William Stearns


About Author: 

William is Senior Editor, Readex Digital Collections. He has been Editor of the Readex edition of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set since its early days. Previously, he was Editor of NewsBank Global Products and Assistant Vocabulary Editor. For the past ten years, he has also trained numerous NewsBank and Readex indexers.

Posts by this Author

“Rational pastime for the vacant hour”: Highlights from the American Antiquarian Society’s Supplement to Early American Imprints: Evans

From the April release of Early American Imprints, Series I: Supplement from the American Antiquarian Society, here are three scarce 18th-century works, each newly digitized. Featured here is a sermon preached in 1772 by the Mohegan clergyman Samson Occom upon the occasion of the execution in New Haven, Connecticut, of another Native American for murder. Also described below are a rare almanac for Georgia and the Carolinas in 1787 and an unusual bookplate from a Salem, Massachusetts, bookseller’s circulating library.  


A sermon, preached at the execution of Moses Paul, an Indian, who was executed at New-Haven, on the 2d of September, 1772, for the murder of Mr. Moses Cook, late of Waterbury, on the 7th of December, 1771. Preached at the desire of said Paul. By Samson Occom, Minister of the Gospel, and missionary to the Indians (1773) 

“Rational pastime for the vacant hour”: Highlights from the American Antiquarian Society’s Supplement to Early American Imprints: Evans

“A Blessing No Doubt”: Works of Parody and Satire in the Anti-Slavery Cause

The March release of The American Slavery Collection, 1820-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes two works that employ parody and satire to counter the arguments of the pro-slavery faction in America in the 1830s. Also described below is the three-volume journal of an English abolitionist’s sojourn in the Antebellum United States. 


The Little Western against the Great Eastern: or Brother Jonathan vs. John Bull: Being a Review by a Plebeian of the Western Hemisphere of Abolitionism, as Exposed by Doctor Sleigh (1838)

The author, using the pen name Little Western, introduces his argument: 

In order to show what I want to refute, I must first show what the Doctor wants to prove. It becomes, therefore, necessary to copy his Title page, and here it is:

“A Blessing No Doubt”: Works of Parody and Satire in the Anti-Slavery Cause

Uncurbed Desires and Heavenly Glory: Three Execution Narratives in the American Antiquarian Society Supplement to Early American Imprints

The March release of the American Antiquarian Society’s Supplement to Early American Imprints: Evans includes several accounts of men and women who were executed in the last decades of the 18th century. Each of these narratives appears to have been intended as a cautionary lesson. The three selected items below are but a small representation of such jailhouse conversions to Christianity found in Early American Imprints, Series I and II. 


The Adventures and Death of William M'Ilheney: Of the District of Ninety-Six in South-Carolina, who after a very Profligate life, was executed at Prince-Edward Court-House, in Virginia, on the 15th of October, 1789, with Frederic Briggs, and died a penitent (1792) 

Publisher William Glendinning, a “Preacher of the Gospel,” introduces the reader to William M’Ilheney in the first paragraph as a man whose 

Uncurbed Desires and Heavenly Glory: Three Execution Narratives in the American Antiquarian Society Supplement to Early American Imprints

Election Cake, Tongue Pie, and Whipt Syllabub: Newly Available Works in Shaw-Shoemaker Supplement from the American Antiquarian Society

The February release of the American Antiquarian Society’s Supplement to Early American Imprints, Series II: Shaw-Shoemaker includes a history of the Mohegan tribe in Connecticut published in 1804, a rare edition of Hoyle’s rules for games from 1816, and a important cookbook “peculiarly adapted to the American mode of cooking. By an American lady.” 


