This long overdue biography of English-born New York lawyer John Laurance (1760-1810) restores an important missing piece to the founding narrative. With verve and sweep, Keith Marshall Jones III lays bare the middling Cornish émigré’s passage to Federalist America’s governing inner circle. Essential to the telling are five wartime years as General George Washington’s “courtroom Baron von Steuben” and battlefield father of the U.S. Army Judge Advocate Corps. Laurance spoke as New York City’s post-war pro-mercantile voice in the Confederation Congress, state legislature, and both houses of the fledgling federal Congress.
Keith Marshall Jones III is a direct descendant of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall. He is the author of Congress As My Government(2008), the definitive account of Marshall’s military service in the War for Independence; Farmers Against the Crown (2002, 2014); and The Farms of Farmingville (2001). His 2017 article “John Laurance and the Role of Military Justice at Valley Forge” in Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography introduced the forgotten immigrant New York lawyer to scholars and period history buffs.
The Peale-Sellers Family Collection, held at the APS Library, is the world’s largest archival collection related to the Peales. Two recent American Philosophical Society Museum exhibitions, Curious Revolutionaries and Conservation and the Peale-Sellers Family Collection, included selected items from the collection. The conservation staff reviewed the selected items to ensure that they were stable enough to display for months without fading, discoloring, or suffering physical damage. When books or manuscripts could not be exhibited without conservation treatment, conservators repaired or stabilized them. Conservation of objects and material is essential today, as it was for Charles Willson Peale when he opened his museum in Philosophical Hall. Renée Wolcott tells readers in her introduction, “As the owner of the nation’s first natural history museum, Charles Willson Peale served as both curator and conservator, concerned with selecting specimens for exhibition and preserving them for future museum visitors. He was also his own archivist, saving letters, diaries, and museum records that passed through his family for generations before becoming enshrined in the APS Library. This book examines the materials Peale and his family have left us, considers their preservation challenges, and discusses the evolution of conservation care for archival collections. Case studies of conservation treatment for six historic Peale-related artifacts illustrate some of the ways in which today’s conservators preserve the materials of the past for the sake of the future.”
Renée Wolcott is Associate Conservator for Library and Archival Materials at the American Philosophical Society. She graduated from the Winterthur-University of Delaware Master’s Program in Art Conservation in 2011. Prior to joining the APS, Renée worked as a book conservator at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts. She also taught an undergraduate class in book history and conservation at the University of Delaware.
Between 1777 and 1783, Jean-François de Bourgoing served at the Court of Spain as France’s military attaché and principal assistant to the French ambassador. Bourgoing was a French patriot and a friend of Spain. From his unique vantage point he recorded events related to the War of American Independence as they occurred, creating Le Grand Mémoire.
The French and the Americans hoped that Spain would recognize the independence of the United States and enter the war as their ally. Instead, Spain entered the war against England only as France’s ally stipulating that France would help her recover some of her lost possessions. Until the summer of 1781, France continued to try in vain to persuade Spain to join the Franco-American alliance. But the Spanish remained convinced that supporting the independence of the United States would be detrimental to her interest and actively opposed the independence of the United States by attempting to obtain through extensive mediation with England “something less than full independence,” by advocating minimal aid to the Insurgents only “to keep the war going,” and by attempting to change France’s strategy. In 1780 Floridablanca tried very hard to prevent France from sending the Rochambeau expeditionary corps to help Washington.
All the while Spain demanded French naval support and land troops for all her significant operations while refusing to participate in French operations. The French diplomats in Madrid thought that France’s alliance with Spain was counterproductive and harmful to French relations with Americans.
The Grand Mémoire is essential to fully understand not only inter-ally relations but also the effects of the war on France, spectator countries, and individuals who played essential roles in the war: Charles III, Floridablanca, Aranda, John Jay, Louis XVI, Vergennes, Montmorin, d’Estaing and Castries.
Jean-Pierre Cap is the Oliver Edwin Williams Professor Emeritus of Languages at Lafayette College.