An Interesting Find

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Hello, hello!

It’s been a busy couple of weeks this month! There are some goals of mine that I want to start working on again, and I figured I’d make a list and work on them in order from here on out.

  1. Research Abram & (his son) Peter Mesier (1696 – 1770, m. Jenneke Wessels)
  2. Research Peter Mesier (1733 – 1805, m. Catherine Sleght)
  3. Understand context further!
  4. Make a trip to NYC Historical Society
  5. Make a trip to The New Netherland Institute in Albany

Seeing how it took two months to take on my first focus, Peter Jansen Mesier & the Mill, and put a solid genealogical foundation behind my research, I imagine that it might very well take me the rest of the semester to tackle these goals. But there is no fear in that! I’ll be back for the Spring semester and I’m sure I’ll work through the winter. It’s an addiction, anyway!

I’m excited to undertake all of these goals. I want to know about the early Mesiers, how they made their fortune, and what kind of people they were and I found something the other day that made me extremely eager to understand the Mesier’s individual lives. I’ve been telling everyone because I just think the find is so cool. I was entering “Mesier” in a few databases to see if anything would turn up that could prove helpful, and so I was using JSTOR. Well, JSTOR turned up a few hits on “Mesier,” and as I was reading over the results one of the abstracts caught my attention. It was a chapter in the textbook American Literature, the chapter titled “Philip Freneau and The Time-Piece Literary Companion.” Philip Freneau was an American author and poet, and is often known as The Poet of the American Revolution. He was a dedicated nationalist and concerned with the new country’s affairs, which is the primary focus of his works. The chapter in the book I found comprises of letters written by Freneau to his friends, family, and I fellow writers. In one letter, in which the result directed me, Freneau is writing to another author named Seth Paine. Together, at the time in 1800, they had worked on a short piece, An Eulogy on General George Washington (an appropriate subject; Washington had just passed in December, 1799). In regards to the promotion of the eulogy, Freneau wrote to Paine:

“On my arrival in N.Y. in April last, I put the 50 Eulogies into the hands of P. A. Mesier, Bookseller, for sale (38). He tells me that he has disposed of very few, altho’ I had them advertised in the Daily Advertiser several times. There is no taste in this place for anything good or philosophical. The vilest trash has here a currency above all the eloquence of Plato-”

The footnote reads that “The Daily Advertiser for April 10 and 11, 1800, announced that Peter Mesier was selling Seth Paine’s Eulogy on General George Washington. A reading of Paine’s oration suggests that Freneau’s comparison with Plato expresses gratitude for the loan of one hundred dollars, rather than an objective appraisal.”

The find isn’t ground-breaking – but these little insights make history real. We get to read here about Peter A. Mesier (1773 – 1847), have an actual interacttion, and not just with anyone but with Philip Freneau! Isn’t that amazing to imagine? You can just picture Peter at his counter in the bookstore explaining that the eulogies aren’t selling, and Freneau disgusted by the lack of interest in his and Paine’s work. We can understand this, we can visualize the circumstance. So often we only have names, which makes history abstract to us. But here we have a primary source, a short little narrative, which we can use to become a little more intimate with history. I was elated with the little clue, and emailed my American Literature professor, Andrew Higgins, who (and this is the power of context, once again!) made the discovery even more interesting. He wrote (and I included another short anecdote he shared because I liked it): 
“One of the things I’ve always loved about studying the Nineteenth Century is that America was really so small at the time that there are so many interesting connections between people.  I’ve done a lot of work on Longfellow and his family history.  He and Hawthorne were close friends, and I discovered that their ancestors also knew each other. In fact, Hawthorne’s great-great-great grandfather was a judge at the Salem Witch Trials when one of Longfellow’s ancestors was being tried. (Longfellow’s ancestor was a pretty tough customer, and pretty much told the court off and walk away, which was the beginning of the end of the witch trials.)  So yeah, I know how much fun it is to find these connections.
What I like about this mention of Freneau is that it so fits with his personality. He always had this sense that he was unappreciated, and towards the end of his life he became pretty bitter about it. He’s got a couple of poems about being neglected.”
Isn’t it great when everything makes sense?
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