Updates about Ukawsaw Gronniosaw Part 2: Frelinghuysen’s convert


By Helene van Rossum

Helene van Rossum is a Dutch-born researcher and writer, who worked at SCUA as public services and outreach archivist in 2016-2018


In our previous post we shared information about Cornelius Van Horne, the Dutch merchant in New York who enslaved Ukawsaw Gronniosaw (c. 1705-1775) on his plantation on the Raritan and sold him to his minister, Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen. In this post we share insights about A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw (1772), the first book by a Black person to be published in Britain. According to historian Ryan Henley it should be seen in the context of the propaganda war between pro- and antislavery Calvinists in England, where Gronniosaw went to find George Whitefield, charismatic leader of the Great Awakening.

Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen (1691- c. 1747)

Dutch reformed minister Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen was 28 when he gave his first sermon to the Raritan congregation in January 1720, later the First Reformed Church of Somerville. The congregation had sent a call for a minister to Amsterdam together with the congregations of Three Mile Run, Six Mile Run, and North Branch (later the First Reformed Churches of New Brunswick, Franklin Park, and Readington, respectively). He resided in Three Mile Run, where he and his wife Eva Terhune–whom he met soon after his arrival–were given a farm.

Frelinghuysen was not pleased with what he saw among his congregants. According to the translator of his first sermons he found that

great laxity of manners prevailed throughout his charge … that while horse-racing, gambling, dissipation, and rudeness of various kinds were common, the [church] was attended at convenience, and religion consisted of the mere formal pursuit of the routine of duty.

Passionate and blunt, Frelinghuysen caused a stir. Convinced that he could distinguish between the “generate” (the spiritually and morally reformed) and the “ungenerate,” he excommunicated three members of the community. This led a group of disgruntled families from all four congregations to appeal to the church authorities in the Netherlands (the Classis of Amsterdam), a conflict that lasted eighteen years.

Focussed on the conversion of sinners rather than on the nurture of believers,” Frelinghuysen addressed his parishioners with fiery language.

Quote from Frelinghuysen’s sermon “The Great Earthquake: Emblem of Judgement on Enemies of the Church”, translated and published in 1738 (source)

Among Frelinghuysen’s listeners was James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, whom the pastor had purchased after hearing how the young man had warned his mistress not to swear. He had asked a tutor, Peter Van Arsdalen (described as ‘Vanosdore’ in Gronniosaw’s Narrative) to teach him to read and write and school him in the Dutch Calvinist faith. It is no wonder that Gronniosaw underwent the experiential conversion that Frelinghuysen preached. According to theologian Joel Beeke “Frelinghuysen taught that only those are truly saved who have experienced conversion, which includes [ . . . ] not only the knowledge of sin and misery, but also the experience of deliverance in Christ, resulting in a lifestyle of gratitude to God.”

Quote from A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw (1772) (source)

According to Ryan Hanley, “the final criterion of Frelinghuysen’s vision for salvation was fulfilled when Gronniosaw ‘blest God for my poverty, that I had no worldly riches or grandeur to draw my heart from him’.” But most important for pro-slavery Calvinists was what was written next. “Gronniosaw reconciled himself to his own enslavement, declaring that he ‘would not have changed situations [ . . . ] for the whole world.’”

George Whitefield (1714-1770)

George Whitefield Preaching in Bolton, June 1750, by Thomas Walley (source)

Gronniosaw’s conversation was in line with what many Americans in the 18th century experienced in what became known as the “Great Awakening,” a time of spiritual renewal in the colonies among protestant congregations, with parallels in Europe. Presbyterian revivalist Gilbert Tennent (1703-1763), minister in New Brunswick since 1726, was one of the movement’s early leaders. He was great friends with Frelinghuysen and claimed to have learned a lot from his preaching.

The most important leader of the movement, however, was Anglican evangelist George Whitefield, founder of the Methodist movement in England together with the brothers John and Charles Wesley. Preaching mainly outdoors, he drew crowds in England as well as in the American colonies, which he toured seven times between 1739 and 1770. On November 20, 1739 he preached in New Brunswick three times at Gilbert Tennent’s church. In his journal he described Frelinghuysen as a “worthy old soldier of Jesus Christ,” who was the “beginner of the great work which I trust the Lord is carrying on in these parts.”

According to his autobiography, Gronniosaw was so impressed with Whitefield’s  preaching that after the death of Frelinghuysen’s widow and sons he decided to go to England to search for him.

