As self-assigned family historian, I take my job very seriously as I attempt to unearth the stories of the GloverSmith past in an earnest effort to endow our future generations with a true sense of heritage. In the forty years since I began this quest, I’ve learned to check and recheck information and to carefully collect documentation to ensure my research is based more on facts than folklore. But every now and then I fall victim to a crafty hoodwink or two. It’s not the first time -and I’m sure it won’t be the last- when I have to cut into a piece of ‘umble pie.
In one of my fact-checking moments today, I discovered an obscure entry at an online genealogy site that suggested someone else had been hoodwinked, too. Like me (and many, many others,) the contributor had been leaning heavily upon TheJournal of William Jefferay, gentleman… as a reliable primary source for information about our shared ancestor. I was surprised to see that this person had removed Jefferay’s 17th century journal from his list of sources because he believed it to be historical fiction. Hmm. I thought I’d take a closer look.
Here’s what I found when I scrutinized the title page (see if you can spot it, too):
Born at Chiddingly, Old England, in the year 1597;
Died at Newport, New England, in the year 1675.
Some Account of Divers People, Places and Happening,
Chiefly in New England.
A DIARY THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN.
JOHN OSBORNE AUSTIN,
“The Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island,
“The Roger Williams Calendar,” etc. etc.
The title provides a hint of hoodwinkery “hidden in plain sight”: “A DIARY THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN.” Since Austin’s byline included his role as editor rather than author, a reader might rightfully be led to believe that he worked from genuine manuscripts written by Mr. Jefferay. But Mr. Austin did not draw a clear line between fact and fiction, suggestively allowing the reader to believe either way. I had eagerly read the journal and even shared parts of it, believing the compilation to be the genuine, selected, personal writings of my ninth great grandfather, edited into a volume by a noted genealogist, Mr. Austin.
In the “Editor’s Preface,” Austin’s language might even suggest that any erudite (aka “always intelligent”) reader would easily extrapolate his intent:
“The always intelligent reader will perceive that no attempt is herein made to befog his understanding with the somewhat musty, if time-honored, story of an ancient manuscript, found in an oaken chest, in an old garret. [Hoodwink #2: With a careful choice of wording, Austin confessed that he did not “attempt to befog” the reader with real entries from a real journal.]
“Neither has it been thought necessary to use a form of language strikingly different from the present; for, however much the seeming quaintness, it repels continuous reading, and the real difference in style of the two periods, is not so marked as often imagined.
“Yet, without these customary attestations to reliability, [Hoodwink #3: he confessed here that we will not be able to verify the reliability of the content since he tweaked the antiquated language, deceptively suggesting he was working from an antiquated text.] there is here much fact, if some fancy is also interwoven. [Uh-huh.] As to the seven stories told at the Seven Club, the reader must be his own judge [He’s off the hook!] of whether, in a more credulous age than ours, these were really told and taken in all seriousness, or whether each strove to outdo the others in marvels, as happens often in our day.
“But as to this Journal, if any should be found so doubting as to think there was no such man as the one now edited, [Hoodwink #4: using the ruse of offering up proof that William Jefferay was a real man whose grave bore a real inscribed headstone, he lulled the readers into a false sense of trust that what they were about to read was equally real.] let him go to the house of Sergeant Bull (still standing), where Jefferay first met his wife; or, doubting yet, he may hie him to the old cemetery, and there read, while time still spares the almost gone inscription:
“Here lyeth interred the body of Wm. Jeffray Gentl, who departed this life on the 2d day of Jan’y, 1675, in the 85th year of his age.
Since every tomb an epitaph can have,
The Muses owe their tribute to this grave,
And to succeeding ages recommend
His worthy name, who lived and died their friend;
Being full of days and virtues, love, and peace,
God from his troubles gave him a release,
And called him unto the celestial place,
Where happy souls view their Creator’s face.
Vivit post funera Virtus”
“Now shall the gentle reader, no longer doubting, read Mr. Jefferay’s Journal aright, and learn, perchance, some things worth the keeping.” [Hoodwink #5: “No longer doubting,” we were welcomed to read the journal as if it, too, was real. And many of us did just that!]
Well, well, well. As I dug a little deeper, I discovered that Mr. Austin must have enjoyed great success with his book, publishing a sequel to it the following year:
(Title Page) ‘MORE SEVEN CLUB TALES
Found in Mr. Jefferay’s papers marked:
Some strange relatings, sent by divers of mine acquaintance,
with a desire that they be read unto the Seven Club.
Here followeth a naming of within. W.J.’ [nice touch-adding William Jefferay’s initials]
Edited by John Osborne Austin.
Compiler of “The Journal of William Jefferay, Gentleman.1900”’
[from the Preface] “It was doubtless Mr. Jefferay’s intention to have read these tales at the Seven Club, though whether he ever did so is unknown. Evidently those who sent them to him were familiar with the tales already told at the club, and were acquainted with the members. The narrations heretofore published (as part of Mr. Jefferay’s Journal) were so favorably received, that it has been decided to print these later found [aka “I just made them up, too”] stories, as a proper sequel… Wherefore, gentle reader, give unto them a fair hearing, and your courtesy shall, perchance, be something requited. JOHN OSBORNE AUSTIN. Providence, R.I.”
I also found reference made to this sequel in an author’s notes from “The Town Records of Rhode Island: A Report, Volume 8 by Amos Perry. On page 279, Perry states, “More Seven Club Tales is the title of an interesting pamphlet recently issued by John O. Austin. These quaint tales, imaginary in structure, but founded on fact, form a sequel to the author’s Journal of William Jefferay.” [This was a nice way of saying that Austin created the tales based on things he knew about the individuals to whom he attributed the stories.]
But, thank goodness for authors who don’t mince their words. In Matthews and Pierce’s book, American Diaries: An Annotated Bibliography of American Diaries Written Prior to the Year 1861, Volume 16, published in 1945, we find the following description:
“Jefferay, William (1591-1675) of Chiddingly, Eng., and Newport, R.I. Private diary, 1650-January 1669 (preceded by autobiographical notes); a fake diary [yes, a FAKE diary!] of the life of an actual inhabitant of Providence, recently written. John O. Austin, The Journal of William Jefferay (
1899) 189 pp.”
Please excuse me while I go eat my humble pie!