Part 3 – Books owned by Americans before 1700 – The books of Thomas Shepard

This is the third, and for now closing, entry on books owned by Americans before 1700, and in particular, those of Thomas Shepard, (father, son, and grandson), seventeenth century New England Puritan ministers. [Particulars: Thomas Shepard (1605-1649) of Cambridge; Thomas Shepard (1635-1677) of Charlestown; Thomas Shepard (1658-1685)] of Charlestown.]

Statistics (as of 20 December 2012):
Holdings of Shepard books by libraries

• 42 titles in 44 volumes at the Princeton University Library [from the library of Samuel Miller (1769-1850)]
• 16 titles at the Princeton Theological Seminary Library [also from the library of Samuel Miller (1769-1850)]
• 65 titles in 19 volumes at the American Antiquarian Society [Mostly in the Mather family library; note: 25 are bound in one volume inscribed “Thomas Shepard 1660” – see: Thomas J. Holmes, “Additional Notes on Ratcliff and Ranger Bindings,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, N.S. 39:2 (1929: Oct 16), p. 291-295)]
• 7 titles at the Massachusetts Historical Society
[See for much provenance detail from Jeremy Dibbell]

• 6 titles at Harvard (5 at Houghton, 1 at the Divinity School Library)

• 1 title at the John Carter Brown Library [detail]

• 1 title at the Pierpont Morgan Library (TS II’s Eliot Indian Bible)

• 1 title at the Huntington Library [detail]

• 1 title at the Folger Library [detail]

• 1 title at the New York Public Library [detail]

• 1 title in Bentley Collection at Allegheny College

• 1 title at Boston Public Library

Total extant: 143 titles distributed among thirteen libraries

In addition, there are books known but untraced, as per the following entry from the diary of John Langdon Sibley, librarian of Harvard (assistant from 1825-1826 and 1841-1856, librarian from 1856-1877, and librarian, emeritus from 1877-1885.)

“December 21, 1854

Thursday. Called on Rev. William Jenks, D.D. to procure a tracing, for Duyckinck, of New York, of an autograph of Thomas Shepard. He said Charles Francis Adams was a descendant & might have some of his books & writing; but unless he had he knew of only one besides the one in a Bible which he owned, & that was in a set of Augustines Works which he gave to go to the missionaries in Syria, where it probably now is. The Dr. showed me the Bible, also Cotton Mather’s manuscript Paternalia, which he owns & various other rarities, among them incredibly long & minute genealogical tables of his family. ….” (source:

[For details about some of the Thomas Shepard books, see]

[As to manuscripts of Shepards: see: American Antiquarian Society (Shepard Family Papers), Houghton Library (Shepard, Thomas, 1605-1649. Papers (bMS Am 1671)), New England Historic and Genealogical Society Library (Mss 553: TS I compiled “Confessions of diverse propounded to be received and were entertained as members” ca. 1635-1640) and the New York Public Library (TS I’s Journal, call number Mss Coll 2741)]

Selected notabilia

• Inscriptions (one of several examples)

“Thomas Shepard’s Book. 1669. June. 8. # Bought with the money (viz. ten shill[ings]) wich that most Reverend & Apostolicall man of God, Mr J. Willson, 1st pastor of Boston 1st Ch[urch] gave me in his Will. He dyed Aug. 7. 1667.” – on gutter of the title page of George Gillespie, Aarons Rod Blossoming (London, 1646) (Ex 5919.391)

• Annotations

In addition to written marginalia, Thomas Shepard II (1635-1677) used system of symbols to mark passages, such as

The origins of these symbols appear to be from a common stock of astronomical and chemical signs, such as those given in Basil Valentine in his Last Will and Testament (London, 1671) “Chymicall and Philosophycall Characters usually found in Chymicall Authors.” Such symbols are also seen at

Assuming that a sign’s original significance might give a clue as to its meaning for Thomas Shepard II, some findings show this assumption to have some validity. For example, there appears to be some consistency with the use of the quartered circle or the circled cross. Among the several significations for this sign, it was an early sign for Terra (Earth). What sort of passage would have earthly import? A number of times, Shepard marked passages relating to the duties of magistrates with the quartered circle. Here’s an example,

Page 64 in Samuel Rutherford, Free Disputation against Pretended Liberty of Conscience (London, 1649). (RCPXR 5747.795)

• Summaries of text

Found between pages 90 and 91 of Thomas Hall (1610‐1665) The Beauty of Magistracy,
London : printed by R[obert]. W[hite]. for Nevil Simmons Bookseller in Kederminster, 1660.
(RCPXR 5228.427).
Slip measures 7 cm x 7 cm.

Apropo of this small slip is the following from Cotton Mather’s 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.”

In the above passage, Mather is writing about TS III. Yet to be determined is which Thomas Shepard wrote this summary.

Other notable topics

a] Several books have long, detailed indices written in the hand of either TS I or TS II or both. Why were certain topics deemed index-worthy?

b] Shorthand — A number of the books have notes in shorthand. Could these shorthand notes relate to the document in shorthand discussed in the following article?
Francis Sypher, “The ‘Dayly Observation’ of an Impassioned Puritan: A Seventeenth-Century Shorthand Diary Attributed to Deputy Governor Francis Willoughby of Massachusetts,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society,N.S. 91, April 1981, pages 91-107. The ‘Dayly Observation’ diary has written on its cover, in the hand of Isaiah Thomas: “Sermons by Rev. Thos Allen and Rev. Thos Shepard the Elder with Observations in Shorthand supposed to be written by Thos Shepard junr son of Thomas Shepard of Cambridge” and it forms part of the Mather Family Papers at AAS.

c] The larger question of the dispersal of the Shepard family library. Ownership evidence in Shepard books at Princeton indicate that the heirs of TSIII held the books throughout the 18th century. Preliminary findings show that they passed to Samuel Miller sometime between the mid-1790s and mid 1810s. The Shepard books that did not get to Miller each have their own story of successive possessors.

d] The signature and date ‘Thomas Shepard’s book. May 9, 1667’ appears on a front free endpaper of Princeton incunable ExI 5201 .678, Biblia latina [Lyons:] Johannes Siber [after 7 May 1485, about 1488] (Goff B-615). The Bible also carries the TS brand on the top-edge. Could this Bible be the earliest, still extant dated instance of American ownership of an incunable?

