Overwrapped in otterskin

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Johann Buxtorf. Lexicon Hebraicum et Chaldaicum (Basel, 1645)
Call number: (Ed) 2291.231.11

Native American and English contact is documented by this copy of Buxtorf’s Lexicon (1645) owned by the Reverend David Brainerd (1718-1747).

Pictured above is the front cover and spine of the book. An otterskin piece, decorated in a pattern characteristic of Native Americans of the Eastern woodlands, wraps over the tattered original spine and boards. Mismatched pattern stripes at the inside corners (not pictured) show the wrapper to be a fragment of a larger piece. This suggests that the wrapper was salvaged from another Indian artifact no longer useful at the time for its original purpose but eligible as repair material. It is unknown precisely when the overwrapper (or, overcover) was added but various evidence suggests occurrence during the eighteenth century.

In 1739, Brainerd entered Yale but was expelled for sympathizing with the Whitefield revival and, so it is told, for remarking that a college tutor had ‘no more grace than this chair.’ A missionary of the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, the Rev. Brainerd evangelized among Indian groups in New England, New York, and Pennsylvania. His most notable success came among the Delaware at Crossweeksung. In the spring of 1746 he and his Indian wards moved their community to Cranbury. In October of the following year Brainerd died in the house of Jonathan Edwards - a future president of Princeton - in Northampton, Massachusetts. Brainerd was engaged to marry Edwards’ daughter Jerusha when he died of tuberculosis at age 29.

The book was bequeathed by Brainerd to Jonathan Edwards and was passed down through Edwards’s descendants, including the Rev. Tryon Edwards, and Dr. Fitzhugh Edwards. It was presented as a gift of the descendants of Jonathan Edwards through Mrs. William F. H. Edwards on September 7, 1907. It followed the family’s earlier gift of books from Edwards’s library made on September 27, 1897.

The Library has loaned this book to Morven for the exhibition “Picturing Princeton 1783: The Nation’s Capital,” on view until June 2009.

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