A Memoir of the Moheagan Indians (1804) 

Abiel Holmes (1763-1837) was the pastor of the First Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He appears to have had an interest in and compassion for the native people of New England. This pamphlet was prepared by him for presentation to the Committee for Publications for the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Holmes states his purpose: 

Every document, which elucidates the numbers, characters, or condition, of any of the Indian tribes of North-America, at whatever period, is doubtless worthy of preservation. The entire extirpation of some tribes, and gradual diminution of the rest, furnishes a subject of affecting contemplation to the man of feeling, and of curious investigation to the philosopher….On the authenticity and correctness of this account you may entirely rely; for, in passing through Moheagan [sic], the last September, I obtained it of James Haughton, Esquire, one of the Overseers of this tribe, who lives within its limits. 

Election Cake, Tongue Pie, and Whipt Syllabub: Newly Available Works in Shaw-Shoemaker Supplement from the American Antiquarian Society

“My body holds a hundred hearts”: Newly Available Works in Evans Collection Supplement

In the February 2016 release of the American Antiquarian Society’s supplement to Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans are 43 newly digitized works. Among them are imprints that describe the discovery of an improbably ancient hermit, offer juveniles an illustrated book of riddles, and articulate a vision of the American Revolution which brings the Roman Catholic Church to its knees.


Wonder of Wonders! or The Remarkable Discovery of an American Hermit, Who Lived Upwards of 220 years (1795) 

This obscure document purports to be a true narrative of events that occurred when two explorers first ventured into the western regions of Virginia at a time when the state had no clearly defined western boundary. The author begins by stating: 

A knowledge of human nature under every appearance, is not only pleasing, but in many respects useful and necessary. The following account, as it is a discovery made within the limits of our own country, and confirmed by them who were eye-witnesses, may with great propriety deserve our notice. 

The author sets us on this strange journey: 

“My body holds a hundred hearts”: Newly Available Works in Evans Collection Supplement

“Intensifying the life of all”: Highlights from American Pamphlets, 1820-1922

After a final release in February of nearly 600 additional pamphlets from the New-York Historical Society, American Pamphlets, 1820-1922, is now complete. This unique treasure trove of more than 25,000 catalogued pamphlets embraces a vast number of subjects and purposes, many of which are strikingly illustrated. Newly digitized pamphlets in this last release include a 19th-century promotion for an electric cure-all device, an illustrated account of Boston in the late 21st century, and photographs of a steamship line at the dawn of the 20th century. 


Dr. Bryan's Electro-Voltaic and Magnetic Belts and Appliances for Imbuing the Human Organism with New Life, Health, and Strength (1876)

American Pamphlets is rich in works promoting health-giving treatments, tonics, and resorts. The use of electricity to address myriad complaints was a popular remedy in the 19th century. In this illustrated pamphlet, featuring testimonials from physicians and patients alike, Dr. Bryan makes an all-out case for his patented device:  

“Intensifying the life of all”: Highlights from American Pamphlets, 1820-1922

“The Yankee is a nervous, excitable sort of being”: Highlights from The American Civil War Collection


The February release of The American Civil War Collection, 1860-1922: From the American Antiquarian Society includes several imprints of substantial heft. There is a catalogue describing an auction of thousands of items pertaining to the war, a thorough description of how soldiers in the field were able to vote in the 1864 election, and letters written by an Englishman explaining the Yankees to his countrymen. 


A Catalogue of Books and Pamphlets Belonging to Daniel M. Tredwell, Relating to the Great Civil War between the North and the South, or the Free and the Slave States of the American Union (1874) 

Daniel Melancthon Tredwell (1825-1921) was an American businessman, lawyer and bibliophile.In his introduction to this catalog, Tredwell states: 

The Collection of Books and Pamphlets, of which the following Catalogue, was commenced soon after the breaking out of the Civil War, in 1860 [sic], not with the remotest idea, at that time, however, that it would ever assume its present proportions. But for fourteen years it has gradually increased, until there is but little doubt that, of its kind, at the present time, it is the completest [sic] Collection in the Country. 

Bartlett’s Catalogue of Rebellion Literature, published in 1866, with over 6,000 titles, embracing Newspaper and Magazine articles, contains less than one-half of the bound books of this Collection. 

