The Liberator
Boston: 10 October 1856

'Incendiary' Bookselling at Mobile, and its Treatment.

Statement of the Expelled Booksellers, Messrs. Strickland & Co.

  Mr. Strickland, the Mobile bookseller, who was driven from that place by the howl of a mob, has published an account of the affair. It appears that his whole offence consisted of having in his store two copies of Frederick Douglass' Memoirs, one copy of the 'Autographs of Freedom,' and one of the 'Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin.' Those were all of these book he had ever had, and they had been in the store from one to three years. It appears also, that there was a plot to have these purchased in order to entrap him into trouble, Rev. Mr. Hawthorn of Mobile, being the principal conspirator. In connection with Mr. Strickland's statement is the following affidavit of Mr. F. C. Babcock, principal clerk and salesman of the firm:

  'I was in the employ of Strickland & Co., booksellers, Mobile, from Nov. 23, 1854, to July 12, 1856, in the capacity of salesman. During the period, but more especially during the last twelve months of my service, I generally wrote all the orders for books; and, when they arrived, it was my special duty to open them, compare them with the invoices, and mark the cost price in them.

  In the fall of 1856, several friends of the house called and wished to procure a copy of Fred. Douglass' Bondage and Freedom, then just announced. The question was canvassed as to the propriety of ordering a few copies. Mr. Strickland was appealed to, and replied we might order two copies, which was done. When they arrived, I placed one of them on Mr. Strickland's desk, and drew his attention to it. It laid there several days, and was eventually placed with the other copy on the shelves, with books of a similar size, in the rear of the store. No other copies of the work were ordered or received during my stay with the firm.

  When we took inventory of stock in June, 1856, the same two copies which were ordered as above, were then in the store, and were by me written in the inventory blotter; and from that blotter copied into the inventory book by Mr. Strickland. My position and duties in the house were such as to render impossible the introduction of any new books without my knowledge. My constant employment in the book department of their business necessarily rendered me more familiar with that class of their stock than either of my employers, or any clerk in the house.

  I took a complete list of their book stock in 1855, and also in 1856; and do positively state that the only books in their possession of any incendiary character during the whole period of my stay with them, was one copy of Autographs of Freedom, the two copies of FRED. DOUGLASS'S book, ordered in the fall of 1855, and one copy of the Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin; all of which books were, to the best of my knowledge and belief in their store when I left their employ on the 12th of July, 1856.

  My thorough knowledge of books and general intimacy with all books published in the United States, enable me to say that I know no other books than those above mentioned of an incendiary or abolition character were in their stock during my services.


  Sworn to before me, this 29th of August, 1856.

  FERNANDO WOOD, Mayor of the City of New York.'

  The 'Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin' was not sold, nor was it referred to in the investigation. The following are the circumstances connected with the sale of the two copies of Douglass' book, as stated by Strickland:

  'A New Orleans gentleman dropped into the store, wanting something to read as he went up river. In looking over the stock, he finds this copy of 'Douglass,' and remarks to my partner, 'Do they allow you to keep such stuff in your bookstores here?' His reply was, 'Not exactly, though people here claim the right to read pretty much what they please.' The gentleman replied, 'that such books would not be allowed in New Orleans.' As I was not present, I do not profess to give the literal words used, but I believe I give the spirit of the remarks. He bought some other book and left, and my partner replaced the book in the back part of our store. This gentleman traveled up the river with Rev. Mr. Hawthorne of Mobile, and told him he had seen such and such a book at Strickland's store. Rev. Mr. Hawthorne tells Col. Jones, whilst on a visit to his house, the same thing. The Colonel requests him, if such is the case, to buy one and send it to him. When Rev. Mr. Hawthorne returns to the city, he sends his son-in-law, Mr. Cragin, to buy the books. He buys two, (all we have,) takes one himself, and orders the other to be charged and sent to Col. Jones. I was not present at the time of the purchase.'

  The sale of the Autographs of Freedom, charged against Mr. Strickland, is also thus explained by his clerk, Mr. Phillips:

  'A young gentleman, who is clerk in Mr. Saloman's cigar store, stopped in front of the store, accompanied by a friend, and said to him, 'Come in, I want to buy some sabbath School book, and want you to help make the selection.' They entered the store, and were waited on by Mr. Upson, who met them at the front counter. The young man talked with Mr. Upson about the school books, whilst his friend went directly to the shelves beyond the middle of the store, took down a book, and handed it to me, and said, 'What is the price of that?' I replied, 'One dollar.' He said, 'I will take it.' I put our stamp in it, wrapped it up, and handed it to him; he paid me for it, and both gentlemen immediately left without purchasing any Sabbath-School books.'

  'I was introduced to the meeting at about 8 1-2 o'clock. There were in the room about thirty gentlemen—Mr. Boyles was chairman, and Mr. Daughdrill, secretary. Mr. Boyles produced the copy of Fred. Douglass' book, which had been purchased by Dr. Cragin.

  1. He asked me if I knew the book or had sold it?

  I replied it was sold by my partner to Dr. Cragin, (and detailed the the circumstance,) and that he had ordered a copy charged and mailed to Col. Jones.

