The following post is by Monica Varner, Collections Manager in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division.
Before it became a book, the Knowledge of God, securing from flattery, and strengthening to the most noble exploits was a sermon preached by Thomas Bridge (1657-1715) to the Honourable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, shortly after his ordination at the First Church in Boston in early 1705. Printed in Boston later that fall, Thomas Bridge’s sermon became a piece of material history with a story of its own.
The Rare Book & Special Collections Division’s copy measures a mere fourteen centimeters. An elegant but plain brown morocco binding was added sometime in the late 19th to early 20th centuries by James MacDonald in New York, protecting what are likely the original covers made of fragile scraps of wallpaper. A bold, black-printed design in a chinoiserie style, the original front cover features large-scale flowers and trailing leaves; the back cover shows a portion of a servant holding a parasol over a decadently-dressed lady’s head, with some surviving painted accents in blue pigment.
Similar examples wallpapers from other museum collections suggest that the curious wrapper likely dates from the latter half of the 18th century, when Chinese-style designs became fashionable in England and subsequently in America. A very similar style and scale of woodblock-printed wallpaper, featuring squirrels and birds on a black background, can be found at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Of the recorded surviving copies of Bridge’s The knowledge of God (1705) at Harvard University, Union Theological Seminary, and the Library of Congress, only the LOC copy can be found in any sale catalogue of the past century. One hundred years ago, in January 1923, it sold for $22 in the Americana portion of Henry Cady Sturges’ sale at Anderson Galleries and joined the Library of Congress’ collections that very same year. Other notable items in Sturges’ sale included a letter by George Washington in 1788 suggesting to Gov. Jonathan Trumbull that he would decline a presidential nomination, and a first edition of William Cullen Bryant’s book The Embargo.
The flyleaf of The knowledge of God has inscriptions by two previous owners, written two hundred years earlier: “Lydia pygan hur Boock,” and “Thomas Adams, His book, 1726” (with his initials in red). Investigation reveals these to be the autographs of a grandmother and grandson, both of New London, Connecticut: Lydia Beaumont Pygan (1645-1734), and her daughter’s son, Dr. Thomas Adams (1715-1753). Lydia’s signature closely matches exemplars from her husband’s estate records of 1700 and her own will of 1726.
Lydia was the wife of Alexander Pygan of New London. Her family had arrived in Connecticut in the early 1630s, while her husband Alexander, said to be somewhat of a rascal in his youth, had “left his country for his country’s good” and arrived in America sometime in the mid-17th century. He was brought in front of the law in New London, first for enticing the affections of a widow’s daughter and later for shooting his neighbor’s horse. As he died in 1700, this 1705 publication unfortunately cannot be speculated to be among the “parsel of Books in the Clositt” inventoried in his will; thus, Lydia Pygan seems to have purchased this book herself, likely while residing with her son-in-law in her widowhood.
The Pygan family’s literacy and interest in books and reading continued through successive generations. Alexander and Lydia’s daughter, also named Lydia, married the Reverend Eliphalet Adams (1677-1753), a Harvard graduate, and their children included the Rev. William Adams, Pygan Adams, and Thomas Adams. Thomas, whose signature was made in the book when he was 11, went on to study at Yale and train as a physician. The diary of Joshua Hempstead goes into some detail on his life:
1754: “Toward night I rid up to the funeral of Samll Adams…son of Thos adams of Easthaddam who was the youngest Son of our Late minister Mr adams Decd. Sd Thomas was brot up att our Colledge & Lived a while with his Brother in Law ye Late Colln Bulkley of Colchester & Learned of him to be a Doctor of Physick & married at Easthaddam to a Daughter of the Revd Mr Hosmer the minister there…”
Both Pygan and Thomas Adams are listed as subscribers in a 1743 book, Seasonable thoughts on the state of religion in New-England. Written by Charles Chauncy, another long-term Congregationalist minister at the First Church in Boston, the financial support of its publication further underlines the family’s active collection of religious printed work of this kind. In examining the holdings recorded in the English Short Title Catalogue, other titles confirmed to be owned by the family, in particular the Revs. Eliphalet and William, include numerous works by the Mather family of ministers, William Perkins’ Foundation of Christian religion, and several titles in Algonquian dialects used in Eliphalet’s work with local tribes.
In addition to clergymen and physicians, the Adams family and descendants were well-represented among the American silversmiths of the eighteenth century: Pygan Adams worked in New London, and examples of his work are held at Winterthur. His nephew John Gardiner apprenticed under him, and his son-in-law’s New London shop was destroyed by the British in 1781.
The most recent owner of The knowledge of God, Henry Cady Sturges (1846-1922), also descended from a long lineage of Connecticut residents and avid readers, primarily of Fairfield. His sister, Amelia, was the first wife of J.P. Morgan. A passionate book collector and art connoisseur, Henry had a special library tower added to the enormous Sturges home in Fairfield for the display and storage of his collections, and he is credited as the founder, as a teenage student, of the school library at the Flushing Institute. His mother, Mary Pemberton Cady, had several ancestors who were born or lived in New London, and thus it is possible, but unconfirmed, that one of these ancestors might have acquired this volume from a descendent of the above-mentioned Adams family—perhaps from William, who on the death of Eliphalet, is listed in his will as the inheritor of “All the Library.”
This year marks one hundred years of The knowledge of God becoming available to the public in the Library of Congress’ collections. One of 16,990 titles in the American Imprints Collection, this book is but one example of how many different stories sit side-by-side in the Library’s vaults waiting to be discovered.
Anderson Galleries, Inc. The library of the late Henry Cady Sturges of New York City. Part three: Americana. New York: Anderson Galleries, 1923. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uiug.30112109671336&seq=83
Caulkins, Frances Manwaring. History of New London, Connecticut. New London: the author, 1852. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/009590849
Caulkins, Frances Manwaring. Memoir of the Rev. William Adams, of Dedham, Mass. and of the Rev. Eliphalet Adams, of New London, Conn. Cambridge, Mass.: Metcalf & Co., 1849. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/011542035
“Estate of Pygan, Alexander (New London, 1700),” “Estate of Pygan, Lydia (New London, 1735),” “Estate of Adams, Eliphalet (New London, 1753),” “Estate of Adams, Thomas (East Haddam, 1753).” Connecticut, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1609-1999. Ancestry.com Resource available on-site only.
Hempstead, Joshua. Diary of Joshua Hempstead of New London. New London: Historical Society, 1901. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/api/volumes/oclc/1549090.html
Hill, Edwin Charles. The Historical Register, 1922. “Henry Cady Sturges.” New York: Edwin C. Hill, 1922. New-York tribune. (New York [N.Y.]), 21 Nov. 1922. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. //chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030214/1922-11-21/ed-1/seq-11/
United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places. National Historic Landmark Nomination: Jonathan Sturges House. October 6, 1993. https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/8c8cea63-2e86-4f60-ba63-ce691ede2c20/
United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Office of Archaology and Historic Preservation. Wallpapers in Historic Preservation. Washington, DC: Department of the Interior, 1977. http://npshistory.com/publications/preservation/wallpapers.pdf
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