Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

Benjamin Rush: Patriot and Physician

By Alan Brodsky
St. Martin’s Press, 2004 (404 pages, cloth, $35.00)

When Benjamin Rush (1746-1813) died, Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams that “a better man than Rush could not have left us, more benevolent, more learned, of finer genius, or more honest,” to which Adams replied that he knew “of no Character living or dead, who had done more real good in America.” Rush appears often and meaningfully in biographies about Jefferson, Adams, and Benjamin Franklin, but he is presented as little more than a historical footnote. Yet he was a propelling force in what culminated in the Declaration of Independence, of which he was a signer. Benjamin Rush was an early agitator for independence, a member of the First Continental Congress, and one of the leading surgeons of the Continental Army during the early phase of the Revolutionary War. He was a constant and indefatigable adviser to the most prominent figures of the American Revolution, notably George Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, and Adams. Even if he had not played such a vital role in the creation of the nation, Rush would have left his mark in history as an eminent physician and a foremost social reformer in such areas as medical teaching, humane treatment of the mentally ill (for which he became known as the “Father of American Psychiatry”), international prevention of yellow fever, establishment of colleges and medical schools, abolition of slav­ery, implementation of improved higher education for women, and much more (see “Plagued! Philadelphia’s Yellow Fever Epi­demic of 1793” by William C. Kashatus III, Spring 1993, and “Firm Foundations in Philadelphia: The Lewis and Clark Expedition’s Ties to Pennsylvania,” by Frank Muhly, Summer 2001 ). Benjamin Rush: Patriot and Physician illuminates the life of one of America’s great and overlooked revolutionaries. One of the earliest crusaders for independence from Great Britain, Rush was a highly vocal dissenter of the Stamp and Declaratory Acts and a contributor to Thomas Paine’s Common Sense (for which he also provided the title!). Throughout his sixty-seven years, Rush proved himself to be among the most remarkable and dynamic founding fathers, although he remains one of the least appreciated. The author places the extraordinary contributions made by the Philadelphia physician in context, opening the detailed narrative with a plaintive plea. “Let us not ponder why Benjamin Rush is not as remembered today as he should be. Rather, let us examine why he deserves to be so.”

 

The Weaver’s Craft: Cloth, Commerce and Industry in Early Pennsylvania

By Adrienne D. Hood
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003 (230 pages, cloth, $35.00)

Cloth ruled as one of the most important commodities in the early modern world, and colonial North Americans had to develop creative strategies to acquire it. Although early European settlers came from societies in which hand textile production was central to the economy, local conditions in North America interacted with traditional craft structures to create new patterns of production and consumption. The Weaver’s Craft: Cloth, Commerce, and Industry in Early Pennsylvania examines the development of cloth manufacture in early Pennsylvania from its roots in seventeenth-­century Europe to the beginning of industrialization. This focus on Pennsylvania and the long sweep of history yields a new understanding of the complexities of early American fabric production and the regional variations that led to distinct experiences of industrialization. Drawing on an extensive array of primary sources, combined with a quantitative approach, the author argues that, in contrast to New England, rural Pennsylvania women spun the yarn that a small group of trained male artisans wove into cloth on a commercial basis throughout the eighteenth century. Their production was considerably augmented by consumers purchasing cheap cloth from Asia and Europe, making them active participants in a global market­place. The author’s painstaking research and illustrations of textile equipment, swatch books, and consumer goods will interest both scholars and craftspeople.

C.F. Martin and His Guitars, 1796-1873

By Philip F. Gura
University of North Carolina Press, 2003. (250 pages, cloth, $45.00)

In 1833, at the age of thirty-seven, Christian Frederick Martin (1796-1873), a German guitar maker’s apprentice, immigrated to the United States and set up shop in New York City as an importer and repairer of musical instruments. He also built a small number of instruments based on a design he had learned from guitar maker Johann George Stauffer, for whom he went to work in Vienna at the age of fifteen. Martin’s timing was impeccable. America’s infatuation with the guitar, known as “guitarmania,” was already sweeping the land. By the 1840s, the guitar joined the piano, violin, and flute as a fixture in middle-­class homes that sought to be considered culturally sophisticated. Word spread quickly about the quality of Martin’s instruments, and in 1839 he moved to the Pennsylvania German community of Nazareth in Northampton County to establish himself as a full-time guitar maker. Successfully navigating the rapid economic expansion and industrialization, he built an enviable reputation. By the end of the Civil War, guitars designed and manufactured by C.F. Martin and Company were widely regarded as the best produced in the United States. Still in business, and headed by a sixth-generation family member, the Martin Guitar Company is the maker of what are widely considered to be the finest acoustic guitars in the world (see “It’s a Family Affair-Six Generations of Martin Guitars” by Bill Bush, Summer 2000.) C.F. Martin and His Guitars, 1796-1873, examines how a German immigrant from Saxony’s guild tradition rose to prominence as the finest American guitar maker of his time and created an American business that successfully eclipsed its competition. For the first historical study of the company in the time of its founder, the author drew upon a remarkably rich and previously untapped archive of company records, account books, journals, and letters to craft a narrative of the company’s founding, expansion, and ongoing success. It is an extraordinary study of how an individual found opportunities in the American economy and molded his business to take advantage of these circumstances. The book also offers a rich selection of photographs and sketches of rare nineteenth-century guitar models that illustrate the instrument’s evolution. Visual records, including patent applications and drawings, show the process by which Martin adapted his artisanal craft to modern industrial methods and brought innovation to guitar design In addition to documenting the development of one of the country’s leading producers of fine instruments, C.F. Martin and His Guitars, 1796-1873, offers new insights into nineteenth-century business history, the history of technology, and music history.

