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Warner, Benjamin
Autograph Letter Signed Philadelphia, June 28, 1817, to Nathan Guilford, Corresponding Secretary, Western Emigrant Society, Cincinnati

quarto, one page, plus stamp-less address leaf, in very good, legible condition.

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Happily responding to Guilford’s offer of honorary membership in the Society:


“… Being convinced that a very imperfect knowledge is generally possessed by persons on the Seaboard Section of our country, in relation to their trans-mountain brethren and of their country, I rejoiced to find an association, instituted for the purpose of defusing information of the fairest portion of our favored land, and I cannot hesitate to believe but that great facilities will be derived by the enterprising emigrant to our shores who is seeking a peaceful asylum for himself and a secure and happy establishment for his posterity … it will give me pleasure to add any feeble assistance I can give in promoting the objects of its institution…”


Warner was a young Quaker bookseller and publisher of Philadelphia – he also had bookshops in Charleston and Richmond, Virginia, the latter managed by John Grigg, later founder of the Lippincott firm. As publisher, Warner’s notable imprints included an 1818 edition of the Federalist Papers, and, in 1820, possibly the earliest separately issued folding map of the United States to extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast, based upon cartographer John Melish’s classic 1819 wall map, as well as the “western detail” maps of Lewis and Clark, Humboldt and Pike. As such, it “galvanized geographic ideas” about “tenuously explored lands beyond the Rocky Mountains.”

The letter makes clear Warner’s abiding interest in American lands to the west – and sympathy for the courageous Emigrants who were then flowing westward. Perhaps Warner shared this interest with Melish in a friendship unrecorded by history. Two years later Melish published ‘Information and Advice to Emigrants to the United States, and from the Eastern to the Western States.” Their sympathies were controversial at the time, especially in Connecticut, whose retained “Western Reserve” lands extending across the northern part of present day Ohio, were the center of emigration. In 1817, residents of Connecticut, “highly wrought up over the emigration problem” exerted “every influence … to stem the ever growing outward tide of fortune seekers”, lured by “glowing descriptions of land speculators” who glossed over the dangers of floods and storms, and the fraudsters preying upon the innocence of the newcomers.


The Western Emigration Society, led by Nathan Guilford (later to be hailed as “father” of the Ohio public school system) was, in fact formed to provide both information and philanthropic support to emigrants, though Connecticut newspapers “exposed” the organization for promoting a “deplorable species of madness” in “unhealthy regions where men worked themselves into untimely graves”, unaware of the “burdensome privations of a land without churches, schools and roads.”


Guilford was indeed a very effective lobbyist for emigration to the West. The same month that he wrote Warner, he must have offered “honorary membership” to dozens of other Eastern notables, including then General Andrew Jackson. Those letters, and their congenial replies, appear in the Ohio Historical Society and other archival collections. Benjamin Warner’s response may have been one of the most interesting. Warner died prematurely three years later at the age of 35.