PHILADELPHIA, the 1840s: a corrupt banker disowns his dissolute son, who then reappears as a hardened smuggler in the contraband slave trade. Another son, hidden from his father since birth and condemned as a former felon, falls in with a ferocious street gang led by his elder brother and his revenge-hungry comrade from Cuba. His adopted sister, a beautiful actress, is kidnapped, and her remorseful black captor becomes her savior as his tavern is engulfed in flames. Vendetta, gang violence, racial tensions, and international intrigue collide in an explosive novella based on the events leading up to an infamous 1849 Philadelphia race riot. The Killers takes the reader on a fast-paced journey from the hallowed halls of academia at Yale College to the dismal solitary cells of Eastern State Penitentiary and through southwest Philadelphia's community of free African Americans. Though the book's violence was ignited by the particulars of Philadelphia life and politics, the flames were fanned by nationwide anxieties about race, labor, immigration, and sexuality that emerged in the young republic.
Penned by fiery novelist, labor activist, and reformer George Lippard (1822-1854) and first serialized in 1849, The Killers was the work of a wildly popular writer who outsold Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne in his lifetime. Long out of print, the novella now appears in an edition supplemented with a brief biography of the author, an untangling of the book's complex textual history, and excerpts from related contemporaneous publications. Editors Matt Cohen and Edlie L. Wong set the scene of an antebellum Philadelphia rife with racial and class divisions, implicated in the international slave trade, and immersed in Cuban annexation schemes to frame this compact and compelling tale.
Serving up in a short form the same heady mix of sensational narrative, local color, and impassioned politics found in Lippard's sprawling The Quaker City, or The Monks of Monks Hall, The Killers is here brought back to lurid life.
Note on the Text The Killers: A Narrative of Real Life in Philadelphia, by a Member of the Philadelphia Bar
Appendix 1. Life and Adventures of Charles Anderson Chester
Appendix 2. Introduction to the Serialized Version of The Killers
Appendix 3. Related Contemporary Documents
Matt Cohen is an associate professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of The Networked Wilderness: Communicating in Early New England. Jeffrey Glover is an assistant professor of English at Loyola University Chicago and the author of Paper Sovereigns: Anglo-Native Treaties and the Law of Nations, 1604–1664.
Contributors: Ralph Bauer, Heidi Bohaker, Galen Brokaw, Jon Coleman, Jeffrey Glover, Peter Charles Hoffer, Andrew Newman, Birgit Brander Rasmussen, Richard Cullen Rath, Sarah Rivett, Gordon M. Sayre, and Germaine Warkentin.
Edlie L. Wong is an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland and author of Neither Fugitive Nor Free: Atlantic Slavery, Freedom Suits, and the Legal Culture of Travel (NYU Press, 2009) and co-editor of George Lippard’s The Killers.
"With its resonant social commentary, The Killers has assumed significance in recent American studies. But this engaging novel stands on its own as a portrait of city life, with special emphasis on the street gangs of Philadelphia's underworld."
~David S. Reynolds, CUNY Graduate Center