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Publications Overview


Benjamin Franklin and the “Wagon Affair” of 1755
By Alan Houston

This article presents edited transcriptions of nearly fifty previously unknown letters by, to, and about Benjamin Franklin. All date from the spring and summer of 1755 and focus on Franklin’s efforts to obtain horses, wagons, and supplies for Edward Braddock’s campaign against Fort Duquesne. Though Braddock and hundreds of his soldiers were killed in the ill-fated offensive, Franklin took pride in his contributions to the imperial war effort. In official documents he invoked Braddock’s praise to defend the reputation of the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly. And in his Autobiography, Franklin rehearsed his own contributions to the wagon affair in detail, referring at one point to a “Quire Book of Letters written during this Transaction.” This document collection is the first published record of those letters. It introduces new Franklin correspondents and dramatically adds to existing correspondence with men including Braddock, William Shirley Jr., and William Franklin. In so doing it furnishes a wealth of new details that affect modern understanding of Benjamin Franklin, the wagon affair, and Pennsylvania politics on the eve of the Seven Years’ War.

A “Plain, Rejected Little Flock” : The Politics of Martyrological Self-Fashioning among Pennsylvania’s German Peace Churches, 1739–65
By Jan Stievermann

During the middle decades of the eighteenth century, Pennsylvania’s German Peace Churches produced a plethora of texts that celebrated the ideal of nonresistant martyrdom, ranging from political tracts and shorter devotional writings to several monumental works, such as the 1748 High German edition of the Martyrer-Spiegel (The Martyrs Mirror). The cross-denominational mobilization and reinterpretation of the historical memory about pacifist martyrs contributed significantly to the growth of an ecumenical group consciousness among Mennonites, Amish, Dunkers, Moravians, and Schwenkfelders who not only felt physically threatened by warfare but also feared a violation of their essential beliefs in the form of coercive militia acts. Harnessed by religious leaders and journalists, such as Christoph Saur, this communal self-fashioning as Christ’s suffering witnesses was instrumental in rallying the German-speaking pacifist groups to resist Pennsylvania’s militarization and to withstand the pressure to integrate themselves into an English-dominated society ever more intolerant of conscientious objectors as it was being drawn into Britain’s imperial wars. Their shared language of martyrdom helped the German Peace Churches to define themselves collectively as a doubly marginal ethnoreligious minority within the colony at large and vis-à-vis their increasingly antagonistic Lutheran and Reformed compatriots. If the ideal of meek suffering for Christ at least partly counteracted the pull of ethnic solidarity, it also challenged the racialized solidarity of English and many church Germans against the Indians.

Elizabeth Whitman’ s Disappearance and Her “Disappointment”
By Bryan Waterman

This article examines the circulation of the most important American seduction narrative from the 1780s—that of Elizabeth Whitman, thirty-seven-year-old daughter of a respected Hartford family, a well-connected poet, and prototype of the heroine in Hannah Webster Foster’s The Coquette (1797)—to understand better the relationship between such stories, their mediation in print, and the gendered dimensions of the new nation’s information culture. In contrast to the conventional wisdom that the entire New England press and pulpit bore down on her, Whitman’s story unfolded in just three distinct waves of original commentary followed by small flurries of regional reprintings. Each reveals an eagerness to convert the story into moral lectures, but the moral remained subject to dispute as readers differed on the role that Whitman’s female, and poetic, sensibility played in her seduction. Whitman’s headstone, its epitaph, and nineteenth-century accounts of its gradual destruction by relic seekers reveal ways in which her story figured in debates about reading, writing, and female sensibility that persisted long after her death, making it clear that this popular story, in its multiple forms, served cultural purposes that extended far beyond the local politics of the founding era.

The Legal Structure of Colonial Rule during the French Revolution
By Miranda Spieler

This article investigates the legal relationship between the metropolitan French state and Atlantic colonies during the French Revolution. It examines the repertoire of legal devices that developed in this period for the purpose of setting the colonial empire out of reach of French rights declarations and constitutions. Between the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789) and the 1799 coup d’état of Napoleon Bonaparte, revolutionary legislators drew on a range of obstructionist legal tactics that would define the empire as an anomalous space beyond reach of legal norms of the New Regime. Before the 1794 emancipation decree, metropolitan legislators used the law to reconcile the new French rights culture with the persistence of slavery overseas. After the 1794 decree, metropolitan legislators obstructed the extension to imperial territory of legal structures that were known to be foundational to French civic practice. By moving between France and the colonies, the author suggests that these obstructionist tactics had a considerable effect on colonial experience by withholding elementary juridical and administrative institutions from overseas territory and by authorizing despotic modes of imperial governance.

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