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‘Gas! Gas! Gas!’: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

Posted on 11/16/2016

The November 2016 release of Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia includes several Antebellum broadsides announcing a variety of entertainment events, a volume describing a dangerous expedition to Central Africa, and a Reconstruction-era speech delivered in the U.S. Senate by a former Republican governor from Indiana.


Gas! Gas! Gas! (1853)

By Masonic Hall (Philadelphia, PA)

This broadside advertises a number of extraordinary attractions including an infant percussionist “who beats over one hundred popular airs on the drum” and B.S. Bowen, the “celebrated banjoist and Southern Ethiopian delineator.” However, the main attraction was undoubtedly Dr. Greenwood’s exhibition of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas.

…Professor Greenwood will exhibit his nitrous oxide gas being the only person now engaged in exhibiting its most pleasing and sensitive powers in public exhibitions. Upwards of 500,000 persons, both Ladies and Gentlemen, have inhaled this most wonderful Gas, administered only by Professor Greenwood, a great many of whom have admitted to have been greatly benefited by its most wonderful powers.


An Account of the Progress of the Expedition to Central Africa (1854)

By Augustus Heinrich Petermann

German cartographer Augustus Petermann compiled the maps, illustrations, and notes of British explorers James Richardson, Heinrich Barth, Adolf Overweg, and Eduard Vogel to create an account of their travels. Petermann describes the adventurers, writing:

These gentlemen have, every one of them, from first to last, been possessed of the most laudable spirit and zeal for their vast undertaking. They have, year after year, braved the greatest difficulties and dangers, with the most heroic endurance and undiminished courage, solely for the interest of science, civilization, and commerce. Two out of three have already sacrificed their lives in the cause; and all the survivor asks, in risking his own life, is that interest may not cease to be taken in the enterprise at home.


And in describing the adventure itself, Petermann writes about an impressive mountain pass:

Beyond Telissareh the road descends into the Wady Talya, through a pass of a most extraordinary nature. It seemed to the travelers to have been purposely cut out of the solid rock for the use of man, and reminded them of a railway excavation. As they advanced, it assumed the form of a cave, slightly open at the top, - narrow, winding, and furnished with seats on either hand. A dim light came from above. Now and then the pass became quite a tunnel, but the concave roof being high enough for any camel to pass. Little openings, containing groups of tholukh, now and then made a pleasant impression, but the general aspect of the pass was horrible and desolate.


As the expedition continued it became increasingly difficult and dangerous. In this exhilarating passage Petermann recounts the dramatic near death experience of Dr. Barth:

This region is held in the most superstitious dread by the inhabitants, who never go near it. It had well nigh cost the life of Dr. Barth, who, on the caravan arriving on the spot, with Dr. Overweg determined to visit this curious group of hills. As they could procure no guide or companion, they set off alone, while Mr. Richardson pitched his tent at the nearest well. The day wore on, it blew gales of wind, and none of them returned. At last towards the evening Dr. Overweg returned, but without his companion, from whom he had separated without seeing him again. Great fears began to be entertained that an accident had befallen the latter….Just before sunset, however, the joyful intelligence was brought to the camp, that Dr. Barth had at last been discovered still alive, and even able to speak. One of the Tuaricks had found him about eight miles from the camp, lying on the ground, unable to move. For 24 hours he had remained in the same position, perfectly exhausted with heat and fatigue. On seeing his deliverers, he could just muster strength to say, “Water, water!” He had finished the small supply he had taken with him the day before at noon, and had from that time suffered the most horrible tortures from thirst. He had even drunk his own blood: 28 hours in the Sahara without water!


Democratic Violence, Proscription, and Intolerance (1876)

Speech of Hon. Oliver Perry Morton

Oliver Hazard Perry Throck Morton (1823-1877) was a Republican Party politician from Indiana. He served as Governor during the Civil War and while in office worked to neutralize the Democratic-controlled General Assembly. On several occasions his efforts to thwart the General Assembly exceeded his authority. He called out the militia without approval, privately financed the state government through unapproved federal and private loans, and arrested and detained political enemies and suspected southern sympathizers.

After the war Morton was twice elected to the U.S. Senate where he was no less willing to embrace extreme positions. Such as his support of legislation to eliminate all civil governments in the southern states and to impose a military government. On January 19, 1876, Morton delivered a speech to the Senate encouraging “the Republican Party to maintain the rights of colored men.”

He began:

If the information I have received from very many sources is substantially true, the late pretended election in Mississippi was an armed revolution, characterized by fraud, murder and violence in almost every form. It was carried on in some respects under the forms of law, but its real nature was that of force, the violation of law, and the trampling under foot of the dearest rights of great masses of men.

Senator Morton continued:

It is a matter of the gravest import to the American people to know whether a large majority of the people…have been overthrown and subjected by the minority, and also to understand upon what pretense or principle such a result was brought about. The only thing like principle that could be assumed in justification of such a result would be that political and civil power should belong exclusively to the white race; or upon the other principle, that that party, the members of which own the most of the property in the State, should be allowed to govern to the exclusion of the majority, who are generally poor and the most of whom have nothing to depend upon for their subsistence but their labor. I apprehend that an investigation…would show that the triumphant minority acted upon both of these principles, and in various ways boldly professed them as its doctrines.

We had hoped that a hundred years of national life had definitely settled the question that political and civil rights should not depend upon race or complexion, and that equal rights before the law and in the administration of government should not depend upon wealth or property but belong alike to every American citizen.

For more information about Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922, or to request a trial for your institution, please contact

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