Untold lives blog

77 posts categorized "Rare books"

13 December 2021

Miniature books for children

Among the books on loan from the British Library to an exhibition of Miniature Books at Newcastle City Library (until 13 March 2022) are Curiosities in the Tower of London (1741) and two small volumes from The Infant's Library (ca. 1800). These little books can be seen alongside The Jan Pienkowski Fairy Library (1977) and a tiny giveaway edition of The Borrowers (ca. 1980) from the Seven Stories Collection housed in Newcastle City Library. They were all designed to be easily held in little hands for the delight and amusement of young children. These historical books made for children are on display together with miniature books made by primary school children in Newcastle and across the UK in 2020 and 2021.

Photograph of the Miniature Books exhibition at Newcastle City LibraryThe Miniature Books exhibition at Newcastle City Library.

Curiosities in the Tower of London was one of 10 miniature titles produced by Thomas Boreman between 1740 and 1743, at a price of 4 pennies each. Boreman wanted his books to ‘join instruction with delight’ and so he focussed on entertaining children.

Curiosities in the Tower of London was published in two volumes, the first volume contains a description of the Royal menagerie at the Tower. Lively accounts of the wild animals – the lionesses Jenny and Phillis, the lion Marco with his ‘frightful teeth’, and the porcupine, ‘one of the strangest animals in the world’ – and the charming woodcut illustrations all made these little books very attractive to their child readers.

Image of a porcupine in Curiosities in the Tower of London published by Thomas Boreman in 1741Curiosities in the Tower of London.  2nd ed. London: Thomas Boreman, 1741. 2 vols. BL shelfmark Ch.740/7. The volume measures 60 x 65 mm.

A list of young subscribers is included. However as the cost of the book (4d.) would have represented around one third of a labourer’s daily wage, these children were probably from much more affluent families.

List of subscribers in Curiosities in the Tower of LondonList of subscribers in Curiosities in the Tower of London.

Boreman’s books were unlike other 18th century publications for young children that sought to improve their moral conduct through stories that carried a stern and overtly moral and religious message. Instead Boreman wished to improve his young readers’ minds by inspiring them with a sense of wonder and amusement. This unusual approach marked a turning point in the history of children’s literature.

John Marshall, printer and bookseller, issued 17 small volumes in The Infant’s Library at the end of the 18th century. These little books were intended to be educational, and the collection includes a picture alphabet, a short history of England and a description of scenes of everyday life. However Marshall advertised them as both ‘for the instruction and amusement of young people’. Like his other libraries for children that include The Doll’s Library and The Book-Case of Instruction and Delight, The Infant’s Library offered a practical system of learning through play.

Books 9 and 13 give us a particularly charming glimpse into some popular games for boys and girls. Each double page opening shows a few lines of clearly printed, simple text accompanied by a hand-coloured woodcut illustration of children at play.

Boys' Games in The Infant's Library with image of boys playing Battledore and ShuttlecockThe Infant’s Library. London: John Marshall, ca. 1800. Book 9: Boys’ games. BL shelfmark C.194.a.945. Each volume measures 57 x 47 mm. 

It is interesting to see that while Marshall wanted children to use his books as amusing playthings, his text is not without a corrective moral tone. Girls’ games carries a firm warning about playing on the swing as 'this is a very dangerous play and very improper for young ladies'.

Girls' Games in The Infant's Library with image of a girl on a swingThe Infant’s Library. Book 13: Girls’ games. BL shelfmark C.194.a.945

Helen Peden
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

Further images from these volumes can be found on the Discovering Children’s Books website:

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/curiosities-in-the-tower-of-london

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/the-infants-library

Miniature Books – an exhibition of items from the collections of the British Library and Seven Stories is open at Newcastle City Library until Sunday 13th March, 2022. 

