J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, October 31, 2016

Furstenberg on Washington’s Abolitionist Pamphlets, 2 Nov.

On Wednesday, 2 November, the Boston Athenaeum will host a lecture on one highlight of its collection: George Washington’s library.

As explained on this webpage, a nephew of a nephew of the President sold much of the family library to “a flamboyant American bookseller” named Henry Stevens in 1848.

Stevens tried to sell the collection to the U.S. government, then to Harvard University. With no takers, he began to point out loudly that the British Museum had hired him to buy American books, hinting that it might also want Washington’s library.

About seventy Massachusetts men pooled their money to buy the collection and keep it in the U.S. of A. They never managed to hit Stevens’s asking price after sending their first installment. But he’d spent some of that money and couldn’t send a refund, so he had to compromise and send the books. The group then donated them to the Athenaeum.

The full title for this lecture is “George Washington’s Library at the Athenaeum: Transatlantic Dialogues of Slavery and Freedom.” Here’s the description:
Why might an obscure pamphlet collection housed in the Boston Athenæum archives offer new insights on the abolition movement of the late eighteenth century? It's simple: the tract collection belonged to George Washington. In this lecture, Professor of History François Furstenberg will explore the early history of abolitionist debates from the perspective of book history, using these leaflets to link Mount Vernon to a broad transatlantic conversation about slavery and freedom.
Furstenberg, who grew up in Boston, is author of In the Name of the Father: Washington’s Legacy, Slavery, and the Making of a Nation and When the United States Spoke French: Five Refugees who Shaped a Nation.

Admission to this event costs $15 for Athenaeum members, $30 for others. Advance registration is required. The talk is scheduled from 6:00 to 7:00 P.M., and a reception will follow.

Further lectures in this program, “Rookie Republic: Early America and Its Place on the Global Stage,” will include “Black Pepper: Taste a Revolutionary Story” by Sarah Lohman on 16 November and “Muslims in America since 1619” by Shareda Hosein on 13 December.

(Shown above: Washington’s nicely bound 1790 collection of writings by his former aide de camp and secretary, David Humphreys.)

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