Rare 270-year-old book found in US library vault

By Bruce Smith, AP

CHARLESTON, South Carolina–A rare book almost 270 years old has been found in the vault of the oldest library in the U.S. South, but the library won’t be able to keep it for much longer.

The 1743 tome, “Dissertation Upon Parties” by Henry St. John Lord Bolingbroke, was one of 800 volumes that planter and diplomat John Mackenzie donated to the College of Charleston in the 1700s.

His library was housed at the Charleston Library Society, founded in 1748, until a proper library could be built at the fledgling college. But a 1778 fire ripped through the Library Society, and only 77 titles from the Mackenzie collection were thought to have survived.

The 78th, the Bolingbroke book, was found as part of a multi-year search through the Library Society vaults to record its thousands of volumes. The book about political parties, with Mackenzie’s name embossed on it, will be returned to College of Charleston officials at a ceremony Thursday.

Library archivist Trisha Kometer says the contents of its vaults remain unclear.

During the Civil War, for instance, the collection was moved from Charleston, which was bombarded throughout the war, to the state capital of Columbia.

The archives search has turned up several other gems.

They include two letters written by Alexander Hamilton and a unique third letter written by John Marshall, then chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, to South Carolinian Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, who helped draft the Constitution.

“It was written the day that Thomas Jefferson was sworn in (as president),” Kometer said. “John Marshall was the one who actually swore him in. He started a letter to Charles Coatesworth Pinckney in the morning and then he took a break and came back at 4 o’clock to finish the letter and said, ‘I have just administered the oath.’”