Manuscript, Notes on the Creation of a "Society for the Promotion of Useful Knowledge" in Williamsburg

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  • Theodorick Bland, Dabney Carr, John Page of Rosewell, Mann Page of Mannsfield, George Muster, Nathaniel Burwell, John Walker and James McClurg
  • Williamsburg, Virginia
  • 1772
  • Ink on Paper
  • SCMS1931.5

In an experiment in applied Enlightenment thought, eight Virginians drafted this document at some point near the end of 1772 to create a "Society for the Promotion of Useful Knowledge" to meet regularly in Williamsburg to discuss "Geography, Natural History, Natural Philosophy, Agriculture, Practical Mathematics, Physic, American History." Two of the signers — Theodorick Bland and James McClurg — trained as medical doctors at the University of Edinburgh, while the rest, such as Dabney Carr and John Page, studied at William & Mary under the influential Scottish professor William Small. In creating the Society, they drew on examples set by Benjamin Franklin's establishment of the American Philosophical Society in 1743 (to which McClurg was elected in 1774) and London's Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce (of which Francis Fauquier, Virginia's late lieutenant governor, was a member). The Society was formally established in Williamsburg in May 1773, by which time Carr was dead, but other members, such as St. George Tucker, had been added. Its activities appear to have been interrupted by the War for Independence and never resumed.

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