Sunday, February 10, 2019

What Were Your Ancestors Reading in School in 1844

Did you ever stop to think about what your ancestors were reading 100 or 150 years ago? Did you ever wonder what books were available from their school library?  I found the following list for School District #3 Baiting Hollow, New York for 1844 at the Riverhead Town Historian’s Office thanks to Georgette Case, the Riverhead Town Historian.

Transcription and information about titles: 

To the School Superintendent of the Town of Riverhead.  A catalogue of the library of the 3rd school district of the said town made January 1 AD 1842 by Joseph Lhommedieu, Abel Corwin Jr and James H. Skidmore trustee of the said district.
No. 1    1-30 inclusive Harpers School District Library
  • Mass market publishing of books began in the 1830s when J. & J. Harper of New York began publishing collections of books.  One of their most popular collections from 1838 to 1846  was the School District Library.  The volumes were originally priced at thirty eight cents each.  This collection grew eventually to 210 volumes.  About half of the titles were duplicated on the both the Harper’s Family Library and the Harper’s School District Library.  I wonder which of the 210 volumes where part of this collection that the school had in it’s Library?  Perhaps actual volumes 1-30?
No 31 Philosophy of the Moral Feelings    
  • by John Abercrombie, published in New York in 1833 by Harper
32 & 33    Female Sovereigns
34  History of Virginia                                
35  Ornaments Discovered                       
  • probably The Ornaments Discovered by Mary Hughes, published in New York 1833 Harpers. From the “Prospectus.  The publishers of the “Boy’s and Girl’s Library” propose, under this title, to issue a series of cheap but attractive volumes, designed especially for the young.”
36  Uncle Philip on Teach U Trade
  • There were a series of Uncle Phillip books published by Harpers.  Not sure what this one might have been.
37, 38  Whale Fishery
39 Lives & Voyages of Drake &
40, 41 History of New York
42  Natural History of Birds
43  Parley’s Common History
  • possibly Parley’s Common School History by Parley, published 1843 in Philadelphia.  “Advertisement.  The design of this work is to furnish A CLEAR OUTLINE of UNIVERSAL HISTORY, suited to Common Schools.  It is intended for beginners, and is therefore written in a simple style, and. to render it convenient both for the pupil and teacher, it is divided into brief paragraphs and short chapters.”
44  Farmer’s Companion
45  Farmer’s Own Book
46  Alexander the Great
47  George the 4th
  • Croly’s Life of George IV  published by Harper
48  History of Italy
  • possibly Sforzosi’s History of Italy published by Harper or Spalding’s History of Italy published by Harper
49  Barbary States
  • possibly Russell’s History of Barbary States by Russel, published by Harper
50  Conversations of Com. Things
  • possibly Conversations on Common Things; or Guide to Knowledge with Questions by A Teacher, by published Boston 1828.  “Dedication.  To you, my young pupils, I dedicate this little volume, with the fervent wish that it may fulfil the purpose for which it is designed, that of informing your minds, and exciting you to seek after knowledge which will be useful to you through life, and fit you to lay up, by good and virtuous habits here, those treasures which will not, like the riches of this world, take to themselves wings, nor yet by moth or rust be corrupted.”
51 to 129  inclusive Harper’s School District Library
  • possibly actual titles for volumes 51-129 of ‘Harper’s School District Library’
130  Goldsmith’s History of Greece
131  History of Poland
  • perhaps Fletcher’s History of Poland (Harper)
132  Lives of Drake & Cavendish
133  Popular Guide
134  The School and the School Master
135  Pathology of –?

The above 135 volumes are in good condition except the wear incident to them being read and grease spots on the 50 and 51 pages of No. 3 and a grease spot on 28 page of No. 6 and 2 grease spots on pages 176 and 177 of No. 28
Joseph Lhommedieu
Abel Corwin Jr 

Several of the books listed above I have guessed at, based on the dates published. Book #135 I am unable to determine the last word.  Any ideas?  I was unable to find a books matching the title for #36, 46 and 133.  I was able to verify the titles but not find any copies of digital versions of the books for  #47, 48, 49 and 131.  While looking at titles available on-line I found that the publisher Harpers in New York seemed to be a common publisher of books from that time.  Harpers had listings entitled “Harper’s Family Library”  books and “Harper’s School District Library” books which helped me figure out the titles when the spelling and age of the paper made it difficult to decipher.    Are these the same books held at the Library? I am not certain but they make for interesting reading of what our ancestors might have been reading at the time.  I have linked the books I was able to find on Google Books or

Sometimes in your search for knowledge on your ancestors you never know where that search will take you and the new knowledge you will acquire.  By profession, I am a teacher.  As a teacher I never thought about what books teachers like my great grandmother, Carrie Terry Warner who taught in Baiting Hollow (1884-85), were using with their pupils.   I find it fascinating that these collections of books were available as early as the 1830s.  I am proud of those involved with School District #3 for providing these books for their pupils and putting an emphasis on reading and knowledge of the world around them.  I challenge you to click on the links above and read some of the books your ancestors might have read.  You just never know sometimes where the research will take you.  Happy Reading!

If you have any corrections, additions or stories to share I look forward to hearing them.
Enjoy the journey,

A complete listing of the titles in Harper’s Family Library and Harper’s School District Library can be found in Appendix A page 36 of an article published by Purdue University 2003 entitled Harper & Brothers’ Family and School District Libraries, 1830-1846. The lists can also be found in the book Libraries to the People: Histories of Outreach page 42. 

For additional information about School District #3 in Baiting Hollow, New York see previous posts:  Searching Land Records for School District #3 in Baiting Hollow New York and 1827 Pupil List for School District #3 Baiting Hollow New York) .  Daniel and Jemima Benjamin Warner’s daughter’s Susan and Jemima may have been in school at this time based on their ages.

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