Thomas Jefferson Papers

Abner Kneeland to Thomas Jefferson, 7 February 1822

From Abner Kneeland

Philadelphia Feby 7th 1822.

Dear Sir,

Having long since learned from your Notes on Virginia, your liberality of sentiment in regard to religion, and having recently perceived, by a late petition to Congress, that you are placed at the head of a literary Institution, I have taken the liberty to send you this Prospectus for a Greek and English Testament; any encouragement which you may feel disposed to give to such a work, in any way which you may think proper, will be gratefully received by your, and the public’s, very obedt

and most hmbl servt

A. Kneeland.

RC (MWA: Thomas Jefferson Papers); addressed: “Hon. Th. Jefferson Monticello Va.”; franked; postmarked Philadelphia, 7 Feb.; endorsed by TJ as received 16 Feb. 1822 and so recorded in SJL; with FC of TJ to Kneeland, 20 Feb. 1822, beneath endorsement.

Abner Kneeland (1774–1844), Universalist clergyman and freethinker, was born in what later became Gardner, Massachusetts. He attended common schools and spent one term at the Chesterfield Academy in New Hampshire. Kneeland moved to Dummerston, Windham County, Vermont, where he worked as a carpenter, taught, and preached in a Baptist church before becoming an ordained Universalist minister in 1805 at Langdon, Cheshire County (later Sullivan County), New Hampshire. He published spelling books for children and a work promoting a phonetic orthography, and he represented Langdon in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, 1809–11. From the latter year until 1814 Kneeland officiated at a Universalist church in Charlestown, Massachusetts. Theological doubts induced him to leave the ministry in 1814, but he resumed preaching in 1817 in Whitestown, Oneida County, New York, moving the following year to the Lombard Street Universalist church in Philadelphia. There Kneeland also edited the Christian Messenger (renamed the Philadelphia Universalist Magazine and Christian Messenger in 1821), 1819–23, and the Gazetteer, 1824. He moved to New York City in 1825 as pastor of a Universalist congregation, and he edited the Olive Branch, 1827–28. In 1829 Kneeland left the Universalists, referring to himself thereafter as a pantheist. Removing to Boston, he gave free-thought lectures and advocated sexual and racial equality as editor of the Boston Investigator, 1831–38, views that led to charges of blasphemy and a brief time in jail in 1838. The next year he tried to begin a freethinking colony at a spot in Van Buren County, Iowa Territory, that he named Salubria. The project failed, but Kneeland largely remained in Salubria thereafter (ANB description begins John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, 1999, 24 vols. description ends ; DAB description begins Allen Johnson and Dumas Malone, eds., Dictionary of American Biography, 1928–36, repr. 1968, 20 vols. in 10 description ends ; Stillman Foster Kneeland, Seven Centuries in the Kneeland Family [1897], 215–22; Kneeland, The American Definition Spelling Book [Keene, N.H., 1802]; Kneeland, The Child’s Spelling Book [2d ed., Walpole, N.H., 1808]; Kneeland, A Brief Sketch of a New System of Orthography, delineated in an Orthographical Chart, Containing the Alphabet and Scheme of the New Orthographer [Walpole, 1807]; Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of New-Hampshire [1809 sess.], 134; Boston Investigator, 20 Dec. 1833, 25 Sept. 1844).

The late petition was the Petition of University of Virginia Board of Visitors to United States Congress, 30 Nov. 1821. The enclosed prospectus, not found, was for Kneeland’s forthcoming Ἡ Καινὴ Διαθήκη. The New Testament, in Greek and English; The Greek according to Griesbach; the English upon the basis of the fourth London edition of the Improved Version, with an attempt to further improvement from the translations of Campbell, Wakefield, Scarlett, Macknight, and Thomson, 2 vols. (Philadelphia, 1823; Poor, Jefferson’s Library description begins Nathaniel P. Poor, Catalogue. President Jefferson’s Library, 1829 description ends , 9 [no. 502]).

Index Entries

  • Bible; New Testament search
  • Congress, U.S.; petitions to search
  • Greek language; works in search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Opinions on; religion search
  • Jefferson, Thomas; Writings; Notes on the State of Virginia search
  • Kneeland, Abner; identified search
  • Kneeland, Abner; letter from search
  • Kneeland, Abner; Ἡ Καινὴ Διαθήκη. The New Testament, in Greek and English search
  • Notes on the State of Virginia (Thomas Jefferson); and religion search
  • religion; TJ on search
  • Virginia, University of; Establishment; TJ as founder of search
  • Ἡ Καινὴ Διαθήκη. The New Testament, in Greek and English (A. Kneeland) search