1820s Letters to Quaker Minister Hannah Barnard from Samuel Preston - Discusses Abolition and Relates Anecdotes of Benjamin Franklin, Elias Hicks, Benjamin Lay, and More

1820s Letters to Quaker Minister Hannah Barnard from Samuel Preston - Discusses Abolition and Relates Anecdotes of Benjamin Franklin, Elias Hicks, Benjamin Lay, and More
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Description: This fascinating collection of ten letters spread over five years - 1820 to 1825 - are all from Samuel Preston to Quaker Minister Hannah Barnard. Preston seems to have been quite an opinionated man and a rather loquacious storyteller. The collection is informed by Preston's background as a Philadelphia man, farmer, land agent, disowned Quaker, pacifist, and ardent abolitionist. The people mentioned in his letters are something of a "Who's Who" of late 18th and early 19th century Quakers (on both sides of the Hicksite/Orthodox schism), pacifists, and abolitionists, and include most prominently Benjamin Lay, Elias Hicks, and Benjamin Franklin, with additional anecdotes and references to Joshua Hooper, Edwin Atlee, Anna Braithwaite, Noah Worcester, William Penn, J.S. Billings, John Mortimer, and Martha Smith, among others.
 
The earliest letter in the collection is from May 1820, and focuses primarily on the hard times Preston and his friends and neighbors are experiencing in the young nation's first financial depression, literature that Preston has read, and Noah Worcester and his "The Friend of Peace" periodical. The second letter takes a turn for the philosophical and ethical, quoting a theory that eating meat is the first step of the mind toward war and murder and discussing the principle of unalterable fore-ordination in religion, as it relates to war and peace.
 
The November 1821 letter remarks that military ardor is on the wither in Pennsylvania. Preston muses on the topics of what history can teach of war before delving into the Greek War for Independence and the theory that those aiding the Greeks were all in it for the money to be had, rather than any ethical reason.
Preston's June 1822 letter is more personal; after an update on a number of personal matters, he recounts stories passed down through his family - how his great-grandfather arrived with William Penn, and Penn gave him land. Some of the land was donated to the Quakers; Preston is incensed that those Meetings want to rent cellar space to merchants. He also tells of his grandmother living with local Native Americans for a time, and his uncle interpreting for a Quaker preacher who worked among them.
 
The next letter is dated May 1824. Preston relates a number of anecdotes regarding Elias Hicks, whom he clearly admired; many were passed along by Preston's brother, Paul. A leading Elder apparently tried to "explain" Hick's criticisms of a Meeting's Select Members; Hicks, appalled at the arrogance, gave that Elder a dressing down next. Hicks preached to all classes and it was said he could "preach his way through fire." Preston annotated Hicks' "Theological Mill" for Sister Barnard as part of this letter.
Someone anonymously sent Preston a controversial pamphlet regarding Hicks; in his letter of December 1824, Preston compares Hicks and other contemporary ministers to the apostles. He goes on to recount the drama surrounding Hicks and Anna Braithwaite, and makes mention of Hicks' letter to Dr. Atlee, whom Preston knew well and whom he describes at some length. Preston discusses the controversial belief that the Spirit of Truth is superior to the Scriptures at some length.
 
In July 1825, Preston wrote to Barnard to request any information she could provide on correspondents of his, including J.S. Billings, an advocate for Hicks; John Mortimer, a Philadelphia printer and author; and Martha Smith - a Hicksite preacher so popular her Meeting's attempts to disown her were unsuccessful. He also references "canal mania" - he was called on to provide an expert opinion on the Pennsylvania canal system creating a tunnel under Allegany Mountain - he thought it both ridiculous and dangerous. A few days later he began again, with the news that Joshua Hooper, a "street preacher," had passed away. This brings him back to his younger days in Philadelphia, and he regales Barnard with a number of tales of Benjamin Franklin - he describes him as a slob and a mad cat lover who lay about all day in a warm bath, paying little attention to his duties as President of Pennsylvania - except for ending slavery. Benjamin Lay was apparently the "wisest, best man" Franklin ever knew, with Joshua Hooper next in line.
Another July 1825 letter tells the biography of Benjamin Lay, and delivers a number of anecdotes told to Preston by Franklin, including letting mice and rats loose in a Nicholas Austin - local slaveholder's - barn, chastising the Governor in French (after said Governor had been a snob and assumed Lay could not speak the language), and the most infamous of all - bringing blood out of a bible to terrify the slaveholding/anti-abolitionist public at Meeting.
In August 1825, Preston jumped right back in to telling stories of Benjamin Lay, with great detail of the bloody bible and a tale of how he stuck it to a priest who wanted to school him in theology. He tells of Lay's many charitable acts, including leaving in his Will (apparently written and executed by Benjamin Franklin), a relatively large sum of money to be used in creating a school for black children. He also tells of a not-so-charitable act - Lay supposedly caused slaveholder Nicholas Austin's home to be haunted.
Later in August 1825, Preston wrote more about Franklin, including his goals and efforts with regard to abolition and creating a world peace. He also describes how the English and French ambassadors played a "trick" on Franklin in Paris, and that his arrival back in Philadelphia was met with bells ringing and great rejoicing. He goes back to Lay and Franklin together, then ends with a postscript including that Franklin approved of Lay's stunt with the bible, saying it "had better effect than a year's preaching."
Hannah Barnard (1754-1825) was a Quaker minister from Hudson, New York, though she was censured ("silenced") in 1801 while on a lengthy visit to England for questioning the divine authorship of the Old Testament (she felt the vengeful, violent God of those books was at odds with the loving God of the New Testament and with Quaker Pacifism). She was subsequently disowned by her hometown Meeting.
 
Samuel Preston (1756-1834) was a surveyor, business agent, land supervisor, Postmaster, Judge, and more, and was among the founders of the town of Stockport, Pennsylvania. He was also a Quaker, though he lost standing with the Friends by marrying his wife "out of meeting."
 
Written on 26 sheets of plain writing paper, both recto and verso (though one sheet separated at a fold and only half is present). Seven sheets have integral address leaves with free franks of Preston as Postmaster and wax seals. The paper generally measures approximately 13" x 8" though there is slight variation through the years. Item #AM00176.
 
Condition: Letters are currently stored chronologically in a binder, in clear, oversized plastic sleeves. Toning and light soil to all. Some have separation at one or more of the fold lines. Chipping at the perimeters, some have minimal paper loss. Three of the letters are unfortunately incomplete, missing at least one page at the end. Water stain on some pages; it does not affect readability at all.