Firsts and lasts

October 17, 2014

One of the most frustrating things about studying early American children’s periodicals is just listing them. We rely on earlier references (Betty Longenecker Lyon’s 1942 dissertation, “A History of Children’s Secular Magazines” is a classic) or articles by collectors and earlier scholars. R. Gordon Kelly tried to pull together as much info as possible in 1984, in Children’s Periodicals of the United States.

Because it can be so difficult to even find the periodicals we want to study, a lot of us look at these lists and at the info in library catalogs like the one for the American Antiquarian Society and run with the info. Unfortunately, it’s not always accurate, because—well, okay, because it can be so difficult to even find the periodicals we want to study.

So, that’s where the research comes in. You work with what you can find; you look at eBay; you scroll through pdfs of city directories or county histories or general surveys of local publications; you search newspaper and magazine databases on general terms like “children’s magazine”; you look at the notices and advertisements in other periodicals. This, by the way, is just to get a list of what was published. I’m up to 388 titles published before 1873 (and counting: right now I’m trying to find more info on what appears to be the only Spanish-language children’s periodical published during the period).

And sometimes it turns out that we have the wrong dates for some periodicals we’ve been studying for decades. First issues and last issues seem to be the most difficult to establish. If all you have is a bound volume of the 1841 issues of Robert Merry’s Museum, you won’t know that the first issue wasn’t January 1841, but February 1841.  (October 1841 was a double issue.)

It’s more difficult when we’ve had the wrong year the whole time. Which is what I realized once I looked at advertisements for The Slave’s Friend.  Standard reference works list the first year as 1836. However, according to advertisements, the first issue was April 1835.

And we really should have known this. The Friend was published as the result of a meeting in January 1835 (at least one other magazine was published a month after it was proposed). Copies of issue number 3 were famously burned in South Carolina in July 1835.

Why have we had the wrong date all this time? Partly because the issues themselves don’t have dates on them. (Thanks a lot, American Anti-Slavery Society! And editor of The Sunday-Scholar’s Mirror, for that matter.) Since the Friend seems to have been thought of mostly as a religious tract to be “scattered unsparingly through the land” rather than subscribed to, dates were unimportant. And we’ve had the wrong date partly because— Okay, who really wants to wade through periodical after periodical, looking for teeny advertisements and one-line notices? Well, yeah, I do; but it’s really not as much fun as it sounds.

And, probably, we’ve had the wrong date because it just didn’t occur to anyone to pay attention to the fact that issues of the Friend were around to be burned in 1835. (Yes, I knew about the incident, but … Okay, I didn’t actually know the date of the incident. That’s my story, and I will be sticking to it.) The 1836 date may come from a library’s bound volume of the first year, which was available in July 1836 and may have that date on the title page. (My bound volume is missing any page before page one of issue one and may have been created from individual issues, so, no title page for me to check.)

End dates can be just as iffy. Apparently, the Friend had 38 issues. (And where are we getting that? I’m really not sure.) The usual date of last issue is 1838. (And where are we getting that? Hmm.) But a May 1839 issue of Youth’s Cabinet has a notice of an issue (not enough details, of course, to figure out which one).  More confusingly, an ad for the Cabinet in April 1839 mentions that the Friend has been discontinued. Sounds like more wading through periodicals is in order.

It was easier to find the date of the last issue of The Little Pilgrim, which reference works have ending in December 1868. Because the date of last issue right on the front cover. Of the April 1869 issue. And inside that cover is an announcement that it is, indeed, the last issue.

LC70And, suddenly, a major problem is solved: that it apparently took six months for the Pilgrim to merge with The Little Corporal.  Oh, you didn’t know about that? (Neither do the reference works.) The merger shows up on the early 1870 covers of the Corporal, which is why I spent a month or two feeling like a confused researcher: why hadn’t anybody else noticed?

Because nobody was looking at both magazines. Because they didn’t see the covers. Because they couldn’t find all the issues. Because it’s tough to find all the issues in covers.  Because other researchers spend brainpower remembering the names of their friends and family and their own phone numbers, when they could be using it wondering just why the Little Pilgrim is creeping up on the Little Corporal on the cover.

