Monthly Archives: February 2013

Of Slavery, Psalms, and Sculpture


We love rare books not only for the stories told on their pages, but for the stories of the volumes themselves. The previous ownership of a book, known as provenance, can often be even more interesting than the book itself. Such is the case with one copy of The Psalms of David; though this book was common enough, one particular volume was owned by Zingo Stevens, formerly Pompe Stevens. Sold into slavery, Stevens apprenticed as a stonemason, earned his freedom, and helped to start the nation’s first self-help group for African Americans.

Apprenticeship with John Stevens

From the moment the first slave ship, the Sea Flower, landed in Newport, Rhode Island in 1696, the town embraced the slave trade. At that time, the city produced some of the best rum in the New World. Citizens traded the rum for slaves–then traded the slaves for molasses to make more rum. As the town grew, it became less dependent on rum and soon grew into a bustling urban center.

Thus, unlike their counterparts in the South, slaves in Newport usually entered apprenticeships and learned a trade. When Pompe Stevens arrived in the city, presumably from West Africa, he was bought by John Stevens, whose Christian name Pompe took per the custom of the time. Stevens’ family owned a prominent stonemasonry. The shop had opened in 1705 and continues to operate today; indeed it’s one of the longest running businesses in the United States.


Zingo Stevens’ work shows up throughout the Newport Burial Ground, unusual because African Americans were usually not permitted to do such work for white clients. But this tombstone bears designs strikingly similar to the one that Zingo carved for his brother.

Eventually Pompe worked alongside John Bull and John Stevens at the stonemasonry, primarily making headstones for African and African American members of the community. Pompe’s responsibilities included writing inscriptions on headstones, which certainly contributed to his literacy–extremely rare among slaves.

Pompe’s work shows up in the Newport Common Burial Ground. Interestingly enough, though the cemetery is segregated and blacks were thought never to do work on for white customers, Pompe clearly completed work for clients of both races. He signed many of the tombstones, including that of his own brother and of his first wife, Phyllis. Pompe, therefore, was one of the first known African-American sculptors.

Newport’s Unusual Culture


Zingo depicted his first wife, Phyllis, wearing traditional African dress and cradling their infant son, who also died.

Unlike most cities in the colonial United States, Newport offered uncharacteristic tolerance and even sometimes celebration of African and African-American culture. This is evident in the cemetery, where tombstones bear traditional African names and likenesses. For example, when Pompe’s first wife, Phyllis died in childbirth, Pompe engraved an image of her cradling their infant and wearing typical African dress.

This tolerance may have been a manifestation of several factors. First, Newport was home to Quakers and several other religious minorities who openly opposed slavery. Theologian Samuel Hopkins even established a church where slave owners could not be members, and blacks could be full members. Second, because Newport slaves tended to be craftsmen rather than field hands, they earned slightly more status and were better equipped to buy their own freedom through trade work. And finally, slave owners tended to share their homes with their slaves, fostering a different kind of relationship.

This is not to say that slaves in Newport didn’t face oppression and prejudice; but the culture created a different dynamic than was often found in the South. The ornate headstone that Pompe carved for Phyllis was actually paid for by her owner, a situation that would scarcely have happened on a rural plantation.

By 1784, Rhode Island had actually begun to abolish slavery. Already, freed slaves had earned prominence in the community. Pompe Brenton, a cook for the Brenton family, earned his freedom and established himself as caterer and public leader. And Duchess Quamino bought her own freedom, goin going on to earn the nickname “Pastry Queen of Rhode Island.” Pompe gained his freedom when his owner John Stevens died in 1786. Stevens stipulated in his will that Pompe and his third wife, Violet, be set free. Pompe officially changed his name to Zingo after his liberation, though he’d been using the traditional African name for quite some time.

The African Union Society

Even before earning his freedom, Zingo had worked to further the African-American community of Newport. In 1780, he and Newport Gardner founded the Africa Union Society (AUS). The organization was the first self-help organization for African-Americans in the United States. The AUS offered the typical benefits of a mutual-aid society, such as support and loans after an illness or death and loans for buying property.

Some members of the organization also felt an incredibly strong connection to Africa and wanted to emigrate back there. Members of the AUS wrote letters to the federal government, asking for funding and inquiring about their ability to own land in Africa. In 1825, Gardner finally managed to return with a small group of AUS members, but died shortly thereafter.


Newport Gardner arrived from East Africa seeking an education. He received that, as evidenced by this letter to his niece. Gardner would later return to Africa with several members of AUS.

Meanwhile, the organization began to incorporate more religious elements. By 1824, the organization had changed its name to the Colored Union Church and Society, making it the first separate black church in Newport. The AUS played a vital role in recording the births, deaths, baptisms, and weddings of the African-American community, and it also offered opportunities for group worship.

