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?