Time to dig in to those musty old papers! — Dr. Christopher Coutts, Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs (Lord Fairfax Community College)
When my college president, Dr. Cheryl Thompson-Stacy, emailed our Lord Fairfax Community College family on April 30, 2012, that I had been selected as a VCCS Chancellor’s Professor (2012-2014), one of my colleagues and staunch supporters who knew all about my project emailed me immediately, “Time to dig in to those musty old papers!”
Yes, indeed! That is exactly what I have been doing for the last year or so, and, now that I have identified Alexander Gordon as the author of The Humourist essays, I’m digging even deeper into historical documents. As I shared with you in my September 5 post:
Right now, I am feeling compelled to write the South Carolina chapter of Alexander Gordon’s life. So, for now, I plan to return to the South Carolina Gazette to discover everything that I can about Gordon from his arrival in South Carolina until his death in 1754. I need to write this chapter in his life. No, I must do so—if not me, who? And I shall do so.
The task will not be an easy one since I will have to read the South Carolina Gazette on microfilm, but, I am blessed to be able to do so!
Please, join me here, as I share with you the highlights of Alexander Gordon’s life in Colonial South Carolina!
Since that post, I have been working diligently to discover and piece together the details of Alexander Gordon’s life from the time that he arrived in South Carolina until his death in 1754. I have only touched the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, but I am eager to start sharing my findings with you all.
As it turns out, I continue to dig into old newspapers but they are not musty at all. In fact, they are digital! How wonderful, technology! Emily Dickinson wrote in one of her poems, “There is no frigate like a book / To take us lands away.” Today she might well write, “There is no frigate like the Internet / To take us lands away.” How true!
So, for right now, I’m being transported (via the Internet) past place and past time, using digitized versions of The South Carolina Gazette as well as digitized versions of some eighteenth century newspapers published in Scotland and England. I’m pursuing the Scotland/England angle because as I started to find information in The South Carolina Gazette about Alexander Gordon and his patron, James Glen (Governor of South Carolina, 1738-1756), I started wondering what kind of press coverage the two of them received “at home” as they started their journey to the New World.
I’ve found a lot! But where do I begin? And what shall I share?
I am tempted to begin with September 11, 1739, when “his Majesty’s Royal Commission passed the Great Seal, appointing James Glen, Esq., to be Governor and Commander in and Over his Majesty’s Province of South-Carolina in America” (Stamford Mercury, September 13, 1739).
But I think not.
Instead I am tempted to begin with December 19, 1743, when the news broke that Glen had arrived finally in South Carolina:
Last Saturday arrived here in the Tartar Man of War commanded by Captain Ward, his Excellency James Glen, Esq; Captain General, Governor and Commander in Chief of this Province, and Vice-Admiral of the same. Upon a Signal of Five Guns being discharged at Fort-Johnson, the Charles-Town Regiment was drawn up under Arms upon the Bay, extending in Two Lines facing one another from the Council-Chamber to Gibbs’s wharfs. His Excellency in passing by Fort-Johnson, was saluted by the Guns of that Fort; and when the Ship came before the Town, by the Guns also at Granville’s, Craven’s, and Broughton’s Batteries. As soon as she came to an Anchor, the Clerk of the Council and Master in Chancery having been first sent on board, to wait on his Excellency, and to shew him a proper Place of Landing, she was afterwards received at the Landing, by the Honourable Edmond Atkin and Charles Pinckney, Esqrs as Members of his Majesty’s Hon. Council who conducted his Excellency through the two Lines of [one word illegible] to the Council-Chamber, to his Honour the Lieutenant Governor attended by the Rest of the Members of Council then on the Spot; His Excellency having there produced his Majesty’s said Commission, he was conducted by them, the Sword of State being carried before, and attended by the Honourable the Commons House, and many Officers and other Gentlemen of Distinction, to Granville’s Bastion, where the same was published in due Form, which was followed by Three Whirras, a Discharge of the Cannon at the Bastions, and a general Volley of the Regiment. Then his Excellency, attended by all the Gentlemen present, marched back in like Manner, to the Council-Chamber, being saluted as he passed by all the Officers of the Regiment. And having there qualified himself to act by taking the usual Cloths, and the Regiment being drawn up as before in Broad-street, his Excellency attended again in the same Manner walked to Mr. Shepheard’s Tavern, where a handsome Entertainment was provided for him, and a numerous Company concluded the Day with Joy, the House being handsomely illuminated (South Carolina Gazette).
Again, however, I think not.
Okay. I’ve got it. I’ll start with Glen’s first speech to the General Assembly, carrying the newspaper headline:
The SPEECH of his Excellency JAMES GLEN, Esq; Captain General, Governor, and Commander in Chief, in and over the Province of South-Carolina, delivered to our Houses of Assembly, on Wednesday the eleventh Day of January, 1743-4, in the Council-Chamber.
