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Letters from William Buell Sprague

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Held at: University of Delaware Library Special Collections [Contact Us]181 South College Avenue, Newark, DE 19717-5267

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Delaware Library Special Collections. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

American clergyman, biographer, and autograph collector William Buell Sprague was born in Hebron, Connecticut, on October 16, 1795. After preparing for college as a protégé of the Reverend Abiel Abbot, Sprague attended Yale College, graduating in 1815. In 1816 he traveled to Woodlawn in Virginia, where he became a tutor for the family of Major Lawrence Lewis, who was a nephew of George Washington. Sprague continued tutoring until he entered Princeton Theological Seminary, where he was a student until 1819.

On August 25, 1819, William Buell Sprague was ordained and installed as an assistant to the Reverend Doctor Joseph Lathrop, pastor of the Congregational Church of West Springfield, Massachusetts. Upon Dr. Lathrop's death in 1820, Sprague became the pastor of Congregational Church, serving for ten years. His second pastorate was the Second Presbyterian Church in Albany, New York, which he assumed in 1829. During his forty years as pastor of this church he became one of the most widely recognized American clergymen of his day. Sprague was known as an eloquent speaker, a scholar of Protestant history and biography, a prolific author of more than 150 titles, and an avid collector of autograph manuscripts.

Sprague's most enduring work, his nine-volume

Annals of the American Pulpit (1857-1869), continues to provide invaluable information regarding Protestant ministers in America through 1850. Sprague's other publications included numerous biographies, collections of his sermons and addresses, as well as two compilations of letters, Letters from Europe (1828) and Visits to European Celebrities (1856), which chronicled his travels and encounters during two excursions to Europe.

As a collector of pamphlets, manuscripts, and autographs, Sprague's tenacity was unmatched. At the time of his death, Sprague had amassed more than 40,000 autographs, including 1,500 George Washington letters, which he had been allowed to select during his days at Woodlawn, a collection considered the largest and most valuable in the United States at that time. During his lifetime he had acquired a complete set of autographs of signers of the Declaration of the Independence and the Constitution, as well as generals of the American Revolution.

Although Sprague was zealous in his collecting, his own opinion of collectors is recorded thus: "I would advise you to have as little to do with an autograph collector as possible, for though there are some honorable exceptions yet, as a class, I think they rank A No. 1 in point of meanness. " (DAB, IX, p. 477)

After his resignation at Albany, Sprague made his home with a son at Flushing, New York, where he died on May 7, 1876.

Malone, Dumas (ed.) Dictionary of American Biography. Volume IX. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1964. pp. 475-477.

Two subjects, collecting autographs and compiling his

Annals of the American Pulpit, dominate the seventeen letters written by William Buell Sprague in this collection. In his letters written to several clergy, Sprague solicits information on Protestant ministers who are to be profiled in Annals. In his letters to friends or acquaintances, he discusses his collection of autographs. In some cases he actually sends a coveted autograph and in other cases he offers to examine documents in an attempt to authenticate the author. Written between 1836 and 1874, these letters convey Sprague's passion for both his vocation, ministry, and his avocation, autograph collecting.

The collection also includes one letter which was not written by William Buell Sprague. Written in 1834 by I. K. Tefft to John Moir, the letter is related to the collection in that it discusses autograph collecting.

The letters in this collection are arranged in chronological order.

Box X: Shelved in SPEC MSS 0099 manuscript boxes

Purchase, 1996

Processed by Anita A. Wellner, January 1997. Encoded by Jaime Margalotti, February 2020.

Publisher
University of Delaware Library Special Collections
Finding Aid Author
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
Finding Aid Date
2020 February 25
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Use Restrictions

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections Department, University of Delaware Library, https://library.udel.edu/static/purl.php?askspec

Collection Inventory

Autograph Letter Signed, 1834 April 27.
Box 34 Folder F551
Physical Description

3 pages

Autograph Letter Signed, 1836 March 27.
Box 34 Folder F551
Scope and Contents

To Unidentified.

Physical Description

2 pages

Autograph Letter Signed, 1837 January 1.
Box 34 Folder F551
Scope and Contents

To Unidentified.

Physical Description

3 pages.

Autograph Letter Signed, 1843 November 16.
Box 34 Folder F551
Scope and Contents

To James Thomas Fields, 1816-1881.

Physical Description

1 page.

Autograph Letter Signed, 1846 January 17.
Box 34 Folder F551
Scope and Contents

To [Samuel Colman].

Physical Description

3 pages.

Autograph Letter Signed, 1849 August 8.
Box 34 Folder F551
Scope and Contents

To Reverend C. Ellis

Physical Description

3 pages.

Autograph Letter Signed, 1851 October 6.
Box 34 Folder F551
Scope and Contents

To [Eleazar T. Fitch]

Physical Description

3 pages.

Autograph Letter Signed, 1855 June 2.
Box 34 Folder F551
Scope and Contents

To Dr. Peabody.

Physical Description

4 pages.

Autograph Letter Signed, 1856 November 25.
Box 34 Folder F551
Scope and Contents

To Reverend Professor Packard.

Physical Description

2 pages.

Autograph Letter Signed, 1857 September 2.
Box 34 Folder F551
Scope and Contents

To Dr. Hatfield.

Physical Description

1 page.

Autograph Letter Signed, 1859 January 24.
Box 34 Folder F551
Scope and Contents

To Unidentified.

Physical Description

1 page.

Autograph Letter Signed, 1860 October 1.
Box 34 Folder F551
Scope and Contents

To Unidentified.

Physical Description

2 pages.

Autograph Letter Signed, 1860 November 8.
Box 34 Folder F551
Scope and Contents

To Unidentified.

Physical Description

4 pages.

Autograph Letter Signed, 1866 October 17.
Box 34 Folder F551
Scope and Contents

To Unidentified.

Physical Description

1 page.

Autograph Letter Signed, 1867 October 17.
Box 34 Folder F551
Scope and Contents

To Dr. Hatfield.

Physical Description

1 page.

Autograph Letter Signed, 1868 April 30.
Box 34 Folder F551
Scope and Contents

To Unidentified.

Physical Description

1 page.

Autograph Letter Signed, 1870 April 21.
Box 34 Folder F551
Scope and Contents

To Unidentified.

Physical Description

1 page.

Autograph Letter Signed, 1874 March 21.
Box 34 Folder F551
Scope and Contents

To Unidentified.

Physical Description

1 page.

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