09 December 2021

Elizabeth Polwhele’s taste in reading

A recent acquisition at the British Library may potentially provide more information about the reading taste of the playwright, Elizabeth Polwhele (c. 1651-1691).  We believe we now have a book owned by Polwhele.  The first edition of Hannah Woolley's The Gentlewoman's Companion (1673) is signed with the name 'Elizabeth Polwheile' (Shelfmark C.194.a.1455).  Whether this is the playwright deserves further investigation - copies of Polwhele´s handwriting survive in the manuscripts of her comedy The Frolicks and her tragedy The Faithful Virgins.


Tilte page of The Gentlewoman’s CompanionTitle page of Hannah Woolley,  The Gentlewoman’s Companion; or, A Guide to the Female Sex: containing directions of behaviour with letters and discourses upon all occasions Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

The Gentlewoman's Companion is a female conduct book that features recipes, advice, remedies for illness, including a cure for greensickness (anaemia) - a condition mentioned in Polwhele´s comedy by the rake Rightwit, who offers sexual intercourse with the heroine as a cure for this ailment.  Woolley's preface states that she ‘considered the great need of such a Book as might be a Universal Companion and Guide to the Female Sex, in all Relations, Companies, Conditions, and states of Life, even from Child-hood down to Old-age’.  On the subject of marriage, Woolley cautions: 'Whatever you do be not induced to marry one you have either abhorrency or loathing to; for it is neither affluence of estate, potency of friends, nor highness of descent can allay the insufferable grief of a loathed bed'.

Like Woolley, Polwhele´s work engaged with the complications faced by young women and young wives in maintaining a virtuous reputation whilst preserving their personal happiness.  Clarabell, the witty breeches heroine of The Frolicks, asserts her independence by telling her father who has chosen suitors for her that she 'would not have one to displease me' and will not let her father choose for her.  Polwhele's strong-willed heroine anticipates Hellena in Aphra Behn's The Rover (1677), who also actively resists the future planned for her.  Polwhele was ahead of her time in having Clarabell connect the breeches disguise with independence rather than eroticism, referring to her 'legs and a willing mind' that carry her across the city to free Righwit from debtors´prison.  Polwhele's The Faithful Virgins featured female rivals who unite through friendship, 25 years before this theme was explored in Catharine Trotter's Agnes de Castro (1696).

Charlotte Goodall  in the Breeches Role of Adeline for Battle of Hexham - plumed hat, long hair, cloak, left hand extended with shield, sword in right hand.Charlotte Goodall (actress, 1766 – July, 1830) in the Breeches Role of Adeline for Battle of Hexham by George Colman. Source Royal Collection Trust, RCIN 655229.

It would be wonderful to discover more books from Polwhele's library - even fragmentary traces of what she read could tell us more about her level of education, and her literary influences, to help provide a more complete picture of this talented woman, who described herself as ‘haunted with poetic devils’ and wrote ‘by nature, not art’.  Both Woolley and Polwhele are important figures in the history and development of early women's writing, so the possibility that this is the playwright herself united with Woolley in the British Library's collection is extremely fitting.

Beth Cortese
Assistant Professor in Restoration and 18th Century Literature at the University of Iceland. Her PhD entitled ´Women's Wit onstage, 1660-1720' focused on the representation of witty heroines in the work of female and male playwrights.

Further reading:
Polwhele, Elizabeth. c. 1671. The Frolicks, or The Lawyer Cheated, edited by Judith Milhous and Robert D. Hume. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977.
—— c. 1670. The Faythfull Virgins. Bodleian Library MS Rawl. poet. 195, fols. 49-78.
Woolley, Hannah. 1673. The Gentlewoman’s Companion; or, A Guide to the Female Sex: containing directions of behaviour with letters and discourses upon all occasions. London: A. Mawell. British Library General Reference Collection, Shelfmark C.194.a.1455.

 

26 August 2021

Hilda Elizabeth Henry - 'a skilled craftswoman of exquisite taste'

The British Library celebrates the work of famous or professional historical figures but also gives an insight into the lives of lesser known people, one of whom was art teacher, Hilda Elizabeth Henry (1885-1936).

