Legacy Library: Lady Jean Skipwith

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Letters from Edinburgh; written in the years 1774 and 1775: containing some observations on the diversions, customs, manners, and laws, of the Scotch nation, during a six months residence in Edinburgh by Edward Topham

The Port folio by Joseph Dennie

Mr. William Shakespeare : his comedies, histories, and tragedies set out by himself in quarto, or by the players his fellows in folio, and now faithfully republish'ed from those editions in ten volumes octavo : with an introduction : whereunto will be added, in some other volumes, notes, critical and explanatory, and a body of various readings entire by William Shakespeare

Voyage to South America, performed by order of the American government, in the years 1817 and 1818, in the frigate Congress by Henry Marie Brackenridge

The boarding school; or, Lessons of a preceptress to her pupils: consisting of information, instruction, and advice, calculated to improve the manners, and form the character of young ladies. : To which is added, a collection of letters, written by the pupils, to their instructor, their friends, and each other by Hannah Webster Foster

Letters to a young lady on a variety of useful and interesting subjects, calculated to improve the heart, to form the manners, and enlighten the understanding: in two volumes by John Bennett

The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments translated out of the original tongues, and with the former translations diligently compared and revised, by His Majesty's special command. Appointed to be read in churches

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Member: JeanSkipwith

CollectionsYour library (385)


TagsLiterature (249), Novels (121), Travels (36), History (34), Poetry (29), Education (27), Biography (23), Reference (17), Government (15), Philosophy (15) — see all tags

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About meLady Jean Skipwith (1748-1826), prominent Virginia book collector. She was born Jane Miller; her father Hugh Miller was a Scottish tobacco merchant who lived in Virginia from 1746 to 1760, and her mother Jane was a member of the well-known Bolling family.

Following his wife's death, Hugh Miller returned to Glasgow with his five young children; he died there in 1762. Jean (she had changed her name) lived in Scotland until around 1786, then moved briefly to Liverpool before returning to the Elm Hill plantation in Virginia which had been inherited from her father. In 1788, Jean married Sir Peyton Skipwith of Mecklenburg County, VA (1740-1805). Skipwith, one of the wealthiest men in Virginia, had previously been married to Jean's sister Anne (1742/3-1779).

Lady Jean gave birth to four children in five years (all after the age of forty), and by 1797 had moved her family from Elm Hill to her husband's new plantation, Prestwould, which still stands. Detailed records of household purchases and garden notes (not to mention her library records) reveal Lady Jean's wide-ranging interests and occupations.

Following her husband's death in 1805, Lady Jean remained at Prestwould until she died in 1826, aged 78.

About my libraryJean Skipwith's library is one of the very few known southern women's libraries from the colonial period, and is certainly the largest collection assembled by a Virginia woman.

Although little is known of Jean Skipwith's education, her passion for books is obvious. Numerous invoices, lists and inventories, most contained in the Skipwith Family Papers in the library of the College of William and Mary, have allowed the library to be outlined in great detail. A bibliography of the collection can be found in Mildred K. Abraham, "The Library of Lady Jean Skipwith: A Book Collection from the Age of Jefferson." The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 91:3 (July, 1983), pp. 296-347. The records included here are those from that bibliography, which have been updated where possible and necessary.

Abraham identified three major phases of book collecting: from 1781 to 1788, mostly in Liverpool and Scotland before her return to Virginia; from 1788 through 1805, the years of her married life; and from 1806 through 1826, her busiest collecting period. During her years in Virginia, Skipwith continued to buy books from London, but also ordered widely from dealers in Petersburg, Richmond, Raleigh, Philadelphia, and elsewhere.

Skipwith's library is notable for the large proportion of novels it contains, and particularly for the number of novels written by women (note her holdings of Ann Radcliffe, Maria Edgeworth, Agnes Bennett, Regina Maria Roche, Amelia Opie, and Fanny Burney, among others). Gothic novels also loom large, from Matthew Lewis's The Monk and Charles Brockden Brown's Edgar Huntly to Radcliffe's The Italian. Books for children comprise nearly a tenth of the collection, a remarkable proportion for libraries of the period. Among the non-fiction, history, biography, and travel books are well represented. Religious books are notable for their uncharacteristic absence, and there are no classical texts included in her library, even in translation.

At her death, Skipwith bequeathed several books to certain individuals, while willing her two daughters and daughter-in-law "two hundred volumes each to be selected alternately out of the books I died possessed of." These were apparently selected by Skipwith's son Humberston and her sons-in-law Tucker Coles and John Coles.

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GroupsLibraries of Early America

Real nameLady Jean Skipwith

LocationPrestwould, Clarksville, Mecklenburg County, Virginia

Favorite authorsNot set

Account typepublic, lifetime

URLs /profile/JeanSkipwith (profile)
/catalog/JeanSkipwith (library)

Member sinceOct 12, 2008

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