Rare Book Collection

The duPont Library at Stratford Hall holds a collection of over 4,000 rare books and pamphlets. Most of the books are from several large collections that were given between the 1940s and the 1980s. Those collections include the Shippen Collection, Ditchley Park Collection, Lewis Collection and Foulke Collection. A digital catalog of the library’s rare book collection is now on the Founding Fathers Library Consortium website, a partnership with Mount Vernon and Gunston Hall. Questions concerning the rare books can be directed to the Director of Library Collections.

Philip Ludwell Lee bookplate

Philip Ludwell Lee

When Henry Lee IV sold Stratford to William Clarke Somerville in 1822, most of Stratford’s library of around 3,000 books was included. No complete inventory of the library has survived; luckily, when Somerville tried in vain to sell the library to Thomas Jefferson in 1825, he sent Jefferson a partial inventory of two sections of books. We don’t know how the library was eventually dispersed, but many of the volumes would have had the bookplate of Philip Ludwell Lee inside.

We are always on the lookout for any books that belonged to the Lees at Stratford.

The Shippen Collection

One of our major rare book collections, the Shippen family library, was given by the great, great-grandsons of Thomas Lee Shippen, William R. and Edward Shippen, partly in 1947 and partly in 1969. Thomas Lee Shippen was the grandson and namesake of Thomas Lee of Stratford, whose daughter, Alice Lee, married Dr. William Shippen of Philadelphia. One volume in the collection of around 500 books is Thomas Lee Shippen’s handwritten library catalog dating to 1790. In this book Shippen carefully recorded loans of his books to friends.

Thomas Lee Shippen’s catalog identified the volumes in his personal library, a number of which were inherited from his father, Dr. William Shippen, and have Dr. Shippen’s name inscribed inside. Dr. William Shippen was noted for his service during the Revolution and for his role in medical education.

However, there are many more books in the Shippen collection that came to Stratford with bookplates other than the one used by Thomas Lee Shippen, including a beautiful armorial bookplate of William Byrd of Westover, armorial bookplates of John Banister, and others of James M. Nicholson. Where did they come from? A perusal of my trusty Lee family genealogical reference, Lee of Virginia 1642-1892, solved the mystery.

Thomas Lee Shippen (1765-1798) married Elizabeth Farley, widow of Col. John Banister, Jr., who was the daughter of James Parke and Elizabeth Byrd Farley [daughter of William Byrd and Elizabeth Carter]. Thomas and Elizabeth Shippen had two sons, one of whom [Dr. William Shippen] had a son Dr. Edward Shippen who married Rebecca Lloyd, daughter of James Macon Nicholson of Baltimore. Dr. Edward Shippen was a distinguished Civil War surgeon. Two of their grandsons [sons of Dr. Lloyd P. Shippen] who donated the family collection to Stratford, actually gave us several libraries accumulated by noteworthy families.

Nicholson bookplate

James Nicholson bookplate

The Nicholsons of Maryland

James Macon Nicholson (1808-1875), inherited the library of his father, the Hon. Joseph H. Nicholson of Maryland, who was elected as Maryland delegate to the Continental Congress in 1777 (but did not serve) and as a Republican to the Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Congresses. James’ daughter, Rebecca, had “Maryland, My Maryland” set to music and published, just as her grandfather, Judge Joseph Nicholson, had done for the “Star Spangled Banner.” Francis Scott Key had given his brother-in-law, Judge Nicholson, the handwritten manuscript of the “Star Spangled Banner” in 1814, and the document passed down for two generations in that family before it was sold in 1907 to the Walters Art Gallery.

Wm Byrd bookplate

William Byrd bookplate

The Banister Family of Virginia

The first Virginia naturalist was Rev. John Banister (c.1650-1692), a close friend of William Byrd I of Westover. Banister was accidently killed while exploring the lower Roanoke River with some men in Byrd’s entourage. After Rev. Banister’s death, his notes and collections were acquired by some of the most notable collections and libraries in England; however, William Byrd became the guardian of Banister’s namesake son and obtained his library of eighty or more volumes of natural history and travel books. Byrd’s library eventually passed to his grandson William Byrd III, whose widow sold the entire collection to a Philadelphia bookseller in 1777. The library was sold piecemeal. However, we know that some books (at least one or more!) were retained by Byrd’s daughter, Elizabeth. Banister’s ownership is signified by his name stamped in ink; thankfully, it was not obscured by William Byrd I’s ornate bookplate.

Banister bookplate

John Banister bookplate

Another large part of the Shippen collection was owned by Col. John Banister, the grandson of the Rev. Banister mentioned above. Col. Banister (1734-1788) built Battersea in Petersburg, Virginia, and was a member of the first five Virginia Revolutionary Conventions, fought under General von Steuben, and was elected to (and served in) the Continental Congress in 1778. Banister’s widow married Thomas Lee Shippen and, evidently, moved the Battersea library with her to Philadelphia.