Orra White Hitchcock

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

This summer in the Library, we have four excellent Digital Humanities interns conducting research in the Edward and Orra White Hitchcock Collection.  Working with these interns has been a great excuse for me to delve a bit more into this collection and fall in love with the artwork of Orra White Hitchcock, perhaps the Pioneer Valley’s earliest female botanical and scientific illustrator.

Orra White Hitchcock drawing of cedar sprig

Orra White Hitchcock drawing of cedar sprig

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College



Orra White, born March 8, 1796 in South Amherst, began teaching mathematics, astronomy, botany, and the decorative arts to young girls at the Deerfield Academy when she was only 17 years old.

While teaching at Deerfield Academy Orra met Edward Hitchcock, a local naturalist, and with Orra lending her hand to watercolor illustrations for an herbarium, the two began what would become a lifetime collaboration of joining science and art.




In 1821, Orra White married Edward Hitchcock who would become the third President of Amherst College and appointed state geologist of Massachusetts.  Orra lent her skill in scientific drawing to the publications of Edward’s geological findings, with many of her illustrations appearing in Hitchcock’s 1833 Report on the Geology of Massachusetts and the 1841 Final Report.

Orra White Hitchcock print of rocking stone, Fall River

Orra White Hitchcock print of rocking stone, Fall River

Edward Hitchcock held the position of professor of Chemistry and Natural History at Amherst College from 1825-1845.  During this time, Orra painted over 60 large format charts on linen depicting geological formations and prehistoric skeletons for Hitchcock’s classroom lectures.  These charts allow us a look at of how science was taught at Amherst in the mid 19th Century, as well as a glimpse of the geological landscape of the Pioneer Valley during her time as an artist.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

These charts are held in the Archives, where we hold the largest collection of Orra White Hitchcock’s artwork.  Orra’s classroom charts have been digitized and made freely accessible through the Amherst College Digital Collections.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Classroom chart on linen drawn by Orra White Hitchcock, Amherst College.

Equinox pressmark (designed by John Heins)

Equinox pressmark (designed by John Heins)

In 2010 the Library of America reissued all six of Lynd Ward’s “novels in woodcuts” (also called “novels without words”) in a two volume set. If you like graphic novels but have never read Ward’s work, these are a great introduction, and you can check them out from any of the Five Colleges libraries. If you like what you see, you can also visit the special collections at Amherst or Smith to compare the experience of reading one of the original editions. The Archives and Special Collections at Amherst owns a second printing (from December 1929) of Ward’s first, and probably best known, wordless novel Gods’ Man. Even though it was first published a week before the Stock Market Crash, the book sold so well that it went through five printings by October of 1930, with a sixth printing in 1933, totaling more than 20,000 copies.

A copy of the 1929 edition (left) and the 2010 reissue (right)

A copy of the 1929 edition (left) and the 2010 reissue (right)

Note the deliberate placement of the apostrophe in the title; as Ward himself explained:

And for what it is worth, you may also be interested in knowing that the first title I suggested for the book was “All art is useless.” The name we finally worked out, “Gods’ man,” using as it does the plural possessive, stemmed from the idea that it is usually phrased somewhat along these lines: the Artist is always the darling of the Gods.

This quote is from a 1958 letter from Ward to Irving Steingart, as noted by Perry Willett in his 1997 exhibition catalog The Silent Shout: Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward, and the Novel in Woodcuts. The personal papers of Lynd Ward are held by the Georgetown University Library, who have presented several excellent exhibitions of his work.





Ward’s fourth woodcut novel was published in 1933 by the Equinox Cooperative Press. Prelude to a Million Years: A Book of Wood Engravings is described this way by Ward, in an essay reprinted in the Library of America edition (p. 643):

I have always thought of Prelude to a Million Years as a kind of footnote to Gods’ Man, a sort of codicil that would acknowledge that changes had occurred and that these changes required an amendment to the earlier testament. It was a very limited statement, running to a total of only thirty blocks. Because it was a minor work it was printed directly from the woodblocks on a beautiful rag paper in a small edition. Prelude was the third publication of Equinox Cooperative Press, a group of young people, including myself, working in printing, publishing, and the book arts who wanted to do non-commercial books, just for the love of doing it. Each copy of Prelude was bound by hand and made with loving care.