Zingo’s literacy probably proved useful, as he could read hymns and scriptures and share them with the congregation. Thus his copy of Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament would have been an incredibly important book for Newport’s African-American community. Books of such provenance–owned by a literate revolution-era slave who was also an important public figure–are incredibly scarce.

Though we know few details of his life, Zingo’s book offers us an opportunity to glimpse into his life and get a deeper understanding of a pivotal period in American history. His voice verily comes alive as you turn its pages. Which rare books in your library have a similarly significant provenance?


Bonnie Prince Charlie Takes a Treasonous Stand


Bonnie Prince Charlie cuts quite the dashing figure, but was he really the romantic hero history makes him out to be?

The Jacobite uprisings, especially the last in 1745, have often been romanticized. We may even see Prince Charles of Wales as a romantic hero, personifying the age-old conflict between Scotland and England. Yet his character and the conflict were much more complex, and they fascinate historians to this day.

A Brief History of the Jacobites

The issue of religion had long been a divisive one in England. King Henry VIII first separated the English Church from Rome in 1534, primarily because he wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. Pope Paul III excommunicated Henry, who then declared himself Supreme Head of the Church of England. Subsequent monarchs introduced further reforms, and England has had an uneasy relationship with the Catholic Church ever since.

Fast forward to 1689. That year King James VII of Scotland (II of Britain) fled Britain to escape the invading armies of William of Orange. The British government feared that James would re-instate Catholicism as the national religion, so Parliament invited James’ daughter Mary and her Protestant husband William to take the throne. James certainly didn’t go quietly, but he was utterly defeated in the Battle of the Boyne and left the British Isles altogether. But James still had plenty of supporters, called Jacobites, throughout Britain.

Generations in Exile

James’ son, James Frances Edward Stuart had been born only one year earlier, in 1688. He would have been James III of Britain but instead grew up in exile. But he took up his father’s fight, staging more unsuccessful uprisings and earning the nickname “the Old Pretender.” Though James was extremely brave and honorable, he also had atrocious luck. In 1718, he entered negotiation with King Charles XII of Sweden for 10,000 troops. But the king died before they reached an agreement. And in 1719, the Spanish Armada was promised to back James, but the fleet was thwarted by terrible weather.

Unfortunately James’ Catholicism proved an extraordinary obstacle in gaining new supporters. It didn’t help that he’d settled in Rome and received the support of the Pope. By this time James also had two sons, Charles and Henry, who grew up in Rome. Both received considerable support from the Catholic Church, especially in their later years. Henry would even go on to become a cardinal.

Charles, however, aspired to the British throne. He furthermore believed in the divine right of kings and planned to make himself the absolute ruler of Britain–which would have required dissolving Parliament. Whatever his intentions, Charles’ efforts often undermined the Jacobites’ efforts; a heavy drinker, he lost his temper when conditions grew unfavorable. The Prussians actually withdrew their support of the Jacobites because Charles publicly insulted them while intoxicated.

The Jacobites still enjoyed support in both Scotland and England. Jacobites wore a white rose on the Old Pretender’s birthday, and they sported white cockades on their hat to show their loyalty to the Jacobite cause. Wearing a tartan waistcoat also became a symbol of support, as traditional kilts were temporarily banned because of their affiliation with the rebel forces.

A Portrait of Misplaced Confidence

In 1745, Charles, who had by now earned the nickname “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” decided to stage another uprising. He landed on the small island of Eriskay and gathered a group of loyal Clan chiefs to fight alongside him. The troops easily too Edinburgh, thanks to a brilliant surprise attack in the marshes of Prestonpans.

Charles Prince of Wales-Jacobite Rebellion

Prince Charles issued this inflammatory broadside at the height of the Jacobite rebellion. He denies the authority of Parliament and calls its members traitors.

That early victory lent Charles an early–and misguided–sense of confidence. At the apex of the rebellion, he issued a fascinating broadside. In it he proclaimed that the British Parliament lacked legitimacy and called those who attended it both traitors and rebels. Charles even goes so far as to declare the “pretended union of these Kingdoms now at an End.” Only six of these broadsides are known to survive.

Final Defeat

The Highlanders only wanted to take Scotland, but Charles had bigger ideas. He deceived his troops, promising that English Jacobites would meet them further south. In reality, the English Jacobites had decided not to participate in the uprising at all. Under these false pretenses the Highlanders advanced with Charles through Carlisle and Manchester.

But when they reached Derby, they faced three different armies. It was only then that the Highlanders realized Charles had lied. They hastily retreated. Charles reportedly drank and moaned all the way home. Then at Culloden the British troops cornered them. As they slaughtered the Highlander soldiers, Charles managed to escape. This defeat marked the final blow for the Jacobite cause.

