Lot 218    

Amos Riley Archive with Manuscript Pass Used by Josiah Henson, Beecher's Model for "Uncle Tom"
6/21/2013 - American History: Live Auction
Amos and Camden Riley Papers, 1827-1922, ca 75 items, including account book, two books.

Amos Riley is not a household name, but nearly every American in the 1850s knew him, or at least his fictionalized counterpart. Riley was known not for what he did, but whom he owned: a slave named Josiah Henson, the putative model for Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

Born into slavery in Maryland, Henson (1789-1883) was barely five when he was sold after his first master’s death, ending up eventually on the plantation of Isaac Riley, along with his mother. A convert to Christianity at 18, Henson acted as a lay Methodist preacher and saved up funds to purchase his freedom, but nothing was to come easy for him. Facing financial straits in 1825, Riley transferred Henson to his brother Amos in Kentucky, who according to Henson’s autobiography, accepted Henson’s saving as the price for freedom in 1829, but then reneged on the exchange. After finding that Riley was shipping him to New Orleans to be sold - a plan fortuitously delayed - Henson decided to escape. In 1830, he, his wife and four children crossed the Ohio River through Indiana and Ohio, via Buffalo, into freedom in Canada. There Henson established a settlement for self-liberated slaves called New Dawn in 1834 and became a prominent member of the black community in Canada, becoming known internationally as an abolitionist and preacher. His 1849 autobiography and encounter with Harriet Beecher Stowe led to his becoming the model for Uncle Tom in the best-selling antislavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

The Riley collection contains the documentary detritus from the Kentucky plantation owners, Amos Riley and his son Camden, spanning the years of the Civil War. Most significant among the documents are seven items relating to the Riley’s slaves:

Amos Riley DS, Aug. 23, 1827, pass to allow my man Si safe and unhindered passage to and from the Yellow Bank and my place at Yelvington to attend to the affairs of the plantation. Si is almost certainly Josiah Henson - in his autobiography, Henson records that he was called Si or Siah and lived with Amos Riley between 1825 and 1828;

Amos Riley DS with Ann Edwards, April 27, 1835: Riley relinquishes rights to an enslaved woman name Dorcas, retaining rights to an enslaved man Harry;

Bill of sale for enslaved man named Harry, 1835;

Contract for hire of a negro girl Susan one year, said Susan to be as well clothed as when she came to my house, 1846;

Receipt for $615 from Camden Riley for the sale of a negro Boy, apparently to settle a lawsuit, 1854;

Contract for hire of an enslaved boy for $130, with agreement to clothe and care, 1856;

Contract for hire of an enslaved boy for $140: I am also to furnish said boy with suitable clothing for the different seasons of the years to pay Doctors Bills & give him a Blanket, 1858.

The collection also includes a Riley family account and note book, 1837-1877; George W. Williams’ appointment as Circuit Court Judge, signed by Gov. Thomas E. Bramlette, August 1867; the acts of incorporation of Grassy Flat Drain Company; a printed military land warrant issued to Mary Brooks, widow of Pvt. Thomas Brooks, for his service in the Virginia Militia during the War of 1812, Jan. 3, 1860 (the land was in Missouri); and Camden Riley's Claim for repayment of a horse taken by Union cavalry troops and Oath of allegiance, Daviess County, Ky., 1866 (missing section of back leaf).

A few ephemeral items are worthy of notice as well, including a nice printed certificate for membership in the Dark Tobacco Growers Cooperative Association, 1922; a $25 share in the Daviess County Agricultural and Mechanic Society, ca 1855?; four receipts for freight shipped aboard steam packets (Memphis and Ohio River Packet Co., 1881; Louisville & Henderson U.S. Mail & Adams Express Packet, 1881; Cincinnati & New Orleans Packet, 1881; and Louisville and Evansville Mail Line, with vignette of steamboat, 1898); bill of sale of livestock, with illustrated head including vignette of cow, marked at bottom "Colored man," 1881; and two exceptionally early receipts for telephone service from the Owensboro Telephone Exchange, 1882, for the rental of "telephone instruments" ($3 for one month!). The latter two include a handsome engraving of an early telephone.

The photographs in the collection consist of three half-plate tintypes, one identified as Camden Riley (with his wife?), and one each of an unidentified man and woman; as well as a card-mounted photo of a well-dressed party of men and women aboard a small steam-powered flatboat, ca 1905.

Finally, the collection includes an 1879 copy of Henson’s highly popular narrative, Truth is Stranger Than Fiction: An Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson (Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom) From 1789 to 1879 (Boston: Russell, 1879); and a 1965 facsimile reprint of the edition of 1849. The 1879 is shaken, with loose signatures, but complete.

The exceptional rarity of documents associated with Josiah Henson and the hard-hearted slaveholders who held him need hardly be emphasized. The Riley collection is an historically significant reminder of slavery in the border states, but adding in the ties to the most popular novel of 19th century America and to the most discussed figure in antislavery fiction make this a rare opportunity.

Included are four books: An Autobiography of the Rev. Josiah Henson (Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom") From 1789 to 1879 with a Preface by Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Introductory Notes by Wendell Phillips and John G. Whittier, and an Appendix on the Exodus by Bishop Gilbert Haven, 1879 1st Edition, Boston, B.B. Russel & Co., 12mo in embossed red cloth boards, 336pp with frontis portrait of Henson; Father Henson's Story of His Own Life by Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1st Edition, 1858, Boston, John P. Jewett & Co. and Cleveland Henry P.B. Jewett, 12mo in embossed black cloth boards, 212pp, with frontis portrait of Henson; The Master - A Long Goodnight: The Story of Uncle Tom, A Historical Narrative, by Brion Gysin, 1946, New York, Creative Age Press, 12mo in black cloth boards, 276pp; and The Truth About the Man Behind the Book That Sparked the War Between the States, by Frances Cavanah, 1976, Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 8vo in brown cloth boards with d.j., 187pp.


Condition:  
Some wear to documents and starting at folds. 1st book moderate shelf wear and light even toning, VG; 2nd book as above with some light damp stains, VG-; 3rd book ex lib., repaired spine, heavy shelf wear, only G+; 4th book minor wear to d.j., else VG.
Sold: $7,637.50
Price includes
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