March 11, 2008

(De)Ciphering Benjamin Chew

Because I am a poet who works with visual elements of the page, I found this letter completely captivating. The lines jump all over the place, and it is hard to tell where one sentence ends and another begins. It is clear that Benjamin Chew (1758-1844) was losing his faculties in the last years of his life, and his later papers document this decline. We likely have this letter because he had someone else make a legible copy to send to his client or friend. Though not as spectacular as some of the beautiful maps the Chews collected, letters like these provide us with valuable information about the lives of the Chew family.

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