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Home North Carolina Edgecombe County City of Tarboro Historical Markers John Spencer Bassett

John Spencer Bassett

Wilson Street at Albemarle Avenue, Tarboro, NC, USA

Latitude & Longitude: 35° 53' 55.59", -77° 32' 18.6756"
  North Carolina State Historical Marker
    North Carolina State
Historical Marker
    Marker Text:
"Historian. Professor at Trinity College, 1894-1906. Secretary, Amer. Historical Association, 1919-1928. Born here."
     John Spencer Bassett (1867-1928) was born in Tarboro to Richard and Mary (Wilson) Bassett. His father, a builder and contractor, had moved to eastern North Carolina from Virginia shortly before the Civil War. Young Bassett entered Trinity College, then in Randolph County, in 1886 and was graduated two years later. After teaching in Durham public schools and back at Trinity for three years, he entered The Johns Hopkins University at the urging of Trinity professor Stephen B. Weeks. Under the tutelage of Herbert Baxter Adams, he graduated in 1894. His dissertation was published as The Constitutional Beginnings of North Carolina, 1663-1729.

     Bassett returned to Trinity, by then removed to Durham, where he remained for twelve years. He launched in 1897 the Historical Papers of the Trinity College Historical Society, the only outlet in the state at the time for scholarly historical publication. While at Trinity, Bassett published three books on slavery in North Carolina, edited the papers of William Byrd, and, shortly before leaving for Smith College, wrote The Federalist System, a volume in the American Nation series. His publications while at Smith were many, including A Short History of the United States (1913), a textbook that proved to be financially rewarding.

     Bassett's place in the annals of North Carolina history was secured by publication in 1903 of a controversial article in the South Atlantic Quarterly praising Booker T. Washington and placing him in a category with Robert E. Lee. The article created a contretemps, one stirred particularly by (Raleigh) News and Observer editor Josephus Daniels who demanded that the professor be fired (in the articles he referred to the historian as bASSett). In a landmark endorsement of academic freedom, in December 1903 the Trinity president defended the outspoken professor and declined to dismiss him.

     Bassett, who served as secretary of the American Historical Association from 1919 until his death, was killed in Washington, D.C., in 1928 while crossing the street on his way to represent the American Historical Association at a meeting of the Council of Learned Societies.

William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I (1979), 107-108 – sketch by Robert H. Woody
Dumas Malone, ed., Dictionary of American Biography, II, 38-39
Edgecombe County Deeds, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh
“Gray’s New Map of Tarboro” (1882)
Related Themes: C.S.A., Confederate States of America, Confederacy
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John Spencer Bassett Historical Marker Location Map, Tarboro, North Carolina