Guide to the Collection
This collection consists of the papers of Amos Lawrence, 1814-1879, pertaining to family matters, philanthropic activities, politics, and to a lesser extent his business A & A Lawrence.
Amos Lawrence was born April 22, 1786 in Groton, Mass. He was the fourth son of Samuel and Susanna (Parker) Lawrence, and had eight brothers and sisters: Luther, who married Lucy Bigelow; Samuel (1781-1796), who never married; William, who married Susan Ruggles Boardman; Susan, who never married; Mary, who married Rev. Samuel Woodbury; Abbot, who married Katherine Bigelow; Eliza, who married Joshua Greene; and Samuel (1801-1880), who married Alison Turnbull.
Lawrence received an elementary education in the district schools of Groton, Massachusetts, and for a short time was enrolled in the Academy in Groton. When he was thirteen years old, he accepted a position as clerk in a general store in Dunstable. After a few short months, he left that job to apprentice under James Brazer, a Groton store owner, for seven years. He eventually rose to the position of manager of that store.
In 1807, Lawrence moved to Boston, Massachusetts where he was employed as a clerk in a reputable mercantile house. In December of the same year, he began his own business in a small dry goods store at No. 31 Cornhill (now Washington Street). He soon moved his business across the street to No. 46 Cornhill. In 1808, Lawrence took on his younger brother Abbot as an apprentice. The following year, his older brother William moved to Boston and was employed in the store until beginning his own business.
On June 6, 1811 Lawrence married Sarah Richards, the daughter of Giles and Sarah Adams Richards of Boston. They had three children: William Richards, who married Susan Combs Dana; Amos Adams, who married Sarah Elizabeth Appleton; and Susanna Lawrence, who married Rev. Charles Mason.
On January 1, 1814, when Abbot reached maturity, the two brothers formed a partnership under the name "A & A Lawrence." After two moves, A & A Lawrence was permanently located at "Lawrence Block" on Milk Street, Boston. Tragically, his wife Sarah died in Boston on January 14, 1819, age 28. The three children were sent to Groton to be cared for by grandparents and aunts so as to allow Lawrence to continue his business.
Two years later in April, Lawrence married Nancy Means Ellis, daughter of Robert and Mary McGregor Means of Amherst, New Hampshire, and widow of Hon. Caleb Ellis, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of New Hampshire. Lawrence's children returned to Boston to live with them and Lawrence and Nancy had two children: Mary Means and Robert Means.
During the following ten years, Lawrence became engrossed in his business. "A & A Lawrence" established its strong business foundation by importing drygoods from England as soon as peace was restored in and with Europe in 1815. However, the firm gradually became devoted to the sale of domestic cottons and woolens, and around 1837, became interested in the manufacturing aspect of families such as the Lowells, Appletons, and Jacksons, "A & A Lawrence" became involved in the development of New England as a thriving industrial center.
In addition to a career as a businessman, Lawrence was a member of the building committee of the Board of Directors of the Bunker Hill Monument Association. He was also a significant contributor to that fund in memory of his father who fought there. In 1821, he served as a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. In addition, he was a Trustee of and donated money to the Massachusetts General Hospital. Contrary to common belief, his philanthropic endeavors actually began during his active business years. In the 1820's, he donated to many families, students, and societies, such as the Boston Boys Asylum, the Boston Young Men's Society, and the Middlesex Mechanics Association .
In June 1831, Lawrence took violently ill and was obliged to retire from active participation in the firm, as a result the rest of his life was devoted to correspondence, family life, and philanthropy. A few of the many educational institutions Lawrence graciously aided are Williams, Wabash, Kenyon, and Bowdoin Colleges, the Academy at Groton, the Bangor Theological School, and the Mather School. His donations were primarily but not exclusively monetary, donating books and expensive materials and equipment. He was kind to the widowed and the poor to whom he often anonymously donated clothing and food. In addition, he gave to the Boston Female Asylum, the Young Mens's total Abstinence Society, boston Society for Natural History, the Young Men's Literary Association, and Boston Horticultural Society. By the end of his life, Lawrence had give away 5/6th of his fortune.
