Nameplate of the Liberia Herald, vol. 1

Special Collections Relating to People of Color



PPL Special Collections are the result of over 140 years of collecting, but for much of that period the collecting was done by white collectors and librarians for a white audience and with white interests in mind. In the cases where material relating to people of color was added to the collection, that material often represented a white (and frequently racist) point of view.

This is an evolving guide to our collections and the material relating to people of color within them. As we survey our collections this list will grow, but it will always be just a partial guide, so please contact Special Collections for more information or to ask questions about our holdings. The statewide online library catalog and the Rhode Island Archival and Manuscript Collections Online (RIAMCO) website are also useful for locating items, although only a portion of the collection is cataloged there.

The guide is organized into the following categories:

  • Collections of particular interest
  • Materials produced by people of color
  • Materials about people of color

Major Collections of Interest

The Harris Collection on the Civil War & Slavery

The Harris Collection was initially formed in the 1860s by Caleb Fiske Harris, and it was purchased by the library in 1884. Although the bulk of the collection focuses on the Civil War period and 19th-century debates about slavery, it also includes pamphlets, books and ephemera documenting slavery in the 18th century and uprisings in places like Haiti and Jamaica. Individual collection guides are available for the manuscript collection (largely letters sent by soldiers during the Civil War) and ephemera collection.

The Nicholson Whaling Collection

At its height in the middle of the 19th century whaling was one of the largest industries in America, and in some ways it was a diverse one. The Nicholson Whaling Collection includes logbooks and documents of voyages made by black captains, scrimshaw produced by Inuit artists, and documentation of indigenous whalers.

Additional Resources:

  • Skip Finley, Whaling Captains of Color: America’s First Meritocracy (Naval Institute Press, 2020).

The Updike Collection on the History of Printing

The Updike Collection is international in scope, and in recent years the library has focused on adding more diverse materials to this collection. A separate subject guide to those materials is available.

Material Created By People of Color

This list is a work in process and currently represents only a small portion of the material in our collections created by people of color. Contact Special Collections for more information.

