Library & Archives
Philip Freneau (1752-1832)
Lois R. Densky
Gregory J. Plunges
Monmouth County Historical Association
70 Court Street
Freehold, New Jersey
Philip Morin Freneau a poet, editor, and mariner, was born on January 2, 1752, on Frankfort Street in New York City. He was the son of Pierre Freneau (1718-1767) and Agnes Watson (1727-1817), who was the daughter of Richard Watson (n.d.) of Freehold, N.J. Philip's brother Peter (1757-1813) was a former Secretary of State for South Carolina. Pierre Freneau and his family eventually acquired a summer home named Mount Pleasant near Middletown Point (now Matawan), N.J., where Philip made his home.
Philip Freneau was educated privately by tutors. In 1768 at age fifteen, he matriculated in the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) and graduated in 1771. He was a classmate and roommate of James Madison. It was at college that he began his literary career by composing a poem that was read at the graduation exercise. Afterward, he taught at a seminary in Maryland and continued writing.
At the onset of the American Revolution in 1776, Philip Freneau took a position as a secretary to a Mr. Hanson, a prominent planter on Santa Cruz Island in the West Indies. He stayed three years, and wrote some of his finest poems, which utilized elements of romanticism, a style not yet popular in Europe.
Returning to America in July 1778, Freneau was captured and imprisoned by the British who released him shortly thereafter. He was again captured by the British in 1780 and was released in very poor health after six weeks. His captivity was probably in retaliation for at least eight satirical pamphlets aimed at the British that he published during the war.
Between 1781 and 1783, Philip Freneau worked at the Philadelphia Post Office. He continued writing and publishing, and probably helped edit Francis Bailey's newspaper the Freeman's Journal. Bailey later printed several of Freneau's collected works. It was during this period that his poetry earned him the title of "Poet of the American Revolution." In 1784, Freneau sailed as master of a brig bound for Jamaica and for several years traveled throughout the Caribbean.
He married Eleanor Forman (1768-1850), the daughter of Samuel Forman (1713-1792) and Helena Denise (1728-1789) of Middletown Pt., N.J., on April 15, 1790. They had four daughters.
Philip Freneau was engaged in newspaper work for the next seven or eight years. Between 1790 and 1791, he edited the New York Daily Advertiser. In 1791, Thomas Jefferson offered Freneau a federal post in Philadelphia as a translating clerk in the Department of State, a position that paid $250 per year. At the same time, he issued the first number of the National Gazette, a paper that fostered democratic principles. He retained these positions until 1793 when he returned to his Mount Pleasant home at Middletown Pt.
In 1795 and 1796, he published Monmouth County's first newspaper named the Jersey Chronicle, which was printed at his Mount Pleasant print shop. In 1797, he moved to New York to edit The Time-Piece until his retirement from journalism.
He spent the remainder of his life at sea and on his New Jersey property. Fire destroyed the Mount Pleasant home in 1818, and Philip removed himself and his family to a house near Freehold. While walking home in an intoxicated condition, Freneau lost his way and died of exposure on December 19, 1832. He was buried in the family burying ground at Mount Pleasant.
DESCRIPTION OF COLLECTION
The Philip Freneau Collection is primarily built around the John H. Cook Collection of Freneau Material, and other items acquired by gift or purchased from various sources. The collection includes papers, photographs and drawings, bound volumes, printed material, and memorabilia. The bulk of the collection dates from 1714 to 1832.
The papers include two letters by Freneau (one to Col, Jonathan Forman and one to Dr. J.W. Francis), a partial copy of a 1794 broadside, a quit claim and bond belonging to Freneau's mother Agnes Watson Freneau Kearney, and a draft of an 1822 proposal to publish a new edition of his poems. A 1936 copy of notes in John Hammell's receipt and notebook is also located in this series. These records were transcribed and annotated by Lewis Leary. John Hammell was Freneau's son-in-law having married his eldest daughter Helen (b.1791). Photostats obtained in 1939 of Freneau's family bible and pension records complete this group.
The photographs and drawings include views of Freneau's tombstone in the Freneau section of Matawan, N.J., his print shop, and portraits of himself and Eleanor Forman Freneau. The drawings are watercolors by Helen P. Strong, which depict Freneau's gravesite.
The printed material contains broadsides, newspapers, magazines, copies of Freneau's works, and books from his personal library. The 1775 broadside was a satirical poem on the execution of James Rivington, and the 1794 broadside announced Freneau's intention to start a newspaper entitled The Monmouth Gazette, and East Jersey Intelligencer. However, this paper was never published. The Rivington broadside is one of two known copies. (Please see Appendix B for a list of newspapers, magazines, and books contained in the collection.) A checklist of Philip Freneau's material in the library can be found in the Monmouth County Historical Association Bulletin V.1, No.2 (July, 1948) pp.49-57 located in the Philip Freneau Collection File. A Research File is also available. Additional material acquired since 1948 can be located through the card catalog.