Quote from A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw (1772) (source)

Gronniosaw was not the only Black person who was impressed by Whitefield. Among the thousands of people who came to hear Whitefield preach, a substantial number were enslaved. After traveling through the South in 1739 Whitefield wrote a passionate “letter to the inhabitants of Maryland, Virginia, North, and South Carolina,” published in 1740 by Benjamin Franklin. He chastised Southern slave owners for mistreating their servants and not helping them convert to the Christian faith.

However, by the mid 1740s Whitefield owned a plantation and enslaved workers himself. Realizing he could not raise funds for an orphanage in Georgia without enslaved workers he became a leading proponent of legalization of slavery in Georgia, where slavery had been banned. According to church historian and biographer Thomas Kidd, Whitefield’s relationship to slavery represents the “greatest ethical problem in his career.”

Selina Hastings (1707-1791)

Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, by unknown painter (source)

Whitefield died in 1770 during his seventh tour in the American colonies. In his will he had left his plantation and slaves, as well as the orphanage that he founded, to his patroness Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, who played an important role in the religious revival and Methodist movement in England and Wales. Though she and Whitefield were originally close to John Wesley, they grew apart over the Calvinist concept of predestination.

They disagreed about slave ownership too. In 1774, Wesley published his anti-slavery views in Thoughts on Slavery, while Selina Hastings had financed the publication of Gronniosaw’s Narrative two years earlier. Written with the help of a woman in Hasting’s circles, in the Narrative Gronniosaw seemed to embrace his enslavement as a means to get to know God.

In a preface of the 1790 edition minister Walter Shirley – a cousin of Selina Hastings – stated that the book provided the answer to the question how God will deal with “those benighted  parts of the word where the Gospel of Jesus Christ hath never reached.”

Part or preface of Walter Shirley, cousin of Selina Hastings, in the 1790 edition of Gronniosaw’s Narrative

For Walter Shirley the answer was clear. “Whatever infidels and deists may think; I trust the Christian reader will easily discern an all-wise and omnipotent appointment and direction in these movements.”

The financiers, producers, and readers of Gronniosaw’s text were “Calvinists seeking to prove that freedom was not necessary to achieve salvation,” Hanley concludes. “Many of them derived the bulk of their wealth from the institution. It can hardly be surprising, then, that the Narrative does not call for the abolition of the slave trade as some of its more famous successors would.”

The Frelinghuysen sons

Quote from A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw (1772)

When Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen was dying he told Gronniosaw that he had freed him in his will. Gronniosaw, who had already served the Frelinghuysen family for over twenty years, decided to continue to serve the widow and her children. All five sons became ministers, and the two daughters married ones.

The tragic story of the five Frelinghuysen brothers will be told in another post.


Contents of this blog post were shared in a presentation “‘That class of people called Low Dutch’: African Enslavement Among the Dutch Reformed Churches of Ulster County and New Jersey’s Raritan Valley,” by Helene van Rossum and Wendy Harris at Historic Huguenot Street, New Paltz, NY (April 7, 2018)

Further Reading

Balmer, Randall H. 2002. A Perfect Babel of Confusion: Dutch Religion and English Culture in the Middle Colonies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hanley, Ryan. “Calvinism, Proslavery and James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw.” Slavery & Abolition 36, no. 1 (2015): 360-381.

Matthews, Christopher, The Black Freedom Struggle in Northern New Jersey, 1613-1860, an illustrated essay in six parts

Tanis, James. 1967. Dutch Calvinistic Pietism in the Middle Colonies: A Study in the Life and Theology of Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff


Updates about Ukawsaw Gronniosaw Part 1: the Van Horne plantation


By Helene van Rossum

Helene van Rossum is a Dutch-born researcher and writer, who worked at SCUA as public services and outreach archivist in 2016-2018


Quote from A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw (1772) [source]

When Scarlet and Black’s first volume Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History came out in 2016, it was Rutgers’ connection to Sojourner Truth that made the headlines. The chapter about James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, enslaved servant of Dutch minister Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen–an early advocate of Queen’s College–did not get much attention. That is not difficult to understand, because Gronniosaw’s 1772 autobiography–the first book of a Black person to be printed in England–did not fit in the genre of abolitionist “slave narratives.” Just before the Scarlet and Black volume came out British historian Ryan Hanley published an article in which he not only identified the Dutch parishioner who sold Gronniosaw to his pastor, he also placed Gronniosaw’s book in the context of the propaganda war between pro- and antislavery Calvinists in England.

