Boston College Libraries Faculty Newsletter



Charles Evans and Early American Imprints

In 1998 Edward Gorey told the Boston Globe: "I thought I'd be a librarian until I met some crazy ones." While I'm not sure that there's a higher incidence of craziness among librarians than among other professions, I've no doubt that some very singular and even fractious individuals are employed in librarianship. Not at BC, of course! Certainly, a particularly difficult librarian to work with, judging from his firings from numerous libraries, was Charles Evans who along with Melvil Dewey, creator of the Dewey Decimal Classification system, were the first two members of the American Library Association. There is little doubt that Evans was a challenging work colleague who was responsible for friction in most libraries in which he worked. In 1878 he was dismissed as librarian from Indianapolis's Public Library due to antagonistic relationships with the library staff. In 1886 he was asked to resign from the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore. A year later he was discharged from the Omaha Public Library. Then after taking up duties once more at Indianapolis Public Library, Evans was again dismissed in 1892. In 1895 he was fired from Chicago's Newberry Library. Six years later he was fired as librarian from the Chicago Historical Society due to turbulent relations with his superiors. This was his last spell working in a library. Yet in 1955 renowned bibliographer Clarence Brigham termed Evans, who had little formal education, "a great American scholar whose career is one of the most outstanding of modern times" and declared that his American Bibliography was "one of the greatest bibliographical compilations of all time." Brigham was referring to Evan's great work, a compilation of an annotated bibliography of all works published in the US to the year 1820.  This was entitled The American Bibliography: A Chronological Dictionary of All Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Publications Printed in the United States of America from the Genesis of Printing in 1639 Down to and Including the Year 1820, with Bibliographical and Biographical Notes. Though Evans's died before the bibliography's completion, he did succeed in bringing it up to the year 1800.

Most research libraries, including O'Neill Library, contain the 14 volumes of Evans's monumental bibliography. However, BC Libraries also has the online full-text version, Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans, 1639-1800. Based on Evans' American Bibliography and Roger Bristol's supplement, this database, commonly termed Evans I, contains the full-text of practically every book, pamphlet and broadside published in America up to the year 1800. The content includes advertisements, almanacs, bibles, broadsides, catalogs, charters, by-laws, contracts, state papers, presidential letters, congressional, state and territorial resolutions, cookbooks, elegies, eulogies, laws, maps, narratives, novels, operas, pamphlets, plays, poems, primers, sermons, songs, speeches, textbooks, tracts, travelogues, treaties, works of many European authors reprinted for the American public, among other materials. There are numerous options for searching the database. The primary ones are Genre, Subjects, Author, History of Printing, Place of Publication, and Language. There are about ninety headings under Genre, including "Academic dissertations," "Burlesques," "Hieroglyphic Bibles," "Novels," "Rebuses," "Treaties," and many others. One may also search by Subject, the primary ones being "Economics and Trade," "Government," "Health," "History," "Labor," "Languages," "Law and Crime," "Literature," "Military," "Peoples," "Philosophy," "Politics," "Religion," "Science and Technology," "Society, Manners and Customs," and "Theology." Each of these main subjects is also subdivided into numerous others. The contents of Evans I are also searchable by language, those represented being Algonquian, Dutch, English, French, German, Ancient Greek, Latin, Mohawk, Spanish, Swedish, Welsh.    

It's impossible in this short article other than to hint at the incredible riches that this database provides. We can access the first edition of William Hill Brown's The Power of Sympathy: or, The Triumph of Nature. Founded in Truth. Published in Boston in 1789 by Isaiah Thomas, this two volume epistolary work about tragic, incestuous love is generally considered the first American novel. The database contains numerous works pertaining to slavery and the slave trade. The advertisements for upcoming slave auctions are especially chilling. For example, there's the notice from Charlestown dated April 27, 1769: To be sold, on Wednesday the tenth day of May next, a choice cargo of two hundred & fifty Negroes: Arrived in the ship Countess of Sussex, Thomas Davies, master, directly from Gambia, by John Chapman, & Co. Slave ownership and the slave trade were extremely prevalent in New York in the early 18th Century. Still shaken by the 1712 New York City slave revolt, the authorities of that city in 1731 passed A law for regulating Negroes and slaves in the night time. If slaves broke the law, penalties were severe:

And be it further Ordained by the Authority aforesaid, That every Slave or Slaves that shall be Convicted of the Offence aforesaid, before he, she or they be discharged out of Custody, shall be Whipped at the Publick Whipping Post (not Exceeding Forty Lashes) if desired by the Master or Owner of such Slave or Slaves.

In 1692, Deodat Lawson, a former minister of Salem Village, published a firsthand account of the witchcraft proceedings he had witnessed in March and April of that year in Salem: A brief and true narrative of some remarkable passages relating to sundry persons afflicted by witchcraft, in Salem Village: which happened from the nineteenth of March, to the fifth of April, 1692. Undoubtedly relevant to today's political climate are the database's documents pertaining to the Boston Tea Party of 1773. Perhaps the song, Tea: Destroyed by Indians, if recorded by the right individual(s) would have a chance of being included in today's hit parade. One of the stanzas goes as follows:

Our LIBERTY, and LIFE is now invaded,
And FREEDOM's brightest CHARMS are darkly shaded:
But, we will STAND----and think it noble mirth,
To DART the man that dare oppress the Earth.

Three years earlier in 1770 occurred the Boston Massacre when British soldiers shot into a crowd of demonstrating Boston citizens. The following poem memorializes the shootings: A Poem, in memory of the (never to be forgotten) fifth of March, 1770. On the evening of which, a party of the 29th. regiment commanded by Capt. Preston, fired upon the inhabitants in King-Street, by which five persons were killed viz. Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, Crispus Attucks, and Patrick Carr. If space permitted, I could easily continue selecting resources from Evans I. Much better, however, is if you dip into the database yourself.

Evans I is one of the three full-text databases composing the portal America's Historical Imprints which is owned by BC Libraries. The other two are Early American Imprints, Series II: Shaw-Shoemaker, 1801-1819 and American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series I, 1760-1900. Evans I ends with the year 1800. American publications from the first nineteen years of the 19th century are covered in Early American Imprints, Series II which is based on Ralph R. Shaw's and Richard H. Shoemaker's American Bibliography, 1801-1819. Evans I and Early American Imprints, Series II combined amount to well over six million pages. American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series I, 1760-1900, the third database making up America's Historical Imprints, has about 15,000 broadsides printed between 1820 and 1900 and 15,000 pieces of ephemera printed between 1760 and 1900. The range of material is vast and includes tax bills, town meeting reports, song lyrics, advertisements for the theatre and musical programs, cartoons, temperance movement documentation, trading cards, restaurant menus, notices of slave auctions, stock certificates, campaign literature, publishers' prospectuses, dying confessions of convicted criminals, billheads, invitations, clipper ship sailing cards, Civil War envelopes among numerous other types of material.

Brendan Rapple
Collection Development Librarian