Marcus A. McCorison
In one of those historical coincidences that always astonishes one, three great book collectors, living in different parts of the North American continent, were active at the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Cotton Mather ( 1663-1728), dominant religious leader of Boston, William Byrd II ( 1674- 1744), the wealthiest Virginia planter of his day, and James Logan ( 1674- 1751), principal politician and merchant of Philadelphia, never met one another and were markedly different individuals. Still in similar ways, including the building and use of their libraries, they were agents in transforming a European culture into a distinctly American culture. Mather, Byrd, and Logan began a distinctly American tradition in library building from which sprang their successors: Thomas Prince ( 1687-1758), William Mackenzie ( 1758-1828), and Isaiah Thomas ( 1749-1831). These men, who came from widely varying traditions, represent the beginnings of cultural changes that found fruition at the end of the eighteenth century, so that the latter generation may be truly thought to be American, new men of a revolution.
Cotton Mather, son of the Reverend Increase Mather of Boston, was the offspring of the leading clerical families in a seventeenth-century town that was dominated by Puritan theology and the revolutionary politics that issued therefrom. Young Mather was educated for the ministry, as had been his grandfathers--Richard Mather and John Cotton--his father, his uncles on all sides, his brothers and his cousins, and his surviving son. Learned in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin in order to interpret or re-interpret the Scriptures, the Mather family acquired a great accumulation of books and pamphlets that passed between fathers and sons, brothers and cousins in a bewildering array of loans, wills, gifts, and accidental transfers. Portions of the collection, which had originated with Richard in old England, passed to family members who went from New England to Ireland and then back to England. Other portions found