"OPENS A WINDOW INTO THE WATERBORNE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD": RARE FIRST EDITION OF DANIEL DRAYTON'S PERSONAL MEMOIR, 1853, DOCUMENTING THE 1848 MASS ATTEMPT OF NEARLY 80 FUGITIVES TO ESCAPE SLAVERY ON THE PEARL, FEATURING "MATERIAL NOT PUBLISHED IN ANY OTHER FORM," WITH FRONTISPIECE PORTRAIT, IN ORIGINAL WRAPPERS
DRAYTON, Daniel. Personal Memoir of Daniel Drayton, For Four Years and Four Months a Prisoner (for Charity's Sake) in Washington Jail, Including a Narrative of the Voyage and Capture of the Schooner Pearl. Boston: Bela Marsh, 1853. Small octavo (4-1/2 by 7-1/2 inches), original printed brown wrappers; pp. (ii), (1-5), 6-122. $3200.
First edition of Drayton's important Memoir documenting his bold yet failed 1848 attempt to rescue fugitive slave families by ship from Virginia to Philadelphia, a detailed record of his arrest, nearly 4-year imprisonment and the brutal sale of most of the fugitives back into slavery, including his prosecution in the courts by the son of Francis Scott Key, crucial in shifting the "Fugitive Slave Law onto the national agenda," with engraved frontispiece, especially rare in fragile original wrappers.
On the night of April 15, 1848, nearly 80 enslaved men, women and children "quietly slipped away from their quarters in Washington City, Georgetown and Alexandria" (Washington Post). Earlier Daniel Drayton, a white sea captain, had arrived on the Pearl, intending to secretly carry a small family of slaves on his return to Philadelphia. The unexpected and much larger number of slaves who met him at the Pearl were inspired by fugitives Daniel and Mary Bell, and aided by white abolitionists William Chaplin and Gerrit Smith. Drayton and Edmund Sayres, the white owner of the Pearl, planned to sail along the Chesapeake to Philadelphia, but escape was slowed by tides. Seized by a posse that returned them to Washington, the fugitives, Drayton and Sayres "were marched through the streets to… screams for a mass lynching" (Delbanco, War Before the War, 214). About 50 of the slaves were quickly herded to an auction house and sent to the Lower South.
Drayton's Personal Memoir and his dramatic account of the Pearl "opens a window into the waterborne Underground Railroad" (Sinha, Slave's Cause, 401). The book is pivotal, as well, in revealing "how the antislavery movement used the trial of one man to attack the system of slavery… in great detail he explains how he was treated with unnecessary harshness after his arrest… [and] quotes speeches by Southern senators and congressman… to show the hypocrisy of slaveholding in a 'free country'… Drayton's Memoir also contains much of the testimony and legal arguments from his trials. It includes the speeches of the attorneys, the charge of the judge, and the kind of testimony presented. The material was not published in any other form and is useful background and supplementary information to his reported appeal, Drayton v. United States" (Finkelman, 181; emphasis added).
Drayton was swiftly "indicted on 41 separate counts of stealing slaves… [and] 74 separate counts of helping slaves to escape… the many indictments were designed to ensure conviction and maximum punishment." He was convicted of larceny in two trials, sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined; Sayres was acquitted of larceny but also fined as he "pled guilty to 74 indictments for transporting the slaves… [he] appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court, which overturned his conviction… despite this reversal, the district attorney again brought him to trial on the larceny charge." Although again acquitted, both Drayton and Sayres were in prison throughout, unable to pay the exorbitant fines. It was only through the intervention of Sumner, Seward and others, that President Fillmore pardoned them in 1852 (Finkelman, 180-81).
The Pearl ignited a "sectional controversy in Congress just as debate over the western expansion of slavery… was heating up. It helped to push the abolition of the slave trade in the District and a new Fugitive Slave Law onto the national agenda… The prosecutor in the case against Drayton and Sayres was Philip Barton Key, the son of Francis Scott Key, continuing the family tradition of prosecuting abolitionists… On Drayton's release he joined the abolitionist circuit but was severely debilitated by his long imprisonment. He committed suicide in 1857" (Sinha, 402-4). First edition, first printing: with "1853" on front wrapper, title page, copyright page. Blockson 9838. (1855 2nd edition) Sabin 20912, Work, 337.
Text quite fresh with small bit of soiling to frontispiece; trace of edge-wear, faint soiling to fragile wrappers. A near-fine copy, highly elusive in original wrappers.