Afro-Americana Imprints


“Skin-Deep Democracy”: Highlights from Black Authors, 1556-1922

The June release of Black Authors, 1556-1922: Imprints from the Library Company of Philadelphia includes the portents of a West Indian astrologer, a scholar’s escape from being tarred and feathered, and the poems of James Madison Bell.


The O.B. or, West Indian Astrologer's Whole Secret Art and System of Prediction, by Planetary Influence, Laid Open (1823)

By Ignatius Lewis, the Jamaica Seer of Color

To his secret art and system of prediction, Ignatius Lewis added “charms, spells, and incantations; love presents, bewitching secrets, and fortune telling, by cards, dice, tea, coffee, &c. with good or ill fortune; the days, weeks, or months, of abstaining from, or embarking in, any engagement of importance, particularly marriage.”

On a lunar table showing “the moon’s influence over the female sex” are these potential experiences: “Loss of Reputation, Treachery, and Tears.” And, “What you save in trifles you will squander largely, and do no good with it.” And, “You will soon see one whom you will wish far distant but you cannot avoid the meeting.”

The influence of Diana may signify that: “You will never marry; or if you should, by some unexpected chance or turn of fate, embrace wedlock, you will not be happy, so be cautious.”

Another table offers these mostly frightful possibilities:


A. You will be run away with against your own consent.

B. You will elope with your own free will.

C. You will have many lovers, even in old age.

D. A duel will take place on your account.

E. You will place your affections on a very amorous youth, who will deceive you, and cloud your future days with sorrow.

“Skin-Deep Democracy”: Highlights from Black Authors, 1556-1922

Ascent of the White Nile and Other Highlights from African History and Culture, 1540-1921

The June release of African History and Culture, 1540-1921: Imprints from the Library Company of Philadelphia includes perspectives from an Irish pastor in Western Africa, the biography of a Dutch heiress who explored North Africa, and the views of an English soldier in Central Africa.


Missions in Western Africa, among the Soosoos, Bulloms, &c. (1845)

By Rev. Samuel Abraham Walker

Reverend Samuel Abraham Walker described himself as “a man unknown to fame, and of no higher standing in the Church, or the world, than the pastor of a small rural parish in Ireland.” Walker felt duty bound to become a missionary and offered this justification for choosing to work in West Africa:

It is impossible, I conceive, to overrate the importance of our West African Mission: its effects, if the Lord continues to bless it, will be gigantic. In other countries the Gospel merely calls out members of the Church; but in Africa it is enlisting whole regiments of Missionary soldiers, and sending them forth armed and accoutered, to engage in deadly conflict with the demon of superstition, crime, and death; and the facilities afforded for this particular work are among the most remarkable evidences of providential arrangement which the history of the Church of Christ supplies.

Walker’s tome tells of the peoples of West Africa, offers a history of slavery, and recounts, in Walker’s words, “What attempts have been made in modern times to make Christ known to the natives of this vast continent?”

True to his cause, Walker saw Christianity as a panacea. Expounding on the power found in the Christian will and in the word of God, Walker wrote:

Ascent of the White Nile and Other Highlights from African History and Culture, 1540-1921

“The Stronghold of Caste and Prejudice”: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

The June release of Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia includes a striking collection of nature illustrations, an optimistic speech on race relations, and a biography of 18th-century scientist Benjamin Banneker.


Illustrations to Oriental Memoirs (1835)

By James Forbes

British artist and writer James Forbes traveled to India in 1765 while employed by the British East India Company. After years of extensive travel, Forbes eventually returned to England where he wrote Oriental Memoirs: Selected and Abridged from a Series of Familiar Letters Written during Seventeen Years Residence in India; Including Observations on Parts of Africa and South America, and a Narrative of Occurrences in Four India Voyages. This companion work, Illustrations to Oriental Memoirs, contains many impressive drawings, as seen in these three examples:

The Red, Blue, and White Lotus of Hindostan

These Water Lilies were drawn and coloured from nature: they are particularly described in various parts of the Memoirs, and almost cover the Indian lakes. When gently agitated by the breeze, they give them a beauty and freshness not easily conceived by the inhabitants of a colder climate.

From Afro-Americana Imprints

“The Stronghold of Caste and Prejudice”: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

“Every country has its myths”: Selections from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

The May release of Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia includes a pair of perspectives on the customs of peoples of West Africa, works by Jules Verne on African travel, replete with richly detailed illustrations, and much more.


Trade and Travels in the Gulph of Guinea, Western Africa, with an Account of the Manners, Habits, Customs, and Religion of the Inhabitants (1851)

By John Smith

John Smith was a 19th-century surgeon and trading captain “to one of the first mercantile houses in England.” Smith made several voyages to West Africa where he came into “contact with a great number of the inhabitants” and “witnessed some extraordinary scenes.”

Though well-traveled, Smith’s own cultural assumptions are prominent in his account. In explaining his focus on a single West African country, Smith writes, “the inhabitants of one nation…will really include a description of many others, inasmuch as those different barbarous countries on the West Coast very nearly resemble each other in their customs, morals, and manners.”

Smith continued:

The author regrets the occasion of some coarse expressions and allusions to be found in this work; but, as the people he gives an account of are in so debased a state as to render the conveying anything like a correct notion of them otherwise, impossible, he deems any farther apology unnecessary.

Smith’s cultural bias, in this case specifically his religious belief, is also displayed in the introduction to a chapter on myths:

“Every country has its myths”: Selections from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

“The Disagreeable Practice of Shaving”: Highlights from Caribbean History and Culture, 1535-1920

The April release of Caribbean History and Culture, 1535-1920: Imprints from the Library Company of Philadelphia includes a history of the French and Indian War, a narrative of a global circumnavigation, and the diary of 19-year-old George Washington while traveling to Barbados.


