Renowned for its collections of American literature and Western Americana, the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library holds much additional material concerning the history and culture of the Americas. The library’s major strengths in general Americana are in the colonial and early national periods, that is, through the middle of the nineteenth century, but it also houses important collections of twentieth-century writers and photographers.

An extensive collection of sixteenth-, seventeenth-, and eighteenth-century books and maps document early voyages of exploration and travel from Europe, encounters with Native Americans, and the establishment of colonial governments throughout the hemisphere. Early American imprints from New Spain, Peru, New England, and the Caribbean, many of which are among the earliest works printed in or about Native American languages, are actively collected. Given the university’s roots, it is not surprising that the library has a deep collection of Puritan and Congregational tracts from the eighteenth century. The revolutionary movements which transformed the political landscape of North and South America are well covered in runs of newspapers, political pamphlets, and broadsides printed on both sides of the Atlantic. The library’s eighteenth-century printed collections are supplemented by the papers of Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, Ezra Stiles, J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, and the Rochambeau family.

The Beinecke Library’s nineteenth-century collections document the emergence of secular reform movements in the antebellum United States including abolition, women’s rights, utopian societies, and the origins of the American Civil War. The papers of Alexis de Tocqueville offer a European prospective on the evolution of American culture and society during the time. A large gathering of early nineteenth- century Mexican, Central American, and Peruvian pamphlets and broadsides overlaps with similar holdings in the Latin American Collection in Sterling Memorial Library to provide insights into the development of post-colonial governments in South America and the Caribbean. The library’s extensive collection of maps and atlases of the nineteenth century reveals not only the increasingly precise understanding of American geography but also the means by which that knowledge was distributed.

The library is especially strong in illustrated books, prints, and photographs about the Americas, from a complete set of Theodor de Bry’s voyages to John James Audubon’s double-elephant folio The Birds of America, to the archives of several twentieth-century photojournalists. A collection of Audubon manuscripts reflects the library’s strength in American natural history in general and in American ornithology in particular. The Meserve-Kunhardt Collection and the Peter Palmquist Collection of Women in Photography document the emergence of photography as a medium of art and record across the nineteenth century, while the papers of Lucien Aigner and Inge Morath reveal the emergence of modern photojournalism.

The 1742 Library

The origins of Yale’s library trace back to the settlement of New Haven in 1637. The Reverend John Davenport, one of the founders of New Haven Colony, aspired to create a college to train young clergymen. Toward this goal, he secured a gift of books from his friend Theophilus Eaton, the first governor of the colony. The books were subsequently purchased by James Pierpont, one of Davenport’s successors in the pulpit and one of the ten founders of Yale College in 1701. By then, more books had been presented with a view to establishing the collegiate library. The facts were later embellished by Thomas Clap, Yale’s fifth rector and first president, in his Annals…of Yale-College (1766), in which those early donations are dramatized into a single, symbolic event set in the house of the Reverend Samuel Russel in Branford—an event still commemorated in the stone and stained-glass works in the nave of Sterling Memorial Library, which show the founding ministers piling books on a table.

If the history of the Yale Library predates by several decades the actual founding of the college, it was only after 1701 that the library’s growth was made possible by a succession of major gifts. Three stand out. In 1714 Jeremiah Dummer, the agent for Connecticut Colony in England, arranged to send more than 800 titles, donated by himself and many others, including Isaac Newton, Edmond Halley, Richard Steele, and Elihu Yale. In 1718, Yale donated hundreds of additional volumes. In 1733 the philosopher and Anglican bishop George Berkeley made large simultaneous donations to Yale and to Harvard.

The oldest surviving catalogue of the Yale Library was compiled, by hand, in 1742 by President Clap; it was published in New London the following year, with an “advertisement” by Clap, “To the Students of Yale-College.” Augmented editions appeared in 1755 and 1791. In 2001 the Beinecke Library published a facsimile edition of the three catalogues, edited by James E. Mooney.

Of the 2,600 volumes listed by Clap in 1742, about 70 percent survive. Patiently identified and pulled from the University Library’s general stacks in the 1930s, they are now permanently shelved on the south and west sides of Beinecke Library’s central glass tower under the heading “1742 Library,” arranged by their original shelf marks. While many of the books have nothing to do with America per se, as a collection they provide an extraordinary window into the intellectual life of eighteenth-century New Englanders.

