17 September 2021
This blog by Rebecca Goetz (Visiting Fellow, 2018) is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting recent research across the British Library's Americas collections by scholars and creatives associated with the Eccles Centre, including those supported by the Centre's Awards.
In my work at the British Library in June and July 2019, I was particularly interested in documents from the late seventeenth-century Caribbean that might shed light on illegal and quasi-legal slave raiding and slave trading – moments when the evil but nonetheless completely legal (and indeed, highly regulated) trafficking in African and Indigenous American human life that we know as the Atlantic slave trades collided with the criminal or legal grey worlds of pirates and privateers. Jamaica was a particularly volatile meeting point between these different forms of maritime violence, trade and enterprise. The English seized Jamaica from the Spanish in 1655, and in the course of the next few decades, the newly-conquered island became a haven for pirates and privateers, and not coincidentally, a locus of the shadowy world of intra-European slave trading. I wanted to know how and where Europeans raided and traded for enslaved people, Indigenous and African alike. One paragraph in the records of the governor’s council of Jamaica caught my eye (Sloane MSS 1599). I had not expected to find such a vivid tale of extralegal slaving, Spanish-English rivalry, and treason against the English Crown in the British Library’s manuscripts collection – and yet here we were!
On 13 March 1688 , Captain Edward Reddish appeared before the council, asking for assistance in obtaining compensation from the governor of Margarita for the illegal seizure of his ship, the Inlargement, in 1682. The ship, which Reddish co-owned with several other business partners, was a slave ship carrying a cargo of 135 souls from Africa for sale in the English Caribbean. Reddish claimed he had difficulties with his ship, and so had put it at the island of Margarita to make repairs. The governor of Margarita, a man he named as Juan Fermín, seized the Inlargement and her cargo. Reddish told the council that “Firmin under the colour of freindship surprized the sd ship and detained her to owners loss of 5600 pounds.” Reddish went on to say that Fermín was not the legitimate governor of Margarita; Fermín had usurped that power from the duly appointed governor of the island and forced him to “take sanctuary in the Church.” Reddish understood that the rightful government on Margarita had been restored and wanted the council’s assistance in reclaiming his property or in winning restitution.
This short paragraph attracted my attention because I could not imagine what legitimate business an English captain might have on Margarita, a tiny island off the coast of what is now Venezuela, over 1,500 km away from Jamaica at completely the other end of the Caribbean Sea. The Spanish had claimed mastery of Margarita since the mid-1520s, when they were busily laying claim to the southern Caribbean and its rich pearl beds. Margarita and its sister islets, Coche and Cubagua, were centers of the Spanish pearling industry from the 1520s to the 1540s. Even as early as the first decade of the 1500s, Margarita, Coche, Cubagua, and the nearby mainland were also centers of Spanish slaving of Indigenous people. By the later sixteenth century, Margarita had reinvented itself not as a pearling space but as a locus of a vigorous, informal, and often illegal trade in enslaved Indigenous people from the interior of South America. Margarita was an entrepot providing extralegal and untaxed access to enslaved people to other Spanish islands as well as Cartagena and Spanish settlements in central America. In the 1590s, Walter Ralegh noted a well-established slave trade in the Orinoco River basin; he described canoes full of captive Indigenous women bound for sale as slaves on Margarita. Almost a century later, Margarita remained part of an informal trading and slaving network that included English settlements in Guyana, Dutch settlements at Essequibo, and Curaçao. It seems unlikely to me that Reddish had such serious trouble with the Inlargement that he ended up at Margarita by accident. Instead, I suspect Reddish thought he could get a higher price for his enslaved cargo in Margarita than in Jamaica and he could evade English regulations and taxes while he was at it.
What Reddish did not expect was political chaos on Margarita. Juan Fermín de Huidobro was born on Margarita but had spent his career in various Spanish-controlled locales around the southern Caribbean, including posts on Trinidad and in Guyana. His varied career suggests to me he would have been broadly familiar with informal trade in enslaved people, foodstuffs, and commercially valuable products such as annatto (an orange-red condiment and natural dye derived from the seeds of the achiote tree), tobacco, and sugar around the southern rim of the Caribbean. In 1677 he was appointed military commander in charge of fortifying the island and the nearby mainland against attack from the Dutch, English, and the Kalinagos of the Lesser Antilles. Fermín had a falling out with the civil governor of the island, Juan Muñoz Gadea, and the two spent the decade of the 1680s sparring in court at the Audiencia of Santo Domingo, in the Council of the Indies, and periodically launching rebellions against one another on the island. The saga came to a conclusion finally in 1689 when Fermín died.
Reddish clearly believed he could get compensation for the cargo of enslaved people Fermín seized from Muñoz. But the English governor of Jamaica, Christopher Monck, Duke of Albemarle, had other ideas. When Reddish brought his petition to the Council, Albemarle pointed out that some of the owners of the Inlargement had been “attainted for treason whereby the sd ship and Cargoe became forfeited.” The Council voted to write to the governor of Margarita and ask for compensation in the King’s name instead of Reddish’s. I imagine that Reddish’s business partners might have been involved in Monmouth’s Rebellion in 1685, the unsuccessful uprising of several leading Protestant against the Catholic King James II, who was still on the throne at the time of Reddish’s petition (although I do not yet know for sure who they were). Reddish left the council empty-handed.
While I can flesh out the story of Reddish, the Inlargement, and political hijinks on Margarita, there is less I can say about the 135 enslaved people seized. Their “final passages,” as the historian Greg O’Malley would term them, were not recorded in the archives of Spain or of England. Illicit trading and tax evasion made it imperative for smugglers trading in enslaved people to avoid official notice—and thus details were not recorded in imperial archives. Some of these enslaved people might have remained on Margarita as pearl divers. Others might have been sold to planters in Cumaná’s nascent sugar economy. Some might have ended up in Cartagena, and others still might have been sold in Dutch, French, or English territories. Their voices and stories are lost amid tales of interimperial rivalry and treason.
