THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

What's on the mind of Team America?

Introduction

Find out more about our Americas Studies collections on the Americas blog, written by our curatorial team and guest posts from the Eccles Centre writers in residence. Our collections cover both North and South America, as well as the Caribbean. Read more

25 December 2017

Andrew Salkey’s Christmas Mento….Sixty-four years later

Buried in Andrew Salkey’s personal archive amongst a file of scripts, forms, notes and letters, is an unpublished Christmas poem. Andrew Salkey, co-founder of the Caribbean Artists Movement, was a prolific writer-come-activist who made frequent contributions to the BBC. Nestled in a box, which contains his work with the BBC on programmes such as Calling the West Indies (which later became Calling the Caribbean), Caribbean Voices and the Caribbean Literary Magazine, was a typed copy of ‘Mento Theme No. 6’. Salkey described this as a ‘A poem on Christmas influenced by the Jamaican Dialect’. More specifically, it was in a folder that was particularly heavy with BBC rejection letters with returned poems attached that I discovered ‘Mento No. 6’.

Unable to ‘find any room’ in the BBC ‘First Reading’ radio programme for Salkey’s poem in 1953, the British Library America’s blog has found room for this poem’s much-delayed entry into the public sphere, sixty-four years later.

 

Salkey Mento Poem

Andrew Salkey Archive, BBC Files 1-3, DEP 103/016

Salkey’s poem reads as a creolised Christmas story, in which recognisable Christmas motifs and tales are recounted in patois, to a Mento tune and rhythm. Sometimes called the grandfather of reggae, Mento is a type of Jamaican folk music which fuses African and European musical traditions. The knowable tale of the star in the East which led the Three Wise Old Men, who brought ‘myrrh, gold and frankincense’, is followed (in true Salkey-style) by a mention of Anancy the Spider. Although not a traditional or known part of the Christmas story, Anancy is both known and traditional within the Black diaspora. A cunning folk trickster who travelled from West Africa, across the middle passage, to the New World, and later from the Caribbean to Britain, Anancy is a powerful and historic figure.

Salkey played a critical role in keeping the trope of Anancy alive, as demonstrated through his literary work which can be found at the library. Amongst a vast array of his work held in the British Library Collections, Anancy, Brother Anancy and Other Stories and his readings for the African Writer’s Club, which can be found on the British Library Sound webpage, are just a taste of Salkey’s contributions to West African and Caribbean folk revival.

This poem is a Mento through more than its rhythm and sound, it is a mento through the way it melds African and European cultural traditions.

Have a Merry Mento Christmas…..x

Naomi Oppenheim

Naomi is a PhD candidate on a CDP at the British Library and UCL. She is currently researching British-Caribbean popular culture and the politics of history in the post-war period.

 

18 December 2017

Early American Science: Benjamin Rush

As described in my previous blog Early American Science: Benjamin Franklin, scientific investigation was a central part of eighteenth century philosophical enquiry. A desire to understand the detailed workings of the natural world was not seen to be antithetical to the idea of God the creator, but rather a means of studying and thereby celebrating the infinite variety of his creation. Indeed, far from there being a psychological or theological block on scientific enquiry, it had been institutionally and culturally encouraged since the late 17th century, becoming not only acceptable but also fashionable.

The basic ground rules of this spirit of enquiry are encapsulated in the title of Benjamin Franklin’s ground-breaking work Experiments and Observations on Electricity (London, 1751; shelfmark: 538.l.5.(6)) just as they are in Medical Inquiries and Observations (4 Vols., Philadelphia, 1805; shelfmark MFR/3019 1 Reel 36:1), the most important writings of Franklin’s friend and fellow Philadelphian, Benjamin Rush (1746-1813).

 Benjamin_Rush

Benjamin Rush: an engraving by James Barton Longacre (1794-1869) from a painting by Thomas Sully (1783-1872). Courtesy Wikipedia.

