Gift supports library’s work in early Americana

From the Nov. 6, 2006, Princeton Weekly Bulletin

An anonymous gift from a descendant of American statesman Patrick Henry will enable the University Library to expand its activities related to early U.S. history.

The donation has endowed the Barksdale-Dabney-Henry Memorial Fund for Teaching and Research on Patrick Henry and Early Americana. The endowment is a memorial to descendants of Henry among the Barksdale-Dabney-Penick families.  

The fund will be used to support public programs and library projects related to Henry and early American history — especially the Great Awakening, the Scottish Enlightenment in the American colonies and the Revolutionary War. Henry, who lived from 1736 to 1799, is best known for his “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech. He served as the first governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia and worked closely with James Madison (a member of Princeton’s class of 1771), John Marshall and George Washington.  

The gift will support a number of activities, including the cataloging and selective digitization of original materials in the library’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, such as the large manuscript collection amassed by Andre De Coppet, a member of Princeton’s class of 1915. This compilation of letters and documents of Henry and other American leaders from the colonial and early national periods has been owned by the University for more than 50 years.  

The project, which will involve creating bibliographic records with basic descriptive information and linking the searchable descriptions to digital facsimiles, will make the materials more accessible to researchers. Princeton’s collections in this area are constantly growing and are a valuable resource for scholars of early Americana. Last month, for example, the library received another letter signed by Henry from 1789. Donated by David S. Elkind, a member of Princeton’s class of 1973, the letter concerns legal matters in Virginia.

Other endeavors that will be funded by the endowment include: the preparation of course packs to support the Princeton curriculum in history, English, American studies and other areas; the acquisition of manuscripts, rare books, maps and other materials relating to Henry and his times; the creation of school-based educational programming to focus on colonial childhood and education; and the research and mounting of major library exhibitions, such as one titled “Americana From Jamestown to Appomattox” being planned for the future.

“This type of gift to the library is one of the nicest things that one generation of Princetonians and their families can do for another,” said Don Skemer, curator of manuscripts in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. “Making these materials more accessible provides the opportunity for future students and scholars to learn even more about people like Patrick Henry, who played such an important role in our country’s founding.”