Early Americana

The Beinecke Library’s collection of early Americana can be traced to several major sources. One of the great nineteenth-century collectors of Americana was George Brinley of Hartford, Connecticut. In his will Brinley left $10,000 to Yale to purchase books and pamphlets at the auction of his collection, which was dispersed in several sales between 1879 and 1893. Yale purchased many titles at the time and has continued to acquire them over time. Today the library holds more than 1,750 titles once owned by Brinley. Many of them were acquired from another famous collection of early Americana, formed in the early twentieth century by the second Cornelius Vanderbilt, 1894 M.A. Hon. Vanderbilt’s collection was bequeathed to Yale in the 1960s by his daughter Gladys, Countess Laszlo Széchényi. It includes the Brinley copy of Thomas Shepard’s The Clear Sun-shine of the Gospel Breaking Forth upon the Indians in New-England (1648) and nine other Eliot Tracts, named after John Eliot, “Apostle to the Indians.”

At different times, Brinley and Vanderbilt each owned what has become Beinecke Library’s copy of The Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs of the Old and New Testament (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1640). The Bay Psalm Book, as it is usually described, was the first book produced in what is now the United States. Its much-publicized acquisition by Yale in 1947 for $151,000 (now a low figure, but then the highest price fetched by a printed book at auction) is well documented in Edwin Wolf’s 1960 biography of the bookdealer A.S.W. Rosenbach. Twenty-seven donors (among them E.J. Beinecke, 1907, Paul Mellon, 1929, Arthur Houghton, Jr., Donald and Mary Hyde, Louis M. Rabinowitz, Lessing J. Rosenwald, Thomas W. Streeter, Henry C. Taylor, and John Hay Whitney, 1926) contributed funds toward the purchase.

Many other important documents of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Americana are to be found in the collection formed at the end of the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth by the Reverend William H. Holman together with Virginia Marquand Monroe and Catherine Hull Wakeman and subsequently donated to the Pequot Library in Southport, Connecticut. Deposited at Yale in 1952, the Monroe, Wakeman, and Holman Collection contains many books (beginning with the “Columbus Letter” of 1493) and manuscripts dealing with the discovery and early history of America. The collection also contains manuscript material by and relating to the Connecticut-born diplomat and poet Joel Barlow, 1778. A catalogue of the collection was published in 1960.

Henry C. Taylor, 1917, began collecting works of early European navigation in 1938 after he read John Smith’s Sea Grammar (London, 1627) which lists eleven books that any well-equipped ship should carry. Taylor eventually acquired not only all the titles on Smith’s list, but many early and important editions of books and manuscripts about the exploration of the Americas, including sixteenth-century portolan atlases; the 1494 Basel edition of the Columbus letter; Martin Waldseemüller’s 1507 Cosmographiae introdvctio; the 1524 Nuremberg edition of Hernán Cortés’s letters to the King of Spain recounting the conquest of Mexico; the 1555 edition of Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca’s account of his trek from the Gulf Coast of Texas to Spanish settlements in Mexico; Michael Mercator’s 1589 silver medallion depicting Francis Drake’s circumnavigation; and John Rolfe’s 1616 manuscript account of Virginia.

The provenances of the library’s early Latin American collections are also distinguished. In 1915, Henry R. Wagner, 1884, sold to his alma mater his collection of approximately 530 manuscripts, 9,650 books, and 2,600 broadsides concerning Mexico and Central and Southern America in the colonial and early national periods. A few years earlier, Hiram Bingham, 1898, had begun buying Peruvian imprints from a Lima bibliophile, Dr. Francisco Pérez de Velasco. Bingham eventually donated nearly 1,900 pamphlets dating from as early at 1630 through 1900. The distinguished antiquarian booksellers Charles and Lindley Eberstadt donated significant collections of early nineteenth-century pamphlets and broadsides from Central America (approximately 730 items) and Mexico (315 items). The Eberstadt donations are particularly valuable for documenting the early national period in former Spanish colonies.

The Eighteenth Century

Americana represents a large and exceptionally rich part of the Beinecke Library’s eighteenth-century printed and manuscript collections. Among its chief treasures are the papers of Jonathan Edwards, 1720, which include diaries, notebooks, essays, and more than 1,200 manuscript sermons, the bulk of which came to Yale in 1920 as a gift from Edwards’s heirs. The library continues to acquire manuscripts by Edwards, his family, and colleagues, including manuscript sermons by his son Jonathan Edwards, Jr., and his son-in-law Calvin Chapin, 1788.

