The recent acquisition of seven letters written by Sir Peyton Skipwith and one by Sir Gray Skipwith reveal what Sir Peyton thought of his wife Lady Jean’s library. The library is featured in an exhibit, Exceptional in Any Age, at Swem Library that will run through October 2016.
The Sir Peyton Skipwith letters, 1785-1803, were written to his nephew, William Short, who was in France and later returned to the United States. In them, Sir Peyton talks about providing funds to his nephew so he can appear in genteel circles and his desire to buy large jackasses in France to ship to America so that large mules can be produced. He also mentions that William should “present his most respectfull [sic] compliments to that good & great man Mr. Jefferson & to Miss Jefferson.” Sir Peyton is concerned about the education of his son, Gray, who is in school in England, and he plans trips to England and France. He discusses the price of slaves in terms of tobacco and mentions General [James] Wilkinson and Kentucky.
The eighth letter is one written in 1811 by Sir Gray Skipwith to William Short in Philadelphia.
Swem Library holds a number of the books that were in the library of Lady Jean Skipwith and, in his letter of 3 November 1802, Sir Peyton regrets that William is not coming to spend the winter at “Prestwould” where he could have taken take advantage of the fact that “Lady Skipwith is fond of reading, and has collected a small, but well chosen library.”
The letter of 30 November 1802 mentions that Lady Jean has purchased a pianoforte in Baltimore, perhaps the same pianoforte now owned by William & Mary.