Charles made his way out of Scotland despite a £30,000 reward offered for information leading to his capture. Countless Scots helped him on his journey, and he always managed to stay one step ahead of the British government. He eventually found passage aboard the French frigate L’Heureux and arrived in France in September 1745. He’d live the rest of his life in exile.

Last Attempts at Power

Charles returned to France, where he lived until 1748. That year he was expelled under the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended the war between France and Britain. He then lived for several years with his Scottish mistress Clementina Walkinshaw, whom he’d likely met during the 1745 rebellion. The couple had an illegitimate daughter, Charlotte. Later, many would suspect Charlotte of being a spy for the Hanoverian government of Great Britain.

Meanwhile Charles acknowledged that his Catholicism was a huge stumbling block and committed to becoming Protestant if that would help his cause. Thus in 1750 he entered England incognito and took Anglican communion. His conversion wasn’t widely advertised; indeed by the time he married in 1772, Charles seemed to have returned to the Roman Catholic Church.

Almost a decade later, in 1759, French foreign minister Duc De Choiseul summoned Charles to a meeting in Paris. De Choiseul planned a full-scale invasion of England and hoped to rally the remaining Jacobites behind his cause. The Seven Years War had reached its height, and De Choiseul saw this as a golden opportunity. Unfortunately he was none too impressed with Charles stubborn idealism and gave up on attaining Jacobite support. This French invasion marked Charles’ last real opportunity to retake the British throne, but the effort was thwarted by naval defeats at both Lagos and Quiberon Bay.

The final blow came in 1766, when Charles’ father James died. Pope Clement XIII had recognized James as king of England, Scotland, and Ireland, along with James III and James VIII. He didn’t grant Charles the same legitimacy. This very public snub undermined any last claim to the throne that Charles had had.

Charles died on January 31, 1788. He was interred first at the Cathedram of Frascati, where his brother Henry was a bishop. But when Henry died in 1807, Charles’ remains were relocated to St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Both brothers are interred there, along with their parents.


Courtship, Romance, and Love…Antiquarian Style

On the eve of Valentine’s Day, many of us are looking forward to spending time (and perhaps a romantic moment or two) with our significant others. But our decidedly tender views of courtship and marriage are a rather modern invention; for centuries, these institutions had little–if anything–to do with love. A look back at books on the subject offers an entertaining and educational perspective on relationships, religion, and even anatomy.

All for Love or, the World Well Lost (John Dryden, 1677)

Perhaps Dryden’s best known play, All for Love is a tragedy written in blank verse. Dryden sought to rekindle interest in serious dramas, and he acknowledged that Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra heavily influenced the work. Indeed, he reincarnates the Bard’s work with a few changes: Dryden sets the entire play in Alexandria and focuses more heavily on the end of Antony and Cleopatra’s life. Dryden’s work truly captures the complexity of the couple’s epic romance.


Love Letters between a Nobleman and His Sister (Aphra Behn, 1729)

Love Letters between a Nobleman and His Sister-Aphra BehnAphra Behn, generally accepted as the first woman to make a living as a writer, gained fame for her Spanish comedies. But Love Letters takes a darker turn: a woman is forced into an incestuous relationship with her own brother–then into a marriage to salvage her family name. The epistolary novel is supposedly based on the real relationship between Forde Grey (Lord Tankerville) and his sister-in-law, Lady Henrietta Berkley. Behn was among the first women to openly attack the practice of forced marriage, a commonplace practice at the time.


The Turtle Dove; Or Cupid’s Artillery Leveled Against Human Hearts, Being a New and Original Valentine Writer (Sarah Wilkinson, c 1811)

Turtle Dove-Valentines Reader-Sarah WilkinsonThough this chapbook is extremely rare, its theme certainly isn’t. Wilkinson wrote at least 50 chapbooks and bluebooks, and this one features two comical illustrations by Isaac Cruikshank. In the first, the groom gazes at his new bride with deep affection. Cupid’s arrow flies in his direction. The second illustration depicts Cupid–and the unhappy husband–fleeing the scene, leaving behind an angry wife encumbered with the usual accoutrements of broom and child.


Valentine Verses: or, Lines of Truth, Love, and Virtue (Rev Richard Cobbold, 1827)

Valentine Verses-Rev Richard CobboldFollowing the death of his beloved mother, Cobbold composed Valentine Verses. Proceeds from the book went to his mother’s favorite charities, but the poems weren’t received particularly well. The Reverend’s interpretation of love obviously errs on the side of religion, but this was not merely because of his occupation. The concept of love–even romantic love–almost always still carried undertones of piety and a rather religious devotion.


Physiological Mysteries and Revelations in Love, Courtship, and Marriage (Eugene Becklard, 1842)

Becklard's PhysiologyThe subtitle to this book gives the reader great expectations indeed: “An Infallible Guide-book for Married and Single Persons, in Matters of Utmost Importance to the Human Race.” Dr. Becklard, a French physiologist, fashioned his book as a sort of self-help guide for Victorians facing a wide range of sexual frustrations. He dispenses (exceedingly poor) advice on pregnancy, childbirth, and contraception, illustrating how little we really knew about the human body even during this relatively enlightened period. Dr. Becklard’s advice, though rather silly by today’s standards, certainly assuaged his contemporary readers’ anxieties.