The Amherst copy is in very good condition, and although this picture doesn’t do justice to the original cord-stitched copper coated spine, it does show the patterned boards that were designed by Ward and later used as the endpaper pattern in the Library of America edition.

The Equinox Cooperative Press published 16 books between 1932 and 1937. It was founded by Ward, his wife May McNeer (a journalist and author), Henry Hart (an editor at Scribners), and six others.

In all its decisions, Equinox was guided by a belief in the democratic process. The discussions of every basic point were wide-ranging, always completely frank, and often interminable. … In seeking a corporate form that would reflect this belief in the democratic way, we decided to organize as a cooperative. But we discovered that the laws governing cooperatives were sharply defined, with consumer cooperatives on the one side and producer cooperatives on the other. Since we were producers, we were incorporated as a producer cooperative. But since most producers are, in the nature of things, farmers, we became the only publishers in the history of Western culture who had to file annual reports with the New York State Department of Agriculture. — Lynd Ward, in the foreword to Henry Hart’s A Relevant Memoir: The Story of the Equinox Cooperative Press (1977).


Professor Snell.
In the tool shed.
With a piece of wood




Things are already not what they seem:  Prof. Ebenezer Strong Snell (1801-1876, Class of 1822) was not a murderer, a murder did not take place in his tool shed, and he used the piece of wood as a door wedge.  So why does our title mention “murder,” and why would anyone save such an inconsequential-looking piece of cheap pine long enough for it to enter our archives?

The wood came to my attention some months ago when a patron asked for a document in the Snell Family Papers and the wood happened to be in the same box as the requested item.  It stuck right out of the file and poked at the box lid.  The file included a little card:


Click on image to see inscription.


Apparently Prof. Charles H. Morgan (not Morhan – a typo by someone else) found the piece of wood in Snell’s house and gave it to –a guess– the archivist of the time, Peggy Hitchcock Emerson, who kept it with the rest of the Snell papers.  Morgan, a professor in the Art Department, moved into the Snell house in 1932, and the information about the wood came to him from the last caretaker of the last Snell to live in the house.

The inscription raised several other questions, including “why would anyone commemorate the murder with this piece of wood, or (for that matter), any piece of wood?”  and “who is W. W. Snell?

Sun-Extra-Jan22-1842-JCC-via-Bro-Jonathan Murder-Samuel-Adams-fr-Bro-Jonathan-vol5 Blood-in-the-gutter-via-Bro-JonathanNeither Prof. Morgan nor Peggy Hitchcock had recourse to Google or to our digital newspaper archive to obtain answers.  A few simple search terms with these tools brought up plenty of information about John Caldwell Colt and his sensational murder trial.  Newspapers, including our local Hampshire Gazette, printed entire pages about the case and followed it from the victim Samuel Adams’ disappearance in September of 1841 to the discovery several days later of his body– stuffed in a pine box (a shipping crate) and loaded on a ship scheduled to depart for New Orleans — and then to the trial and conviction of his murderer in 1842.  At its simplest, the murder was about money: John Colt owed Samuel Adams money (they disagreed on the amount) for printing Colt’s work on bookkeeping.  Colt hadn’t planned to kill Adams on the day when the printer came to collect his money, but when the two argued and things went bad Colt murdered Adams with a hatchet. Colt then had to figure out how to clean up and dispose of the body quickly – hence the box in which he folded and tied the body in such a way that he could stuff it into a container that was said in court to measure 3’4″ x 1’10”  x 1’9″.  In Killer Colt, Harold Schechter writes that the box “had  been constructed by Colt himself, who assembled all the shipping crates for his books” (p. 108), and several witnesses mention seeing this particular box as well as the equipment Colt used to make them.

He got the box downstairs (not too big a box, not too big a body) and paid someone to help him get it to the wharf.

If the ship had departed with the body on board, Colt might have gotten away with it.  In fact, given that it took a week for keyhole witnesses (literally) to get the authorities’ attention, it’s a wonder he didn’t get away with it.  He was so close.  But things continued to go awry for Colt (not to mention Adams), and the ship didn’t leave on time.  Soon the contents began to smell.  The police, already alerted to the disappearance of Adams, came and pried the lid off the box.


