Tag Archives: Americana

Thomas Dorr’s Treasonous Stand for Voting Rights


The Rhode Island First Light Infantry Company was formed in 1818 as a state militia company based in Providence. Affiliated with the Second Regiment of the Rhode Island militia, it saw no active duty. Indeed, for the majority of its history the company’s activities were more like those of a social club than of a militia–with a notable exception. The company helped to quell the Dorr Rebellion, even though some of its members actually fought alongside the rebels. Led by Thomas Wilson Dorr, the rebels sought to extend suffrage to the working class. Although Dorr was eventually convicted of treason, his ideas were influential enough that Rhode Island finally revised its archaic voting requirements.

A State Ripe for Revolution

In 1833, Rhode Island’s voting regulations were over 200 years old. Thus the only people who could vote were white, natural born males who owned land. But Rhode Island’s demographics had shifted; the population had grown, but the number of landowners had increased only by a small percentage. Self-educated carpenter Seth Luther was among the first to protest the old voting laws. His “Address on the Right of Free Suffrage” (1833) pointed out that 12,000 working people were at the mercy of Rhode Island’s 5,000 landowners, whom he called “mushroom lordlings, sprigs of nobility…[and] small potato aristocrats.” Luther urged his fellow citizens to stop cooperating with the government, to refuse to pay taxes and serve in the militia.


The People’s ticket was designed to connect the Dorr Rebellion with the American Revolution.

As support for voting reform grew, a somewhat unlikely champion for the cause emerged. Thomas Wilson Dorr was an attorney who hailed from a relatively wealthy family. Dorr served in the Rhode Island General Assembly, and in 1834 he attended a convention at Providence to discuss the issue of universal suffrage (then defined as “voting rights for all males.” But the legislature failed to pass any reforms. By 1841, Rhode Island one of only a few states that hadn’t adopted universal suffrage for white males. it was also the only state that had not adopted its own written constitution. That year the Rhode Island Suffrage Association was founded, and the organization sponsored a demonstration on the streets of Providence.

That year, both the Dorrites and the conservatives drew up their own constitutions. The conservative constitution maintained the same voting requirements as the 1663 charter. Meanwhile, at the “People’s Convention,” Dorr and his faction drew up a constitution that permitted all white males to vote. Dorr’s version got approval in referendum, but that was ruled illegal since it hadn’t been called by the government. The government’s constitution was defeated in a separate referendum. It seemed that Rhode Island had reached a stalemate. The Dorrites then decided to put their constitution to a vote. About 14,000 people voted for it, including 5,000 landowners; it won the majority even among only those who were currently allowed to vote. Although the vote was illegal, it did show the government that its citizens supported universal suffrage.


Dorr’s gubernatorial portrait

In 1842, both factions went so far as to hold their own elections, and two separate governments emerged. The conservatives were based in Newport, and the Dorrites established themselves in Providence. Dorr ran for governor unopposed and, with 6,000 votes, was elected in April 1842. Obviously this election was also illegal, and Rhode Island’s rightful governor petitioned President Tyler to intercede. He invoked a clause in the US Constitution that permitted the federal government to provide troops to control local rebellions at the request of the state government.

Undone by Racism


This broadside was published only one day before Dorr staged his rebellion.

Undeterred, the Dorittes held an inauguration ball for Dorr on May 3, 1843. The parade included not only local workers, but even members of the local militia! The parade marched through the streets of Providence. Shortly thereafter, the People’s legislature convened. Dorr’s next move was ill calculated. With the support of many local militia members, Dorr staged an attack on the state arsenal. But it ended quickly and disastrously when a cannon misfired. The government immediately ordered Dorr’s arrest on charges of treason, and Dorr was forced to flee Rhode Island.

And the People’s party had made another terrible move; despite the protests of Dorr and other members, their constitution extended voting rights only to white males. The Rhode Island government used this to its advantage, promising that any new voting legislation would allow blacks to vote. Soon black men were volunteering to join the Law and Order militia, which had been organized to quell the riot and defeat the faction that would deny them the right to vote.

