A Revolutionary Find

 

BMCC alumni Michael Hattem inside Yale's Sterling Memorial Library

April 7, 2014

Michael C.Hattem, a teaching fellow and research assistant at Yale, was tapped to do a textual analysis of an unprecedented American document written in 1775.

An unexpected find

The document is entitled Letter from the Twelve United States Colonies, by their delegates in Congress to the Inhabitants of Great Britain.

This document was long thought to be lost, but in July 2013 archivist Emilie Gruchow discovered it in the attic of the Morris-Jumel Mansion in New York City, once the headquarters of George Washington. Until  Gruchow found the draft, only the final, printed version had been known to exist.

Gruchow turned to Hattem, a former classmate of hers, after she came across an 18th-century manuscript, to provide analysis of document’s handwriting and whether it was actually its first draft.

Who wrote it and why?

According to The New York Times, Hattem “analyzed the handwriting on the yellowed pages of the manuscript and did textual analysis that led to an unexpected conclusion: The document was written by Robert R. Livingston, a prominent New York jurist who had been on the fence about whether to support independence for the colonies.”

The document was the last expression of hope by the colonies to reconcile with the people of Great Britain, and not its king, George III.

It is considered by scholars of American history as the prelude to the Declaration of Independence, which Livingston helped draft with Thomas Jefferson.

Hattam’s research raises document’s value

When the document came up for auction, Keno Auctions wrote, “Scholar Michael Hattem of Yale University stated the document is ‘… the missing piece from the culminating moments in which the colonists began to think of themselves not as British subjects, but as American citizens’.”

While the manuscript was indeed monumental, the trustees and director of the Morris-Jumel Mansion had decided to auction off the manuscript because they needed to guarantee the “long term survival” of the Mansion.  

The sale was scheduled for January 26, 2014 and the estimated selling price was $100,000 to $400,000. But, after some heady bidding, the document sold, in Michael’s words, for a “record setting $912,500.”

In a note to BMCC’s Alumni Director Patricia Splendore, Michael said, “It’s all been incredibly exciting.”

“Anyway, I just wanted to let you and BMCC know.”

What he is working on at Yale

Michael Hattem, a former BMCC Foundation Scholar, is writing his dissertation on British North America, “specifically colonists’ historical memory of 17th-century Britain and the ways in which it shaped the political culture of the colonies as well as the coming of the American Revolution.”

The working title is “Their history as a part of ours: History Culture and Historical Memory in British America, 1720–1776.”

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Alumni Michael C. Hattem is a teaching fellow at Yale University
  • His research reveals that a 1775 document was the last attempt by colonists to reconcile with the people of Great Britain
  • He is writing his dissertation on British North America
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