“Always remember to explore all the books 2 feet to the left and 2 feet to the right. Those books will be in the same classification scheme, and we might find our answer in one of them.” —Sally Hambrick, Library of Congress
You may recall that when I was guest speaker at The Charleston Library Society on August 8, 2013, I called my presentation “Solving Colonial Charleston’s Biggest Literary Mystery.” The title said it all: I was there to share my work on the pseudonymous “Humourist” essays that had appeared initially in The South Carolina Gazette (1753-1754, now published and made available here, in my Blog, for the first time since then) and to announce the author—the man– who up until then had been Colonial Charleston’s biggest literary mystery.
I confess: I was thrilled to disclose that I had solved Colonial Charleston’s biggest literary mystery—that I had discovered the author of these important and unique American essays: Colonial Charlestonian, Alexander Gordon, Esq., Clerk of His Majesty’s Council.
Aside from the joy of solving the mystery, I noted in the presentation two other joys that I believe all researchers share.
The first joy relates to something that I have done throughout this authorship study: giving the essays what is called a “close-reading.” This is an ancient method, going all the way back to Roman literary critic Quintilian. The Humourist himself would be delighted because he, too, was familiar with Quintilian, quoted him on at least one occasion, and knew the value of paying attention to language and all of its details! That’s what I’ve been doing all along the way: paying attention to details—cataloging them, if you will, and cross referencing them to establish patterns.
The second joy relates to a lesson taught me by Sally Hambrick—librarian, mentor, friend—when I first started working at the Library of Congress. Sally and I were both editors of The National Union Catalog, Pre-1956 Imprints, and our task sometimes involved trying to establish authorship for works that appeared under titles only or that appeared under pseudonyms. Our research often took us into the library stacks. When we found the book that we were looking for, Sally would look at me and say, “Always remember to explore all the books 2 feet to the left and 2 feet to the right. Those books will be in the same classification scheme, and we might find our answer in one of them.” We looked, and, without fail, we found answers!
It was from that research perspective that I kept exploring The South Carolina Gazette—beyond April 9, 1754, when The Humourist announced that he would never more “(either under this or any other Title, or on any Pretence, or on any Occasion whatsoever) enter the Lists of Authorism in this Province.” I kept looking two feet to the left and two feet to the right, if you will.
It was through that process of looking—of exploring—that I discovered an obituary that made me sit up and take notice. It was through that process of exploring—of believing that if I kept looking I would find something—that I hit pay dirt. All of the clues—all the patterns—that I had found in “The Humourist” essays lined up perfectly with everything that I was to find out about the ingenious Alexander Gordon, Esq., Clerk of His Majesty’s Council, whose obituary I had stumbled upon.
I have continued my research on Alexander Gordon, and I have continued to focus on those two approaches: giving all of the background sources that I am exploring a “close reading” and looking two feet to the left and two feet to the right when conducting my research.
I have been 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. As I noted last fall, 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 might have received “at home” as they started their journey to the New World.
Today, I will share highlights of the press coverage that I have uncovered in those “musty old newspapers” as Alexander Gordon and James Glen made their way to the New World—to Colonial Charleston, South Carolina. (Their journeys are intertwined, obviously, since Gordon served as Secretary to Governor Glen and since Gordon served as Clerk of His Majesty’s Council during most of the time that Glen served as Governor.)
Let me hasten to add, at this point, that my literary study of “The Humourist” essays and of Alexander Gordon does not require me to go this slow, tedious research route at all. To be certain I could get Governor Glen and Alexander Gordon to America ever so quickly simply by relying on official documents, simply by relying on what is known already, simply by relying on facts.
I could share with you, for example, the fact that James Glen was appointed Royal Governor of South Carolina in 1738, but he negotiated the terms of the appointment for the next five years and did not arrive in Charleston until 1743.
Or, I could share with you the fact that on June 13, 1740, Alexander Gordon was appointed to be John Hammerton’s deputy “to hold, execute and exercise the office of Clerk of his Majesty’s honorable Council in the said Province of So. Carolina, and, in my place and stead to be present at all Meetings of the Governor and Council of the said Province, when met in Council and of the said Council when met in General Assembly, & to keep exact Registers or Journals of all their Proceedings, Acts & Orders.”
To be certain, those facts are important ones, but they are not nearly as interesting as the information—and, indeed, sometimes misinformation—that I discovered in my ramblings through the musty old newspapers of the period!
The September 16, 1738 Newcastle Courant, for example, announced—somewhat erroneously—Governor Glen’s appointment:
We hear that his Majesty has been pleased to appoint Capt. Alexander Glynn, a native of North Britain, to be Governor of South Carolina, in the Room of Col. Samuel Horsey, deceased.
News traveled slowly to the colonies, and it was not until April 26, 1739, that The South Carolina Gazette announced the new governor, including the incorrect first name and the misspelled last name!
