Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


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.

Biographical Sketch

Amos Lawrence was born on 22 Apr. 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; Abbott, 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, Mass. and was enrolled for a short time in the Academy in Groton. When he was 13 years old, he worked as a clerk in a general store in Dunstable. After a few 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, Mass., where he worked as a clerk in a mercantile house. In December of the same year, he began his own business, 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, he took on his younger brother Abbott as an apprentice. The following year, his older brother William moved to Boston and was employed in the store until starting his own business. On 1 Jan. 1814, when Abbott 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.

On 6 June 1811, Amos Lawrence married Sarah Richards, the daughter of Giles and Sarah Adams Richards of Boston. They had three children: William Richards Lawrence, who married Susan Combs Dana; Amos Adams Lawrence, who married Sarah Elizabeth Appleton; and Susanna Lawrence, who married Rev. Charles Mason. Sarah (Richards) Lawrence died in Boston on 14 Jan. 1819 at age 28. The three children were sent to Groton to be cared for by grandparents and aunts, and Amos Lawrence continued his business. Two years later in April, he married Nancy Means Ellis, daughter of Robert and Mary McGregor Means of Amherst, N.H. 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 he and his second wife had two children: Mary Means Lawrence and Robert Means Lawrence.

For the next ten years, A & A Lawrence established a strong business foundation by importing dry goods from England as soon as peace was restored in Europe in 1815. However, the firm gradually devoted itself 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.

In addition to his business career, Lawrence was a member of the Board of Directors building committee for the Bunker Hill Monument Association and a significant contributor to that fund, in memory of his father who had fought there. In 1821, he served as a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He was also a trustee of the Massachusetts General Hospital. In the 1820s, he donated to many families, students, and organizations, such as the Boston Boys Asylum, the Boston Young Men's Society, and the Middlesex Mechanics Association.

In June 1831, Lawrence became ill, retired from active participation in the firm, and devoted the rest of his life to correspondence, family life, and philanthropy. He gave money, books, materials, and equipment to many educational institutions, including Williams, Wabash, Kenyon, and Bowdoin Colleges; the Academy at Groton; the Bangor Theological School; and the Mather School. He also donated clothing and food to the widowed and the poor and supported the Boston Female Asylum, the Young Men's Total Abstinence Society, the Boston Society for Natural History, the Young Men's Literary Association, and the Boston Horticultural Society. By the end of his life, Lawrence had given away 5/6 of his fortune.

Politically, Lawrence was originally a Federalist and later became a Whig. He often discussed politics in his letters, but refused to vote for his brother Abbott when he campaigned for the vice presidency as a Whig in 1848.

Amos Lawrence died on 31 Dec. 1852 at age 66. He is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass.

Collection Description

The Amos Lawrence papers consist of 10 document boxes that span 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 Lawrence and Amos Adams Lawrence; brothers Abbott, 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 documents his many philanthropic activities, political interests, and, to a lesser extent, his involvement in land companies and his business A & A Lawrence. The letterbooks primarily contain copies of correspondence between Lawrence and his friend Mark Hopkins that reflects their philanthropic activities and political interests. Other correspondents include his nephew Franklin Pierce, Josiah Quincy of Harvard University, Charles Storrow, and Secretary of the Navy Nathan Silsbee, among many others.

In addition to the correspondence, the collection contains loose business papers and personal account books kept by Lawrence.


The correspondence in the Amos Lawrence papers was removed from twelve bound volumes and arranged chronologically. As a result, the indexes to each volume (now located in box 1) no longer reflected the arrangement of the papers. Box 1 also contains a "guide to the indexes" that matches the original locations of the letters in the bound volumes to the years covered by each volume; this guide will make the letters accessible from the indexes to their current locations in the boxes.

Acquisition Information

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, including many letters from sons William Richard Lawrence and Amos Adams Lawrence at school. Until approximately 1829, the letters are primarily from William in Byfield, Mass. The series includes no letters from William after 1830; they resume in 1849 during his 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 they pertain primarily to his father while visiting Washington, D.C. and later while touring the southern and eastern United States from 1836-1837.

Lawrence also received a number of letters from his brothers Abbott, Samuel, and Luther Lawrence, as well as his sisters Mary Woodbury and Eliza Greene. In 1835 and 1836, Nancy, Lawrence's second wife, spent most of her time in Amherst, N.H. caring for sick relatives, and the series contains many letters from her to Lawrence, primarily pertaining to family matters. Lawrence also maintained correspondence with the Richardses, the family of his first wife Sarah Richards Lawrence, after her death in 1819. The loose papers include letters from George Richards in Paris and the Richardses of Ohio. The collection also contains some letters written by Lawrence to his sisters and, beginning in 1841, his youngest son, Robert Means Lawrence.

