Shakespeare Library in 2016

Guest post by Stephen H.Grant

Johns Hopkins University Press released Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger on the Ides of March in 2014, the 450th anniversary of the Bard’s birth.  In 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the most famous and valuable Shakespeare volume––the 1623 First Folio––is on tour to all 50 American states plus Washington DC and Puerto Rico.  Eighteen of the 82 copies of the First Folio that Henry Folger purchased are traveling. The institutional hosts were selected after a competitive process marked by 140 inquiries, 101 completed applications, and winning proposals from 23 museums, 20 universities, five public libraries, three historical societies, and one theater. The University of Notre Dame in Indiana opened the First Folio tour on January 4, 2016 and The Parthenon in Nashville, Tennessee will close the tour on January 2, 2017. This link to the Folger gives the information about where and when the rare volume will be displayed.

The tour is an ambitious, complicated, and unprecedented project, made possible in part through the sponsorship of the National Endowment for the Humanities and Google.org. The Folger Library’s partners in organizing it are the Cincinnati Museum Center and the American Library Association.

Grant feb Image 1 First Folio Open

A 1623 Shakespeare First Folio open to the title-page and Ben Jonson’s preface.

What is a folio? The word “folio” is a printer’s term, referring to the size of the page, approximately 9 by 13 inches. (A folio-size paper folded in half, is called a “quarto.”) When Shakespeare’s plays were printed individually, they appeared in quarto. When all his plays were posthumously published, they appeared in folio. The First Folio of 1623 is the sole source for half of Shakespeare’s dramatic production. Eighteen of his plays (including Macbeth, Julius Caesar, The Tempest, and As You Like It) had never been printed before and would probably be unknown today without this early compilation. They were offered to the public unbound, with pages uncut. Due to the large-size format of the volume, and the quality of the handmade sheets of rag paper imported from northern France, the sales price was high for the times. While attending the play cost one shilling six pence; the cost of this prestigious book was one pound (twenty shillings), or the equivalent of buying forty loaves of bread. By comparison, Sotheby’s in London sold a First Folio in 2006 for 2.8 million pounds, or the equivalent of buying 125 new automobiles.

Grant Feb Image 2 To Be Speech

A 1623 Shakespeare First Folio open to the Hamlet soliloquy, “To be or not to be.” At every location on the tour, the First Folio will be open to this page.

The First Folio is the most coveted secular book in the English language and one of the most important books in the world. Shakespearean scholars consider it to be the most authentic version of the Bard’s dramatic output. The original print run was about 750 copies. Only 233 copies of the First Folio are known to exist today. Why did Mr. Folger seek to acquire as many copies as he could? Every hand-printed book is unique. In the 17th century, with hand-set type, sometimes a letter wore out and was replaced. Spelling was not standardized. As many as nine typesetters or compositors worked on the First Folio in the printing shop with idiosyncrasies such that experts can identify which compositor worked on which copy. Many of the copies have marginalia (words, phrases, poems, drawings) added in the margins by avid readers over the centuries. Some assertive readers considered that they could improve upon the Bard’s English and crossed out his words and inserted their own!


STEVE’S FIRST FOLIO TOUR

I will next report on the First Folio tour after speaking at two events in Santa Fe later this month. My major Folger talks for the remainder of this year are:

New Mexico Museum of Art Talk Friday, Feb. 19, 2016 at 2 PM
http://media.museumofnewmexico.org/events.php?action=detail&eventID=2685

Reception by Friends of the Santa Fe Public Library, Feb. 20, 2016 5:30 – 7:30 PM
http://www.santafelibraryfriends.org/SpecialEvents.html

Stanford University Book Store Talk Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016 at 6 PM
https://events.stanford.edu/events/572/57263/

Marin County Book Passage Talk Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016 at 7:00 PM
http://www.bookpassage.com/event/stephen-grant-collecting-shakespeare

The Homestead, Hot Springs, Va. Talk Saturday, Mar. 12 at 4 PM
http://www.omnihotels.com/hotels/homestead-virginia/things-to-do/event-calendar?trumbaEmbed=view%3Devent%26eventid%3D117806472

San Diego Public Library Talk Wednesday, June 22, 2016 at 6:30 PM
330 Park Blvd
San Diego, CA 92101

San Francisco Public Library Talk Thursday, June 23, 2016 at 6 PM
Main Library Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin St.
San Francisco, CA 94102


grant.collectingStephen H. Grant is the author of Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folgerpublished by Johns Hopkins University Press. He is a senior fellow at the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training and the author of Peter Strickland: New London Shipmaster, Boston Merchant, First Consul to Senegal.

