From the Archive: The Athenæum Librarian, the Freed Slave, and “Our Friend A.L.”
The Athenæum Librarian, the Freed Slave, and “Our Friend A.L.”
On Saturday morning September 16, 1865, The Republic, a Richmond Virginia newspaper, published this advertisement:
“Files of ‘The Republic’ and all other Richmond papers from April 1 to August 1, 1865. Parties having a file of any newspaper, or a collection of books or pamphlets, printed at the South during the war, may find sale for them by sending description and price to the librarian of the Boston Athenæum.”
Fourteen letters of response to Poole’s advertisement reside in the Archive. One in particular, dated September 22, stands out, that of Richard Kennard of Petersburg, VA who had bought his freedom in 1858. Kennard did not tell Poole that he was a free slave in the letter. Poole found out, quite accidentally, when he attended a talk given by Rev. Dudley who had visited Petersburg and met Kennard when he mistook his grocery store for an eatery.
Poole wrote Kennard on October 30 and informed him that the library’s run of The Republic was complete but other papers were also sought. Poole mentioned his meeting with Dudley. Poole was an Abolitionist and his sympathetic sentiment was clear in his brief comments to Kennard that “colored men” should have the same rights as whites, should be free all over, as in Massachusetts. “Just drop me a line if you have time…., ” Poole concluded. Poole’s consideration inspired Kennard to reply:
“PS: …I received this morning your second kind letter and you will see by the date of the above that I had postponed the answer to your first but fearing that I might be troublesome is why I did not mail it—I know not how to express my self to you a stranger to me for such kind expressions… . To make this communication a little more interesting as you are so kind I will send you a very short history of my self & life. I was born in Petersburg augt 24th 1824 my mother a colored woman and a slave tho my father a white man and very rich whose name I take the privilege to call my own… . …hoping every day to have something good to us from President Johnson – as we have lost our friend A. L.”
With this correspondence, initiated by the newspaper advertisement, one can see the day-to-day operations of the Library acquiring a Civil War collection—but the day-to-day becomes extraordinary. The experience of reading these letters brings one close to knowing the individuals who were essential to creating the Civil War collection that the Library houses today. You may see the advertisement and the Richard Kennard and William Fredrick Poole’s letters below.
If you would like to see any of these items in person, please request a research appointment.
Carolle R. Morini
Caroline D. Bain Archivist, Reference Librarian
1865 September 22, Letter to William Fredrick Poole from Richard Kennard, in response to the advertisement above. Boston Athenӕum Archive
1865 October 30, Letter to Richard Kennard from William Fredrick Poole. Boston Athenӕum Archive
1865 October 3 & November 8, Letter to William Fredrick Poole from Richard Kennard. Boston Athenӕum Archive
Credit for images: Advertisement,The Republic, (September 16, 1865); Masthead, The Republic (September 16, 1865); Two letters by Kennard from: Boston Athenæum Letters (1806–1887) B.A. 22, Box 12, Vols. 23-24; and Poole’s letter to Kennard from: Letters Out Volume (copies of letters he wrote).
(photographs by Carolle R. Morini, 2013).