"Your most obedient humble servant."
During the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, men of Sevier's social and political stature used some version of this phrase so frequently that I thought it appropriate to use it myself during book signing events for John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero. The gesture evokes feelings of loyalty and humility, and projects a statesmanlike quality that I find admirable.
The expression of good manners found in this polite farewell greeting was once considered a hallmark of a gentleman. With modern society's current obsession with social media soundbites and hashtags, however, I feel that we have lost the simple civility expressed in these kind words. When was the last time you received a hand-written letter, much less a "Sincerely Yours" that was, in fact, sincere?
In my ongoing effort to root myself more deeply in the time-honored traditions of the past, I wanted to learn more about the letter writing practices of this earlier time. So, I've compiled a brief list of books I'm planning to read on this subject. I share them with you today as "Your most obedient humble servant."
- Eve Tavor Bannet. Empire of Letters: Letter Manuals and Transatlantic Correspondence, 1680-1820. Cambridge University Press, 2006.
- William Merrill Decker. Epistolary Practices. University of North Carolina Press, 1988.
- Konstantin Dierks. In My Power: Letter Writing and Communications in Early America. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009.
- Sarah M.S. Persall. Atlantic Families: Lives & Letters in the Later Eighteenth Century. Oxford University Press, 2008.
- David S. Shields. Civil Tongues and Polite Letters in British America. University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.