"THE FIRST SLAVE RESCUERS TO GAIN RENOWN AMONG ABOLITIONISTS": VERY SCARCE 1851 EDITION OF THOMPSON'S PRISON LIFE AND REFLECTIONS, WITH FAMOUS FRONTISPIECE ENGRAVING OF THE THREE ABOLITIONISTS CHAINED TO THE CELL WALL
(TWAIN, Mark) (SLAVERY) Thompson, George. Prison Life and Reflections; Or, A Narrative of the Arrest, Trial, Conviction, Imprisonment, Treatment, Observations, Reflections, and Deliverance of Work, Burr, and Thompson… For Attempting to Aid Some Slaves to Liberty. Three Parts in One Volume. Hartford: A. Work, 1851. Octavo, original blind-stamped brown cloth. $750.
1851 edition of Thompson's powerful account of "one of the first instances of whites putting their lives at risk to rescue slaves," chronicling the attempted rescue of slaves on the bank of the Mississippi, the trial of the three famed abolitionists convicted by a jury that included the father of Mark Twain with the young Twain said to be in attendance, featuring the frontispiece engraving of the three abolitionists chained in ankle irons in their cell, in original cloth.
In July 1841 minister George Thompson, co-founder of the Illinois State Anti-Slavery Society, Alonson Work of the Underground Railroad, and James E. Burr, became "the first slave rescuers to gain renown among abolitionists" (Harrold, Abolitionists and the South). Traveling to the Missouri side of the Mississippi River, where they attempted to help slaves cross into Illinois, they were betrayed and arrested. As lynch mobs formed outside the courthouse, the three men became "proof of the slaveholders' worst fears: abolitionist radicals from across the river would not be content to 'agitate' about slavery; they were ready to invade Missouri and steal slaves… Although there had been antislavery activity in Marion County, never before had white men been caught trying to free slaves" (Dempsy, Searching for Jim, 39-40). Their arrest, however, was legally precarious, for Missouri "had no law under which they could have been charged; false witnesses and a kangaroo court obtained the conviction" (Wolf 107).
The jury included John Clemens—Samuel Clemens' father. The young Twain is said to have "attended the trial, which he referred to in A Scrap of Curious History (1903)" (Snodgrass, Underground Railroad). Twain's father "was proud of his service on the jury at this dramatic trial… But if John Clemens had taken pride in his role in the trial, his son Sam, years later, would just as soon have forgotten it. When Missouri historian R.I. Holcombe wrote Twain in Hartford in 1883 requesting family recollections about the trial… Twain palmed the letter off on Orion," his brother (Fishkin, Lighting Out, 57). When the men were convicted and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor, the case was widely reported "as one of the first instances of whites putting their lives at risk to rescue slaves… Motivated largely by numerous petitions from the North and Britain and also from Marion County, Governor Edwards pardoned the abolitionists in 1846" (Dictionary of Missouri Biography, 743). Prison Life is "a unique compilation of letters, poems and journal extracts which exposed the treatment which slave sympathizers underwent… Thompson's last plea in this book was for others to use their pens and their tongues in 'opposing Slavery—the 'Mother of Abominations' in our land'" (Wolf 107). "Originally published in Oberlin, 1847" (Bibliography of the Negro, 339). Preceded by an 1848 New York edition and an 1849 Hartford edition. Copyright page stating: "Copyright transferred to Alonson Work." Blockson 9861. Owner signature. Early lending library bookplate, inkstamp to upper fore-edge.
Text fresh with only mild dampstaining at rear, front inner hinge expertly reinforced, handsome unrestored original clothlightly rubbed. A near-fine copy.