Part 2 – Books in the collection known to have been owned by Americans before 1700

Detail from Martin Luther, Enarrationes (Strasbourg: Georg Ulricher, 1535), leaf 453 verso.

What has made the identifying the Shepard books possible? Nothing in the catalogue records identified them, so the process proceeded by other means.

At the beginning stages of the process, I soon noticed attributes common to all — the books had accession numbers falling into a close range of numbers, the date of accession stamped in each was also within a close range, and usually the books bore a Princeton bookplate noting that the books were formerly owned by the Reverend Samuel Miller and had been given by one of his descendents. Those commonalities suggested that by closely examining the full listing of the Miller gift in the Library’s accession books, I could come up with a set of possibilities from which Shepard books could be positively identified. The Miller gift came in 1900 and, the Library’s accession records for that era always listed author, title, place and date of publication, size, and a note about the binding. Given that the last Shepard died in 1685, it was self-evident that the Shepard books would be a sub-set of all books in the Miller gift printed before 1686. Together with my assistant, I set out to examine every pre-1686 book in the Miller gift. This examination is still in progress and, because individual books are routinely reclassed and relocated as library circumstances change, identifying the present shelf location of a pre-1686 Miller book has sometimes involved piecing clues together from various now superceded Princeton library catalogues.

One book, discovered Friday, January 8, reminded me that each and every pre-1686 Miller book needs to be examined, if all the Shepard books are to be found. Accession numbers 150673 to 150678 are for a set of the works of Martin Luther in Latin. My instinct was that ownership of the works of Luther by a Puritan was unlikely, and, given the press of all that needed to be done, perhaps this entry could be skipped. (There is no entry under Luther in the listing of the holdings of the library of Cotton Mather, see: J. H. Tuttle’s `The Libraries of the Mathers’ in the “Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society” 20 (1910): 269-356.) Nonetheless, my assistant and I looked at the set (reclassed sometime during the 1930s from theology to German literature – but that’s another story) and when the first large volume came down from the shelf, she said “It has the brand!” We quickly pulled down the other volumes. All marked. Remarkable: the Shepards owned a set of Luther.

The last volume to come down off the shelf, labeled ‘VIII’ on the fore-edge, was their copy of Luther’s Enarrationes (1535). It completely surprised us. There on the last leaf was the following:

“Thomas Shepard’s Books: 1649: August: 25: NE:” The date had a familiar ring to me – I knew I had read it somewhere before. The genealogy of the Shepard family provided the answer – this was the death date of the first Thomas Shepard, the family patriarch and pastor of the church attended by the first students of Harvard College.

And so, new questions arise: Is it likely that Thomas Shepard I signed this on his death day? If his son Thomas, chief inheritor of the books, signed it, then why did he date it on the day of his father’s death? Could it be that some of the Shepard books at Princeton indeed carry the reader’s notations in the hand of Shepard I? [To be continued]

Books in the collection known to have been owned by Americans before 1700

Collectors are fond of classifying, for putting a book in a series gives it meaning. Series are always shifting, and lately because of the work of book historians on the history of reading and book ownership, curators have been rethinking the series into which their books may fall. Recently, in the annual report of the Library Company of Philadelphia, there was notice of a new addition to those books “in the collection known to have been owned by Americans before 1700, ” The recent acquisition put their “current tally at about thirty-six.”

Of course, it’s normal to wonder if this is a big number, small number, or just about the mean for an historic American library. It’s difficult to contextualize this number because much remains to be done to systematically identify such books. Similarly, little is known about what the order of magnitude for the total sum might be.

One conjecture about the over-all was offered 74 years ago. In 1936, Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morison proposed that “it would be an interesting and by no means insuperable task for one of our industrious bibliographers to make a catalogue of all the books that are known to have been in New England before 1700. My guess is that he would find about ten thousand separate titles, and that the number of copies of each work would range from several thousand of the Bible, and several hundred of the more popular works of puritan divinity down to a single copy of the less common works.” (Intellectual Life of Colonial New England, 2nd ed. (New York, 1956), p. 149.)

He (or she) (a.k.a. “industrious bibliographer”) has yet to appear on the scene.

• • •

The rare books collections at Princeton offer material for such a catalogue ranging from books owned by John Norton (1606-1663) (Princeton call number: Exov 5763.518) and Daniel Russell (d. 1679 in Charlestown)(Princeton call number: RCPXR 5959.277), down to John Cotton (1585-1652) (Princeton call number: Ex 5456.276). Only single books are associated with these names, whereas, on the other hand, a remarkable tranche of more than 40 chiefly seventeenth century works of puritan divinity come from the personal library of the Reverend Thomas Shepard (1635-1677) to which his son and heir the Reverend Thomas Shepard (1658-1685) added a few.

In addition to dated signatures appearing in the books, each and every one carries the marking depicted here on the top-edge:

The mark is the monogram ‘TS’ branded into the top edge. Appearance suggests two simple branding tools at work: a straight bar for the cross stroke and down stroke of the ‘T’, and a half-circle stroke first eastward, then turned westward to form the ‘S.’ [To be continued]