Books Owned by William & Mary Prior to 1793

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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. The majority of these books were destroyed in the fires of 1705, 1859, and 1862.

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.

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.

Library acquisitions, 1705-1776

  • The College purchased the "Books & Globes belonging to the said Blackamore be valued and pruchased 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 and 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, Epiktētou 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."

Material in the SCRC


  • Jennings, John M. 1918-. The Library of the College of William and Mary in Virginia, 1693-1793. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1968.
  • Subject file

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A Note About The Contents Of This Wiki
The information available in this wiki is the best available from known documents and 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. Information in this wiki is not complete as new information continues to be uncovered in Swem Library's Special Collections Research Center and elsewhere. Researchers are strongly encouraged to use the Special Collections search tools for their research as the information contained in this wiki is by no means comprehensive.