Amos Adams Lawrence was born in Boston on July 31, 1814, the second child of Amos Lawrence and Sarah Richards Lawrence. He had an older brother, William Richards Lawrence, born May 3, 1812, married Susan Combs Dana, died 1885; and a younger sister, Susanna Lawrence, born May 23, 1817, married Reverend Charles Mason, and died December 2, 1844.
After the death of their mother in 1819,. the Lawrence children were sent to Groton, Mass., to live with their Lawrence grandparents and aunts while their father continued his thriving merchant business in Boston. Two years later they were returned to Boston to live with their father and his new wife, Nancy (Means) Ellis. Amos and Nancy had two children, Mary Means Lawrence, born April 15, 1823, died December 8, 1828; and Robert Means Lawrence, born September 17, 1826, died November 1, 1845.
Lawrence was sent away to school at Franklin Academy in Andover, Mass. He was not particularly happy in these surroundings, even running away for several days. Lawrence entered Harvard in 1831, but his studies there were interrupted the following year. Following some disturbances involving gunpowder that had been removed from Lawrence's room, President Josiah Quincy wrote to Amos Lawrence suggesting that his son might benefit from private tutoring for a time before returning to college. Sent to Bedford, Mass. to be tutored by J. Stearns, young Lawrence enjoyed himself so much that he voluntarily delayed returning to Harvard for eighteen months. He did return to Cambridge, however, and immediately following his graduation in 1835, traveled in the southern United States and Washington, D.C.
On March 31, 1842 Lawrence married Sarah Elizabeth Appleton, the daughter of William and Mary Anne Appleton of Boston. They had seven children: Marianne Appleton Lawrence, born May 12, 1843, married Robert Amory on May 12, 1864, died May 15, 1882; Sarah Lawrence, born July 5, 1845, married Peter Chardon Brooks on October 4, 1866, died July 13, 1915; Amory Appleton Lawrence, born April 22, 1848, married Emily Silsbee on June 1, 1871, died July 6, 1912; William Lawrence, born May 30, 1850, married Julia Cunningham on May 19, 1874, died November 6, 1941; Susan Mason Lawrence, born February 4, 1852, married William Loring on September 25, 1883, died March 10 1923; Hetty Sullivan Lawrence, born November 21, 1855, married Frederic Cunningham on December 11, 1877, died August 20, 1931; and Harriett Dexter Lawrence, born June 8, 1858, married Augustus Hemenway on December 28, 1881.
Upon leaving college, Lawrence entered into business for himself as a commission merchant in the textile industry. In 1843, he established a partnership with Robert M. Mason, under the name of Mason & Lawrence. Mason was forced by ill-health to forego an active role in the firm after the first few years, and Lawrence was the more active partner for the forty years of the partnership's existence.
The firm of Mason & Lawrence was an extremely successful selling agency for several large textile mills in New England. Independently of the firm, Lawrence was also involved in the manufacture of textiles. His main investment in this area was the Ipswich Mills (Mass.), one of the earliest mills to manufacture cotton hosiery and other knitted goods in the country. This mill, acquired in 1860, eventually became the largest manufacturer of knit products in the United States.
Lawrence had many interests other than business. Like his father, he was deeply interested in education. In addition to his abiding support of Harvard and the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, he founded Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, and established the nucleus of the University of Kansas at Lawrence, Kansas.
During the 1850's, Lawrence was deeply interested and involved in the political and social issues of the day. In both 1856 and 1860 he was nominated for the governorship of Massachusetts by the American Party but declined. In 1860, he ran for Governor on the Constitutional Union ticket but was defeated.
Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, which turned Kansas into a battleground for pro- and anti- slavery forces, shocked many people, including Lawrence, into acting on their anti-slavery beliefs. Eli Thayer of Worcester, Mass., advocated the organized emigration of anti-slavery settlers but did not have the financial means to carry out such a plan. Lawrence, a strong supporter of a free Kansas, was instrumental in establishing the New England Emigrant Aid Company, which financed settlement by free state supporters. Lawrence served as treasurer of the Emigrant Aid Company for the first two years of its existence. In addition to his time, Lawrence also contributed large sums of money to the cause. His belief in and work on behalf of this venture is reflected by the wish of Kansas settlers to name a new village, "Lawrence." (Records of the New England Emigrant Aid Company are also held by the Massachusetts Historical Society.)