James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw (c.1705-75)

Obituary in the Chester Chronicle or Commercial Intelligencer, Chester, England, October 2, 1775 (Source)

Although he had spent most of his life in New Jersey, Ukawsaw Gronniosaw (who also used the name James Albert) died in England only three years after the publication of his book. According to his Narrative he was born an African prince, who willingly left his family and country as a young teen, because he was mocked for his belief in a power higher than the sun, moon, and stars that were worshiped at home. He ended up being sold to a Dutch captain who sailed to Barbados, where the boy was purchased by a young Dutch merchant with the name “Vanhorne,” who lived in New York.

Put to work as a house servant, the teenager’s second language became Dutch, which apparently included a lot of swearing. Everybody swore, according to Gronniosaw, so he did so as well. An old enslaved servant named Ned overheard how he scolded a servant girl and “called upon God to damn her.” Ned warned him about a “wicked man called the Devil, that lived in hell” and would burn all people who used those words.

Quote from A Narrative of the Most Remarkable Particulars in the Life of James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw (1772) [source]

Terrified, Gronniosaw immediately stopped swearing. When he overheard his mistress swearing herself he felt obliged to warn her about the consequences. She shared the story with everybody in the neighborhood, which must have included Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen. He had been minister of Raritan and three nearby Dutch churches in the Raritan Valley since 1720. But if she lived in New York, how would they have met?

Cornelius Van Horne (1693-1768)

The Van Horne family was a prosperous family of merchants in New York. According to Jan Cornelis Van Horne and his descendants the family’s founder and his young family emigrated from the Dutch city of Hoorn to New Amsterdam by 1645. His son Cornelius, a furrier and hat dealer, had three sons who all became wealthy merchants: Jan or John (1669-1735), Gerrit (1671-1737), and Abraham (1677-1741) van Horne. They traded, among others, from Barbados, owned land in New Jersey, and can be found among the sloop owners bringing captives into New York.

Looking for the “young, Dutch merchant” among the next generation Ryan Hanley identified Jan’s son Cornelius Van Horne (1693-1768) as the one who purchased Gronniosaw from a Dutch captain sailing from Barbados. That would have made Elizabeth French, who married Cornelius Van Horne in 1718, the young, swearing, mistress whom Gronniosaw wanted to save from hell. Her father, wealthy New York merchant Phillip French, had owned a property of 2754 acres on the Raritan River in Somerset County, which was split between his two surviving daughters in 1722, when Elizabeth’s sister Anna got married to Joseph Reade.

Map that was part of the 1722 deed dividing Philip French’s property on the Raritan River. Annotated reproduction from “New Insights Into Old Places,” Somerset County Historical Quarterly, 1982.

The above map that accompanied the deed shows how Philip French’s property, which bordered the estate of the prosperous Dutch farmer Michael van Veghten in the west, was divided between the two sisters and their husbands. All buildings are circled in red, including the homes of Van Veghten and of Cornelius Van Horn and Elisabeth French, known as “Kells Hall.” The home of Joseph Reade and Anna French on the eastern side was purchased by Cornelius Van Horne’s son Philip in 1750, known as “Phil’s Hill,” presently the Van Horne House. In addition, the map shows the Dutch church on Michael Van Veghten’s property, close to the bridge that he built at the location of the present-day Van Veghten bridge. Known as the Raritan church, it was one of the four Dutch churches where itinerant pastor Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen preached.

The Van Horne plantation

Georeferenced 1722 map of the divided estate of Phillip French on the Raritan River, listed as about 22 miles NW from Perth Amboy.

In a list of members of the Council of New Jersey, Van Horne, who served on the council from 1727 to 1740, is described as dwelling about 22 miles northwest from (Perth) Amboy. In 1774 the estate was described as containing about 1400 acres of land, with a large brick dwelling house (Kell’s Hall), orchards, a grist mill, a smelting house, barns, stables and various outhouses. How many enslaved laborers worked on the plantation we do not know, because Cornelius’s will is only known as an abstract.

Runaway ad in The American Weekly Mercury, September 19, 1724 about enslaved servant Tom

When Cornelius Van Horne and his wife Elisabeth were assigned their half of the estate in 1722–with the Raritan church at walking distance from their home–Gronniosaw was about seventeen years old. We do not know when he was purchased by Van Horne and how long he worked for the family before he was bought by Frelinghuysen, sometime in the 1720s. But Gronniosaw, who served in the house and not in the fields, may very well have known Tom, the tall Black man with the “grave look,” who according to the above ad that Cornelius van Horne placed in September 1724 ran away from the plantation that month.