Item Identifier Notes Date
Manuscript whaling contract signed in 1723 by James Whood, an indigenous whaler in Plymouth. Mss 003-02-03, Subgroup 32, Vol. 006. 1723
Three Japanese kurohon These 18th-century illustrated books were created by woodblock printing. 1740s-
Jupiter Hammon. A Winter Piece (Hartford, Conn.: Printed for the author, 1782). 248.24 H225w SpecColF Hammon is considered the first published African-American poet. 1782
Phyllis Wheatley Peters. Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (London, 1783). 311 W557p SpecColF Case 1 1783
Liberia Herald, Vol. 1, No. 1 (March 6, 1830).  302.2322 L615L SpecColF This is the first newspaper published in Liberia. It was edited by John Brown Russwurm, who also cofounded Freedom’s Journal, the first newspaper owned and operated by African-Americans. 1830
Memoirs of Elleanor Eldridge (Providence: B.T. Albro, 1838). RIColl 92 E376m 1838
Journal of a whaling voyage mastered by Pardon Cook, in 1843 aboard the Juno. Wh J95 1843j A copy of the logbook is available through Internet Archive. Includes whale stamps and pasted clippings. Pardon Cook (born 1796) came from a family of whalemen. 1843
Sojourner Truth. Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave, Emancipated From Bodily Servitude by the State of New York, in 1828 (Boston: Printed for the author, 1850). 92 T8744g SpecColF 1850
Frederick Douglass. My Bondage and My Freedom. (New York: Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1855). 1855
Harriet E. Wilson. Our Nig, or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black: In a Two-Story White House (Boston: Printed by Geo. C. Rand & Avery, 1859) 825 W748o SpecColF First edition of the first novel published by an African American in the United States. 1859
Paul Du Chaillu. Explorations & Adventures in Equatorial Africa (London: J. Murray, 1861). 916.721 D826e SpecColl Du Chaillu, who is considered the first European explorer to relate an encounter with gorillas, hid his own Black heritage to avoid challenges to his scientific credibility. 1861
Logbook of a voyage mastered by Anthony P. Benton in 1881 aboard the Ohio and a logbook kept by Benton of an 1874 voyage aboard the Eunice H. Adams. Wh O37 1881L; Wh E88 1874L The logbook of the 1881 voyage of the Ohio includes an account of a crew member stabbing the second mate. 1874
Two journals kept by Samuel Mingo, a Narragansett whaleman, aboard the California and Andrew Hicks in 1879 and 1881. Wh A562 1879j; Wh C153 1881jm The 1879 logbook records approximately 25 folk songs, and was the basis for an important work on nautical shanties (Huntington, Songs the Whalemen Sang). It was reportedly found in a Martha’s Vineyard dump before Huntington encountered it in the 1950s, after which it was again lost for decades. The 1881 logbook includes sketches and whale stamps. 1879
Logbook, account books, and manuscripts for voyages mastered by Jasper M. Ears, in 1882 aboard the E. H. Hatfield and 1870 aboard the George J. Jones. Wh E114 1880L; Wh G3482 1870a vols 1 and 2; Mss 003-02-03, Subgroup 3 and Subgroup 13, Series 6-H. Jasper Ears took over as master of the E.H. Hatfield mid-voyage. 1880
Logbooks of whaling voyages mastered by a Black captain, William A. Martin, in 1887 aboard the Eunice H. Adams, together with manuscripts for the voyage. Martin also took over as master aboard the Emma Jane in 1883. Wh E88 1887L; Wh E88 1887a vol 1; Wh E88 1887a vol 2; Wh E545 1879a vol 2; Mss 003-02-03, Subgroup 1 and Subgroup 5 Martin was a whaler based out of Martha’s Vineyard. Digital copies of the logbooks are available through the Internet Archive. 1887
Logbooks and account books for a serious of voyages mastered by John T. Gonsalves between 1893 and 1922. Manuscripts for voyages aboard the Bertha and William A. Graber. Wh E88 1893L; Wh E38 1906L; Wh B538 1907L; Wh T111 1911L; Wh W716 1915a; Wh W716 1915L; Wh A1114 1919L; Wh A1114 1920a; Wh W716 1922L; Mss 003-02-03, Subgroup 13, Series 1-X and 13-I. Copies of the logbooks available through the Internet Archive. 1893
Three Chinese nianhua Contact Special Collections Nianhua, or New Years pictures, originally developed centuries ago as household decoration and a visual celebration of the transition from the old year into the new. They evolved in the 19th century to provide news. The three PPL copies relate incidents from the Boxer Uprising of 1900. 1900
Logbooks for a serious of voyages mastered by Joseph H. Senna between 1901 and 1919. Manuscript notes for a voyage aboard the Carleton Bell. Wh A229 1901L vol 1; Wh A229 1901L vol 2; Wh C281 1906L; Wh C281 1909L; Wh C281 1912L; Wh C281 1915L; Wh C615 1919L; Mss 003-02-03, Subgroup 13, Series 2-M 1901
Logbooks of two voyages mastered by Louis M. Lopes in 1915 and 1920 aboard the A.E. Whyland, A.M. Nicholson, and Cameo. Wh A1112 1915L; Wh C181 1920L 1915
Two Chinese woodblocks for printing. Contact Special Collections 1800s
Eight Japanese Kawaraban. Contact Special Collections These illustrated Japanese newsheets date from the middle of the 19th century. The subjects include: wrestling; Perry’s ships; gifts presented by Perry to the Japanese emperor; an elephant. 1800s
19th-century palm leaf manuscript in Pali. Contact Special Collections 1800s
Three 19th and early 20th-century Burmese tattoo manuscripts. Jeff Towns Collection on the History of Tattooing (Collection 105-02); Collection 101-2 Tattoo art has long been an important part of Burmese culture, and design books in this format, bound in accordion style, are typical in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 1880s
The Black Panther (volumes 5-10) BlaPan SpecColl Peri Folio The official newspaper of the Black Panther party was published from 1967-1980. At its height it circulated 250,000 copies a week. The PPL copies include the period from 1971-1973. Some issues lacking. 1971-1973

Material about People of Color

The items listed here are typically produced by authors, explorers and artists who may have been unfamiliar with their subjects, may have worked with limited information, or may have been motivated by factors other than a desire for accuracy.