From here events followed swiftly – the victim was identified, the suspected murderer was arrested, and the evidence was hauled away.  Including the box.

This much was clear and, in its way, straightforward and well documented. But still: why would Professor Snell have this piece of wood with such an inscription?  The answer (according to my theory) is in details from the small world that was Western Massachusetts in the early 19th century.

Hamp-Mfr-Co-ad-1829-Jul-8-Hamp-Gaz  If the reader hasn’t already made the connection, murderer John Colt was the brother of repeating firearms inventor Samuel Colt.  In the late 1820s and into the 1830s their father, Christopher Colt, worked at a textile mill in Ware, Massachusetts, where John and Samuel spent at least a little time (mostly coming and going quickly) and where Sam acquired notoriety on July 4, 1829, by blowing up a raft on Ware Pond.  On that occasion things didn’t go quite as he planned (apparently a Colt family tradition) and the explosion drenched the villagers who’d gathered to witness the event.  The villagers were angry and Sam barely escaped punishment.


View of Ware, ca. 1880, from “History of Ware”


The town of Ware is right next to Brookfield, where Ebenezer Snell’s family lived (specifically in North Brookfield), so it’s very possible that the Snells heard about the Ware Pond event, as well as about the mysterious explosions in the woods around town that the villagers came to suspect were Colt’s doing.

Not too long after the pond incident, Samuel Colt was hustled off  to Amherst Academy (or perhaps “back” — it’s unclear when he first attended the school).  If Ebenezer Snell didn’t know about Sam Colt from the latter’s days in Ware, he certainly came to know him in Amherst.  Snell had attended Amherst Academy himself and taught there later (1822-25).   By the time Colt got there, Snell was a professor at Amherst College, just a block away.  Although we don’t know for sure when Colt arrived in Amherst, we know when he left: shortly after July 4, 1830, when Colt and classmate Robert Purvis* stole Ebenezer Mattoon’s Revolutionary War cannon (a weapon with a long history of town escapades), dragged it up to the Amherst College campus, and scared the frocks off students and professors.  A newspaper comment from a few weeks later and a diary entry from the following year document the occasion and the excessive “huzzaing”:


"Hampshire Gazette," July 7, 1830

“Hampshire Gazette,” July 7, 1830

Excerpt from the journal of J. A. Cary, Class of 1832.  This entry from July 3, 1831:  …The day tomorrow is to be [observed] by religious exercises.  Our last anniversary will long stand recorded in the annals of Hell, & may this be as long remembered in the records of Heaven.  Last year the “consecrated eminence” was surrounded by the mists & fogs of the region of darkness, but in this it has been refreshed by the dews of heaven.  A year since & the roar of artillery, I doubt not, & the cheers & shouts of the ungodly were echoing and reechoing from the dark caverns below, in this many of those same voices are lifted up to God in praise, and in “humble grateful prayer.”

Excerpt from the journal of J. A. Cary, Class of 1832. This entry from July 3, 1831: …The day tomorrow is to be [observed] by religious exercises. Our last anniversary will long stand recorded in the annals of Hell, & may this be as long remembered in the records of Heaven. Last year the “consecrated eminence” was surrounded by the mists & fogs of the region of darkness, but in this it has been refreshed by the dews of heaven. A year since & the roar of artillery, I doubt not, & the cheers & shouts of the ungodly were echoing and reechoing from the dark caverns below, in this many of those same voices are lifted up to God in praise, and in “humble grateful prayer.”

In another bizarre twist in the “six degrees” way, the incident was recounted to Samuel Colt biographer Henry Barnard years later by none other than Edward Dickinson, Emily Dickinson’s father, which makes one think the poet too might’ve heard about the Colts, maybe across the dinner table.  Edward Dickinson’s letter was published in “Samuel Colt: Arms, Art & Invention,” but two sentences mentioning Snell and confirming his awareness of the incident were omitted.  That part is provided here courtesy of a transcription from the staff at the Wadsworth Atheneum, where the original is located (the word “instance” in brackets below is my suggestion for an illegible word):

Amherst July 22, 1864

Hon. Henry Barnard

My dear Sir,

 Your letter of yesterday is just rec’d. I well recollect the main incidents of the celebration enquired about; tho’ I never before knew that the celebrated Hartford Sam. Colt, was the hero of that occasion.