When Dorr came back to Rhode Island, he found that although he had several hundred men ready to fight for his cause, they were far outnumbered by the Law and Order militia. Dorr went back into hiding to regroup. Martial law was declared in Rhode Island. At least 100 rebel soldiers were captured and taken to prison in Providence–after they were put on display, of course.

 Rebellion Leads to Reform

Though it appeared that the rebellion had been quashed, legislators now fully appreciated the support for amending suffrage requirements. They drafted a new constitution. The vote was extended to include not only property owners, but also those who paid a one-dollar poll tax. Naturalized citizens could vote if they held at least $134 in real estate. Then elections were held in 1843. The Law and Order group still met opposition from Dorrites, but used intimidation to get people to vote. The conservatives still lost in industrial areas, but got the votes in more rural zones. Ultimately the Law and Order group won the major offices.

That year Dorr returned to Rhode Island and was arrested on the street in Providence. He soon went to trial for treason, and the judge instructed the jury to put aside all political arguments and to ignore Dorr’s motives. They were to reach a decision only on specific, overt acts. Dorr had, of course, admitted to all his actions, so he was speedily convicted. The judge sentenced him to life in prison and hard labor. But Dorr would spend only twenty months in jail; the new Rhode Island governor thought it wise to pardon him, rather than let him languish in prison as a martyr.


The Dorrite cause still had support even after the rebellion had been quashed, as evidenced in this 1844 polemic.

A Last Stand at the Supreme Court

Rhode_Island_Light_Infantry_VolumesThough the Dorrites had been defeated, they remained in public consciousness for many more years, most notably through a landmark Supreme Court case. In Luther v Bordn (1849), Luther made a trespassing suit against the Law and Order militia. He alleged that the People’s government was truly a legitimate, elected government in 1842. Daniel Webster defended the militia, arguing that granting such legitimacy jeopardized the very existence of government and could lead to total anarchy. The Supreme Court ruled that it would defer to the President and Congress in matters of war and revolution, a conservative stance.

This period was certainly a dramatic one in Rhode Island history, particularly for members of the local militia. The company journals of the Rhode Island Infantry Company, which we’re proud to offer, capture these events as they were experienced by militia members at the time. Handwritten by a series of members, the four-volume set of records stretches from 1818 to 1873, providing exceptional context for quite a long era in American and local history.

Related Posts:
Rare Books in History: The Revolutionary War
Charles Dickens the Copyright Confederate
The Millerites and the Great Disappointment

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Rare Books in History: The Revolutionary War

Independence Day commemorates the American colonies’ declaring their intention to gain independence from British rule. These items from our inventory illuminate critical moments in history, both before and after the Revolution.

An Account of the European Settlements in America

Account-European-Settlements-America-BurkePublished in six parts and two volumes, An Account of the European Settlements in America was written by Edmund Burke and William Burke. The work is most often attributed to Edmund, who was considered a friend of the Americans during the Revolutionary War. That interpretation is an oversimplification, however; though Burke sympathized with the Americans’ dissatisfaction with British rule, he also hoped they’d strive to avoid war. In 1769, Burke published a pamphlet criticizing the British for stirring up conflict with their policies. Five years later, he spoke out against American taxation. Edmund and William were questionably related but referred to one another as “cousins.” The two published their Account in 1757, and Howes lauds it as the “best contemporary account” of the colonies. Details>>

The Pennsylvania Evening Post, Vol I No 1 (Tuesday, January 24, 1775)

Pennsylvania-Evening-PostPublished by Benjamin Towne, The Pennsylvania Evening Post initially came out tri-weekly through 1784 with hiatuses during the Revolutionary War. In 1783, Towne modified the paper’s name to The Pennsylvania Evening Post, and Daily Advertiser”–the first daily paper in the United States. On July 6, 1776, the paper was also the first to publish the print the Declaration of Independence. Bingham notes 11 institutional holdings of this first appearance, making it uncommon in the trade. Details>>

