On a mobile device? Visit http://www.lib.unc.edu/m/
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill University Libraries logo
University Libraries banner

The Raleigh Collection at Chapel Hill

by Robert Anthony, Curator, North Carolina Collection

"We have heard that a particular Library in North Carolina houses one of the finest collections of Raleigh papers to be found anywhere in the World."

So began a February 1995 letter to the State Library of North Carolina from an English couple working on a film script about the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh. The alert librarian who opened the letter, aware of the extensive collection of Raleighana at the North Carolina Collection in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library, immediately forwarded it to colleagues there.

The English researchers were right. The Raleigh Collection at Chapel Hill is indeed one of the finest concentrations of Raleighana in existence, although it is composed primarily of printed works, rather than “papers” or manuscripts. Its holdings number 1,156 titles and include most of Raleigh’s major writings, plus numerous less well-known but important publications about the man and the English explorations of North America that he sponsored.

The researchers wrote to North Carolina in hopes of locating an English translation of the proceedings of the trial of Raleigh in 1603. The British Public Records Office trial transcripts that they had were in Latin, and they did not want to hire a translator. In just a few minutes, a North Carolina Collection staff member was able to locate a copy of The Trial for High Treason of Sir Walter Raleigh, 1603, and His Execution, October 29, 1618, with Criticism, by Thomas Sawyer Spivey (Washington, DC: Antique Publishing Co., 1911). A photocopy of this English translation of the trial was soon on its way to England, a testimony to the depth of the Raleigh Collection.

The development of a major collection of Raleighana at Chapel Hill began in 1940, when the Roanoke Colony Memorial Association donated to the Library $1,479.12 and five shares in the Carolina Insurance Company. The Association, having already transferred its Fort Raleigh property on Roanoke Island to the North Carolina Historical Commission, gave its other assets to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill “for the purchase and preservation of books, pamphlets, and manuscripts by or relating to Sir Walter Raleigh, directing that, in so far as practical, preference be given to such material dealing with the Lost Colony, on Roanoke Island, North Carolina, and its members and with prior expeditions sent by Raleigh to what is now North Carolina.”

Upon receipt of this special funding, Mary L. Thornton, curator of the North Carolina Collection, prepared a desiderata list of eighty-five titles for distribution to book dealers and friends of the Library. As word spread of her interest in Raleigh, various dealers in the United States and England began offering her titles, and she began ordering rare volumes that today would be priced far beyond the Library’s means. Included among titles acquired at this time were Raleigh’s Tubus Historicus, London, 1636; The Arraignment and Conviction of Sr. Walter Rawleigh…,London, 1648; Sir Walter Raleigh’s Sceptick…,London, 1651; and The Life of the Valiant and Learned Sir Walter Raleigh, Knight, With His Tryal at Winchester, attributed to John Shirley, London, 1677. During the 1940s, various members of the former Roanoke Colony Memorial Association and their friends also personally contributed books. One individual, for example, presented seventeen scarce volumes, and another located and purchased titles for the Raleigh Collection while traveling in England. Among the latter’s donations was a copy of the 1614 edition of Raleigh’s The History of the World.

The Library, too, took great pride in its new Raleighana holdings. In early 1943, it commissioned noted woodcut illustrator Clare Leighton to design a special Raleigh bookplate (see inset). The result was, in the words of then librarian Charles E. Rush, a “design brave, bold and stunning, just as was Raleigh.” This bookplate, with Raleigh depicted before a background of sea, ship, and waving banners, is placed in each item in the collection.

In the years since the 1940s, the Raleigh Collection has continued to grow, with all acquisitions being purchased with trust funds or received as gifts. New biographies of Raleigh, academic dissertations about him, and literary criticism of his writings are eagerly sought. Staff also seek works of fiction in which Raleigh is represented. Recent examples of Raleigh in fiction include Michael Malone’s Foolscap (1991) and Anthony Burgess’s A Dead Man in Deptford (1995). Other acquisitions relate specifically to Raleigh’s Roanoke Island colonies. Studies of English exploration of North America during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries are also acquired, with emphasis on those that include discussions of Roanoke Island. Researchers are often surprised to discover that the Raleigh Collection contains many of the major exploration narratives and propaganda works of the period, including writings by Richard Hakluyt and Thomas Hariot. Current studies of these and related writers are acquired selectively.

North Carolina Collection staff also note important journal articles about Raleigh or the Roanoke Island colonies, and the issues containing them are ordered for addition to the Raleigh Collection. Subscriptions are maintained to several serial publications that regularly contain Raleighana, most notably the Reports and Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art. All 134 (as of 2002) volumes of this series, which began in 1862, are held.