Like Franklin, Benjamin Rush was a practical empiricist. He became the first professor of chemistry in America (at the age of twenty-two), was the United States’ most eminent contemporary physician, and is still regarded as the father of American psychiatry. And just as many contemporary politicians on both sides of the Atlantic are attempting to unify health and social care, so Rush – himself a politician and a signatory of the Declaration of Independence – saw no divide. He firmly believed that both physical and mental health were intrinsically affected by social conditions and mores, and was a keen advocate of government intervention on a considered basis, akin to the modern practice of nudge theory.

A glance at works written by Rush and listed in Early American Science: A Selective Guide to Materials at the British Library  illustrates both the breadth of his interests and the continuing importance of his areas of concern. These include: ‘An account of the state of the body and mind in old age’ in Sir J. Bart Sinclair, The Code of Health etc., Vol. 4 (Edinburgh, 1807; shelfmark 41.d.18); Medical Enquiries and Observations upon the Diseases of the Mind (2nd edition, London, 1789; shelfmark 1039.k.31); An Inquiry into the Influence of Physical Causes upon the Moral Faculty (Philadelphia, 1839; shelfmark 8404.e.33.(2)); A Dissertation on the Spasmodic Asthma of Children (London, 1770; shelfmark T.991.(2)); and An Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits upon the Human Body and Mind (Boston, 1812; shelfmark 1507/278).      

Rush was a man of strong opinions and could sometimes be fractious. He certainly did not lack either physical or moral courage. As surgeon general of the army he fought alongside General Washington at the Battle of Princeton, but was later sacked for ‘disloyalty’ after he sought to bypass Washington while attempting to reform the administration of the army’s hospitals.

Rush battle

In this painting by John Trumbull - The Death of General Mercer at the Battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777 - Benjamin Rush can be seen behind George Washington; both are on horseback. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Even more famously, Rush stayed in Philadelphia to treat the sick (including himself) throughout the 1793 yellow fever epidemic that killed one in ten of the city’s population. Indeed, Rush was uniquely influential in the development of medicine in the early years of the Republic. In 1792 he became the first Professor in the Institutes of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. In the following two decades he taught an estimated 3,500 students. His Sixteen Introductory Lectures (shelfmark: X.329/1803) influenced many more after his death and has been republished three times during the past half century. [1]

A humanitarian, Rush was an active campaigner for penal reform and a lifelong opponent of slavery. His 1773 Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements on the Slavery of Negroes in America (shelfmark MFR/3017 *1* Reel 140:14 140:13) led the next year to the creation of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, the first such institution in America. [2]

Benjamin Rush, like Benjamin Franklin, is buried in the Christ Church Burial Ground, Philadelphia.

George Goodwin

George is an Eccles Centre Makin Fellow at the British Library and author of Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life of America's Founding Father. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2016. (Shelfmark: YD.2016.a.3841).

Notes

1.  Benjamin Rush, Sixteen Introductory Lectures. Oceanside, N.Y: Dabor Science Publications, 1977. Repr. of the 1811 edition published by Bradford and Innskeep, Philadelphia. (Shelfmark: X.329/18023)

2.  Benjamin Rush, Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements on the Slavery of Negroes in America by Benjamin Rush. Philadelphia: J. Dunlap, 1773. (Shelfmark: MFR/3017 *1* Reel 140:14 140:13)

Further Reading 

Claire G. Fox, Gordon L. Miller and Jacqueline C. Miller, comps. Benjamin Rush, M.D.: A Bibliographic Guide. Westport, Conn.; London: Greenwood Press, 1996. Shelfmark: 2725.e.3276.

Lyman Butterfield, ed. Letters of Benjamin Rush (2 vols). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1951. Shelfmark: 5577.100000 30(1).

Carl Binger, Revolutionary Doctor: Benjamin Rush, 1746-1813, New York: W.W. Norton, 1966. Shelfmark: 5577.100000 30(1).

