Jesse Torrey was born in 1787 in New Lebanon. During the first half of the 19th century he became a strong and vocal proponent for the free library system, educational reform and the abolition of slavery in America.
Jesse Torrey grew up and was educated in New Lebanon. In 1804, he established the juvenile society for the acquisition of knowledge. The members of the society assembled a collection of books and made them available for all members to use for free. They had established the first free Public Library.
Jesse believed that unless books were widely available to the public, literacy would be a wasted art. Although the original society was comprised solely of young men, Jesse Torrey came to believe that people of all ages, sexes and classes would benefit from free public libraries. He addressed his thoughts to President James Madison and gained support for his ideas. He lobbied congressmen, statesmen and other public officials to obtain the free lending library, supported by local and national governments, which would become the standard throughout America.
During his lifetime he wrote several books. "The Intellectual Torch" was a book expounding on his ideas about literacy and the need for a widespread availability of books to maintain a well educated population. This was followed by several books dealing with reform of educational systems in America and the need for a well educated population.
He was also a committed abolitionist and wrote "A Portrature of Domestic Slavery" and "American Slave Trade or, An Account of the Manner in which the Slave Dealers take Free People from some of the United States of America and carry them away, and sell them as Slaves in other of the States; and of the horrible Cruelties practised in the carrying on of this most infamous Traffic".