Sheffield School of Art in 1857 - view of exterior of buildingSheffield School of Art - these purpose-built premises in Arundel Street opened in 1857 - Illustrated Times 22 November 1856 British Newspaper Archive via Findmypast.  The School was renamed Sheffield Technical School of Art in 1903.

At a time when women’s lives revolved around the home, Hilda was something of a pioneer.  She was born in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and when the family moved to Sheffield continued her education there at the High School, at University College and at the art school.  The Sheffield Technical School of Art accepted women students and furthermore recognised Hilda’s talent by awarding her a prestigious 'Montgomery medal'.

Both sides of a Montgomery Medal, one with the head of James Montgomery in profile

Sheffield School of Art , Montgomery medal, 1852

Despite periodic bouts of ill health, Miss Henry made a successful career in education. From 1910-25 she taught art at the Cheltenham Ladies' College where she bound a copy of Rolland’s Vie de Michel-Ange in 1915.

Spine and upper cover of Rolland’s Vie de Michel-Ange by Hilda E. Henry

Decorative detail from the cover of Rolland’s Vie de Michel-AngeSpine and upper cover of Rolland’s Vie de Michel-Ange by Hilda E. Henry

She has been described as 'clearly an amateur', but she took her work seriously and signed herself  'Hilda E. Henry. Binder'.  The fact that she chose to present it to the college is an indication of her satisfaction with her work.

Book label - 'Presented by Miss H. Henry'Interestingly, the College had another connection with bookbinding via one of their governors, the celebrated practitioner Sarah Prideaux, member of the College Council from 1907-1922.  Did Miss Prideaux ever see Miss Henry’s binding, which was kept in locked case (M19) and if so, what was her opinion?

From 1925, Miss Henry was much in demand in Tamworth as mistress of the Tamworth Art School, art mistress of the Grammar School and the Girls' High School, and supervisor of the art teaching in the elementary schools of the borough.  The council paid her £60 a year for the latter post.

Miss Henry’s interests were wide ranging.  She exhibited tooled and embossed leather work at the Autumn Exhibition of the Royal Society of Artists in 1929.  Her pupils were also encouraged to find new ways of artistic expression including leather work, lino cutting and embroidery as well as the customary design, painting and drawing.  Perhaps the most telling tribute to her abilities as an art teacher was a compliment paid by Mr F. Burkitt, the headmaster of the Grammar School: 'She had already made the boys look forward with pleasure to each art lesson, and what was more valuable, to do work of their own accord out of school'.


PJM Marks
Curator, Bookbindings, Printed Heritage Collections

The copy of  Rolland’s Vie de Michel-Ange bound by Hilda E. Henry was acquired recently by the British Library and is awaiting cataloguing.

 

24 August 2021

'A Curious Herbal' inspiring current day creatives

Let us introduce you to a remarkable woman called Elizabeth Blackwell and her book, A Curious Herbal.  The British Library is lucky enough to have three copies of this important book.  Elizabeth Blackwell, born in the early 1700s, was the first British woman to produce a herbal.  She drew, engraved and coloured the 500 illustrations single-handedly.  The unusual story behind the herbal’s creation makes it even more interesting.

Garden Cucumber by Elizabeth BlackwellGarden Cucumber, Plate 4, Elizabeth Blackwell, A Curious Herbal, 1737-1739. British Library 34.i.12-13. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Elizabeth’s husband Alexander was a shady character.  He practiced as a doctor in Aberdeen but had no formal medical training or qualifications.   When he was challenged the couple fled to London.  Alexander then tried to establish himself as a printer.  However, the authorities discovered that he hadn’t completed the mandatory apprenticeship.  His breach of regulations incurred a heavy fine which he couldn’t pay.  So he was sent to debtor’s prison.  Elizabeth decided to publish a herbal to support herself and her child, and raise enough money to secure her husband’s release from prison.