14 December 2017

The 1867 British North America Act

On 16 November the Canada-UK Council visited the British Library with delegates taking part in the Dilemmas of Democracy conference that was held at Runnymede.  The North American curators had prepared a ‘Show and Tell” with a particular focus on the 150th Anniversary of the passage of the 1867 British North America Act which had established the Dominion of Canada.

The material reflected on relations pre and post confederation, including this beautifully illustrated work containing a painting of the Canada stand at the Great Exhibition of 1851.  Also displayed was Portraits of British North Americans, a collection of biographies illustrated by William Notman's photographic portraits;

P1090955
Portraits of British North Americans, shelfmark 010803.f.1.

 

Finally, an interesting work which makes the case for financing a Canadian Pacific railway, an issue that was closely tied to confederation.

Suggestions on the true and practical
The Confederation of the British North American Provinces; their past history and future prospects... Shelfmark 10410.dd.13.

The delegates were given a short presentation on one of the books on display: a History of Canada 1849-59, by Alexander Tilloch Galt, which was published in London in 1860.  The book was of particular interest because Galt (who was one of the Fathers of Confederation a few years later) was the Minister of Finance in the coalition government of Upper and Lower Canada at the time. The book can be understood as a Prospectus to persuade influential Britons – and notably financiers – that Canada represented a safe long-term investment. Galt had a personal as well as a political interest in conveying this message, as it was over this period that he was amassing a considerable fortune in the Grand Trunk railroad. It was important to keep the money flowing!

P1090950
Canada: 1849 to 1859, shelfmark 8154.b.45.

Galt starts out by confirming (what few in England perhaps understood at that time) that Canada was already essentially independent.  In 1846 Lord John Russell, as Prime Minister, had admitted the principle of responsible government in Canada.  A new system had been inaugurated, and: “…as from that date no attempt has ever been made to interfere with its free and legitimate operation. The political differences and difficulties of Canada have been dealt with by her own people and legislature, and Great Britain has never been required to take part in any local question whatever” (except to give effect to the express desire of the Provincial legislature).

Galt notes, however, that the true start date for Canada’s sole control of its trade and customs duties was not 1846, with the admission of this principle, and with the repeal of the Corn Laws, but 1848, with the repeal of differential duties, and 1849 with repeal of discriminatory navigation laws.

Canada had started the decade of 1850-60 with a “ravaged exchequer”, still recovering from the violent uprisings of 1837-8. But – says Galt – it had stopped asking for, and did not expect, help.

He sketches, first, the institutional machinery of democracy that had already been put in place. Membership of the Lower House had grown from 84 to 130 in 1853, and the voting franchise had been extended to $30 pa (roughly £6) in towns, and $20 pa (or £4) in rural areas.  Elections had been introduced for the Upper House, which consisted of a single member from each of 48 districts.

He notes Queen Victoria’s 1857 choice of Ottawa as Canada’s capital, and records that “public buildings are now in course of erection” – but gives no hint of the controversy surrounding this choice which had already caused one Government to fall, and which rumbled on for a full decade.

He outlines the system of municipal government  that had been introduced in both Upper and Lower Canada in 1849/50 and that had now been consolidated into a single Statute, securing powers  “to levy local rates for local objects” and giving each district “the most perfect control of its own affairs”. In Lower Canada (modern Quebec), he observes, an earlier attempt had been made to introduce a system shortly after the 1837/38 rebellion, “but with the exception of several English counties, the effort proved a complete failure”!

The History goes on to enumerate the progress achieved in education, where a new system had been introduced in 1846 following an examination of European models. By 1858 there were 3,866 schools in Upper Canada, with 293,683 scholars, and 2,800 schools in Lower Canada, with 130,940 scholars. (One of the pleasures of this history is Galt’s precision with numbers. An appendix at the end records tax and excise revenues literally to the penny!)

