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MS Am 1704-1704.9, 1704.11-1704.21

Palfrey family. Palfrey family papers, 1713-1915: Guide.

Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University


Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 USA

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Location: b
Call No.: MS Am 1704-1704.9, 1704.11-1704.21
Repository: Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University
Creator: Palfrey family.
Title: Palfrey family papers,
Date(s): 1713-1915.
Quantity: 1 collection (60 linear feet (150 boxes and 9 volumes)
Language of materials: Collection materials in English.
Abstract: Papers of the Palfrey family of New England.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

Gift of Dr. and Mrs. James B. Ayer; received: 1941, and of Mrs. Charles Woodrow; received: 1964.
The main part of the papers of the Palfrey family (bMS Am 1704 -1704.20) was given to Harvard University in 1941 by Dr. and Mrs. James B. Ayer. Additional correspondence, largely from the period of the children and grandchildren of John Gorham Palfrey, the historian, was received in 1964 as the gift of Mrs. Charles Woodrow. This latter material was catalogued separately and placed at the end of the collection (bMS Am 1704.21).

Processing Information:

In organizing the main collection, an attempt was made to separate the papers into three groups, corresponding to the generation of William Palfrey,1741-1781,John Palfrey,1768-1843, and John Gorham Palfrey,1796-1881. Letters and documents of an earlier date are grouped with those of William Palfrey, those of a later date with the papers of John Gorham Palfrey. Thus, deeds and accounts of William Palfrey, the sail-maker, 1682-1766, are to be found under bMS Am 1704.18, miscellaneous MSS. from the papers of William Palfrey, 1741-1780; and letters of the descendants of John Gorham Palfrey are grouped under bMS Am 1704.12, letters relating to the John Gorham Palfrey family. An exception to this chronological division is made in the case of the brothers of John Gorham Palfrey who settled in Louisiana and whose letters (when not to J. G. Palfrey) are grouped with the letters from the papers of John Palfrey of Louisiana, bMS Am 1704.9. As a general rule, the user of this catalogue is advised to consider, when in doubt, first the possible provenance of a given item and then the general time of its composition. An invaluable aid is the register of the Palfrey family, bMS Am 1704 (1).

Conditions Governing Access:

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material.

Conditions Governing Use:

In the more recently acquired papers, bMS Am 1704.21, the right of publication of the correspondence to and from Sarah Hammond Palfrey is restricted to Mrs Charles Woodrow until such time as she may rescind this restriction.
Images linked to the finding aid describing this collection are intended for public access and educational use. This material is owned and/or held by the Houghton Library, and is provided solely for the purpose of teaching or individual research. Any other use, including commercial reuse, mounting on other systems, or other forms of redistribution requires the permission of the curator.

Preferred Citation for Publication:

Palfrey Family Papers, 1713-1915 (MS Am 1704-1704.21). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Biographical / Historical

The central figure in this collection, John Gorham Palfrey (1796-1881), was a Unitarian minister, professor, editor of the North American Review, congressman from Massachusetts (1847-1849), postmaster of Boston (1861-1867), and historian, best known for his multi-volume History of New England. His grandfather William Palfrey (1741-1780) was a business partner of John Hancock and Pay Master General of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. His father John Palfrey (1768-1843) was a merchant in Boston and later owned a plantation in Attakapas, La. John Gorham Palfrey's son, John Carver Palfrey (1833-1906) was a military engineer during the Civil War and was later an officer in the textile manufacturing business. His daughter Sarah Hammond Palfrey (1823-1914) was a novelist and poet.


Scope and Contents

The material of this collection encompasses over 150 years of American history and many items of interest besides those documenting the life and works of John Gorham Palfrey, who is its central figure. A few of these may be briefly mentioned here.
The papers of William Palfrey include letters between John Wilkes and the Sons of Liberty and William Palfrey's personal correspondence with Wilkes at the time of the latter's imprisonment in 1769-1770, including Palfrey's description of the Boston Massacre. William Palfrey's business account and financial papers are extensive and range in subject from accounts of trade with Virginia in 1763 to the disposition of funds of the Continental Army during the time Palfrey was Pay Master General. His close association and correspondence with John Hancock should be noted. Several interesting items pertain to the dispute between Hancock and the Boston printer, John Mein, which resulted in Thomas Longman's suit against Mein and the latter's imprisonment.
The papers of John Palfrey deal mainly with his business affairs and the management of his plantation at Attakapas. However, several letters by his sons, Edward, William Taylor, and Henry William give first-hand accounts of battles in the war of 1812.
An almost complete set of MSS for the North American Review for the years of John Gorham Palfrey's editorship was retained among his papers and is catalogued under the signature bMS Am 1704.10. The catalogue sheets for these MSS are bound in a separate volume.
Letters to John Gorham Palfrey from over 1000 corespondents form the largest single section in the collection. Of special importance are 377 letters from Jared Sparks and 148 letters from Charles Sumner. Additional letters to J. G. Palfrey, which came to light after the catalogue was completed, are listed in bMS Am 1704a, directly following the main list of letters in this group. Among the compositions of J. G. Palfrey are certain items with notable co-authors. Principle among these are the Faneuil Hall Resolutions of November 4th, 1845, signed by J. G. Palfrey, Stephen C. Phillips and Charles Francis Adams, but written largely in the hand of Charles Sumner, bMS Am 1704.13 (130). Compositions and political resolutions by Richard Henry Dana, jr., Charles Sumner, Jared Sparks and others are grouped under bMS Am 1704.15.

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