Once again, though, I think not. The speech is too long to serve my purposes right now, and, more important, our principal player here—Alexander Gordon—played a behind-the scenes role as Clerk of His Majesty’s Council.
So I won’t begin with any of the above temptations, important as they are. I will save those nuggets for a later post.
What I will begin with, then, is the very first notice of Alexander Gordon that I have been able to find in my journey through the “musty,” digitized versions of newspapers published in Scotland and England.
It appeared in the Caledonian Mercury on December 24, 1724:
This Day are Published,
Proposals, for Printing by Subscription, ITINERARIUM SEPTENTRIONALE: or, A Journey over the greatest Part of the Kingdom of Scotland, and most northerly Parts of England; in One Volume, Folio, divided into three Parts: The First to contain an Account and Description of all the Monuments of Roman Antiquity, that have been found, and are to be seen in the North Parts of the Island. The 2nd, A Description of the most remarkable Monuments of Pictish and Danish Antiquity; together with the other valuable Curiosities of Art that are in Scotland. The 3rd, An Account of all the Curiosities of fine Taste that have been brought from Italy and elsewhere, to be seen in the Collections of the Curious in that Part of the Island. By ALEXANDER GORDON, Citizen of Aberdeen. Subscriptions are taken in at John’s and the Exchange Coffee-houses, Edinburgh.
I am intrigued because the description of the book in the newspaper proposal is brand new to me and different from the book’s 1726 actual title page:
Itinerarium Septentrionale: or, a Journey Thro’ most of the COUNTIES of SCOTLAND, and Those in the NORTH OF ENGLAND.
In Two PARTS.
PART I. Containing an Account of all the MONUMENTS of ROMAN ANTIQUITY found and collected in that Journey and exhibited in order to illustrate the Roman History in those Parts of Britain, from the first Invasion by Julius Caesar, till Julius Agricola’s March into Caledonia, in the Reign of Vespasian. And thence more fully to their last abandoning the Island, in the Reign of Theodosius Junior. With a particular Description of the ROMAN WALLS in Cumberland, Northumberland, AND Scotland. Then different Stations, Watch-Towers, Turrets, Exploratory Castles, Height, Breadth, and all their other Dimensions; taken by an actual Geometrical Survey from Sea to Sea with all the Altars and Inscriptions found on them. As also a View of the several Places of Encampment, made by the Romans, their Castles, Military Ways, etc.
PART II. An Account of the DANISH INVASIONS on SCOTLAND, and of the Monuments erected there, on the different Defeats of that People. With other curious REMAINS of ANTIQUITY, Never before communicated to the Publick.
What’s missing on the published book’s title page is the 3rd part announced in the proposal: “An Account of all the Curiosities of fine Taste that have been brought from Italy and elsewhere, to be seen in the Collections of the Curious in that Part of the Island.”
That it didn’t appear in the published book is neither here nor there in terms of the work that I am doing with Alexander Gordon and his Humourist essays. What made me sit up and take notice were the words Curious and Taste. In the Humourist essays, Gordon uses the word Curious twice and the word Taste or Tastes seven times. Sometimes the words are used together and sometimes, even, in the context of discussing art! This certainly helps strength my identification of Gordon as the author of the Humourist essays.
But let me hasten back to those musty, digitized newspapers and my early findings there!
To my joy, I discovered that when Itinerarium Septentrionale was published in 1726, Alexander Gordon received Royal attention:
Edinburgh, August 22. Several persons of Distinction, etc. are gone hence to meet their Graces the Duke and Dutchess of Athol, who are expected in Town this Night.
We hear that Mr. Alexander Gordon, Author of the Book entitul’d Itinerarium Septentrionale, had the Honour to present their Royal Highnesses with his Book, and was very graciously received; and for his future Encouragement, were please to subscribe to his Proposals for the Maps he designs to publish of the Roman Walls in Britain. That Gentleman is shortly expected in Scotland, to illustrate a Project which will greatly redound to the Advantage of Trade and Navigation in Britain (Caledonian Mercury, August 22, 1726).
And three years later when Gordon published his History of Pope Alexander VI and Caesar Borgia, he received even greater Royal attention:
Monday last Mr. Alexander Gordon, Author of the Itinerarium Septentrionale, presented his new History of Pope Alexander VI and Caesar Borgia, to the King and Queen, was very graciously received, and had the Honour to kiss their Majesties Hands; and on Tuesday he presented the said book to the Prince, and had the Honour to kiss his R. Highness’s Hands also (Caledonian Mercury, March 27, 1729).
How truly wonderful that Gordon’s early—and, let me hasten to add, important—scholarly works were of such high caliber and of such historical significance that British Royalty took notice and favoured him.