Skip to content Skip to navigation

The William Orville Thomson Endowed Lecture: All Necessary and Useful Knowledge: Thomas Bray’s Libraries for Colonial America

Wednesday, November 13, 2019 - 6:00pm to 7:00pm
Reception to follow
Registration is requested
Members: Free | Visitors: $15

The William Orville Thomson Endowed Lecture

All Necessary and Useful Knowledge: Thomas Bray’s Libraries for Colonial America

with John Buchtel

This free-for-members event is made possible with support from the William Orville Thomson Endowment, which is generously funded by Athenæum Proprietor Peter Thomson.

In 1697, Thomas Bray, a priest in the Church of England, published a detailed report (Bibliotheca Parochialis) in which he outlined all the “necessary and useful” books that he thought would constitute the essential knowledge needed to equip Anglican church leaders to minister effectively in the English colonies in North America. At the same time, Bray began fundraising to assemble libraries based on his published plan. By the time he turned his project over to his successors in 1704, Bray’s remarkable enterprise resulted in more than 40 collections of books being sent to various locations in the American colonies.

One of those libraries, the collection sent to King’s Chapel in Boston in 1698, survives intact as part of the collections of the Boston Athenæum. This talk will explore Bray’s expressed purposes behind his selections for his libraries, as well as telling the story of the King’s Chapel collection, including its remarkable survival during the American war for independence. The talk is presented in conjunction with the exhibition “Required Reading: Reimagining a Colonial Library,” on view at the Athenæum from September 17, 2019 through March 14, 2020.

John Buchtel, Ph.D. is Curator of Rare Books and Head of Special Collections at the Boston Athenæum. Prior to joining the Athenæum, he served as director of the Booth Family Center for Special Collections at Georgetown University and as curator of rare books in the Sheridan Libraries at The Johns Hopkins University. He earned his Ph.D. in English, with a focus on early modern British literature, at the University of Virginia, while concurrently acting as curator of the teaching collections at Rare Book School. He teaches, lectures, and publishes on the history of books and printing, the history of libraries, book collecting, and literary patronage and book dedications.

Assistive Listening Devices image

Auto-generated captions are available for most virtual programs. To request live captioning or other accommodations, please contact Hannah Weisman at or 617-720-7617 at least four business days prior to the event.