The Naval Atalantis, Parts I & II

Joseph Harris used the pseudonym Nauticus Junior when he published The Naval Atalantis, which makes sense given the critical commentary he offers therein. Harris offers character sketches of Naval-Atalantis91 British officers, many of whom played a role in the American Revolution. Howes notes than many of the officers “are unmercifully criticised or lampooned by Harris, notably Viscount Wililam Howe, Lord of the Admiralty.” This is a fair assessment; Harris says of Howe “his Lordship’s conduct on the coast of North America, rather served to throw a shade over the laurels he had acquired in his youth.” Harris was reportedly the secretary to Admiral Milbanke, whom Harris features in Part I. Harris’ tone is often quite caustic toward his fellow soldiers. No copies of this edition have been at auction for over thirty years, making it relatively rare in the trade. Details>>

 Independence Day Orations of Josiah Quincy III

Josiah_Quincy_OrationJosiah Quincy was a soldier in the Revolutionary War, and his namesake would earn the nickname “the Patriot” as principal spokesman for the Sons of Liberty. Thus Josiah Quincy III inherited a legacy of patriotism. He served as a member of the US House of Representatives and as Mayor of Boston before becoming president of Harvard University. Quincy III delivered multiple Independence Day orations to the city of Boston, including one on July 4, 1789 and another on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1826.  Details>>

Monody on Major Andre

Seward_Monody_Major_AndreAnna Seward was a prominent woman of letters in her day, having, for example, the admiration of Wordsworth and Scott, and whose disapproval of Dr. Johnson is as well chronicled as her support of young writers of the era is, perhaps, under appreciated. This title, her second published, by the ‘Swan of Lichfield’ [as this poet is known] is a tribute to the suitor of her friend, Honoria Sneyd (stepmother to Maria Edgeworth); the suitor had been executed, as a courier of information from Benedict Arnold to General Clinton, during the Revolutionary War by the Americans. The work’s publication reportedly “brought her an apology from General Washington.”  Details>>

Campagnes Militaires de Lieutenant General Sir William Howe en Amerique

Howe_Campagnes_MilitairesWilliam Howe was the British Commanding General during the Revolutionary War, and here he offers his account. It’s an interesting and scarce edition, with no copies at auction in the last 25 years; OCLC lists only three institutions with this edition. It has a preface not present in the English edition: “‘Twenty times,” exclaims the translator (in this preface dated Amst. 25 Nov. 1780), “have the English encouraged the idea and flattered themselves with it of putting a speedy termination to the war, yet after six years they are no farther advanced in the conquest or reconciliation than they were on the first day.’ [Sabin]. Details>>

The Adventures of Christopher Hawkins

Christopher_Hawkins_AdventuresDuring the American Revolution, prisoners of war were treated and managed very differently than they are today; in the eighteenth century, each army was expected to provide supplies and provisions for their own POW’s. Meanwhile, King George III had declared all American soldiers to be traitors, which negated their status as POW’s. Initially, captured American soldiers were simply hanged for treason. However, once the Continental Army caught a large number of British soldiers at the Battle of Saratoga, this practice seemed risky; the British feared reciprocal treatment for their own soldiers. The British resorted to holding their prisoners in dilapidated war ships and prisons. Conditions were deplorable, and many POW’s died as a result. One soldier, Christopher Hawkins was captured and imprisoned on the HMS Jersey off the shore of New York. Hawkins managed to escape, and the details of his captivity were published much later, in a privately printed account. Details>>



Happy Birthday, Washington Irving!

April 3 marks the birthday of Washington Irving, American author, historian, and diplomat. Though best known for his short stories “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle,” Irving was a prolific writer who also penned several historical fiction books and biographies.

Washington-IrvingChildhood and Education

Irving was born the same week that Britain’s ceasefire ended the American Revolution, and his joyful parents decided to name their new son after George Washington. Young Irving got to meet his namesake when Washington was inaugurated president in 1789, an event that Irving would later commemorate with a watercolor painting. Irving was an unenthusiastic student; by age fourteen, he was already skipping evening classes to attend the theater. Luckily for him, his older brothers were successful merchants who would later support his budding career as a writer.

