More Unusual Americana from David Lesser Antiquarian Books
More Rare Americana from David Lesser.
By Michael Stillman
David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books has issued their 101st catalogue of Rare Americana. Lesser regularly puts together collections of the unusual and uncommon relating to American history. These are mostly pamphlets reflecting on the issues of the day, be they battles between colonists and the French in the 1750s, with the British in the 1770s, or those concerning slavery and abolition that dominated so much of the national discourse from the early 19th century until the Civil War. Of course, there are many other topics, theological differences, political speeches, almanacs, even some songbooks. There was much activity in America during the 18th and 19th centuries, and Lesser captures many issues of the day in this catalogue. For example...
Item 83 is a significant emancipation item. It is publication 18 of the Loyal Publication Society, an 1863 condensation of a book printed the preceding year by George Livermore. The title is Opinions of the Early Presidents, and of the Fathers of the Republic, upon Slavery, and upon Negroes as Men and Soldiers. Livermore's thesis is that the founders, despite the pre-existing institution of slavery, considered Blacks as capable of being soldiers and citizens. President Lincoln was reported to have consulted Livermore's work when preparing the Emancipation Proclamation, and to have given the signing pen to Livermore. Priced at $150.
Item 71 was an important report in terms of preparing for the effects of that momentous proclamation. It is Samuel Gridley Howe's The Refugees from Slavery in Canada West. Report to the Freedmen's Inquiry Commission, published in 1864. Secretary of State Stanton had established the Commission the year before, and this report by Howe looked at how escaped slaves had fared after resettling in Canada. Howe notes that the Canadian escaped slaves found themselves in a situation similar to that now being experienced by America's emancipated slaves. He uses their stories to make recommendations, and expresses his confidence that the Canadian experience shows that the freed slaves will respond well to their freedom. $500.
Item 69 is the oddly titled Mr. Hobby's Advice to his People from the Grave. Reverend Hobby, who died in 1765, herein provides advice to his congregation on choosing a successor. However, despite the title, we doubt that it was written by the Reverend's ghost. More likely, Hobby wrote it while still alive for later publication. $600.
Item 75 represents a chapter in the publicizing of a personal family dispute, one that today would have been made for television. Richard Raynal Keene was a student in Maryland Attorney General Luther Martin's law office when he fell in love with the boss' daughter. Despite Martin's strong objections, Keene married his daughter in 1802. Martin responded with a series of five venomous articles entitled "Modern Gratitude" condemning Keene. The latter responded to his unwilling father-in-law with this pamphlet, A Letter from Richard Raynal Keene, to Luther Martin, Esq. Attorney-General of Maryland; Upon the Subject of his "Modern Gratitude.' The dispute was evidently major social news at the time, Martin being an important figure.
More Unusual Americana from David Lesser Antiquarian Books
He would go on to successfully defend both Justice Samuel Chase from impeachment and Aaron Burr over the Burr conspiracy. Son-in-law Keene would have something of a checkered career, he being accused of participating in the Burr conspiracy. Keene moved to New Orleans and, in 1815, may have been the first to petition the Spanish government for the right to set up a non-Spanish colony in Texas (nothing came of it, and the French then established the first such Texas colony in 1818). As to whether father and son-in-law ever resolved their differences, we cannot tell, but perhaps, since Keene named a son after Luther Martin. $250.
Item 134 is a book dealing with a difficult subject, the forced institutionalization of those deemed insane. Elizabeth T. Stone was such a person, committed to an asylum by her family in 1840. According to Ms. Stone, she was an outcast from her family all her life. Despite leaving at age 15 to work in the mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, she for some reason attempted to be helpful to them. Conned into visiting the family for Thanksgiving, her brothers, including one she says she supported financially for his education, had her thrown in an asylum, where she spent two years. Her "crime," she said, was her switch from the family's Methodist religion to that of the Baptists (probably considered "crazy" in 1840 New England). Stone wrote a series of books describing her predicament. As to whether Ms. Stone was quite right mentally or somewhat paranoid, it is hard to tell from a distance, but undoubtedly there is much truth to descriptions of the horrors patients were forced to endure in 19th century mental hospitals. Offered is the last of her four books, published in 1861, The American Godhead: or, the Constitution of the United States Cast Down by Northern Slavery, or by the Power of Insane Hospitals. $500.
Item 66 is a Report to His Excellency the Governor, on Prisons, Prison Discipline, and the Criminal Law, by the Attorney General. South Carolina Attorney General Isaac Hayne recommends some changes in the law, while at one point noting the state's low crime rate, with an explanation that, in hindsight, sounds quite ominous -- "more than half of our population, and the portion among whom, from their position, crime would naturally most abound, are slaves, who are kept in order without a resort to the Courts." This statement begs for an explanation as to exactly how they were kept in order. $1,000.
David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books is found online at www.lesserbooks.com, telephone 203-389-8111.