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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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Questions? Comments? Concerns? Do you know of additional books which should be included here? Please contact Libraries of Early America coordinator Jeremy Dibbell.
GroupsLibraries of Early America
Real nameLady Jean Skipwith
LocationPrestwould, Clarksville, Mecklenburg County, Virginia
Favorite authorsNot set
Account typepublic, lifetime
Member sinceOct 12, 2008