1696-1967; bulk: 1821-1876

Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection consists of the personal and professional papers of John Henry Clifford of New Bedford, Mass., lawyer, attorney general of Mass., governor of Mass., and president of the Boston and Providence Railroad, as well as papers of family members.

Biographical Sketch

John Henry Clifford (1809-1876) of New Bedford, Mass. was a lawyer; attorney general of Massachusetts, 1849-1852, 1854-1858; governor of Massachusetts, 1853; Massachusetts legislator, 1862; and president of the Boston and Providence Railroad, 1867-1876. He was married to Sarah Parker Allen (1808-1893). Their children included Charles Warren Clifford (1844-1923), who married first Frances Lothrop Wood (d. 1872) and second Wilhelmina H. Crapo (1849-1909); and Walter Clifford (1849-1912), who married Harriet Perry Randall (1853-1925) and had four children: John Henry Clifford (1879-1950), Rosamond Clifford (1881-1944), Hilda Clifford (1883-1975), and Randall Clifford (1889-1982).

Collection Description

The earliest papers in the collection consist of copies of survey records and deeds for land at Rochester, Mass. belonging to John Bourn and his estate, 1696-1763, and to the Sturtevant family, mainly pertaining to land transactions at Rochester by Charles Bourn Sturtevant, 1748-1825. Included is an assessment list of persons in the south district of Rochester, 13 Apr. 1775, for Sturtevant's use as district surveyor, as well as papers related to the settlement of his estate, 1825. Beard family papers, 1794-1851, include an inventory of the estate of Obadiah Beard (b. 1794); enrollment of fishing vessels owned by Barrett Beard, 1820; receipts, 1840-1844; and papers regarding a Quaker meeting at Smith's Neck, 1851.

The bulk of the collection consists of the papers of John Henry Clifford, 1821-1876, primarily 1850-1870. Included are letters from most of the important Massachusetts Whig politicians of the day and from prominent lawyers, jurists, educators, and statesmen. Official documents and correspondence include attorney general's files and papers from his term as governor of Massachusetts, 1853. Clifford family correspondence relates to professional and private matters at New Bedford and Boston; trips to Washington and the battlefront in Virginia during the Civil War; and various Whig convention activities. Included are diaries dated 1854-1863, 1866-1870, and 1872-1875, as well as commissions, speeches, diplomas, certificates of membership, licenses, tax returns, cash records, accounts, and genealogies of the Clifford and related Allen, Perry, and Randall families.

Early John Henry Clifford papers include commonplace-books kept while a schoolboy, 1821-1822; lists of undergraduates at Brown University (Clifford graduated in 1827); and drafts of speeches delivered by him, 1829-1830. The collection also contain letters from Gov. Edward Everett, 1836-1842, who appointed Clifford as military aide, and from Caleb Cushing, William Barron Calhoun, Theron Metcalf, and George B. Upton. Also included are drafts of speeches prepared by Clifford during the Clay campaign of 1844; letters on political matters from Joseph Grinnell, 1843-1849; letters from Robert C. Winthrop, Caleb Cushing, B. R. Curtis, John Davis, George N. Briggs, Peleg W. Chandler, and other political figures, 1841-1849; papers related to New Bedford appointments, such as the appointment of J. F. Allen to a collectorship in 1841; and papers documenting Clifford's legal activities, 1842-1848.

Papers dating from Clifford's tenure as attorney general consist of letters of congratulation on his appointment in 1849; official records and correspondence, including papers pertaining to the Webster-Parkman case, 1849-1851, in which Clifford was prosecutor; letters from the Parkman family asking legal advice; and letters dealing with the issuance of the Bemis report of the trial, 1851. One letter from Clifford to Robert C. Winthrop, 2 Apr. 1850, describes his anxiety during the trial and his relief at its termination. The collection also contains papers related to the Sims freedom seeker case in 1851 and the settlement of the boundary between Rhode Island and Massachusetts in 1852, including letters and legal documents written by Ellis Ames of Taunton; maps and projections of boundary lines, 1866; and correspondence with Gov. Tappan Wentworth, 1868. Other subjects include the Rhode Island debt, 1852; the Alien Passenger and State Paupers legislation, 1850-1852; Native American lands at Tisbury, 1851; various executive requisition and fugitive cases, 1851; the Mystic River flats and the Mystic and Acushnet bridges; railroad legislation; and the Fisher-Leighton freedom seeker case, 1854. Papers from 1855 contain Clifford's opinions on extradition proceedings, actions against delinquent towns, and rulings on the Personal Liberty Bill and on delinquent banks. Clifford also corresponded with Gov. Henry J. Gardner over the removal of Judge Loring and participated in drafting the deed for land at Egg Rock, Nahant, and in the Samuel C. White freedom seeker case; included is correspondence with Benjamin Butler, Dec. 1855. Also among Clifford's attorney general papers are official communications with Governors Briggs, Boutwell, Washburn, and Gardner; correspondence with state officers concerning legal opinions and sanctions; reports; legal briefs; and other official correspondence and records.

