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.