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The Killers

A Narrative of Real Life in Philadelphia

By George Lippard. Edited by Matt Cohen and Edlie L. Wong

Publication Year: 2014

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 the 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 brought back to lurid life.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-42

Equal parts crime novella and city mystery, The Killers: A Narrative of Real Life in Philadelphia showcases the wide-ranging political interests and formal innovations of its author, Philadelphia writer, labor activist, and reformer George Lippard. Over the...

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Note on the Text

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pp. 43-44

In the absence of sales or distribution records, it is difficult to know which version of Lippard’s novella saw the largest circulation in its time. No manuscript of the work is known to exist. But because the text—originally in columns in the Saturday newspaper the...

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The Killers: A Narrative of Real Life in Philadelphia

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pp. 45-166

On a warm summer night, in the year 1846, two students of Yale College, were sitting alone, in their room, in the —— Hotel, well known to the people of the fair City of Elms.1 One of these young men was the son of a Philadelphia Merchant; the...

Appendix 1. Life and Adventures of Charles Anderson Chester

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pp. 167-212

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Appendix 2. Introduction to the Serialized Version of The Killers

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pp. 213-216

The Killers, when published serially in the story paper the Quaker City (edited by George Lippard), featured the following introduction, which did not appear in the subsequent stand-alone printings of the work. The text is taken from the copy of the Quaker City (December 1, 1849, p. 3) held at...

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Appendix 3. Related Contemporary Documents

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pp. 217-234

The California House Riot was widely covered in the periodical press, and in some cases at great length. Much of the coverage was based on or directly reprinted from Philadelphia newspaper sources such as the Public Ledger and the Inquirer. Included here are accounts from several periodicals from...


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pp. 335-242


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pp. 243-248

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pp. 249-250

The editors thank Caroline Winschel, Caroline Hayes, and Jerry Singerman at the University of Pennsylvania Press for their support of this project. We also thank Lara Langer Cohen and an anonymous reader for the press for suggestions that greatly...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812209969
E-ISBN-10: 0812209966
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812246247

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 11 illus.
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 886473025
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Killers

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Subject Headings

  • Riots -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia -- Fiction.
  • Philadelphia (Pa.) -- History -- 19th century -- Fiction.
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