Use promo code “HDPD” to receive a 30% discount when you order your copy of Collecting Shakespeare.

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Thomas Edison: Measuring the days of an extraordinary life

Guest post by Louis Carlat

“There is no such thing in anyone’s life as an unimportant day,” said American essayist Alexander Woollcott. Anything might happen. But of course, some days turn out to be more important than others. With the publication of its eighth volume, the Thomas Edison papers project has gone through the record of nearly 15,000 of the famous inventor’s days on Earth, some 50,000 documents. Having covered close to half the man’s life, we’ve published 3,127 of those records and crossed the halfway point in the planned series of volumes of his papers. What have we learned?

Edison 8 frontispiece

Plaster bust of Thomas Edison, made in Italy by American-born sculptor Longworth Powers in 1886.  Edison was born on February 11, 1847.

Anyone who’s followed the paper trail—letters, photos, clippings—of a parent or grandparent has mused on the connections between the stuff in hand and the breathing life that created it all. In the case of Edison, the amount of stuff accumulated over his eighty-four years is enormous. His life was exceptional not only for its ambitions and accomplishments but also for the detail in which he (and others) recorded it. There are shelves full of letters, telegrams, and notebooks, of course, but also grocery lists, receipts, contracts, architectural drawings, and the odd party invitation; in short, nearly anything you can imagine putting on paper. We’ve seen the drafts written in blinding haste, furious crossouts, meandering doodles, snatches of Shakespearean verse, and the phonetic spelling of a highly literate man who sometimes wrote the words as he heard them pulsing through his head.

The documents open a window onto American life. As unusual and privileged as Edison’s life was, they reveal him not simply as a lionized (or reviled) inventor but as a man fitting as best he could into the world of his day. He was a node in the networks of countless less famous people whose paths he crossed, whose lives we can glimpse through his. There are the skilled immigrant craftsmen in his shops, the Irish servant girls in his home, the doctors who delivered his children and tended his first wife, the undertaker who buried her, and the florist who delivered flowers to her grave (until he remarried). Not to mention hundreds of aspiring inventors, advice-seekers, and would-be hangers-on wanting to ride Edison’s coattails. All named and described, as best we can, through painstaking research.

Not the isolated genius of storybooks, Edison had an ecology of relationships that defined his work and life. Long before anyone used the term emotional intelligence, he had the ability to form strong connections with men who could help him as assistants, colleagues, or mentors. A beguiling storyteller, he had warmth and something we would now call charisma—a quality that drew men to him with intense loyalty. He also had persistence and an infectious confidence that, by mid-life, were souring into obstinance and arrogance that drove some of them away. His legendary devotion to work came with a disregard for his family’s emotional needs that seems reckless, even by the standards of his day.

No one better embodied the American enthusiasm for inventiveness and entrepreneurship than Edison. The iconic incandescent light bulb is still a staple of children’s books and social studies curricula, even as that hot globe of glass becomes a museum piece. The phonograph was the first device for recording and playing back sound. Coming like the proverbial bolt from the blue, it launched Edison into worldwide fame as the “Wizard of Menlo Park.” It promised a form of immortality to anyone able to impress his or her voice onto a small cylinder for the ages. The phonograph drew to his laboratory flocks of reporters whom Edison would welcome back to write up for insatiable readers his latest work in electric lighting or whatever he happened to be doing. Edison designed the things but depended on wide networks to elevate them to the status of “inventions.” He had model makers, draftsmen, and lawyers to get them through the Patent Office; financiers, agents, friendly reporters, more lawyers, and at least one notorious political fixer to bring them to buyers. He personified America beyond its shores, as he cultivated close business ties in Great Britain and continental Europe, especially, but also Asia and through the Americas.