Charles-Town, April 12
By Capt. John Gerald who arrived here this Week from London, we hear, that on or about the Twenty-fifth Day of December last, Capt. Alexander Glynn kissed his Majesty’s Hand on his being appointed Governour of this Province in the Room of the late Coll. Samuel Horsey deceased.
Several weeks later—May 12, 1739—The South Carolina Gazette ran a correction: “In a late Article relating to a new Governor we inserted my Mistake Capt. Alex Glynn for James Glen Esq; which Error the Reader is desired to correct.”
In the meantime, Alexander Gordon was beginning to enter the picture and the press in terms of his own appointment. Interestingly enough, the press included some misinformation in its announcement as well by placing Gordon in North Carolina rather than in South Carolina:
Mr. Gordon has resigned the Place of Secretary to the Society for Encouragement of Learning, he being appointed one of his Majesty’s Council in North Carolina. ‘Tis thought he will be succeeded by Dr. Mortimer, F.R.S. etc. (Caledonian Mercury, March 13, 1739)
(With an annual salary of £50, Gordon had been appointed secretary to the Society in 1736. The Society’s goal was to work for and support authors who were finding difficulties with book publishers in getting their books published.)
The next mention of Gordon appears in the February 12, 1741, Caledonian Mercury, where his name appears in a list of those who learned shorthand under the direction of Thomas Cumming from London:
Thomas Cumming from London, at the Hand and Pen, opposite the Cross, Southside of the Street, Edinburgh, Continues to teach the excellent and useful Art of Stenography, in the most easy and expeditious Method; by which any who tolerably write Long-hand may be taught to take down from the Speaker’s Mouth any Sermon, Lecture, Speech, Trial, etc.
We whose Names are under written having been taught by Mr. Cumming in his New Method of Short Hand, Do in Justice to him, Attest That his Method may be learned in the Time he advertiseth and that by an ordinary Capacity, viz. in one Week at the rate of two Hours every Day. And that it is also our Opinion, they may, by a little Practice, arrive at a great Perfection in the Science.
Charles Hope-Weir of Craigiehall.
James Geddes of Kirkurd, Advocate.
William Kirkpatrick, One of the Principal Clerks of Session.
Robert Pringle, Advocate.
James Home, Writer to the Signet.
John Sinclair, Writer in Edinburgh.
James Armour junior, Student in Physick in the College of Edinburgh.
Robert Clark, Son to John Clark, M.D.
Hobel Smith junior.
Alex Fairlie of Fairlie.
Alex. Gordon, Writer in Edinburgh.
John Erskine of Balgouny junior, Advocate.
John Erskine, Baillie of Alloa.
James Erskine, Sone to the King’s Advocate.
Capt. Thomas Hillary.
Obviously, by learning shorthand, Gordon felt that he was readying himself to serve as Secretary to Governor Glen and to serve as Clerk of His Majesty’s Council.
Public notice of Gordon’s appointment to serve as Secretary to Governor Glen came on July 1, 1741. Under “Preferments,” The Scots Magazine listed, “Mr. Gordon, Secretary to James Glen., Esq; Governor of South Carolina.”
The South Carolina Gazette picked up on the news in a Supplement to its November 7, 1741, paper:
London, July 28. Mr. Gordon is appointed Secretary to James Glenn [sic], Esq; Governor of South-Carolina.
As of this post, I have not been able to determine the exact date that Alexander Gordon arrived in Charleston.
Some accounts suggest that Alexander Gordon and James Glen set sail to the New World together, but that cannot be the case, since, as we will see, Governor Glen did not arrive in South Carolina until December 1743.
Gordon, on the other hand, had established residence in Charleston at least as early as 1742 and was serving as Clerk of His Majesty’s Council. On March 20, 1742, The South Carolina Gazette printed a notice authorized by Gordon as Clerk of the Council:
Notice is hereby given that a new Magazine is to be built in the same Manner, but one 5th larger than the present Magazine near St. Philip’s Church. Any Person or Persons who are willing to undertake the same are desired to give in their Proposals to the Clerk of his Majesty’s Council, on or before the first Tuesday in April next.
Alexander Gordon, C.C.
N.B. I shall receive Proposals at my House next Door to Mr. Alexander Smith’s the Upper End of Tradd street.
Throughout the remainder of 1742, various Council documents appear in The South Carolina Gazette certified by Alex. Gordon, Clerk of Council.
Eventually, Alexander Gordon’s patron—the new Royal Governor of South Carolina—reached Charleston on December 17, 1743. As soon as the ship came to anchor, Gordon—along with the Master in Chancery—were the first sent on board “to wait on his Excellency, and to shew him a proper Place of Landing”:
Charles-Town, Dec, 19.
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 Wharff. 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 talking the usual Oaths, 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.
As for me, my day has concluded with joy as well for having taken the time to ramble through those musty old newspapers, for having taken the time to explore all the books 2 feet to the left and 2 feet to the right, and for believing—no, for knowing— that in so doing I will find answers!