A SETTLER’S ESTIENNE
C. Plinii Seundi Novocomensis de uiris illustribus liber (with) Suetonii Tranquilli de claris grammaticis et rhetoribus liber (and) Iulii Obsequentis Prodigiorum liber imperfectus.
Paris, Robert Estienne, 1544
8vo. pp. 92 [xii] (interleaved with blank gatherings throughout ff [xvi] A8 [viii] B8 [viii] C8 [viii] D8 [viii] E8 [viii] F8 [viii] G4 [xxiv]). Roman and Italic type, t.p. with Estienne’s device, ms ex libris “J. Oldham Septem. 30 1627” on t.p. Remains of stubs, ms. annotation on some of the blanks, rear pastedown, and later ms ex libris on fly ”Guil Hen. Harris” of Corpus Christi College Cambridge (ca. 1702-6) “donum M[agister] Burrough”, probably Thomas Burrough of the same. Light age yellowing, t.p. a bit dusty, a nice well-margined copy in English calf c. 1600, gilt panels on covers, spine cracked at upper joint, gilt in eight compartments with floral devices, all edges speckled red.
An anonymous collection of short biographies of illustrious rulers from Roman history, ascribed to various writers of antiquity: Pliny the Younger (61-ca. 112 AD), Suetonius (70-130 AD), biographer Cornelius Nepos (110-25 BC), and Aurelius Victor (ca. 320-390), a later historian who wrote about the imperial history of Rome and served under Emperor Julian.
The “J. Oldham” ex libris (and matching marginal annotations throughout, including a recipe for broth scribbled onto the front fly leaf) is most probably John Oldham (1592?-1636), an early settler in North America. He was a controversial figure, linked with those ‘peculiars’ who migrated to the new world for economic rather than religious reasons, although he is described in William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation along with John Lyford as disruptive of colony life. The two were later thrown out of Plymouth for “disturbing the peace” – assembling a faction of Episcopalians (after the example set in the Virginia colony) in an attempt to reform local religion. Despite his unpopularity, Oldham made his fortune in coastal trade, and was well-known for maintaining relations with natives in the area. Eventually he made amends with the Plymouth colony, for whom he conveyed a ship to England in 1626. The dated inscription in this book, September 30 1627, is significant: it was during that time the Oldham was in London on business for the Plymouth Colony. While in England he purchased a five-mile tract of land by the Charles River from John Gorges – however his purchase was invalidated by the Massachusetts Bay Company who claimed ownership. After the dispute was settled (in the Company’s favour) in 1629 Oldham returned to the colonies, and between 1632-4 he served in the General Court of Massachusetts on behalf of the town of Watertown, where he had settled. It was during this time that he represented the people of Watertown during their resistance of ‘Taxation without Representation’ the first protest of its kind in the colonies over a century and a half before the American Revolution. (Bond cit. infr.) In 1634 he set out from Watertown to help establish the first English settlement in present-day Connecticut – Wethersfield.
Oldham’s sudden death in 1636 was no less full of adventure and intrigue as his life: during a voyage to Block Island to trade with the natives there, several Pequot warriors boarded his ship, killed its crew including Oldham, and looted its cargo. The Bay Colony sought revenge against the Pequots immediately, prompting the outbreak of the Pequot War (Oxford DNB).
Renouard 1544.27. Henry Bond, et al. Genealogies of the Families and Descendants of the Early Settlers of Watertown, Massachusettes. pp. 862-864.