 

The Most Learned Women in America: A Life Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson

By Anne M. Osterhout
Penn State Press, 2004 (391 pages, cloth, $35.00)

During the era of the American Revolution and long after, the name Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson was well known in Philadelphia, recognized as belonging to one of British North America’s most illustrious women of letters. One admirer anointed her “the most learned woman in America.” Born in 1737 to a wealthy family, Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson excelled from an early age. Although women in her day were denied higher education, Fergusson read widely, educating herself in literature, history, and languages, even reading classical literature in the original tongues, an unusual ability for a colonial period woman. The Most Learned Woman in America: A Life of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson, the first full-length biography of its subject, brilliantly captures the life and times of the country’s first great female savant. The book shows that Fergusson wrote prolifically – often until midnight or later, spending but a few hours sleeping – and published her poetry. Her journals of a trip to England and Scotland circulated widely among admiring Philadelphians. During the 1770s, she hosted a Saturday evening salon at her home that was unrivaled in the colonies for its brilliance. Despite her achievements, Fergusson’s life was fraught with financial woes, bad romances, and treasonous plots that hounded her throughout her life. After her father Thomas Graeme forbade her marriage to Benjamin Franklin’s illegitimate son William, she secretly wed Henry Hugh Fergusson, a British Loyalist who left her before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Henry Fergusson’ s actions, together with his wile’s own political indiscretions, earned her potent enemies, leading to the confiscation of her family estate, Graeme Park (now administered as a popular attraction on the Pennsylvania Trail of History by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission). Although she eventually succeeded in reclaiming her property, her reputation was tarnished in the process. Her efforts to justify her actions were tireless, alienating friends and making the last fif­teen years of her life miserable. The Most Learned Woman in America masterfully narrates Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson’s attempts to live an appropriately genteel life, even as she struggled against the limits that her society placed on its women. In the process, readers can begin to understand the conflicts-internal and external-that women of this period faced.

 

September Swoon: Richie Allen, The ’64 Phillies, and Racial Integration

By William C. Kashatus
Penn State Press, 2004 (258 pages, cloth, $29.95)

More than any other team in Philadelphia’s sports history, the ’64 Phillies saddled the city with a reputation for being a “loser.” Even when victory seemed assured, Philadelphia found a way to lose. Unfortunately, the collapse – dubbed the “September swoon” – was the beginning of a highly publicized destructive skid in both team play and racial integration, for the very things that made the players unique threatened to tear the team apart. An antagonistic press and contentious fans blamed Ritchie Allen, the Phillies’ first African American superstar, for the team’s losing way, accusing him of dividing the players along racial lines. Allen manipulated the resulting controversy in the hopes that he would be traded, but in the process he managed to further fray already tenuous race relations. During the early games of the memorable season, everything seemed to favor the Philadelphia Phillies. Up by six games, with just twelve to go, the team appeared to have cinched its first pennant in more than a decade, but the “Fightin’ Phils” never made it to the post-season playoffs; the team lost ten straight and finished a game behind the St. Louis Cardinals. Besides engineering the greatest collapse of any team in major league baseball history, the ’64 Phillies had another, more important distinction: they were Philadelphia’s first truly integrated baseball team. September Swoon: Richie Allen, the ’64 Phillies, and Racial Integration recounts the dramatic story­ – both on and off the field – of the Phillies’ bittersweet season of 1964, a season that opened with great promise and ended in crushing defeat. Based on extensive research, including interviews, player biographies, and newspaper and magazine accounts of the day, September Swoon brings to life a season and a team that prompted so many Philadelphians, both black and white, to care deeply and passionately about the game at a tur­bulent period in the city’s – and the nation’s – history. The hometown fans reveled in the Phillies’s triumphs and cried in their defeat, because they saw in them a reflection of themselves. The ’64 Phillies not only won the loyalties of a racially divided city but gave Philadelphians a reason to dream-of a pennant, of a contender, and of a genuine City of Brotherly Love.