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Historic Mount Vernon Returns Copy of Rare Book Borrowed by George Washington in 1789 to The New York Society Library

Wed, 05/19/2010

For Immediate Release
May 19, 2010
Digital images available

Media Contacts:

Melissa Wood, Historic Mount Vernon
Desk: (703) 799-5203, Cell: (703) 732-5700

Sara Holliday, The New York Society Library
Desk: (212) 288-6900 x230

Historic Mount Vernon Returns Copy of Rare Book Borrowed by George Washington in 1789 to The New York Society Library

New York, NY – A small missing piece of American history came home on May 19 after 221 years: a copy of a book borrowed by the first President of the United States was returned to the library from which he borrowed it in New York City.

In October 1789, The New York Society Library, New York City’s oldest library, shared a building with the federal government in Federal Hall, at Wall and Broad Streets in lower Manhattan. The Library’s collection was used by Members of Congress, the Cabinet and the President himself. According to the Library’s meticulous borrowing records or what is called a “charging ledger,” President Washington took out The Law of Nations by Emer de Vattel on October 5, 1789. The book was not returned, nor any overdue book fine paid.

Earlier this year the New York Society Library completed restoration of its 1789-1792 charging ledger, which will be available to the public in a digital version on its website in the fall of 2010. The ledger features the borrowing history of Washington, John Adams, John Jay, Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, George Clinton, James Duane, and over 450 other New Yorkers. The Library also conducted an inventory of books mentioned in the ledger and confirmed that the book checked out by President Washington was still missing.

Although this was a well-kept secret at the Library for years, it became public recently in an article in The New York Daily News. A few days after learning of the situation, staff at Washington’s home in Virginia, Mount Vernon, offered to replace Vattel’s Law of Nations with another copy of the same edition. To observe this auspicious occasion, the Library hosted a ceremony on May 19 at 11 a.m. at which Mount Vernon’s President, James C. Rees, and Librarian, Joan Stahl, presented the errant volume to Charles G. Berry, Chairman of the Library’s Board of Trustees and Mark Bartlett, Head Librarian. The event took place in the Members’ Room at the building the Library has occupied since 1937, 53 East 79th Street.

Mount Vernon’s kind gesture shows their appreciation for maintaining a library’s collection for posterity. They are in the process of establishing a library of their own: as the nation’s first and only center for amassing and disseminating knowledge about Washington, the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington will safeguard Washington’s books and manuscripts, serve as a scholarly retreat, create educational outreach programs on Washington, and provide seminars and training programs with a special focus on Washington’s leadership. Construction of the 45,000 square foot facility is expected to begin in early 2011, with a completion date in 2012.

The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation has pledged $38 million to Mount Vernon for the creation of this library. As the longtime chairman of the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, Fred W. Smith has championed a number of projects related to George Washington. The Foundation’s gift is the largest in the history of Mount Vernon, which ranks as the oldest and most visited national preservation project in America.

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About The New York Society Library
Founded in 1754, the New York Society Library is the city’s oldest cultural institution and one of fewer than 20 membership libraries in the country. In the eighteenth century, an organization labeled "Society" indi­cated that it was open to everyone throughout society. Today, we are open to all for reading, reference, and many events, with circulation and other services by subscription. The Library is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation supported by membership fees, charitable contributions and income from its endowment (built largely from bequests). Extensive information on the Library and its history can be found on

About George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens
Since 1860, over 80 million visitors have made George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens the most popular historic home in America. Through thought-provoking tours, entertaining events, and stimulating educational programs on the Estate and in classrooms across the nation, Mount Vernon strives to preserve George Washington’s place in history as “First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen.” The estate is located 16 miles from the nation’s capital. It is owned and operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, America’s oldest national preservation organization, founded in 1853. Admission fees, restaurant and retail proceeds, and private donations support the operation and restoration of Mount Vernon. For more information visit

About the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation
The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation is a national philanthropic organization founded in 1954 by the late media entrepreneur for whom it is named. Reynolds was the founder and principal owner of the Donrey Me­dia Group. When he died in 1993, the company included over 70 businesses, the majority of which were in the communications/media field. Headquartered in Las Vegas, the Reynolds Foundation is one of the largest private foundations in the United States. For more information, please visit online at