Emotionally attached to the Frelinghuysen family, however, Gronniosaw would make very different choices, as will be seen in our following blog post “Updates about Ukawsaw Gronniosaw. Part 2: Frelinghuysen’s convert.”

With thanks to retired librarian, poet, and professional genealogist Sharon Olson, for verifying this Cornelius Van Horne is the young merchant who purchased Gronniosaw (possibly through his father Jan) and  sold Gronniosaw to Frelinghuysen. Sharon is the author of ‘The Early Sandford Family in New Jersey Revisited,’ a series of nine articles in The Genealogical Magazine of New Jersey. (2016-2019)

Further Reading

Cooper, Nathalie F. “New Insights Into Old Places, “Kells Hall,” “Phills Hall,” and the Janeway and Broughton Store.” Somerset County Historical Quarterly 1882-1982 commemorative issue, (1982): 3-12

Hanley, Ryan. “Calvinism, Proslavery and James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw.” Slavery & Abolition 36, no. 1 (2015): 360-381.

Matthews, Christopher, The Black Freedom Struggle in Northern New Jersey, 1613-1860, an illustrated essay in six parts


New and Notable: Recent New Jersey Acquisitions


These items have been or will soon be added to the Sinclair New Jersey Collection in Special Collections and University Archives. 

A selection of fine press books:

Anderson, John. The Words of the Masters, Reflections on the Fine Art of Type Design. (Maple Shade, NJ: The Pickering Press, 1982). Wood engravings by John DePol.

Anderson, Ruthmae. Adventures of Billy Bird. (Maple Shade, NJ: The Pickering Press, 1984.) Wood engravings by John    DePol.

DePol, John. Monroe Causley. (New York: The Typophiles, 1996)

Ellis, Mrs. Havelock. Stories by Mrs. Havelock Ellis. (Free Spirit Press, 1924)

Fraser, James,ed. George Linen 1802-1888: An Exhibition of Portraits (Maple Shade, NJ: The Pickering Press, 1983).   

LeGallienne, Richard. Wood Flower. (Madison, NJ: Brayers Club, 1947)

A Pickering Potpourri. (Maple Shade, NJ: The Pickering Press, 1983)  Illustrations by John Anderson.

Types, Magnificent Embellishers of the Printed Word. (Maple Shade, NJ, The Pickering Press, 1981)


Bolshevik, No. 1. (Jersey City, NJ: Revolutionary Workers League, May 1976)

New Jersey Books, 1694–1900: A Descriptive Catalogue of the Joseph J. Felcone Collection. (Princeton: Joseph J. Felcone Inc., 2023)

Ahimsa: Worldwide Magazine of Veganism. (Malaga, NJ: American Vegan Society, May/June 1975)

The Loving Brotherhood Newsletter. (Sussex, NJ: TLB, 1977-1978). Seventeen-issue run.

New and Notable: The Dirt Club


Former Star-Ledger reporter Guy Sterling recently dropped by to donate his collection on Bloomfield’s legendary Dirt Club and share memories of his late friend, colorful owner John “Johnny Dirt” Schroeder. From 1979 to 1991 The Dirt Club hosted a plethora of local and nationally known punk, hardcore, power pop and experimental bands, held events like the Slime Festival on the Passaic, and sponsored compilation albums that included bands that played at the Dirt Club. Among the many New Jersey bands who played the club are The Smithereens, Adrenalin O.D., and Dramarama. National acts who performed there include The Fall, the Modern Lovers, and Wall of Voodoo.     

Guy donated vinyl comps, live recordings on cassette, posters, photos, a scrapbook and more. Among the most unique items in the collection are the club’s famous “dirt bags,” literal bags of dirt that could be purchased at the bar.

We’re thrilled to make a home for the Guy Sterling Collection on the Dirt Club, which complements the New Brunswick Music Scene Archive and the many books, periodicals, and zines we have on music and venues in New Jersey in the Sinclair New Jersey Collection. The collection is currently being processed and in due time will be available to peruse in our reading room.


