"THE FIRST BONA FIDE NATIVE AMERICAN AUTOBIOGRAPHY": RARE FIRST EDITION OF WILLIAM APESS' FIRST BOOK, A SON OF THE FOREST, 1829
APES[S], William. A Son of the Forest: The Experience of William Apes, a Native of the Forest, Comprising a Notice of the Pequod Tribe of Indians. New York: The Author, 1829. 12mo, period-style half brown calf gilt, raised bands, red and black morocco spine labels, marbled boards. $1250.
First edition of Apess' revolutionary work that transforms "a Puritan legacy of conquest violence… into a new type of autobiography," this rarely found first edition containing extensive passages omitted from his revised 1831 edition, handsomely bound.
"On July 25, 1829, the clerk of the court for the Southern District of New York registered to William Apess the copyright for A Son of the Forest… considered the first bona fide native American autobiography" (Gura, Life of William Apess, 44). This rarely found first edition of his first book is seen as revolutionary for its political and cultural sense of a Native American identity united with that of African Americans and people of color. Son of the Forest draws upon St. Augustine's Confessions and the autobiographies of Rousseau and Franklin to transform "a Puritan legacy of conquest violence… into a new type of autobiography that broadens to recognize spiritually (as a soul), politically (as a citizen), and historically (as a descendant of King Philip) a Pequot Indian" (Cheyfitz, Columbia Guide, 369). Its very title appears to be a response "to the Puritan's 'errand into the wilderness,” with Apess unveiling America's "hypocrisy in refusing Native Americans the civil liberties assured 'all men' by… labeling them 'heathens' and regarding them as savages" (Harrell, Origins of the African American Jeremiad, 16). This and Apess' subsequent writings firmly "belong to and in the history of American literature" (O'Connell, Introduction, Son of the Forest, xxii).
This important first edition is especially significant in containing extensive passages omitted from the revised 1831 edition. “For example, he excised the entire episode describing the conference meeting [of the Methodist Episcopal Church] at which he was interrogated and in which he inveighed against the increasingly 'monarchical' principles of that group… [and] passages in which he described the callousness of the family with whom Mary Apess and her child were boarding when she fell ill during Apess' ministry… A reader of the 1829 edition would have linked these episodes to Apess' larger indictment of white society's prejudice against Native Americans and people of color generally" (Gura, 47-48). Apess' also "details the pains of his early life, his… participation in the abortive American attack on Montreal in the War of 1812, and, finally, his return to the Church, in whose service he eventually was granted an 'exhorter's'—a sort of preacher's—license. At the conclusion of A Son of the Forest, Apess had not yet been granted what he ultimately desired, full admission to the Methodist ministry" (Krupat, Native American Autobiography, 121). The revised 1831 edition contains a frontispiece not present in this rare first edition. It is believed to have been added there to assure doubters that Apess was the true author of this work. Shaw & Shoemaker 37490. Field 43. Contemporary owner signature (August 1830).
Light scattered foxing, expert paper repair to one leaf (not affecting text). An extremely good copy.