July 18, 2022

Library Treasure Hunt Strikes Gold: Friends Group Finds Rare Book Among Donations

Volunteers from the non-profit group, Friends of Virginia Beach Public Library, also known as “the Friends,” sort through hundreds of donated items each week at the Meyera E. Oberndorf Central Library, looking for gently used items to sell at the Friends Book Shop inside the library. The Friends then grant the proceeds to Virginia Beach Public Library (VBPL) in support of early literacy, technology and other educational programs for the benefit of the Virginia Beach community.

Recently, Friends board member Bob Gilson was sorting through donated books, as he typically does on Fridays, when he spotted something unique. “The cover was tired and dusty,” he said. “But I had a feeling it was special.” Gilson’s instincts were correct: the small, thin book with a tattered spine turned out to be a first edition of “Reports of Cases Determined in the General Court of Virginia from 1730 to 1740 and from 1769 to 1772,” printed in Charlottesville in 1829, and compiled by Thomas Jefferson. There are an estimated 82 copies of the book known to exist in law and university libraries.

Rather than sell the book, the Friends decided to donate it to a public repository for viewing and preservation. The book was not a match for VBPL's Edgar T. Brown Local History Archives, which focuses on Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads, so the Friends decided to donate it to the Jefferson Library at Monticello.

"This is an important work to scholars as it includes 42 cases decided by the General Court of Virginia from 1730 to 1740 and from 1768 to 1772 compiled by Thomas Jefferson himself before his death in 1826," said Leslie G. Bowman, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello. "It was not published until 1829 by his grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph. The first 31 cases were chosen by Jefferson from manuscript notes left by Sir John Randolph, Edward Barradall and William Hopkins, with another 11 cases where Jefferson himself acted as court reporter. As these colonial court decisions do not survive elsewhere, this compilation by Jefferson is essentially the first such volume of court reports for the Commonwealth of Virginia. In particular, 23 of the 42 cases involve slavery in one way or another, usually in disputes over property."

The Friends board is hosting an event at Central Library on Friday, July 22, at 11:30 a.m. where the book will be officially donated to the Jefferson Library at Monticello. Gilson, Friends President Nancy Parker, and Endrina Tay, Fiske and Marie Kimball librarian at the Jefferson Library, will say a few words about the discovery of the book and its significance. The event is free and open to the public.

About the Friends of Virginia Beach Public Library

The Friends of Virginia Beach Public Library has raised money in support of literacy programs since 1978 through sales of new and used donated books and memberships. For more information, please visit www.friendsvblibrary.org.

About The Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation was incorporated in 1923 to preserve Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson, in Charlottesville, Virginia. Today, the foundation seeks to bring history forward into national and global dialogues by engaging audiences with Jefferson's world and ideas, and inviting them to experience the power of place at Monticello. Monticello is recognized as a National Historic Landmark, a United Nations World Heritage Site and a Site of Conscience. As a private, nonprofit organization, the foundation's regular operating budget does not receive ongoing government support to fund its twofold mission of preservation and education. For information, visit Monticello.org.

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Christine Brantley

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