Monday, April 14, 2014

Alabama's First Library, Books and Printing

Alabama's oldest operating library is now known as the Huntsville Madison County PublicLibrary. An effort to open a library began in 1817 when the city was still part of the Mississippi Territory. Records show that on December 10th of the following year, William Atwood purchased two shares of stock in the Huntsville Library Company. Thomas G. Percy was listed as President and Robert Fearn as Treasurer. In the following year, during the assembly called to form the State of Alabama, James G. Birney gave notice that he would ask to incorporate the Huntsville Library Company.

An 1818 stock certificate in the Huntsville Library Company. 
Source: HMCPL Digital Archives.

Printed books and printing itself arrived even earlier. In July 1540 Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and his expedition entered what is now Alabama; among their supplies were some books. All were burned in the battle of Maubila on October 18. The two most extensive accounts of the expedition describe the destruction by de Soto's men of many of their own supplies as they tried to trap Native American forces. The burning included clothes, ornaments and chalices, wafer molds and wine for mass. The books destroyed may have been mostly religious in nature.

File:De Soto by Telfer & Sartain.jpg
Hernando de Soto [1496-1542]
Source: Wikipedia

 In September 1807 a political pamphlet was published at Wakefield, a town in Washington County that no longer exists. On February 19 of that year former vice-president Aaron Burr was arrested in Wakefield as he attempted to flee to Spanish West Florida and escape President Jefferson's warrant.

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