Item Identifier Notes
Johann Ludwig Gottfried. Newe Welt vnd americanische Historien: inhaltende warhafftige vnd vollkommene Beschreibungen aller West-Indianischen Landschafften, Insulen (Franckfurt: Beu denen Merianische [Erben], 1655). 973.1 G685n SpecColl Quarto This single volume compenium of early illustations of the Americas includes early images of indigenous people produced by European explorers.
James Adair. The History of the American Indians. (London: Edward and Charles Dilly, 1775). 970.1 A19h SpecColl Quarto
William Bartram. Travels through North and South Carolina. (Dublin: for J. Moore, et al., 1793). 917.5 B294td SpecColl
Jonathan Carver. Three Years Travels throughout the Interior Parts of North-America… (Boston: John Russell for David West, 1797). 917.7 C331t SpecColl
William Hubbard. A Narrative of the Indian Wars in New England (Worcester: Daniel Greenleaf, 1801). 973.2 H876n4 SpecColl
Marcus Rainsford. An Historical Account of the Black Empire of Hayti: Comprehending a View of the Principal Transactions in the Revolution of Saint Domingo, With Its Antient and Modern State ([London] : James Cundee, 1805). 972.94 R158h SpecColF Quarto This is considered the first English narrative of the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804.
L.J. Clausson. Precis historique de la revolution de Saint-Domingue: Refutation de certains ouvrages publies sur les causes de cette revolution (Paris: Pillet aîné, 1819). 972.93 C616p SpecColF
James Buchanan. Sketches of the History, Manners and Customs of the North American Indians, with a Plan for their Melioration (New York: W. Boradaile, 1824). 970.1 B918s SpecColl
Antoine Métral. The Present State of Hayti (Paris: Fanjat aîné, 1825). 972.93 M594h SpecColF
James Franklin. The Present State of Hayti (Saint Domingo): With Remarks on Its Agriculture, Commerce, Laws, Religion, Finances, and Population, etc. etc. ([Place of publication not identified]: J. Murray, 1828). 972.94 F832p SpecColF
Jonathan Brown. The History and Present Condition of St. Domingo (Philadelphia: William Marshall and Co., 1837). 972.93 B878h v.2 SpecColl
Charles Augustus Murray. Travels in North America During the Years 1834, 1835, & 1836: Including a Summer Residence With the Pawnee Tribe of Indians (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1839). 917.3 M979t SpecColl v.1-2
Thomas McKenney and James Hall. History of the Indian Tribes of North America (Philadelphia: J.T. Bowen, 1848-50). 970.1 M155h SpecColl This is the quarto edition in three volumes, featuring hand-colored lithographic illustrations.
Alonzo Delano. Life on the Plains and among the Diggings (Auburn and Buffalo: Milner, Orton & Mulligan, 1854). 917.8 D337L SpecColl
William B. Parker. Notes Taken during the Expedition Commanded by Capt. R.B. Marcy (Philadelphia: Hayes & Zell, 1856). 917.86 P244n SpecColl The account of the Marcy expedition includes encounters with the indigenous people of Texas.
List of “Contrabands” Received On Board U. S. Gunboat Lafayette, Capt. H. Walke (manuscript, 1863). 973.7115 L161L SpecColF Quarto This logbook of the Union gunboat Lafayette was used to list enslaved people who escaped plantations in the south and made their way to the MIssissippi River, where they were taken aboard the Lafayette.
[Laurent Saint-Cricq]. A Journey across South America (London: Blackie, 1873). 918 S136j SpecColl