“The Yankee is a nervous, excitable sort of being”: Highlights from The American Civil War Collection

American Mineral Waters, Resorts and Mad Houses: Physical and Mental Health Concerns in 19th-Century Pamphlets

The January release of American Pamphlets, 1820-1922: From the New-York Historical Society includes several works addressing the physical and mental health concerns of 19th-century Americans. Among these are a measured evaluation of the efficacy of the mineral waters at the White Sulphur Springs of West Virginia, an assessment of the winter resorts physicians might choose to recommend to their patients, and a first-hand review of the care of mentally ill people. 


Virginia White Sulphur Springs with the analysis of its waters, the diseases to which they are applicable, and some account of society and its amusements at the Springs (1869) 

By J. J. Moorman, Physician to the White Sulphur Springs; Professor of Medical Jurisprudence and Hygiene in the Washington University, Baltimore; Member of the Baltimore Medical Association, &c.  

Doctor Moorman takes care not to promise definite results for specific complaints as a result of taking the waters at White Sulphur Springs because “such certificates, while they might be serviceable in some cases, would nevertheless, be liable to mislead from the want of proper and scientific discrimination as to the precise nature of the cases given.” However, he is most enthusiastic about the generally beneficial aspects of the waters and the climate: 

American Mineral Waters, Resorts and Mad Houses: Physical and Mental Health Concerns in 19th-Century Pamphlets

Cramp, Croup and Convulsions: Highlights from the American Antiquarian Society supplement to the Shaw-Shoemaker collection

The January 2016 release of new material includes many single-sheet imprints. These rare works cover a broad range of issues and purposes. The three examples below include an admonitory poem, a promotion for the Columbian Museum in Boston, and an abstract of the bill of mortality for Boston in 1814. 


The Looking Glass, or a Description of Some Female Characters to be Avoided by Youths of Both Sexes. By a Young Man of P (1810)  

From Early American Imprints, Series II: Supplement from the American Antiquarian Society, 1801-1819

Although this imprint has some damage which obscures a few words, the reader is yet able to enjoy the whole and intuit the obscured. While the poem is amusing and the descriptions acute, the reader may be left to wonder if any of the indictments of these hapless females might also apply to certain young men. The occasional use of “dose” for “does” is not a typo. 

AVOID the girl who takes delight

To make an outside show,

With ruffles round her neck so white,

And dirty clothes below.

Cramp, Croup and Convulsions: Highlights from the American Antiquarian Society supplement to the Shaw-Shoemaker collection

Educated Fleas, Health-Giving Beer, and Sweet-Smelling Elephants: Highlights from American Pamphlets, 1820-1922

The December release of the New-York Historical Society’s American Pamphlets includes a publication by the inventor of the flea circus (with descriptions of more than 15 individual acts), a glossy promotional pamphlet from a 19th-century beer brewery, which offers a room-by-room tour of their Manhattan plant, and a brief book about elephants with striking engravings.


The history of the flea; with notes, observations and amusing anecdotes. By L. Bertolotto, the original inventor of the exhibition of educated fleas (1876)

 

Legs have I, and never walk,

I backbite all, but never talk.

Mr. Bertolotto lived in London where he claims he was the first to exhibit what came to be known as a flea circus. This is his account of how he manipulated the fleas into unusual behavior and developed that “invention” into his exhibition of their performances for many of the crowned heads of Europe. Apparently, it was a sensation. He begins with a scientific examination of the insect:

Pulex, the Flea, in Zoology, a genus of insects belonging to the order of Aptera. It has two eyes, and six feet, fitted for leaping, the feelers are like threads, the rostrum is inflected, setaceous, armed with a sting, and the belly is compressed.

He notes that: 

Educated Fleas, Health-Giving Beer, and Sweet-Smelling Elephants: Highlights from American Pamphlets, 1820-1922

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