This collection is a valuable resource for the study of the abolitionist movement. It includes approximately 350,000 manuscript pieces. The mass of these was written during the period from 1839 to 1882, but several thousand are dated before and after that time. The manuscripts include some of the treasurers’ papers and minutes of Executive Committee meetings, as well as other items such as sermons, statistical reports, drawings, photographs, and essays; however, letters make up the large majority of the items. More than 100,000 letters are reports from foreign and home missionaries and teachers.
The papers provide the detailed history of the AMA from its origin to 1882. The materials dated prior to 1846 relate to several subjects, of which the most important are the Amistad case and the efforts of evangelical abolitionists to promote abolitionism among northern churches and religious societies such as the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the American Home Missionary Society, and the American Bible Society.
The history of the AMA before 1861 includes its missions in Sierra Leone, Jamaica, Egypt, Siam, and Hawaii, and among Native Americans and fugitive slaves in Canada, as well as extensive home missionary activities. Approximately 150 home missionaries were scattered throughout the North and in the border slave states, but most of them were located in the states and territories west of the Appalachians. In their monthly and annual reports the ministers frequently commented extensively on social, economic, and political conditions of the communities in which they worked.
Most of the papers from the Civil War and Reconstruction Period are statistical and written reports from the missionaries and teachers in the South. By 1865 the AMA had laborers among blacks in every Confederate state and in Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, and the District of Columbia. Following the collapse of the Confederacy, with the cooperation of the Freedmen’s Bureau during its existence, the work among blacks was expanded and made more systematic. The AMA was not only the first of the northern benevolent societies to undertake educational and relief work among the Freedmen, but it also supported more workers in the southern field during Reconstruction than any other organization.
In addition to describing the number, size, curricula, and progress of the schools for Freedmen, the reports from the missionaries discuss the political, economic, moral, and spiritual conditions of the South; the opposition of southern whites to the missionaries and Reconstruction policies; relations with the U.S. Army and the Freedmen’s Bureau; denominational rivalry and conflicts among the various philanthropic societies; and their own criticisms of the war and Reconstruction policies of the federal government. This collection is an excellent source on the history of Reconstruction and on the history of the individual states during this period.
In relating the history of the AMA’s work among the Freedmen, the Archives contain the basic primary source materials that explain in detail the early histories of Fisk University, Hampton Institute, Atlanta University, Howard School (at Chattanooga), Emerson Institute, and hundreds of other schools.
The papers are divided into two main classifications: home (United States) and foreign. Home papers are filed according to the state of origin, and foreign letters are arranged by country of origin. The materials found in the addenda series include items added to the original donation after it had been processed. This series comprises the majority of the 20th century material in the collection and focuses mainly on AMA-founded schools. It also contains ledger books and minutes of the Association.
Series 1: Home Missions and Schools
Series 2: Foreign Missions and Schools
Series 3: Addenda