The act of inventing is a close cousin to other forms of intellectual or artistic creativity, and it was a stream of ideas, more than anything else, that defined Edison’s restless days and filled his pages. He thought with his fingers in the act of drawing and writing. He had “innumerable machines in my mind,” as he put it, and he poured them onto paper. Browsing his notebooks now, a reader can imagine the mechanisms in motion, clattering in the head of the increasingly deaf inventor. Sometimes the stream became a torrent: dozens of ways to attain the same motion or effect, and long lists of materials to experiment with. There were lists even on the honeymoon with his second wife: experiments and things to make, from the practical (lamp filaments) to the fanciful (a “Larynaxial piano”). His mind was fecund, in the ornate language of his day; in the more clinical view of our time, he can seem manic.

As editors, we get to see it all with sometimes spine-tingling intimacy. But despite the sheer volume of information and our best research efforts, we have questions. Like where did all those ideas come from? Sometimes we can name a source, like the conversation that sparked Edison’s interest in electric lighting. Or a passage in Michael Faraday’s Experimental Researches, which he re-read repeatedly. Oftentimes it’s not clear. Edison read widely and took dozens of technical and scientific journals. He had networks of business and scientific contacts, men (always men) willing to share information; one rival claimed that the Patent Office had “leaks” that flowed in his direction.

Even 50,000 documents can’t capture 15,000 days full of life. Sometimes we don’t even know what city Edison was in, much less what an assistant or rival might have told him, or the tone he used with his wife. In Edison’s days, as in our own, we expect the unexpected. No day is unimportant, and anything can happen.

edisonpapers#8Louis Carlat is an associate editor of the Thomas A. Edison Papers Project at Rutgers University.  Along with Paul B. Israel, director and general editor; Theresa M. Collins, associate editor; Alexandra R. Rimer and Daniel J. Weeks, assistant editors; he is part of the editorial team that recently completed volume 8 of The Papers of Thomas A. Edison: New Beginnings, January 1885–December 1887.

 

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Rebecca Seib and Mott Greene speak at the Johns Hopkins Club, November 3 & 4

Next week, JHU Press will host two special programs in our lunch and lecture series at the Johns Hopkins Club on the university’s Homewood campus. Descriptions are below, along with links to more information about the books and authors. Reservations are required, and the cost is $20 per person for each lunch and talk. Books will be for sale before and after the programs, and the authors will be signing copies. Hopkins Club members may contact the Club to make a reservation; non-members may arrange to attend by contacting Jack Holmes at JHU Press at 410-516-6928 or jmh@press.jhu.edu.


seibMDHSNovember 3 / 12:30 p.m.
Lunch & Lecture: “Indians of Southern Maryland
with MdHS author Rebecca Seib

An important new book from the Maryland Historical Society Press tells the story of Southern Maryland’s Native people from the end of the Ice Age to the present. Rebecca Seib, a cultural anthropologist and one of the book’s authors, joins us to explore this remarkable history of human and environmental change, adaptation and survival, and the surprising truths beyond the stereotypes.

Read more about the book here. Rebecca’s coauthor, Helen Rountree, discussed the book on WYPR earlier this year.

Rebecca Seib is an applied anthropologist and has worked with Indian people throughout the United States for over 30 years. She has assisted Indian communities in rebuilding their economies in a culturally appropriate manner.


greeneNovember 4 / 12:30 p.m.
Lunch & Lecture: “Alfred Wegener: Science, Exploration, and the Theory of Continental Drift
with JHU Press author Mott Greene

Written with great immediacy and descriptive skill, Mott Greene’s new biography of Alfred Wegener is a powerful portrait of the scientist who discovered continental drift and pioneered the modern notion of unified Earth science. Wegener deserves to be much better known, and Prof. Greene (a MacArthur fellow and award-winning historian of science) joins us to tell a fascinating story of a wonderfully adventurous life and the ongoing impact of one of the great minds of modern science.

Read more about the book and watch a video with Mott here. Read an amazing review of the book in the journal Nature.

Mott T. Greene is an affiliate professor of earth and space sciences at the University of Washington and John Magee Professor of Science and Values emeritus at the University of Puget Sound. He is the author of Geology in the Nineteenth Century: Changing View of a Changing World and Natural Knowledge in Preclassical Antiquity.

 

 

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Filed under American History, Biography, Book talks, Cultural Studies, History of science, Regional-Chesapeake Bay

Book trailer: Mott Greene on his new biography of Alfred Wegener

Alfred Wegener is the greatest scientist you’ve never heard of. The author of the theory of continental drift—one of the key scientific concepts of the past century and the direct ancestor of the modern theory of plate tectonics—Wegener also made major contributions to geology, geophysics, astronomy, geodesy, atmospheric physics, meteorology, and glaciology. So why isn’t he better known?