Irving began submitting pieces to the New York Morning Chronicle in 1802, when he was nineteen years old. Published under the pseudonym Jonathan Oldstyle, the articles focused on New York’s theater and social scenes. They were quite an impressive debut: Aaron Burr, then the magazine’s co-publisher, snipped several of the articles to send to his daughter Theodosia. And Charles Brockden Brown journeyed from Philadelphia to New York to convince Oldstyle to write for Brown’s literary magazine.

Shortly thereafter his brothers sent him to Europe–only to be disappointed that Irving skipped all the “high spots.” He concentrated instead on accumulating an impressive social circle. The charismatic young man soon earned a reputation for congeniality and was a much sought after dinner guest. Irving also forged a close friendship with Washington Allston, who almost convinced him to give up writing for a career as a painter.

Authorial Success

Irving returned to New York, where he founded “The Lads of Kilkenny,” a group of young literati from the city. In 1807, he founded the literary magazine Salmagundi with his brother William and fellow Lad James Kirke Paulding. Even though Irving again wrote under pseudonyms, the magazine helped spread his name outside of New York. And it was in the November 11, 1807 issue of Salmagundi that Irving referred to New York as “Gotham.” Anglo-Saxon for “Goat’s Town,” the nickname wasn’t intended to be flattering. But for some reason it stuck, and Gotham has been used to refer to New York ever since.

Two years later, Irving perpetrated what was one of the greatest literary hoaxes of his time. He placed a series of missing person advertisements in the local papers, asking for information about the whereabouts of historian Diedrich Knickerbocker. Irving also fabricated a notice from a hotel proprietor, threatening to publish the manuscript that Knickerbocker left behind in the hotel room, if the historian failed to surface and pay his bill. The ploy was so effective that New York officials actually considered offering a reward for Knickerbocker’s safe return.

Irving published A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty by Diedrich Knickerbocker on December 6, 1809. The book was an instant success. “It took with the public and gave me celebrity, as an original work was something remarkable uncommon in America,” Irving commented. Over time the name “Knickerbocker” became a name for New Yorkers in general; it has since been shortened to “Knicks,” for which the city’s basketball franchise is named.

Financial Struggles and International Copyright Battles

Despite Irving’s fame, he still struggled financially. For a time Irving was editor of Analectic Magazine, where he wrote biographies of naval war heroes. He was among the first to reprint Francis Scott Key’s “Defense of Fort McHenry,” now famous as “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Then the War of 1812 destroyed his family’s finances, and he went to England to keep the family trade business afloat. Irving would remain in Europe for the next seventeen years.

Irving declared bankruptcy and had trouble finding a job. In the meantime, he kept writing at a furious pace. In summer of 1817, he penned “Rip Van Winkle” during an overnight stay with his sister and her husband in Birmingham. By spring of 1819, Irving had sent a set of short stories to his brother Ebenezer. These would become the first installment of The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. It met with instant success, and Irving published seven more installments in New York. The stories were reprinted in two volumes in London.

Irving’s bi-continental reputation introduced a significant challenge: literary bootleggers, who would republish his works without permission, particularly in England. Like Charles Dickens, Irving spoke out about the need for international copyright law, but made little progress. Dickens and Irving corresponded on the topic, and Dickens would stay with Irving during his 1842 American tour. But they still grappled with international copyright issues on both sides of the pond. Irving’s stopgap solution: he hired London publisher John Murray to distribute his books in England and made sure to release all his works concurrently in both the US and Britain.

Travel to Spain

Thanks to an invitation from Alexander Hill Everett, the American Minister to Spain, Irving found himself in Spain in 1826. Many manuscripts regarding the Spanish conquests in America had recently gone public, and soon Irving was working on multiple books simultaneously. He wrote The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (1828; his first work not published using a pseudonym); Chronicles of the Conquest of Granada (1829); and Voyages and Discoveries of the Companions of Columbus (1831). These books were historical fiction, rather than biography or history. Irving made one mistake; he helped to perpetuate the myth that scholars of the Middle Ages thought the world was flat. But he wasn’t alone; other authors who promoted this misconception were John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White.

