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The College of William & Mary owned over 4,000 books by 1793, making it the second largest collegiate library in the United States, behind only Harvard. These books came from a variety of different sources; however, only the titles of the most well known or ones that are currently extent are known today. All of these books were destroyed in the fires of 1705, 1859, and 1862, unless noted in the "Material in the Special Collections Research Center" section of this page.

Library prior to the 1705 fire

Nicholson Library

Francis Nicholson donated his library of over 200 books to the College of William & Mary in 1698, when he returned to Virginia to take over as governor. 158 of the over 200 books were listed by title. The Special Collections Research Center is currently attempting the recreate the Nicholson library and has acquired 135 of those titles. A list of the books in Nicholson's library can be found in The Early English colonies : a summary of the lecture.

Other books acquired prior to the 1705 fire

  • Entry in the building accounts forwarded by Sir Edmond Andros that notes 32/11/10 pounds for "books Mapps & papers as per Accot," 27 February 1697
  • Purchase made with funds from "Dr. Bray's Associates," titles unknown.
  • Books donated by Bishops Compton and Burnet, circa 1699
  • Paolo Sarpi's "History of the Council of Trent," donated by Captain Nicholas Humfrys, commander of the ship Hartwell, in 1703/1704. This work is the only work to survive the 1705 fire to the present. The book was donated to William & Mary by Captain Nicholas Humfrys, commander of the ship Hartwell, in 1703 or 1704 and is the only book from William & Mary's first library to survive the 1705 fire in the Wren Building. It likely went missing soon after the fire and was found well over two centuries later in 1942 at a World War II salvage drive in Bristol, England by the Bristol City Librarian, James Ross. Numerous theories have arisen on just how the book survived the flames and ended up in Bristol. The book was possibly stolen during the confusion caused by the fire or perhaps it had been checked out to a student or faculty member when the fire occurred. How it crossed the Atlantic is still unknown. The title page is marked with a book stamp from Homerton College, a Congregationalist institution situated at Hackney in London and organized in 1769.

Library acquisitions, 1705-1776

  • The College purchased the "Books & Globes belonging to the said Blackamore be valued and purchased for the use of the Colledge Library." Arthur Blackamore was master of the Grammar School from 1705 to 1716, and sold his books to pay for his debts where he left the College.
  • John Gibbon's "Introductio ad Latinam blasoniam." The copy in the Library of Congress bears an inscription that says that Gibbon donated another copy to the College of William & Mary in 1717.
  • 150 pounds were donated by Colonel Edward Hill of Shirley, circa 1720. The Board of Visitors decided that the money would be used "towards the better furnishing of the Library of the said College with Books."
  • 300 pounds were authorized for use from the Brafferton estate for the purchase of books by John Randolph, circa 1720s-1730s.
  • The General Assembly passed the "Act for the Better Support and Encouragement of the College of William & Mary in Virginia" in 1734, which included a duty of one penny on every gallon of rum, brandy, distilled spirits, and wine imported into the colony. Out of this money, 200 pounds per year were allocated to the College. The only book purchased from this fund to survive to the present is a copy of Pitt's translation of the Aeneid.
  • Archbishop Wake died in 1737, and left 50 pounds to the College to buy books. The money was used to buy "more useful books of Divinity" and not the classics.
  • Rev. Emanuel Jones, rector of Petsworth parish in Gloucester County, died in 1739 and donated his personal library. One book, EpiktÄ“tou Encheiridion, has survived to the present.
  • Governor Spotswood died in 1740, leaving his library to the College. Again, only one volume from this library has survived to the present: Piganiol de La Force's "Description des chateaux et parcs de Versailles, de Trianon, et de Marly."
  • James Blair died in 1743, and left his complete library as well as 500 pounds for the purchase of additional books. One book from this collection was Bryan Robinson's "Treatise of the animal oeconomy"; however, this volume is not held by the SCRC. The nature of Blair's bequest is suggested by his tombstone at Jamestown: "Collegio bene disversam bibliothecam fundaverat; Moriens bibliothecam suam ad alendum theologiae studiosum [et] juventutem pauperiorem instituendam testamento legavit": "He had a well varied library founded for the College. Dying, he bequeathed his own library by will for the purpose of informing students in Theology and instructing the poorer youth."
  • Entries from the College's Bursar's records include lines for the purchase of books from Williamsburg merchants.
  • Archbishop of Canterbury John Potter presented the works of St. John Chrysostom as well as his own "Clementis Alexandrini opera quae extant."
  • King George III donated a copy of the Authorized Version of the Bible to the College soon after ascending to the throne.
  • Mark Catesby donated a copy of his "Natural history of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands."
  • Governor Robert Dinwiddie donated a collection of books when he left to return to England in 1758. Two books have survived the fires of 1705, 1859, and 1862. They are Henry Grove's System of Moral Philosophy and Felix Anthony de Alvarado's "Diálogos ingléses, y españöles".
  • In 1747, John Sherwin donated Benjamin Hederick's "Graecum lexicon manuale" and Anthony a Wood's "Athenae Oxoniensis."
  • College presidents William and Thomas Dawson maintained active relationships with the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge. William Dawson indicated he received Thomas Wilson's "Essay towards an instruction for the Indians."
  • The Associates of Dr. Bray, a London Philanthropy, recorded as early as their 1762 Account gifts of books totaling £50; according to John C. Van Horne ("Religious Philanthropy and Colonial Slavery," p. 146) a folio volume presented to the College library bound together "A Course of Lectures upon the Church Catechism" (Oxford, editions from 1696), by the Rev. Thomas Bray; "Allen's Discourses," probably "A Discourse of Divine Assistance, and the Method Thereof" (London, 1693), by William Allen; and "The Practical Believer: or The Articles of the Apostles' Creed" (London, editions from 1688), by John Kettlewell. For the Bray School affiliated with the College from 1760, the Associates also sent a box of books related to the mission of the school, the Christian education of enslaved and free black children (for the titles, see Van Horne, p. 146). Also sent to the President of the College for distribution to slave owners resistant to Christianizing their slaves were five copies of "Mr. Bacons Sermons" (Van Horne, p. 145).
  • After the death of College president James Horrocks in 1771, the College purchased some material from his library. The list of works selected was transcribed by Samuel Henley. A transcription of the Henley-Horrocks list can be found in the pamphlet The Henley-Horrocks inventory by Fraser Neiman.
  • The widow of Governor Gooch, Rebecca, in 1775 "willed the College of William & Mary, in remembrance of the education there of her only son, William Gooch, who died in 1742, her gilt sacrament cup and a large folio Bible in four volumes" (Another Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westhover, 1739-1741, ed. Maude H. Woodfin [Richmond: Dietz, 1942}, p. 165n)
  • The F. H. C. Society established and maintained a library of its own, as undergraduates could not typically use the regular College library. Many of its works duplicated those of the regular College library. A list of the catalog of books desired by the FHC can be found in George P. Coleman's book The Flat hat club and the Phi beta kappa society : some new light on their history.