A young wild fellow of the name of Colt of Ware, was a member of our Academy & joined with other boys of Academy Lodge, on College Hill, in firing cannon, early in morning of 4th July. (The day of the week, I can’t tell.)

Some of the officers of College interfered & tried to stop the noise. Colt, as Prof. Fisk [probably Professor Nathan Welby Fiske, father of Helen Hunt Jackson] ordered him not to fire again, and placing himself, as the story was told, the nest day near the mouth of the gun, swung his match, & cried out, “a gun for Prof. Fiske.” & touched it off – the Prof. enquired his name – & he replied, “his name was Colt, & he could Kick like Hell” – He soon left town, for good. This was the account given at the time – & has after been repeated here.

I met Prof. Snell, directly after receiving your letter, and as he was here, at the time, I enquired of him about it. He recollects Prof. Fiske relating to him, the [instance? i.e. “story” or “occasion”] of his being on the ground, & saying that the [instance?] started by some of the boys, that he, Prof. Fiske, tried to straddle the gun, was not true. So, I think I have given you about as it was. I am always happy to hear from you, & to meet you.  With kind regard & esteem, I am very truly yours, Edward Dickinson.”

So when in 1841-2 the Snells read of the trial of John Colt for the murder of Samuel Adams, they would have had personal memories of the Colt family, both because of Sam Colt’s notoriety in Amherst and because of the proximity of the Snell and Colt families in neighboring towns.  And there was yet another reason the murder would’ve shocked them: they knew the victim, probably very well.

According to the “History of North Brookfield,” Samuel Adams, John Colt’s victim, was also from North Brookfield.  He appears just before “ADAMS” in the center of the image below.**


Rev. Thomas Snell, father of Ebenezer, ca. 1845

Rev. Thomas Snell, father of Ebenezer, ca. 1845

The Snell family knew the Adams family because Rev. Thomas Snell, Ebenezer’s father, led the church in town for 64 years, from 1798-1862, and Benjamin Adams, Samuel’s grandfather (d. 1829), was a deacon in the same church.  Thomas Snell said of Benjamin Adams, “At the time of my settlement, no member of the church had so much influence in ecclesiastical affairs as Dea. Adams.  He was a good judge of preaching, and a man of uncommon attainments for one who enjoyed no greater advantages.  At this time he was  the only member of the church who would take part in a religious meeting” (History of North Brookfield, page 485).  Benjamin’s grandson Samuel was also in the same age group as some of Ebenezer’s younger siblings, so they may have played or been in school and church together.  The “W. W. Snell” — William Ward Snell — of the inscription on the wood was born in 1821, so to him Samuel Adams would’ve been an older boy by a decade.

But let’s get back to that piece of wood in the Snell Family Papers. What is this piece of wood?

Accounts of the trial of John Colt reveal that the lid of the pine box containing Adams’ body went missing:


In court testimony about the missing lid a police officer remembered that the prison watchman had offered to show him the box.  The officer’s testimony “suggested that at least one man with access to the lid — Watchman Patrick — understood its value as a curio” (Schechter,  p 178).  Later, however, another watchman said that he had used the lid to build a fire on a particularly chilly night.  He offered the helpful (if suspiciously superfluous) detail that the lid had smelled “strong” when it was burned (Schechter, p.184).  Either way, the lid was gone, apparently for good.

Given the relationship between the Snells and those involved in the case (the Colt and Adams families), I wonder, then, whether the piece of wood that one Snell inscribed and another kept and used as a wedge for decades is in fact a piece of the missing lid.  I think that Ebenezer’s brother William Ward Snell somehow came into possession of that piece of wood, possibly through a member of the Adams family or a mutual connection of the Colts and the Snells.  In 1842, William Snell was a young man of 21 or 22 perhaps fascinated by a murder trial involving a victim he knew personally.  Like whoever took the lid, probably dividing it into several pieces, Snell would’ve viewed the segment as a souvenir of the crime or a memorial of the victim. But why does it appear among brother Ebenezer’s possessions?  I can’t answer that question (yet), but I do at least know that brother William moved out west and may have left some of his possessions behind, and I know too that Ebenezer himself wasn’t above a bit of rubbernecking at murder.  His memoir of a trip in August of 1827 reveals that he witnessed the hanging (a botched one, apparently) of Jesse Strang for the murder of John Whipple — the “Cherry Hill murder”:


[Last section, after describing his discomfort during trip from Northampton to Albany] “This lameness prevented my walking about the city as much as I had wished; indeed, I did but little more than attend the execution of Strang, the murderer of Whipple. He was hung, on Friday, August 24 in the valley, or rather, in the deep hollow near the jail in Albany. An immense concourse were present to witness a spectacle of a nature too horrid to be witnessed a second time.”

Ironically, Colt’s hanging never took place — not on the day indicated on the wood or any other day.  Instead, on November 18, between about 2:45 and 3:45 p.m., when he was left alone, John Colt stabbed himself to death in his cell.  When officials came to take him to his 4:00 p.m. execution, they discovered him lying on his cot with a knife in his chest.  The Snells would have known the appointed hour of Colt’s hanging and inscribed the piece of wood – the piece of the lid – on that day.  The news of Colt’s suicide would have taken at least a day to reach Amherst, more likely longer (it’s in the Hampshire Gazette on the 22nd), when it would have been odd – the emotion of the moment having passed – to erase or correct the inscription.  Either way, Colt was dead on the 18th — unless one believes the rumors…

If you look closely at the piece of wood, you can still see the nail holes where the piece was tacked down.  In Colt’s confession he describes how the box originally had only a few nails, not enough to keep a body secure, so he purchased additional nails and then stood on top of the box to force the body into its tidy package: “I had to stand on [Adams’ knees] with all my weight before I could get them down.  I then nailed down the cover.” (Edwards, Story of Colt’s Revolver, p 169; reprinted from Colt’s confession in “Authentic Life of John C. Colt”).

From one day to the next, you never know what you’ll find in the archives.


New York Sun, Jan. 30, 1842



* Contrary to the information on his current Wikipedia page and other sites, abolitionist Robert Purvis didn’t attend or graduate from Amherst College, he attended Amherst Academy.  The two schools are often confused.  However, students at the Academy were allowed to attend lectures at the College, so it’s quite possible that Purvis attended lectures here.

** Newspaper accounts of the case put Samuel Adams in Providence, Rhode Island, but he may have gone there to begin his career, perhaps through connections with his older sister Eliza Sackett, who lived in Providence.




Facial goniometer, mid-19th century. Collin, Paris [OB2015.009]

Facial Goniometer, mid-19th century. Collin, Paris [OB2015.009]

We recently added an interesting item to our Objects Collection, an instrument called a facial goniometer. This came to the Archives from our colleagues at the Beneski Museum of Natural History. The object offers a bit of insight into the local popularity of anthropometery in the 19th century – that is, the practice of compiling a wide variety of measurements of the human body, most often in the support of various scientific or pseudoscientific theories of anthropology.

A goniometer is any device that measures angles. A facial goniometer is specifically concerned with calculating the angle of the face from the jaw to the forehead. This instrument was introduced in the mid-19th century by anthropometrists. This particular goniometer bears the maker’s mark “Collin, Paris.” Adolphe Collin was a well-known surgical instrument maker in Paris from the 1860s through the 1930s.

Facial Goniometer. Illustration from Samuel George Morton, Crania Americana (Philadelphia: J. Dobson, 1839), p. 252.

Facial Goniometer. Illustration from Samuel George Morton, Crania Americana (Philadelphia: J. Dobson, 1839), 252.

George Morton, in his Crania Americana (1839), provides a detailed description of how a facial goniometer is meant to be applied to measure the facial angle of the human skull. First, three basal pieces (A) are affixed snugly around the sides and front of the specimen, while a thin vertical piece in the middle (K and L) sort of straddles the nasal bone. Then the vertical limb D is allowed to fall back to touch limb K, and a degree measurement is made on the angular scale.

Morton, Crania Americana, 250.

Illustration from Morton, Crania Americana, p. 250.