McCall, Tris. “Remembering Johnny Dirt, the down-to-earth king of the Jersey pop underground.” Inside Jersey, September 23, 2011. https://www.nj.com/entertainment/music/2011/09/remembering_johnny_dirt_the_do.html?fbclid=IwAR2g26r1bpkzuty3sYEq4Lr_J2p01Nd6CeOrSnseblon344l6dGwi8-7JG8

The Digitalization of the Adolf and Ann Robison Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts (Part 3)



by Gary A. Rendsburg
Blanche and Irving Laurie Chair in Jewish History
Department of Jewish Studies


see parts 1 and 2 here and here

At this point, it is worth recalling that virtually all of the texts in the Robison Collection always have been known to the Jewish tradition (Bible, etc.) – notwithstanding the occasional appearance of an interesting variant reading in our documents. Hence, their heuristic value lies more in revealing how a remote Jewish community transmitted the sacred texts for centuries in manuscript form – long after the vast majority of Jewish communities transitioned to the printed book (with the exception of the liturgical reading of handwritten Torah scrolls in the synagogue).

There is more, though, from the realm of popular knowledge (for lack of a better term). Almost all of these documents contain the jots and tittles of various users throughout the ages, as illustrated here, the start of MS 17 (dated to the 17th century), which contains the haftarot, or prophetic portions, read in the synagogue each Shabbat.

The liturgical text proper starts about one-third of the way down the left page (fol. 1r). Above that, framed in decorative squiggles, the original scribe wrote, “in the name of the Merciful One, I shall begin to write the haftarot for the entire year, with the help of the divine, beginning with Genesis” – a nice touch.

Near the top of the page, however, a later user of the text has doodled the alphabet and some random letters: can you imagine using a sacred text in such fashion?!?! But such was life in Yemen, with writing materials at a premium.

And then on the right side, which is actually the inside front cover, another later individual, with a less-than-professional hand, has written the blessings to be intoned before and after the recitation of the biblical text.

Below that appears in large letters, once again in a less-than-professional hand, the words “haftarah of Genesis” (on the first line) and “behold my servant, whom I uphold” (on the second line), the opening words of Isaiah 42:1 (though with the penultimate letter incorrectly formed and then the penultimate letter not actually part of the biblical text). One gains the impression that a lad, still in the process of learning how to write Hebrew, has inscribed these two lines.

Finally, at the far bottom of the page, is another set of lines, not part of Jewish liturgy, as far as I can determine – though I will leave for those more expert than I to decipher and explicate these words.

If we return to the actual biblical text on fol. 1r, for those who can read Hebrew and Aramaic, I would point out the following, very technical information. First, note that the Hebrew original is accompanied by the Aramaic translation (known as Targum Jonathan, in this case); and secondly, the vowels which accompany the consonants are the supralinear Babylonian ones (a system distinct from the better known Tiberian sublinear vowel markings). Re the first: note that in Yemenite synagogues, the biblical text was chanted both in Hebrew and in Aramaic translation, so that the reciter of the text could simply read straight through, using a manuscript such as ours. Re the second: the pronunciation of Hebrew amongst the Yemenite Jews is closer to the ancient system employed in Babylonia (than in the land of Israel), hence, their continued use of this less well known vocalization system.

So much to learn from our inspection of a single photograph! Once again, multiply this exercise by the hundreds, nay by the thousands, and one gets an idea of the true value of our precious Robison Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts – now available to the world at-large through the Ktiv website!

Acknowledgments: I would like to thank Sonia Yaco and the staff of SCUA for their ongoing assistance with this project, as well as my former research assistant, Annabelle (Nonnie) Sinoff (class of 2021), who provided all manner of both academic and logistical support throughout this process.

The Digitalization of the Adolf and Ann Robison Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts (Part 2)


by Gary A. Rendsburg

Blanche and Irving Laurie Chair in Jewish History

Department of Jewish Studies

see part 1 here …

Two-plus years after we began the digital imaging process, we now are able to see the fruits of our labor. A search for ‘Rutgers’ at the Ktiv website yields the requisite number of hits: 63 in total (because some of the documents contain multiple compositions, and thus they have been sub-divided by the Ktiv cataloguers, in order to maximize search capacity). See here for the screen shot indicating the 63 hits, with details about the first two manuscripts (MS 4 and MS 17).



To illustrate how the Ktiv website works in greater detail, I have elected to use Robison MS 9, with the main catalogue entry seen here:

The Hebrew heading informs the user that this document contains the book of Leviticus – though there is more.

