Conestoga Chief — Only copy recorded

On November 15, 1857, the Philadelphia newspaper The Press carried this notice on page two:

The hopeful wish that the journal become “popular … profitable” clearly did not happen. No library is recorded as having a copy. Recently, a copy was found in the the Library’s Western Americana Collections. The Princeton copy was acquired on December 8, 1969 but was never entered into the Library’s main catalog. Its existence was noted only in two Princeton checklists of American Indian periodicals, one issued in 1970 and the other in 1979. (It still remains a mystery why a publication intended for a fraternal secret society of white men was included among periodicals published by or for native Americans.) Nonetheless, even though its existence was noted, it was not easily retrievable because it had no call number. During recent final days of a now completed five year campaign to box, inventory, and catalog American Indian periodicals, the Chief was found in a large, thin portfolio. During cataloging, its rarity and significance was discovered. The official record for the Chief now reads:

Title: Conestoga chief.
Published/Created: Philadelphia, Pa. : H.L. Goodall, 1857.
Description: v. ; 50 cm.
Began with vol. 1, no. 1 (Oct. 28, 1857)
Notes: “Devoted to the Improved Order of Red Men — popular literature, instruction and amusement.”
Intended for weekly publication. Cf. Prospectus (vol. 1, no. 1, p. 8).
No more published?
Subject(s): Improved Order of Red Men —Periodicals.
Related name(s): Improved Order of Red Men.
Location: Rare Books: Western Americana Collection (WA)
Call number: Oversize 2008-0020E

• • •

An extract from the July 1860 issue of The Ladies Repository, (p. 412-413) tells a tale of reader reaction to the Conestoga Chief. The story is titled “Indians’ Newspaper” and appeared in column headed “Recollections of a Deaf and Dumb Teacher, by Joe, the Jersey Mute.” (Actual name of the author was Joseph Mount.)

“In November, 1857, an Indian established a weekly newspaper at Philadelphia, called the “Conestoga Chief.” I bought a copy of the Chief for the double purpose of reading the thoughts of the red men, as expressed in the columns of that paper, and of showing it to my class, which was then, as now, composed wholly of boys. They were thrown in considerable excitement at sight of the word ”Chief” printed in such large characters, not exactly knowing that it was a “real, genuine, no-mistake” newspaper. They were in hot water, some declaring that they would be tomahawked, burnt alive, and all that sort of thing, and others that they would arm themselves with axes, knives, and the like, and stand with a strong front before the red face rather than submit to the Indian mode of burning alive, of which they had heard so much. As might be expected, all the school and the paper were together by the ears. I had considerable difficulty in restoring order in the schoolroom. I explained to the excited boys that the “Chief” was got up for the purpose of giving information, the same as the other papers of which the pale-faces had charge. They were convinced of their error, and had the magnanimity to own it up. They insisted upon knowing more of the Indians as they now exist, since I was thus placed in possession of a medium of communication with them. I marked three articles for recitation; namely, “An Eye for an Eye; or, an Indian Justice,” “The Indians,” and “Harper’s Mill,” which, in my opinion, were worth the price of the number. As I read those articles by signs, I never saw a more attentive audience in all my life, a fact which shows that even mute children of tender years regard the red face with lively interest, and ever wish to see more of it. One of my boys told me that the most beautiful girl he ever saw was a young squaw residing in the neighborhood of his home, and he said further that he wished to marry her. My boys particularly wished to see Indian girls, they said. Shame, shame on them for their partiality! But since they were then quite young, their ages varying from seven to twelve years, let their weakness in this respect be winked at.”

Archives in the Metropolis

London, July 4, 2008. It’s a little before 10 pm. I can hear fireworks out my hotel window. Somewhere in this old metropolis, I would like to think, the loss of empire is ignored while former colonists celebrate independence. And, tonight at the British Museum in the grand room that once housed King George’s library, there were readings from Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The books have moved out to the new British Library building. With minimal intrusion, the room has been converted to exhibition space under the theme ‘Enlightenment.’ Although the trophies of empire are everywhere, from the native goods collected by Sir Hans Sloane to a famous engraved stone labeled ‘captured in Egypt by the British Army 1801,’ modern day labels remind us, in the section regarding eighteenth century overseas exploration, that, in light of the viewpoint of indigenous peoples, ‘discovery is a relative concept.’

Nonetheless, discovery is the reason why I am here. I made the journey in order to answer questions about American rare book collectors of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For them the empire of books led to London and a dealer known in his day as the ‘Napoleon of the Book Trade,’ Bernard Quaritch (NY Times, 19 December 1899). Founded in 1847, and continuously in business down to today, the firm generously made its archives available to me for my research. I couldn’t have been better greeted and treated. All the staff were wonderfully helpful and hospitable.

I got some answers, especially about one of Princeton’s primary donors of rare books to the Library, Junius Spencer Morgan. But I also learned a lot about the context in which Junius Morgan made his purchases from Quaritch both retail and via auction. And, surrounding this story of just one American collector is the much larger story of Quaritch’s overseas expansion, in particular into America. Bernard Alfred Quaritch, son of the founder, made his first sales trip to the United States in 1890 and continued thereafter almost annually until his death in 1913. One letter in the archive sums up the outcome of BAQ’s efforts. From New York, on September 15, 1911, he wrote to his business colleague, E.H. Dring: “America is certainly our best market now.” Yet to be answered in detail is the obvious question about how and why did this come to be so. I picked up some signals this trip, but much more exploration is required. After all, ‘discovery is a relative concept.’