The illustration above from Morton’s Crania Americana, shows differences in the facial angles of two cranial specimens. The first specimen (the skull of a “Cowalitsk,” i.e. Cowlitz, a Native American tribe of the Pacific Northwest), has an angle measuring 66 degrees; in the specimen below it, a Peruvian Indian, the line measures 76 degrees.
The purpose of our goniometer at Amherst College is uncertain. The most likely hypothesis is that is was acquired and used by Dr. Edward Hitchcock (AC 1849), college physician and professor of physical education and hygiene. “Old Doc” Hitchcock was keenly interested in anthropometry; we know that he led a rigorous program of physical measurements of several generations of Amherst College men, and published extensively on the subject. It is possible that Hitchcock’s personal papers provide an answer to this question.

Touchstone1949 feels your pain,

Lord Jeff 19351923 is right there with you,

Touchstone 1937And 1937 knows just how good it feels!

Congratulations and best wishes to the Class of 2015 from everyone in Archives and Special Collections!

I have been away from Frost Library for the past month on a short (three month) research leave. My research project is to explore the printing history of one of the texts we acquired as part of the Younghee Kim-Wait (Class of 1982)/Pablo Eisenberg Native American Literature Collection: A Sermon Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul, An Indian by Samson Occom.

Samson Occom. A Sermon Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul. New-London: T. Green, 1772.

Samson Occom. A Sermon Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul. New-London: T. Green, 1772.

This copy of “The Fourth Edition” arrived at Amherst as part of the Kim-Wait/Eisenberg Collection. It is generally regarded as the first book published by a Native American author as his own work. At the end of 2014, we received an earlier edition from alumnus Peter Webb (Class of 1974), which I wrote about here. That blog post from January also includes some information about the other editions of Occom’s Sermon held in the Archives & Special Collections at Amherst College. We have two New-London editions, two copies of the 1788 London, England edition, the 1805 Springfield, MA edition, and the 1827 Welsh edition. My interest was piqued, and I began to dig in to the scholarship on Occom to see just how many editions of this text are known to exist.

In 2006, Oxford University Press published The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan: Leadership and Literature in Eighteenth-Century Native Americaedited by Joanna Brooks. In her biographical sketch of Occom that opens the volume she writes: “A Sermon, Preached at the Execution of Moses Paul, An Indian was first published on October 31, 1772. It subsequently went through nineteen editions, ranking Occom as the sixth leading author in the American colonies during the 1770s” (23). This information only deepened my interest and I continued to dig. Other sources repeated the “nineteen editions” statement, and I recently turned up the source of that number: Samson Occom and the Christian Indians of New England by W. DeLoss Love, a biography originally published in 1899.

In his book, Love notes the popularity of the Sermon and lists nineteen different editions in a footnote on pages 174-175. He also says “There may have been others which we have not met with or seen noted by bibliographers” (174). It soon became clear to me that I had discovered a gap in Occom scholarship that neatly fit my professional training and interests. Love’s own lack of bibliographical knowledge is revealed by his description of ALL printings of the Sermon as octavo, when the majority are clearly quartos. Although there has been some excellent recent scholarship on Occom from a book history perspective, there was a lack of old-school bibliographical data — basic information on the number of editions and the when, where, and why of their publication.

I began my search with two online resources, one free to all, the other a subscription database available through Frost Library. The English Short Title Catalog is freely available via the British Library and is one of the best sources for bibliographical information on books, pamphlets, broadsides, and other printed material produced prior to 1801 in British Isles, Colonial America, United States of America (1776-1800), Canada, or territories governed by Britain, in all languages. (You can read more about its history and scope here.)  The other handy resource, though not available for free, is The Early American Imprints Series, parts I and II, which is one of many databases Amherst College pays to access via NewsBank/Readex. Though diligent searching of these databases, I assembled a list of twenty-two separate editions of Occom’s Sermon.

But database searching was just the first step in my ongoing quest; I am determined to personally inspect as many copies of each edition as I possibly can. It’s important to understand what the term “edition” means, both its technical definition as well as the larger implications. For the technical definition, we turn to Principles of Bibliographical Description by Fredson Bowers:

An EDITION is the whole number of copies of a book printed at any time or times from substantially the same setting of type-pages. (39)

To stick with our two New-London editions for now, what this means is that T. Green (or someone in his shop) picked out each tiny piece of metal type, set it up on the press, printed however many copies they needed, then put all those pieces of type away so they could be used to print something else. Which means that the first New-London edition and the fourth New-London edition, while reproducing the same text, will have some differences.