No less rich is the archive of Ezra Stiles, a member of the Class of 1746, who succeeded Naphtali Daggett, 1748, as president of Yale in 1777 and remained in office until his death in 1795. The exceptional intellectual breadth of the man described by his biographer Edmund S. Morgan as “the gentle Puritan” is abundantly documented in his archive, which comprises fifteen volumes of his Literary Diary (1769–95), six volumes of his Itineraries (1760–94), a Thermometrical Register, also in six volumes, and dozens of his sermons. His notebooks cover subjects ranging from the daily affairs of Yale College to his interest in Hebrew and Arabic, silk culture, comets, surveying, the Stamp Act, New England ecclesiastical history, Indian communities of New England, and the city of New Haven, among many other topics. Hundreds of letters to Stiles are also preserved in the Beinecke Library, as well as copies of many of his replies. The Stiles and Edwards manuscripts are complemented by a large collection of religious tracts printed in New England throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The library houses an extensive collection of books, pamphlets, prints, and manuscripts by and about Benjamin Franklin, 1753 Hon., his contemporaries, and his times. This collection, formed originally by William Smith Mason, 1888S, came to Yale in 1935. It consists of more than 11,000 books, 850 pamphlets, 400 broadsides, and numerous manuscripts. All of Mason’s Franklin manuscripts, as well as material printed before 1765, reside in the Beinecke Library; works printed in 1765 or later are housed in the Franklin Collection rooms in Sterling Memorial Library until the completion of The Papers of Benjamin Franklin being published by Yale University Press.

Among the library’s greatest treasures are many printed and manuscript documents relating to the American Revolution including a copy of the first printing of the Declaration of Independence (John Dunlap: Philadelphia, 1776). The papers of General Rochambeau, who headed the expeditionary corps sent in 1780 by Louis XVI to assist the American insurgents, track the French contribution to American independence, especially French participation in the victory at Yorktown in October 1781. The archive, donated in 1992 by Paul Mellon, includes letters to Rochambeau from Washington, Lafayette, Admiral F.J.P. de Grasse, and many other major actors of the Yorktown campaign and its immediate aftermath. The collection also includes the maps and atlases used by Rochambeau during the campaign as well as hundreds of European maps collected by three generations of the Rochambeau family. Rochambeau’s son was a military commander in the French West Indies, and the papers relating to this part of his career are also in the Beinecke Library, the gift of Hans P. Kraus.

The library’s early Americana collections were spectacularly enriched in 2000 with a bequest of Paul Mellon, whose extraordinary Americana collection was divided after his death among four institutions that were already much indebted to his generosity: the University of Virginia, the Virginia Historical Society, the Yale Center for British Art, and the Beinecke Library. A large selection from the Mellon bequest was exhibited in the spring of 2002, accompanied by an illustrated catalogue America Pictured to the Life. Among the highlights of the Mellon bequest are Samuel de Champlain’s Voyages et descouvertes faites en la Nouvelle France (Paris, 1627); one of three known copies of Newes from New England: of a Most Strange and Prodigious Birth (London, 1642); Cadwallader Colden’s Papers Relating to an Act of the Assembly of the Province of New-York, for Encouragement of the Indian Trade, &c (New York, 1724); an atlas including some of the early surveys of Captain Cook; the autograph journal kept by Henri Crublier d’Opterre on the march of the French army from Newport, Rhode Island, to Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781, together with manuscript maps of the campaign; the first American color plate book, William Russell Birch’s The City of Philadelphia… as It Appeared in the Year 1800 (Springland Cot, 1800); eleven early editions of Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, including the 1786 Paris edition in French; and the Brinley-Streeter copy of Thomas Say’s American Conchology (New Harmony, Indiana, 1830–40).

A few years later, in 2006, the library acquired a significant group of literary manuscripts and personal correspondence of J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur, the French émigré whose Letters from an American Farmer is regarded as one of the most thoughtful considerations of eighteenth-century British North America.

