Saturday, August 28, 2010

I have George Washington’s Autograph

I finally received the book written by my 7g-grandfather today from Amazon and the cover page was signed by George Washington.

The daughter of Penelope Golland Maule Lovick Phenney Johnston, also named Penelope, married Colonel John Dawson who was the son of Reverend William Dawson, making the Reverend my 7g-grandfather, if I counted right.

His book, “Poems on Several Occasions by a Gentleman of Virginia” was written while he was a student at Queens College in Oxford around 1720. According to the book, “Southern Writers: A New Biographical Dictionary” by Joseph M. Flora and Amber Vogel (2006), while the book was reprinted in 1930, there is only one original copy left and it was once the personal property of George Washington and is now kept in the Boston Athenaeum Library.

As you can see, when the book was reprinted in 1930, they copied the pages exactly, even including George Washington’s signature on the title page.

I am not a poet and I know it but the book is hard to read because, for some reason, most of the letter s’s are replaced by a letter f. So it reads like this:

“The following Pieces are the cafual Productions of Youth. Having communicated them to fome of my Friends, whofe Judgement in thefe Matters I thought leaft liable to err…”

You get the idea.

When it was reprinted in 1930, they were not aware of the author and a note at the front of the book states, “the interest which attaches to this volume, partly because of its rarity, is enhanced by the few facts available regarding its history.”

It is known it was published around October 1736, several years after Dawson had come to America and become the Professor of Moral Philosophy at William and Mary College. In 1743, he was made president of the college, a position he held until 1752.

Because of the style of Washington’s signature, it’s thought that the book was not given to him until 40 or 50 years after it was originally published. After his death, it was probably given, along with the rest of his library, to Bushrod Washington, his nephew. The single original copy remained at Mount Vernon until 1848.

Reverend William Dawson died and was buried in Williamsburg on July 24, 1752. Many of the things he wrote while at the college are in the Library of Congress.

If you are looking for something fun to do next Christmas, you can gather the family around the tree and read a Christmas sermon given by Dawson in 1732.

If you happen to visit William & Mary today, you can check out Dawson Hall in the Bryan Complex.

A complete biography of William Dawson can be found in The National cyclopaedia of American biography, Volume 3.

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