America's Historical Imprints


“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

“Hope, delusive hope”: Highlights from Black Authors, 1556-1922

Nathaniel Paul (1793?-1839)The December release of Black Authors, 1556-1922: Imprints from the Library Company of Philadelphia includes two celebratory speeches: the first by Russell Parrott on the anniversary of the cessation of the slave trade, and the second by Nathaniel Paul in observance of the abolition of slavery in New York. Also included this month is an alluring tract by occultist Paschal Beverly Randolph. 


 An Oration on the Abolition of the Slave Trade (1814)

By Russell Parrott

A relatively obscure figure in Philadelphia’s early African American community, Russell Parrott is best remembered for three speeches celebrating the abolition of slave trafficking. The Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves went into effect on January 1, 1808, and anniversary orations quickly became a regular feature of the annual cycle of celebrations in African American churches.

After some brief prefatory remarks, Parrott opines: 

“Hope, delusive hope”: Highlights from Black Authors, 1556-1922

“A Portrait of Artifice, Duplicity, Haughtiness, Violence, Rapine, Avarice, Meanness, Rancor, and Dishonesty”: Highlights from Caribbean History and Culture, 1535-1920

The December release of Caribbean History and Culture, 1535-1920: Imprints from the Library Company of Philadelphia includes an illustrated multi-volume history of Jamaica published in 1774, an examination of the early-19th century slave laws of Jamaica and St. Christopher, and a two-volume history of Haiti published in 1830. 


The History of Jamaica (1774) 

By Edward Long 

A British colonial administrator, historian and author, Edward Long is best known for this three-volume work examining the governmental, legal, social, and commercial structures of Jamaica. Long also includes a survey of the island by parish and illustrations depicting several of the island’s rivers and bays. 

My intention is, to give a competent information of the establishments civil and military, and state, of Jamaica, its productions, and commerce; to speak compendiously of its agriculture; to give some account of the climate, soil, rivers, and mineral waters; with a summary description of its dependencies, counties, town, villages, and hamlets, and the most remarkable natural curiosities hitherto discovered in it; to display an impartial character of its inhabitants of all complexions, with some strictures on the Negro slaves in particular, and freed persons, and the laws affecting them; and to recommend some general rules and cautions for preserving the health of those who come hither from Northern climates. 

Long was critical of both the island’s administrators and the organizational system that allowed their malfeasance, writing: 

“A Portrait of Artifice, Duplicity, Haughtiness, Violence, Rapine, Avarice, Meanness, Rancor, and Dishonesty”: Highlights from Caribbean History and Culture, 1535-1920

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

“A Breed of Moral Vipers”: Highlights from Black Authors, 1556-1921

The November release of Black Authors, 1556-1921: Imprints from the Library Company of Philadelphia includes a guide for self-improvement, the autobiography of the founder of Latta University, and a collection of essays by the Bard of the Potomac.



The College of Life, or, Practical Self-Educator (1896)

By Henry Davenport Northrop, D.D., Hon. Joseph R. Gay, and Prof. Irving Garland Penn

This self-improvement manual was written as a guide to African American success. The authors summarize their work, writing:

…portraits of many successful men and women of their own race, with sketches of their achievements in life, are given as examples of what may be accomplished through education, patience, perseverance and integrity of character. Many engravings illustrating Afro-American Progress are introduced as object lessons of the great advancement of their own people, impressing them with the fact that they must educate and elevate themselves if they would attain success in life.

This volume is intended as a Self-Educator and is in no sense a history or book of biography; therefore it cannot be expected to include the portraits or mention all prominent men of the race, nor describe all historical events. Sufficient portraits and sketches of successful Afro-American men and women are given as a GUIDE TO SUCCESS, and illustrations of places, objects and events are given for the purpose of inspiring ambition and as an incentive for the sons and daughters of the race.

Included in the “Contents of the Proper Conduct of Life” are sections on: 

“A Breed of Moral Vipers”: Highlights from Black Authors, 1556-1921

A Violent Desire of Making Discoveries, or, The Passion for Traveling: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

From Afro-Americana Imprints

The November release of Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia contains a remarkable 18th-century history of the Age of Discovery, featuring abundant maps, charts and illustrations, and a dramatic 19th-century work about an around-the-world excursion, which was written by the first blind person to circumnavigate the globe.


A New General Collection of Voyages and Travels (1745)

This four-volume tour de force details nearly all aspects of the Age of Discovery. Its subtitle proclaims it to include:

every Thing remarkable in its Kind, in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, with respect to the several Empires, Kingdoms, and Provinces; their situation, extent, bounds and division, climate, soil and produce; their lakes, rivers, mountains, cities, principal towns, harbors, buildings, &c. and the gradual alterations that from Time to Time have happened in each: also the manners and customs of the several inhabitants; their religion and government, arts and sciences, trades and manufactures; so as to form a complete system of modern geography and history, exhibiting the present state of all nations…

The work introduces the Age of Discovery through the explorations of Christopher Columbus, John Cabot, and Ferdinand Magellan:

A Violent Desire of Making Discoveries, or, The Passion for Traveling: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

“Mingled Puerility and Brutality”: Highlights from African History and Culture, 1540-1921

The September release of African History and Culture, 1540-1921: Imprints from the Library Company of Philadelphia includes several multi-volume works detailing various regions and peoples of Africa.


