The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

The Thomas Shepards and Their Books [Part 1]

Biblio-sleuthing is one of my very favorite things to do, so it was fun to be able to spend some time last Thursday working on a really interesting project in collaboration with Stephen Ferguson, Curator of Rare Books at Princeton University; Diann Benti, Assistant Reference Librarian at the American Antiquarian Society; and staff at the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS).

The project got underway when, as Stephen Ferguson noted in a blog post, they found at Princeton more than twenty books from the library of the Thomas Shepards. That's three generations of early (and famed) New England ministers, each named Thomas Shepard. Or as we've taken to calling them, TS1 (1605-1649); TS2 (1635-1677); and TS3 (1658-1685). Most of the Shepard books, Ferguson found, were each "branded" or stamped on the top edge with a "TS" monogram (quite an uncommon practice in early New England, as far as we've been able to discover so far). In a follow-up post, Ferguson notes some of the most interesting finds.

Steve called me to see if I could find out a little about the wills and probate inventories of the Shepards, to see if there might be a list of the libraries included there, so off I went to NEHGS and looked through their microfilm copies of the seventeenth-century Middlesex County probate records. Frustratingly, the Shepard probate documents are vague (as so many are) about the contents of the library. TS1's will leaves to his son Thomas “all my Bookes, manuscripts & paper which last named, viz: bookes, manuscripts & papers, although be propriety of my sonne Thomas yet they shall bee for the use of my wife and my other children.” The inventory lists, as the final item “about two hundred and sixty printed bookes” valued at £100, reiterating that they are to go to TS2.

TS2's 1677 will leaves to “my son Thomas my whole library, both printed books &  writings, which though the property of my son, shall be also, occasionally, for the use of my wife, & daughters, as they may need, and desire the perusal thereof.” The inventory lists “his Library”, again valued at £100.

TS3, who died in his mid-twenties, left no known will or inventory. His widow Mary (nee Anderson) later married Rev. Samuel Hayman. Hayman died in 1712; his will doesn’t mention a library, and there is no inventory. Mary died in 1717; her will also doesn’t mention a library. Thomas and Mary had one surviving child, a daughter Hannah (or Anne) who married Rev. Henry Smith of New York. Steve has some ideas about how the books now at Princeton made their way there, which I'm sure he'll share in good time, and he's also found some good evidence to prove a statement Cotton Mather made about TS3 in his Magnalia Christi Americana (Volume II, p. 124 of the 1820 edition): “... his piety was accompanied with proportionable industry, wherein he devoured books even to a degree of learned gluttony; insomuch, that if he might have changed his name, it must have been Bibliander. ... he had hardly left a book of consequence … in his library (shall I now call it, or his laboratory) which he had not so perused as to leave with it an inserted paper, a brief idea of the whole book, with memorandums of more notable passages occurring in it, written in his own diligent and so enriching hand.”

When I got back to MHS from NEHGS, I decided to take a peek through our "manuscript catalog," which sometimes lists annotations or signatures found in books. Jackpot! I quickly discovered a few Shepard titles in our collections here at MHS ... and I look forward to sharing those with you tomorrow. Did those here also have the "TS" mark on the top edge? Where'd they come from? Stay tuned! And what other institutions have Shepard books today?

permalink | Published: Tuesday, 19 January, 2010, 9:43 AM


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