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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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

“Speechless in the face of its errors of fact”

In a discussion of sources and previous studies on page 297 of Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North, C. S. Manegold wrote:

By contrast, the almost bizarre piece, “An ‘Animadversion’ upon a ‘Complaint’ against ‘the Petition’ of Belinda, an African Slave,” by Vincent Carretta, published in Early American Literature in 1997, left me literally speechless in the face of its errors of fact (he posits that Isaac Royall was “an American invention” cooked up as a “slur against the avariciousness, Jewishness, and royalist sympathies of the ‘master’”). I can only say here, what was he thinking?
In fact, those phrases come from a previous paper by E. W. Pitcher that Carretta was quoting and refuting. Carretta’s two-page communication in the journal explained that Royall was a well-documented Medford slaveholder, and that Belinda’s original petition is preserved in the Massachusetts state archives. He stated, “The written account of Belinda’s petition [that the previous author doubted] is almost certainly fictionalized, but that does not render Belinda and her petition fictions.”

Criticizing someone for saying something he was actually quoting to debunk—that’s the sort of thing Mitt Romney does. Except I think Manegold made an honest mistake.

In fact, the previous paper was itself a response to an earlier paper by Joanne Braxton and Sharon M. Harris, so there were multiple levels to keep straight. For the record, this posting is my response to Manegold’s response to Carretta’s response to Pitcher’s response to Braxton and Harris.


Jen said...

I need a map.

Joanq said...

I'm confused!