North Americana

Maury A. Bromsen collected North Americana as well as Latin Americana. Here exhibited are ten examples of his comprehensive interests in the future United States and Canada, ranging in time from 1690 through 1805, and in space from Texas through Nova Scotia. The first item displayed, a 1690 manuscript, recounts the murder of the well known French explorer La Salle in 1687. This bizarre incident in the early history of the Southeast would subsequently become the subject matter of the celebrated drama Mila ou La mort de La Salle (1852) by the nineteenth-century French playwright Charles Oscar Duqué (1821–1872). Other manuscripts include a contemporary account of the first marriage of the future Dolly Madison, and an insurance policy issued in 1793 to Dutith, Wachsmuth & Company, one of the major merchant firms of Philadelphia during the late eighteenth century and throughout most of the nineteenth.

The 1744 Instructions to ministers reminds us that few ministers and preachers in the colonies and the mother country, regardless of their status as dissenters, were tolerant of the opinion of others. The Baptist John Allen’s inflammatory 1773 tract on The essential rights of the Americans, on the other hand, exemplifies the historical thesis that the population at large may have been more revolutionary in its thinking than the founding fathers. Other writers were not above plagiarism, including Joseph Willard (1738–1804), a future president of Harvard, who apparently was responsible for the pirated Ames’s almanack for 1766. The newspapers of yesteryear were as crisis driven in their lead stories as the media of today. The Salem gazette of Oct. 17, 1797, opens with an account of yellow fever, then raging on the east coast. The Nova-Scotia magazine of the 1780s and 1790s, on the other hand, adopted a loftier tone, focusing on literature and politics, including the perennial issue of the relationship of Church and State.

La Salle


Relation de la mort du Sr. De LaSalle. ([Louisiana, 1690]). Ms.

This is one of the earliest accounts, if not the earliest, of the French explorer Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle’s death at the hands of his own men on the banks of one of the branches of the Trinity River in what is now Texas in March, 1687. La Salle (1648–1687) had been attempting to find the mouth of the Mississippi. Some earlier scholars maintained that he had already discovered the upper reaches of the Mississippi, thus anticipating the discovery of Marquette and Joliet, but more recent research suggests that this was not the case. Of La Salle it has been said, that he “was of a shy, proud, and reserved nature, beloved by a few intimates, and greatly liked and respected by the Indians, but awakening neither enthusiasm or affection in those under his command.” According to the account at hand, La Salle was murdered by his own men in revenge for the death of one of their party, for which La Salle was blamed, rightly or wrongly, and because they wanted his money and trade goods.



Instructions to ministers: in three parts. (London, 1744). [B07-208]

This vade mecum for Christian ministers, not all copies of which are bound in the same order, consists of: John Jennings, Two discourses: the first, Of preaching Christ; the second, Of particular and experimental preaching, originally published in 1736; Augustus Hermannus Franck, A letter to a friend concerning the most useful way of preaching, also originally published in 1736; and David Jennings, An abridgement of the life of the late reverend and learned Dr. Cotton Mather, of Boston in New- England as taken from his son Samuel Mather’s account. John and his younger brother David Jennings were dissenting ministers and tutors. John (d. 1723) was considered by his contemporaries to have been a “gentleman of great learning, piety, and usefulness.” Paradoxically, David (1691–1792) was intolerant of whatever he considered heterodoxy.

Ames's almanac


Ames’s almanack revived and improved: Or, An astronomical diary, for the year of our Lord Christ 1766. (Boston, [1765]). [B07-622]

“Calculated for the meridian of Boston in New-England ... Containing, eclipses; ephemeris; aspects; Spring-tides; weather, fests and fasts of the Church; courts in Massachusett Bay, New-Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island ...” This is not a true “Ames’s almanac,” but a pirated edition. It was probably compiled by Joseph Willard (1738–1804), subsequently president of Harvard College. This almanac was rushed into print to avoid the infamous Stamp Act, effective 1 Nov. 1765:  “Price Before the Stamp Act takes Place Half-a-Dollar per Dozen, and 6 Coppers single. After the Act takes Places, more than double that Price.”

John Allen


Allen, John, fl. 1741–1774. An oration, upon the beauties of liberty, or The essential rights of the Americans. Third ed. corrected. (New London, 1773). [B07-345]

This inflammatory political pamphlet was one of the best-selling tracts of the pre-Revolutionary crisis. It appeared in seven editions in four cities between 1773 and 1775. Its author was an obscure Baptist minister who abandoned Britain for Boston in the early 1770s, having run afoul of the law in the mother country. Apparently he was not above forgery and counterfeiting. In An oration, upon the beauties of liberty, the Reverend Allen threw caution to the winds. He denounced the rights of George III and of Parliament over Americans. In their place he proposed an American parliament that should “enjoy every power and priviledge [sic] the English Parliament enjoys.”