09 July 2020
This post by Nadine Chambers is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research Eccles Centre awards have supported across the Caribbean, Canadian and US collections.
'As the heirs of two oceanic histories, we are conscious of the …challenges… the Atlantic and the Pacific represented to our respective ancestors. We are committed to nurturing and supporting the techniques of survivance that have led us to find each other.' Teresia Teaiwa1
How Breadfruit came to be loved in Xamayca/Jamaica became part of my Eccles Fellowship focusing on the North American and Caribbean collections at the British Library. In my larger project, I chose to explore the ways in which existing historiography has erased (or occluded) the interrelationships between Black Caribbean and Indigenous peoples by reading in between the silences in colonial voyage narratives. I contemplate the spaces between Black and Indigenous people’s parallel and intersecting histories of displacement, migration and decolonial struggles. I seek stories of our encounters that have been ignored in academic texts or situated at a distance geographically or categorically in archived records. My focus is on the traces of contested and still largely unwritten relationships as key to current discussions about Black freedom and Indigenous sovereignty if we “were not, even in the situations of the most extreme brutality, sealed off hermetically from one another”.2
In this essay, I offer a compass with which to navigate memories, geography, sacrifice, death through the entry point of Tahitian breadfruit brought by ship into the Caribbean. I continue to be inspired by the late Teresia Teaiwa (African American and I-Kiribati), who embodies an Atlantic-Pacific connection reflected in much of her academic scholarship and poetic works; reminding us of the imposed amnesia and the need to undo its erasures.
so it’s easy to forget
that there’s life and love and learning
asia and america
there’s an ocean
and in this ocean
the stepping stones
The first beloved place of breadfruit is in my maternal grandmother’s backyard in Constant Spring, Jamaica – a lone tree I remember while seated in carousel 333 of the British Library’s Rare Books and Music Room. I find myself travelling back and forth, through space and time and through archival texts, seeking Teresia’s stepping stones and finding the footprints of two Ma’ohi (Tahitian) men who touched down from the HMS Providence after months of sailing from the Pacific to land in Jamaica in 1793. I imagine them walking through the first place of contact – Port Henderson where my mother-line’s sea faring people still live. Their second land fall was Port Morant to travel overland to Bath...
... definitely passing through Airy Castle where my father’s people have landed history rooted by three Oteheite (ayyah) trees that bore deep purple-skinned fruit legendary in size and sweetness. Raised in Jamaica on breadfruit and apples made possible by their Ma’ohi traditional knowledge that crossed into the Caribbean, I listen for echoes of these two men’s footfall as I read a copy of The Log of H.M.S Providence by W. Bligh in the Manuscripts room on the 2nd floor of the British Library.4
Bligh – the celebrated naval captain of Bounty and Providence fame – instructed the crew to make sure that Tahitians were not to be told about the reason for the acquisition of the breadfruit.
Against this silence, I ask – so, to what purpose?
Within the library catalogue I found the oft overlooked work of an accomplished Jamaican botanist - the late Dulcie Powell and her careful attention to the plant genealogy of Jamaican botanical gardens, and the people behind it. Powell’s work, 'The Voyage of the Plant Nursery, H.M.S. Providence, 1791-1793', gives the reader the economic context to understand what drove British captains’ military and commercial ventures, coded as “botany research” and “exploration” – each opened with devastating military violence towards Pacific Indigenous peoples, appropriated plants then brought Tahitians and their intellectual acumen to the Atlantic and into the Caribbean.5 She includes an extract from writing by the well-known planter Bryan Edwards of 15,000 deaths of Black people trapped between the violence of enslavement and environmental catastrophes:
THIS NUMBER WE FIRMLY BELIEVE TO HAVE PERISHED OF FAMINE, OR OF THE DISEASES CONTRACTED
BY SCANTY AND UNWHOLESOME DIET BETWEEN THE LATER END OF 1780 AND THE BEGINNING OF 1787.6
This key excerpt from Edwards shows that the bedrock of the introduction of breadfruit to Jamaica was part of the British global imperial project, and that the breadfruit’s purpose was to sustain the life of Black people in Jamaica – solely for reaping profit from slavery.
But what about introductions between people?
The two men Maititi (Mydidee, Mideedee) and Paupo (Bobbo, Pappo) are first introduced to the reader through Bligh’s logs: the former styled as a Tahitian emissary, the other as a Tahitian stowaway. I note Captain Bligh’s first awareness of Paupo was part of a critical decision as to whether he lives or dies.
To my astonishment I found a man who had always been collecting with the botanists secreted between decks… and I had not the heart to make him jump overboard… I conceived he might be useful in Jamaica...therefore directed he should be under the care of the botanists... (July 18, 1792)7
Here, his name is not revealed on a long voyage that depended on many other racialized people who remained seen but also unnamed while assisting the survival of the floating Plant Nursery in safe harbours from storms and fresh water supplies as they sailed from the Pacific to the Caribbean. However, my central quest is Maititi and Paupo’s moment of arrival and any evidence of their encounters with people of African descent in Jamaica. Only some details are known to us, as we have to rely on 3rd Lieutenant Tobin, who observed Feb 5th, 1793 as the day Maititi and Paupo were on deck to see those “for which the benefit the voyage was chiefly promoted” – the Black people who “were loud in their praises and were constantly paddling around her [the Providence] in their canoes.”8
What might these Ma’ohi men’s thoughts have been about the excitement from the canoes or upon meeting the eyes of the paddlers? Did the paddlers notice the two men?
My reading of eighteenth-century ship’s log and crew diaries is informed by these questions – questions hardly considered at the time. In order to make visible Paupo’s landfall in Jamaica, I examine a few additional moments from Bligh’s log and find details that only relate to his relationship with the project through being listed as their ‘Otaheitian friend’ and an unpaid responsibility of Gardener Wiles who had agreed to stay on in Jamaica at Bath at £200 per annum.9 These logs render invisible and silent people of African descent who were the majority of the population: the records scarcely show any detail of these enslaved workers except in ledgers where their masters were paid for allowing them to be hired out for labour in the botanical garden.
