WILLIAMSBURG -- A book written by the man who developed the smallpox vaccine is back in Hampton Roads, 177 years after it was taken from Denbigh Plantation by British soldiers during the War of 1812.
The book by Edward Jenner, titled "An Inquiry Into the Cause of the Variolae Vaccinal -- the Cow Pox," has been donated to the College of William and Mary's Earl Gregg Swem Library.
Spotswood Hunnicut Jones, a Gloucester County, Va., resident, historian and key researcher of the whereabouts of the book, said she has been told that the book is one of the earliest on smallpox and was rarely found in the United States in 1813, the year in which it was taken.
British soldiers, traveling on the ship Moselle after attacking Craney Island on the Elizabeth River, sailed up the James River to Denbigh Plantation to search for provisions, said Jones.
The occupants of the plantation, owned by John Young, and his slaves fired upon the soldiers, and when the soldiers returned fire, the occupants of the home ran for safety, she said.
The soldiers then ransacked the Young home and took, among other things, mahogany furniture, peach brandy and the contents of a library, Jones said. The medical textbook was turned over to Peter Wilson, a 22-year-old British officer and physician on the ship.
A record of Wilson's travels shows that he was transferred from Great Britain to Gibraltar; later he was the doctor for the sultan of Morocco. He later became the personal physician to the Spanish royal family, and in 1840 he migrated to New Zealand, where he was one of the country's first settlers. He finally moved to New Plymouth, New Zealand.
In the 1960s, Alan Hayton of New Plymouth learned about the book while researching Wilson's life, Jones said. A biographer had written about a book Wilson carried that had an inscription that said, in effect, that "it was taken from a home of a Mr. Young in a beautifully situated home on the north bank near Mulberry Island."
In 1968, Hayton wrote to an amateur historian in Iowa, asking about the plantation. A copy of the letter was given to Gloucester resident Raymond Brown, Jones's doctor. In 1970, Brown asked Jones to help. She spent six years tracking the book.
Hayton discovered the book in the home of Wilson's great-great-granddaughter Helen Warren. Warren in 1974 offered to sell the book for $1,200. There were no takers. Although interested, neither Jones nor the college could afford it, Jones said.
The book was bequeathed to Hayton, prompting Jones last fall to begin trying to persuade Hayton to donate it to the college.
Jones told Hayton that the book belonged at William and Mary because a member of the Young family once attended the college.
When Jones learned of university librarian Nancy H. Marshall's plans to travel to New Zealand to see friends, she asked Hayton to meet Marshall and donate the book.
The book is in relatively good condition, according to Marshall. Its cover is off, but it is otherwise intact. It is being kept in the rare-book and manuscripts collection at Swem Library.