Special Collections: History of the Americas

Voyages of Discovery

The Garrett library is home to a choice collection of important early imprints relating to the discovery of the New World, and to the popular literature of travels and voyages more generally.  The New World collection begins, quite literally, at the beginning, in the form of one of the first printed versions (Basel, 1494) of Christopher Columbus’s famous letter to the Spanish finance minister of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, reporting on his discovery of the West Indies—one of the earliest of several thousand copies of the letter to appear in print in the earliest period of printing by moveable type, complete with the handsome woodcuts that appeared in the first illustrated edition of 1493.  Subsequent elaborations on Columbus’s reports appear in several editions of Peter Martyr, the official chronicler of the Spanish Council of the Indies, present in the first edition (Seville, 1511), accompanied by its famous map of the West Indies, one of the first ever printed.

Equally, if not more striking, is the Garrett copy of the posthumous collected 1533 edition of Peter Martyr’s famous Decades, his ten serialized composite reports on the four voyages of Columbus, as well as those of Martin Alonzo Pinzón, Alonso de Ojeda, Diego de Nicuesa, Vasco Núñez de Balboa,  Pedrarias Dávila and others.  What distinguishes this edition, perhaps above all others in the collection, is that it is signed and heavily annotated in manuscript by Richard Eden, the Tudor polymath who would introduce Martyr’s early accounts of the Spanish New World discovery to England for the first time, translating portions of it into the English vernacular. In addition to this marvellous treasure—made all the more so by its subsequent provenance, recorded in at least nine bookplates and ownership inscriptions from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries—the Garrett library holds the first two editions of Eden’s published translation of the Decades, both of 1555. The earlier of the two copies contains the exceptionally rare inserted letter of the Duke of Muscovy, Eden’s patron, making it one of the rarest and most valuable copies in the entire Garrett Library. With the added presence of the 1577 Richard Willes augmentation of Eden’s translation, and the recent addition to the collection of Matthew Lok’s 1612 completion of the Decades translation, as well as the Parisian Latin edition of 1587, the Garrett collection of Peter Martyr may arguably be described as the most extensive and important of its kind in the world.

Other important early imprints on the Americas in the Garrett library include Benedetto Bordone’s Isolario (Venice, 1565?), John Frampton’s Elizabethan translation of Nicolás Monardes’s Latin American herbal, Ioyfull Newes Out of the Newe Founde Worlde (London, 1577), and a remarkable suite of four separate illustrated editions of Thomas Hariot’s 1590 account of the Roanoke Colony, printed by the accomplished engraver and editor, Theodor de Bry. The Garrett Library holds all four editions, the original English, as well as in Latin, German, and French translations, the French appearing in an exquisite, early hand-colored state. A handsome sixteen-volume set of de Bry’s America (1590-1634) is present in the collection as well, alongside a number of important seventeenth-century English New World accounts by William Castell (1644) George Gardyner (1651), John Ogilby (1671), John Josselyn (1674), Nathaniel Crouch (1685), Samuel Clarke (1689), and others, amply representing the earliest period of British colonization along the eastern coast of North America. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century milestones are present as well, including Patrick Gass’s early account of the Lewis & Clark trans-American expedition, first published in 1807, as well as subsequent early editions describing the remarkable journey of the Corps of Discovery.

Colonial Period

Colonial and pre-revolutionary America are described in the Merchants' Collection, the John Weatherburn Papers, the Carroll Papers, the Greenway Papers, and the Documents of Confiscations of Loyalists Holdings.

The Garrett Library has a noteworthy collection of Americana, with nearly 100 books, pamphlets and broadsides, almost all of them published in London, Paris and other continental European printing centers during the seventeenth century. Included are the very first map dedicated entirely to Maryland, which appears in Lord Calvert’s A Relation of Maryland (1635), as well as seminal calls for the toleration of Roman Catholics and Catholic colonization in America.  Many of the works survive in but a handful of known editions, including the Garrett copy of the original 1632 printed Charter of Mary-Land.  For the published bibliography of the collection, see Elizabeth Baer (ed.), Seventeenth-Century Maryland: A Bibliography (Baltimore: The John Work Garrett Library, 1949).

Other early Americana in the wider collections of the Garrett Library include original seventeenth-century manuscripts of the Maryland Plantation, extremely rare American Revolutionary War broadsides, and what is believed to be the unique copy of the very first book printed in Baltimore, John Redick-Le-Man's A Detection of the Conduct and Proceedings of Messrs. Annan and Henderson (1765). The large majority of these seventeenth- and eighteenth-century American imprints were published in the middle Atlantic cities of Annapolis, Baltimore and Philadelphia, in addition to New York and Boston

The Garrett Library also has a collection of maps from the colonial era.


