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1999-2000 Visiting Fellows

Paul Tonks, Ph.D. Candidate

Department of History
Johns Hopkins University

I am writing to express my thanks for the opportunity to work at the Library and to ask you to pass on this message of gratitude to the Friends of the Princeton University Library. It was particularly valuable for me as a graduate student who is just at the very beginning of my Doctoral Research to have received the assistance of the Friends of Princeton University Library Fellowship. I benefited enormously from the experience and would like to record how helpful it has been for me as I embark on working towards my PhD.

My research into the connections between early America and Scotland was helped by this opportunity to examine a number of rare items which are crucial to the historical understanding of the nature of these connections. I was especially pleased to be able to work upon a very rare work by a Scots Presbyterian minister named Robert Millar entitled 'The History of the Propagation of Christianity, And Overthrow of Paganism.' (Edinburgh, 1723, 2 Volumes and Subscription List). This is an especially interesting source because it demonstrates Scottish admiration for the American Colonies, especially those of New England, and the influence which America had in shaping the aims, and thus the development, of Scottish missionary endeavours within the British Empire. It is also uniquely of interest because it was in President Witherspoon's personal library at Princeton. The connection between Scotland and America was also made very plain by the fact that the important Scottish Presbyterian historian Robert Wodrow recommended Millar's work to Cotton Mather of Massachusetts in the 1720s.

Another key source for me at Princeton was a collection of pamphlets by a radical Scots Presbyterian minister who supported the American Independence struggle in the 1770s and 1780s. Rev. James Murray had moved to the North of England and displayed vocal political and religious radicalism in his career, capped by his open support of his transatlantic brethren in the Thirteen Colonies. Again, this was of particular interest to me in that this was a collection which was in President Witherspoon's own Library at Princeton. Murray's ideas, like Witherspoon's, spanned the Atlantic and made an impact in both Britain and America. To examine the writings of someone like Murray helps us to understand the kind of milieu which shaped Witherspoon's struggles in Scotland and America, and the understanding of liberty which was so controversial in its espousal - especially when those in North America like Witherspoon began to argue that Britain could no longer be trusted to respect America's rights and thus the Colonies had to fight for their independence from her.

Thanks once again for your valuable support.


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