Susan Stinson’s Spider in a Tree is still catching readers — it’s not quite a Great Awakening, but the novel delves so deeply into life in the 1740s that once immersed, it’s hard to leave.
Apropos of some upcoming reviews and so on, Susan just posted her latest Library as Incubator post just went up, a lot of which is about researching Spider in a Tree at the Forbes Library here in Northampton. It’s 5 of the 6 part series she been doing for them and here is a link for the whole series to date. Click through for som great pictures of the library and the librarians!
Susan’s book got a mention in this interview David Moore carried out with Richard Bailey, associate history professor at Canisius College where they touched on one of the lesser known facets of Jonathan Edwards’s life, his ownership of slaves:
Moore: It is not well known that Jonathan Edwards owned slaves. How should we think of Edwards in light of this reality?
Bailey: I am not 100% certain how to answer this question, David. I am glad that this fact about Edwards is becoming more commonly known and I am glad that my book can have something to do with that fact.
But how to think of Edwards? Well, Jonathan Edwards is certainly more than simply a slave owner. He is an important figure in the development of American evangelicalism and the modern missions movement. He is one of America’s most prominent philosophers and theologians. He certainly ought to be remembered for those sorts of legacies. But he also was a purchaser of human flesh. He actively defended and participated in the slave trade. And I’d argue he must be remembered for that, as well. I think that is what it means to take on the virtual amnesias of our pasts.
The one way I would encourage people NOT to think of Jonathan Edwards is as “a man of his time.” That sort of phrase doesn’t really mean anything; rather, it is a way of not thinking about Edwards. And I hope people will continue to think about him, relying of the historical work of George Marsden in Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale University Press, 2003) or the recent novel by Susan Stinson, Spider in a Tree (Small Beer Press, 2013) to get a more complete picture not only of the man, but also of the society and culture of which he was a part. [continues]
I’m very happy to note that Wikipedia has been updated to change the embarrassingly written section covering his slave ownership and presently just states “In 1747 Edwards took in a slave, “a Negro girl named Venus”. He purchased the girl for 80 pounds from a man named Richard Perkins of Newport.” Although this does still seem connected to the next sentence “The Edwards opened their home to those in need on a regular basis.”
Taking in slaves does not equal looking after those in need! I don’t really know how to read the change history on Wikipedia—I looked at, but I can’t make sense of it—but there have been a lot of changes in the last few months and I’m glad that this part of Edwards’s and his family’s and the town’s life will be further examined.