Love Apple by Elizabeth BlackwellLove Apple, Plate 133, Elizabeth Blackwell, A Curious Herbal, 1737-1739. British Library 34.i.12-13. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Elizabeth published A Curious Herbal in parts between 1737 and 1739.  Several leading botanists endorsed her.  She also approached Sir Hans Sloane who granted her access to the foreign plant specimens in his collection (see the blog post Introducing Elizabeth Blackwell to Hans Sloane).  There were 500 engraved illustrations in total, all hand-coloured by Elizabeth herself.  Normally this would require three separate professionals.  She drew specimens not only from England but also many from North and South America.  These specimens were brought to England by colonists and botanists who often had links to slave labour plantations.

'Female Piony' by Elizabeth Blackwell'Female Piony', Plate 65, Elizabeth Blackwell, A Curious Herbal, 1737-1739. British Library 34.i.12-13. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Elizabeth’s plan worked. Her profits secured Alexander’s release from prison. But, despite his wife’s heroic efforts, he was not a reformed man. His debts built up once more and he became entangled in a political conspiracy in Sweden. He was beheaded for treason in 1748. Elizabeth Blackwell faded from the historical record after this – we don’t know much about the rest of her life. But she will always be remembered for being a pioneer in botanical illustration and for her heroic efforts to help her (useless!) husband.

Guinea Pepper by Elizabeth BlackwellGuinea Pepper, Plate 129, Elizabeth Blackwell, A Curious Herbal, 1737-1739. British Library 34.i.12-13. Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

This summer A Curious Herbal is being used to inspire current budding botanical illustrators taking part in the Entangled Sketchbook Challenge organised by Lancaster University.  The Challenge invites people to examine the natural world around them using a series of prompts to make daily notes, doodles and drawings to record details of what they find, including the date, time and weather.  The hashtag for sharing these drawings on social media is #EntangledSketchbooks.

Challenge participants can also ask for their favourite sketchbook pages to be considered for an online exhibition that will be part of the Entangled Festival, a week-long celebration of arts, environment and technologies, which is taking place online and outdoors in Morecambe Bay from 18- 26 September 2021.  To submit drawings for this, please email good quality photographs or scans to entangledfestival@gmail.com using ‘Exhibition submission’ in the email subject line.

Good luck to everyone taking part in the challenge.  We hope Elizabeth Blackwell’s wonderful illustrations provide delight and encouragement for you to draw some nearby plants, flowers and trees.

Maddy Smith, Curator Printed Heritage Collections, and Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom), Digital Curator 

 



18 May 2021

Introducing Elizabeth Blackwell to Hans Sloane

One day in early August 1735, a woman arrived at the London home of Sir Hans Sloane, letter of introduction in hand.  Social networking etiquette required such a document when approaching a new acquaintance.  And, Elizabeth Blackwell hoped to connect with Sloane, who was linked with numerous networks of knowledge, and acquire his support.  Some 280 years later, that letter is held by the British Library and identified as Sloane MS 4054, f. 90.

Letter written by physician Alexander Stuart introducing Elizabeth Blackwell to Sir Hans SloaneThis letter, written by physician Alexander Stuart, introduced Elizabeth Blackwell to Sir Hans Sloane. Sloane MS 4054, f. 90

One of Sloane’s close colleagues, a Scots-born physician named Alexander Stuart, had written it on Blackwell’s behalf.  But even before stating the reason for her visit, Stuart assured Sloane that 'Mrs. Blackwell' merited his consideration. She was, he wrote, the 'Niece of Sir Wm. Simson, one of the Barons of the Exchequer, whom you know; & first Cousine to My Lady Cook Windford, whom you also know'.  She was, then, a gentlewoman who could be linked to persons familiar to Sloane.

With those salient points covered, Stuart explained why Blackwell wished to see him.  She was working on a project, and Sloane’s endorsement would be of great help.  A 'very ingenious person', Blackwell wanted to draw a set of about 500 plants from the most up-to-date (1721) edition of the Dispensatory of the Royal College of Physicians.  Blackwell also had with her a proposal for the project. In all likelihood, it was similar to those drawn up by persons who were writing books that they wanted to sell by subscription.  Its wording probably resembled the text of an advertisement that ran in the London Evening Post on 9-11 October 1735: 'This Day are publish’d PROPOSALS For PRINTING by SUBSCRIPTION, A Curious Herbal'.