Massachusetts. Constitutional Convention (1777–1778). A Constitution and form of government for the State of Massachusetts-Bay. Agreed upon by the Convention of said state, February 28, 1778. (Boston, 1778). [B07-607]

Although the JCB already held a copy of this proposed but never adopted constitution, it was incomplete. Now the JCB holds a complete copy, courtesy of Maury A. Bromsen. This exemplar is addressed “To the SELECTMEN of Ipswich” and has a hole in the upper left hand corner as though it had been attached by string to a pole to prevent it from being removed. Given the poor quality of paper upon which the proposed Constitution was printed, it is not surprising that only a handful of intact copies have survived.

Sarah Parker


[A letter of December 7, 1789, from Sarah Parker of Philadelphia to her friend Eliza Brooke of Montgomery County, Maryland, describing the forthcoming marriage of Dolly Payne to John Todd]. Ms.

One of the few contemporary accounts of the first marriage of Dolly Madison née Payne (1768–1849) that have survived. Dolly married John Todd on January 27, 1790. He died a few years thereafter, on October 24, 1793, during an outbreak of yellow fever. Less than a year later (September 15, 1794) the future queen of Washington society, married her second and far better known husband, president-to-be James Madison. The accompanying engraving of “D[olly] P[ayne] Madison” was done by J.F.E. Prud’homme (1800–1892), from a drawing by J. Herring.

Wharton & Lewis


Wharton & Lewis, Insurance Brokers. Whereas E[squir]es Dutith & Wachsmuth as well in their own Name, as for and in the Name and Names of all and every other person. ([Philadelphia, 179-]). [B07-744]

Merchants and shippers have been taking out insurance policies for hundreds of years. This “blank form” insured Dutith, Wachsmuth & Company, a major merchant firm of Philadelphia (1765–1890?), against losses on a shipment aboard the Delaware en route from Cape François (now Cap Haïtien) in Hispaniola to Philadelphia. North American shipping in the late eighteenth century was subject not only to losses from adverse weather and pirates but also to seizure by British ships. The amount of insurance came to 1,500 pounds, covered in various amounts by ten different assurers. It is dated Philadelphia 19 Feb. 1793. Not surprisingly, this contract contains exceptions and exemptions to which insurance companies were as wont then as now. Such contracts are important sources for the study of the commercial and financial practices of the past.

Salem Gazette


The Salem gazette. Vol. XI. Numb. 647. Tuesday, October 17, 1797. [B07-620]

Maury A. Bromsen cast his net far and wide, acquiring isolated issues as well as runs of North and South American newspapers, one of which is this Salem Gazette from October 17, 1797. The lead article is an unsigned discussion of yellow fever. Although largely ignored by historians, 1797 and 1798 were bleak years in the epidemiological history of the United States.Yellow fever ran rampant in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and many smaller ports in between. This disease did not kill all that many people, but it was so ferocious and poorly understood that it struck fear throughout the population of the eastern seaboard.

Francois Andres Michaux  


Michaux, François Andrés. Travels to the westward of the Allegany Mountains, in the States of the Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, in the year 1802. (London, 1805). [B07-618]

François Andrés Michaux (1770–1855) was a French botanist and the author of the celebrated Histoire des arbres forestiers de l’Amérique septentrionale, published in three volumes in Paris between 1810 and 1813. In this abbreviated English version of his Voyage à l’ouest des monts Alléghanys (Paris, 1804), Michaux discourses on the flora and fauna and the state of agriculture in Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. In this copy the frontispiece depicts “Rencounter [sic] with a Rattle Snake on the banks of the Ohio” in place of the map of Canada and the “Western” United States that appears in the majority of copies.

Nova-Scotia Magazine


The Nova-Scotia magazine and comprehensive review of literature, politics and news. (Halifax, 1790). Vol. II. For January, February, March, April, May, and June, 1790. [B07-149]

The subtitle “Being a collection of the most valuable articles which appear in the periodical publications of Great-Britain, Ireland and America; with various pieces in verse and prose never before published” belies the importance and downplays the originality of this magazine. It represents what Nova Scotians of the late eighteenth century tended to read and to write and, therefore, the extent to which they were literate and abreast of the literature of the time. See, for example, what the Right Reverend Charles, the first Bishop of Nova Scotia, had to say to the clergy of the Province of Quebec upon the occasion of his “primary visitation.”

    Exhibition prepared by Michael T. Hamerly.
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