If one clicks on ‘Detailed Information’, one is directed to this screen:

where one learns that the text includes not only the Hebrew original, but also the Aramaic translation (known as Targum Onqelos) and the Judeo-Arabic translation (known as the Tafsir, produced by Sa‘adya Gaon).

If one returns to the main catalogue entry and clicks on the ‘View Manuscript’ link (see two images above), one reaches the digital images themselves, with page after page available for viewing, as exemplified here:

The various options in the bottom left include the zoom feature, which – given the high-resolution images – allows the user to see as much detail as one would like. For example, see here for the screen capture of the four lines in the upper right (= the beginning of folio 1v):

Though in fact one can zoom even further – see here, for example, for the last four words on the first line (recalling that Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic are read from right to left):

Multiply this exercise by the hundreds, nay, by the thousands, and one can gain a sense of how our Hebrew manuscripts housed here in New Brunswick are now available to students, scholars, and researchers around the world.

to be continued …

The Digitalization of the Adolf and Ann Robison Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts (Part 1)



by Gary A. Rendsburg

Blanche and Irving Laurie Chair in Jewish History

Department of Jewish Studies

Sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, the Adolf and Ann Robison Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts entered the Rutgers University library holdings. Naturally, they were deposited in Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) in the then relatively recently opened Alexander Library. The c. 50 manuscripts were studied soon thereafter by Professor Leon Feldman (Hebraic Studies), in conjunction with Morris Lutzki, expert in Hebrew manuscripts at the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. The result of their collaboration was a 53-page typewritten catalogue, stored at SCUA along with the manuscripts themselves.

Cover page of the 1964 catalogue.

The manuscripts date to the 15th through 19th centuries and were all written in Yemen. Already in the late 15th century, within decades of the invention of movable type by Johannes Gutenberg, printers (especially in northern Italy) developed Hebrew font for the printing of Hebrew books. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, the printing of Hebrew books burgeoned, as the technology spread to main centers such as Salonika, Istanbul, Amsterdam, and Prague. With the new technology readily available throughout Europe and the Mediterranean basin, manuscripts became rarer and rarer (not only in the Jewish world, of course, but throughout book culture more generally).

The one main exception among Jewish communities was Yemen: due to both the relative poverty of the community and the geographical remoteness of the country, the printing press did not arrive until the 20th century. Hence, Yemenite Jewish scribes continued to copy by hand classical Jewish texts such as the Bible, the prayer book, and the Passover Haggadah. Our Robison Collection of Hebrew Manuscripts may constitute the best testimony to this practice in any library outside of Israel.

Enter the digital age, with more and more libraries digitizing their manuscript collections, with high-resolution images readily available for public inspection on the internet. Riding this wave, in 2014 the National Library of Israel (NLI) created “Ktiv: The International Collection of Digitized Hebrew Manuscripts,” in an effort to aggregate all Hebrew manuscripts at a single website. Eight years on, the project now has c. 600 partners (including Rutgers University), with c. 95,000 documents available in digital images.

Our involvement began in 2019, when Rutgers and the NLI signed an agreement, with the latter providing the funds for the digitalization of our Robison Collection. We moved quickly, hired Bruce White, photographer extraordinaire, arranged for library space to undertake the project, and completed the photographic record in January‒February 2020. The main result was c. 5000 images, using the best equipment possible – though note also the timing: we completed the project just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic would cause the Rutgers campus to close in March 2020, with no further access to Alexander Library.

The pandemic caused some delay, but nonetheless work proceeded. Mr. White mailed an external hard drive containing all the images, all properly organized and labelled, to our colleagues in Jerusalem, and little by little they began to integrate the images into their database.

to be continued …

Updates to Services and Access to Materials


We’re happy to report good news from Special Collections and University Archives: Improved access to our resources and expanded researcher hours and capacity. The main phase of moving our collections has been completed so most of our manuscript collections are accessible to patrons. We retained frequently used collection​s in Alexander Library and ​can provide access to the majority of material​ stored offsite. Retrieval does take longer than usual so advanced notice is required for appointments.

We have expanded ​our reading room hours and are now open Tuesday, Wednesday​, and Thursday 10 am -12:30 pm and 1:30 pm – 4 pm, by appointment only. Likewise, we look forward to increasing our reading room capacity by June, when we move to a larger space on the first floor of Alexander.

Please see the SC/UA Migration Project: Seeking Higher Ground web page for regular updates on our move.

If you have questions about availability of specific material or would like to make an appointment, please contact us.