Papers dating from Clifford's tenure as governor, 1853, include correspondence related to Whig Party activities; letters about the nomination from Peleg W. Chandler and A. H. Bullock, 1852; letters of congratulation on Clifford's election; his opening speech to the Massachusetts General Court; and his speech at the Harvard inauguration of James Walker, 3 May 1853. Included are letters pertaining to appointments from Levi Lincoln, Theron Metcalf, Benjamin L. Hallett, Ebenezer R. Hoar, and others. Also among the correspondents are Benjamin R. Curtis and Lemuel Shaw (on legislative matters), George S. Hillard, Charles Sumner, Caleb Cushing, Francis Wayland, and George B. Upton, as well as Edward Everett about state affairs.

Correspondence with Louisa Ingersoll, 1858, relates to the foundation of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, and correspondence with Louis Agassiz, 1854-1859, contains appeals and reports about a building at Harvard to house the Agassiz collection.

Traveling westward in 1860, Clifford reported on activities of the national Republican Party in letters to his family. Papers dated 1862-1867 include correspondence and reports documenting his years as president of the Massachusetts Senate. During the Civil War, he worked as commissioner on the Board of Naval Enlistment, 1864, and these papers detail conscription laws and practices. Correspondents include John A. Andrew, George P. Sawyer, James B. Fry, and William Whiting. In 1893, Clifford's colleague Stephen H. Phillips described a trip to Washington in January 1861, including a meeting with U.S. Attorney General Edwin Stanton, Stanton's warning of a plot by secessionists to take Washington, and Clifford's role in transmitting this information to Massachusetts authorities. Clifford's letters to his wife from Washington in March 1863 describe the city and an inspection trip to the headquarters of General Grant and General Meade before Petersburg, Va. During a subsequent visit in 1865, Clifford writes about Lincoln's inaugural; Clifford's trip on the Arajo to Fort Sumter to witness the flag-raising ceremonies; fellow passengers; views of war-scarred Charleston, S.C.; his return to Washington; news of Lincoln's assassination; and the funeral proceedings. Letters from Samuel Hooper, Apr.-May 1865, describe Washington's adjustment to the new administration.

Correspondence with William M. Evarts, James Speed, and Henry Stanberg, 1865-1866, document Clifford's role as advisor in the legal proceedings against Jefferson Davis and his withdrawal from the case in August 1866. Also included in the collection are sketches and composites showing an enlargement of the State House designed by Gridley Bryant, 1866-1867.

Correspondence dated 1862 includes letters about the appointment of a new U.S. representative to Hawaii and Lincoln's views on the subject. Clifford, as a member of the Commission for the Revision and Publication of the Province Laws of Massachusetts, retained reports and letters related to the commission's work, 1865-1867, mainly from Ellis Ames, Robert C. Winthrop, and John A. Andrew. Also included are Clifford's notes on the annexation of Roxbury to Boston, 1865, as well as correspondence of William Gaston, P. Simmons, and Josiah Quincy; letters from Samuel Hooper and correspondence with George Upton pertaining to Clifford's failed attempt to secure the collectorship at New Bedford, 1867; letters from Edwin M. Stanton about his vacation visit to Samuel Hooper at Cotuit Port, Aug. 1867; letters from John Murray Forbes and William Gray formulating plans for General Grant's visit to Boston, Nov. 1868; and telegrams from Grant to Clifford. Papers in this period contain records of legal cases and Clifford's private business transactions at New Bedford, Boston, and New York. His participation in the funeral services for George Peabody, Feb. 1870, and Admiral Farragut, Aug. 1870, is documented in letters from Robert C. Winthrop, the Peabody family, and Farragut's widow.

The collection also contains Clifford's appointment by Secretary of State Hamilton Fish as head of the Fishery Commission in 1873, as well as letters from Fish, 1869-1875, with insight into the problems and pitfalls of his cabinet post. Fish also offered him the ministries to Russia and Turkey in 1874, but Clifford declined. Of particular interest is a letter from James Russell Lowell, Dec. 1874, describing his dislike for diplomatic assignments to these places. Papers and correspondence dated 1868-1874 relate to Clifford's position on the Harvard Board of Overseers, including plans for the Medical School building in 1874. Correspondents include Francis Bowen, William M. Evarts, James C. White, Ebenezer R. Hoar, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. The collection also contains papers concerning Clifford's presidency of the Boston and Providence Railroad, mainly from 1875, dealing mostly with employee relations; drafts of speeches, 1870-1872; and papers related to the Peabody Education Fund, including correspondence with Barnas Sears, 1874.

