Joseph Dow's History of Hampton: The Proprietors of the Hampton Library

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The Proprietors of the Hampton Library

Under the name was incorporated, in 1807, what has since been familiarly called the old library. It had already been established several years, the first meeting for choice of officers having been held January 2, 1804. "Convinced that a social Library in this town may be attended with important benefits, both to the risen and rising generations," the originators had circulated a subscription paper, placing the terms of membership at two dollars a share, an annual tax of fifty cents, and in all affairs of the society, one vote for each share owned.

On that basis, the society was organized; and, at the meeting above mentioned, Rev. William Pidgin, Rev. Jesse Appleton and Dr. Ebenezer Lawrence were chosen a committee, "to form regulations and purchase books for the library." Joshua Lane was elected treasurer; Col. Jonathan Garland, clerk; and Dr. Lawrence, librarian.

"Voted, to bind the books with leather."

"Voted, to give Samuel James twenty shillings and sixpence for a book-case."

Of the ninety-two proprietors, representing ninety-six shares, not one remains at this day. The memory of the old library is passing away; but, in its day, it was an active force, in a literary and religious influence, which, however, was limited, as a fine of fifty cents was exacted of any member, who should "lend a book to any person not dwelling in the same house."

The rules were not cumbersome. They provided for an annual meeting on the first Monday of January, and such other meetings as the committee should call, on nine days' notice, "by a paper affixed at each meeting-house" (Congregational and Presbyterian). The duties of officers, rights of proprietors, transfer of shares, fines, forfeitures and taxes were determined, and altered from time to time, as seemed expedient. In 1812 occurred a revision of the by-laws, from which date the librarian was also clerk. No treasurer was chosen after 1817, that office also, apparently passing to the librarian. Meetings werre held, as convenient, at the houses of proprietors, and the stores of Stockman and Seaward. Votes were passed, year by year, that the preceptor of the Acadmey and "all the settled ministers of Hampton" have the free use of the library.

It was a modest little library, the first year's purchase being less than seventy volumes; but the modern public would deem it "heavy," and give it slight patronage. History and biography held a conspicuous place, but the books were largely theological and devotional. Only one volume of poems (Cowper's) appears in the whole catalogue; while Robinson Crusoe is the only book that can be called a novel till 1830, when the directors launched out into fiction, in the purchase of Scott's novels -- forty-five volumes, for eighteen dollars.

Where the library was at first kept, is not now known -- probably at the house or store of the librarian in charge. While Mr. Seaward was librarian, it was kept at his store, which stood by the road, on the corner of the Perry field, next to Christopher G. Toppan's homestead. That building, by the way, was afterwards moved to Boar's Head, and is now the cottage, connected with the Hampton Beach Hotel. When Mr. Seaward left town, in 1845, the library was removed to the store of John Mason, who filled out Mr. Seaward's term as librarian, and the next year was himself chosen to the office. Librarians Knowles and Batchelder had it at their homes; and the last move was to the house of Jesse Lamprey, in 1853.

Judging from the records, a lively interest was maintained in the library, for a good many years; but at length, payments of taxes and fines began to lag, till, in the course of time, arrearages amounted to more than individuals found it convenient to pay, while their neglect crippled the society and lessened the yearly addition of new books. Then interest flagged; and so it came about, that, from 1848, the library slumbered for nearly six years. Then an effort was made to revive it; but in 1854, the society closed up its affairs and sold the books by auction. Some of them are still seen in private libraries, in their leaather covers and printed labels.

Chosen LIBRARIANS Retired Chosen TREASURERS Retired
1804 Ebenezer Lawrence 1809 1804 Joshua Lane 1809
1809 Edmund Toppan 1811 1809 Dr. Ebenezer Lawrence 1812
1811 Richard Greenleaf 1814 1812 Jeremiah T. Marston 1814
1814 Josiah Page 1817 1814 Josiah Dow 1815
1817 David Page 1818 1815 Jeremiah T. Marston 1816
1818 Moody Stockman 1827 1816 Josiah Page 1817
1827 John M. Seaward 1830 1817 David Page  
1830 Edmund W. Toppan 1834      
1834 Jesse Knowles 1837      
1837 John Batchelder 1838   CLERKS  
1838 John M. Seaward 1846 1804 Col. Jonathan Garland 1806
1846 John Mason 1848 1806 John Carroll 1807
1848 Jeremiah M. Lamprey   1807 Dr. Ebenezer Lawrence 1812
1853 Jesse Lamprey 1854 1812 Richard Greenleaf  
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