Hawks, Francis Lister
Autograph Letter Signed, Pensacola, Florida, September 1, 1846, to Rev. William F. Walker, Chicago

quarto, two pages, plus stamp-less address leaf, in very good, clean and legible condition.

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Hawks, writes from Florida, after successfully defending himself from defamatory charges about his private life and finances, which had driven him to the South from a New York pulpit, where he was the highest paid clergyman in America. Hawks here ironically offers advice on the correct procedure for the canonical “trial” of a clergyman accused of “suspicious circumstances”, whether or not “malicious and unfounded”. He concludes that, with “kindness and regard for a brother’s character and feelings” the accused should have a chance to offer explanations of his conduct that his accusers should “rejoice” if those explanations proved satisfactory.

 

         Hawks himself had been dogged by such accusations during his brilliant career as an Episcopal priest. Born in North Carolina, he had been a lawyer and politician before being ordained a priest, serving in Connecticut and New York City, where he was widely acclaimed for the “glorious” oratory of his sermons. At the same time he began to write church history, his researches taking him to London, where he met John Lloyd Stephens, whom he encouraged to write his now classic travel books on South American archaeology. Hawks himself also published pseudonymous children’s books, including a biography of Daniel Boone, and helped found several magazines. But then, in the 1830s, his troubles began. Accused of “sexual affairs” and financial mismanagement, he fled from New York disgrace, first to the Mississippi frontier, then to Louisiana, where he was living when he wrote this letter while on a jaunt to Florida. The following year, he became the first President of the university now called Tulane, redeeming his respectability enough to return to New York, where in 1856 he co-authored and edited the famous travel account for which he is now most often remembered – Commodore Matthew Perry’s Narrative of the Expedition, which led to the “opening” of Japan to the West. He died in 1866.

Despite a life of considerable accomplishment, no biography of Hawks has been written, perhaps because there is no comprehensive collection of his papers, only scattered archives held by the University of North Carolina, the University of Virginia, and the New York Historical Society. Hawks’ letters rarely appear for sale in the antiquarian market.