The question of land-holding, he observes, had been bedevilled by the existence of ‘Clergy Reserves’ and of ‘Feudal or Seigneurial Tenure’:

  • The Clergy Reserves constituted one seventh of all land in Upper Canada which had been appropriated by Imperial legislation for the support of protestant Clergy. This was a “fruitful cause of evil of every kind”. The problem had been resolved in 1854 with full separation of church and state.
  • The Seigneurial land problem in Lower (ie French) Canada was a legacy from Europe where its “extinction had been bought with much blood”. It had been a difficult issue to address because the problem was rooted in fundamental laws of property. In the end, the government had agreed to pay £650,000 in indemnity to those whose rights of property were required to be surrendered.

Galt is passionate in countering the charge that Canada had been “lavish and wasteful” in resolving such problems (which leads one to suppose that he had indeed faced such criticism from sceptical British financiers). On the contrary, he says, questions of property rights had been the cause of political division and violent disorder in many other parts of the world. Their resolution in Canada had been achieved with remarkable serenity and economy.

He records that land in Canada is available for purchase by immigrants at 2 shillings an acre, with the responsibility of government confined to “opening of the leading county road” in each district at a total cost of only £15,000 pa. “No further expenditure is made from the public chest”.

He goes on to describe the existing infrastructure of roads, canals (with the enlargement of the Welland Canal in 1841 and thereafter, meaning that vessels of up to 800 tons could now reach Lake Ontario) and rail with 1,112 miles of trunk rail – or 2,093 miles if spur lines were included – now representing “probably the most complete and comprehensive railway system in the world”. 

In order to “remedy the evil effects” of English regulations that favoured its own steamships, Canada had been obliged to subsidise a weekly line of steamships of her own at a cost of £45,000 pa.  The journey from Quebec to Liverpool took 10 days 3 hours. Liverpool to Quebec was a little slower, at 11 days 5 hrs.

Throughout the history, Galt is careful to avoid all reference to political turmoil in Canada (though these were pretty turbulent years!) “Canada stands at the bar of public opinion in England to be judged not by the acts of any party, but as a whole: and no public man possessing any claim to patriotism would seek, by parading sectional difficulties and disputes, to gain position in Canada through the disparagement of the country and her acts in England.”

Galt ends on an optimistic note for the future for Canada, and Canada-UK relations: “…whatever may be the future destinies of Canada, her people will always value as their most precious right the free and liberal institutions they enjoy, and will cherish the warmest sentiments of regard towards the mother-country, from whom they have received them.”

- Anthony Cary

29 November 2017

Winston Whyte’s Barber Shop Trial

The barber shop is a curious phenomenon, a masculine space which seems to transcend boundaries of typical service provision. The African-Caribbean barber shop appears to represent an even more varied intersection of use, activity and meaning. Going through copies of Flamingo in preparation for the upcoming Windrush exhibition at the British Library, I came across a short story by Winston Whyte.

Edited by Edward Scobie, the first issue of this vibrant but short-lived journal was published in September 1961; unfortunately, its final issue was published just two years later, in November 1963. Britain’s longstanding African-Caribbean communities saw a sharp growth from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, many were part of the so-called ‘Windrush Generation’, hence Flamingo was envisioned as a ‘voice’ for the ‘350,000 West Indians and many thousands of Africans and Asians’ that lived in Britain.[1] In a short story segment each month, Flamingo would publish Caribbean or West African authors. This included the work of unpublished writers, such as Winston Whyte, but also famous authors, notably Samuel Selvon[2]. These stories were complimented with comical illustrations drawn by Dave Robinson.

 

Barber shop image 1

Winston Whyte, Flamingo, April 1962, p.17-19.

Set in Pedro’s barber shop in Notting Hill, the ‘Barber Shop Trial’ constructs the complex and lively world of this imagined but authentic space, part of what Whyte calls ‘Barber Shop Society’. The sentiment conjured up in Winston Whyte’s story, which was published over fifty-years ago, is more than a historical phenomenon, as evidenced by Inua Ellams’ play, ‘Barber Shop Chronicles’ which is currently showing at the National Theatre.

Barber shop image 2

 

 

Flamingo, April 1962, p.17.