This month, JHU Press publishes a new biography—the only complete account of the scientist’s fascinating life and work—that restores Wegener to the pantheon of modern science and caps the career of award-winning historian Mott Greene. A rave early review in the journal Nature calls the book “a magnificent, definitive, and indefatigable tribute to an indefatigable man” and notes that “Greene beautifully puts the record straight with a portrait of Wegener as a respected ‘cosmic physicist.’ ” Read the full review here. And view the book trailer below to hear Mott Greene discuss Alfred Wegener: Science, Exploration, and the Theory of Continental Drift, a landmark work that has clearly been a labor of love.



greeneMott T. Greene is an affiliate professor of earth and space sciences at the University of Washington and John Magee Professor of Science and Values emeritus at the University of Puget Sound. He is the author of Alfred Wegener: Science, Exploration, and the Theory of Continental Drift, Geology in the Nineteenth Century: Changing View of a Changing World, and Natural Knowledge in Preclassical Antiquity.

Use promo code “HDPD” to receive a 30% discount when you order your copy of Alfred Wegener.

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Filed under Biography, General Science, History, History of science

Happy Birthday, Henry Clay Folger!

Guest post by Stephen H. Grant

Here are three things to remember about Henry Clay Folger on his 158th birthday, June 18, 2015.

One. The most astounding single fact about Henry Clay Folger (1857–1930) is that he made his way to the very top of two distinct lines of endeavor. From 1879 to 1928 he climbed the ranks at Standard Oil Company from statistical clerk at age 22 to CEO of the largest, most successful petroleum business on the planet. AND he assembled the largest collection of Shakespeare items in the world. His doctor of letters degree from Amherst College cites “his services in the affairs of a great empire of industry whose produce is on every sea and its light on all lands and for his knowledge in the most important field known in English literature.” John D. Rockefeller sent Folger this wry message: “I congratulate you upon receiving the degree, and that your connection with a great and useful business organization did not detract from your high standing.” Even more to Folger’s credit was that he was not born into wealth. He needed a loan from classmates to complete his college education.Folger 1 Signed Folger PortraitTwo. Henry Folger’s most erudite, persistent, and successful bookseller, Dr. A. S. W. (Abraham Simon Wolf) Rosenbach of Philadelphia, called Folger “the most consistent book collector I’ve ever known.” What he meant by that phrase was that Folger kept his eyes on the prize. Folger bought virtually anything and everything by or associated with Shakespeare that he could acquire–as long as the price was right. Folger drove a hard bargain, such as insisting on ten percent discount when he paid with ready cash. Corresponding with 600 book dealers, 150 in London alone, Folger shared with them why he rejected a book offer or sent it back upon examination. Many times it was because the item was not “Shakespearean enough.” He was training them to go out and seek more and better items for his library.

Evidence of Henry’s consistency appears even in how he held a book. The above portraits produced 67 years apart reveal his loving two-handed grasp.

Three. Henry Folger was a very private man. He kept no diary, gave only one interview. His postcards home while on a business trip out west sent from “Henry Clay Folger” to his wife “EJF” revealed “All in fine health and spirits.” He used shorthand for many personal notes. He signed his book cables “GOLFER.” He bought property without his name appearing on the deeds. He entreated his booksellers not to divulge what he paid for his antiquarian book purchases. His greatest glee was keeping from the world how many First Folios he owned.

Only with family and close friends did Henry open up a little. Emily described her husband this way. “Not an exuberant personality, Henry always was reticent and possibly shy by nature.”

Lawrence (Larry) Fraser Abbott and Walter (Crit) Hayden Crittenden were two Amherst chums he confided in. They had done the same things Henry had: won a prize in oratory, written for the student newspaper, sung in a fraternity quartet, earned a law degree. Crit wrote, “Mr. Folger was by nature a very shy man, almost bashful. He avoided all possible meetings and conventions, or in fact any form of gatherings, due to his shyness. It was therefore the privilege of but a few to know him intimately.” H.C. wrote to Larry, “I presume no one is better informed than I am about the value of Shakespeare literature.” Folger would not have shared that claim with just anyone. Only with Herbert Putnam, Librarian of Congress, did he share–the year he died–that he wondered if he would have his biography written some day.

grant.collectingStephen H. Grant is the author of Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folgerpublished by Johns Hopkins. He is a senior fellow at the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training and the author of Peter Strickland: New London Shipmaster, Boston Merchant, First Consul to Senegal.

