Portland Library Society

The Portland Library Society (1763–1826) or Portland Library was a subscription library in Portland, Maine.[1] The library "was originally established in 1763. It was revived in 1786, and re-established in 1806."[2] Samuel Freeman served as librarian ca.1785-1807;[3][4][5] followed by Oliver Bray (ca.1812-1817).[6][7] New members were elected. The annual fee for each member was "two dollars per year in 1784 and fifteen dollars by 1801."[8]

Portrait of Samuel Freeman, librarian


Falmouth Library, 1763-1786Edit

The library was "originally instituted, 1763"[9] in Falmouth (later Portland), Maine. According to historian William Willis:

"In 1763, several gentlemen ... desirous of promoting the diffusion of useful knowledge, and extending the means of information, made some attempts to establish a library. In 1765 ... the first associates were Enoch Freeman, Benjamin Titcomb, Stephen Longfellow, Richard Codman, Edward Watts, Thomas Scales, Paul Prince, John Waite, Benjamin Waite, Enoch Ilsley, Jonathan Webb, Francis Waldo, Thomas Smith, Moses Pearson, James Gooding, Josiah Noyes, John Cox, Jeremiah Pote, Alexander Ross, Ebenezer Mayo, John Wiswall, Richard King, Jedediah Preble, Ephraim Jones, Stephen Waite, and John Waite, Jr. ... At the opening of the library in 1766, it contained but 93 volumes ... not one was printed in this country. ... We believe this to have been the first establishment of the kind in Maine. Not much addition was made to the books previous to the revolution."[10]

Titles in the library ca.1766-1775:[11]

During the American Revolution, the British sacked the town of Falmouth, along with its "old town-house, with the publick library."[16] By Willis' account, "in the destruction of the town, the little collection was widely dispersed and a number of the books lost: during the war its operations were entirely suspended until 1780, when an attempt was made to collect the fragments and restore them to use."[17] The library was "revived, 1786."[18] The local newspaper announced the Falmouth Library Society was "re-established upon such principles and rules as to render it a very useful institution. New members have lately been added."[19]

Portland Library, 1787-1826Edit

After the town of Falmouth became "Portland" in 1786, the Falmouth Library Society became the "Portland Library Society."[20] Several years later, the library was "re-established, 1806."[21] Around 1826 the newly formed Portland Athenaeum bought the Portland Library for $1,640.[22] By 1828, the Athenaeum reported: "We received in the Portland Social Library between 1,600 and 1,700 volumes. ... In looking over the catalogue of the Portland Library, though it contained a large number of works of standard merit, and perhaps quite as large a proportion of works of this character, as are usually found in libraries formed as this has been, by small additions made from year to year, and thus made up of the popular reading of the time."[23]


  1. ^ Maine Library Bulletin, v.9, no.4, April 1920
  2. ^ Extracts from the journals kept by the Rev. Thomas Smith: late pastor of the First Church of Christ in Falmouth, in the county of York, (now Cumberland,) from the year 1720, to the year 1788, with an appendix, containing a variety of other matters. Portland, Maine: printed by Thomas Todd, 1821
  3. ^ Falmouth Gazette and Weekly Advertiser, 12-24-1785; Cumberland Gazette, Oct. 2, 1789; Portland Gazette and Maine Advertiser, Jan. 5, 1807
  4. ^ William Freeman. Samuel Freeman: his life and services. Collections and proceedings of the Maine Historical Society. Portland: The Society, 1894
  5. ^ Maine Historical Society. Items related to Samuel Freeman (1743-1831)
  6. ^ Eastern_Argus, 01-02-1812
  7. ^ Massachusetts Register, 1817; p.205
  8. ^ Richard D. Brown. The Emergence of Urban Society in Rural Massachusetts, 1760-1820. The Journal of American History, Vol. 61, No. 1 (Jun., 1974)
  9. ^ By laws of the proprietors of the Portland Library. 1806
  10. ^ William Willis. The History of Portland, from its First Settlement, v.2. Portland: Day, 1833
  11. ^ Willis. 1833
  12. ^ Probably refers to: An impartial history of the life and actions of Peter Alexowitz, the present Czar of Muscovy by Daniel Defoe
  13. ^ WorldCat Robert Millar
  14. ^ Probably refers to: Physico Theology by William Derham
  15. ^ Probably refers to: The Reflector by Peter Shaw cf. WorldCat Peter Shaw
  16. ^ "Transactions of the Late War, Extracted from the British Annual Register, for 1776." American Recorder and the Charlestown Advertiser (Charlestown, Massachusetts), 03-21-1786
  17. ^ Willis. 1833
  18. ^ By laws of the proprietors of the Portland Library. 1806
  19. ^ Falmouth Gazette and Weekly Advertiser, 03-30-1786
  20. ^ Cumberland Gazette, Oct. 2, 1789
  21. ^ By laws of the proprietors of the Portland Library. 1806
  22. ^ "Portland Atheneum." Eastern Argus (Portland, Maine), 02-29-1828
  23. ^ The report continues, describing the Athenaeum's new acquisitions in 1828: "Among the works which have been added during the present year, are those of Sir Francis Bacon, of Locke, Johnson, Warburton, Addison, Goldsmith, Dryden, and a large and valuable selection from the old English Drama, a complete collection of the whole body of English poetry, from Chaucer to Cowper. ... No English library can be considered, we will not say complete, but even respectable, which does not contain the writings of the authors we have just named ...." Cf. "Portland Atheneum." Eastern Argus (Portland, Maine), 02-29-1828

Further readingEdit

  • "The following Are the Rules of the Library Society Lately Re-Established in the Town of Portland." Cumberland Gazette (Portland, Maine), 03-09-1787
  • By laws of the proprietors of the Portland Library; with the names of the proprietors, and catalogue of the books. Portland, Maine: printed by A. & J. Shirley, 1815
  • By laws of the proprietors of Portland Library : with the names of the proprietors, and a catalogue of the books. Portland: Printed by Arthur Shirley, 1821.
  • By-laws of the proprietors of Portland Library: with the names of the proprietors, and catalogue of the books. Portland: Hill, Edwards & Co. printers, 1826.