Uncommon Material from America's Past from David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books

- by Michael Stillman

Uncommon Material from America's Past from David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books

David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books has issued their Catalogue 187 of Rare Americana. It's filled with much uncommon material, books, pamphlets, broadsides, manuscripts, documents, letters and such, often one of a kind. The heaviest concentration is from the 19th century, though some items go back to revolutionary and colonial times. There is much here that will interest collectors of Americana. Here are few items.


We start with the first item in the catalogue, and it was one of the most important Supreme Court decisions relating to slavery. Item 1 is the Argument of John Quincy Adams, Before the Supreme Court of the United States, in the Case of the United States, Appellants, vs. Cinque and Others, Africans, Captured in the Schooner Amistad... published in 1841. The Amistad was traveling between ports in Spanish Cuba carrying African slaves when those slaves revolted. They killed the Captain, overpowered the crew, and attempted to sail back to Africa, from which they had been kidnapped a short time earlier. They ordered two Spanish sailors to take them home, but the Spaniards tricked them and headed north instead of east, ending up off the shore of the United States. They were taken on shore, whereupon Spain demanded their return to Cuba as stolen property. Former President Adams and others took up their defense, arguing they had been kidnapped from Africa so they were not slaves, the slave trade having been outlawed. As such, they were free men who had the right to defend themselves having been kidnapped. The Africans won twice in the lower courts, and once again prevailed in the U.S. Supreme Court. Priced at $7,500.


Next we have the Address of A. J. Hamilton, Military Governor to the People of Texas. Hamilton was a Texas politician, but an uncommon one as he remained loyal to the Union. He served as the U.S. Congressman from West Texas from 1858-60, chose not to run for reelection, but then won an election to the state senate in 1861. However, he found himself ostracized and threatened for his pro-Union views, but then again, even Sam Houston was ostracized for such views. Hamilton escaped to Mexico in 1862, but returned to the U.S. and was named Military Governor of Texas by President Lincoln in 1862. Of course, Texas was under Confederate control, so he served from Union controlled New Orleans. It was a position on paper since he had no actual control over events in Texas. He points out to his fellow Texans, “Not a single wrong had you ever suffered from the Government.” He also notes that under a restored Union government, “Your position in government and society will remain unchanged – that of the negro will be improved. Let those who feel conscious that they cannot compete successfully with the negro for the prize of acknowledged merit and moral worth, chafe and complain.” Hamilton would be named Provisional Governor of Texas after the war, and later ran for the position but was unsuccessful. Item 64. $1,250.


Item 118 is a carte-de-visite of Charles Stratton and his wife and child. That name may not sound familiar, but the one showman P.T. Barnum gave him surely will – “General” Tom Thumb. Barnum knew what appealed to his audience and evidently, very small people was one of them. This card is captioned Tom Thumb, Wife and Child, from 1863 or 64. Barnum taught Stratton to sing and dance, impersonate other characters, and tell jokes. He took Stratton to England where he performed before Queen Victoria. In 1863, Stratton married Livinia Warren. Ten thousand people attended. They were received by President Lincoln at the White House. Their enormous popularity led to the couple becoming quite wealthy and they lived well. As for the child, they didn't have one. It was faked. Barnum would rent children from orphanages. A few years later, they announced the child had “died.” Stratton suffered a heart attack and died at age 45, but Warren lived to age 77, remarrying “Count” Primo Magri, two inches shorter than Stratton, after his death. Item 118. $175.


John Gardner must have really enjoyed this letter he received from his cousin, Lauson Teal, dated January 25, 1841. Teal was a supporter of Martin Van Buren in the 1840 election, while Gardner evidently supporter the winner, William Henry Harrison, whom Teal obviously despised. Teal starts by saying he was glad to get a letter from Gardner's family and happy they are in good health. He continues, “I should be very glad to see your family and should have been more than glad to see you if I had not bin insulted by you in your last letter.” He then launches into a diatribe against Harrison, with insightful comments such as, “You brag of your granny Harrison what is he is he a full blooded Abolitioner he goes for bank frod and he voats to sel poor men to the highest bidder for debt. he is a coward he voted in Indiana for Negroes to have a vote what next when he takes his seat he now nothing he will have to send for Tory Clay or Tory Webster and another thing he is so old he cannot hear himself Fart him and his party goes for the Bankrupt Law all force and vigor never mind you poor Devils you will not come next time with coon skins and hard cider and Buckeyes and log cabens and promise to the people if you will petticoat Harrison you will get a dollar a bushel for your wheat and everything in proportion.” Incomprehensible political discourse is nothing new to this age, but give credit to Teal for developing stream of consciousness writing before it became a popular literary style. This comes with a second, friendly letter from Mrs. Teal to Mrs. Gardner discussing strictly personal matters. Item 101. $450.


This is a 17-page manuscript account (far more literate than the previous letter), by Charles Homsher from 1865. Homsher was a private in the 90th Regiment of the Indiana Volunteers. He was captured and interned in the notorious Andersonville Prison. He starts by recalling, “We were put in Box cars for Andersonville and were packed like hogs.” He goes on to describe being searched “head to foot” on arrival, stripped, and his possessions taken by the guards, except they let him keep a picture of his “lady friend” after first accusing him of stealing it. The food was terrible, describing the cornbread as, “...you would bite into a mouth full of meal that had not been baked and pull out pieces of corn husk and pieces of corn cob.” There was death all around. Each morning a Sergeant counted how many men were still alive. “The last night of August 1864 I have counted as high 60 who died through the night and was carried to the gate. They lay there till 9AM without any clothes of any kind on them.” Eventually, they hear they will be exchanged for Confederate prisoners and are moved to a different prison. However, only sick prisoners were ever exchanged and two months later, he was returned to Andersonville. Finally, he was taken to Savannah and then to Florida where he was released on April 28, 1865. Item 65. $3,500.


David M. Lesser Fine Antiquarian Books may be reached at 203-389-8111 or dmlesser@lesserbooks.com. Their website is www.lesserbooks.com.