An Exact Abridgement of all the Public Acts of Assembly of Virginia in Force and Use

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by John Mercer

Mercer's Abridgement
MercerExactAbridgment1759 TitlePage.jpg

Title page from Mercer's Abridgement, volume one, George Wythe Collection, Wolf Law Library, College of William & Mary.

Author John Mercer
Editor {{{editor}}}
Translator {{{trans}}}
Published Glasgow: Printed by John Bryce and David Paterson
Date 1759
Edition First
Language {{{lang}}}
Volumes {{{set}}} volume set
Pages xxii, 482
Desc. 8vo (20 cm.)
Location Shelf G-4
  [[Shelf {{{shelf2}}}]]

Former owner record of family births, verso last page of text.

Evidence for Inclusion in Wythe's Library

The Brown Bibliography[1] includes the 1759 first edition of Mercer's Abridgement based on the Journals of the House of Burgesses (see below). John Mercer petitioned the House in November 1759 to provide at the public expense copies of his abridgment to the justices of the several county courts. The House of Burgesses passed a resolution to do as Mercer suggested which the Governor's Council approved, making it law. At the time, George Wythe was a justice for Elizabeth City County and as such, he would have received a copy of this book. The Wolf Law Library moved a copy from the rare book collection to the George Wythe Collection.

Former owner signature, front pastedown.

Journal of the House of Burgesses

Friday, November 2d, 1759

Excerpt from page 5:

A Petition of John Mercer, Gentleman, was presented to the House and read; setting forth, That he hath (with great labor and expence) compiled and printed a complete and correct Abridgment of all the publick Acts of Assembly of this Colony in force and use at this time, which, by reason of his Majesty’s not having signified his approbation of the Land Law, and his repealing divers Acts printed in the Revisal, and the many Acts passed since, lie interspersed in so many different books; that it is a very difficult matter to distinguish which of the said Acts are in force and which are not; besides their being so scarce and difficult to procure, that very few, if any, of the County Courts are furnished with a complete Collection of the said Acts of Assembly at large. That as the Legislature of this Colony has thought it reasonable, from time to time, to supply the Magistrates of the several Counties (who serve without fee or reward) with the printed Acts of Assembly at the publick expence, the Petitioner hopes this honorable House, to whom he submits the usefulness of his performance, will so far encourage it as to take off his hands a sufficient number of the said Abridgments to supply the said Magistrates, as he has not only printed it for that purpose, but adapted it particularly to their use, by abridging every clause of the said Acts under its proper title, with necessary tables; and the general complaint through the Colony of the want of such a collection was his principal inducement to undertake a work of so much labor and expence in a multiplicity of other business. That in order to render the said work as useful and beneficial as may be, the Petitioner will undertake, as long as he lives, to publish at the end of every seffion (at the most reasonable expence that may be) an Abridgment of the publick Acts of such session, with proper notes and directions what alterations are made by such new Acts in the former ones.

Ordered, That the said Petition be referred to Mr. Landon Carter, Mr. George Johnston, Mr. Attorney, Mr. Harrison, and Mr. Cary; that they do examine into the matter thereof, and report the same, with their opinion thereupon, to the House.

Monday, November 5th, 1759

Excerpt from page 7:

Mr. Landon Carter reported, That the Committee to whom the petition of John Mercer was referred, having considered the same, and having also before them the concurring testimony of the gentlemen practising at the General Court Bar, as to the usefulness of the Abridgment mentioned in the said petition, had come to several resolutions thereupon, which he read in his place, and then delivered in at the Table.

Ordered, That the Consideration of the said Report be referred to Wednesday next.

Wednesday, November 7th, 1759

Excerpt from page 8:

The House proceeded to the consideration of the report from the Committee to whom the Petition of John Mercer was referred, made on Monday last, and referred to be considered this day; and the several Resolutions of the said Committee were again twice read, and with some Amendments, agreed to by the House, as follow:

Resolved, That the several County Courts in this Colony be provided withone of the said Abridgments for each of the acting Justices at the publickexpence; and that it be an instruction to the Treasurer of this Colony to pay the said John Mercer for the said books, at the rate of twenty shillings for each book, upon his producing to the said treasurer a receipt for the same from the Clerks of the respective County Courts.

Resolved, That the Clerks of the said County Courts deliver one of the said books to each of the acting Justices of their respective Counties.

Ordered, That the said Resolutions be engrossed, and that Mr. Landon Carter do carry them to the Council for their Concurrence.

Thursday, November 15th, 1759

Excerpt from page 19:

A message from the Council by Mr. Walthoe, That they have agreed to the Resolve of this House, ... for furnishing the acting Justices in the several Counties, in this Colony, with Mercer’s Abridgment of the Laws, at the publick expence.

Description of the Wolf Law Library's copy

Bound in modern calf featuring a ruled spine with red and gilt morocco label. Purchased from Zephyr Used & Rare Books.

Images of the library's copy of this book are available on Flickr. View the record for this book in William & Mary's online catalog.

See also


  1. Bennie Brown, "The Library of George Wythe of Williamsburg and Richmond," (unpublished manuscript, May, 2012) Microsoft Word file. Earlier edition available at:

External Links