However, finally a surprise encounter.
Somewhere in the months between landing in Jamaica and sailing for England to deliver the remainder of the botanical collection to Kew, Tobin writes this undated observation of Paupo in Jamaica:
...having many quarrels with an old negroe nurse who attended him – one day when she was oversolicitous [sic] for him to eat, after making several ineffectual attempts to explain to her that he required nothing, in rather an angry tone he said Aimak mad oboo peyak peyak “I do not want to eat, my belly is full” but taking her finger put it in his ear telling her “she might perhaps find room in his head”.10
Seventeen months away from Tahiti, this singular encounter was retold by a third party as a partial exchange of words, strong feelings and touch between a young ailing Paupo and a senior Black healer. I re-read the gesture and the translation and found myself move slowly from elation to unease. In other fleeting moments Paupo is described as cheerful; yet here his exchange seems fraught. The translation of his words is unreliable, the touch and exchange ascribed layered with complexity.
Nine months after Ma’ohi Paupo arrived to Xamayca –in the Caribbean Sea – Wiles reported Paupo’s death in The Royal Gazette printed 27th of October 1793 (British Library shelfmark: MFM.MC384) and that his last days he refused food, refused to speak before succumbing to ill health. There is no known marker to signal his resting place as part of the land at Bath; far from his island which Powell described as “about as far south of the Equator as Jamaica is north…and their climates are therefore similar”.11 However, it was not similar, neither in area nor, more importantly, in social climate.
The pages of the newspaper reflect a snapshot of this climate – his obituary placed beside a report of trade business, a military report and lists of Black ancestors who are ill and enslaved or featured in runaway ads and workhouses. This returns us to the question of what could Paupo’s relationship have been to the enslaved community, perhaps through being cared for by that nurse? Would the cost of his keep have become associated with the ‘negro labour’ ledger lines for the garden? Could one speculate he might have had a sense of being estranged from the system Black people surrounding him were chained within?
“I do not want to eat, my belly is full” but taking her finger put it in his ear
What more could have been recorded?
Instead, it is easiest to know more about the thoughts of the leadership of the plantocracy behind the Providence project. The Royal Gazette stated:
…In less than twenty years, the chief article of sustenance for our Negroes will be entirely changed; - plantains, yams, cocoa, and coffee, will be cultivated only as subsidiary, and used merely for change; whilst the breadfruit, gaining firm hold in the earth by the toughness and strength of its root, will bid defiance to storms.12
Official letters stating the plants did well came from Wiles who reported regularly to his patron Joseph Banks of their progress; in October 1793 they were “thriving with astonishing vigor” on the eastern side of the island. Wiles found “everyone exceeding anxious to get plants of it,” although some “old conceited & prejudiced [enslaved] creoles” said they preferred plantains and yams.13
In truth, Breadfruit survived but took decades to become part of everyday people’s preferred local diet.14 I continue to wonder sometimes if by chance, in those brief months whether Paupo had time to personally introduce breadfruit preparation to the healer’s community? What would that have looked like–practical trade or tentative trust-building? Or like breadfruit; in the healer’s mind was Paupo separate and associated with a garden of unfamiliar plants and closer to the owners in an enslaved society?
The difficult purpose of this small essay is to reframe Paupo’s story within the context of the Black population. Yes, slavery and hunger were the terrible impetus of our forgotten introduction to Tahitians who brought uru and other botanical riches of the Pacific. The difficult social climate that structures his introduction to the healer I overcome by thinking about a Tahitian story in a time before time as we know it. It is said a Ma’ohi family survived a famine when the father transformed himself - with hands becoming leaves; arms and body, the trunk and branches; his head – the breadfruit in the place known now as Tua’uru – the Place of Breadfruit.15 I think of this as I consider how this plant was transported in 1793 to deal with starvation in the Caribbean. Today, uru lives – included when Jamaicans state the word ‘food’ defined as specific reference to the circle of beloved ground provisions our Black ancestors refused to abandon even in those hard times.
First in the Valley of Tua’uru then in Bath, St. Thomas with Paupo - a Ma’ohi stone within the Jamaican landscape. Māuruuru.
Nadine Chambers, Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow, is a PhD candidate at Birkbeck, University of London.
1 Teaiwa, Teresia; Ojeya Banks, Joy Lehuanani Enomoto, Courtney-Savali Leiloa Andrews, Alisha Lola Jones, and April K Henderson. ‘Black and Blue in the Pacific: Afro-Diasporic Women Artists on History and Blackness.’ Amerasia Journal, vol. 43, no. 1, (2017), pp. 145-193. (British Library shelfmarks: Science, Technology & Business (P) CP 25 -E(1); Document Supply 0809.655000; )
2 Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1993, p. 2. (British Library shelfmark: YC.1994.b.3724.)
3 Teresia Teaiwa, ‘We sweat and cry salt water, so we know that the ocean is really in our blood’, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 19:2 (2017), p. 133-136. (British Library shelfmark: ZC.9.a.5571)
4 William Bligh, The Log of HMS Providence, 1791-1793 (British Library, MS Facsimile 832 (1976).
5 Dulcie Powell, ‘The Voyage of the Plant Nursery, HMS Providence, 1791-1793,’ Economic Botany, vol. 31.4 (1977): 387-431. (British Library shelfmarks: Document Supply 3651.700000; Science, Technology & Business (P) CP 25 -E(10))
6 B. Edwards, The History, Civil and Commercial, of the British Colonies in the West Indies. Dublin, 1793, Vol. 2. Dublin, capitals in the original.(British Library shelfmark: Mic.F.232 [no. 44458])
7 Bligh, ibid.
8 Journal of Lieutenant George Tobin on HMS Providence 1791 -1793, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/_transcript/2011/D04424/a1220.htm [accessed online July 2, 2020].