 

 

 

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Happy birthday, Emily Jordan Folger

Guest post by Stephen H. Grant

Emily Jordan was born in Ironton, Ohio on May 15, 1858. Following her two older sisters to Vassar College, she emerged a bluestocking: a refined lady with intellectual, scholarly, and literary interests. Emily’s Vassar 1879 class of 36 students elected her class president for life. Although her undergraduate scrapbook attests to a few dates with nearby West Pointers, she met her husband to be in Brooklyn at a literary salon in the home of Charles Pratt, founder of the Pratt Institute. Henry Folger also graduated in 1879, from Amherst College, where he roomed with Charles Pratt Jr. Both Emily and Henry earned Phi Beta Kappa keys. Neither Emily’s nor Henry’s parents attended college.

Emily Jordan, 1879

Emily Jordan, 1879

Emily took one of the few jobs open to young women, teaching. She taught in the collegiate department at the Nassau Institute—Miss Hotchkiss’s school for young ladies—in Brooklyn. When she married Henry in 1885, she was obliged to give up her teaching job. For the next half century, Emily served as a full partner in one of the most prodigious literary feats of all time: assembling the largest collection of Shakespeare in the world.

Henry Folger corresponded with 600 booksellers, 150 in London alone. The underground vault of the Folger Shakespeare Library contains 258 linear feet of auction catalogs which arrived at Henry’s office, 26 Broadway in Manhattan, home of the Standard Oil Company where he worked for five decades. When he brought the catalogs home to Emily in their Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstone, her job was to identify the items she wanted in their collection. Henry put together a bid list, and paid for the winning lots from his oil fortune. Then Emily wrote up each item for the card catalog, developing writer’s cramp along the way.

A childless couple, the Folgers were singlemindedly devoted to the Bard. They received family only twice a year: Thanksgiving and January 1. Nieces remember that on these sparse occasions, their aunt expected them to recite poetry and rewarded them with a book with a five-dollar bill tucked inside. The Folgers attended no social events nor hosted any business dinners. When they went on vacation in Virginia, they lugged a special travel card catalog around with them. On their numerous voyages to England, they attended Shakespeare performances, went book hunting, and brought back poppy seeds from Stratford-upon-Avon.

Emily was a close adviser to her husband in the acquisition of eighty-two Shakespeare First Folios, the 1623 compilation of thirty-six plays, eighteen of which might have been lost to the world as they had not been printed. Emily had earned a masters degree at Vassar with a thesis on “The True Text of Shakespeare,” pointing to the 1623 publication as the most authoritative edition of the plays. Emily kept a fascinating play diary, where she wrote pages and pages of detail concerning the 125 Shakespeare plays she saw in her lifetime.

In 1919, the Folgers started buying up the fourteen redbrick rowhouses two blocks from the U.S. Capitol on land they had identified for a permanent repository for their Shakespeare collection. Each of the deeds noted Emily Jordan Folger as owner. She also held in her name bank vault and storage warehouse accounts where they stored books, manuscripts, playbills, prints, engravings, paintings, pieces of furniture, porcelain, armor, maps, charts, phonograph records, costumes, globes, musical instruments, and curios. Henry stayed beneath the radar.

In the late 1920s the Folgers continued their aggressive buying of Shakespeare items, but made the time to help design what would become the Folger Shakespeare Library with French-born architect, Paul Philippe Cret. They selected quotations to be etched in stone. They identified scenes from Shakespeare’s plays for relief sculptures on the library façade.

Emily Jordan Folger, 1931

Emily Jordan Folger, 1931

It was Emily’s Day on April 23, 1932, the 368th celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday, when, wearing a shoulder corsage of orchids, and lilies of the valley over her academic robe, she turned over the keys of the Folger Shakespeare Library to the chairman of the board of Amherst College, who was responsible for the administration of the Folger. Henry was not present. He had died suddenly two weeks after the cornerstone was laid. He had never seen one stone of his library. He had never seen all his books and Shakespeare treasures assembled together under one roof. Seamlessly, Emily took over the mantle to make the research library a reality. She died in 1936. The Folgers’ ashes are in urns behind a bronze plaque in the reading room. The Folger is a library, a theatre, and a mausoleum.

grant.collectingStephen H. Grant is the author of Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folgerpublished by Johns Hopkins. He is a senior fellow at the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training and the author of Peter Strickland: New London Shipmaster, Boston Merchant, First Consul to Senegal.

