"CROSSED THE CATTARAUGUS CREEK ON THE ICE, CARRYING JIM AND HIS COMPANIONS TOWARDS CANADA": FIRST EDITION OF PETTIT'S SKETCHES IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD, 1879, IN ORIGINAL WRAPPERS
PETTIT, Eber M. Sketches in the History of the Underground Railroad, Comprising Many Thrilling Incidents of the Escape of Fugitives from Slavery, and the Perils of Those Who Aided Them. Fredonia, N.Y.: W. McKinstry & Son, 1879. Octavo, original printed pale red wrappers, original stitching. $6800.
First edition of Pettit's vital early record of the Underground Railroad, dedicated to Frederick Douglass for "his great service in behalf of an afflicted and despised People," featuring numerous dramatic accounts of fugitive slaves, rare in fragile original wrappers.
Eber Moffat Pettit was superintendent of the Pennsylvania-New York routes of the Underground Railroad, and kept a station in Versailles, New York. Often his father James Pettit, who operated a station near Fredonia, "sent fugitives on to Eber… he forwarded his charges to a conductor he simply called 'Friend Andrew,' who… put them on a boat for Canada across the Niagara River" (Switala, Underground Railroad, 136). His Sketches of the Underground Railroad features dramatic accounts of fugitive slaves such as Margaret, who was born during the Middle Passage and fled a brutal overseer with her newborn child. Another tells the struggle of Cassey, hunted across several states by an agent who made runaway slaves "a profitable business." It was only when "the rebels fired on our flag" that she found a safe haven. Pettit also recalls a fugitive named Jim, who said of his fellow slaves: "We think Nat Turner was a good man, but he couldn't do much to make us all free, though he scared the white folks awfully. Then they hung Nat Turner."
Pettit first wrote these "sketches about the Underground Railroad for the Fredonia newspaper, the Censor, in 1868, at the request of its owner, Willard McKinstry, President of the Fredonia Historical Society. McKinstry collected them and published them as Pettit's book. It was dedicated to Frederick Douglass, who said of Pettit that he 'was one who stood by me and aided me in the publication of my paper in Rochester'" (Calarco, People of the Underground Railroad). First edition, first printing: as issued without frontispiece portrait found in same year's cloth edition; no priority established. Introduction by McKinstry. Appendix with a printing of "John Brown in Kansas," an essay on Frederick Douglass, and an article from a November 1868 issue of the Fredonia Censor on the Underground Railroad. Blockson 9966. Howes P271. Work, 338.
Text very fresh with faint soiling to preliminaries. Fragile original wrappers with some expert reinforcement to edges; marginal dampstaining and light edge-wear. A rare, very good copy of a seminal work.