Politically, Lawrence was originally a Federalist and later became a Whig. He was well informed about and discussed politics often in his letters. Yet, he had no desire to hold public office, even refusing to vote for his brother Abbott who campaigned for the Whig nomination for the Vice-Presidency in 1848.
Amos Lawrence died on December 31, 1852 at age 66. He is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Amos Lawrence papers consist of eight document boxes that spans the years 1814-1879. The collection is divided into two series: Loose Papers and Bound Volumes.
The bulk of the collection consists of Lawrence's correspondence with family, friends, and many organizations and schools to which he donated money and goods. The loose correspondence particularly reflects his relationships with his second wife Nancy, sons William Richards and Amos Adams Lawrence, brothers Abbot, Samuel and Luther Lawrence, sisters Mary Lawrence Woodbury and Eliza Lawrence Greene, and the family of his first wife Sarah Richards. The loose correspondence also reflects his many philanthropic activities; interests in politics; and to a lesser extent his involvement in land companies and his business "A & A Lawrence." The letterbooks primarily include copies of correspondence between Lawrence and his friend Mark Hopkins, and reflect both of their interests in philanthropic activities and politics. Other correspondents include his nephew Franklin Pierce, Josiah Quincy of Harvard University, Charles Storrow, and the Secretary of the Navy, Nathan Silsbee, among many others.
In addition to the correspondence the collection also includes some loose business papers, and personal account books kept by Lawrence.
The "Hopkins Letters" were a gift of Robert M. Lawrence in 1919. The account books were a gift of John Silsbee Lawrence in 1950.
Detailed Description of the Collection
I. Loose papers, 1814-1853
The loose papers contain an extensive amount of family correspondence, among them a great number of letters from sons William Richard and Amos Adams Lawrence while they were attending school. Until approximately 1829 the letter of this type were primarily from William, in Byfield, Mass., and are non-existent after 1830, resuming in 1849 while William was on an extended tour of the southern United States and Cuba. The letters from Amos A. Lawrence were written from Andover, Bedford, and later Harvard College, and pertain primarily to his father while visiting Washington D.C., and later while touring the souther and eastern United Sates from 1836-1837.
Lawrence also received a great number of letters from his brothers Abbot, Samuel, and Luther Lawrence, and his sisters Mary Woodbury and Eliza Greene. In 1835 and 1836, Nancy, Lawrence' second wife, spent most of her time in Amherst, New Hampshire caring for sick relatives and a great number of letters from her to Lawrence, pertaining primarily to family matters, are present as well. Lawrence also maintained correspondence with the Richards, the family of his first wife, Sarah Richards Lawrence, after her death in 1819. The loose papers also include letter from George Richards, in Paris, and the Richards of Ohio. In addition this collection contains some letters written by Lawrence to his sisters, and beginning in 1841, letters written to his youngest son, Robert Means Lawrence.
One will also find papers related to Lawrence's involvement in land companies. Among these are a "Plan of Lands owned by the Canal Bridge Corporation, in East Cambridge" (1834); a "List of Subscribers to the City of "Brunswick Land Company" (1836); and an estimate of costs and additional expenses of the Cumberland Canal (1847).
This collection contains some, however scares, business records, business letters and pages from ledgers. Business records, mostly calculated and written by John Aiken, lawyer and promoter of the textile industries of Lowell, pertain to the accounts of "A & A Lawrence" and the cotton and woollen mills of Lowell and Lawrence, Mass. Many of the letters from Aikens and J. W. Edwards provide the dividends of the various mills owned by "A & A Lawrence." Among other things, one will find a printed sheet (attached to a letter from Aikens), of the "Statistics of Lowell Manufactures" (February 1837), the "Dividends of the Lawrence Management Company," (attached to a letter from Samuel Lawrence, 1847), and a printed comparison between the benefits of water power vs. steam power and the losses at the Dover mills, (attached to a letter from Aikens, November 1847). Also, beginning in the late 1840's, monthly calculations of the account of "Mason & Lawrence," the firm established between Robert M. Mason and Amos A. Lawrence, appear in this collection. One will also find a listing of the amounts and expenses of his share of stock in various mills (June 1850), and pages from an account book (September 1850), both of which are in Lawrence's handwriting.