The Battle of Life: A Love Story (Charles Dickens, 1846)

Battle of Life-Charles DickensThis novella, one of Dickens’ Christmas stories, recounts the story of sisters Grace and Marion Jeddler. The two live happily in the countryside with their father, who views life as a farce. Marion is betrothed to Alfred Heathfield, who leaves to finish his studies. After his departure, the Jeddlers’ servant spies the profligate Michael Warden with Marion and believes that the two are planning to elope. His suspicions seem to be confirmed when Marion disappears on the day of Albert’s return. Dickens, known for his progressive views, here explores the still relatively unconditional idea of marriage for love.


“Before and After Marriage: In Five Acts” (Cassius M Coolidge, 1882)


Perhaps best known for his poker playing dogs, famous caricaturist Coolidge turns his satirical eye to the institution of marriage. Comprised of six panels, “Before and After Marriage” shows the groom’s perspective shift over time from the satisfied love of a new groom to the apathy of a henpecked husband. This hilarious comic has proven an incredibly rare item.


The Inimitable Boz and the Delightful Phiz

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens’ corpus of literary achievements established him as the preeminent author of Victorian England. Yet Dickens came from humble beginnings, and his first stories were published anonymously. His first signed work was published under the pseudonym “Boz,” a moniker which his colleague, illustrator Hablot Knight Browne, would echo in his own nom de guerre, “Phiz.”


The March 1837 issue of ‘Bentley’s Miscellany’ establishes that Dickens is indeed Boz. The issue also contains Browne’s first known sketch of Dickens.

Dickens the Inimitable
Dickens’ first piece of fiction, the sketch “Mr. Minns and His Cousin” (originally “A Dinner at Poplar Park”) appeared in The Monthly Magazine in December, 1833. Dickens continued to place his pieces in various periodicals, but it wasn’t until 1834 that any of the works bore a name. “The Boarding House” bore the name “Boz” when it appeared in The Monthly Magazine that August. In March 1837, Dickens was officially “outed” as Boz with a bit of doggerel in Bentley’s Miscellany:

“Who the dickens ‘Boz’ could be
Puzzled many a learned elf,
Till Time unveiled the mystery,
And ‘Boz’ appeared as Dickens’ self

The nickname itself has a rather odd provenance. Dickens had nicknamed his younger brother Moses, after a character in Oliver Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield. When pronounced through the nose, “Moses” sounds like “Boses,” which Dickens shortened to “Boz.” He was often referred to as “the inimitable Boz,” but the last word eventually fell away, and Dickens was henceforth known only as “the Inimitable.”

Enter Phiz


Dickens published ‘Sunday under Three Heads’ under the pseudonym Timothy Sparks. He defended the working man’s rights on the Sabbath, which were under attack by Parliament at the time.

By the spring of 1836, Dickens was searching for a new illustrator for Pickwick Papers. He commissioned a small pamphlet from Hablot Knight Browne entitled Sunday under Three Heads, and the two collaborated well together. Thus Browne sought further work from the author. Both Browne and William Makepeace Thackeray offered sample sketches for Dicken’s review, and Dickens chose Browne.

Browne initially used the name NEMO, Latin for “nobody” as his pseudonym. But he soon began using “Phiz” instead, which was appropriate for someone responsible for creating phizzes, that is, delightful and lighthearted caricatures. By the time the parts issue of Pickwick Papers was complete, Dickens, notoriously opinionated with respect to his illustrations, had found “his” illustrator. He became quite friendly with Browne,  who even traveled with Dickens while he researched Nicholas Nickleby.

Browne would go on to illustrate ten of Dickens’ fifteen novels, notably David Copperfield and Martin ChuzzlewitBut before the publication of Tale of Two Cities, Dickens suddenly cut off Browne. Perhaps Dickens knew that Browne’s work was no longer fashionable. Browne, upset that Dickens refused to elucidate his complaint against Browne, conjectured in a letter to his assistant Robert Young, “Dickens probably thinks a new hand would give his puppets a fresh look, or perhaps he doesn’t like my illustrating Trollope neck-and-neck with him–though, by Jingo, he need have no rivalry there! Confound all authors and publishers, I say. There’s no pleasing on or t’other.”

Though Dickens would go on to work with many other illustrators–and had indeed worked with other illustrators even during Browne’s tenure–the works of Phiz remain most closely associated with Dickens’ novels. New illustrations were chosen for Tale of Two Cities, but Phiz’s plates are still the ones most often chosen to accompany the text in later editions.