Unique among Melville's works, Israel Potter was the author's only historical novel, presuming to offer the life history of Revolutionary War figure Israel Potter--based on Potter's own obscure narrative Life and Remarkable Adventures of Israel R. Potter--and featuring characters such as Benjamin Franklin and Ethan Allen. In offering the manuscript to his publisher, Melville assured him, "I engage that the story shall contain nothing of any sort to shock the fastidious. There will be very little reflective writing in it; nothing weighty. It is adventure." This came as a relief, for his previous novel, Pierre, had shocked readers and brought down universal castigation.
This scholarly edition presents a text as close to the author's intention as surviving evidence permits. Based on collations of the original text from Putnam magazine with several impressions of the book edition, it also incorporates emendations made by the present editors. Added features include a photofacsimile of the Life and Remarkable Adventures and a newly discovered portrait of Israel Potter. This edition is an Approved Text of the Center for Editions of American Authors (Modern Language Association of America).