Subscribers, Lithographers, and “Chiefs”: Reading Mckenney and Hall’s History of the Indian Tribes of North America in the Plantation South, 1836–44

Friday, January 5, 2018: 3:30 PM
Thurgood Marshall East (Marriott Wardman Park)
Julia Grummitt, Princeton University
At the time of its publication, McKenney and Hall’s History of the Indian Tribes of North

America was the largest color-illustrated book that had been printed in the United States. A

commercial production that emerged from a government-sponsored project, the book’s 120

lithographed portraits of “chiefs, warriors and other personages of distinction” were based on

paintings commissioned by the federal government in the course of diplomatic and treaty

negotiations with Native American delegates who visited Washington, D.C. Meticulously

reproduced as hand-colored prints in leading Philadelphia lithographic studios of the day, the

book of portraits was marketed to potential subscribers as an enduring monument both to the

continent’s “vanishing race” and to the United States’ emerging mechanical arts.

While the History’s initial subscribers were predominantly drawn from northern cities including

Philadelphia and New York, by the time the book’s final plates were issued in 1844 the project’s

subscription base had shifted decisively south to New Orleans, Mobile and Charleston, which

operated as major distribution centers for the book into the private and state libraries of the

plantation South. Examining published and unpublished versions of the book’s subscription list, I

explore McKenney and Hall’s southern networks of subscribers and agents, considering how the

business of nineteenth-century subscription bookselling intersected with the politics and economy of

slavery. At a moment when fears about sectional crisis loomed, what prompted elite Southerners

to subscribe so overwhelmingly to a project that linked Northern industrialization and federal

governance? What is the significance of the book’s racialized images of Native American bodies

when viewed from the slave world of the plantation South?

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