The First Library 1796

Roland Crocker House, site of first library, now The Regatta. Courtesy Historical Society of Santuit & Cotuit


Only seven years after the American Revolution Cotuit and Marstons Mills had their own joint library. On Sept. 29, 1796 “The Second Social Library of Barnstable” was established by sixteen local leaders according to the minute book preserved in the Sturgis Library. The record of the first library is lost, but we knew that it was kept by Dr. Richard Bourne in Barnstable village.

The Second Library board first met at the home of Zenas Crocker, now the Cahoon Museum. The library was supported by subscribers, five of them Crockers, including the only woman, Elizabeth, probably the widow of Heman Crocker. There were two each of Sampson, Bassett and Coleman families, and a Hawley, Lovell, Chipman, and later a Goodspeed and a Hinckley.

The first Librarian was Roland Thacher Crocker, who kept the books in his store which is now the building on Route 28 that houses The Regatta restaurant. Roland’s father, Alvan Crocker, took over the librarian duties for a few years, but there is no record of the reason for this. The Librarian was paid two dollars a month to keep track of books and give a report to an overseeing committee. Fines were set at three to six pence per week, the most frequent being for “detention”–keeping a book over the four-to-six week loan period. “Folding down a leaf” cost two pence; “greasing” was a common offense.

Before the first meeting 25 books had already been bought from the Boston bookseller Eben Larkin for £ 13, 16 shillings and sixpence, less 10% discount.

Most of the authors were by English authors, but the principal American writer was Benjamin Franklin. There were volumes of a magazine called “The Mirror”, and letters of now obscure authors Bennett and Williams whose first names are not given. The latter may be “Letters Written in France” (1790), a popular commentary on the American Revolution by Hannah Maria Williams.

Of course, the largest number of volumes were religious: Sermons by the Reverends John Lothrop, Hugh Blair and Richard Price, “Sacred Dramas” by the pioneer woman abolitionist Hannah More, Beether’s “Evidences” of Christianity, and a book by a founder of Methodism, Rev. James Hervey. There were three moral guidebooks: Lord Chesterfield’s “Principles of Politeness”, William Dodd’s “Beauties of History”, and “Ladies Advice” by an unknown author.

At a time when New England was opening to the world it was not surprising that there were three geography books: the Rev. Jedidiah Morse’s “Universal Geography” and Travels in America, as well as an account of a recently re-discovered Palau in the remote Caroline Islands.

Three novels included “Evelina” and “Cecilia” by the popular Fanny Burney, and “Julia de Roubingé” by the Scottish writer Henry Mackenzie.

Political books were on the liberal side, James Burgh’s tract on free speech “Dignity of Human Nature”, and Thomas Mortimer’s statesmens’ biographies in the “British Plutarch”.

Oliver Goldsmith’s “History of England” joined his “Essays and Poems”. The poems of Henry Howard, father of the English sonnet, were probably there too.

Within 16 months of the founding ooof the library, Benjamin Marston was voted a share, and he was joined by seven other Marstons Mills readers from the Goodspeed, Hinckley and Marston families. By 1801 the committee, meeting at Winslow Marston’s brick house, decided to divide the collection, appointing Reuben Crocker of Little River as Cotuit’s librarian, and Benjamin Marston librarian for the Mills, with a salary of $5 a month.

At a proprietors’ meeting in March 1805 it was voted to see if the new library could be “put into one” with the First Social Library. The last entry in the minute book at Sturgis, dated only eleven days later, does not reveal whether the library merged, or how long it went on, or the fate of the books. If you come across one of the old titles listed above, look to see if it has a bookplate from the Second Social Library of Barnstable.

Published in Barnstable Enterprise 21 Oct. 2011


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