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HISTORY: A case could be made that John Mason Peck (1789-1858) was the greatest of the pioneers who set foot in early St. Louis. Writer, Baptist missionary, educator, humanitarian, Peck set about the process of bringing the civilization he knew and loved to the Mississippi Valley. In the 1820's, he founded one of the first Protestant churches west of the Mississippi, the first college in Illinois, and ordained the first African-American clergy in St. Louis. He also established the first schools for slaves in St. Louis. He was a great publicist for the region and encouraged settlement back east through his famous gazetteer for Missouri and Illinois, and wrote many other books which celebrated the pioneer spirit and history of the area.
Peck was a great book collector, and member of St. Louis' first library-the Mercantile-to which he bequeathed his collection at the time of his death. This important early acquisition was very strong in American history and literature, and helped to set the pace for the early development of the Library's special research collections in this field.
SCOPE: The collection covers all of Peck's many educational endeavors and comprises an excellent picture of a frontier intellectual's interests through such a rare and extant mid-nineteenth century library. The earliest known copies of many Illinois newspapers, including the very first newspapers of that state are in the collection, as well as many other rare frontier Midwestern imprints. The collection also holds original manuscripts and ledgers on such subjects as the development of Rockspring Theological Seminary, the first institution of higher education in Illinois, as well as important annotations and manuscript commentary in the books throughout. Most of this working library was composed of current books of Peck's adult life, many of which are excessively rare today, and dates concentrate from the 1820's through the mid-nineteenth century.
HOLDINGS: 125 books, over 600 pamphlets, many on religious controversies and the slavery question, as well as on missionary work with native Americans, and a small collection of bound manuscripts.
ACCESS: A published finding aid is available for Special Collection M-111: The John Mason Peck Collection in the St. Louis Mercantile Library: A Man of Letters on the Frontier and His Library. The collection has been catalogued and fully described on OCLC through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Portions of the collection may be photocopied, digitally scanned, or photographed depending on condition. A finding aid to this collection is available for download: