David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books has released No. 133 of Rare Americana. This catalogue is filled with material from the 18th and 19th centuries. Ranging from the colonial period to the days after the Civil War, it is the history of the formation and development of a new nation. It carries us from strained relations with England to strained relations with ourselves. It has never been easy for America, any more than it is today. Here are a few samples of what David Lesser has to offer.
We start with a speech that from the last days when relations were still good between Great Britain and its colonies: A Sermon upon Occasion of the Death of Our Late Sovereign, George the Second. It was published in 1761, the year after the second King George died. The French and Indian War was winding down, and the British and their American colonists were starting to enjoy the rewards of their joint victory. The sermon was preached by Samuel Cooper, a Congregationalist minster whose flock at various times included John Hancock, Samuel and John Adams. Cooper praises the last King George popular with Americans as “this truly great and Pious Prince.” He expresses hope for continued great relations with the new King George, but cautiously warns against putting absolute trust in any monarch, and tellingly explains that “power is derived and limited, not original and absolute.” Of course, we all know what happened between George III and the colonies, and Samuel Cooper would become one of the leading voices in supporting the revolution, so much so that the British attempted to have him arrested. Item 48. Priced at $450.
Bad relations did not end with the American Revolution. Three decades later, the two sides were back at war again, this time the War of 1812. Item 10 is Charles Andrews' The Prisoners' Memoirs, or, Dartmoor Prison... published in 1815. Dartmoor Prison is located in England, and it housed prisoners from America and France, both of whom England was fighting at the time. The Americans were overwhelmingly sailors seized from American ships, around 6,000 at the height. Andrews was a prisoner, and reportedly the only one to keep a journal. He describes it as “a depot of living death.” Many of the prisoners died, and it was undoubtedly a most horrible place, though not unusually so for its time. $650.
Andersonville was worse. This was the southern prison during the Civil War. As time went on and the Civil War dragged on, the South had trouble enough taking care of its own. Northern prisoners were not a top priority. Add to that enormous anger between the sides and it resulted in a prison that was more of a death camp for northern soldiers. Item 11 is A List of the Union Soldiers Buried at Andersonville, by Dorence Atwater, published in 1868. Atwater was captured in 1863 and sent to Andersonville the following year. After the war, he went through the records at Andersonville and compiled his list because “I fear that neither you nor the Government of the United States would ever otherwise learn the fate of your loved ones whom I saw daily dying before me.” The pamphlet includes Clara Barton's report identifying graves in Andersonville shortly after the war. $250.
Prisoners weren't the only noncombatants to suffer during the war. Item 69 is An Account of the Sufferings of Friends of North Carolina Yearly Meeting, in Support of Their Testimony Against War, from 1861 to 1865. The Quakers were the subject of harassment from some of their southern neighbors on two accounts. First, they opposed all war, not popular in a land that had chosen to go to war. Secondly, they were against slavery, whose preservation was the reason their neighbors went to war. This 1868 pamphlet provides detailed evidence and testimony concerning their persecution – violence, forced conscription, even murder. $275.