This Place in History: Henry Stevens & Son

Vermont History


At ‘This Place in History’ we’re in Barnet with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“We’re going to talk about something near and dear to my heart. We’re going to talk about the Stevens family, most specifically Henry Sr. And Henry Jr.,” began Perkins.

“Henry Sr. started the Vermont Historical Society. He was the founder and first president. He was born in 1791, the year Vermont became a state, but he was a self-taught historian. He loved Vermont history and really put himself out there as the expert. He collected lots of books and manuscripts. And he was a state legislator by the way.”

“He decided by the 1830s, that Vermont, like all the other New England states, really needed a historical society. So, he pushed other legislators to put forward legislation to create the Vermont Historical Society. In 1838, our society was created. We’ve been around for that long,” explained Perkins.

“His collection became the basis for the Vermont Historical Society Library. The society met at his house here in Barnet for the first few years of its existence before moving to Montpelier. I think one of the really sad things that happened, one of these vagaries of history, was that his whole collection was installed at the Vermont Historical Society Library in the State House. And in 1857, the State House burned. That whole collection was lost. I can only imagine what incredible gems of Vermont history were lost in that fire.”

“He gave away the presidency, but he certainly stayed involved and he was on the board. They called them curators. He stayed on that until his death.”

“Another great legacy of Henry Stevens, Sr. was his son, Henry Stevens, Jr. We also commemorate him with this sign here in Barnet. His son followed in his footsteps in really loving history and in a broader sense, American books,” began Perkins.

“And he became a rare book dealer. So he went to Middlebury College and then Yale, and then he started at Harvard. He ended up going to England. It was a trip, but stayed for the rest of his career and opened a rare bookseller firm, which is still in business today.”

“He collected books from all over Europe that he would then send back to America. It formed the foundation for the Library of Congress. He sent them to John Carter Brown and it became the foundation of the Brown University Library. He sent them to Lennox and it became part of the New York Public Library.”

“All of these great libraries in the U.S. had him as their agent in Europe. And then he came back to the United States and bought books here and he helped create the American literature and document collection of the British Library. A very outsized impact of this Stevens family on the history of Vermont, but also on American history in general and how we remember that,” concluded Perkins.

At ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historical markers, click here.

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