Last fall I received a copy of an 1848 inventory of the books comprising the miscellaneous library of John Howe Peyton. Written in the spidery script that was typical in the nineteenth century, it presented with misspellings, phonetic spellings, incomplete titles, cryptic abbreviations, and some authors listed, some not. As I started to transcribe the list, I confidently envisioned a short-term project but it soon evolved into a part-time project of many months. I have nearly completed and will soon publish my own expanded and annotated copy of the inventory of over two hundred titles, with many titles consisting of multiple volumes. I have thoroughly enjoyed furthering my knowledge of history, literature, and biography spanning many centuries along the way! A complete list of books in Peyton’s library with correct titles, authors, and other details specific to each book will be included in John Howe Peyton’s Montgomery Hall in 2018.
John Howe Peyton’s miscellaneous library, which he considered separate from his equally well-furnished law library, was a library in the truest sense: His books, maps, newspapers, and periodicals were used for reference, pleasure, plantation operations, and the education of his family. These were not decorative objects purchased merely to fill the space of his shelves. He clearly put a great deal of thought into the selection of its titles and added to it throughout his life. These books covered a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern history, British history, American history, philosophy, religion, politics, agriculture, science, medicine, animals, art, literature, economics, satire, biography, criticism, poetry, and fiction.
In the early days of trying to decipher the 1848 inventory, one of my first resources was the inventory of Thomas Jefferson’s library at Monticello, published as Thomas Jefferson’s Library: A Catalog of the Entries in his own Order, edited by James Gilreath and Douglas L. Wilson, Library of Congress. Although Peyton’s library was a fraction of its size, there were many common titles. John Howe Peyton also purchased books that formerly belonged to Jefferson.
Peyton’s children received their early education at home and were instructed using many of the books in their father’s library. The names, notes, and drawings of all but his two youngest children appear in many. Volume I of Modern Europe alone contains not only the signatures and notes of his children, but notes and autographs from two of the tutors, Eliza Stone of Lincoln, Massachusetts and Georgina Forneret of Montreal, Lower Canada, who lived with the family at Montgomery Hall between 1837 and 1849.
Late last month, after learning that there were still more books and papers stored years ago in cardboard boxes and nearly forgotten in the basement of a house in Richmond, I was able to retrieve them and found a number of treasures. There were books obviously owned by Peyton (most of his books have his bookplate pasted in and/or “John H. Peyton’s Book” written in ink) that were not mentioned in the 1848 inventory. I also discovered a letter book of Peyton’s son, John Lewis Peyton, containing handwritten copies of his correspondence between 1881 and 1887, a handwritten copy of a speech delivered by William Madison Peyton before the House of Delegates in 1839, photographs, letters, newspaper clippings, and other items of interest. The most wonderful surprises I found while leafing through one of the books: two photographs and three letters tucked between its pages. One, a letter written by Ann Montgomery Lewis Peyton to her daughters, Anne and Lucy, another written to Col. John Brown Baldwin, and the last a letter from Mary Preston Lewis to her son, Benjamin. My transcriptions of these three letters appear below.
The following letter, written by Ann Montgomery Lewis Peyton, was posted from Staunton to her daughter, Anne Eugenia Peyton, Big Lick P.O. Roanoke County, Virginia. Anne, Lucy, and Mary Peyton were staying in Roanoke County with their half-brother, William Madison Peyton, and his family. The occasion was the marriage celebration of William Madison Peyton’s daughter, Sallie, to Thomas C. Read on July 24, 1849. Ann Montgomery Lewis Peyton died at Montgomery Hall on July 15, 1850, a year after this letter was written.
Montgomery Hall, Wednesday night, July 25th 1849
My dear Anne,
Your letter and Lucy’s I received this morning for which I thank you both- I am pleased to hear you are well but am sorry you will not leave for home as soon as I hoped you would when we parted.
You know I am anxious for the return of the carriage as I am not well and wish to meet your Aunt Sarah at the Sweet Springs- She has left Kanawha I believe or will very shortly- Susan Frazier has been very sick since you left but is feeling better. Your sister Susan is better and also her servants- The miss Baldwins are still there. They expect to visit the bridge in a few days.
Staunton is quite gay- a great many strangers in town. Mr. James looks quite happy. Yesterday evening Ann Eskridge Sue Tapscott and John Hendren spent the evening at your sister’s. Mr. Ranson Mary Fanny Stuart & Susan came out Sunday evening to see me. Mary came to tell me goodbye- I hear from every source that Sally’s is the finest wedding ever given in Virginia. I should like to have been present to see my sweet granddaughter given to so fine a gentleman as I know she has chosen. I have no doubt he is a sterling fellow. They must pay me a visit some of these days and allow me the opportunity of making his acquaintance. You write you are charmed with him. I hope if you all ever intend to take unto yourselves husbands you may have the luck of getting such a clever fellow.
