[BIOGRAPHY]. PHELPS, William D. Fore and Aft; Leaves from the Life of an Old Sailor. By “Webfoot.” Boston: Nichols & Hall, 1871. [i-ii] iii-vi, 7-359 [1, blank] pp., frontispiece & 3 plates after sketches by Hammatt Billings. 8vo (18 x 13 cm), original purple gilt-embossed cloth, spine gilt. Spine faded to brown, barely shelf-slanted, otherwise fine.
First edition. Cowan I, p. 77; II, p. 482: “[Phelps] was actively engaged in the ‘Commodore Jones war,’ as he terms it, and his various narratives are of great importance, although occasionally presenting minor inaccuracies. His chapter on ‘The Hudson’s Bay company’ is one of the few sources of information regarding the operations of this great corporation in California.” Garrett & Goodwin, p. 241. Graff 3271. Haferkorn, p. 73. Hamilton, Early American Book Illustrators 430. Howell 50:695: “Phelps arrived in California in 1840 where he was later an active participant in the hostilities of 1842 which he calls the ‘Commodore Jones War.’ He provides historically important information about California in the 1840’s, including a chapter on the activities of the Hudson Bay Company.” Howes P290: “Only a few copies had been issued when fire destroyed the plates.” Rocq 16006. Sabin 61399 (citing an edition of 1870, unnoted by others).
Phelps (1802-1875) had an exciting seafaring life, which he recounts cheerfully in this memoir penned after he retired to Lexington, Massachusetts. His experiences included long periods marooned on islands to hunt seals for a tyrannical skipper. In 1840 Phelps cruised the coast of California in command of the Alert, the same vessel in which Richard Henry Dana had sailed. Among the significant episodes covered are the Bear Flag Revolt, the Frémont-Castro clash, and U.S. takeover of California (pp. 277-321), in some of which he actively participated.