Arrangement of the Philip Freneau Collection is chronological within the series. The exception to this is the printed material, which is arranged first by document type then chronologically. Freneau's personal library is arranged alphabetically by author. Items removed include a drawing, oversize newspapers, the framed broadsides, and the memorabilia.
The Philip Freneau Collection provides excellent source material for biographers and bibliographers of Philip Freneau. The collection is also useful for the study of literature created during the American Revolution and the War of 1812. The Philip Freneau Collection highlights the life and activities of this distinguished Monmouth County author.
In Collection 56 William S. Holmes Collection and in Collection 22 Cherry Hall Papers, there items of Philip's brother Peter Freneau. Related collections elsewhere in New Jersey include Miscellaneous Manuscripts (1664-1956) and the Montgomery Family Papers both housed at the New Jersey Historical Society in Newark, and the Philip Freneau Papers housed at Rutgers University Library in New Brunswick.
1. Papers. 1793 -1822, 1936-1939. 10 items. Arranged chronologically.
2. Photographs & Drawings. 1905, n.d. 10 items.
3. Bound Volumes. 1810 1856. 2 items. Arranged chronologically.
4. Printed Material. 1661 1906. 51 items Arranged first by document type then chronologically, except for Freneau's personal library which is arranged alphabetically by author.
PROVENANCE: Acquired between 1913 and 1976 by gift or purchase.
The American Autograph Shop, Merion Station, PA., purchase 1941.
American Library Service, New York City, N.Y., purchase 1939 & 1943
Arrowsmith, Misses Eliza & Julia, Matawan, N.J., In memory of Thomas H. Arrowwsmith, gift 1940
Bieber, Albert A., Manasquan, N.J., purchase 1934
Borden, Bertram H., Rumson, N.J., in memory of Mary Owen Borden, gift 1940 & 1942
Caesar, Harry I., New York City, N.Y., gift 1940
Conover, John, Plainfield, N.J., purchase 1943
(Heirs of) Conover, Sarah Holmes Hubbard gift, n.d.
Farr, Mrs. Warren David, Baton Rouge, La. (widow of John H. Cook, Red Bank, N.J.), gift of John H. Cook Collection of Freneau Material 1933, other items 1942
Feltus, Edward H. III, Freehold, N.J., gift 1950
Harris, Mr. & Mrs. Alexander, in memory of Francis M. Rosenfeld, gift, n.d.
Haskell, Mrs. J. Amory, Red Bank, N.J., gift 1935 & 1940
Haynes, Caroling C. & Helen, Highalnds, N.J., In memory of William De Forest Haynes, gift 1940
Kollock, Miss Anna Arnett, Red Bank, N.J., gift 1946
Leary, Lewis Gaston Jr., Chapel Hill, N.C., gift 1935-1976
Leonard, Mr. & Mrs. Philip, Leonardo, N.J., gift 1936
Parsons, Mrs. William Barclay, Locust, N.J., in memory of Gen. William Barclay Parsons, gift 1940
Pickersgill, Harold E., Perth Amboy, N.J., purchase 1942
Rosenfeled, Mrs. Francis M., Elberon, N.J., in memory of Francis M. Rosenfeld, gift 1943 and 1946
Smock, John Conover, gift 1913
Statesir, Mrs. William V., Freehold, N.J., gift 1935
Straus, Edward K., New York City, N.Y., In memory of Herbert N. Straus, gift 1938-1940
William, Mr. C.M., Avon, N.J., gift 1935
SIZE OF COLLECTION: 2 Linear Feet (73 items)
BOX # / FOLDER # / CONTENTS
1 / 1 / Papers, 1793 - 1822
1 / 2 / Transcribed Hammell Receipt and Notebook and Photostats of Family Bible and Pension Records, 1936 - 1939
1 / 3 / Photographs and Drawings, 1905, n.d.
1 / 3 / Hammell Receipt and Notebook, 1810 - 1856
1 / 3 / Freehold Library Co. Register Book, 1830 - 1832
1 / 3 / Jersey Chronicle V. 1, May 9, 1795 - April 30, 1796
1 / 4 / Jersey Chronicle - Photostats. May 2, 30, 1795, Aug 1, 1795 (Supplement)
1 / 5 / American Museum. May, Aug 1787, Nov 1788, May 1790, Oct 1791, Aug 1792. Carey's Franklin Almanack 1802.
1 / 5 / Freneau's Works, 1778 - 1786
2 / - / Freneau's Works, 1794 - 1906
3 / - / Freneau's Personal Library Books, A - M
4 / - / Freneau's Personal Library Books, O - S
Ellis, Franklin. History of Monmouth County, New Jersey Philadelphia : RT Peck, 1885
Johnson, Allen and Dumas Malone, Ed. Dictionary of American Biography. V. 7 & 8. New York : Charles Scribner's Sons, 1946, pp. 27 - 28.
** Please note that many additional secondary sources on Philip Freneau are available in the library. Microfilm of Freneau's National Gazette from 1791-1793 is also available.
This page last updated 4 August 2008.