9 Bligh, ibid.
10 Journal of Lieutenant Tobin, ibid.
11 Dulcie Powell, ibid.
12 The Royal Gazette, Feb 9, 1792 – Misc section, unknown publisher Kingston, Jamaica. (British Library shelfmark: MFM.MC384)
13 Wiles quoted in Newell, Jennifer. Trading Nature: Tahitians, Europeans, and Ecological Exchange. University of Hawaii Press, 2010. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply m10/21589 )
14 Higman, Barry W. Jamaican Food: History, Biology, Culture. Kingston, Jamaica: University of West Indies Press, 2008. (British Library shelfmark: YC.2009.b.918)
15 Henry, Teuira and John Muggridge Orsmond. Ancient Tahiti. Honolulu: B.P Bishop Museum, 1928. (British Library shelfmark: Ac.6245/3.(48.))
05 February 2020
Nearly forty years ago, on 13 June 1980, Guyanese historian, political activist and academic Walter Rodney was assassinated. Family, friends and fans across the world mourned the loss of Rodney. This grief expressed itself privately and publicly – through poetry, letters and protest. Traces can be found in the British Library, particularly in the archive of Andrew Salkey. P.D. Sharma – a Guyanese comrade – wrote to Salkey shortly after hearing the news. He wrote of being ‘paralyzed with grief, shock and disbelief’ as expressed in the poem below; such moving remembrances of Rodney’s continue to this day:
WALTER RODNEY IS DEAD (13th June 1980)
Weep people, cry Jesus
And drown the earth above us
Flood the oceans
Liquidify the mountains
The Eastern star is blown
No more the fairest of twinkles
Done the kingdom and the king.
Now the sun will never catch the night
The falcon god soars
And shadows we be
Our world is out.
How infinite was so brief
Too much and only but few
Except that grey men
With infants on their laps
Shall tell to eternity
Of the light that once,
Breathless and bedamned
Questioning the open
But if, what might …
(Letter from P.D. Sharma (LA) to Salkey (Massachusetts), June 1980, Walter Rodney File, Box 21, Andrew Salkey collection, The British Library)
Walter Rodney’s intellectual energy, praxis and commitment lives on. It lives on through Black liberation struggles across the world and the action and commitment of the Friends of the Huntley Archives at LMA (FHALMA). Housed at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA), the Huntley Archives is made up of Jessica and Eric Huntley’s documents, photographs and recordings. It also holds the files of Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications (one of Britain’s earliest black publishing houses) that they collectively founded in 1968, following the banning of Walter Rodney from Jamaica.
On Saturday 22 February, the 15th Annual Huntley Conference: Rodney's Enduring Legacy will offer a space for activists, scholars, students and families to engage with this legacy through a day of discussion, film, lectures and archive tours. Supported by the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the British Library, the LMA and the Museum of London, it brings together some of London’s key cultural heritage institutions. It also builds on an ongoing collaboration between the British Library, LMA and FHALMA as part of the mass sound digitisation project Unlocking Our Sound Heritage.
Volunteering for FHALMA and helping to organise this conference has offered a brilliant opportunity to extend my Collaborative Doctoral Partnership beyond the British Library and UCL by connecting with archives and community groups across London. Related to ongoing research on Caribbean publishing as activism, the conference provides an important space to discuss the history and legacy of Caribbean intellectual thought.
Notably, the conference will include roundtable sessions called 'Groundings' which are modelled on and inspired by Rodney’s practice of talking plainly about human rights, identity and Black history directly with grassroots communities. These intergenerational conversations will explore themes of Black liberation, solidarity and class, whilst considering the role of youth, academics, communities and creative producers within historic and contemporary struggles.
Professor Patricia Daley's keynote, 'Walter Rodney: The Black Academic and the Importance of the Study of Africa for Global Black Emancipation', will reflect on Rodney's impressive contribution to radical scholarship on Africa and consider his understanding of ‘groundings’ as a form of academic and political practice, central to black emancipation globally.
Walter Rodney continues to challenge us through our archives. You can find Rodney in the British Library’s Andrew Salkey collection, from recordings of memorial lectures to Bogle-L'Ouverture book launches. Rodney also speaks to us through his many texts - published both when he was alive and posthumously - including: The Groundings with My Brothers (1969), A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800 (1970), How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972) and Walter Rodney Speaks: the making of an African Intellectual (1990).
Suggested further reading/listening:
- Bogle book launch (1985), Andrew Salkey collection, C1839/62.
- Rupert Lewis, Walter Rodney: 1968 Revisited. Barbados: Canoe Press, UWI, 1998. (British Library shelfmark: YC.2005.a.8199).
- Rupert Lewis, Walter Rodney’s Intellectual and Political Thought. Mona: University of the West Indies, 1998. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 99/13124).
- Manning Marable lecture (1987), Andrew Salkey Collection, C1839/45.
- Colin Prescod, ‘Guyana’s socialism: an interview with Walter Rodney’, Race & Class, 18 (1976), 109- 128. (British Library shelfmark: Ac.6236.a).
- Kate Quinn (eds.), Black Power in the Caribbean. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2014. (British Library shelfmark: YC.2014.a.16051)
- Researching Walter Rodney in the Huntley Archives, London Metropolitan Archive.
Works by Walter Rodney:
- The Groundings with My Brothers. London: Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications, 1970. (British Library shelfmark: X.709/10382)
- A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 72/14824)
- How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. London: Bogle-L'Ouverture Publications, 1976. (British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 82/24897)
- Walter Rodney Speaks: The Making of an African Intellectual. Trenton, NJ: African World Press, 1990. (British Library shelfmark: YA.1992.a.9118)
Naomi Oppenheim is an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Student, British Library and UCL researching Caribbean print cultures and the politics of history in post-war Britain. Follow her on Twitter @naomioppenheim
05 August 2019
Above: 'Tee Yee Neen Ho Ga Row, Emperor of the Six Nations' from Add MS 5253.
