Hidden History Discovered at the State Library

The American almanac and repository of useful knowledge for the year 1831. Courtesy of the State Library of Ohio. Via Ohio Memory.

Recently I noticed a book that was incorrectly shelved at the State Library. With nearly 2 million items, mistakes are bound to happen. The book was the American Almanac and Repository of Useful Knowledge: For the Year 1831, published in Boston by Gray and Bowen. It is a beautifully bound antique book that we are fortunate enough to have in our collection.

When I took the book off the shelf to place it in the correct spot, where it had been hiding between the American Almanacs from the 1870s, I decided to open it up and look inside. I’m glad I did because I was greeted by an intriguing message written in 1840.

The message written on the back of the front cover in florid cursive is pictured below. It took me a bit to decipher but I believe it says: ‘“Stolen by – Wilson in 1839 from Capt. J.S. Hampson’s office, Zanesville Ohio, sold by the “Commissioner Insolvent.” to Doct. Barker and by him presented to McConnelsville Library-recovered in 1840-“’

Seems like this book had quite an adventure from 1839-1840 and somehow made its way to the State Library!

Image of James Hampson. Courtesy of Muskingum County History.

Now librarians love a good mystery, and I was intrigued by this message about the 1839 theft of the book I was holding. So, I started to do some research into “Capt. J.S. Hampson” who wrote this message. After a little bit of digging, I discovered that the writer of the message was James Hampson (or Capt. James Hampson), an architect who supervised the construction of the Second Ohio Statehouse in Zanesville, Ohio when Zanesville was briefly the Capital of Ohio from 1810-1812. He was also a State Legislator and Muskingum County Sheriff from 1819-1823. Later, he gained National prominence as Superintendent of the National Road, which was the first highway built entirely with federal funds.

I have been digging through Historical books on Zanesville and Muskingum but have yet to find any information on the accused book stealer “Wilson” or “Doct. Barker” so the mystery continues. There appears to be quite a story behind the message that James Hampson wrote in 1840 and it sounds like the book may have gotten mixed up in some late 19th century municipal drama. It’s amazing to find such a fascinating message from the past that had been hiding for over 180 years!

Thank you to Ryan Burley, Research and Catalog Services Manager at the State Library of Ohio, for this week’s post!

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