Jonathan Plummer and the Problem of Print

Benjamin Bascom

When the itinerant peddler, poet, and preacher Jonathan Plummer died in 1819, he left behind a will that requested his executor to distribute several hundred copies “of the Occurrences of my life printed from the manuscript which I may leave at my disease.”[1] Unfortunately for this Newburyport eccentric, however, the money he had amassed through selling combs, thimbles, fish, and his own poetry, among other items, was given to his estranged family, leaving information about the contents of this supposed manuscript about his life reserved for speculation. During a month of research at the Phillips Library, I sought to reconstruct the life of Jonathan Plummer through the printed ephemera he left behind—from broadsides and annotations in account books to the one remaining copy of his late-1790s Sketch of the History of the Life and Adventures of Jonathan Plummer, jun. (Written by Himself). Through doing this research, I came to recognize a historically specific instance of desiring to write one’s life into book form for posthumous consumption. Read more

New Manuscript Acquisitions at the Phillips Library


Photograph from a trip to India, 1906

The Phillips Library collects a wide variety of interesting materials such as rare and contemporary books, maps, broadsides, manuscripts, logbooks, business records, and photographs. Here is a sampling of manuscript items that we have acquired in the last few months. Read more