Botanical drawing of a dandelionElizabeth Blackwell’s illustrations include this Dandelion. Plate 1 of Joseph Banks’ copy of A Curious Herbal (London: Samuel Harding, 1737). 452.f.1.

Stuart’s letter also noted that the document had space at the bottom for signatures of endorsers – akin, perhaps, to the page that is found in volume one of effectively every copy of A Curious Herbal.  The apothecary Isaac Rand had composed the proposal for Blackwell and, along with the illustrious Dr Richard Mead, had promised to sign it.   Would Sloane also 'be so good as to sign the recommendation'?

Page of Publick Endorsements from A Curious HerbalThis page of Publick Endorsements likely resembled the one that accompanied the proposal that apothecary Isaac Rand wrote for Blackwell. A Curious Herbal (London: Charles Nourse, 1782), vol. 1. 445.h.6.

As it happened, no.  But Sloane would help Blackwell in other ways, which were cited in the dedication that she composed to him – one that was engraved and printed on pages found in various copies of A Curious Herbal.  Likewise, Blackwell would compose dedications to Stuart, Mead, Rand, and six other men who contributed to her undertaking.

Elizabeth Blackwell's dedication to Sloane in A Curious HerbalSloane didn’t sign Blackwell’s recommendation but he helped her in other ways, as noted in this dedication. Joseph Banks’ copy of A Curious Herbal (London: Samuel Harding, 1737), vol. 1, after plate 96. 452.f.1.

What other insights might Stuart’s letter provide into A Curious Herbal and Elizabeth Blackwell?  If nothing else, its references to Blackwell’s uncle and cousin (whom, research indicates, lived in or near London) cast some doubt on claims that she was from Aberdeen.  Without wishing to wound Aberdonian pride, the possibility cannot be discounted.

Janet Stiles Tyson
PhD candidate at Birkbeck, University of London

 

04 May 2021

Gout Raptures – a War among the Stars

Today is May the Fourth – Star Wars Day.  To mark this, we are sharing a dramatic poem from 1677 entitled Gout Raptures … or an historical fiction of a War among the Stars.

Gout Raptures
The author Dr Robert Witty explains in his introduction that he was laid up with gout in his hands and feet.  Unable to handle a pen or turn over the pages of a book, he fell into a contemplation of ‘the Stars and Constellations in Heaven’.  Witty thought up a story of a war amongst the stars since astronomers agreed that there were aspects of planets and fixed constellations which made them ‘contrary to each other’.  The result was Gout Raptures, written subsequently in idle moments and on journeys.

The star war started with a dispute between Saturn and Luna (the Moon).  Saturn was unhappy that a female ruled the night.  Saturn in Capricorn proclaimed war, and Luna in Cancer rose in opposition.

‘In Capricorn old Saturn
the worst of all the seven,
Design’d the Night to rule in spight
of all the Stars in Heaven.

His quarrel was at Luna
declaring his opinion,
None could but vex that the female Sex
should hold so large dominion.

She lowest of the Planets
the other Tropick claimed,
But down she shall, and catch a Fall,
and thus a war’s proclaimed.’

Jupiter supported Luna and sent out the Eagle and Beagle constellations to spy out Saturn’s forces.  On the advice of a council of all constellations, Jupiter raised two armies – a standing army of fixed stars and a flying army of planets.  War was declared and Jupiter found the rebels in Taurus with the Fiends of Hell and the Heathen Gods.  The rebels fled, pursued by Jupiter from sign to sign.

‘In stead of Pike and Pistol
they fought in fiery flashes,
What’s Cannon proof they pierced through
no Sword can make such gashes.’