The narrator explains how ‘this is a scene poles apart from the English Barber Shop where conversation is limited to “Good Morning Sir. Your turn Sir. How would you like it Sir?” A world away from this, at Pedro’s, they were always ‘talkin’ ‘bout something. It could be ‘bout conditions at home, colour prejudice in Britain, women, politics or any other subject under the sun’. Although set in an imagined barber shop, one can assume that Pedro’s was based on numerous real barber shops, like those advertised in Flamingo.

Speaking in general, the narrator asserts that ‘any good Jamaican barber is philosopher, preacher, politician, lawyer, father-confessor, comedian and family guidance councillor all rolled in one’. It is the intersection between the social, political, domestic and material which has led to the African-Caribbean barber shop becoming such an important and layered symbol and space. The often-ironic use of the barber shop is evidenced by the fact that Lloyd, the West Indian regular at Pedro’s, never actually got his hair cut there.

Barber shop image 3

 

Flamingo, April 1962, p.18.

Although the ‘Barber Shop Trial’ evokes a sense of unity and comfort, competition and division were also rife at Pedro’s. Using the format of a legal trial, Whyte tells the story of a heated debate between Pedro (the barber), Lloyd (his regular West Indian customer) and ‘the African’ (a ‘well-spoken’ barrister). Through a dispute about Lloyd and Pedro’s lateness, alongside accentuated linguistic and occupational differences, this story explores and solidifies boundaries of Africa and the Caribbean. Pedro, Lloyd and the other customers speak in dialect, this is set in contrast to ‘the African’s faultless English’. This reflects the tensions, as often invoked through stereotyping, that existed between Britain’s diverse black communities.

So, when you’re next deciding where to get your haircut remember that ‘Good humour an’ judgement mean good haircuts.’

Naomi Oppenheim is a PhD candidate on a CDP at the British Library and UCL. She is currently researching British-Caribbean popular culture and the politics of history in the post-war period.

 

[1] Editorial, Flamingo, September 1961, inside cover.

[2] Samuel Selvon, ‘Late Snack for the Mop’, Flamingo, June 1962, pp.16-17

24 November 2017

Martha Gellhorn: The Reporter as a Young Poet

What makes juvenilia so fascinating? When reading the works written by an author in their youth one often looks for glimpses of the ideas and obsessions they would later develop in their works. But it sometimes also feels like a small betrayal, to read these raw texts written before authors have developed their voice, or met the red pen of an editor. There is something about teenage poetry that makes it particularly excruciating – perhaps because it awakens a dormant fear that one day someone may find our own ring-bound poetry notebook in the bottom of a drawer. It is hard however to resist the temptation to see what war reporter Martha Gellhorn was like when she was 17.

759px-Martha_Gellhorn_stamp (1)
Martha Gellhorn postage stamp. Part of the 2008 American Journalists stamp series (Source: US Postal Service via Wikimedia Commons)

As a star correspondent for the American magazine Collier’s Weekly during the late 1930s and 1940s, Martha Gellhorn became well known for her first-person chronicles of the Second World War. Gellhorn covered the principal fronts during the conflict, and wrote a memorable report on the liberation of the Dachau camp for Collier’s in 1945. Gellhorn had started her career as a war reporter in Spain during the civil war, and went on to cover most major twentieth century conflicts, including the Vietnam War. Her best journalistic writing is collected in The Face of War (1959) [9104.d.10.].

Gellhorn’s life, and especially her turbulent marriage to Ernest Hemingway, has been fictionalised in different genres, from our Eccles Writers in Residence Naomi Wood’s Mrs Hemingway to the less successful HBO film Hemingway and Gellhorn.

Before she became well known for her reporting and ruthless commentary however, Gellhorn was writing poetry. From 1923 she attended the newly founded John Burroughs School in her native St Louis, Missouri. The school was a coeducational and progressive institution for the time. The British Library holds an issue of the John Burroughs Review [ZD.9.a.2618], the school magazine where Gellhorn published her first works. The magazine was published five times a year by the students of the school and Gellhorn was part of the board of editors.

