March 24, 2010

Joel Barlow: To Freedom

In the agricultural community of Reading, Connecticut, Joel Barlow was born on March 24, 1755 (sometimes listed as 1754). He was the youngest of ten children (another source says he was the eighth of nine). The young Barlow was prepared for an educated life but, as he was entering college, his father died. He entered Dartmouth College before moving closer to home and finished his degree at Yale College. It was while he was a student that the American Revolution broke out, an event which had long-standing impact throughout Barlow's life.

Barlow turned to poetry while in college. In 1778, at his commencement, he offered the class poem: "The Prospect of Peace." Other equally patriotic poems came later, as his career path took him to the roles of chaplain, bookseller, editor, publisher, real estate agent, and diplomat. Barlow also became associated with a group calling themselves the Connecticut Wits. Writers of humorous verse, the group included Noah Webster, John Trumbull, and others. As a writer, Barlow perhaps got the most attention for his 1807 book Columbiad, which included the poem "To Freedom":

Sun of the moral world! effulgent source
Of man's best wisdom and his steadiest force,
Soul-searching Freedom! here assume thy stand,
And radiate hence to every distant land;
Point out and prove how all the scenes of strife,
The shock of states, the impassion'd broils of life,
Spring from unequal sway; and how they fly
Before the splendour of thy peaceful eye;
Unfold at last the genuine social plan,
The mind's full scope, the dignity of man,
Bold nature bursting through her long disguise,
And nations daring to be just and wise.
Yes! righteous Freedom, heaven and earth and sea
Yield or withhold their various gifts for thee;
Protected Industry beneath thy reign
Leads all the virtues in her filial train;
Courageous Probity, with brow serene,
And Temperance calm presents her placid mien;
Contentment, Moderation, Labour, Art,
Mould the new man and humanize his heart;
To public plenty private ease dilates,
Domestic peace to harmony of states.
Protected Industry, careering far,
Detects the cause and cures the rage of war,
And sweeps, with forceful arm, to their last graves,
Kings from the earth and pirates from the waves.

Barlow was an interesting fellow... I hope to write write posts on him here!


  1. Hello Rob,

    ...a tiny correction (I think) and a question on your Joel Barlow entry. I believe that the Connecticut town he was born in was Redding (two d's), not Reading (which is the spelling of the town in Pennsylvania). I'm fairly sure of this because my mother-in-law lives there (but did not when Barlow was born--she's not THAT old!). My husband, a Connecticut boy, often misspells it "Reading" as well when he writes her letters. Now the question: Do you know if Joel Barlow was an ancestor of the Civil War general Francis Barlow, who was sort of an eccentric chap? He actually has a slight Margaret Fuller connection, but that's another story. I look forward to seeing more of what you have to say about JB. Thanks.

  2. I'm not sure why, but a comment here seems to have disappeared. The writer was asking about the spelling of "Reading" vs. "Redding" in Connecticut. There is currently no such town as "Reading" on modern maps. However, the 19th century sources I used went with the spelling I used above. A quick Google books search produced a history of the town which refers to "Reading" as the "ancient" spelling of "Redding" - in other words, they are the same town. In the 19th century, many spellings were still being officially canonized (as the "Dictionary Wars" between Worcester and Webster can attest). As someone who spent a sojourn in Pennsylvania, I think immediately of the spelling of "Pittsburgh" which was, for a time, changed to the more phonetic spelling as "Pittsburg" (in fact, the capital of PA is today "Harrisburg").

  3. Ah, the original post has returned! As to Francis Barlow, I really have no idea, but it's certainly possible!

  4. Thanks for the info, Rob. Yes, now that you mention it, the spelling of "towne" names in the 18th and 19th centuries was sort-of on shifting sand. So since my husband is a history buff and I believe in reincarnation, perhaps he "knows" something about the "olde" spelling of Reading, CT, after all! (Just kidding.) I'm glad that my original post returned, or I'd be really spooked!


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