On July 22nd, the Eccles Centre was pleased to host a group of students from the University of British Columbia’s Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies, who were visiting London as part of their course led by former Eccles Visiting Fellow, Professor Coll Thrush. The plan for the day, however, was a little bit different from our usual student visit days. As part of our work with the Beyond the Spectacle project, we wanted to go beyond the usual collections display and highlight research being done on these collections and how students and members of the public could take a lead role in disseminating the findings of this research.
The day started with some of the Library’s more historic items. The Library’s founder collectors, especially King George III, Sir Hans Sloane and Thomas Grenville, had a strong interest in North America and, as a result, collected significant works relating to the indigenous peoples of Canada, the Caribbean and the United States. A significant part of the Library’s eighteenth-century collections are various materials relating to the ‘Four Indian Kings’ a visiting delegation from the nations of the Mohawk and the Mahican during the reign of Queen Anne. Etow Oh Koam, Sa Ga Yeath Qua Pieth Tow, Ho Nee Yeath Taw No Row and Tee Yee Ho Ga Row journeyed to England and London to make their case for greater support and interest from the monarch and their words were variously recorded and distributed. There were also illustrations made of the delegation, some crude and westernised while others, such as those found in the collection of Hans Sloane and reproduced here, are detailed and vivid. The display also highlighted the breadth of Library collections that speak to the history of contact between indigenous nations, North American colonists and Europeans, with material spread across the Library’s manuscript, map, newspaper, printed book and other collections.
Above: the display taking shape. Image by Cara Rodway.
These collections, specifically those relating to indigenous travellers to Britain across the centuries, are being used by the Beyond the Spectacle project, on which the Eccles Centre and other British Library colleagues are partners. In the second half of the day researchers from the project, Jack Davy and Kate Rennard, worked with Roberta Wedge, who frequently runs Wikipedia editathon days with the Library, to illustrate how collections such as those at the Library can be used for research and to improve the information found on public websites and encyclopaedias, such as Wikipedia. It is not unfair to say that some of the students started this part of the day dubious as to how they could use their learning and recent research to update something like Wikipedia but the day provided openings to a different perspective. Roberta’s work with Wikipedia and organising group edits of Wikipedia pages focusses on how the site can only reach its full potential if a wide range of individuals, publics and perspectives are contributing to the editing process. If this can be achieved, the content of Wikipedia and other online forums will reflect the diversity of the world in which we live and its complex history.
Above: students from the group researching and editing. Image by Phil Hatfield.
Part of the afternoon focussed on encouraging students to conduct their own research, based on the display from earlier in the day and using online archives and resources to dig into some of the other materials the Beyond the Spectacle project has been using. We are grateful to the British Newspaper Archive and Adam Matthew (creator of the American Indian Newspapers database) who both provided access to students on the day so they could engage with the materials held in their collections and use them in research and editing. Students used these materials to update entries on a number of Wikipedia pages, adding information to the page, ‘Four Mohawk Kings’, the page for St. Olave’s Church (London), setting up a new page on the playwright and actor Gowongo Mohawk and making a number of other edits.
By the end of the day many of the students were motivated by the realisation of how much agency they have to develop content on sites like Wikipedia and excited by the new research skills they had learnt by using the resources of the British Newspaper Archive and Adam Matthew. For me a favourite moment was when a student, asked how the day had influenced their perspective on Wikipedia noted that now, ‘Wikipedia is my new stomping ground’. The day showed the potential of supporting students and other researchers in gaining access to historic and digitised collections, it also highlighted how the knowledge gained from these can contribute to influential public sites. We hope to run similar events again, on a wide range of subjects, and thank Adam Matthew, the British Newspaper Archive, Wikipedia, Beyond the Spectacle and UBC for their support and partnership.
30 July 2019
We are delighted to share the following blog by Jamie Gemmell. Jamie is a third year undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh and was awarded a Carnegie Vacation Scholarship to produce a partial digital edition of James Knight’s “History of Jamaica”, focussing on its account of the social and cultural aspects of enslaved Africans. He recently presented his work at the British Library as part of the Eccles Centre's Summer Scholars season.
Here is the blog:
When I first came across James Knight’s “History of Jamaica” (1742) I was unsure what I would find. Historians have often neglected British Jamaica during the early eighteenth century. Instead, they have focused on the later seventeenth century, when the British conquered and established themselves on the island, or the later eighteenth century, when the slavocracy was at its peak. This meant it was difficult to have any expectations about Knight’s manuscripts, although it did provide an opportunity to develop new insights.
My primary concern was to see whether Knight could provide new information on the debate surrounding the origins of enslaved people’s cultures. Following a first read, I was disappointed. Like most European planter-historians, Knight’s primary focus was on the political debates between the metropole and colony or great acts of piracy committed by the likes of John Davis or Henry Morgan. I began to realise why most historians of Atlantic slavery begin their analyses by discussing the fragmentary nature of the evidence.
However, whilst Knight was by no means concerned with enslaved people, they appear throughout the manuscript. In the first volume, predominantly a narrative history of the island dating from the Spanish discovery, Knight described several rebellions by enslaved people as well as a relatively detailed account of the Maroons, communities of people who had escaped slavery. For Knight, the leader of the Leeward Maroons, Cudjoe, was a “very sensible fellow,” whilst the enslaved people who rebelled at Guanaboa in 1685 were “desperate Villains.”
The second volume takes the form of an ethnography, covering subjects ranging from the climate to the legal system in Jamaica. Knight dedicates a significant portion to his views on enslaved people within the chapter describing the inhabitants of Jamaica. He discusses enslaved physicians, and advices Europeans to learn their “many secrets.” He embarks on a long discussion of slavery, fighting accusations of the “Inhumanity of and Cruelty of the planters,” which may prove useful to scholarship in the way that it deals with early criticisms of slavery. For my own research, Knight’s description of the traits of the various African ethnic groups proved most pertinent.