JBReview

The John Burroughs School Review is an impressive publication for a high school magazine, with a modernist cover designed by Clark Smith.  The November 1925 issue contained poems, short stories and book reviews, as well as adverts for local businesses.  Gellhorn was 17 when the magazine printed a sequence of six poems titled ‘Bits of Glass’, three of which are reproduced below:

Bitsofglass1
The John Burroughs Review, November 1925 (extract from page 16)

Gellhorn was fiercely protective of her reputation. She banned the reprinting of her first novel, the semi-autobiographical work What Mad Pursuit, published in 1934 (the Library holds a copy at YD.2012.a.2572 - read more about it in Naomi Wood's blog post). But despite Gellhorn’s and many other writers’ anxiety about their early attempts at writing, these texts will always remain fascinating for readers who want to find out how and when they became the writers they admire.

Now remember to hide that notebook the next time you visit your parents’ house.

 

Mercedes Aguirre

Lead Curator, Americas

05 October 2017

Early American Science: Benjamin Franklin

The British Library has an outstanding collection of scientific literature, and the richness of its early American scientific material is illuminated in the Eccles Centre’s Early American Science: A Selective Guide to Materials at the British Library by Jean Petrovic. The books, journals, papers and letters of all of the leading figures are listed here. And while Benjamin Rush, ‘Father of American Psychiatry’, will be the subject of next month’s blog, this first one must surely focus upon Benjamin Franklin.

For Franklin and others like him, scientific investigation was a central part of eighteenth century philosophical enquiry; indeed, the generic term for scientists at this time was ‘natural philosophers’. That the American Declaration of Independence was based on 'natural law', rather than divine sanction, stemmed from preceding century's increasing reluctance to define natural phenomena as purely 'Acts of God'.

Volcano

Eruption of Mount Vesuvius. 1794. (British Library: Maps K.Top.83.61.i) 

Initially, the natural philosophers living in the American colonies worked collaboratively on a local and inter-colonial basis. Yet as the eighteenth century progressed they increasingly communicated with fellow spirits in Britain and Continental Europe. 

From the mid-century onward, Franklin was at the centre of this exchange of information. In 1753 he won the Royal Society’s Copley Medal – the 18th century equivalent of the Nobel Prize – for his ground-breaking work in the field of electricity. This he had communicated by letter to Peter Collinson, a Fellow of the Royal Society, who subsequently arranged for its publication as Experiments and Observations on Electricity (London, 1751; shelfmark: 538.l.5.(6))

Franklin Experiments

Benjamin Franklin, Experiments and Observations on Electricity. London: E. Cave, 1751. (Shelfmark: 538.l.5.(6.))   

The book established Franklin’s reputation in Britain and Europe, with Immanuel Kant in 1755 describing him as ‘The Prometheus of Modern Times’. Thus, when Franklin arrived in London in 1757, ostensibly as a political representative, this supposedly unfashionable colonial found immediate acceptance at the centre of Britain’s scientific community. As he expanded his own network, he increased the international acceptance of his American contemporaries. Even the American War of Independence did not totally disrupt transatlantic communication. In 1779, Franklin, as the United States Minister Plenipotentiary in France, instructed ‘All Captains and Commanders of American Armed Ships’ to grant Captain Cook a safe passage in 1779 for his voyage of exploration ‘for the Increase of Geographical Knowledge’. [1]   

Frankin portrait

Benjamin Franklin, by David Martin (1767). Wikimedia Commons, provided by The White House Historical Association. The bust on Franklin's desk is of Sir Isaac Newton.

The extraordinary number and depth of Franklin’s connections can be traced by linking the correspondence in The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959- ) to the publications of his American contemporaries in Early American Science. In so doing, we see how Franklin is associated with the biologist Cotton Mather from his Boston boyhood and linked to a great number of his fellow Philadelphian scientists, including the botanist John Bartram, physician Thomas Bond, scientific patron James Logan, astronomer David Rittenhouse, physician Benjamin Rush (the subject of next month's blog) and collector Charles Willson Peale. Franklin was also a long-time correspondent of two highly distinguished academics – the Yale climatologist Ezra Stiles and John Winthrop, Professor of Mathematics and Natural and Experimental Philosophy at Harvard.