Additional letters include correspondence with Rufus Choate and C. P. Curtis on legal matters, 1854-1855; R. H. Dana, 1850; R. H. Dana, Jr. and Elisha Huntington on political matters, 1851-1855; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on anesthesia, 1870; James M. Mason, 1857; Francis Parkman, 1865; Amasa Walker, 1855; and Leonard Woods on the Andover Theological Seminary, 1853. The collection also contains documents and letters related to his private legal practice; whaling, fishing, and shipping interests in New Bedford; and, in letters to his family, leisure time spent hunting with the Forbes family at Naushon. Papers concerning his death in 1876 consist of letters of condolence from August Belmont, R. C. Winthrop, and others, as well as subsequent letters from Winthrop to Charles W. Clifford about memorials in preparation for the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1880.

Papers of Charles W. Clifford include correspondence with his family while an undergraduate at Harvard, 1861-1863; letters pertaining to his legal practice and position as head of the Massachusetts Bar Association; letters concerning the New Bedford political scene in 1888; and correspondence with John Henry Clifford at Groton School in 1893-1898 and at Harvard in 1890-1892. Among the correspondents are Theodore Roosevelt, 1895; Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1912; Henry Cabot Lodge, 1912-1916; and Elihu Root, 1912.

Papers of John Henry Clifford (1879-1950) include letters written to his family during his years at Groton and Harvard, 1893-1902; his military training at Plattsburgh, N.Y. in 1917; and his service as an army officer at the headquarters of the American Expeditionary Forces in France in 1918-1919. Letters of his brother Randall during military service date from 1918. Additional papers concern his admittance to the Massachusetts Bar Association in 1904 and participation in the Republican Party convention of that year. Major correspondents include Lebaron H. R. Briggs, 1900; Endicott Peabody, 1893-1917; Grover Cleveland, 1906; and Oliver Prescott, 1891-1917. The collection also contains papers pertaining to private business transactions, 1930-1946.

Papers of the Randall family, 1861-1911, include Charles S. Randall's account of his brother's duty on the Cumberland in 1861, as well as family correspondence, bills, and legal documents. The collection also contains photographs, clippings, pamphlets, and publications about the Clifford family and their activities.

Acquisition Information

Gift of Dr. Randall Clifford, Easton, Md., and Mrs. John W. Stedman, South Dartmouth, Mass., November 1967.

Box List

I. General correspondence and papers, 1696-1967

Arranged chronologically.

Box 1
Box 2
Box 3
Box 4
Box 5
Box 6
1859-Mar. 1862
Box 7
Apr. 1862-Feb. 1865
Box 8
Mar. 1865-1866
Box 9
1867-Aug. 1870
Box 10
Sep. 1870-1876
Box 11
Box 12
1890-Feb. 1893
Box 13
Mar. 1893-Sep. 1894
Box 14
Oct. 1894-1898
Box 15
Box 16
Box 17
1910-July 1917
Box 18
Aug. 1917-1967
Box 19
Undated and miscellaneous papers
Box 20
Genealogy papers, undated

II. Volumes, 1821-1895

Box 21
Diaries, 1854-1858
Box 22
Diaries, 1859-1866
Box 23
Diaries, 1867-1872
Box 24
Diaries, 1873-1875, 1893, and undated
Box 25
Miscellaneous volumes, 1821-1866
Box 26
Miscellaneous volumes, 1875-1895 and undated

III. Printed matter, 1838-1917

Box 27
Box 28
1903-1917 and undated

IV. Legal papers, 1838-1877

Box 29
Webster-Parkman murder case, 1849-1850
Box 30
Box 31
Box 32
Box 33
Box 34
Box 35
Box 36
1863-1877 and undated

V. Oversize papers, 1807-1952

Box OS 1
Manuscripts and miscellaneous papers, 1820-1926
Box OS 2
Newspapers, 1807-1850
Box OS 3
Newspapers, 1851-1952

Preferred Citation

John H. Clifford 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.


Agassiz, Louis, 1807-1873.
Beard family.
Bourn family.
Clifford, Charles W., 1861-1916.
Clifford family.
Curtis, Benjamin Robbins, 1809-1874.
Cushing, Caleb, 1800-1879.
Dana, Richard Henry, 1787-1879.
Dana, Richard Henry, Jr., 1815-1882.
Davis, Jefferson, 1808-1889.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882.
Everett, Edward, 1794-1865.
Fish, Hamilton, 1808-1893.
Forbes, John Murray, 1813-1898.
Gardner, Henry J. (Henry Joseph), 1819-1892.
Hillard, George Stillman, 1808-1879.
Holmes, Oliver Wendell, 1809-1894.
Hooper, Samuel, 1808-1875.
Lawrence, Amos Adams, 1814-1886.
Lodge, Henry Cabot, 1850-1924.
Lowell, James Russell, 1819-1891.
Quincy, Josiah, 1802-1882.
Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919.
Root, Elihu, 1845-1937.
Stanton, Edwin McMasters, 1814-1869.
Sturtevant family.
Sumner, Charles, 1811-1874.
Webster, Daniel, 1782-1852.
Webster, John White, 1793-1850.
Winthrop, Robert C. (Robert Charles), 1809-1894.


Massachusetts. Governor (1853-1854 : Clifford).


Account books.