Monday, May 18, 2015

A Treasure Rediscovered

As a cataloger at the State Library of Massachusetts, I work with all sorts of interesting library materials, including not only books and journals, but also items in special formats such as maps, broadsides, and electronic publications. Recently, as part of a project to convert the library’s card catalog to our online catalog, I have been working with rare books in the library’s Special Collections Department. In the process of recataloging these antiquarian books, I have been rediscovering the treasures within the library’s collection.

One such treasure came as a bit of a surprise—while recataloging the book The Life of the Late Gen. William Eaton, published in 1813 in Brookfield, Massachusetts, I found a letter that had been pasted into the book in front of the title page. Still bearing traces of its wax seal, the letter is signed by General Eaton and is dated “Tunis 25 Sep. 1799.”

According to the subtitle of this biography, General William Eaton was “several years an officer in the United States' Army, Consul at the regency of Tunis on the coast of Barbary, and Commander of the Christian and other forces that marched from Egypt through the Desert of Barca, in 1805, and conquered the city of Derne, which led to the treaty of peace between the United States and the regency of Tripoli.” In addition to the role he played in the First Barbary War, General Eaton also served one term in the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1807-1808).

The letter is addressed to James L. Cathcart, Esq., American Consul, Tripoli. The “prominent facts” related by General Eaton in the letter concern the activities of the United States Navy in and around Tunis in the years 1798 and 1799 as well as prominent political and religious figures in the country. The text of the letter reads as follows:


This moment I recieve dispatches from Consul General OBrien—but have not time to detail the news—the most prominent facts are—

“The Heroe put into the west Indies and will refit and proceed to Algiers.”

“The Sophia was in Lisbon on the 23d June and would sail in a few days.”

“Mr. Smith is appointed Envoy to the Grand-Signor—and will soon be in this see—”

“Captain Truxtun of the Constellation has taken a French 44—”

“The Hassen Bashaw is taken by the French within the jurisdictional line of Cadis—the crew in chains—the Dey demands indemnity of the Spaniards.”

“Capn Cathcarts dispatches of the 7 July are received and his bills honored—all his requisitions shall be answered in due time—”

When I have more leisure you shall have more particulars—

                                                                                                        from your obed serv                                                                                                                                  Wm Eaton

Laura Schaub
Cataloging Librarian