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Date: Tue, 24 Feb 1998 09:32:57 -0500
From: Steve Sheppard <>
Organization: The Thomas M. Cooley Law School
To: Anne Taylor <>
Subject: The Will Lynch speech

Dear Ms. Taylor:

I have just read the "Will Lynch speech" and also think it is a 20th century fraud. While I agree strongly with Prof. Piersen's comments, there are some other hints I think might be worth listing, in the event you start a catalogue.

First, I think it is rather odd for a speaker, even in 1712, to go to such lengths to locate the speech in time and space. The hearers of a speech would have no need for such a preamble: they are there and then, and it is not so clear that this was being spoken for a later printing. It is, however, useful to encourage a later reader to place the speech in a time and place, and the florid style fits a contemporary, though usually false, expectation for florid speech by speakers of the time.

Next, "the bank of the James River," is too generic. If the speaker was making the reference as a matter of courtesy, it is unusual -- indeed it would have been rude -- not to thank the specific hosts: why on the banks of the River, and no reference to a planter at whose landing or house such a speech must have been given? This omission gives rise to another problem: why a speech on such a topic, and given by someone ostensibly imported by ship for the purpose of giving it, would be given to an open riverside assembly, and not in a house or meeting room. It is unlikely that a planter or planters would underwrite the passage of a speaker from the Indies and not have arranged a suitable place for invitees to hear such a speech without fear of being overheard by the lower classes.

Next (and I promise this is my last point about the geography) there is utterly no reason for anyone arriving in Virginia to have thought of a single thing, "As our boat sailed south on the James River". The James River flows north, not south, from Hampton Roads. The only way he would travel south on it is after having given the speech and not before. While such a reference would have been impossible for someone on the banks of the river, it does reinforce, to the modern reader challenged by geography that the speaker is in the South.

As for other reference to time, the speech refers the river as "named for our illustrious King, whose version of the Bible we cherish." While this is a bit afield of my own areas of specialty, I think this is a rather anachronistic manner of referring to the English Bible: such an overt reference to a "version" makes clear that there are other versions, something to me that sounds a tad odd in the mouth of such a declared Anglican. James's 1611 English Bible had pretty so much fully replaced the Geneva Bible as the Bible of the English-speaking world by 1660, that in 1712, this sounds out of place. A reference to James as "patron of our Bible" would have been much more likely.

There are other textual problems that are better left to others (why is the speech so short when the speaker was imported and is speaking in an age of rhetoric as public entertainment? why "West Indies" and not an island name? why "color" and not "colour"? why bank and not "banks"?), but I wonder most about the reference to controlling slaves for 300 years.

If such a random length of time was chosen, then, to refer to the unending future, why not a hundred, a thousand, or five hundred? Three hundred does not have a strong hold on our symbolic imagination. It would, however, have placed the period of control into the present time, plus just a little. This too much nicer for the reader in the later 20th Century than sensible for the listener of 1712.

Lastly, if this "Will Lynch" actually owned a modest plantation and was prominent enough in 1712 to be invited to lecture in Virginia, what other references are there to him? Seemingly none, although some search of local records might be useful.

I hope this adds something to the conversation.

Steve Sheppard
Thomas M. Cooley Law School

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