The History of the Late War in North-America, and the Islands of the West-Indies, Including the Campaigns of MDCCLXIII and MDCCLXIV against His Majesty's Indian Enemies (1772)

By Thomas Mante

Thomas Mante was a historian and officer in the English army. He was also a spy for the French government. Mante was recruited by Jean-Charles-Adolphe Grant de Blairfindy in 1769 and became involved in British intelligence in the 1770s. He operated as a double agent until 1774 when the British, then aware of his disloyalty, ceased to pay him. His history of the French and Indian War is nearly as dramatic as was his life. Recounting the 1759 naval bombardment of French-held Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe, Monte wrote:

“The Disagreeable Practice of Shaving”: Highlights from Caribbean History and Culture, 1535-1920

International Travels, Escapes and Adventures: Highlights from Black Authors, 1556-1922

Decembrist Revolt, a painting by Vasily TimmThe April release of Black Authors, 1556-1922: Imprints from the Library Company of Philadelphia includes several autobiographical tales of danger and adventure. In these highlighted works, the authors describe foreign travels—to St. Petersburg in time to witness the Decembrist Revolt, to the Indian Ocean aboard a whaling vessel, and to war-torn Crimea on a mission of mercy.


A Narrative of the Life and Travels of Mrs. Nancy Prince (1853)

By Nancy Prince

Although born free in Newburyport, Massachusetts, Nancy Prince’s life was not without struggle. Her father died when she was an infant, and her mother soon remarried. Sadly, her stepfather also died during Nancy’s childhood which led to her mother’s emotional breakdown and left the family on the brink of poverty. She and her siblings picked and sold berries to support themselves and their mother before Nancy found work as a servant.

In 1824, Nancy married Nero Prince, a Mason Grand Master, and her life changed dramatically. They traveled to Russia where her husband worked as a footman at the court of the czar in St. Petersburg. About her audience with Czar Alexander, Nancy Prince wrote:

International Travels, Escapes and Adventures: Highlights from Black Authors, 1556-1922

“Behold him now the Pharaoh”: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

The April release of Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia includes the response by the American consul in Cuba to calls for his dismissal, a Southerner’s perspective on the destruction of a South Carolina city, and a Northern senator’s call to remove the American president from office.


Reply of N.P. Trist, Consul at Havana, to the Preamble and Resolutions, Adopted by the Meeting of Ship Masters and Ship Owners... and Transmitted to the President of the United States, as the Ground of Their Demand for the Instant Recall of Said Consul (1840)
By Nicholas Philip Trist

In the 1830s Nicholas Trist was appointed U.S. consul in Havana, Cuba, by President Andrew Jackson. Openly in favor of slavery, Trist became the subject of a British commission investigating violations of the treaty ending African slave trade. Trist was also suspected of corruption by New England ship captains who felt he was inadequately defending their interests in order to maintain good relations with Cuban officials, and by abolitionists who charging him with illegally profiting from false documents used to disguise the sale of Africans into slavery.

Trist answered the claims with righteous outrage and offense. Responding to allegations of having illegally earned fees for falsifying documents and for corruption in general, Trist countered:

“Behold him now the Pharaoh”: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

Gateway to Black Print Culture: New Video about Afro-Americana Collection at Library Company of Philadelphia

Readex has partnered with the Library Company of Philadelphia to create Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922, an online version of one of the world’s preeminent collections for African American studies. While in Philadelphia, members of the Readex team had the opportunity to visit the Library Company for a firsthand look at original documents found in this newly digitized collection. For a quick overview of Afro-Americana Imprints, see the video below:

Krystal Appiah, the Library Company’s Curator of African American History, was one of our hosts during this vKrystal Appiah, Curator of African American History, Library Company of Philadelphiaisit. As part of her daily work, she helps a diverse group of researchers find relevant materials in African American history, literature and related fields. With her deep understanding of the Afro-Americana Collection—an accumulation that began with Benjamin Franklin and steadily increased throughout the Library Company’s history—Appiah expertly navigates the stacks to locate just the right item.

Gateway to Black Print Culture: New Video about Afro-Americana Collection at Library Company of Philadelphia

“The Market Value of an Eye”: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints

the first slave narrative published in Great Britain, and The March release of Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia includes a late 17th-century report on Morocco by the French ambassador, an Englishman’s assessment of the Royal African Company, the first slave narrative by a black woman to be published in the United Kingdom, and a journalist’s widely translated perspective on the 1857 Pierce Butler slave sale.


The Present State of the Empire of Morocco (1695)
By Monsieur de St. Olon

In 1690, Francois Pidou de Saint Olon served as ambassador of Louis XIV to Morocco. His mission was twofold: he was charged with making a prisoner exchange with Morocco’s Sultan Moulay Ismael and affecting a peace treaty between the two countries. The Ambassador failed in both efforts and was even briefly imprisoned by the Sultan. Monsieur de St. Olon’s description of the manners, religion and government of the people of Morocco is thorough, colorful, and not above condescension:

“The Market Value of an Eye”: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints

“It’s the Devil!”—Slavery, Civil War, and King Cotton

Among the 100+ works in last month's release of Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia are an antebellum account of Caribbean travel written by a New Yorker, slave narratives written before and after the American Civil War, and satirical works on U.S. history by 19th-century English humorists and cartoonists.

The Winter of 1840 in St. Croix, with an Excursion to Tortola and St. Thomas (1840)
By James Smith

As appealing as wintering in the Caribbean may sound, James Smith’s description of his voyage to the Danish colonies illustrates many of the harsh realities of the period. Sailing south of St. Bartholomew’s and Saba, Smith reports,
“It’s the Devil!”—Slavery, Civil War, and King Cotton

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