Maritime Geography and Statistics: A Description of the Ocean and its Coasts, Maritime Commerce, Navigation, &c. &c. &c. (1815)

By James Hingston Tuckey, a commander in the Royal Navy

James Hingston Tuckey’s four-volume work is a tour de force describing the world’s oceans and coasts. Tuckey, born in 1776, joined the Royal Navy in 1793 and by the turn of the century was assisting in the expansion of the British colony of New South Wales in Australia. In 1805, after having returned briefly to England, Tuckey was captured by the French near St. Helena in the South Atlantic and held prisoner for nearly nine years. If not for his imprisonment, it is unlikely that Tuckey’s Maritime Geography and Statistics would have been written:

If it should be asked how a naval officer could, during the activity of war, find leisure to compile a work requiring the perusal of many thousand volumes, the answer is unfortunately too ready: it was undertaken to pass away the tedious hours of a hopeless captivity, alike destructive of present happiness and future prospects.

In Volume II, Tuckey turns his attention to the coast of West Africa, writing:

After passing the limits of Morocco, the first nation met with is the Moors of the Desert, who inhabit the coast from Cape Agulon to the Senegal, and form three tribes. Though they acknowledge the Emperor of Morocco as their sovereign, they are in every respect independent of his government or power. They lead an erratic life, their habitations being conical tents of cloth manufactured of camel’s hair, which they move about in search of pasture for their cattle.

“Mingled Puerility and Brutality”: Highlights from African History and Culture, 1540-1921

“Into the inner life of the Negro Race”: Highlights from Black Authors, 1556-1922

Louis Hughes (1832-1913). From Black AuthorsThe September release of Black Authors, 1556-1922: Imprints from the Library Company of Philadelphia includes Louis Hughes’ heart-pounding and heart-wrenching autobiography as well as several works of fiction by prolific author Sutton Elbert Griggs.

Thirty Years a Slave: From Bondage to Freedom: The Institution of Slavery as Seen on the Plantation and in the Home of the Planter (1897)

By Louis Hughes

In 1832, Louis Hughes was born a slave on a plantation near Charlottesville, Virginia. Writing of his early life, Hughes quickly captures his readers’ attention:

My father was a white man and my mother a negress, the slave of one John Martin. I was a mere child, probably not more than six years of age, as I remember, when my mother, two brothers and myself were sold to Dr. Louis, a practicing physician in the village of Scottsville.

After the doctor’s death, the family is again sold and eventually separated. Hughes writes movingly about the last time he saw his mother:

…she bade me good-bye with tears in her eyes, saying: “My son, be a good boy; be polite to every one, and always behave yourself properly.” It was sad to her to part with me, though she did not know that she was never to see me again, for my master had said nothing to her regarding his purpose and she only thought, as I did, that I was hired to work on the canal-boat, and that she should see me occasionally. But alas! We never met again. I can see her form still as when she bade me good-bye. That parting I can never forget.

“Into the inner life of the Negro Race”: Highlights from Black Authors, 1556-1922

Murder and Mayhem in 19th-Century America: Sensational Accounts in American Pamphlets

This month’s release from the New-York Historical Society’s collection of American Pamphlets, 1820-1922, includes many sensational accounts of murder and mayhem in the 19th century. In some instances these are presented in a lurid style, clearly intended to arouse and titillate the public.

Errant clergy, fallen women, filicidal mothers, wronged ladies and ardent lovers are all limned in these short documents, many with compelling illustrations that are unabashedly enthusiastic in their depictions.


The terrible hay-stack murder. Life and trial of the Rev. Ephraim K. Avery, for the murder of the young and beautiful Miss Sarah M. Cornell, a factory girl of Fall River, Mass., whose affections he won, and whose honor he betrayed. He afterwards strangled his poor victim, and hung her body to a hay-stack in order to convey the idea that she had committed suicide (1880)

The full title serves its inflammatory purpose and introduces the reader to the tragedy of seduction and betrayal allegedly committed by a prominent Methodist minister in Tiverton, Rhode Island, in 1832.

Murder and Mayhem in 19th-Century America: Sensational Accounts in American Pamphlets

“A Vitiated Education”: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

The September release of Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922: From the Library Company of Philadelphia includes works examining subjects ranging from the Biblical origins of African peoples to the social and economic progress of African Americans. Also found this month is a collection of dialect poetry by Elliott Blaine Henderson, a contemporary of Paul Laurence Dunbar.


A Sketch of the Origin of the Colored Man: His Great Renown; His Downfall and Oppression; Also, the Prejudice Which Did Exist, and Still Exists to a Certain Extent, Against Him (1882)

By Charles Griffin

An irrepressible, active desire to do something to elevate my race to an honorable and equal position among the enlightened quarters of the globe has been the great leading principal [sic] that has actuated me in the preparation of this pamphlet. And so well convinced am I, that this plan which I have proposed is the only practical one for achieving the desired end, that I certainly hope to see it prosecuted with energy and zeal, until the recognition of my race shall be firmly established as those of other races in America. 

Thus begins Charles Griffin’s historical account of the peoples of Africa. After tracing their origins as far back as Ham, the youngest son of Noah, Griffin turns his attention to the condition of African Americans in the late 19th century and the cause of the prejudice against them:

“A Vitiated Education”: Highlights from Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922

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