As just about everyone knows, this year’s Academy Award for Best Picture went to 12 Years a Slave, a film that told the story of Solomon Northup, a free-born African-American who was captured and sold into slavery before eventually regaining his freedom. The movie, of course, is based on Northup’s book, published in 1853. What is not widely yet publicized is that the Duggan Library bought a first edition copy of this book just days before the film was announced as the Oscar winner.
Twelve Years a Slave being unpacked
The reason for our purchase (and slightly good luck in timing) was because of the work’s recent popular culture status and therefore presumed accessibility to today’s students in addition to adding depth to a growing focus of our Special Collections. It joins an already impressive slave narrative collection located in the Archives, including first editions of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845), and the Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave (1849) (who crossed over the Ohio River from Bedford, Kentucky right in our own back yard).
Title page of Capt James Riley’s Narrative
At the same time we acquired the Northup volume we also purchased a work whose title may be a little more perplexing until, as broadcaster Paul Harvey was famous for saying, you know “the rest of the story”. This other work, An Authentic Narrative of the Loss of the American Brig Commerce, Wrecked on the Western Coast of Africa, was self-published in 1817 by James Riley and tells of the “account of the sufferings of the surviving officers and crew, who were enslaved by the wandering Arabs, on the African Desart, or Zahahrah…” as the subtitle details. The library had been looking to acquire a first edition copy for a few years and it was coincidental that a fairly inexpensive and re-bound volume became available at the same time as Northup’s narrative through our rare book dealer, The Book Block. Why the emphasis on acquiring this book? It is because it was one of the seminal books that influenced Abraham Lincoln’s view on slavery. [http://www.jstor.org/stable/27786655].
There is one other important first edition book we acquired in 2006 that should be mentioned with the above group and that is Harriet Beecher Stowe’s, Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly, a best-selling 19th century anti-slavery novel. This book, published in 1852, was first serialized in an anti-slavery weekly, The National Era (more on this in a moment). And, as it happens, Northup dedicated his book with the following; “To Harriet Beecher Stowe: Whose Name, Throughout The World, Is Identified With The Great Reform: This Narrative, Affording Another Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Is Respectfully Dedicated”. This association was the tipping point for our need to acquire Northup’s narrative, and collectively these first editions give our students and researchers a unique opportunity to handle, read, and study books that helped shape our country’s destiny.
These acquisitions, along with many others, would not have been possible without the Lynn Endowment which funds ongoing purchases for the Charles Lynn Rare Book Collection. This endowment, created by Mrs. Charles Lynn and her sister, Miss Mary V. Black, was formed and dedicated to the memory of former Chairman of the Board of Trustees and Eli Lilly Corporation executive, Mr. Charles J. Lynn of Indianapolis (Hanover College Triangle, February 8, 1985). It is through such charitable gifts that we owe much of our Archives and Special Collections. Other examples of donor generosity that enhance our ability to support studies in this tumultuous era of American History are the William R. Baldwin Library of Lincolniana (2005) and the Elias Riggs Monfort Collection donated in 2012 by Taylor Monfort and the Monfort family.
The Baldwin Library of Lincolniana contains more than one hundred items of authoritative secondary literature on Lincoln. In addition, Dr. Baldwin also donated several period steel engravings and hand-colored lithographs, a signed Salvador Dali print, two busts, and assorted ephemera that related to his life-long interest in Abraham Lincoln [collection description courtesy of Doug Denne]. Unfortunately, Dr. Baldwin, the former CEO and co-founder of the River Blindness Foundation in Wilbraham, MA, passed away on Valentine’s Day but we remain grateful for his impressive collection.
Of course, what forever links slavery and Abraham Lincoln is the Civil War. Thanks to the recent addition of the Monfort Papers we have over 120 Civil War era letters with a unique Hanover College perspective. Elias Riggs Monfort was a student at Hanover College in 1861 at the outset of the Civil War. He left the College to join the Ohio 6th and was honorably discharged from service, returning to his studies at Hanover, after suffering injuries at Gettysburg in 1863. Among the invaluable correspondence in this collection are numerous letters Elias wrote during this timeframe to his sister, Margaret [collection description courtesy of Angela White]. I’m guessing it is okay to brag here that in our Archives is also an 1864 first printing of the Address of the Hon. Edward Everett at the consecration of the National cemetery at Gettysburg, 19th November, 1863: with the dedicatory speech of President Lincoln….(i.e., The Gettysburg Address). This piece serves as an exceptional connection between these two distinct collections (Baldwin and Monfort).
I believe all of this is important (and impressive) enough for any college library but for Hanover College it is much more personal. As already mentioned, we acquired Stowe’s, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in 2006 with Lynn Endowment funds. The effect of that book was so great that President Lincoln supposedly greeted her at the White House in 1862 by saying, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war.” (American History Through Literature, 1820-1870, volume 1, p. 225-226, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2006). Here’s where it gets really interesting.
In Frank Baker’s, Glimpses of Hanover’s Past, 1827-1977 (Graessle-Mercer Company, 1978) we find two important facts; one well known if familiar with College history, and one not as widespread. On page 24 of Baker’s book we learn that the College’s founder, John Finley Crowe [http://library.hanover.edu/pdf/Mss1_Crowe.pdf] was an abolitionist who started the Abolition Intelligence and Missionary Magazine in 1822, a full year before he was called to Hanover to become the pastor of the Hanover Presbyterian Church. That the College’s founding is rooted in anti-slavery is a common, if not proud, fact to anyone associated with Hanover. However, likely less well recognized is the College’s important connection with Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Beginning on page 55 of Baker’s book is detailed a covert meeting on the Hanover College campus in August of 1846 of men involved in the anti-slavery movement. Ultimately, this meeting directly resulted in the materialization of the aforementioned paper, The National Era, printed in our nation’s capital. The paper began publishing the full contents of Uncle Tom’s Cabin over the course of about a year beginning in June 1851 making both the paper and Stowe’s work hugely impactful, as evidenced by the purported Lincoln quote. As can be expected we have a reprint of the full run of this important paper that can be perused in our Archives.
To conclude, Baker’s book quotes one Charles Heberhart, “If that group of courageous souls (at Hanover) had not entered on the publication of The National Era in the manner and form they did, no one can say how much longer the fight for freedom of slaves might have had to wait”. So, as can be surmised, the connecting dots of the abolitionist movement, slave narratives, Abraham Lincoln, and the Civil War is not only U.S. history, it is in many respects Hanover College history, making it well worth Duggan Library’s support and cultivation through the stewardship of important gifts like the Baldwin and Monfort collections, and the purchase of rare books such as Twelve Years A Slave.