Despite not being Knight’s primary focus, his manuscript raises new questions about enslaved cultures. Currently, the historiography has been primarily concerned with tracing cultural connections between enslaved groups in the Americas and specific regions of Africa. Over time significant research has been undertaken, such as James Sweet’s work on Portuguese Brazil. After reading Knight’s manuscripts, I believe new questions can be raised. It seems inappropriate to accept Knight’s links between ethnicity and behaviour. Instead, further work must be done to understand the origins of these stereotypes and how they functioned in the European worldview. If we can grasp why Knight thought it pertinent to associate “particularly Eboes” with suicide or “Angolas” with the consumption of human “flesh,” we may come to a greater understanding of how the system of Atlantic slavery maintained itself.
Reference and further information:
 Sweet, Recreating Africa (2003).
15 October 2018
On Friday 14 December 1962, Sylvia Plath wrote to her mother: 'I can truly say I have never been so happy in my life'. Four days before she had moved to 23 Fitzroy Road in London, a former residence of Yeats, with her two young children Frieda Rebecca and Nicholas. 'I feel Yeats' spirit blessing me', she writes. After her separation from Ted Hughes, Plath had decided to leave their home in rural Devon and start a new life in London. All around she sees good omens: 'The first letter through the door was of my publishers'. Al Alvarez, poetry editor of the Observer, had told her that her next book of poems should win the Pulitzer. She gave him a dedicated fair copy of 'Ariel'.
But this is a letter to her mother, Aurelia Plath, and, like all letters, it is written with the addressee in mind. Reading the second volume of The Letters of Sylvia Plath, recently published by Faber, one is reminded of how collections of letters, more than other biographical genres such as diaries or memoirs, capture the different social selves of a writer. Plath is cheerful and enthusiastic in her letter to her mother, aiming to put Aurelia's mind at rest. Elsewhere in the collection, she is self-assured and witty in her letters to her professional contacts, written in short, sharp sentences. And then there is the correspondence with her psychiatrist Dr Beuscher, where Plath writes openly about her plans for the future, her anger and her fears.
Edited by Plath expert Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil, editor of The Journals of Sylvia Plath 1950–1962 and Keeper of Plath’s collection at Smith, the volume is meticulously annotated and contains a selection of photographs and Plath's own drawings. Among the letters there are several from the British Library’s collections of Plath’s manuscripts. The editors, together with Plath scholars Heather Clark and Mark Ford, will be discussing Plath's letters on 23 October at the British Library.
The letters speak of Plath's efforts to progress her career as a poet while trying to earn enough money and care for her children, particularly in the months after her separation from Hughes. But her anxiety about the future of her career appears much earlier. In a letter written to Marcia B Stern dated 9 April 1957, months after her marriage, she writes: 'If I want to keep on being a triple-threat woman: writer, wife and teacher…I can’t be a drudge’. The correspondence also shows the extent to which Plath's and Hughes's literary careers were intertwined, and their mutual encouragement and support, celebrating each poem that gets published. The 1962 and 1963 letters are interesting to read for references to her works, including the autobiographical novel The Bell Jar, published under a pseudonym in 1963, and the extraordinary poems that appeared posthumously in the collection Ariel.
The fact that the end of the story is well known doesn't make the last letter in the collection any easier to read. Addressed to her psychiatrist Ruth Beuscher on 4 February 1963, she writes: "What appalls me is the return of my madness, my paralysis, my fear & vision of the worst --cowardly withdrawal, a mental hospital, lobotomies". Blinded by depression, she continues "being 30 & having let myself slide, studied nothing for years, having mastered no body of objective knowledge is on me like a cold, accusing wind". Plath committed suicide days later, leaving behind the typescript of the poems that would become Ariel. Her Collected Poems won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1982.
Lead Curator, Americas
25 August 2017
From 18th century to our days
Undoubtedly philosophers are in right, when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison… .
As I continued my research on miniature books, I felt as Gulliver arriving at Brobdingnag, a little creature discovering a gigantic world, and assuming that the books world itself is a vice-versa dimension depending on how you look at it: what is a book but a tiny object in comparison to what it can actually contain?
In the first part of the journey, the leitmotif of the narration was to investigate the origins and meaning of the miniature books world, discovering that they were not only as old as their standard size counterpart, but were also responding to practical necessities.
Coming closer to our times, there has been a decisive peak in the production chart of Lilliputian books between the 18th and 19th century, when a profound love for small books is registered amid American and European publishers.
Some of the most prolific printers and publisher, for example, were Mein and Fleming in Boston, Isaiah Thomas in Worcester, Mass., Mahlon Day and Samuel Wood in New York, with a substantial counterpart in United Kingdom with Elizabeth Newbery and her successors and imitators in London, and in France with the Parisian J. B. Fournier. During this period, miniature books became increasingly popular in America, a historical moment also known as the “Golden Age” of minute print production , particularly thanks to a fruitful market demand of miniature chapbooks and almanacs . The invention of lithography, the industrial revolution, and the improvement of railways and postal services have played a decisive role in increasing the production and distribution of miniature books .
The same rise in circulation is ascribable to the many series editions of Children’s books. At the end of the 18th century, the editorial production for children was strongly fuelled by the theories of Jean Jacques Rousseau, who argued that the main aim of education was to develop the natural man, which promoted the study of natural science. Therefore a proliferation of miniature books dedicated to biology, astronomy, geography, ethnology, and political economy, is recorded in the last quarter of the century.
At the start of the 19th century, there is a marked decrease of publications following this didactic trend, with a move towards works influenced by the theories of Friedrich Fröbel, a German pedagogue who claimed that the education of tender minds also needs to contemplate imagination and daydream. As a result, fairy tales and fables were produced for young public in the miniature form .
An example of this latest educational trend is offered by two miniature chapbooks belonging to the American Collection. The first, Pretty Stories for Pretty Children is one of the fruits of the long life stationary store in Newark, New Jersey, of Benjamin Olds. Active from 1816 to 1865, Olds’ workshop published three series of the twelve-book set Cobb’s Toys (8, 10, 11), making the 1835 edition the first miniature series produced in New Jersey, followed by a successful second series .
