SUMMERSIDE, P.E.I. - An original copy of what is arguably P.E.I.’s first history book is up for sale.
Titled, “An Account of Prince Edward Island”, the tome was compiled by Scotland-born, Island politician and author John “Hellfire Jack” Stewart and was published in London in 1806.
The asking price is $2,500.
The compendium is being sold by Maine-based book dealers James E. Arsenault & Company.
Company owner James Arsenault said the last time he came across another first edition of the book was almost 30 years ago. He acquired this copy through an intermediary, who got it from the Vermont Historical Society after it was deaccessioned (declared surplus.)
In general, books related to P.E.I. are not in high demand from collectors, he said, but this one is a bit different in that it represents the first of its kind.
“The first histories of places are generally of interest, if the place itself is of interest,” said Arsenault.
This book almost didn’t make it to market as Arsenault considered keeping it for his personal collection. His grandfather was an Islander who settled in New England, so he has kept few P.E.I.-related books over the years as a way of exploring that connection.
Edward MacDonald, an Island historian and associate professor at UPEI, said Stewart’s “An Account of Prince Edward Island” is widely considered to be the first book of P.E.I. history ever published. However, it only contains information on the Island’s European settler history and completely ignores the original Mi'kmaq inhabitants.
MacDonald also said the book’s historical and political information must be taken with a proverbial grain of salt as Stewart was coloured by his own strong political involvements at the time.
“He’s self-serving when he talks about the history,” said MacDonald.
However, the sections dealing with the natural history of the Island are considered quite accurate. It also contains an updated version of Samuel Holland’s 1765 map.
In terms of the book’s rarity, MacDonald said finding another copy like this would be a challenge. It was re-printed by facsimile in 1967, but even those copies are becoming harder to find.
MacDonald was gifted a first edition a few years ago by iconic Island historian Father Francis Bolger and in turn donated it to the university. That is the only copy he is aware of in private or public hands on P.E.I.
“Actual original copies are, as far as I know, somewhat rare,” he said. “It’s a valuable piece of P.E.I. history.”