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NMSU journalism professor’s discovery reveals different view of slavery

An eight-year project has come to an end as New Mexico State University journalism associate professor Roger Mellen has published a scholarly article based off of an accidental find in a few dusty pages of an eighteenth century almanac.

Clipping of a verse
Verse from a fragment of an almanac thought to be from Rind’s Virginia Almanack of 1768. (Courtesy The Library Company of Philadelphia)
Head shot of a man
NMSU journalism associate professor recently published an article that casts a different view of slavery in the eighteenth century. (Courtesy Photo)

His article is published in the fall edition of scholarly journal “Journalism History” and is titled “Representations on Slaves in the Eighteenth-Century Virginia Press.”

History has shown that in eighteenth century Virginia slaves were treated as property, with very few legal rights. This article focuses on research that shows there were strong, divergent opinions that saw slaves as people with feelings, and to be treated humanely.

“While looking through some archives in the Library Company of Philadelphia (founded by Benjamin Franklin), I discovered a few pages of an 18th century almanac that no one knew had even been published,” said Mellen. “In this publication, never before studied, was a short but interesting verse about a slave.”

According to Mellen, another major source for his research was a newspaper from Virginia in 1764 that was not known to have existed before it was donated to the Rockefeller Library in Colonial Williamsburg.

“When examined together, these two publications from eighteenth-century Virginia enable us to view attitudes towards slaves somewhat differently than we had previously,” said Mellen. “Rather than one single viewpoint toward Africans and African Americans as property and less than human, as we could easily assume from this area, these published works brought light to the fact that there were other opinions about these people, even in this time period.”

Though he spent years exploring this research, it is not his major focus. Mellen is currently working on a piece about the connections and ancestry of the Lee family and the constitutional right to a free press.

For more information about “Representations on Slaves in the Eighteenth- Century Virginia Press,” contact Roger Mellen at rpmellen@nmsu.edu.