Following on from last week’s post, here’s another book where the owner noted her hometown:

x20130103My New Home. By the author of “Win and Wear,” “Tony Starr’s Legacy,” “Faithful and True,” “Ned’s Motto,” “Turning the New Leaf,” Etc., published in New York by Robert Carter & Brothers, 1881.  This novel, written by Sarah Stuart Robbins, was first published in 1865; it’s a gently religious story, written for young ladies, about a woman moving out of her childhood home after the death of her mother. (Many volumes of the “Win and Wear” series, of which this is a part, can be found online.)

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The book is well-read, with a partly-detached cover, rubbed corners, some water damage, and dog-eared pages; there are also a number of inscriptions.  The earlier ones, on the inside cover (above), include the name “Dr. Ayler” and a sticker from the Library of the Poolesville Presbyterian Sabbath School.  (Note that “This Book must either be returned or reported to the Librarian each Week.”)  The Poolesville Presbyterian Church was founded in the late 1840s; though it appears to have had a rather small congregation, it was active enough in the late 19th century to support both a Sabbath School and a Library with at least 104 books in it.  (This book being No. 104.)

Dr. John W. Ayler (1839-1916) was a physician from Virginia who made his home in Poolesville from the 1870s to the 1890s; he was active in the Poolesville Presbyterian congregation, and in fact his wife’s brother was a minister in the Rockville Presbyterian Church. It’s not clear why his name appears in the front of the book, though perhaps he donated it to the Sabbath School.

The Poolesville Presbyterian Church lost its full-time minister in 1902, and while I haven’t found mention of the Sabbath School in any of our records so far, it seems possible that the school closed around the same time, and the library books dispersed.  By 1903, this book was in the hands of young Margaret Lee, who identified herself clearly on the copyright page:

my house where I live Feb. 19, 1903.
Margaret Lee age 17 years
Poolesville, Md is my staying place but Sugarland is my house where I live

Sugarland is an African American community near Poolesville, founded soon after Maryland abolished slavery in 1864.  The Lees were one of the first families to purchase land and set up their households in the new community.  Margaret Lee can be found in the 1900 census, living at home with her parents Wallace and Martha; she’s noted as “at school,” probably attending Sugarland’s one-room schoolhouse. The book inscription indicates that by 1903 she was living, and likely working, in the larger town of Poolesville – but we are not to mistake that for her actual home!  Like many small towns, Sugarland inspires a strong sense of community in its residents and their descendants.  Miss Lee’s inscription – whether or not it was prompted by the theme or title of the novel, and whether it was meant for other readers’ eyes or only her own – emphasizes those ties in a particularly affecting way.

For more information about Margaret Lee’s community, visit the Sugarland Ethno-History Project website. The rest of Miss Lee’s history is currently unknown, though the people at the Project – some of them related to Miss Lee – are looking into her story.  The book itself was donated to the Historical Society’s used book sale fundraiser many years ago; we rescued it from the sale, but were not able to identify its donor by name.  If you have any information about the post-1903 history of Miss Lee or her book, please let us know!

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