An Extensive Americana Collection at Chapel Hill Rare Books
Catalogue 167 of Rare Americana from Chapel Hill Rare Books.
By Michael Stillman
Americana collectors take heed. Chapel Hill Rare Books has issued one of the best catalogues in the field we have seen. Rare Americana includes 335 items of primarily 17th to 19th century material pertaining to America. These are all significant and collectible works. While their previous, Civil War catalogue had a distinctive southern orientation, this one is truly national in scope. I am not sure how so many New England colonial works and the like ended up in Chapel Hill, but suffice to say they did. If you are a collector of Americana, you simply need this catalogue.
Just a few of the subjects covered in this catalogue are early Colonial America, King Philip's War, French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War. Did we need so many wars? There are travels, particularly inland ones when the frontier included areas like Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama. There are numerous Indian skirmishes and those dreadful "Indian captivities," where Indians are painted as the worst savages for trying to defend themselves from marauding settlers. There are items pertaining to pre-Civil War presidents, as well as political figures both forgotten and revered. We have views of America from the eyes of foreigners, primarily British. Some see us with respect; others disdain. We hear war stories from those who fought on both sides of America's internecine battle. Other books tell of events leading up to that struggle, and of course, the "peculiar" institution of slavery, from both those who abhorred it and those who defended it. Many works pertain to particular states, or are rare imprints from frontier communities. This is a remarkable catalogue, and we will describe a handful of the items we found, but this is a catalogue that must be perused in its entirety to be fully appreciated.
Increase Mather and his son Cotton are probably most often remembered as dour, fanatical churchmen of the Salem witch trials era. That is not necessarily totally inaccurate, but there was a bit more to their lives. Item 68 is a copy of Increase's Brief History of the War with the Indians in New-England. From June 24. 1675. (When the First Englishman Was Murdered by the Indians) to August 12. 1676. When Philip, Alias Metacomet, the Principal Author and Beginner of the War was Slain. For the first fifty years after the pilgrims arrived, there was relative peace between the settlers and natives. Remember the Thanksgiving story? This broke down in distrust in the 1670s as settlers purchased more and more land from the Indians, who had become increasingly dependent on English goods. Wampanoag Chief Metacomet, aka King Philip, discovered one of his men was passing secrets to the settlers. He had three of his warriors kill the turncoat. In turn, the colonists killed those warriors. The battle was on. For a year, the Wampanoags and the Nipmunks waged war on the settlers. Outlying settlements were destroyed and many colonists, including women and children, were killed. However, in time the colonists would overwhelm Philip and his allies. King Philip was beheaded, his head placed on exhibition in Plymouth for many years. More importantly, it would open New England to the settlers. The New England Indians would never again be able to stop the spread of colonists into the territory they once controlled. This first English edition from 1676 is priced at $18,500.
An Extensive Americana Collection at Chapel Hill Rare Books
The name "Carolana" never caught on, but the English won this land.
The area was never known by the English name of "Carolana," though in time it would be controlled by the English and their American progeny, rather than the Spanish and French who named it. Carolana was the vast land adjacent to Carolina, to the south, west, and even north. Author Daniel Coxe and his father were among the earliest English explorers of the region, and they attempted to convince their countrymen to take greater interest in the land in the early part of the 18th century. The book is entitled, A Description of the English Province of Carolana. By the Spaniards call'd Florida, and the French, La Louisiane. As Also of the Great and Famous River Meschacebe, or Missisipi. The Five Vast Navigable Lakes of Fresh Water, and the Parts Adjacent. The author's father had claimed the entire area for the Crown, though few others at the time recognized it as English. Eventually, the British would win control over part of the land through the French and Indian War, and the Americans would purchase the remainder in the 19th century. The book's preface also contains the first printed proposal for a confederation of all of the British colonies. Item 60. $26,000.
Item 138 is the first edition of A History of the Great Detection, and Trial of John Murel...Together with a biographical Sketch of Mr. Virgil A. Stewart, by Augustus Walton. Stewart and Walton were one and the same. Murel, more commonly spelled John Murrell, was an outlaw, thief, and leader of a gang that contained anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of members, depending on who you choose to believe. He was probably no more than a petty thief most of his life, but Stewart's book did much to enhance his reputation. Stewart was a member of the gang, but he turned Murrell in. Apparently, Murrell specialized in stealing horses and slaves. With the latter, he would work together with the slave to steal and resell him to several owners, the promise being to deliver the slave to the North once he became too well known. However, instead, Murrell would kill him. The most spectacular of Stewart's claims was that Murrell planned a slave rebellion in the Southwest. Murrell earned a chapter in Mark Twain's "Life on the Mississippi," along with his recognition in this book. $7,500.
The James brothers also wormed their way into Twain's book. Younger brother Jesse was killed for reward money in 1882, but Frank lived to a ripe old age, never being convicted for his crimes. While awaiting trial in 1883, James wrote this letter to his wife, Annie. You would never imagine it came from a notorious criminal. Among his words to "My Dear Wife," are "...I know you are by far the best woman on earth," and "You can't come too soon for me. I wish to God you were here now." It is signed, "Your Loving Husband, Ben." Ben? It was code. James used the name "Ben" so that the letters would not be stolen by outsiders. The letter is accompanied by an 1890's picture of the James' farm in Kearney, Missouri. Item 169. $4,500.
Item 217 is The Life, Adventures and opinions of Col. George Hanger. Written by Himself. Published in 1801, it recounts Hangar's experience fighting on the British side during the Revolutionary War. At one point he prophecies, "one of these days, the Northern and Southern powers will fight as vigorously against each other, as they both have united to do against the British." Somehow, Hangar foresaw what would happen to America long before Americans did. $1,750.
Item 202 is an autographed letter from Vice-President Martin Van Buren to former President James Madison, dated March 26, 1836. In it, Van Buren introduces writer George Bancroft who plans to visit America's Fourth President. Bancroft was writing the second volume of his "History of the United States..." at the time. The 85-year-old Madison died just three month later, while Van Buren was elected to the presidency in the fall of that year. $5,000.
You will find Chapel Hill Rare Books online at www.chapelhillrarebooks.com, and you can call them at 919-929-8351.