Since 1940, the rarest and most valuable Raleighana has been gathered and separately shelved as the “Raleigh Collection.” But hundreds of other books and pamphlets found elsewhere among the North Carolina Collection’s 250,000 printed items also relate to the explorer and Roanoke Island. Researchers who consult the card catalog--an action necessary to determine pre-1986 holdings--will find nearly six inches of cards under the subject headings “N.C. History—Roanoke Island Colonies,” “Roanoke Island,” and “Roanoke Island Memorial Association.” (The online catalog contains records for all Raleigh Collection items and all post-1986 acquisitions, but only about one half of pre-1986 non-Raleigh Collection titles.) Many items, for example, pertain to Paul Green’s symphonic drama The Lost Colony. They range from souvenir programs (1937 to present) to an annotated prompt of the script used in 1939-1941 to a recording of an adaptation of the drama broadcast over Charlotte radio station WBT in 1962.

Newspaper articles about Raleigh and the Roanoke Colonies have also been collected diligently over the years, and clipping continues. Nearly five-hundred bound photocopies of articles on Raleigh’s three Roanoke Island Colonies and The Lost Colony drama are available in the Reading Room. Several hundred more discuss Raleigh as an individual. Such clippings offer a unique resource for studying how Raleigh and his colonizing efforts have been interpreted by newspapers for their readers.

The North Carolina Collection also maintains photographic archives that now number nearly 500,000 images. Included among those images are dozens of photographs of portraits or other illustrations of Raleigh, title pages from many of his books, and numerous scenes from performances of The Lost Colony. Staff is available to assist in locating images, and duplicate prints can be ordered for a small fee.

All materials in the North Carolina Collection, including those in the Raleigh Collection, are available to any researcher wishing to use them. No appointment is necessary, although researchers interested in photographic archives or anticipating the need for special assistance are encouraged to write or telephone in advance of arrival. As mentioned earlier, all Raleigh Collection titles, plus about a half of the rest of the North Carolina Collection holdings, are represented in the Academic Affairs Library online catalog and can be searched via terminals in campus libraries or at home through the Internet. To reach the online catalog through the Internet, a researcher can access the University’s Academic Affairs Library via URL http://www.lib.unc.edu. From this link, he or she may use the “Quick Catalog Search” or click on the link for “Library Catalog.”

Staff members in the North Carolina Collection’s main Reading Room are always available to assist with identification of specific Raleigh items. Once the needed materials have been identified, the researcher will be asked to complete a registration form and present a photographic identification card. The requested materials will then be made available in a small study room adjacent to the main Reading Room. All Raleigh Collection materials must be used within the North Carolina Collection and are not available for outside circulation or interlibrary loan. The Raleigh Collection is available to researchers during all hours that the North Carolina Collection is open.

In addition to its printed Raleighana, the North Carolina Collection maintains in its Gallery several period rooms and exhibits about the explorer and his times. Two historic rooms located on the opposite end of Wilson Library’s second floor from the Reading Room focus on Raleigh and his life as an upper-class English gentleman. Appointed with original English furniture from the late Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, they also feature fine English oak paneling originally used in a Raleigh-era manor house in southwestern England. An over-sized dramatic wooden statue of Raleigh dominates the larger of the rooms. The statue was given to the University in 1931 by Colnel Owen Kenan and has been displayed in the Raleigh Rooms since their construction in 1954. Other furnishing include an unsigned oils-on-board portrait of Raleigh, circa 1590; a silver-plated bronze cast statuette of Raleigh on horseback from the Victorian period; and framed sixteenth- and seventeenth-century maps.

Several exhibits in the Gallery’s main area also highlight Raleigh and his Roanoke Island colonies. Among items displayed there are color facsimiles of John White drawings of the American Indians; English oak statuettes of Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth I, circa 1760; and a wrought iron ax that was excavated on Roanoke Island in 1862 and is believed to date from the Raleigh colonies.

The North Carolina Collection is strongly committed to developing further its already distinguished holdings of Raleighana. Efforts to collect new books, pamphlets, audiovisuals, maps, photographs, newspaper clippings, and other materials related to the explorer and his times are continuing. Annually several thousand visitors tour the Gallery, view the Raleigh room and exhibits, and thus are introduced or reintroduced to the story of Sir Walter Raleigh. Greater publicity about the Gallery in recent years has led to an increase in the number of school groups scheduling staff-guided tours. By making available to scholars a strong collection of Raleighana and by offering visitors the opportunity to learn about Raleigh through period rooms and exhibits, the North Carolina Collection at Chapel Hill seeks to promote continued interest in and study of the English explorer most directly associated with the spread of European culture into what is now North Carolina.

Originally published in Roanoke Colonies Research Newsletter, Vol.. 4, no. 2 (May 1997).