COLLECTION GUIDES

1776-1976

Guide to the Collection


Collection Summary

Abstract

This collection consists of manuscripts and family papers relating to several African-American families, the DeGrasse, Howard, Downing, and Asbury families. It also includes correspondence, newspaper clippings, photocopies of published sources, and research notes about various individuals in those families collected by Rev. Howard DeGrasse Asbury, a descendent.

Biographical Sketches

Isaiah George DeGrasse

Isaiah George DeGrasse (1813-1841) was a minister. He was the son of Count George DeGrasse and Margaret Van Surley DeGrasse and was born on 19 July 1813 in New York. Isaiah DeGrasse attended the New York African Free School. He was ordained a deacon on 11 July 1838 by the bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in St. Phillips Church, New York City. DeGrasse worked as a missionary in Jamaica, where he died on 11 January 1841.

John Van Surly DeGrasse

John Van Surly DeGrasse (1825-1868) was a medical doctor. He was born in New York in June 1825, the youngest son of Count George DeGrasse and Marie Van Surly DeGrasse, and the grandson of the French Count [Francois Joseph Paul] DeGrasse. He took some academic courses at a college in France, studied medicine with Dr. Samuel R. Childs in New York City in 1845, and finished his studies at Bowdoin College in May 1849, where he passed the required exams and received a Doctor in Medicine degree. In 1849, DeGrasse toured hospitals in France, England, Italy, and Switzerland.

DeGrasse married Cordelia L. Howard on 5 August 1852 in Boston and, two years later, established a medical practice there. When he was elected to membership in the Massachusetts Medical Society on 24 August 1854, he became the first African American to belong to a medical association in that state. He was the first African-American medical officer in the U.S. Army. He was mustered in on 18 May 1863 and served as an assistant surgeon for the 35th Regiment of U. S. Colored Infantry (the First Regiment, North Carolina, Colored Volunteers). He and his wife had one daughter, Georgiana Cordelia DeGrasse, born 5 December 1855. He died in Boston on 25 November 1868.

Edwin Clarence Howard

Edwin Clarence Howard (1846-1912) was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His parents were Edwin Frederick Howard of Boston and Joan Louise Turpin Howard of New York City. (Edwin C. Howard was the nephew of Cordelia L. Howard DeGrasse.) He attended Liberia College in Monrovia from 1861-1865, but withdrew from the program before receiving a degree. In 1866, Howard attended Harvard University Medical School and graduated in 1869. He practiced medicine in Philadelphia and distinguished himself during the 1870 smallpox epidemic. He was a member of the Philadelphia County Medical Society, the Pennsylvania State Medical Society, and the American Medical Association. He was a visiting physician at the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and lecturer and chairman of the Nurses' Training School. Dr. Howard never married. He was buried in Eden Cemetery in Darby, located outside Philadelphia.

George T. Downing

George T. Downing (1819-1903) was a civil rights leader and successful businessman. He was born in 1819, the son of Thomas Downing. He married Serena Leanora DeGrasse on 24 November 1841, and they had 4 daughters and 3 sons. George T. Downing was an abolitionist, actively worked towards school desegregation, and was a spokesman who urged politicians to support the Civil Rights Bill. Downing lived in Newport, R.I., where he had a catering business, owned real estate, and made contributions towards civic improvements.

Howard DeGrasse Asbury

Howard DeGrasse Asbury (died ca. 1978?) was minister of the St. Paul Methodist Church in Jamaica, New York. Interested in African-American history, he actively collected information and manuscripts about his ancestors, who included members of the DeGrasse, Howard, Downing, Gardner and Asbury families. (Asbury was the great-grandson of John Van Surley DeGrasse and Cordelia L. Howard DeGrasse.) He loaned materials to various institutions (including the Brooklyn Public Library, New York Cultural Center, and Museum of Afro American History in Boston, Mass.) for exhibitions about African Americans. He was a member of the Negro History Associates.

Collection Description

The DeGrasse-Howard papers consist of two boxes of manuscripts and family papers relating to several African-American families, the DeGrasse, Howard, Downing, and Asbury families. The collection also includes correspondence, newspaper clippings, photocopies of published sources, and research notes about various individuals in those families collected by Rev. Howard DeGrasse Asbury, a descendent. The collection is arranged in five series, DeGrasse family papers and related materials, Howard family papers and related materials, Downing family papers and related materials, and Rev. Howard D. Asbury papers.

