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London Booksellers and American Customers
Transatlantic Literary Community and the Charleston Library Society, 1748–1811

James Raven

Documents the transatlantic demand for books from one of the most prosperous colonial outposts of the British Empire

James Raven's history of the Charleston Library Society's book purchasing activities offers both a window into the transatlantic book trade during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and a chronicle of this early library's influence on southern culture. Founded in 1748 and still flourishing today, the Charleston Library Society occupies a position of historical significance comparable to that of the Library Company of Philadelphia, the New York Library Society, and the Boston Athenaeum. Its members provided the initiative for the founding of the Charleston Museum, the College of Charleston, and numerous civic and literary societies. Raven reveals how the Charleston library grew into an effective force for the pursuit of intellectual and scientific interests and the confirmation of the political power of South Carolina's planter elite.

Raven's exhaustive study features an annotated edition of the "Charles Town Library Society Letterbook, 1758–1811," a rare surviving set of correspondence written to London booksellers. These letters document the processes of colonial book ordering and transit, including the types of literature requested, methods of financing undertaken, and time required to receive shipments. Raven supplements the correspondence by tracking changes in eighteenth-century publishing and revealing how important but exasperating the overseas market was for all leading London booksellers. Raven also places the Library Society in its context as a driving force in Charleston's social and cultural development. While the objectives of all early American library societies were avowedly universal, Raven shows that the sociability they fostered was highly exclusive. He discusses how planter-class claims to public leadership were founded not only on wealth but also on education, fashion, and etiquette—the badges and rituals of gentility nurtured by the Charleston library. Raven emphasizes how a privileged and wealthy elite, ever aware of its vulnerability, used its library society to reinforce political and cultural unity and to create a sociability that transcended political divisions wrought by the American Revolution.

James Raven is Reader in Social and Cultural History at Oxford University and a Professorial Fellow of Mansfield College. He is a leading authority on the history of publishing and communications and the author of many books and articles on British, European, and colonial cultural history.



book jacket for London Booksellers and American Customers


6 x 9
608 pages
19 illustrations
ISBN 978-1-57003-406-0
cloth, $59.95s

The Carolina Lowcountry and
the Atlantic World


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