Monday, August 16, 2010

Some Early Connecticut Libraries

I've started working my way through some Connecticut probate records, and have made it through the Hartford district up to the year 1700 (two more published volumes to go). In the entire bunch I found just three libraries that contained books listed by identifiable title (other than the Bible, which was common):

- Elizabeth Gardner (~1604-1681), quite a wealthy woman and the widow of both Rev. Samuel Stone (d. 1663) and George Gardner (d. 1679), both early settlers of Hartford. Only one book is mentioned in her will (a volume of William Greenhill's Exposition of the Prophet Ezekiel, which she gives to her son Samuel Stone) but there were almost certainly others included among her household goods.

- Robert Morrice (d. 1684), the most interesting of the trio. His library was the largest of the bunch (at 7 titles). Morrice (or Morris) clearly had some health issues; he and his wife (Anne, the widow of John Lattimer) were granted a divorce in 1635 after Morrice admitted that he was unable to "perform the Act of Generation" because his "Bowels came Down." At his death, much of his estate went to pay fees for a doctor and "15 days Nursing," and a court awarded £4 to the family of Lt. Caleb Standly for their services to Morrice, which included "having baked his bread for a number of years." Morrice meticulously outlines his books, which are given to Standly's wife and daughters, plus several other children.

- Joseph Easton (~1602-1688), one of the original proprietors of Hartford and held many local offices there: chimney viewer (1649); surveyor of highways (1652, 1656, 1666); constable (1658), &c. His will mentions a Bible and the works of theologian Thomas Goodwin.

Aside from these three, there were many wills and inventories which mentioned libraries but did not mention specific titles (again, excepting the Bible). I've outlined those here; usually the books are simply listed generically, but occasionally an author's name or a type (martyr books, sermons and prayer books are the most common) is given.

I think my favorite among the unitemized bunch is Joseph Hooker's will, dated 7 July 1647. In it he stipulates: "I doe also give unto my sonne Jno by Library of printed books and manuscripts, under the limittations and provisoes hereafter expressed. It is my will that my sonne Jno. deliver to my sonne Samuel Soe many of my books as shall be valued by the overseers of this my will to be worth fifty pounds sterling, or that he pay him the summe of fifty pounds Sterling to buy such books as may be useful to him in thee way of his studdyes, att such tyme as the overseers of this my will shall Judge meett. But if my sonne Jno. doe not goe on to the prfecting of his Studdyyes, or shall not give up himselfe to the service of the Lord in the worke of the ministry, my will is that my Sonne Samuel enjoy and possesse the whole Library and manuscripts to his proper use forever; onely, it is my will that whatever manuscripts shall be Judged meett to be printed, the disposall thereof and advantage that may come thereby I leave wholy to my executrix; and in case she depart this life before the same be Judged of and Settled, then to my overseers to be improved by them in their best discretion, for the good of myne, according to the trust reposed in them. And however I doe not forbid my sonne Jno from seeking and takeing a wife in England, yett I doe forbid him from marrying and tarrying there. I doe give unto my sonne Samuel, in case the whole Library come not to him, as is before expressed, the summe of Seventy pounds, to be payd unto him by my Executrix att such tyme and in such manner as shall be judged meetest by the overseers of my will."

Complicated much?

Also noteworthy (and there may be some study on this somewhere, which I still have to look for) is the connection between brass kettles and Bibles (clearly important possessions): several times we see a mother giving to her daughter (or granddaughter) these two specific things:

- Dorothy Lord, of Hartford (will dated 8 February 1669): "I give unto my daughter [Anne] Stanton my Great Brass Pann & my greaet Bible."

- Margaret Heart, of Farmington (will dated 18 February 1691/2): "I giue to my daughter Elizabeth Thomson my great bras cattle [kettle] and my bible."

- Susannah Shepherd, of Hartford (will dated 7 March 1698/9): "I give unto my daughter [Anne] Stanton my Great Brass Pann & my greaet Bible."

More to come as I make my way through the next volumes. As always, probate records come with the important caveats that they probably do not reflect libraries (or other possessions) accurately or entirely.

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