The collection includes materials relating to medicine: an account book, 1852-55, kept by John Van Surley DeGrasse, a doctor who lived and practiced medicine in Boston; papers relating to DeGrasse's service in the Civil War as a medical doctor in the 35th Regiment, North Carolina Colored Infantry; and a journal, 1865, kept by Edwin Clarence Howard while he was a medical student at Liberia College. The collection includes correspondence to and from George T. Downing about civil rights issues. Also contained in the collection are clippings and letters documenting Reverend Howard DeGrasse Asbury's research activities and participation with exhibits about African American history.

Acquisition Information

The DeGrasse-Howard papers were inherited by Mrs. Shirley Asbury Downs of Austin, Texas, from her father Reverend Howard DeGrasse Asbury, who assembled many of the documents in the collection. Mrs. Downs placed the collection on loan to the Museum of Afro American History, and the Museum of Afro American History deposited it at the Massachusetts Historical Society in July 1998. In November 2012, the collection was given to the Massachusetts Historical Society by Mrs. Downs' son Robert Downs.

Detailed Description of the Collection

I. DeGrasse family papers and related materials, 1776-1968

This series consists of materials relating to the DeGrasse family, including a document, 31 [September]1776, approving provisions used by officers on board the L'Intrepide, signed by Le Comte de Grasse; and John Van Surley DeGrasse's account book, 1852-1855, relating to his work as a doctor in Boston listing the names of his patients, medical services provided, and charges assessed. This series also contains materials relating to John DeGrasse's enrollment in the 35th Regiment, North Carolina Colored Infantry during the Civil War including a letter, 9 May 1863, from Lt. Col. James C. Beecher to DeGrasse about when he was to report for duty, and a photocopy of his muster roll. This series includes a typescript of a letter, 23 December 1866, from Charles Sumner to John DeGrasse, and autobiographical statements written by John DeGrasse and his brother, Isaiah DeGrasse. This series also contains newspaper clippings, copies of vital records and photocopies of secondary sources about the DeGrasse family and their spouses.

Box 1Folder 1
Document approving provisions used by officers on board the L'Intrepide, 1776
Box 1Folder 2
Account book, kept by Dr. John DeGrasse, 1852-1857
Box 1Folder 3
Photocopy of account book in Folder 2
Box 1Folder 4
Correspondence and documents relating to John DeGrasse, 1863-1866
Box 1Folder 5
Autobiographical statements written by John DeGrasse and Isaiah DeGrasse, n.d.
Box 1Folder 6
Military orders to Assistant Surgeon J. V. DeGrasse, 9 May 1863
Box 1Folder 7
Newspaper clippings and printed matter on the DeGrasse family, 1888-1960, n.d.
Box 1Folder 8
Vital records of DeGrasse family (certified copies made 1965-1968)

II. Howard family papers and related materials, 1852-1965

This series is primarily comprised of documents relating to Edwin Clarence Howard, and includes his journal kept while attending Liberia College in 1865. The journal has two pagination sequences and includes entries about his activities (descriptions of visits to patients, mixing medicine, church attendance) between 09 February and 27 June 1865; some of the journal is written in code, and the journal also contains some transcriptions of poems and notes about medical treatments. Additional materials relating to Howard's education found in this series: autographs of faculty and students at Liberia College, lecture admission cards for classes he attended while a student at Harvard University, and a copy of the commencement program in 1869. This series also contains newspaper clippings, copies of vital records and photocopies of secondary sources about the Howard family and their spouses.