  2. Do you know the character of that book?

  I know its character in the sense that I know its author, and know he is probably capable of writing but one kind of book. I am not aware I ever read a line in it or opened it.

  3. Would you have sold that book?

  Under the same circumstances I certainly should. Had any gentleman now in this room, or any other man in the community well known to me, inquired for that book, and it had been in my possession, I should most assuredly have sold it to him, presuming the use to which he would apply it was a good one.

  4. How did that book, or books, come into your possession?

  I do not now know: the fact can easily be determined to-morrow by reference to our orders or invoices; those two books have been in our possession over two, if not three years, as I can prove by these Inventories which I have brought with me.'

  Next followed an attempt by 'Judge Lesesne' to make it appear that he had lied, because he happened to say by mistake that the two copies of Douglass' book, instead of the 'Autographs of Freedom,' had been in his store two years. He goes on:

  'Mr. Boyles next produced the book, which had been purchased by Mr. Woodcock. My recollection of the questions regarding this book are:

  5. Did you sell this book?

  I detailed, in reply to this question, all I know about the books, precisely as I have above, about a friend calling and stating Mr. Woodcock had shown him the book, &c. &c.

  6. Who was that friend?

  I cannot tell you.

  7. Do you know the character of that book?

  I know its character only by my friend's description; to the best of my knowledge, I never saw the book before.

  8. Who sold the book?

  As my partner says he did not sell it, and as we are working light-handed, (two of our usual force being absent,) it must have been sold by our man Philip.

  9. Is he authorized by you to sell such books?

  He is authorized to sell anything in our store of which he knows the value.

  10. Would you have sold the book, Mr. Strickland?

  I would have scorned any such thing.

  I was informed by the chairman that he had no further questions to ask; I might retire.'

  Before retiring, he requested the privilege of saying a few words in his own behalf, and was permitted to do so. Being no more an abolitionist or anything of that sort than his accusers were, and not having dreamed of doing anything to cause such violent proceedings against him, he vainly hoped to persuade the committee to justice and fair dealing. He says:

  'I alluded to my having been a resident of Mobile some seventeen years—my early savings for years were invested in slaves. I then turned my attention to small investments in Real Estate, which was then at a very low ebb in Mobile. All I was worth in this shape, when my employer (James M. Sumwalt) died. I then I then went into business on my own account, and necessarily needed all my little capital in my business, and hence sold my slave property and real estate as soon as possible, and placed the proceeds in my business. My whole capital has ever since been in that business, for it has increased and extended beyond my most sanguine expectations.

  I alluded to the peculiar difficulties of conducting the book business—that, as a rule, we had simply the title of a book to guide us as to its character. Unquestionably we had, no doubt, sold many novels and other ephemeral books which may have contained Abolition sentiments. Whenever it came to our knowledge that any book on hand was not fitted to circulate at the South, such books were at once wrapped up for return. We often had books consigned to us which we never should have ordered: that in the hurry of business, such books could easily get sold innocently. I alluded to Uncle Tom's Cabin: we had utterly refused to sell it. We had two copies (I believe) sent to us, which were literally read to pieces, by being passed from friend to friend, whose curiosity had been excited, and I believe there were men then in the room who had read one of them. Had it occurred to me, I should have told them we ordered 50 copies of the cheap edition, several months after it was first published, which were presented by myself, gratis, to our friends from the interior, who were exceedingly anxious to get a copy, and who I presumed were such as would appreciate the compliment.

  The Committee have deeply censured me for not stating this fact to them, as they found the order for the fifty copies when they examined our papers. I should certainly have stated it, had it occurred to my mind whilst I was speaking. I would beg leave to state that my friend Mr. Randall says here, in New York, that he sold the Uncle Tom's Cabin freely. Rev. Mr. Milburn told me in presence of the Harpers, that he requested Mr. T. J. Carver to order a large number of copies, and that when they arrived, he sent members of his congregation and others to purchase them. They were sold as openly as any other book in nearly all our Southern cities.'

  His partner also was examined, at his request. But the black beast was roused, and its horrible roar grew louder and louder. The excitement became intense. Finally, Mr. Strickland, constrained by the urgency of his friends, fled from the city in a small sail-boat, went to Montgomery, and from that place to New York. Since he left, he has received the following letter from one of the Committee of Investigation:

'MOBILE, Saturday, Aug. 23, 1856.

  DEAR SIR: Your letter of the 18th, from Augusta, reached me to-day, and you will perhaps be surprised to learn that the tide has not changed any in your favor since your departure. I presume some of your friends have written you letters which will reach you before this.

  I was placed on the Committee of Investigation, and acted with no other view than that of doing you justice and keeping down mob law; for although you had acted indiscreetly, I did not believe, nor do I believe, that the idea ever entered your head of doing mischief by disseminating incendiary publications.

  The mob feeling was so strong against you the first night (although I myself saw nothing to criminate you) that it was with difficulty some of us could even get the meeting to consent to the appointment of a Committee of Investigation to inquire fully into the facts of the case.'

  All this was done, not in Rome, not in Naples, not in Austria, not in Spain under the old inquisition, but in a city of this Republic!