Routledge, a division of Taylor and Francis, will be reissuing this fall my 2011 book, Ebenezer Hazard, Jeremy Belknap, and the American Revolution.
The letters of Jeremy Belknap and Ebenezer Hazard encompassed twenty years, from 1779 to 1798, during a time when the United States was warring against England, establishing new governments, building a national identity, exploring the hinterland, and refining an American identity in prose and verse. Belknap, a historian, scientist, and Congregational minister, and Hazard, a historian, scientist, and Surveyor of Post Roads, were busily involved in all that was going on, the pitfalls as well as the promise. Their correspondence traced the course of the war and its aftermath from several different perspectives, as Belknap lived in Northern New England while Hazard traveled throughout the thirteen states, making his postal headquarters (and home) variously at Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. Belknap was during the time of their correspondence thoughtful and lonely, despairing of his situation in life, using pen and ink as a substitute for flesh and blood, releasing onto paper the pent-up feelings of long winter months, generating in his solitude theories to explain the whims of nature, the works of government, the varieties of religious experience, the course of history, and the ways of humankind. Belknap, who felt planted “like a cabbage,” unable to move, envied Hazard, who as Surveyor of Post Roads from 1776 to 1782 was always travelling, seeing new places and enjoying (or enduring) a variety of different experiences, thoughtful and lonely in a different way from Belknap, always on the pad when but wishing for the quiet moment next to the fireplace to examine some new find to go into his traveling “museum” of historical and natural curiosities. Hazard felt “hurried through life on horseback” compared to Belknap’s stifled existence. Ebenezer Hazard and Jeremy Belknap referred to their friendship as that of fellow travelers into the human and natural past. Their mutual existence centered upon the written word. They recorded the details of life for reflection and for the benefit of posterity. As so many of their contemporaries did during the years of the American Enlightenment, Hazard and Belknap used paper and pen to keep track of experiences, journeys, thoughts, and actions. The letters of Ebenezer Hazard and Jeremy Belknap tell of an age when science and religion had not yet divorced due to irreconcilable differences, when the most profound philosophy nestled comfortably next to a childlike fascination with the remarkable. The two men filled their letters with inquisitive attempts to know, to understand, and to express. The two friends explored in their epistles the nature of love, death, and piety; the best way for humans to govern themselves; matters of religious and scientific truth and the best means to arrive at it; the methods and writing of history; human credulity; and the wonders of nature. The Hazard-Belknap epistles, if they were not objective and disinterested, concrete in their knowledge and secure in their wisdom, were at least sincere and fascinating attempts to know. This is their charm.