The Antebellum United States

Religion is an important component of the library’s ante-bellum collections, but the Beinecke Library’s nineteenth-century tracts are also strong in social reform movements including abolition, women’s rights, and utopian societies. Both sides of the sectional controversy over slavery are represented in hundreds of tracts; the prominent role of Frederick Douglass in mid-century America is reflected not only in an extensive run of his newspapers including The North Star and Frederick Douglass’ Paper but also in the printing of Report of the Woman’s Rights Conventionheld at Seneca Falls, N.Y., July 19th & 20th, 1848 at his North Star press offices in Rochester, New York. A.J. MacDonald’s collection of writings and research material on seventy utopian associations range from notes and brief sketches of communities to more extensive profiles based on his personal visits, interviews with residents and colleagues, and transcriptions from contemporary publications. The collection includes many prospectuses, constitutions and by-laws, and stock certificates of the societies that MacDonald collected.

Natural history, a significant component of the early Americana collections, is also a major theme in the nineteenth century. A specially built exhibition case on the mezzanine is devoted to a permanent display of Yale’s two copies of John James Audubon’s Birds of America. One came in 1934 as a bequest from Henry Farnam, 1871 Hon., the other, deposited by the Yale University Art Gallery, was given by Francis Patrick Garvan, 1897. The great naturalist is also represented in the Beinecke Library by a collection of family papers donated by Morris Tyler, 1924, whose family was related to Audubon. The archive contains a dozen letters by Audubon as well as hundreds by his wife Lucy and his sons Victor and John Woodhouse. Other correspondents include William Lizars and Robert Havell, Jr., who engraved the plates of Birds of America, Charles Lucien Bonaparte, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Washington Irving, Thomas Sully, and Daniel Webster, together with financial papers and writings by Audubon. More Audubon-related material has been subsequently acquired by the library. The library has early editions of most major American ornithological books as well as other works on the flora, fauna, and geology of North America.

The Beinecke Library’s Tocqueville collection, the most distinguished in existence, comprises both a large printed component (much of it presented to the library by the eminent Yale Tocquevillian George Wilson Pierson, 1926), manuscripts (most importantly the working manuscript for De la démocratie en Amérique, acquired in 1954 through the generosity of Louis M. Rabinowitz), and a large and continuously growing collection of letters. Most recently acquired is a group of fifty-five letters written to Tocqueville between 1832 and 1859 (the year of his death) by prominent American politicians, historians, and friends, including U.S. President John Quincy Adams, Edward Everett, Jared Sparks, John C. Spencer, N.W. Beckwith, William H. Prescott, George Bancroft, Edward Childe, Charles Sumner, George Sumner, Isaiah Townsend, and Robert Walsh. The Beinecke Library also houses papers of Gustave de Beaumont, Tocqueville’s friend and traveling companion during the 1831–32 American trip, purchased from and donated by his descendants between 1955 and 1974. They include letters from Tocqueville to Beaumont, and manuscripts for Beaumont’s study of Ireland and his abolitionist novel Marie, ou l’esclavage.

The Civil War

While the military history of the Civil War has not been a focus of the Beinecke Library’s collecting, the library has addressed broader themes of society and culture during the war. Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the War, consisting of 100 photographs depicting scenes of the war, is sometimes regarded as the first attempt to publish a history of the Civil War. George Barnard’s Photographic views of Sherman’s campaign was more tightly focused on a single campaign but conveyed the carnage of the war. The Meserve-Kunhardt Collection not only comprises the largest collection of original photographs of Abraham Lincoln but also contains photographs of hundreds of Union and Confederate officers as well as range of battlefield and military camp images. The Beinecke Library has built one of the country’s larger collection of Confederate imprints.

Post-Civil War America

The library’s general Americana collections for the decades following the Civil War are less extensive than for the ante-bellum era and generally follow themes that resonate with the Yale Collection of Western Americana or the Yale Collection of American Literature. The early history of the petroleum industry and the growth of urban and suburban developments are linked with similar initiatives in Western Americana. The history of graphic design and fine press work are documented in the papers of the Overbrook Press Records, The Meriden Gravure Company Records, and the Carl Purington Rollins Papers. The Peter Palmquist Collection of Women in Photography, which documents women photographers internationally, includes extensive collections of loose prints and scrapbooks compiled by professional and amateur women photographers from the 1840s through the end of the twentieth century. The Lucien Aigner Papers and the Inge Morath Papers provide detailed records of the careers of two European photographers who immigrated to the United States and continued to practice their art in their new home. The archive of John McDonald and his wife, the painter Dorothy Eisner, donated by their daughters Christie McDonald, 1969 Grad., and Joan McDonald Miller, document the McDonalds’ political activism and McDonald’s work on labor practices at General Motors–as well as his other interests, such as fishing and game theory.