Early American Libraries

Sarah Fatherly

in The Oxford Handbook of Early American Literature

Published in print March 2008 | ISBN: 9780195187274
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

 Early American Libraries

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  • Literature
  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)
  • Literary Theory and Cultural Studies


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This article traces the history of libraries in the early American society. Books were an important part of British American life from its very beginnings. Faced with choices about what to bring across the Atlantic, some early colonists privileged their books. The writings of Captain John Smith and other Jamestown settlers record the existence of books in England's earliest permanent American colony. Farther north, New England settlers such as Plymouth elder William Brewster also brought their book collections with them to the New World. As colonial settlements gained firm ground, libraries in seventeenth-century British America emerged most strongly in the form of personal collections and Anglican mission collections. There were some experiments involving governmental oversight of libraries, and the first of the American collegiate libraries took root. This article explains personal libraries and collective libraries as well as library companies that emerged in New England.

Keywords: American libraries; American society; records; personal libraries; British American life; Captain John Smith; collegiate libraries; library companies

Article.  10515 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (1500 to 1800) ; Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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