The second sample, The Christmas Dream of Little Charles, is the product of the Kiggings and Kellog’s stationary, a very well established firm specialised in children’s books with two prolific printing presses active in New York from 1849 to 1866 at 88 John Street, and at 123 and 125 William Street .
In the early years of the 20th, century the interest in miniature books has continued, offering new available subjects for renewed demands. The Bible, the Child’s Bible and the Koran were generously printed by Americans and Europeans to be spread all around the world. However, the new trend was surely a mass distribution of travel books and dictionaries. For example the edition of thousands of tiny dictionaries, in all possible combinations of European languages, published by Schmidt and Gunther of Leipzig in the series Lilliput-Dictionaries, or their prolific Lilliput Bibliothek, proposing a complete reading of German classics such as Heine, Lessing, Goethe, Schiller and others. Both editions measure only 2 x 1 ¼ inches .
The mid-20th century continued on the track of the accurate production of proclamations, addresses, and presidential campaigns of the previous century. In this respect, particularly touching has been learning of the history of the Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation miniature edition. A million copies of the first complete book were produced with the intent to be distributed to Union soldiers and Southern slaves. Declaring freedom from slavery, it also invited “the free colored inhabitants of Louisiana” to join the Armed Forces against the Southern States .
Acclaimed as one of the most outstanding contributors and dedicated amateur, Achille J. St. Onge has been a prolific producer of this refined genre. Starting his career as publisher of sophisticated editions of the inaugural addresses of American Presidents, beginning with Thomas Jefferson in 1943, he has also dedicated beautiful editions to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II .
The American Collection holds a very prestigious St. Onge sample edition, and one of his last creations. The addresses of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, delivered at Westminster Hall and Guildhall on the occasion of Her Silver Jubilee 1952-1977 (Worcester, Mass.: Achile J. St. Onge, 1977).
As we get more close to our days, the small but significant collection I am working on within the North American Collections, has also offered the occasion to explore modern manufacturing processes of the minute prints. Starting from the 1870s, the definition of miniature artists’ books began to have wider recognition. The art of book crafting together with poetry and design masterfully flow into a miniature container .
The latest decades are definitely witnessing a revival of the ancient art of book craft. A brilliant example of the art of making books by hand is offered by two of the most important contemporary miniature book-artists . Peter and Donna Thomas met each other at an Elizabethan-themed market town in California where they were crafting books following the late Middle Ages typographical techniques, from handmade paper preparation to illustrations and bindings. Since the 1970s, the couple has documented the art of papermaking, and book crafting producing exquisite artist’s books containing fascinating historical topics .
Very few other private presses have accomplished to the challenge of putting together the whole process of book creation (writing the text, preparing the colour illustrations, hand cutting and setting the types, hand making the paper, letterpress printing, and binding), “none have published more books that the Thomases”, which described their first years of art working as a learning experience involving a lot of practice .
Annalisa Ricciardi is currently working as Cataloguer of the American Studies Collections. She is working on a heterogeneous collection of extraordinary interest and artistic value of American fine press and artists’ books, such as limited, numbered, and rare editions chronologically placed between 18th and 21st century.
 Gulliver’s Travels, illustrated by Rex Whistler (London: The Cresset Press, 1930), vol. I, p. 91 [Shelfmark: C.100.l.14.]
 Doris V. Welsh, The history of miniature books (Albany, New York: Fort Orange Press, 1987), pp. 41, and 41-45 [Shelfmark: 2708.e.1550].
 Robert C. Bradbury, Antique United States miniature books, 1690-1900 (No. Clarendon, Vermont, The Microbibliophile, 2001), pp. 3-7, and 7-14 [Shelfmark: YD.2005.a.4829]. For a complete reading, see by the same author also: Twentieth century United States miniature books (No. Clarendon, Vermont, The Microbibliophile, 2000) [Shelfmark: YD.2006.a2436], and Miniature Almanac, in Welsh, The history of miniature books, pp. 77-81; English Almanacs and calendars of the 18th and 19th centuries, and French, German, Austrian, and other European almanacs, in Louis W. Bondy, Miniature books: their history from the beginnings to the present day (London: Sheppard Press, 1981), pp. 39-47; 48-56 [Shelfmark: 2708.e.223].
 The 19th century, the supreme age of miniature books, in Bondy, Miniature books, pp. 57-58 [Shelfmark: 2708.e.223].
 Welsh, The history of miniature books, pp. 74.
 Bradbury, Antique United States miniature books, pp.123-124.
 Ibidem, pp. 159-161.
 Welsh, The history of miniature books, pp. 47, and Newsletter of the LXIVmos, no. 11 (October 15, 1928), pp. 3-4 [Shelfmark: P.P.6491.cae.].
 Presidents, politics, and propaganda, in Anne C. Bromer, Julian I. Edison, Miniature books: 4000 years of tiny treasures (New York: Abrams; New York: The Grolier Club, 2007), p. 156 [Shelfmark: LC.31.a.5071].
 The miniature books of today and tomorrow, in Bondy, Miniature books, pp. 169-171, and Presidents, politics, and propaganda, in Bromer and Edison, Miniature books, pp. 156-158.
 On the consolidation of the artist's books as an autonomous genre, see: Stefan Klima, Artists books: a critical survey of the literature (New York: Granary Book, 1997) [Shelfmark: YD.2015.a.1556].
 On the art of making miniature books, see: Peter and Donna Thomas, More making books by hand: exploring miniature books, alternative structures and found objects (Hove: Apple Press, 2004) [Shelfmark: LC.31.a.3315].
 The art of the book, in Bromer and Edison, Miniature books, pp. 42-43, 196-197; Twentieth century United States miniature books, pp. 302-308.
 Twentieth century United States miniature books, pp. 302-303.
09 August 2017
Since when and why
In a little time I felt something alive moving on my left leg, which advancing gently forward over my breast, came almost up to my chin; when, bending my eyes downwards as much as I could, I perceived it to be a human creature not six inches high, with a bow and arrow in his hands, and quiver at his back… .
