Creating an unconventional portrait of the life and thought of an Enlightenment historian and scientist, this study focuses upon Jeremy Belknap’s letters, journals, and essays, which provide a clear sense of how a dialogue with the past can yield an appreciation of life and acceptance of self. Author of the three volume History of New Hampshire and the two volume American Biography, Jeremy Belknap (1744-1798) was the American Plutarch because he used the past to learn more about his own life and the lives of others. He experienced the past vicariously through his imagination and experientially through his journeys throughout New England in search of clues to the explanation of the natural and human past of America.
The book is built around Belknap’s engaging correspondence with his friend Ebenezer Hazard, as well as Belknap’s own travel journals of his expeditions to upstate New York and throughout New Hampshire. His journey to the White Mountains of New Hampshire in 1784 was the climax of his active inquiry into the past. Far from a dry, historiographical account, this study provides a fluid and descriptive narrative of Belknap, his journeys, and his times. This is a unique portrayal of human nature in general and 18th century society in particular.