So, research. Luckily, a lot of stuff formerly available only on difficult-to-find microfilm or even-more-difficult-to-find paper (oh, long, juicy argument over Youth’s Gazette, where art thou?) is now digitized. And winter’s coming, when I won’t be pining quite so much to be out somewhere.

Okay, still pining.  But not pining as much as I could be.

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(Because it’s Friday the 13th.)

On a hot summer day in 1835, several men took a boat to the middle of the Delaware River near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and there ceremoniously tore to pieces about 2000 magazines and newspapers, scattering them into the water.

From this end of the anti-slavery movement, the scene is puzzling and a little amusing, but at the time the men were saving Philadelphia from riot.  Because the periodicals had been published by the American Anti-Slavery Society, whose efforts were met with hostility and whose publications were “incendiary.”

Quite literally.  One way the Society distributed its publications was by mailing them to addresses taken from published lists (city directories, for example); one issue I own of Slave’s Friend has the words “Read & Circulate” written on the cover. But the mass mailings didn’t always go over well: in late July 1835, periodicals addressed to citizens in South Carolina were taken from the post office and burned by a cheering crowd alerted by the postmaster.  Among them were copies of Slave’s Friend #3.

So, when the next month more copies of The Liberator, Human Rights, and
The Slave’s Friend were discovered in a crate in Philadelphia, on their way to various slave states, they were publicly destroyed, and a detailed account of the proceedings was published in the local newspaper.  The article is an interesting read, with an overlay of guilt and self-righteousness.  The crate is “accidentally forced open” (italics theirs).  The author points out that the dock workers unloading the steamboat are of a variety of races—perhaps to halt assumptions that race was a factor in the “accidental” opening of the crate.  And, while destroying U. S. mail was a criminal act, the author appears to be pointing out that it wasn’t technically U. S. mail, since it wasn’t being sent as such. In fact, it’s treated as personal property, with the crate’s addressee giving legal permission for the destruction of the contents.

One interesting element in the article is treament of the merchant to whom the crate was addressed.  Naming him and detailing his astonishment that the crate is addressed to him tells those who sent the crate that the periodicals were destroyed—without blaming him.  And, it also serves as a warning to him, if he really was involved in distributing abolitionist literature:  everyone knows his name.

Why publish the article?

Because word would be spread by other newspapers.  (Editors read just about everything with reprinting in mind.)  And, word certainly was spread. In a quick look at a digital archive, I’ve found the piece reprinted in newspapers north and south.  The Connecticut Courant (Hartford, Connecticut), the Alexandria Gazette (Alexandria, Virginia), and the Charleston Courier (Charleston, South Carolina) appear to have reprinted the article as it appeared in the Inquirer.  Under the title “Another Infamous Attempt Of The Abolitionists—Incendiary Publications Destroyed,” the Albany Argus printed an abridged version of the piece from the New York Courier and Enquirer, ending with the observation that “The whole affair exhibited a fixed de[t]ermination on the part of the Philadelphians to resist, as far as in them lay, the circulation of incendiary pamphlets of every description.”

And, yes, Philadelphia was saved—temporarily.  The City of Brotherly Love would be the site of at least one anti-abolition riot, detailed in The Slave’s Friend in 1839.

