Jack Appleby (1907–1974)

aka: John Tate Appleby

Arkansas native John Tate (Jack) Appleby was a biographer of English kings of the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries and a long-time associate editor of the American Historical Review. He is best remembered in the Borough of St. Edmundsbury in southeastern England, where he served in the U.S. Army Air Force during the final months of World War II and traveled by bicycle then and just after the war. Appleby’s memoir of those times, Suffolk Summer, has remained in print since its publication in 1948.

Jack Appleby was born on June 10, 1907, in Fayetteville (Washington County) to George and Gertrude (Baylor) Appleby. Along with his brother Charles, George Appleby owned a number of orchards and canning factories in and around Fayetteville. Jack was the oldest of five children and was the only son. He was a 1923 graduate of University High School, a part of the University of Arkansas’s lab school established to support teacher training.

Appleby received his AB degree in English, cum laude, from Harvard College in 1928. He then went to Paris to study at the Sorbonne while working as a reporter for the Paris Times. He moved to Washington DC, where he wrote a column, “Post Impressions,” and book reviews for the Washington Post. During the final months of World War II, he served as a trainer in celestial navigation for pilots in the Eighth Air Force, stationed on two bases in Suffolk. He never married or had children.

After the war, Appleby returned to Fayetteville to operate one of his family’s apple orchards and to write. His first work, Suffolk Summer, published by East Anglian Magazine, Ltd. in 1948, was an affectionate record of the months he had spent bicycling around East Anglia, enjoying the working landscapes of the region and the friends he met there. With its completion, Appleby began the first of several scholarly biographies of English kings. In 1953, this project took him back to Washington DC, where he deciphered and translated the Latin text of the Close and Patent Rolls, the private letters and public announcements of King John’s seventeen-year reign (1199–1216), which became the basis of his book. In 1959, the year of publication of this first history, John, King of England, Appleby became membership secretary of the American Historical Association; he soon began to work primarily on the American Historical Review (AHR), the association’s journal, and served in its Washington DC office as its associate editor until his death, while continuing his own scholarly writing with books about the reigns of Stephen, Henry II, and Richard I.

Appleby died of leukemia on December 19, 1974, in Washington. He is buried with his parents and other relatives at Evergreen Cemetery in Fayetteville. In an obituary published in American Historical Review, a colleague said of Appleby, “Although he steadfastly maintained that his world ended in 1215 [at the end of the reign of King John], he had an immense knowledge of all fields of history and brought to his tasks a knowledge of the historical profession in the United States and England that was probably unrivaled anywhere.” Appleby donated his royalties from Suffolk Summer for maintenance of the gardens of the Abbey at Bury St. Edmunds, and one of those gardens honors his memory today—the John Appleby Rose Garden. Because the memoir remains in print, the royalties continue to support its upkeep. It was at this Abbey where the barons met in 1214 and swore their oath to force King John to grant them the charter that, in due course, became the Magna Carta, and so this place connects Appleby’s pleasures in post-war Suffolk to the history that he spent his life writing.

For additional information:
Appleby, John T. Suffolk Summer. Ipswitch, England: East Anglian Magazine, Ltd., 1948.

Jansma, Harriet. “Jack Appleby, Fayetteville Historian.” Arkansas Libraries 39 (June 1982): 24–27.

John T. Appleby Papers. Special Collections. Georgetown University Libraries, Washington DC.

Webb, R. K. “Obituary of John T. Appleby.” American Historical Review 80 (April 1975): 551–552.

Harriet Jansma
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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