Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dartmouth's Book Battle, An Eyewitness Account

One of the most fascinating events in American academic library history occurred on the evening of November 11, 1817 at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. As a result of controversy relating to the governance of the College, the New Hampshire state legislature had created a separate legal entity which it named Dartmouth University in 1816, but the Trustees of Dartmouth College refused to recognize the new entity. It was this situation that led to the attempted take over of the Social Friends' Library, a student literary society library at Dartmouth College, on November 11, 1817 by a group with allegiance to the new Dartmouth University. I recently acquired a stampless folded letter written on November 12, 1817 which contains an eyewitness account of the events of November 11. The letter was written by Thomas Green Fessenden, a Dartmouth student, and mailed to his friend John S. Barrows in Fryeburg, Maine. Some excerpts from the letter read: "about seven o'clock an alarm was given by the College"; "we found 18 university persons in number, who had broken into the Social Friends library with ax and clubs in order to take the books"; "these villains intended to steal the library but they were detected and the victory was completed...within 15 minutes more than 100 were assembled and the demons were kept in the trap"; "we had sentrys set round the College to keep the other riotous mobs which were collecting - we then went to moving the libraries from the College which we did". I wrote previously about the Social Friends' Library and the legal controversy at Dartmouth on April 17, 2010 and April 19, 2010. The legal controversy was resolved with an 1819 Supreme Court ruling in favor of the College. An expanded account of the legal controversy and the attempted takeover of the library is contained in the book A Brief History of the Dartmouth College Library 1769-2002 by Lois A Krieger (Trustees of Dartmouth College, 2002) which is available online in digital form. Images of my new piece of postal librariana are shown above.

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