"THE MOST DARING, LEGENDARY, AND COURAGEOUS CONDUCTOR ON THE… 'UNDERGROUND RAILROAD'": FIRST EDITION OF THE FIRST BOOK ON THE LIFE OF HARRIET TUBMAN, BRADFORD'S SCENES IN THE LIFE, 1869, WITH FRONTISPIECE PORTRAIT OF TUBMAN, IN ORIGINAL GILT-STAMPED CLOTH
(TUBMAN, Harriet) BRADFORD, Sarah H. Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman. Auburn: W.J. Moses, 1869. Small octavo (5 by 7-1/4 inches), original gilt-stamped russet cloth. $7800.
First edition of the groundbreaking first book on the life of Harriet Tubman—"a major watershed in the evolution of the Tubman legend… the principal textual source for information about Tubman for more than a quarter-century"(Sernett)—featuring interviews with Tubman, testimonials and reportage of her bravery in the Underground Railroad, and as a scout and spy in the Civil War, where she "became the first woman to lead a military expedition in an American war" (ANB), with famed woodcut-engraved frontispiece of Tubman with rifle in hand, in original cloth.
"Harriet Tubman was the most daring, legendary, and courageous conductor on the human network of self-freed blacks called the 'Underground Railroad.' A Civil War freedom fighter and woman suffrage advocate, African Americans called Tubman 'Moses" (ANB). Born a slave, Tubman escaped to became a leader in the Underground Railroad, braving "unimaginable dangers to assist some 70 escaping slaves to freedom in the North… During the Civil War Tubman shifted her efforts to serving the Union Army… and later served as an armed scout and spy. Tubman's involvement as a soldier was even more impressive. Guiding federal troops up the Combahee River, she led an armed expedition to capture plantations in South Carolina and… became the first woman to lead a military expedition in an American war. After the Civil War Tubman retired to the family home in Auburn, New York" (McGowan, Harriet Tubman, xiii).
Soon after settling in Auburn, Tubman met Sarah Bradford, whose Scenes in the Life, the first book on Tubman's life, "is a major watershed in the evolution of the Tubman legend… Until Tubman sat down with Bradford after the Civil War… interest in the childhood of the woman who became the 'Black Moses' lagged behind stories about her Underground Railroad heroics and Civil War experiences" (Sernett, Harriett Tubman, 4, 14-15). Scenes is substantially "based on Bradford's interviews with Tubman in 1868… Later biographers of Tubman are all to a greater or lesser degree dependent on the Bradford book" (Humez, Harriet Tubman, 147). Bradford especially emphasizes "Tubman's dual importance as both an Underground Railroad agent and an early women's rights advocate. The biography was heavily supplemented with testimonials of Harriet's reformer friends and with newspaper accounts of her daring rescues" (McGowan, xiii-xiv). This work brings to light many aspects of Tubman's life not present in a brief 1863 article in the Boston Commonwealth and an 1865 sketch in the Freedman's Record. "Scenes served as the principal textual source for information about Tubman for more than a quarter-century." A January 9, 1869 promotional notice the book stated: "Mrs. Sarah H. Bradford, of Geneva, N.Y., has made quite an interesting memoir of this devoted woman… the proceeds of which go to her support, she being now very old and quite infirm" (Sernett, 107).
On Tubman's death, "her last rites were military and presided over by a representative of Auburn's Grand Army of the Republic" (ANB). "Original copies of Scenes in the Life are now valuable commodities among dealers in antiquarian materials." With woodcut-engraved frontispiece portrait of Tubman with her rifle: Darby's image of Tubman "has long been fixed in the public mind as emblematic of Tubman as a freedom fighter. Samuel H. Adams, Sarah Bradford's nephew, heard Tubman speak of the woodcut likeness of her in her scout uniform many times. 'She was inordinately proud of that woodcut'" (Sernett, 107, 75). With: Appendix; "Essay on Woman-Whipping"; "List of Subscribers to the Publishing Fund." Bound without separate title page of Essay on Woman-Whipping as in copies at University of North Carolina, Wellesley and elsewhere. Blockson 3950. Work, 476.
Interior fresh with only light scattered foxing, minimal edge-wear mainly to spine ends of bright gilt cloth. A near-fine copy, highly desirable in unrestored original cloth.