Included are 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 a small amount of 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 wool mills of Lowell and Lawrence, Mass. Many of the letters from Aiken and J. W. Edwards provide the dividends of the various mills owned by A & A Lawrence. Included is a printed sheet (attached to a letter from Aiken) of the "Statistics of Lowell Manufactures" (Feb. 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 Aiken, Nov. 1847). Beginning in the late 1840s, the papers include monthly calculations of the account of Mason & Lawrence, the firm established between Robert M. Mason and Amos A. Lawrence. Two items in Lawrence's handwriting are a listing of the amounts and expenses of his share of stock in various mills (June 1850) and pages from an account book (Sep. 1850).

After a debilitating illness in 1830, Lawrence gave up active participation in his business and devoted his time to philanthropy. He received a number of letters requesting funds or thanking him for donations. He gave to many societies, associations, organizations, and educational institutions, and the collection includes circular letters and other correspondence from these groups.

Among those educational institutions receiving donations from Lawrence, Williams College was one of the primary recipients. Included is correspondence with Mark Hopkins, president of Williams, pertaining not only to donations and college affairs, but to personal and other matters. Mark Hopkins letters are located in this series (beginning in 1844) and in the bound volumes entitled "Hopkins Letters" (Series II.A.). Lawrence also donated money and books to Bowdoin and Wabash Colleges, 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, 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 supported 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 to Boston Latin School (with Samuel Bridge).

Lawrence donated money, clothing, food, and other essentials to widows and the poor, as well as to colleges specifically for students in financial need. Included are letters from families and individual recipients of his donations.

Among his many business associates and friends who appear in the correspondence are H. A. Bullard, Rev. Andrew Bigelow, Rev. A. P. Peabody, Robert Appleton, J. H. Dexter, H. A. Dearborn, James Austin, Timothy Woodbridge, and Gov. George Nixon Briggs. The letters from these men cover a variety of topics, including government, politics, and the national economy. Additional correspondents include his nephew Franklin Pierce (Mar. 1841 and Aug. 1845), Josiah Quincy of Harvard University (Mar. 1841, Aug. 1845, and June 1846), Charles Storrow (Jan. 1836 and July-Aug. 1849), and Secretary of the Navy Nathan Silsbee (1830).

Arranged chronologically.

Box 1
1814-June 1832
Box 2
July 1832-1836
Box 3
1837-Aug. 1841
Box 4
Sep. 1841-Oct. 1845
Box 5
Nov. 1845-July 1847
Box 6
Aug. 1847-1849
Box 7
1850-Sep. 1852
Box 8
Oct. 1852-1853

II. Bound volumes, 1829-1879

A. "Hopkins Letters," 1844-1879

This subseries consists of four volumes (Vols. 1-4, previously numbered 21-24) containing 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 from a few other correspondents, which are found in the loose papers of this collection (Series I), are also copied into these volumes.

Arranged chronologically.

Box 9Vol. 1
1844-May 1846

This volume contains correspondence between Lawrence and Mark Hopkins, as well as copies of the proceedings of Williams College.

Box 9Vol. 2
May 1846-Oct. 1848

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.

Box 9Vol. 3
Oct. 1848-Oct. 1851

This volume contains correspondence between Lawrence and Mark Hopkins about donations to Williams, the Free Soil Party and its platform, and political figures such as Webster, Clay, Van Buren, and Taylor.

Box 10Vol. 4
Oct. 1851-Nov. 1852, 1855, 1879

This volume consists of two sections, the first containing correspondence between Lawrence and Mark Hopkins about the release of and response to Uncle Tom's Cabin, the issue of slavery, the nomination of Franklin Pierce for president, numerous educational institutions, and other topics. The second section consists of copies of correspondence of Amos A. Lawrence on his publication of The Diary and Correspondence of Amos Lawrence (1855). One entry (1879) pertains to William R. Lawrence.

B. Account books, 1829-1852

This subseries contains memoranda (account) books including Lawrence's personal accounts, exclusive of family expenses, 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 that he received requesting donations, which can be found in the loose papers (Series I).

Arranged chronologically.

Box 10Vol. 5
Personal expenses, 1829-1844
Box 10Vol. 6
General expenses and family record, 1831-1852
Box 10Vol. 7
Personal expenses, 1844-1852

Preferred Citation

Amos Lawrence 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.


Lawrence, Amos, 1786-1852.
Aiken, John.
Bigelow, Andrew.
Briggs, George N. (George Nixon), 1796-1861.
Bullard, Henry Adams, 1788-1851.
Hopkins, Mark, 1802-1887.
Lawrence, Abbott, 1792-1855.
Lawrence, Amos Adams, 1814-1886.
Lawrence, Nancy Means Ellis.
Lawrence, William Richards, 1812-1885.
Means, James.
Mills, Caleb, 1806-1879.
Packard, A. S., (Alpheus Spring), 1839-1905.
Pond, Enoch, 1791-1882.
Stearns, J. A.
White, Charles.
Lawrence family.


Bowdoin College.
Lawrence Academy (Groton, Mass.).
Wabash College.
Whig Party (U.S.).
Williams College.
A. & A. Lawrence & Co.
Mason and Lawrence (Boston, Mass.).


Account books--1814-1852.
Universities and colleges.
Cuba--Description and travel.
Southern States--Description and travel.
United States--Politics and government--1845-1861.