Journal of the Penn Manuscript Collective


The Rebecca Buckley Ferguson Letters, a collection of letters at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center for Rare Books & Manuscripts, detail an important eighteenth century correspondence between a young woman in Philadelphia and her family members at home and abroad. Spanning seventy-two years (1747-1819) and multiple cities, the letters provide important insight into the lives of eighteenth century American women and the slaves they held. The letters discuss major life events within the Buckley family, including births, marriages, and deaths, life on the plantation in British Guinea in the eighteenth century, exchanges and interactions among family slaves, and revolutionary sentiments, especially surrounding the ratification of the constitution in 1788. The letters also hold an especial significance at the University of Pennsylvania for their geographical situation as a part of Philadelphia cultural heritage.

This project constitutes a critical re-reading of the letters, applying techniques from comparative literature to these historical documents in order to see what might be gleaned if they were creatively re-read as if they were an American womens’ epistolary novel. The effort draws inspiration from M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong! and R. Mac Jones and Ray McManus’s Found Anew, hoping to build upon their suggestions of the powers of creative writing – and reading – to reinvigorate difficult historical materials. It responds to recent criticisms of the epistolary genre by Julie Gilbert, Anna Hulseberg, and Jeff Jenson, who argue for the “imagination ... of the reader” as scholarly lens. Sharon Harris and Theresa Gaul have also influenced the project; they write a “[rejection of] the view of letters as historical documents valuable only for revealing information about famous people or events,” rather “[according] letters an independent literary status.”

Institution Call Number

UPenn Ms. Coll. 762

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.