Rare glimpse into history

The College of Charleston has acquired a rare book, “A Dissertation Upon Parties” by Henry St. John Bolingbroke. It’s one of the missing volumes from the original Mackenzie collection donated by 18th century Charles Towne politician John Mackenzie.

A rare 18th century political book uncovered in the vaults of the Charleston Library Society has been turned over to the College of Charleston, marking another step toward rebuilding the 800-book Mackenzie collection.

Harlan Greene, an archivist in the Addlestone Library’s Special Collections, said finding “A Dissertation Upon Parties” by Henry St. John Bolingbroke was an unexpected surprise. The college now has about 80 books from the collection and it plans to slowly purchase copies of the rest, rebuilding the collection over time.

The book, Greene said, “is a time capsule into the history and world view of the far-sighted people who wanted to found the college before the American Revolution.”

The Mackenzie collection has been slow to arrive at the college, Greene said. Charles Towne politician John Mackenzie donated the extensive collection to the college in 1771. Instead of delivering the books to the college, however, he brought them to the Charleston Library Society, where they were to be held until the college received its charter.

A massive 1778 fire, which consumed much of Charleston, burned nearly everything that was being held by the Library Society. The Mackenzie collection was presumed lost, Greene said.

But Library Society workers came across dozens of volumes in the late 1970s, he said. They were turned over to the college in 1980, many of them scorched by the fire and in need of repair.

The political book that arrived at the library Thursday somehow was overlooked in the earlier discovery, he said. But recently, the book leaped out to somebody and said, “Don’t forget me,” Greene said.

Despite the fire, a list of the books in the Mackenzie collection remained, Greene said. The college will purchase copies whenever possible, he said.

“Some of them are extremely rare,” Greene said. “But we’re always hopeful more will turn up.”

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.