I regret to hear of Lizzie Peyton’s indisposition but hope she is well in this- Tell your sweet sister Sally to send a few elegances of the wedding cake &c. How is Susan and Mr. Howard coming on he passed through Staunton on the way to the wedding the day after you left. I am very much pleased to hear that Garnett is so much improved I expect she will make an elegant woman. I received a letter a few days ago from Miss Forneret…We have a letter from Eugenia Lewis to Mary. Her mother is going shortly to the springs in consequence of her health-
Alice and Anna Powers have come out to spend some time with Lizzie- her father expects a very large school- When you come home you shall have one of the nicest dresses Staunton can afford- Howe is standing by me, & says I must tell you he is going to write very soon- Your brother John Baldwin leaves on next Wednesday for the Court of appeals-I believe I have given you all the news- my letter is made up of insipid matter- but it is only an incident in life.
I hope if you should remain a week longer in Roanoke I shall receive another letter from you. I am pleased to hear Brother William is looking so well. Remember me kindly to all the family-goodnight-your affectionate Mother Ann Peyton
I will add a few lines to Lucy though I know not what I shall say.
My Dear Lucy-
You have afforded me much pleasure by adding a postscript to Anne’s letter. I like to see one make as much of a sheet of paper as possible- nothing like killing two birds with one stone. You write glowing accounts of the wedding and Sally’s magnificent wardrobe. I trust she will make Mr. Reed a fine wife. If you should write again give me a full account of the strangers present…give Sally a kiss for me- & sweet Sue.
Yelverton Howe says I must tell you he has finished Plutarch’s Lives- he has a great fondness for reading- which is very gratifying to me. I trust in providence that he may partake of the qualities of his dearest Father. Tell Mary she must write me soon- It was hardly worth while for Mr. Gray to go to the Sulphur Springs as you have such a short time to stay- Love to all the family
Adieu your affectionate mother AM Peyton
P.S…Lizzie says Ann must write to her & you & Garnett must answer her letter
The following letter was posted from Tye River Mills, Virginia on January 25, 1849 to Col. John B. Baldwin.
Nelson, Va January 23rd 1849
Your letter of the 19th ult is received. I approve of all you have done and thank you for it. Yes, I want you to collect all that is still due me, as soon as you can conveniently and then settle fully the whole affair. I expect to move westward very early in the spring and I would be gratified to see the matter brought to a conclusion before I go.
I had expected to have the pleasure of seeing you all about this time but that pleasure is at present denied me, as I expect to start tomorrow to Baltimore on business for my uncle. On my return I hope to enjoy if but for a short time your “hearty welcome and the spare room.”
Give my love to sister Susan and the inmates of Montgomery Hall.
Your friend faithfully,
Thos. E. Massie
The following letter was addressed to J.B.G. Lewis from his mother, Mary Preston Lewis, who was also the mother of Ann Montgomery Lewis Peyton. Mary Preston Lewis was married to Major John Lewis, grandson of John Lewis, known as the Founder of Augusta County and Staunton. Mary Preston Lewis was the daughter of Col. William Preston and was born at her father’s Smithfield Plantation. William Preston also had early ties to Augusta County. There is no date on the letter. Major John Lewis died in 1823 and Mary Preston Lewis died in 1824.
A servant who has been hired at the Sw stops to hand you this which informs you we are all well at this time. Your sister Susan and family are well having gotten letters last night. They intend to Nelson the first week in October. Your brother W & family will set out for home on Monday next. I fear you will not see them. However I do not know their designed rout- Your sister Mary looks very well. Sarah has had a tolerable summer- I was quite mortified at W.P.’s not coming up to see us we all calculated on his visit certainly tho short. I hope he will not forget us at some future time. Why does not my dear Benja write to his mother who dreams of him every week sometimes oftener & thinks of him daily- I hope he will not disappoint the flattering expectations of his fond Parents receive my prayers and best wishes for your happiness here & hereafter
Your Mother Mary P. Lewis
Sept B Benjamin my dear tell Mr. Ricketts the potter your Father says he will give him every encouragement he possibly can in his line in this country-we have long looked for him I have sent a piece of native clay…There are many more places of clay similar perhaps better convenient to the Sweet Springs than what I send…