Contributor Close-Up: Jett Conner

What inspired you to start researching and writing about the Revolution?

Trained as a political scientist, I got interested in the Revolutionary period through the writings of Thomas Paine. As I taught a college course for years in early American political thought, I noticed that Paine was given credit by historians for his rebel-rousing (e.g., Bernard Bailyn and Pauline Maier), but not so much for his political ideas. My first book on Paine, John Adams vs. Thomas Paine: Rival Plans for the Early Republic (Westholme), was written to highlight Paine’s substantive contributions to American political thought by using John Adams, an acclaimed American thinker, somewhat as a foil to probe Paine’s developing ideas.

What are your go-to research resources?

The Library of Congress is a favorite resource, both online and its research rooms in D.C. The Thomas Paine National Historical Association has undertaken to digitize all of Paine’s known writings, a very helpful resource for Paine material. I find Founders Online to be very useful for easily accessing original correspondence and papers. I also have researched Paine, Washington and their contemporaries at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mt. Vernon.

Which of your own JAR articles is your favorite or most rewarding? Why?

The first one, “The American Crisis Before Crossing the Delaware,”  which questioned the basis for the often told story of George Washington reading a copy of Paine’s American Crisis I to his troops, to inspire them to victory before the crossing and the first Battle of Trenton. Researching Paine and Washington’s relationship, I became suspicious that there was no evidence for this timeless tale. Neither ever mentioned it. I set out to discover the evidence for the story and could not find it. Then I came across a footnote in William Dwyer’s book, The Day is Ours (Battle of Trenton), and noticed that he too had become curious about the story, had dug into it and could not find any evidence either. Since I’m not an historian of the Revolutionary period, that confirmation emboldened me. So, I published the article in JAR and was pleased with the positive feedback.

What books about the American Revolution do you most often recommend?

Currently, I am a big fan of Rick Atkinson’s The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777, and am looking forward to his next two volumes of this blossoming trilogy on the American Revolution. Atkinson is a writer of the first order and, as a former newspaper reporter, has wonderful research skills. His books dig deep into the details and weave them together so readers get the big picture.

What new research/writing projects are you currently working on?

With my most recent book, Captain Benjamin Bonneville’s Wyoming Expedition: The Lost 1833 Report (The History Press), I’ve leaped with fear and trepidation into the history of nineteenth century (Bonneville was a ward of Thomas Paine after he arrived in America as a child from France in 1803). I’m currently continuing my interest in the American West by researching another trailblazer, William Becknell, the “Father of the Santa Fe Trail.”

What other hobbies/interests do you enjoy?

I am a hobbyist jewelry maker (silver and gold) and have an interest in astronomy and telescopes. And as retirees, my wife Rosie and I enjoy doing outdoorsy things in Colorado, and especially driving up through Wyoming to Yellowstone National Park to watch wolves, grizzlies and other critters in the wild. Those are big reasons why my focus has shifted from the East Coast locales of the American Revolution to areas of historical interest closer to home.

Why is Journal of the American Revolution important to you?

JAR gave me the opportunity to publish my research on new topics of interest relating to the American Revolution and, above all, provides a forum where I can learn much more about the history of the period, especially of lesser known events and participants.

Is there an article, or subject area, that you would like to see appear in JAR?

Although the focus of JAR is the history of the American Revolution and its interesting figures, events, places, battles, artifacts and various ephemera, there also are historical topics that bear directly on our times that might help inform our understanding of current political matters. To that end, I would like to see an article (or perhaps a contributor question) that addresses this question: What political issue(s) facing the nation today would most likely surprise America’s founders, and why?

 

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