The MTSU James E. Walker Library is showcasing the first book printed in Tennessee, titled "Laws of the State of Tennessee." (Photo courtesy of MTSU)
The MTSU James E. Walker Library has reached an historic milestone with the acquisition of its one-millionth volume, the first book published in Tennessee, in the university's 100th year.
"Laws of the State of Tennessee" was printed in Knoxville in 1803 by George Roulstone, a native Bostonian who moved his printing press to Tennessee at the urging of William Blount. Blount was governor of the territory south of the Ohio River before Tennessee’s admission to the Union in 1796.
Roulstone initially set up the first printing press in Rogersville, in what would become Tennessee, and began printing the Knoxville Gazette newspaper, as well as legal and theological works, in 1791.
“Laws of the State of Tennessee” was printed on “low-quality handmade paper,” said Alan Boehm, director of Special Collections, and it was bound with what appears to be pigskin stretched over pressed sheets of paper to form the cover.
Because the title page is not set off from the table of contents and there is little space separating topics on the pages, Boehm concluded that Roulstone “couldn’t afford to waste paper, apparently.”
The Early Tennessee Imprints collection in the library's Special Collections section comprises some 200 books and other print materials produced in Tennessee between 1791 and 1866, the first year after the Civil War.
“Every book is a cultural artifact, and its physical and material properties tell you something about literacy and reading and writing and authorship in that book’s time,” Boehm said.