Box 1Folder 9
Journal of Edwin Clarence Howard at Liberia College, 1865
Box 1Folder 10
Loose items from journal
Box 1Folder 11-13
Materials relating to Liberia College and Liberia, ca. 1864-1919
Box 1Folder 14
Materials relating to Henry I. Bowditch, n.d.
Box 1Folder 15
Admission cards to medical school lectures which E. C. Howard attended, 1866-1868
Box 1Folder 16
Program and documents relating to E. C. Howard and Addie Howard, 1869-1871
Box 1Folder 17
Newspaper clippings and printed matter about the Howard family, 1852-1959
Box 1Folder 18
Materials related to Edwin C. Howard (1846-1912)
Box 1Folder 19
Vital records of Howard family (certified copies made 1965)

III. Downing family papers and related materials, 1830-1925

This series is primarily comprised of correspondence to George T. Downing regarding his activities promoting equal rights, and family correspondence between members of the Downing family. The correspondence sent to George T. Downing include two typescripts of letters (29 May 1855 and 8 April 1872) from Charles Sumner about equal rights, one letter (23 March 1869) from Charles Lenox Remond lending support to a new newspaper in Washington, and one letter (15 December 1885) from John Boyle O'Reilly thanking Downing for sending a written argument about civil rights. Other letters include one (13 Feb. 1866) from James Lynch (who eventually became the Secretary of State for Mississippi) asking Downing to write for the Christian Recorder and two letters (12 October 1870 and 9 Nov. 1870) from Ebenezer Bassett, U.S. minister to Haiti, describing his recent trips to the United States. This series also contains newspaper clippings and photocopies of published sources about members of the Downing family, including articles about Downing's presence at the side of Charles Sumner when he died in 1874.

Box 1Folder 20-22
Downing family correspondence and other papers, 1830-1925, n.d.
Box 1Folder 23
Newspaper clippings and printed matter about the Downing family, 1874-1911

IV. Rev. Howard D. Asbury papers, 1950-1976

This series consists of materials relating to Reverend Asbury divided into four subseries, Correspondence, Exhibitions, Activities, and Research materials. The Correspondence includes letters to and from Asbury regarding his ancestors, and from researchers wishing to publish manuscripts owned by him. The Exhibitions folders contain clippings, press releases and photographs documenting how Asbury loaned materials to exhibitions about African Americans at various institutions. The Activities subseries includes newspaper clippings and programs documenting Asbury's participation at meetings and commemorations. The Research materials include a typescript, "State of Massachusetts Negro Soldiers and Sailors of the American Revolution," prepared by Asbury from the Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War, and photocopies of images, printed materials, notes about various African Americans. (Please note: Research materials specifically relating to the DeGrasse, Howard, Downing families are located in the previous series in this collection corresponding to those families, Series I, II, and III.)

A. Correspondence, 1958-1973, n.d.

Box 2Folder 1-2

B. Exhibit participation, 1961-1971

Included are newspaper clippings, programs, and other papers.

Box 2Folder 3-4

C. Activities, 1950-1969

Included are letters and clippings.

Box 2Folder 5

D. Research materials, 1968-1976

Box 2Folder 6-10
Typescripts, Negro Soldiers and Sailors of the American Revolution
Box 2Folder 11
Letter and attachment, 1976
Box 2Folder 12
Research notes
Box 2Folder 13
Facsimile bank notes, 1968

Photographs Removed from the Collection

Photographs from this collection were removed to the DeGrasse-Howard photographs, ca. 1861-1976. Photo. Coll. 36.

Preferred Citation

DeGrasse-Howard papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.

Persons:

DeGrasse family--Genealogy.
Downing family--Genealogy.
Howard family--Genealogy.
Asbury, Howard DeGrasse.
Bassett, Ebenezer D., 1833-1908.
DeGrasse, Cordelia Howard, b. 1823.
DeGrasse, John Van Surley, 1825-1868.
Downing, George T. (George Thomas), 1819-1903.
Howard, Edwin Clarence, 1846-1912.
Lynch, James, 1839-1872.
O'Reilly, John Boyle, 1844-1890.
Remond, Charles Lenox, 1810-1873.
Sumner, Charles, 1811-1874.
DeGrasse family.
Downing family.
Howard family.

Organizations:

Liberia College.
United States. Army. Colored Infantry Regiment, 35th (1864-1866).

Subjects:

Account books.
Account books--1850-1899.
Account books--1852-1855.
African American abolitionists.
African American families.
African American physicians.
African Americans--Civil rights.
African Americans--Exhibitions.
African Americans--History.
African Americans--Massachusetts--Boston.
African Americans--Rhode Island.
History--Research.
Medical education.
Medical fees.
Medicine--Practice.