I like to report on my first encounter with the miniature books world as a moment that was like waking up from my ordinary library day of submersion in beautiful American artists’ books, and discovering an exciting alternative reality made of miniature items. I perceived that these objects almost animated, approximately three or four inches tall, kindly throwing darts of curiosity at me with their bows loaded with charm. I immediately fell enamoured with them, and it did not take long before my desk was busy with library materials on miniature books.
“For those of us who have been bitten by this particular bug”  there is nothing left to follow the appeal of the beauty offered by the small miniature art masterpieces.
Wondering ‘why’, and ‘since when’ have been the guideline of my innocent journey into the history of the little items. One of the first things I learned is that as old as the discovering of the written world is its counterpart in the miniature form. Secondly, I acknowledged that this world is regulated by laws, and for that, you will define as miniature books only those which respect the standard of being possibly even less than three inches but no more than four, and almost as it was heresy, five.
Defecting from the established rules in fact, an item of four inches or little more would only be a pain for a purist, and a joke for all artisans involved, printers, binders, papermakers, illustrators, illuminators, and engravers who would give all the very best of their art under more challenging and extreme circumstances from one to three inches.
It is said that to reach the completion of the 1878 Dante’s Divina Commedia edition (Padua: Salmin), also known as the “Dantino”, many artisans were injured: the necessary operations of preparing and cutting the types caused a serious injury “to the eyesight of both the compositor and corrector. It took one month to print thirty pages, and new types were necessary for every new form.”. Around the 70’s of the 19th century, two brothers from Padua, Italy, together with a small team of professionals such as casters, compositors, and correctors, developed an unprecedented minuscule typefaces, which they named carattere a occhio di mosca (fly’s eye type), and that was firstly used for the micro Dante’s masterpiece. The measures of the book are 1 1/4” x 1 3/4”, and it is only readable trough a magnifying glass .
Indulging in more technical details, you would call a miniature book a 64mo. A single leaf of paper folded 64 times, originally printed with 64 pages on each side of it, and then scrupulously folded in order to bring up the correct sequence of the pages. The size of the pages are obviously determined by the size of the original master sheet, but a 64mo would inevitable be around 3 to 5 inches .
The purpose of creating, producing and collecting miniature books is two-fold: firstly, the practicality and secondly, personal pleasure, and the sense of beauty in small objects. Before Gutenberg, for matters European, miniature manuscripts were periodically produced completed with illuminations. Subsequently, the production of miniature books has continued to reflect the latest progresses of print machines and processes. There were miniature books printed in early Gothic and incunabula type characters, or in the earliest Greek types, Hebrew and so on. As in a shrinking mirror they were reflecting all new type acquisitions and binding progress .
Little books were simultaneously produced in the centuries alongside regular standard, so that men and women of faith could easily bring with them their collection of psalms and devotional books, students could carry their small library in a pocket, smugglers of ideas could easily hide tiny booklets in a secret bottom of their cape, merchants could quickly retrieve from their belt a tiny but complete guide on the equivalence of grains prices, scales, measures and conversion, and foreign currencies value meanwhile closing a deal, or that sharp businessmen could brilliantly define a legal contract.
It has been for that purpose that some of the earliest examples of books on miniature support were produced during the Babylonian Empire, as for the case of two small cuneiform tablets of Ancient Mesopotamia which preserve an antique writing system and concern trade and administrative issues. One of them, a clay tablet dated back to the 7th year of the reign of Bur-Sin, circa 2325 B.C., comes from the region of Ur, today Iraq, and measure only 1 5/8” x 1 1/2”. It contains extremely useful information while dealing with barley and bran for sheep (1), and the other, a Babylonian clay tablet from Senkereh, now Iraq, is dated 2200 B.C., and measure 1 7/8” x 1 1/4”, it was also used in the trading of animals and provisions (2).
Another beautiful miniature object is the world’s first printing on paper. A very tiny scroll 23/8” tall obtained from wood blocks, is dated back to 770 A. D. and is well known as the D’harani prayer. Only the story of its origins is as enchanting as the scroll itself. With the aim of spreading awareness on Buddhism, the Japanese Empress Shotoku, gave order to print a million copy of these prayer-scrolls encased in charming wooden pagodas, then asked they be distributed all over the country divided among ten Japanese temples, a project which required over six years of continuous work .
Annalisa Ricciardi is currently working as Cataloguer of the American Studies Collections. She is working on a heterogeneous collection of extraordinary interest and artistic value of American fine press and artists’ books, such as limited, numbered, and rare editions chronologically placed between 18th and 21st century.
 Gulliver’s travels, illustrated by Rex Whistler (London: The Cresset Press, 1930), vol. I, p. 18 [Shelfmark: C.100.I.14].
 Louis W. Bondy, Miniature books: their history from the beginnings to the present day (London: Sheppard Press, 1981), p. 3 [Shelfmark: 2708.e.223].
 Louis W. Bondy, Miniature books, pp. 93-95; and Anne C. Bromer, Julian I. Edison, Miniature books: 4000 years of tiny treasures, (New York: Abrams ; New York: The Grolier Club, 2007), pp. 47-49, 114 [Shelfmark: LC.31.a.5071].
 Doris V. Welsh, The history of miniature books (Albany, New York: Fort Orange Press, 1987), pp. 5-11 [Shelfmark: 2708.e.1550].
 Welsh, The history of miniature books, p. 2.
 Miniature books from the collection of Julian I. Edison (St. Louis, Missouri: Washington University), pp. 1-2 [Shelfmark: Cup.406.j.11]. See a rare example of the D’harani prayer as illustrate by the Library of Congress Asian Collection page: https://www.loc.gov/rr/asian/guide/guide-japanese.html
American Collections blog recent posts
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- Walter Rodney's Enduring Legacy Through Archival Collaboration
- A Tour of Indigenous London
- James Knight’s “History of Jamaica”
- ‘A Triple Threat Woman’: The Letters of Sylvia Plath
- Miniature books: a Lilliputian world - Part two
- Miniature books: a Lilliputian world - Part one