A Disclosure—Incendiary Publications Destroyed

We learn that shortly after the arrival of the steamboat, bringing the newspaper mails of yesterday morning, and while the labourers (white and coloured) were engaged in removing the various bundles, bales and packages, received at the same time and by the same conveyance as the mail, a large wooden box, apparently filled with dry goods, and directed to a respectable individual of this city, was accidentally forced open, when it was found to be filled with incendiary pamphlets and newspapers, such as the “Liberator,” “Human Rights,” and the “Slave’s Friend,” carefully put up in packages, and directed to persons in Georgia, North and South Carolina, Missouri, Alabama, Illinois, and other slave states, and to the District of Columbia. We cannot, in terms too strong, express our disapprobation—our horror at this proceeding, and especially at this particular time. It should be remembered, that the transmission of newspapers and pamphlets in the manner described, is a gross and daring violation of the laws in relation to the U. S. mail; and when we recollect the excitement so recently produced in Charleston, by a proceeding of a similar character—and when we also recollect that the whole country is in a state of agitation and apprehension, in consequence of the recent movements of the fanatics, this last mad act cannot be viewed with other feelings than those of the strongest indignation. We have now in our possession several of the papers and pamp[h]lets thus surreptitiously forwarded to this city. They are of the most incendiary and inflammatory character, some of them being embellished with cuts of various kinds, calculated to excite and inflame the mind of the slave,—and to poison his already embittered feelings against his master. As soon as the facts above stated became known, a few of our most respectable citizens assembled together, and submitted the question of “What shall be done to save the city from the consequences of an excitement which this affair is likely to produce?” It was immediately determined to wait upon the gentleman to whom the aforesaid box was directed, to explain to him the delicate situation which he occupied in relation to the matter, and to recommend to him the propriety of making such declarations for the public eye as should exonerate him from all agency or participation in this very culpable affair. A Committee consisting of Thomas L. McKenney, R. T. Conrad, Morris Mattson, A. G. Waterman, and John C. Martin, Esqrs., was appointed, and immediately proceeded to the discharge of the duty assigned them. They stated that they had called for the purpose of making known to him the facts as above detailed, with a view of obtaining his disclaimer of any agency in this affair, and of thus allaying public excitement, which it was apprehended might be produced against him. He very promptly gave the disclaimer in the following letter, adding emphatically that he never had, in the slightest manner, sanctioned any interference with the Slave question of the Southern States, believing it improper to do so. Mr. Scottt conducted himself throughout, in the most satisfactory manner, and evinced a spirit highly commendable.—His letter is subjoined;—

Philadelphia, August 25, 1835.

Gentlemen,—I am informed that a box arrived this morning in the line of steamboats from New York, directed to me, containing various papers—the Liberator, Human Rights, the Slave’s Friend, &c. directed to various persons residing in several of the Slaveholding States, and in the District of Columbia.  This is to certify that I have no knowledge of such box, further than you have reported to me, or of its contents; and have had no agency, direct or indirect, in having it directed to me; and moreover, I declare, if said box had reached me, I should have considered it my duty, in the present state of public excitement on the subject, to have returned its contents. I hereby surrender to the city of Philadelphia, all the right and claim I may have to said box and its contents, so far as that right and that claim arises from its being directed to me, to be disposed in such manner as may be deemed most expedient.
I am, respectfully, &c.

WM. H. SCOTT.

Col. T. L. M’Kenny, Robert T. Conrad, Morris
Mattson, A. G. Waterman, John C. Martin.

The box being thus surrendered, about a hundred of our most respectable citizens repaired to the Transportation Office, when Mr. Hill, the Agent, promptly complied with their request.  A vote was then taken as to the best mode of disposing of the box, with a view to allay the excitement, which was rapidly increasing. It was decided that it should be taken into the middle of the Delaware, and there, with its contents destroyed.  This resolution was fully carried into effect. The box was taken on board a steamboat,—the contents, consisting of at least two thousand of the newspapers described above, were taken out, torn into ten thousand pieces, and scattered upon the waters.  The whole affair was conducted in a spirit which exhibited a fixed purpose to resist every thing like the circulation of incendiarism of any description, and at the same time to avoid all improper excitement among ourselves. We believe that the course pursued was the proper course under the circumstances, and we know that it was adopted with a view to the peace and the quiet of the City, and the security of the gentleman whose misfortune it was to have, without his sanction, such a quantity of incendiary matter directed to him.  We need only add, that Philadelphia is perfectly tranquil, and is likely to continue so.
[Pennsylvania Inquirer 13 (26 August 1835):  p. 2, col 2]