When the rebels reached Scorpio, Cupid fired an enchanted arrow and put an end to the war.  All the stars fell in love with each other, and peace and quietness was restored.

Witty pointed out similarities in his story to the path of the English Civil War and the restoration of King Charles II.  Gout Raptures had English, Latin and Greek versions in one volume so that schools could use it.

Robert Witty or Wittie (c.1613-1684) was born in Beverley, Yorkshire.  A friend of the poet Andrew Marvell, he became a schoolmaster and then a physician, practising in Hull and York before moving to London.  He also published Popular Errours … in Physick, a translation of James Primrose’s De vulgi in medicina erroribus, and wrote Scarbrough Spaw, a book championing the efficacy of mineral waters.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
Robert Witty, Gout Raptures. Ἀστρομαχια. Or an historical fiction of a War among the Stars (Cambridge, 1677).  A verse in English, Latin and Greek.  Available to read online.

 

12 November 2020

Stand and deliver! Cross-dressing highwaywomen in broadside ballads

You’ve heard of highwaymen, but what about highwaywomen?  Female highway robbers definitely existed in the 17th and 18th centuries.  They worked alone, as part of a gang, or with husbands.  They appear in the records of county session court trials and in other sources like the Newgate Calendar.  They were notorious for cross-dressing.

Highwaywomen also appear in broadside ballads, a major part of popular news culture at that time.  Printed cheaply on a single sheet, they focussed on sensational tales of murder, doomed lovers, cheating husbands, wonders, famous military victories, highwaymen and, occasionally, highwaywomen.  The so-called unladylike behaviour and cross-dressing of highwaywomen caused quite the scandal.  Most of the time, the ballads are written from the perspective of the highwaywoman on the scaffold, about to confess and be hanged.

Ballad entitled A True Relation of One Susan Higges with illustrations of her robbing whilst dressed as a man, and being hanged.A True Relation of One Susan Higges, dwelling in Risborrow a Towne in Buckinghamshire and How She Lived 20. Yeeres, by Robbing on the High-Wayes. London, c.1640. British Library, C.20.f.7.(424-425), EBBA 30289  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

In A True Relation of One Susan Higges and The Sorrowfull Complaint of Susan Higges (two ballads about the same person printed in 1640), Susan Higges commits highway robbery for twenty years while dressed as a man, before being caught and executed.  Her shocking exploits are described as acts of gallantry and female boldness:
    'In mens attire I oft have rode,
    upon a Gelding stout,
    and done great robberies valiantly,
   the countries round about'.

Retribution comes when she robs a woman who recognises her.  Higges stabs the other woman who, as she dies, spits three drops of blood at Higges’s face, which cannot be washed off.  Higges is caught and executed, but not before warning the readers: 'Be warned by this story, you ruffling roysters all: the higher that you climbe in sinne, the greater is your fall'.

Ballad entitled The Sorrowfull Complaint of Susan HiggesThe Sorrowfull Complaint of Susan Higges. London, c.1640. Pepys Library, EBBA 20002.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Highwaywomen rarely got away with it, as it were.  In another pair of ballads, The Female Frollick and The Female Highway Hector (1690), the female highway robber is raped by a highwayman: 'with her he did what he pleased', and this is presented as her comeuppance for committing robbery and, especially, cross-dressing.

Ballad entitled The Female Highway Hector  with illustrations of her dressed as a woman and as a man holding the reins of a horse.The Female Highway Hector: or, An Account of a Woman, Who Was Lately Arraign’d For Robbing on the Highway in Man’s Apparel. [London?], c.1690. National Library of Scotland, Crawford Collection, EBBA 33924.  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

There is an 18th-century ballad about a woman avenging herself on highwaymen, rather than committing robbery herself.  The Cook-Maid’s Garland was popular; it was printed at least five times in the 1760s and 1770s.   It tells of a 'handsome brisk cook-maid' at a Reigate inn.  Five naked gentleman arrive, having been robbed by highwaymen en route.  The cook-maid offers to take these highwaymen on for £100.  One man agrees, promising to marry her if she succeeds.  She dresses up as the devil on horseback, covering herself with soot and attaching the antlers of a stag to her head.  She terrorises the highwaymen and captures them.