Irving soon moved into the Alhambra, where he expected to finish several writing projects. Instead he was appointed to the American Legation in London. He returned to England to serve as an aide-de-campe to American Minister Louis McLane. Irving helped to negotiate a trade agreement between the US and the British West Indies. He resigned from the post in 1832, returning to the States to publish Tales of the Alhambra.

Western Exploration

That same year, Irving accompanied US Commissioners for Indian Affairs Henry Leavitt Ellsworth and Charles la Trobe, along with his friend Count Albert-Alexandre de Pourtales to survey Indian Territory. The expedition inspired A Tour of the Prairies. Irving also met fur magnate John Jacob Astor during the trip, and Astor convinced Irving to write his biography. Astoria was published in February 1836. Meanwhile Irving encountered Benjamin Bonneville and, fascinated with his tales, convinced Bonneville to sell his maps and notes for $1,000. Irving used these as the basis for The Adventures of Captain Bonneville (1837).

Irving undertook these works, often called his Western series, for a few reasons. First, he was broke. Second, he’d been criticized for becoming a more European writer. Both James Fenimore Cooper and Philip Freneau thought he’d turned his back on America. Fortunately for Irving, the books were received well in the States, though predictably less so in Britain.

After a stint as the American Minister to Spain, Irving returned to his Tarrytown, NY property, called Sunnyside, in 1846. He worked on the “Author’s Revised Edition” of his works for publisher George Palmer Putnam. Irving also turned his attention to biographies, writing about Oliver Goldsmith, the Islamic prophet Muhammed, and George Washington. His biography of Washington was released in five volumes, and Irving died within months of its completion.


The Rare Books of Baseball

This weekend kicks of the beginning of the 2013 Major League Baseball season. While the precise origins of the game remain dubious, the sport has gained a sure place as the most popular sport of focus among rare book collectors.

A Legendary Rivalry

Henry Chadwick (1824-1908) was a British-born journalist. A true baseball enthusiast, Chadwick launched one of the first newspaper columns devoted to baseball. He was also among the first to record baseball statistics as a means to evaluate individual players’ performance. In 1903, Chadwick wrote an article suggesting that baseball was a form of an English game called rounders. The game had similar rules and equipment, so the guess seemed plausible enough.

Enter Albert Spalding (1850-1915). A great pitcher from the 1870’s, Spalding was one of baseball’s greatest advocates. He owned the Chicago White Stockings and the National League of Professional Ball Clubs. In 1911, Spalding launched a massive campaign to make baseball the national pastime. He believed that baseball was a quintessentially American game–and was invented by Americans. Thus he vociferously disagreed with Chadwick’s assertion that baseball had British origins.

To settle the disagreement, Spalding appointed a committee whose mission was to uncover the origins of baseball. He selected Abraham Mills as the chairman. Mills was the National League’s president from 1882 to 1884. The task force, nicknamed the “Mills Commission,” ruled on December 30, 1907 that Abner Doubleday had invented baseball. Immediately a myth was born.

The Doubleday Myth

The Mills Commission based their ruling almost entirely on the testimony of one man: 71-year-old Abner Graves, a mining engineer who lived in Denver, Colorado. Graves responded to a “call for people who had knowledge of the game,” placed in Akron, Ohio’s Beacon Journal by Spalding. Graves claimed that he’d seen Doubleday draw a diagram of a baseball field back in 1839, during a schoolboy’s game. Graves sent his account to the Beacon Journal, which printed it with the headline “Abner Doubleday Invented Baseball.”


US Army general and Civil War hero Abner Doubleday was spuriously credited with creating baseball thanks to the Mills Commission.

