William Watt, The Principles of Christian Religion Explained (1731)

First published in 1699, the Principles of the Christian Religion Explained by William Wake (1657-1737), Archbishop of Canterbury from 1716, would become one of the most popular catechistical works of the period. About twenty editions were published through the eighteenth century, including in French translation, and editions continued to appear into the early decades of the nineteenth century. As the title-page inscription on this copy indicates, Catharine Clarke bought this fifth edition (1731) from Daniel Shatford on April 25, 1743, for four shillings and six pence. The evidence of date, price, and source of purchase usefully fills out the scene of acquisition. The primary missing component is place: but other inscriptions in the book suggest that Catharine Clarke and Daniel Shatford both lived in Colonial America and that the likely site for this transaction was New York City.

An inscription on the recto of the first free endpaper reads: “Lemuel Bingham His Book Novm.–11–1819 Bought by me in Boston about four years ago” followed by “4/6” or 4 shillings and six pence: Bingham evidently paid the same price for the book that Clarke had paid more than seventy years earlier. The “Boston” here is Boston, Massachusetts, not Boston, Lincolnshire: Lemuel Bingham (1795-1885) was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. A printer by trade, he remained in Massachusetts until 1820, when he moved to North Carolina to work as a newspaper editor; he would remain there until his death, eventually establishing newspapers in several towns in the state.[1]

A dated inscription by a different owner on the opening page of Watt’s dedication (A2r), “EC Edw Carnean’s 1805,” aligns with a Massachusetts provenance: an Edward Carnean was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts in 1775.[2]

Other early inscriptions on the second free endpaper feature names too common to be identifiable: “john burk is Book god giv em grace var in to Lo[ok]” (recto) and “Joseph Johnson His Book” (verso).

But the man from whom Catharine Clarke purchased the book is identifiable: Daniel Shatford was a merchant in New York City who appears in many mid-eighteenth-century records, including a legal case involving a “free Molatto woman” employed by Shatford who lived in the attic of his house and who committed suicide while incarcerated on suspicion of murdering her infant son.[3] Described in sources as a merchant, Shatford seems not to have been involved in the book trade: an account in the Rothschild archive in The National Archives details his receipt of a shipment of quicksilver, indigo, wood and turpentine.[4] Either he handled some books on the side as a component of his mercantile activities, or he sold the book to Catharine Clarke simply as a private owner selling a book to somebody he knew.

Catharine Clarke unfortunately is not yet identifiable: archival records reveal women of that name born in the first quarter of the eighteenth century in Boston and New York, as well as in smaller towns in Massachusetts. But here is always the hope that other books signed by her will show up and help narrow down the possible identifications.

Lemuel Bingham, likely the last in the chain of owners who left inscriptions in this book, turned the leaf after recording his ownership and added an admonition to book borrowers: “The pressent owner of this Book requests all those who may borrow it to read it through and then be carefull to return it Imediatly LB.” After a pause he continued, evidently feeling this request on its own insufficient to convey the strength of his opinions on the subject of unreturned books: “N.B. as the subscriber has lost many books, by lending them and not have them returned leads him to give this admonition hoping it may be attended to strictly Novm–11–1819 Lemuel Bingham.”

That the book was purchased at an estate auction in Massachusetts suggests, alas, that it may have slipped from Lemuel’s hands before he left (permanently) for North Carolina the year after he acquired it. The copy remains in its original plain coarse-grained leather binding, possibly sheep rather than calf, with old leather repairs to the spine, well used and a testament to the long-running popularity of Watt’s work.

Source: Book in private collection. All photos reproduced with permission.

[1] Dictionary of North Carolina online: https://www.ncpedia.org/biography/bingham-lemuel.

[2] Ancestrylibrary.com. The transcription of this record in the Ancestry Library database reads “Carmean” but the original document attached to the record reads “Carnean.” The inscription in this copy of Watt could read more conventionally as “Carman” rather than “Carnean,” but the spacing of the strokes suggests “ne” rather than “m.”

[3] See Max Speare, “Slavery, Surveillance, and Carceral Culture in Early New York City” (PhD diss. University of California, Irvine, 2022) 148-52. For other records that mention Shatford, including his marriage in 1735, see Ancestrylibrary.com.

[4] The National Archives (TNA): https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/97766e53-a92b-4ab2-9d98-7bf700ed9007


3 thoughts on “William Watt, The Principles of Christian Religion Explained (1731)

  1. Joseph Black

    Of course! Thank you, Kurtis. Since the price is attached to the Bingham inscription, it’s interesting that Bingham paid the identical price c.1815 that Clarke paid in 1743.


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