“Whatever Is, Is Right”

Sean D. Moore

in Slavery and the Making of Early American Libraries

Published in print February 2019 | ISBN: 9780198836377
Published online April 2019 | e-ISBN: 9780191873621 | DOI:
“Whatever Is, Is Right”

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  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)


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Beginning with an analysis of a painting of the slaveholding founder of the Redwood Library of Newport, Rhode Island, that shows him holding a copy of Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man, this chapter documents the reading of Alexander Pope’s works in colonial America in relation to the Atlantic slavery economy. In doing so, it provides a theory that portraiture featuring books should count as evidence of the reception of them. It shows how slavery philanthropy fueled the Rhode Island book trade and endowed its libraries, and how patriot thought and activity emerged from these libraries. In examining the fragmentary remaining circulation receipt books of the Redwood, it shows patterns of reading that suggest that members of the library were more concerned about their own political “slavery” to Britain than with the condition of the Africans they were enslaving. It also investigates Rhode Island abolitionism in figures like Samuel Hopkins.

Keywords: Redwood Library; Newport; slave trade; Alexander Pope; Essay on Man; Providence Athenaeum; Rhode Island history; Samuel Hopkins; colonial American portraiture; George Washington

Chapter.  15430 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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