This Day in UNC History, 1792: the UNC Library’s First Book

On this day in 1792, the University of North Carolina Board of Trustees received what would be the University Library’s first book. The book was a second edition copy of The Works of the Right Reverend Father in God Thomas Wilson. Two volumes bound in one, the book contained a biography of Bishop Thomas Wilson, some of his papers, and his sermons.

Title Page, Volume I, Works of the Right Reverend Father
The title page of The Works of the Right Reverend Father, Volume I, presented to UNC by Brown University in 1960. A copy of the book, presented to the Board of Trustees in 1792, was the University Library’s first book.

But the story of the gift actually begins seven years earlier, in 1785. That year, Bishop Wilson’s son, Dr. Thomas Wilson, donated copies of The Works of the Right Reverend Father to the United States Congress, asking for them to be distributed to a university or college in each state. On March 22, 1785, Congress passed a resolution to do so.

The copy given to North Carolina was first given to the Newbern Academy, a school chartered in 1764. A statement written on the flyleaf of the book explains:

In pursuance of the above resolution the undersigned, delegates form the State of North Carolina, have agreed to transmit the works of Dr. Thomas Wilson to Newberne, to be deposited there in the Library, belonging to the public Academy, till the time arrives, which they hope is not far distant, when the wisdom of the Legislature, according to the express intention of the Constitution shall have caused a College or University to be erected in the State.

Jno. Sitgreaves              Hu. Williamson

The school was rechartered in 1784, and among the school’s trustees were William Blount and John Sitgreaves (who signed the above note as a North Carolina delegate to the Continental Congress). In 1789, Blount and Sitgreaves were appointed trustees of the University of North Carolina, and in 1792, about a year before construction began on the University’s first building, Sitgreaves transferred the book to UNC.

The book was last recorded as part of the university’s collections in the 1869-1870 academic year, and, according to University Librarian Louis Round Wilson’s Historical Sketches, is suspected to have been lost during the closure of the University from 1871-1875. It was not among the books mentioned when the University Library, Dialectic Society library, and Philanthropic Society library merged in 1886, nor was it listed in the 1891 inventory of the University Library’s collections.

In 1960, on the occasion of the University Library’s millionth volume, Brown University presented UNC with a copy of The Works of the Right Reverend Father to replace the university’s lost first book.

In December 2014, historian Lynn Roundtree presented Chancellor Carol Folt with a second copy of the university’s first book. This copy, along with the copy given by Brown University, is now kept in the Rare Book Collection in Wilson Library.