 

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Filed under American History, Biography, Libraries, Shakespeare, Washington, Women's History

The Press Reads: Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County

Guest post by David F. Allmendinger Jr.

allmendingerpostedIn August 1831, in Southampton County, Virginia, Nat Turner led a bloody uprising that took the lives of some fifty-five white people—men, women, and children—shocking the South. Nearly as many black people perished in the rebellion and its aftermath. Our recent book by David F. Allmendinger Jr. presents important new evidence about the violence and the community in which it took place, shedding light on the insurgents and victims and reinterpreting the most important account of that event, The Confessions of Nat Turner.  Throughout Black History Month, we will offer a series of excerpts from recent publications, and today we are pleased to begin with Allmendinger’s thoughtful look at this history in Nat Turner and the Rising in Southampton County.

From Chapter One: A History of Motives

“I must go back to the days of my infancy, and even before I was born.” —Nat Turner, The Confessions of Nat Turner

Of all the accounts that appeared in 1831, only the memoir within The Confessions of Nat Turner advanced the notion that the rebellion leader’s motives had a history. No previous account had linked so many events in Nat Turner’s life to specific points in the past: 2 October 1800; the year 1803 or 1804; around 1809; about 1821; exactly 1825; around 1826; 12 May 1828; and early 1830. The level of detail in itself suggested authenticity. Not every incident was dated or placed in proper sequence, but an emphasis on the importance of time infused the account and the sensibility that produced it.

Turner dictated this portion of his confession in the jail on 1 November, during his first long interview with Thomas R. Gray. In the pamphlet’s introduction, Gray claimed that the prisoner had spoken voluntarily, even expansively. He claimed, moreover, to have recorded the statement in Turner’s voice (except for material in parentheses, footnotes, or clearly marked exchanges) “with little or no variation from his own words.” But Gray was a novice at such devices. He intruded as early as the fourth sentence of the memoir, coloring the prisoner’s remarks about the “enthusiasm” that had “terminated so fatally to many,” for which he, the prisoner, was about to “atone at the gallows.” The intrusions raised doubt. And there were other difficulties: Gray was the sole witness to the statement and the sole keeper of the document, much of whose content would prove difficult to verify; by late November, when The Confessions of Nat Turner was published, the source had been hanged. Still, there are signs that Gray managed to convey more fully than he realized the substance of what the chief insurgent said.

The account begins with a stilted salutation. “Sir,” says the prisoner, “You have asked me to give a history of the motives which induced me to undertake the late insurrection, as you call it—To do so I must go back to the days of my infancy, and even before I was born.” In that voice, according to the only record of what was said, Turner commenced a review of events that had occurred long before August 1831. The memoir proper, 2,055 words in length, covered five full pages in the original pamphlet. Turner told Gray he had been born “the property of Benj. Turner of this county,” and that he was thirty-one years old on 2 October, thereby establishing the year of his birth. His father, mother, and grandmother (whose names he did not provide) appeared in his earliest memories of childhood, when all three had lived at Benjamin Turner’s plantation, before his father ran away. Nat Turner recalled three incidents that must have occurred between 1803 and 1808 at his master’s house in the Cross Keys neighborhood of St. Luke’s Parish. Together, these incidents gave rise at the time to a belief that he was exceptional, destined for “some great purpose,” he said, and later to a feeling that destiny had been thwarted.

The germ of rebellion had formed by his twenty- first year. The memoir’s  account of its origin came to this: Turner once had believed that because of his unusual intelligence his masters might offer him special treatment, perhaps in the form of freedom, which would lead to some great purpose. In time, his masters proved disappointing.

David F. Allmendinger Jr. is professor emeritus of history at the University of Delaware. He is the author of Paupers and Scholars: The Transformation of Student Life in Nineteenth-Century New England and Ruffin: Family and Reform in the Old South.

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Filed under African American Studies, American History, American Studies, Biography