Ballad entitled The Cook-Maid’s Garland  with an illustration of her dressed as the devil on horsebackThe Cook-Maid’s Garland: or, The Out-of-the-way Devil [London?, c.1775], British Library C.20.f.9(772-773), EBBA 31494  Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Precious few highwaywomen cried 'stand and deliver!', both in real life and in broadside ballads.  They were outnumbered by highwaymen.  They also don’t get away with it for very long.  Did these women cross-dress as a disguise or were they making a bolder statement about their gender?  We will never know but this glimpse into their lives is intriguing indeed.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

06 October 2020

The truth behind the myth: the colonial legacy of the Mayflower voyage - No.3 The first 20 years of Plymouth Colony

The colonists signed the Mayflower Compact, the first governing document of Plymouth Colony, before they disembarked the ship.  This was to establish legal order and quell dissenting views between the separatists and the other passengers on how the colony should be run.

The colonists settled at an abandoned settlement of the Patuxet people in Wampanoag territory.  They had raided this settlement shortly after their arrival, desecrating graves in their search for corn stores.  It became Plymouth Colony.  Construction began in December but most people stayed on the ship.  Many succumbed to disease and, by the spring, only 47 survived.  Local people made contact in March 1621 and it was only because of the help of Tisquantum, the sole survivor of the Patuxet people, that the colonists survived.

The arrival of the Plymouth colonists put Massasoit, Sachem of the Wampanoags, in a vulnerable position.  He had already witnessed the devastating effects of disease and colonisation on his people and the neighbouring Narragansetts were threatening.  He had little choice but to sign a peace treaty and ally with the English colonists, which he did at the end of March 1621.

That is not to say, however, that the Plymouth colonists maintained peace with other local Native American tribes in the years that followed.  Tensions in the region heightened as the English founded more colonies, encroaching on native territories.  The Plymouth colonists were perpetrators of violence and brutality towards some communities, namely the Massachusetts at Wessagusset in 1623 and the Pequots in the 1630s.

The first printed account of Plymouth Colony

 Title page of 'Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plimouth'  1622Edward Winslow and William Bradford, Relation or Journal of the Beginning and Proceedings of the English Plantation Settled at Plimouth, 1622, C.33.c.7 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

Written by Edward Winslow and William Bradford, this is the earliest printed account of the establishment of Plymouth Colony.  It functioned as a promotional tract, an appeal for investment and an attempt to gloss over the hardships and uncertainties facing the colony in its first two years.

The Mayflower Compact is printed, for the first time, in this account.  This was to give the impression of law and order within the colony and to emphasise that there was a unified mind-set across the colonists, separatist or otherwise.

This account also emphasises the devout nature of Plymouth Colony.  However, a mention of the whaling opportunities in the area lets slip the economic factors behind its establishment.  The colony quickly got involved with the profitable fur trade.  These things tend to be glossed over in the Pilgrim tradition.

This account also emphasises that relations between the local people and the English were cordial, ignoring any tension and conflict caused by their invasion of Wampanoag land.  Indeed, this relation’s description of the sharing of food between the Wampanoags and the English has become celebrated as the First Thanksgiving, but this is a mythologised 19th century reinterpretation of events.

Winslow and Bradford’s account also introduces us to Tisquantum of the Patuxet people.  Tisquantum had been abducted by English explorer Thomas Hunt and sold into slavery.  He escaped, returning to America to find his tribe wiped out by disease.  He worked ceaselessly to establish peace between the colonists and the local people, living in the colony for 20 months and acting as a translator, advisor and diplomat for Massasoit.  Tisquantum is often depicted as a ‘noble savage’ but he should be remembered as a practical advisor and skilled diplomat.

Maddy Smith
Curator, Printed Heritage Collections

 

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