Meanwhile Doubleday himself never claimed that he invented the sport. A US Army general and Civil War hero, Doubleday never once mentioned baseball in his extensive diaries. By the time the Mills Commission declared Doubleday the inventor of baseball, he’d already passed away. But that didn’t stop the myth from taking on a life of its own. Soon, Doubleday was even credited with introducing baseball to Mexico during the Mexican-American War.

Flaws in the Doubleday Myth

Unfortunately the Mills committee overlooked some critical information. First, Graves wasn’t the most reliable witness. He’d been only five years old in 1839 when he supposedly saw Doubleday diagram the baseball field. But the greatest flaw in Graves’ account was that Doubleday was not even in Cooperstown, New York in 1839.

Clearly Doubleday hadn’t invented baseball, but who had? America longed for an answer. In 1953, Congress named Andrew Cartwright the inventor of baseball, definitively debunking the Doubleday myth. Cartwright, a volunteer firefighter, had been a founding member of the New York Knickerbockers (est September 23, 1845). He’d been instrumental in making baseball more of a gentlemen’s sport. But modern scholars of baseball have also dismissed Cartwright as baseball’s inventor.


The New York Knickerbockers were the first organized baseball team. In 1953, Congress declared founding member Andrew Cartwright the inventor of baseball.

Historian and antiquarian David Block is the leading scholar on the history of baseball. His 2005 book, Baseball before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game, outlines the earliest mentions and illustrations of baseball in literature. The first known appearance of “base-ball” in print occurred in the 1744 edition of A Little Pretty Pocket-Book. And the first-known rules of baseball were printed in Spiele zur Erholung (1796). The German book that summarizes the rules of a game called “Ball mit Freystaten (oder das englische Base-ball),” which translates as “ball with free station (or English base-ball). Block illustrates the similarities between baseball and trapper ball He also notes that the first written account of rounders in England was in The Boy’s Own Book (1828).

Thus, neither Chadwick nor Spalding (nor the 1953 American Congress) was correct about baseball’s origins. The game had already existed for nearly a century before Doubleday, Cartwright, or any of their relative contemporaries could have “invented” it.

Collecting Rare Baseball Books

Baseball is by far the most popular game among collectors who specialize in a sport. This is due, in large part, to the mysterious origins of the sport. But there are also plenty of niches for collectors to focus on, from baseball’s early history, to regional leagues or specific teams, to baseball fiction.


Henry Chadwick, the sports writer who had questioned baseball’s origins, played a significant role in nationalizing the rules of baseball. He wrote Beadle’s Dime Base-Ball Player most years, from 1860 to 1881. The guide included not only rules for the game itself, but also guidelines for establishing baseball clubs and game statistics from the previous year. These guides were ubiquitous at the time, helping to spread interest in the game and normalize rules. But Chadwick’s guides have become exceptionally scarce, and they’re prized among collectors who specialize in baseball.

Juvenile-Pastimes-BaseballOne of the earlier references to “base-ball” as a children’s game comes from Juvenile Pastimes; Or Girls’ and Boys’ Book of Sports (1849). References to the sport at this time are particularly uncommon. One of the 17 woodcuts in this book depicts two boys playing “base-ball,” making it a relatively early pictorial depiction of the game.

Baseball fiction has long been favored among collectors. Earlier baseball fiction was often published in serial form, though novels soon gained steam. One especially collectible title is Freddy and the Baseball Team from Mars (1955) by Walter R Brooks. The Freddy series itself is beloved among many collectors of modern first editions, as well.


Ephemera also remains attractive, especially to collectors who focus on individual teams. One particularly interesting piece of ephemera comes in the form of a poem by Barry Gifford. An avid Cubs fan, Gifford published “The Giants Are Going to Win the Pennant” on a Madrugada broadside. He compares the poet Jack Spicer to Ted Williams, one of the greatest baseball players of all time, whose “hits are in/the record books/waiting to be broken.”


As Americans’ love of baseball remains strong and the game continues to evolve, collectors of rare baseball books will undoubtedly have plenty of opportunities to expand their collections.