at the moment, i am working on a more satisfactory version of my nathaniel peabody rogers book. i was going too fast last spring. it was filled with typos, and i am still struggling to get the details right on createspace. also, i am adding a number of rogers' essays to make a somewhat more substantial volume. anyway, i am struck over and over again by how radical rogers was in how many dimensions: astonishing for an american newspaper editor in the 1840s. here is a slice from something that will be in the new version.
Bursting of the Paixhan Gun
Herald of Freedom March 15, 1844, Writings p. 375
On February 28, 1844 in the harbor at Alexandria, Virginia, President John Tyler was touring the newly commissioned USS Princeton when one of its long guns, "The Peacemaker," exploded. Tyler himself was below deck and was unharmed, but six people died: David Gardner (Tyler's prospective father-in-law); Thomas Gilmer (Secretary of the Navy); Beverly Kennon (the Navy's chief of construction), Virgil Maxcy (ambassador to Belgium), Abel Upshur (the Secretary of State), and Armistead (President Tyler's valet and slave). Rogers' take on these events is remarkable.
The reader has heard, by this time, of the terrible catastrophe on board the nation's War-Steamer Princeton, where five of our governmental chieftains were struck down at once by the exploded fragments of a great death-engine - intended by them for the destruction of others. They were practicing with it and amusing themselves with exhibitions of its hideous power. Five chieftains and a slave killed: John Tyler's slave. The bursting of the Paixhan gun has emancipated him - and left his owner behind. How busy death has been on every side of that owner, since he was thrown up into power by the fermentation of 1840! Above him and below him in place, 'the insatiate archer' (as poetry has called a dull genius, that never shot an arrow in his life), has brought down the tall men, and left him standing like an ungleaned stalk in a harvested corn-field. He seems to have been the subject of a passover.
I saw account of the burial of those slaughtered politicians. The hearses passed along, of Upshur, Gilmer, Kennon, Maxcy, and Gardner, but the dead slave, who fell in company with them on the deck of the Princeton was not there. He was held their equal by the impartial gun-burst, but not allowed by the bereaved nation a share in the funeral. The five chiefs were borne pompously to the grave, under palls attended by rival expectants of the places they filled before they fell (not those they now fill), but the poor slave was left by the nation to find his way thither as he might, or to tarry above ground. Out upon their funeral and upon the paltry procession that went in its train. Why didn't they inquire for the body of the other man who fell on that deck!
And why hasn't the nation inquired, and its press? I saw account of the scene in a barbarian print called the Boston Atlas, and it was dumb on the absence of that body, as if no such man had fallen. Why, I demand in the name of human nature, was that sixth man of the game brought down by that great shot left unburied and above ground? For there is no account yet, that his body has been allowed the rites of sepultre. What ailed him, that he was not buried? Wasn't he dead? Wasn't he killed as dead as Upshur and Gilmer? And didn't the same explosion kill him? And won't his corpse decay, like theirs? Don't it want burying as much? Did they throw it overboard from the deck of the steamer to feed the fishes? What have they done with it! Six men were slain by the bursting of that gun and but five were borne along in that funeral train. Where have they left the sixth? Could they remember their miserable color-phobia at an hour like this?
Did the corses of those mangled and slaughtered secretaries revolt at the companionship of their fellow-slain and demur at being seen going with him to the grave? If not, what ailed the black man, I ask again, who died on the steamer with Abel Upshur and Thomas Gilmer, that he couldn't be buried? Are they cannibals, at that government seat, and have they otherwise disposed of that corpse? For what would not they do to a lifeless body who would enslave it when alive? I will not entertain the hideous conjecture, though they did enslave him in his life-time. But they didn't bury him, even as a slave.
They didn't assign him a jim-crow place in that solemn procession, that he might follow to wait upon his enslavers in the land of the spirits. They have gone there without slaves or waiters. Possibly John Tyler may have had a hole dug somewhere in the ground to tumble in his emancipated slave. Possibly not. Nobody knows, probably - nobody cares. They mentioned his death among the statistics of that deck, and that is the last we hear of the slave. His tyrants and enslavers are borne to their long home, with pomp and circumstance, and their mangled clay honored and lamented by a pious people. The poor black man: they enslaved and imbruted him all his life-time, and now he is dead they have, for aught appears, left him to decay and waste above ground. Let the civilized world take note of the circumstances.