Joseph Priestley House

Northumberland, Pennsylvania

Letters to the Inhabitants of Northumberland and its Neighborhood

Joseph Priestley reached out to his Northumberland neighbors in 1799 book
Sunbury Press Inc. has released a modern edition of a 1799 book that scientist/clergyman Joseph Priestley published to rebut propagandist William Cobbett and other 18th century critics who faulted his views on politics and religion. Priestley lived in Northumberland, Pa., at the time.

Released as a paperback, the new volume retains the title of the original – “Letters to the Inhabitants of Northumberland and its Neighborhood” – that was published by Northumberland printer Andrew Kennedy. The new volume features modernized typography, spelling and punctuation.

The reissue of the book was sponsored by the non-profit Friends of the Joseph Priestley House, which operates the state-owned Joseph Priestley House in Northumberland as a museum. Three members of the Friends organization – Deb Bernhisel, Susan Brook and Tom Bresenhan – transcribed the letters using OCR text from Google and a scan of the first edition.

“We are delighted to release this new edition,” said Bresenhan, who coordinated the effort. “The Friends of Joseph Priestley House plan to release an updated version of other books written by Priestley while he lived in Northumberland.”

World famous for discovering oxygen, Priestley was 60 when he left England in self-imposed exile in 1794, bound for Pennsylvania. He took up residence in the village of Northumberland, and intended to devote his remaining years in pursuit of new scientific discoveries and in writing about religious and political themes. Instead, Priestley frequently came under attack and devoted much time and energy to answering his critics.
“It is commonly said that when much dirt is thrown, some will stick,” Priestley said in one letter.

“When he found himself increasingly unpopular and misunderstood by the people of his new hometown, Priestley responded by writing these letters,” said Northumberland author John L. Moore, who edited the revised book and wrote the foreword. “He explained his political and religious beliefs, but also told how, why and when he had become an honorary citizen of France; listed the reasons why he admired the U.S. Constitution; and justified his decision not to become a U.S. citizen.”

Copies of the book are available at the Joseph Priestley House and the Northumberland County Historical Society, Sunbury, Pa. They may also be ordered online from Sunbury Press, an independent publisher based in Mechanicsburg, PA and  in print or digital form from Amazon.com.

 

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