I first ran across the name of Erastus Elmer Barclay in an article in the American Collector entitled “Lurid Literature of the Last Century the Publications of E. E. Barclay,” by Thomas M. McDade. The rediscovery of Barclay, author and publisher, was made by Edmund Pearson who found a collection of pamphlets published by Barclay & Co., of Philadelphia from 1841 to 1880. These pamphlets were illustrated and purported to be true stories of murderers and female fiends, full of torture, murder and melerdrama, usually beginning on page 19, so a 64 page work was not all it was advertised to be.
His first title, authored and published in 1841 in New York, was “Narrative and Confessions of Lucretia P. Cannon Who Was Tried, Convicted and Sentenced To Be Hung at Georgetown, Delaware, with Two of Her Accomplices, Containing An Account of Some f the Most Horrible and Shocking Murders and Daring Robberies ever Committed by One of the Female Sex.” Said McDade:
“Barclay decked his books in bright-colored pictorial wrappers and included numerous full-page drawings to enliven, as if that were necessary, the already lurid text. In the 1860's, a few of his pamphlets appeared in multi-colored wrappers, looking like present day comic-strips, but he soon returned to his favorite single-color covers of yellow, purple, maroon or blue.”
One title was “The Pirate's Bride, or, the Wonderful Adventures of Miss Cordelia Thompson.” Most of the early stories were by Barclay himself and Charles Wesley Alexander, writing as “Wesley Bradshaw”. Charles Wesley Alexander was the originator (writing as Wesley Bradshaw) of the myth of Washington’s Vision. I found an interesting newspaper column by Wesley Bradshaw where he retells ‘Washington's Vision’ as ‘McLellan's Dream’, transferring the story to the Civil War.
Other publishers set up in competition including A. R. Orton, Philadelphia, T. B. Peterson & Co., Philadelphia, H. M. Rulison, Cincinnati, and C. W. Kenworthy of New York in the 1850's, followed during the Civil war by New York Publishing firms of Beadle & Adams, Dick & Fitzgerald, Robert M. De Witt, T. R. Dawley, Frederick A. Brady, George Munro & Co., and Norman L. Munro.
Barclay published “Mysteries” books such as “The Great Wrongs of the Shop-Girls. The Life and Persecutions of Miss Beatrice Claflin, how Miss Claflin became the White Slave in the Gilded Dry Goods Palace of a Merchant Prince.” He also reprinted city mysteries by George Lippard, a family friend.
During the Civil War Barclay turned from female murderesses to war-stories of female soldiers and spies, which gave plenty of scope for cross-dressing murderous women. One such was “The Lady Lieutenant; or, the Strange and Mysterious Adventures of Miss Madeleine Moore.” by Major W. D. Reynolds in 1862. Another, “Pauline of the Potomac; Or, General McClellan's Spy,” of 1862, was written by Alexander. Alexander went on to publish his own fiction, (one of his companies was the Old Franklin Publishing Co.,) with a sequel to “Pauline of the Potomac,” titled “Maud of the Mississippi, General Grant's Daring Spy.” The American News Co. published Alexander's 1865 book, “The Angel of the Battlefield: A Tale of the Rebellion.”
The Life of Anson Bunker: “The Bloody Hand” was published in 1875. E. E. Barclay published true confessions, true crime, Indian captivity narratives, joke, song and dream-books, until his death in 1888 at 67. His company was kept going until 1896.
McDade supplied a complete checklist of all known E. E. Barclay publications to The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
"Queer Books" Edmund Lester Pearson , Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press 1970, (original published1928)
“Lurid Literature of the Last Century the Publications of E. E. Barclay.” By Thomas M. McDade, originally appeared in “The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography,” Vol. LXXX, No. 4, October 1956.
“The Annals of Murders; a Bibliography of Books and Pamphlets on American Murders from Colonial Times to 1900” by Thomas M. McDade. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1961.
“The Imagined Civil War Popular Literature of the North and South, 1861-1865.” Alice Fahs, University of North Carolina Press. 2001.
Wesley Bradshaw texts at Wright American Fiction HERE
*Thanks to Joe Rainone for The Great Conspiracy (Booth-Lincoln) image. Also see Barclay's Jesse James