Lawrence continued his active involvement in issues of the day following the outbreak of the Civil War. Although he had not previously been in the camp of the Republican party or Abraham Lincoln, he became a wholehearted backer of the President and the war effort. In 1862, Lawrence was authorized by Massachusetts Governor John A. Andrew to raise a battalion that became known as the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry, although age and family responsibilities kept him from riding off to war himself. He was also a strong supporter of the Massachusetts 54th Infantry Regiment, the first Black regiment raised in the North, providing financial backing as well as lending his name to the effort.
With the end of the war Lawrence began to live a much quieter life. Although he remained vitally interested in the affairs of the country, his days of greatest involvement in political and other public affairs were essentially coming to an end. One organization of which he did become President was the National Association of Cotton Manufacturers and Planters.
There was, however, one last flurry of social activism in the last year of his life. Along with Eli Thayer, his associate from Kansas days, Lawrence proposed the formation of a "Utah Emigrant Aid Company," modeled on the Kansas group, in order to populate Utah with non-polygamous non-Mormons. The effort came to naught, however, since the backers could not gain Congressional support and because the Mormons gave up polygamy in order to gain statehood.
In addition to the major donations of time and money that Lawrence made to educational, temperance and anti-slavery endeavors, he was a constant benefactor of needy individuals, be they former servants in the Lawrence household, old schoolmates fallen on hard times, or merely persons whose causes had been recommended by someone whose judgment Lawrence trusted.
Lawrence moved with his family to the Longwood section of Brookline in 1851, and had a summer residence first in Lynn, then in Nahant. The Lawrence family was very close, and Lawrence regarded his wife and children as his greatest treasures. He remained very close to his brother William, who with his family also lived in Longwood. William had a summer house in Swampscott, and the brothers could see each other's houses from their respective porches.
Lawrence died at Nahant on July 25, 1886. He is buried in Mt. Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass. After his death his son William published a memoir entitled Life of Amos A. Lawrence: With Extracts From His Diary and Correspondence (1888).
The Amos A. Lawrence Papers contain 51 boxes of loose papers, 10 boxes of bound volumes, and 4 loose volumes. The loose papers were at one time bound into volumes but have since been disbound, with the page numeration remaining on the tops of many of the documents.
The collection consists of the personal and business papers of Amos A. Lawrence, a Boston, Massachusetts merchant and investor in the textile industry, anti-slavery sympathizer, and benefactor of educational and other social causes. His personal papers contain a substantial amount of family correspondence, both loose and in letterbooks, with his father Amos, brother William R., son Amory A., and other members of the Lawrence family. Business papers include correspondence with Robert M. Mason, Lawrence's partner in the firm of Mason & Lawrence; financial statements and other papers related to Lawrence's interest in the textile industry, in particular with Ipswich Mills; and account books kept from 1836-1842.
Correspondence and papers also pertain to Lawrence's interest, with Eli Thayer and Charles Robinson, in the New England Emigrant Aid Company and the emigration of anti-slavery supporters to Kansas following the Kansas-Nebraska Act; the establishment of Lawrence University (Appleton, Wis.) and the University of Kansas in Lawrence, a town named for him; his financial support of Harvard University and other individuals and institutions; his part in the raising of the 2nd Mass. Cavalry and the Mass. 54th Infantry Regiment; and the Utah Emigrant Aid Company founded to populate Utah with non-polygamous non-Mormons. Lawrence's commonplace-book for 1833 is also included.
Among Lawrence's many correspondents are U.S. presidents Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, and Theodore Roosevelt; Harvard presidents Josiah Quincy, C.C. Felton, and Charles W. Eliot; and abolitionist John Brown.
The Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) holds the following collections related to the Amos Adams Lawrence papers:
Amos Lawrence papers, 1814-1879. Ms. N-1554. Finding aid available at: http://www.masshist.org/findingaids/doc.cfm?fa=fa0224.
Amos Lawrence papers II, 1811-1851. Ms. N-1555.
Amos Lawrence papers III, 1846-1852. Ms. N-1556.
Amos Adams Lawrence diaries and account books, 1816-1886. Ms. N-1558. Finding aid available at: http://www.masshist.org/findingaids/doc.cfm?fa=fa0165.
Gift of Mrs. Frederic Cunningham in 1927.
The collection is organized into the following series:
Amos Adams 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.
Printed items were removed to the MHS Printed Collections.
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