Revolutionary War

In 1937 Herbert Friedenwald, a Hopkins alumnus, gave the University his collection of books on the American Revolution and preceding events. The opinions of both sides are represented in this group of contemporary literature. Early editions of Thomas Paine's Common Sense include one published in 1776 in London, which left blank those passages that might have offended British readers. Samuel Johnson's Taxation No Tyranny, which he published anonymously in 1775, is also represented in the collection. Especially important are the Journals of the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1788. Besides the Friedenwald gift there is a group of pamphlets, books by and about Benjamin Franklin, and about fifty titles on George Washington, nearly all contemporary, including many of the funeral sermons and panegyrics that appeared after his death.

John Work Garrett's library has a fine manuscript collection of signers of the Declaration of Independence, as well as presidents of the United States. There are also letters written by members of the Continental Congress when it was meeting in Baltimore in 1777.

Abolition Movement

A particularly interesting group of rare pamphlets and periodicals is the anti-slavery collection of William Birney, a major general of Union volunteers in the Civil War. His father, James G. Birney, who was active in the abolition movement, began the collection, and William Birney was adding to it up to the time he presented it to Hopkins in 1891. One of the earliest items is Memorials Presented to the Congress of the United States . . . (Philadelphia, 1792) by members of several anti-slavery societies. One of the rarer is a partial run of the Genius of Universal Emancipation, published by Benjamin Lundy from 1821-1839. No complete set of this paper exists. The collection also includes reports of various colonization societies and about fifty bound volumes of controversial pamphlets, which extend from the eighteenth century through the Civil War to about 1868. The Birney Collection is supported with ephemeral literature and novels written to illustrate the differing views on slavery. A copy of the published guide to the collection is here.

The entire collection has been scanned and is available through the Internet Archive.

Civil War

A collection of more than 500 Civil War broadsides at the Garrett Library represent both Northern and Southern views. They are primarily political and military in their orientation. For the North, there are broadsides concerning soldiers and the draft, battles of the war, Abraham Lincoln as savior of the Union, Pro-McClellan political poetry for his presidential campaign in 1864, Northern sentiment and pro-Union propaganda. For the South, the collection covers the founding of the Confederate States of America, divided Baltimore, Southern military and political leaders, Abraham Lincoln as a tyrant and a traitor, and Southern sentiment and pro-Confederacy propaganda. Complementing the broadsides are the Garrett Library Collection of Civil War Pamphlets consisting of 102 volumes containing approximately 1,200 titles. The subject matters covered are very diverse and include southern school textbooks, battle reports (both official and personal narratives), military biographies, Confederate Army regulation and drill manuals, laws of the Confederate States of America, speeches in the United States Congress, and other topics. The Civil War collections which include sheet, prints, and envelopes are detailed in "Civil War Resources in Special Collections" available in the department (Spec.Coll.Ref E647.M5 1994). A pdf of this guide is linked in the column to the right.

The Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music includes sheet music and broadsides relating to the Civil War, with nearly 1,000 pieces published in the North and about 500 published in the South. A number of the pieces have decorative title pages, with pictures of generals and battles. Of interesting note are the first editions of "Dixie", "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", and "Maryland, My Maryland."

Manuscript collections related to the Civil War include the Confederate Naval Papers (MS 412), the Civil War Clippings Collection (MS 480), and correspondence in the Howard/Ridgely Family Papers and the Merryman/Crane Papers.

Twentieth Century

Two collections of Baltimore Sun cartoonists offer visual interpretations of local and national events.  The Edmund Duffy Cartoon Collection (CC 1) includes cartoons depicting the United States's relations with Europe, South America, Asia, and Africa as well as many cartoons relating to World War II and peace.  Duffy also covered domestic issues such as dissent and civil rights, local and national elections, taxes and fiscal issues, labor problems, and the Supreme Court. 

Tom Flannery Cartoons [1957-1967], (CC 2) cover topics such as foreign affairs, poverty, the space program, Congress, fiscal problems, politics, Vietnam war, dissent and civil rights, Cuba, Latin America, the Balkans, Greece, Africa, the Near East, Europe, the Orient, the South Pacific, Russia and her satellites, world problems, the United Nations and international meetings.

Useful Links

For more information check out these related guides:

Civil War Resources