University of Rochester

EVENT: Author of Book on Sam Patch Will Give Local Lecture

October 14, 2003

A distinguished social historian who has used Rochester to illustrate changes in early 19th century American society will be giving a talk on how the study of history has evolved over the past three decades.

Paul E. Johnson, whose most recent book is a biography of daredevil Sam Patch, will speak at 8 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 6, in Hoyt Auditorium on the University of Rochester's River Campus. His talk, which will include many anecdotes about Rochester history, is free and open to the public and will include a book sale and signing.

Johnson has been praised for the vivid prose of his writing, accessible to a general audience, with stories and details that illuminate historical changes in American society.

In Sam Patch, the Famous Jumper, Johnson describes Patch as the first modern celebrity and a member of the first American generation to grow up in an industrial community. Patch, a mill worker, thrilled crowds by leaping from the tops of waterfalls. He made successful jumps in New Jersey and Niagara Falls before running out of luck on his second leap from Rochester's High Falls on Friday, Nov. 13, 1829.

Rochester's location makes it ideal for studying the rapid changes occurring in society in the early 19th century, Johnson explained.

"What I study is the first generation of Americans who lived in a thoroughly commercial society, and Rochester, sitting on the Erie Canal, is a good place to look for that transformation," Johnson said.

In his 1978 book, A Shopkeeper's Millennium: Society and Revivals in Rochester, New York, 1815-1837, Johnson explored the economic, social, political, and religious changes that led to the evangelical revival and reform movements in the early 19th century in New York state.

Johnson, a professor of history at the University of South Carolina, is also co-author of the books The Kingdom of Matthias: A Story of Sex and Salvation in 19th Century America and Liberty, Equality, Power: A History of the American People. He has taught at the University of Utah and at Princeton and Yale Universities, and is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities/American Antiquarian Society Fellowship, and the Merle Curti Award for best book in social, intellectual, or cultural history from the Organization of American Historians.

Johnson is currently working on a study of traveling entertainment in the first half of the 19th century, which also will examine the conflict between religion and the granting of entertainment licenses in Rochester.

His talk is cosponsored by the Department of History at the University of Rochester and the Rochester Historical Society. It is part of the history department's Verne Moore Lecture Series, an annual series that has been funded by a gift from University alumnus Verne Moore, Class of 1950, since 1996.

The Rochester Historical Society, founded in 1860 and in continuous operation since 1888, is the city's oldest museum and archive whose mission is to collect, preserve, and interpret the history of Rochester's urban heritage for the community.

For more information on Johnson's talk, contact the history department at the University, (585) 275-2052.