Christmas came early to the Archives & Special Collections when we received two boxes of books by Native American authors from Amherst College alumnus Peter Webb (Class of 1974) just before we closed up shop for our holiday break. There are many exciting items in this very generous gift, including copies of some of Charles Eastman’s books in their original dust jackets, but this item eclipses all the others:

Samson Occom. A Sermon... (1772)
Samson Occom. A Sermon… (1772)

Hmmm…a piece of an old newspaper?

Samson Occom. A Sermon... (1772)
Samson Occom. A Sermon… (1772)

Someone used the first page of the October 14, 1783 issue of the Connecticut Courant and Weekly Intelligencer to make a protective cover for their copy of the 1772 first edition of Samson Occom’s Sermon. Not only are we delighted to now hold a true first printing of this important work, but that wrapper tells us that just over a decade after it was printed, someone thought it was worth wrapping up for a little extra protection. Most likely that person was in the vicinity of Hartford, CT, but it’s almost impossible to be certain — newspapers certainly traveled far and wide, and the only certainty about the date the Courant was sewn to the Sermon is no earlier than October 1783.

I am at the start of a more extensive research project into the publishing history of this sermon and its many reprintings, which I will report on in the months ahead. For now, it brings me great bibliographical pleasure to see these search results in our online catalog:

Occom Catalog

In addition to the generosity of our alumni, we also depend on the wonderful world of the antiquarian book trade to build our collections. This week it was Tom Congalton of Between the Covers Rare Books who called an amazingly rare item to our attention: The Experience of George A. Spywood.

The Experience of George A. Spywood.
The Experience of George A. Spywood.

As you can see from the cover, this pamphlet was printed to raise money to save George A. Spywood’s house. One reason I love booksellers so much is that they often save us a lot of work by doing extensive research about their books. Here is a very helpful excerpt about this item:

“Spywood happily pursued the sailor’s trade until after several voyages his friend, the captain, took ill and died. He later renounced his vices and took to the ministry after a vision. In 1844 he was given the pastorship of the Colored M.E. Church of Hartford, Connecticut, and took an active part in precipitating the schism of the A.M.E. Zionists from the Weslyans. It is possible that Spywood stressed his Native American heritage over his African for the purposes of this pamphlet, anticipating more sympathy if he hid his African ancestry. Perhaps most likely he was of mixed Native American and African ancestry. Carter G. Woodson references him as a Bishop in the Zionist faction in his study The Negro Church without referring to his ethnicity, and he is mentioned in several other histories of the Church. OCLC locates a single copy with the above publishing information, but this issue appears complete (collating 1-28pp., with separate wrappers) and contains no printing information. While we obviously have a vested interest in establishing the precedence of this version of the pamphlet, we strongly conclude that this copy has the feel of fulfilling the object of a mendicant pamphlet, and is likely both earlier than the 1843 version, and may indeed be unique. In any event it is rare.”

And here is the first page of the memoir:

Spywood 2

I had a brief conversation with Native Studies professor Lisa Brooks earlier this morning and her reaction is that Spywood’s specificity regarding his tribal ancestry — naming the “Marshpee” and the “Pumham” — suggests he is being honest about that heritage. False claims of Indigenous ancestry are usually more vague. Lisa’s other comment was that we may very well be able to track down Spywood’s descendants, or some traces of them.

This book will soon be added to our online catalog and we will also add it to our queue for digitization.

2 thoughts on “More New Acquisitions in Native American Literature

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