After a debilitating illness in 1830, it was necessary for Lawrence to give up active participation in his business interests. He then devoted his time to philanthropy. A great number of the letters he received were either in request of funds or in thanks for liberal donations. He gave to many societies, associations, organizations, and educational institutions, and circular letters as well as other correspondence from such groups can be found in abundance in this collection.
Among those educational institutions receiving donations from Lawrence, Williams College was one of the greatest recipients. Correspondence with Mary Hopkins, William's president, is steady. Such letters not only pertain to donations and college affairs, but to other personal, friendly, and worldly matters. The Mark Hopkins' letters can be found in both the folders of loose letters beginning in 1844 and in the bound volumes entitled "Hopkins Letters." He also donated money and books to Bowdoin and Wabash Colleges, loyally corresponding with Professor Alpheus S. Packard of Bowdoin, and Caleb Mills and Charles White, of Wabash. He donated smaller amounts of money and gifts to Brown University, regularly corresponding with Daniel Sharp, a Baptist clergyman and fellow of Brown; to Amherst College, corresponding with President Edward Hitchcock; and to Dartmouth College, corresponding with President Charles B. Haddock. In addition to these larger institutions, he donated funds to Bangor Theological Seminary (corresponding with Enoch Pond), the Lawrence Academy in Groton (with James Means), the Mather School (and founded the "Lawrence Association" of the Mather School, with J. A. Sterns), and finally to Boston Latin School (with Samuel Bridge).
Lawrence donated money, clothing, food, and other essentials to the widowed, the poor, and to colleges specifically for the distribution to students in financial need. Letters from families and individuals who benefitted from such donations are also included.
Among his extensive business associates and friends who repeatedly appear in the correspondence are H. A. Bullard, Rev. Andrew Bigelow, Rev. A. P. Peabody, Robert Appleton, J. H. Dexter, H. A. Derborn, and James Austin. Timothy Woodbridge, and Gov. Geroge Nixon Briggs. The letters from these me cover a variety of different topis, and reveal a great deal about the state of government, the on goings of politics, and the national economy. Additional correspondents include his nephew Franklin Pierce (March 1841 and August 1845), Josiah Quincy of Harvard University (March 1841, August 1845, and June 1846), Charles Storrow (January 1836 and July- August 1849, and the Secretary of the Navy, Nathan Silsbee (1830).
II. Bound volumes, 1814-1879
A. "Hopkins Letters," 1844-1879
This subseries contains the "Hopkins Volumes (Volumes 1-4, previously numbered 21-24) contain copies of letters primarily between Lawrence and Mark Hopkins. Most of the "original " Mark Hopkins' letters, some official correspondence from the Trustees of Williams College, and letters form a few other correspondents, which are found in the loose papers of this collection, are also copied into the "Hopkins Volumes."
This volume contains correspondence between Lawrence and Mark Hopkins, as well as copies of the proceedings of Williams College.
This volume contains letters received primarily by Lawrence from a wide variety of men, including A. P. Peabody, Edward Hitchcock, F. A. Adams, Timothy Woodbridge, Charles White, Willard Hall, and Gov. George Nixon Briggs.
This volume contains correspondence between Lawrence and Mark Hopkins discussing donations to Williams, the Free Soil Party and its platform, and political figures such as Webster, Clay, Van Buren, and Taylor.
This volume contains two section, the first containing correspondence between Lawrence and Mark Hopkins pertaining to such topics as the release of and response to Uncle Tom's Cabin, the issue of slavery, the nomination of Franklin Pierce for President, and numerous educational institutions. The second section consists of copies of letters written by Amon to William R. Lawrence after and pertaining to his publication of The Diary and Correspondence of Amos Lawrence (1855).
B. Account books, 1814-1852
This subseries contains memoranda (account) books including records of all of Lawrence' personal accosts, exclusive of family expenses, with amounts recorded on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis. The book also contains some diary-like entries, a handwritten copy of his will and codicil, clippings from newspapers, and population statistics. The monetary entries of donations correspond with the letters requesting donations that he received, which can be found in the loose papers.
Amos Lawrence papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.
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.