Library acquisitions, 1776-1793

The library of the College of William & Mary was plundered during the Siege of Yorktown in 1781, by British, French, and American soldiers who were quartered on campus. Richard Randolph, before the General Assembly in 1839, said that "many of the books were lost, and the apparatus seriously injured." In 1779, the grammar school and the chairs of divinity were abolished. In their place were established chairs of modern languages; anatomy, medicine, and chemistry; and law and police.

  • In 1779, College president James Madison and the faculty instituted a matriculation fee of 10 shillings per year which was dedicated to the library.
  • The marquis de Chastellux donated a copy of his "De la felicite publique" to the library in 1782.
  • Chastellux also was key in obtaining a gift of 200 books donated in the name of King Louis XVI of France in 1784. Two volumes survive from this gift: Jean Sylvain Bailly's Lettres sur l'origine des sciences : et sur celle des peuples de l'Asie, adresses m. de Voltaire and Lettres sur l'Atlantide de Platon et sur l'ancienne histoire de l'Asie : Pour servir de suite aux lettres sur l'origine des sciences, addresses M. de Voltaire. The gift also included a copy of Georges Louis Leclerc Buffon's "Histoire naturelle." The University of Pennsylvania was also given a gift of books from Louis XVI around the same time, and many of the books are thought to been duplicated between both gifts.
  • Thomas Jefferson donated copies of his "Notes on the State of Virginia" in 1787.
  • John Paradise donated books to the College, circa 1780s.
  • Thomas Wilson donated books written by his father, also named Thomas Wilson, in 1783. As the elder Thomas Wilson was a bishop in the Anglican Church, it is likely that these were religious texts.
  • It is likely that the library contained approximately 3,000 volumes in 1781 and close to 4,000 by 1793.

Works acquired prior to 1793

  • Paolo Sarpi's "History of the Council of Trent"
  • Pitt's translation of Virgil's Aeneid
  • EpiktÄ“tou Encheiridion
  • Piganiol de La Force's "Description des chateaux et parcs de Versailles, de Trianon, et de Marly."
  • Henry Grove's System of Moral Philosophy
  • Felix Anthony de Alvarado's "Diálogos ingléses, y españöles". This work was taken from the library by professor Luis Hue Girardin and added to his own personal collection of books, including pasting his own bookplate over the plate of Governor Dinwiddie. The volume was returned to the College after World War II by Girardin's descendants.
  • Jean Sylvain Bailly's Lettres sur l'origine des sciences : et sur celle des peuples de l'Asie, adresses m. de Voltaire
  • Jean Sylvain Bailly's Lettres sur l'Atlantide de Platon et sur l'ancienne histoire de l'Asie : Pour servir de suite aux lettres sur l'origine des sciences, addresses M. de Voltaire



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A note about the contents of this site

This website contains the best available information from known sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of William & Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. The information in this website is not complete, and it changes as we continue to research and uncover new sources.