The final Franklin/British Library connection highlighted in Early American Science is the Library's holdings of almost two hundred and fifty years of the Transactions (1771 - ) of the American Philosophical Society - the organisation founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1743 and modeled on the Royal Society. [2] 

George Goodwin

George is a 2017 Eccles Makin Fellow at the British Library and author of Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life of America's Founding Father. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2016. (shelfmark: YD.2016.a.3841).

Notes

[1] The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, vol. 29 (March 1 through June 30, 1779), p. 86. Edited by Barbara B. Oberg, et al. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992. (Shelfmark: 10924.h.1.)

[2] Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. Philadelphia, 1771 - present. (Shelfmark: Ac.1830/3) 

 

 

 

            

 

28 September 2017

George Pilkington and abolitionism in Brazil

George Pilkington’s An Address to the English Residents of the Brazilian Empire was published in 1841 at the culmination of the author’s fact-finding mission on behalf of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. The pamphlet outlines the Irish abolitionist’s grave concerns about what he had witnessed during visits to the Brazilian provinces of Pernambuco, Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro. Not only was he horrified by the cruelties of the illegal slave-trade which continued to flourish, despite British pressure, until 1850; Pilkington was also appalled by the complicity of British residents in Brazil in promoting the contraband trade and its corollary, slavery.

Discursos de John Scoble
Extractos Dos Discursos de John Scoble, shelfmark 8180.b.34.(1.)

Pilkington vehemently believed that given Britain’s global stand against the slave-trade since 1807 and slavery since 1833, the interests of British slaveholders in Brazil were ‘in direct opposition to English principle.’ The Address, then, was an impassioned plea to all British residents who had ‘breathed the miasma of slavery’ to act promptly to extricate themselves from the precarious moral and, as he saw it, legal position in which they found themselves.[1]

This pamphlet and a series of related letters authored by Pilkington in the same period are important sources for my own research exploring the entanglement of British commercial interests with slavery in Brazil until its abolition in 1888.[2] While there have been some excellent studies concerning the gold mines of Minas Gerais, other areas of British investment in Brazil’s slave economy remain relatively unexplored.[3] Pilkington’s own estimations from 1841 that half of all British-held slaves were employed in non-mining contexts encouraged me to investigate further.[4]

Through archival research across Brazil and the UK, I have been able to quantify the extent and map the diversity of slaveholding in the small but affluent British communities from Pará in the north to Rio Grande do Sul in the south.

Arquivo%20Nacional%2c%20RJ%2c%20Brasil
Arquivo Nacional, Brasil

The picture that emerges - at the mid-century at least - is one of slave-ownership across all levels of the community, from bakers and stable-keepers to the well-to-do merchant class and even a significant minority of large-scale plantation owners, including Britain’s own Vice-Consul in the province of São Paulo. The ‘English principle’ which Pilkington stressed, or Victorian Britain’s anti-slavery identity, was seemingly not the primary concern of those British subjects faced with the both the realities of living in a slave-society and the opportunities for profit-making in a slave-economy.

These traditional forms of slaveholding are only part of the story. Other chapters of my research project focus on the kind of entanglement which appeared less readily in abolitionist critiques of British complicity in Brazilian slavery. Using overlooked sources of the British in Brazil, such as legal and notary records, my research has traced the flows of British credit to slave-owners in the form of mortgages guaranteed by human collateral. Whilst not challenging the predominance of native capital in the expansion of Brazilian slavery, British actors were important sources of international credit and it has been possible to trace flows which had until now remained largely invisible. For example, one of my chapters studies the establishment of the London and Brazilian Bank and its mortgage portfolio containing many hundreds of enslaved people and the São Paulo coffee plantations they worked.

