Notebook of Adrian College founder Asa Mahan is back on campus after restoration

asa mahan

A piece of Adrian College history is back on campus following intensive conservation efforts in Browns Summit, North Carolina. A notebook written by Adrian College founder Asa Mahan, filled with outlines for sermons, lectures and books, was in deteriorating condition when it was sent to the ECS Conservation Group in April 2014. Many of the pages, penned beginning in 1840, were detached or riddled with water stains. The notebook’s binding was in poor condition, offering little protection to the historic writings inside.

Librarian Noelle Keller and college chaplain Chris Momany discussed what needed to be done to preserve the document and, with the help of vice president for development Jim Mahony, a donor was identified to bring their conservation plans to reality. 

Support for the project, which cost about $4,600, came from the Julia M. & Everett L. Ridge Trust. Staff at the ECS Conservation Group mended tears, rebound the document and sewed detached pages. After months of preservation, the original manuscript, a facsimile and library copy were all returned to Shipman Library.

This manuscript most notably includes Mahan’s writings describing his, at the time, radical interpretation of the Constitution. Mahan differed from the majority of thinkers during the 1800s by arguing that the U.S. Constitution, as a literal document, did not sanction slavery.

Momany, a leading scholar on Asa Mahan, stresses the importance of the document.

“It illustrates the way intellectuals of the period were analyzing the human will, how they looked at the ‘moral law,’ and how they interpreted certain biblical material,” Momany said.

The document will serve as a tool to freshman students as they take the First Year Experience “Core” class and take part in a debate regarding slavery and the interpretation of the Constitution. With preservation complete, students will have direct access to Mahan’s personal interpretation and can conduct research on slavery and the Constitution using this primary document.

Keller said the project will benefit students’ research.

“We have high quality copies now,” she said. “If students want to do research using this document, they don’t have to put on gloves and be scared to flip through it.”

She added, “I think taking on a preservation project like this shows a commitment to Adrian College’s history and a desire to link the founding principles of the institution to the work the College is doing today. Having a preserved copy of the manuscript, we are able to better carry the college’s founding traditions forward.”

  • Christopher Momany

    Thank you for posting this piece. The Mahan manuscript is a treasure — truly a priceless resource for those studying the abolitionist tradition and ethics in American history.