History Mystery: Rare Book on Slavery Found in WNY Home

6:56 PM, Mar 29, 2013   |    comments
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TOWN OF BATAVIA, NY - "I don't want to open it up and ruin it any more than we possibly have to," said Larry Abaire, as he gingerly held an historic find made by a friend of his installing insulation in an old farm house in a rural section of Genesee County.

It was a hard cover book, published in 1835 and titled "Letters to the Hon. William Jay: Being a Reply to His Inquiry Into the American Colonization and American Anti-Slavery Societies".

Abaire's friend (who wished not to be identified or have the location of the home revealed) made the discovery beneath the floorboards in the attic.

"To me its history and it should be looked at and put where it belongs," Abaire said.

With the blessing of his friend who found the book, Abaire took it to historians for the Town of Batavia who were nothing short of delighted to see it.

"I am thrilled to death to find something that dates back to 1835, ....this is just amazing," said Town of Batavia Historian Berneda Scoins, as she clutched the 178 year old book while standing in the Peace Garden outside the Holland Land Company Office and Museum on Main Street in the city of Batavia.

"I'm even nervous about touching it because you have to handle these things quite carefully," she said.

"We've got some real interesting reading ahead of us," remarked Town of Batavia Co-Historian Barb Toal. "It's like putting together a puzzle....it's lots of fun."

From the bit of preliminary research we were able to do on Friday, it turns out the book was quite controversial when first published, as it had to do with a hotly debated issue in American society at the time: the abolition of slavery, which would eventually propel the nation into civil war.

The book by David M. Reese, M.D. in part advocated the return of freed slaves to Africa, amid a conclusion that whites and freed blacks could not live together in American society

It also turns out that scholars of the abolitionist movement are still seeking out the book, so much so that it was re-introduced into print five years ago.

However, the publishers of modern day versions sometimes note that, because originals are so hard to find intact, there are likely parts missing from the re-prints available for sale today.

This makes the 1835 version discovered quite by accident in Genesee County even more special to history buffs, as appears to contain every page, and every controversial passage.

"That's very unusual," said Toal. "You can read almost every word and every page appears to be there. There's only some minor damage to what appears to be a full version."

"There's a lot of history being destroyed nowadays and I like old things," said Abaire. "To some people it is junk or debris...well, it's not debris. It is history... somebody's life that happened years ago, and a lot of it can tell stories still."

Toal says it is not unusual to find treasures behind walls and floorboard of older homes---and she should know. She is a master plumber by trade, and has discovered some neat stuff in her time.

"It's really a fun thing to find those things...it's like a treasure hunt every day," she said.

Click on the video player to see the book, when you watch our story from 2 On Your Side reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Bob Mancuso. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2

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