Attribution, attribution, who’s got the attribution?

A belated update to my July 4th posting.

Okay. Realistically, most of you wont’ be as excited as I was to find out that there are competing attributions for the Franklin bashing Loyalist poem I posted on July 4th. So to give you a sense of how it feels, I am appending this completely gratuitous Franklin cartoon panel. Because stumbling across contradictory archival evidence always kind of feels like the Kool-Aid guy crashing through the wall. OH, YEEEEEAAAAAHHHH!


The Franklin poem has been attributed to multiple sources. Jared Sparks attributes the poem to Hannah Griffits, as does Milcah Martha Moore in her commonplace book. (See Milcah Martha Moore’s Book A Commonplace Book from Revolutionary America, Eds. Catherine La Courreye Blecki and Karin A. Wulf [University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997], 280n171.)

The confusion over the authorship of the poem is itself instructive. As Karin Wulf writes in her introduction to the Milcah Martha Moore commonplace book:

Moore and her circle were mostly loyal to the Crown, or objected to the war because of Quaker pacifist principles, but they were by no means a politically homogenous group. Two of Moore’s (and Hannah Griffitts’s) cousins were married to prominent, albeit moderate, Patriots, John Dickinson and Charles Thomson. Moore’s sister Margaret Morris, however, harbored the ardent Loyalist Jonathan Odell in her New Jersey home to protect hm from Patriots. Moore’s commonplace book reflects this heterogeneity. Loyalist Odell appears as an author alongside disowned Quaker and radical Patriot Timothy Matlack. Representing an entirely different view, Hannah Griffitts’s poetry espoused moderation and castigated extremism in any form. Thus the range of political opinions expressed in Moore’s commonplace book and the authors of those opinions, ranged from extreme patriotism to extreme loyalism. (38)

Indeterminacy can be extremely instructive, as in this case where uncertainty over the authorship of a single poem highlights an important point of how fluid political allegiance was, especially in the context of elite social networks.


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