Member Blogs > Tavistock BooksRare Books in History: The Revolutionary War

  • Wed, 03 Jul 2013 03:09:57    Permalink

    Tomorrow the United States celebrates Independence Day, the commemoration of the American colonies’ declaring their intention to gain independence from British rule. The New York Public Library has placed its copies of the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights on display, and the widespread interest in these items illustrates the significant role that books and documents play in our understanding of history. These five 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.

    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.

    Prayer Book of Zingo Stevens
    Zingo-Stevens-Prayer-BookA Revolutionary War-era slave, Zingo Stevens was originally Pompe Stevens. Following the war, the freed slaves of Newport formed their own religious organizations, including the African Union Society (the nation’s first self-help group for African Americans). Stevens was along the members. By 1780, Stevens had begun using his African name, Zingo. This artifact of the eighteenth century, a printed volume of scripture owned by a literate ex-slave, is extremely rare. It also marks an era of rapid transition in American history.

    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.

    Independence Day Orations of Josiah Quincy III
    Josiah 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, 1798 and another on the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1826.


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