The Tracy W. McGregor Library of American History

The Tracy W. McGregor Collection BookplateOne of the cornerstones of the University of Virginia special collections is the American history library of Tracy W. McGregor(1869-1936). In his later years, McGregor had become interested in Virginia and had visited the Charlottesville area from his Detroit home. In 1925, he and his wife had established the McGregor Fund to support charitable works in their areas of particular interest. In his will, he bequeathed the notable collection of books and manuscripts that he had assembled to the McGregor Fund with instructions that his collection be donated to an institution “having fine ideals of higher education and reasonable likelihood of achieving those ideals.”

The trustees of the McGregor Fund decided in 1938 to donate the collection to the University of Virginia, knowing of Mr. McGregor’s interest in the University. The Alderman Library building was nearing completion, but space was set aside for a special room. It was furnished with a gift for that purpose from the trustees of the McGregor Fund as a memorial to Mr. McGregor, and was opened for use on April 14, 1939. In 2004, the Library’s special collections, including the McGregor Library, were moved to a new state-of-the-art facility, and the McGregor Room in Alderman Library was refurbished as an open study area thanks to a grant from the McGregor Fund, which also funds an annual lecture that is held in the room.

The gift of the McGregor Library was one of major importance to the library and the University as Harry Clemons wrote in his 1950 history of the library: “This collection came to a small library at the moment when that library was attempting a new role. The significance of the collection was therefore much greater than it would have been in a library rich in such collections, or in a library not committed to an ambitious programme.” The trustees generously provided funds each year for many years to enable the library to purchase materials for the McGregor Library. They renewed this support in 1994 with a gift of $250,000 to establish an endowment for the Library.

The original McGregor Library collection included about 5,000 volumes of rare books, a research collection of some 12,500 volumes, and a number of manuscripts. Mr. McGregor in his own collecting “specialized in English and American literature, and more particularly, in American history.” William H. Runge described holdings of the library in a 1963 issue of the University of Virginia News Letter, noting that “successive curators of the McGregor Library . . . have concentrated on the development of the portion of the collection relating to southeastern American history (from Maryland south, and from the Mississippi River east). In this field it is now preeminent.” Further quotations from his article appear below.

For images of the McGregor Room see below .

There are today, either from Mr. McGregor’s original collections, or from materials added since, wonderful books about the exploration of the western hemisphere beginning with pre-Discovery science and geography. “The earliest book . . . is the first edition of Ptolemy’s Cosmographia, printed in 1475. It, with the works of Strabo, Pomponius Mela, Solinus, Sacro Bosco, and Euclid . . . represents pre-discovery science and geography.” Other highlights include “the letter which first announced to Europe the results of Columbus’ first voyage,” Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, and a fine set of the “Great Voyages” of DeBry “which includes Hariot’s Virginia” among many others.

Southern Americana is perhaps the glittering center of the McGregor Library, with “Captain John Smith’s True Relation, the first printed account” of the Virginia colony, “Ralph Hamor’s True Discourse of the Present Estate of Virginia; the only known copy of More News from Virginia; a contemporary account of Bacon’s rebellion; John Lederer’s Three Several Marches from Virginia; and Jefferson’s own annotated copy of his [only published book] Notes on the State of Virginia“; and Benjamin Martyn’s Reasons for Establishing the Colony of Georgia as notable among many jewels.

Runge continued:

Early material concerning the New England and the Middle-Atlantic colonies is abundant. Mourt’s Relation, the first printed account of the Pilgrims in New England is present [as are] John White’s The Planters Plea (1630), a source for early colonization attempts in Massachusetts; and Thomas Lechford’s Plain Dealings; or News from New-England (1642) . . . There is a copy of Roger Williams’ Key into the Language of America (1643), the first book by the founder of Rhode Island and the first serious attempt to record the vocabulary of the Indians of New England; a fine copy of the ‘Indian Bible’ (1663) by John Eliot. . . .

Also present is a large group of pamphlets and books relating to early New York. . . . New Jersey is represented by George Scott’s Model of the Government of the Province of East-New-Jersey (1685) which contains a series of important letters written from early settlers of New Jersey to friends in Scotland. William Penn’s Some Account of the Province of Pennsilvania . . . is the earliest account of that colony. [The library contains ] most of the other writings of Penn concerning his colony.

There are whole collections of tracts relating to the disastrous activities of the Mississippi Bubble of John Law, in which an attempt was made to form a French colonization company in that area; to the sugar controversy, of vital interest to the English colonies in the 1730’s; to the expedition of Admiral Vernon . . . to the French and Indian War, with special emphasis on the part played by Virginia; and to the events leading up to the Revolution.

Mr. McGregor and the successor librarians have assembled much material concerning the American Revolution and the Confederation and early Republic periods, and William Runge wrote that the Library contains for them:

the only copy remaining in Virginia of the 1774 Williamsburg broadside Association Signed by 89 Members of the Late House of Burgesses, calling for a boycott of British goods; the first printing [by John Dunlap] of the Declaration of Independence . . . and numerous accounts of the war and its local controversies. . . . the first printing of the Ordinance of 1787, forming the Northwest Territory. . . . a copy of the Federalist Papers once owned by Alexander Hamilton’s son with his annotations; and a fine collection of the documents of the first 14 congresses.

The collection is particularly strong in New England material with a superb collection of the Mather family, “prominent clergymen of 17th- century New England, and their contemporaries,” particularly of Increase and Cotton Mather, including the manuscript of the latter’s diary. Mr. McGregor had acquired the superb Mather collection “gathered by . . . William Gwinn Mather . . . one of the three Mather collections in existence. . . . Rich in materials concerning the New England colonies, the collections throws into bold relief the essential differences between the early town life of the North and the plantation life of the South. . . .”

The Nineteenth Century is well-represented, with items such as a set of Audubon’s Viviparous Quadrupeds; there also are fine collections of materials relating to Kentucky and the southeast. Mr. Runge wrote:

There is . . . the only known copy of a broadside (1809) concerning the movement of United States troops into New Orleans as a result of British threats to seize the city; the earliest printing of President Madison’s proclamation (1810) in which he announces the cession of West Florida from Spain. . . . and a copy of John C. Calhoun’s Disquistion on Government, specially bound and presented by the author’s son to President Franklin Pierce.

For the Civil War period there is, in addition to a collection of about 1,000 Confederate imprints, and inscribed copy of General William T. Sherman’s war reports of his “March to the Sea”; a bound volume of General Philip SheridanÌs privately printed war reports, once owned by him; and a complete set of the London-printed Confederate Index.

The maps held by the McGregor Library are superb, both from Mr. McGregor’s own collecting and from those acquired in succeeding years. Many were used in a superb exhibit mounted by the Library in 1995 entitled, Exploring the West from Monticello: A Perspective in Maps from Columbus to Lewis and Clark which showed the breadth and depth of the cartographic holdings of the McGregor Library.

This, then, is the McGregor Library, cornerstone of the Library’s American history collections.

See a quicktime virtual tour of the McGregor Room as it looked prior to Summer 2004

Also, check out historical images of the McGregor Room including visits from such celebrities as W. H. Auden, William Faulkner, and Elizabeth Taylor found in the U.Va. Online Visual History Collection.