03 February 2018

Thomas Sharp's Intellectual Books

Thomas Sharp, my great-great-great-grandfather (b 16 Feb 1808; d 9 Sept 1896, both in Salem, OH) was described as “a curmudgeonly agnostic abolitionist Quaker”[1] 

Thomas Sharp
Sarah Antrim
Married to Sarah Antrim in 1830, they had four daughters and one son.  My great-grandmother, Reba Baxter, was the daughter of their middle child, Elizabeth (“Lizzie”) Sharp and her husband, John Lendrum Baxter.

Thomas and Sarah became Hicksite Quakers, following the more restrictive doctrine (plain clothing and few personal niceties), which held that divinity is achieved through obedience to the “inner light”.  In fact, the doctrine rejected the virgin birth of Christ and held that Jesus was the son of God only in that he had achieved this harmony with his inner light.

One other aspect of the Hicksites was their fervent anti-slavery position.  The Sharp family was no exception: Thomas and his siblings were all outspoken abolitionists and he and several of his brothers became part of the Underground Railroad.

There is a tale of Thomas, when his house was being searched by a deputy sheriff’s men, following them around from room to room and muttering under his breath, “If my religion didn’t forbid me to swear, I’d curse thee, damn thee.”[2]

In his family history, to which I have made numerous earlier references, my cousin John Black cited this article about Thomas from the Salem Daily News just after Thomas’ 85th birthday:

In his religious opinions Mr. Sharp for many years has been an independent thinker.  “The world is his country” and to do good his religion.  All humanity are his recognized brothers and sisters; equal and exact justice his motto.  He considers an act of revenge as one of the instincts of the lower animals, therefore renders good for evil.  His church is the starry decked Heaven, his congregation all humanity.  His Bible is the great unwritten book of nature, and from its pages he has learned his lesson of wisdom and shaped his conduct accordingly.[3]

Reba Baxter Dirlam, my great-grandmother
(with Bruce) circa 1921
when the Huxley book was give to her
John Black annotates this paragraph with, “All this sounds impressive enough.  But in fact he was impatient with virtually everyone with whom he had to do, and was notoriously short-tempered and crotchety.”[4]

So, given his attitudes and disposition, it’s not surprising to hear that, “his library included the complete works of Thomas Paine, Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary, and Thomas Henry Huxley’s Man’s Place in Nature. On occasion he would ostentatiously read aloud from them.”[5]

When Thomas died, his son, Alonzo, gave those same volumes to my great-grandmother, Reba Baxter, commenting that Reba was the most intellectual of all of Thomas’ grandchildren.

Reba left these books to her son, Joel Dirlam, I inherited them from his estate and they are now in my possession.  They are:

The Political Writings of Thomas Paine in Two Volumes, published in Boston, MA by J P Mendum in 1859.  Each book is inscribed on the first flyleaf, “Thomas Sharp, Salem Ohio, Respects of J P Mendum, Boston, MA”; volume 1 is also notated on the inside front cover “See page 79,81, 144, 145, 186, 438”.

 The Theological Works of Thomas Paine, published in Boston, MA by J O Mendum, undated.  It is inscribed with the names “Thomas Sharp” on the second flyleaf and “Alonzo Sharp” on the inside front cover.

Evidence as to Man’s Place in Natureby Thomas Huxley, New York 1863
The Life of Thomas Paine, by G. Vale, published in New York in 1853.  It is inscribed “Thomas Sharp Salem Ohio 1867” opposite the title page  and “Thomas Sharp Salem Ont Co [Ontario County] Ohio 1867” in two places, on the first flyleaf and on the inside front cover.  Notations include “Dec 29 1867” on the title page and “1869 [less] 1817 [equals] 52” on the inside front cover.

Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature, by Thomas Huxley, published in New York in 1863.  Pasted in the inside front cover “Thomas Sharp, Salem, Ohio. Given by his son, Alonzo Sharp to Reba Baxter Dirlam. Christmas, 1921.”  Notations on flyleaf: “$1.50” “1st US precedes UK zoo”

The Philosophical Dictionary of M. de Voltaire, published by George H. Evans in New York in 1835. Flyleaves missing.  Notation on cover: “This book is not strictly orthodox, but it will pay to read it Thos Sharp January 1847”

[1] A History of the Family of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Blymyer Black, John Baxter Black, self-published 1995, p 108
[2] John Black, p 122-3; John Black attributes the story to a pamphlet written by my great-grandfather, H. Kenneth Dirlam, “The Underground Railroad in Richland County [Ohio]”.  Another version of the story, had the sheriffs arriving so early that Thomas invited them to breakfast.  Before they could eat, Thomas said a prayer and the prayer lasted so long that family members were able to spirit away the runaway slaves hiding in the barn.
[3] Salem, OH Daily News, Industrial Edition, April 27, 1893.
[4] John Black, p 119
[5] John Black, p 119

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