Looking to September

Though it’s the height of summer, here at the offices of NEQ we’re wrapping up our September issue. As Editor Linda Smith Rhoads illustrates in the editorial that will preface the issue, it is filled with essays that uncover forgotten New England artifacts, events, and personalities, making it the perfect accompaniment to those darkening, memory-evoking autumn nights. We hope this glimpse of our upcoming issue will help our readers look forward to the fall as much as we are!


I think of the current number of The New England Quarterly as our Lost and Found issue. You will learn about maps being misplaced, accomplishments being forgotten, events being effaced from landscapes, books being found but their import being lost, borrowings overtaking originality, and intentions vanishing in the return to tradition. Our authors recover what has gone missing.

Paul Cohen traces the fates of seven copies of Abel Buell’s 1784 map of the United States. If history has a price, $2 million has captured the attention of bibliographers, collectors, and librarians, who in the earlier part of the previous century dismembered, sold off, miscataloged, and mistreated the first map of the United States created by a U.S. citizen. Indeed, one copy of Buell’s map was had for a paltry 86¢ in 1915. Cohen’s tale is as thrilling as it is cautionary, a story of shifting institutional priorities, economic realities, and the perils of insufficient recordkeeping. It is also a remembrance of one restless and hapless early American genius.

Craig Brown, Victor Mastone, and Christopher Maio have patiently and systematically recovered and retraced the progress of the Battle of Chelsea Creek, a provincial offensive that predates the Battle of Bunker Hill. Unlike Lexington and Concord or Bunker Hill, no memorial signifies that here our ancestors held their ground to defend American liberties. Conducted under the cover of night, the maneuver had few eyewitnesses. The plaques that once dotted the battlefield have been stolen, and the terrain on which it lay has been consumed by the urban sprawl of Boston’s East End, Chelsea, and Revere. But with the aid of current technology and a return to the extant record, the “forgotten” battle has been returned to its rightful place in the chronology of the American Revolution.

In July 1766, John Adams noted in his diary that his clerk had brought a “curious Volume” to his attention, a “Collection of Pamphlets published in the memorable Year 1640,” from which he recorded twenty-nine titles. The particular book Adams held in his hands has been lost, but the individual pamphlets he listed form a bridge from his revolutionary moment (the Stamp Act Crisis still fresh in his mind) to events that prompted New England’s puritan emigrants to flee their native land. Detailing objections to ministerial corruption, church government, and ecclesiastical conformity, the pamphlets, Michelle Orihel observes, offer an occasion for reflecting on how the puritan experience of tyranny may have shaped eighteenth-century colonial opposition to British imperial authority, especially in New England.

In August 1758, Benjamin Mecom, Benjamin Franklin’s nephew, published “A Letter from Father Abraham.” Despite the family connection, editors and authors have been reluctant to attribute the publication definitively to Franklin. Kevin Slack has carefully reconstructed the piece, including its extensive borrowings, to give readers the fullest possible criteria on which to base their decision. And finally, Laurie Hochstetler outlines changing matrimonial practices in pre-Revolutionary Massachusetts, concluding, surprisingly, that a return to Anglican traditions actually signaled colonial solidarity and a reinvigorated Puritan piety, a subtle social rebuke of the Crown and its church.


We learned this week that our longtime editor Edmund S. Morgan has died at the age of ninety-seven. Serving on the editorial board since 1948 and as an erstwhile judge for the Walter Muir Whitehill Contest, he has dispensed his wisdom with grace and a fervent desire to encourage the rising generation of historians. Through a remarkable chain of influence, he has mentored a number of our editors and authors, who have gone on, in turn, to mentor others. We mourn his loss and celebrate his life. An In Memoriam will appear in our December 2013 issue.

Anna and I would like to thank Stephanie Rojas, who offered invaluable support this summer as NEQ’s first editorial intern.

 —Linda Smith Rhoads


About Anna K Williams

Editorial Assistant for The New England Quarterly
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