Theodore Dwight and the Publication of Sarah Kemble Knight's Journal: Establishing Historical Authenticity in the Early United States
- Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 20, Number 1, Winter 2022
- pp. 152-184
- Additional Information
Nowadays scholars accept Sarah Kemble Knight's authorship of an early eighteenth-century New England travel journal as fact; but when it was first published in 1825, some questioned its authenticity. By 1839 doubts led Massachusetts historian Rev. Joseph B. Felt to describe her as a "fictitious author" even as he included a quote from the journal that "appears to be true." This essay uses a case study of the controversy surrounding Knight's journal to explore how nineteenth-century Americans sought to determine the authenticity of the published works they read. Historians, historical editors, and readers used at least three methods to decide whether a given work was genuine: authority, evidence, and expectations. Theodore Dwight's editorial decisions in presenting the journal deprived it of his authority. While many reviewers accepted the journal, others argued it was a fake based in part upon failure to match their expectations. By midcentury, historians Frances Caulkins and William R. Deane authenticated Knight and the events in her journal through accrual of corroborative evidence. Ideas of historical authenticity shaped the development of modern historical practices and helped determine how editors compiled document collections in the nineteenth century.