As luck would have it, I had to make a trip to Philadelphia a couple weeks ago, so I arranged my travel to leave plenty of time for a visit to the Library Company of Philadelphia, where I had identified seven editions of the Sermon. Based on the basic information in their catalog, they appeared to have two copies of the 1772 New Haven edition, so I asked to see both.

New Haven editions. Images courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

New Haven editions. Images courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

It was apparent the moment I saw the second copy that there were two separate settings of type here. Page-by-page comparison of the contents of each copy made it clear that these books were produced from entirely separate settings of type. Already my twenty-two editions was bumped up to twenty-three.

But what does that mean? What insight can we gain into Occom’s life and work by nit-picking over the exact number of editions of this work? Achieving a more accurate count is just the first phase of this project, but I am already starting to make some interesting connections and raise new questions. At the most basic level, each edition is an indicator of consumer demand. No colonial printer would take on the time, labor, and materials costs of typesetting, printing, and binding unless they thought someone would purchase their product. Knowing that there were two New Haven editions instead of just one tells us that there was ongoing demand for this work in and around New Haven after the first edition sold out. Knowing that a total of three separate editions were printed just down the road in New-London in 1772-73 suggests an even greater degree of popular demand.

It will take me a long time to complete my physical inspection of the copies available in the collections of the Northeast — I spent a fruitful day at the American Antiquarian Society last week, and next week I will visit New York Public Library and the New-York Historical Society. I have also expanded my search to include other printed material related to the execution of Moses Paul, such as broadsides, newspaper articles, and another pamphlet — none of which were authored by Samson Occom. What has begun to emerge is a sense of the execution of Moses Paul as a media event that involved multiple participants, rather than the story of a single sermon by a single author.

Elmer, Arthur and Walter Nelson lived in the small town of Goshen, New Hampshire, in the late 19th century. They used incredible imagination to make the most of their rural home by creating a remarkably detailed imaginary world right in their own backyard. They left behind wonderful drawings, imagined periodicals, maps and stories chronicling their own adventures and the adventures of their characters. So if you are ready to get outside for your own adventure, even if you go no farther than your own backyard, the Nelson brothers could serve as able guides. They will have you planting seeds, using new tools, and pulling boats and bicycles from the garage in no time at all. Amherst College recently acquired the Nelson Brothers Collection and it is now available for viewing online, so take a look and get inspired for some springtime adventure of your own.


The collection shows a remarkable ability the boys had to imagine life beyond their backyard and to make the most of  their surroundings as a springboard to adventure.  The physical layout of their imaginary world was based on the Nelson family land. Islands in a backyard stream became whole continents in the boys’ imaginations. Each boy conquered a continent and developed histories, people and heroes. The stories convey a rich appreciation for the outdoors, a desire for adventure beyond the life of the farm,and a childhood vision of the larger world.Nelson Brothers Novelties

The Nelson brothers were often extremely detailed in their creations, demonstrating a sustained dedication to their imaginary world and to the broad range of topics that captured their interest. Take, for example, a fictional Nelson brothers seed catalog. The entries are detailed, informative and clearly based on experience, possibly mimicking seed catalogs seen in real life. Thoughtful details provide the reader with a clear vision of what to expect from a particular seed. Fictional Nelson brothers varieties showcase their creativity.

An Adventure on Red RoverIf you are in the mood for more excitement than gardening is likely to bring, then you might try one of the adventure stories. An Adventure on Red Rover, for example, tells the story two boys who are held captive by three large birds in a cave on a mining island. After five long days they are rescued by two friends and manage to escape what looks like a rather unpleasant experience.

In form, creativity, execution and storytelling, this collection offers viewers a glimpse into the very special lives of three adventurous young men. These digitized items and more from the Nelson Family Juvenilia can be found in the Amherst College Digital Collections, and of course the originals are located in the Archives & Special Collections.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,332 other followers