In Philadelphia


I was reliably informed that the snow never settles in Philadelphia, but I’ve been here a month and the stuff refuses to shift. Taking up a library fellowship on the east coast in January may not be my smartest move, but I’ve been finding some great material at the Library Company and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. I’m here mostly to read about two transplanted Virginians, William Short and Edward Coles, who served as private secretaries to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison before settling in Philadelphia. Both men pushed their bosses harder than anyone else on the slavery question; one freed his slaves in Illinois, while the other proposed intermarriage as a solution to the ‘race problem’ in the early US; and yet both ended up becoming proud and generous sponsors of the American Colonization Society and the effort to relocate black people in Liberia. What happened to these guys?

I’ll try to answer that question at a talk I’m giving at the Rothermere American Institute in Oxford at 4pm on Tuesday 18th February — if you’re in the neighbourhood, please come along. Meanwhile, I’ve posted one of doodles made by Edward Coles on the evils of slavery. He wrote this while he was working in the White House for Madison during the War of 1812; usually he scribbled his antislavery musings on the back of invitations or envelopes addressed to the president. The CECS Poetry Nerd Prize to anyone who can identify the quotation.

Oh, and I should have said: the fellowship I currently hold is very swanky, only open to non-US researchers, and often awarded to postgraduate students. So if you have any excuse to use the libraries in Philadelphia, here’s more information on how to apply. Deadline 1st March!


One thought on “In Philadelphia

  1. Sounds great Nick! I’ve already had a look at the collections via your link and there’s an amazing amount of material – will a month be long enough?? Perhaps this isn’t a case of casting your hook in the pond where you least expect to catch fish. See what I did there…? : )

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