Britain’s relationship with slavery did not end with abolition in its own colonies. Recent scholarship such as UCL’s Legacy of British Slave-Ownership project has shown that to be the case. British entanglement with Brazilian slavery is part of the same conversation and I hope that my research can contribute to helping us understand more about this complex and challenging legacy.

 

Joe Mulhern is a current PhD candidate on a CDP at the University of Durham and the British Library, where he is supervised by Dr. Elizabeth Cooper, Curator for Latin America and the Caribbean.

 

[1]G. Pilkington, An Address to English Residents in the Brazilian Empire, (Rio de Janeiro: Laemmert, 1841) p.17

[2] see British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Reporter nos. 2.15 (Jul 1841); 2.16 (Aug 1841); 2.17 (Aug 1841); 2.18 (Sep 1841); 2.18 (Sep 1841); 2.21 (Oct 1841); 2.22 (Nov 1841).

[3] Examples of important works held in the British Library include M.Eakin, British enterprise in Brazil: The St. John Del Rey Mining Company and the Morro Velho Gold Mine,1830-1960 (Durham: Duke University Press, 1989); D.C. Libby, Trabalho escravo e capital estrangeiro no Brasil: o caso de Morro Velho (Belo Horizonte: Ed. Itatiaia, 1984); F.C.da Silva, Barões de ouro e aventureiros britânicos no Brasil (São Paulo: EDUSP, 2012).

[4] G. Pilkington, An Address p.13

25 September 2017

Following Sarah Royce

In 1849, Sarah Royce left her Iowa home and set off with her husband and daughter for California. Reading Royce’s stoic memoir, A Frontier Lady (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1932; shelfmark: 010409.ee.40) I wondered how she really felt as she crossed America in pursuit of her husband’s dreams. My curiosity evolved in my second novel, which follows two women from Chicago to California during the Gold Rush.

HannahRoycebook 4jpg

 Sarah Royce. A Frontier Lady: Recollections of the Gold Rush and Early California. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1932. (Shelfmark: 010409.ee.40) 

I’ve been studying first-hand accounts of other women who made that very journey—from the good-natured letters of Mary-Jane Megquier to the pessimistic journal of Mary Bailey. But though these accounts are often vivid, I’ve struggled to imagine the landscapes they describe—the blankness of the plains, the bitter waste of the desert, the steep green relief of the Sierras. So, with the support of the Eccles Centre, I decided to make the journey myself.

The California Zephyr train travels the 2,438 miles from Chicago to San Francisco. It broadly follows Royce’s route; but where Royce’s journey took six months, the train takes fifty-two hours. It was a thrill to watch scenery I’d previously encountered only in books—the lonely prairies, the great bloody sunsets, the strange sunken rivers of the high desert.

Hannahprairie

The prairies of Iowa. Image, author's own.

Seeing the landscape first-hand made a journey that was previously only an idea, a reality. And while I often encountered the unexpected—I hadn’t grasped that the trail was continuously flanked by mountains from the onset of the Rockies, nor had I anticipated that the Utah desert would look so like the moon—much of the landscape was as I had pictured it in the library.

Hannahsunkenriver

A sunken river in Utah. Image, author's own.

The trip was revelatory; but it also gave me confidence to write what I’d already imagined. For me, confidence is one of the most important outputs of researching fiction. As Zadie Smith said, “It’s such a confidence trick, writing a novel. The main person you have to trick into confidence is yourself.”

Hannah Kohler

Hannah is a joint winner of this year's Eccles British Library Writer's Award. More information about this Award, and all of the Eccles Centre's activities, can be found at www.bl.uk/eccles-centre 

Sources: Apron Full of Gold: The Letters of Mary Jane Megquier from San Francisco, 1849-1856, edited with an introduction by Polly Welts Kaufman. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994 (shelfmark: YA.1995.a.22660); Ho for California!: Women's Overland Diaries from the Huntington Library, edited and annotated by Sandra L Myres. San Marino: Huntington Library, 1980 (shelfmark: Document Supply 80/24701).