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Collection 174 Papers of Lewis Tappan

Identifier: CN 174

Scope and Contents

Microfilm copy of original materials in the Library of Congress. Documents include correspondence, journals, miscellaneous materials which relate to Lewis Tappan's activities as an abolitionist leader, and business accomplishments.


  • Created: 1809-1903

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Literary rights in the unpublished writings of Lewis Tappan in these papers are dedicated by the Library of Congress to the public.

Biographical Information

Full Name: Lewis Tappan

Birth Date: May 23, 1788

Birth Place: Northampton, Massachusetts

Father: Benjamin Tappan, Sr.

Brothers: Benjamin, Arthur, Charles, John, and William

Marital Status: 1813: Married Susan Aspinwall (died, 1853) 1854: Married Mrs. Sarah J. Davis


1828 - ca.1837 - Partner, with brother Arthur, and credit manager of Arthur Tappan & Co., silk jobbers in New York City

1828-1831 -  Owned and published Journal of Commerce in New York City

1833 - One of the founders of the New York Anti-Slavery Society and the American Anti-Slavery Society

1839-1841 - Member of the committee which undertook to secure the freedom of the captives on the slave ship Amistad

1840 - Founder and first treasurer of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society

1841-1849 -  Established and operated the Mercantile Agency (first commercial credit-rating agency in America) under the firm name of Lewis Tappan & Co.

1843 - Attended international antislavery convention in London

1846 - A founder (and later treasurer and president) of the American Missionary Association

ca.1850 - Participated, after passage of Fugitive Slave Law, in many "underground railroad" activities

1855 - Joined (and later became an officer in) the American Abolition Society

1870 - Publication of The Life of Arthur Tappan (Reprinted [New York] Arno [1970] 432 p.)

1873 - Died June 21 in Brooklyn, New York

[The preceding Biography was taken directly from the guide prepared for this collection by the Library of Congress.]


7 Reels of microfilm

Language of Materials


Arrangement of Material

[The following Arrangement note was taken word-for-word from the guide prepared for this collection by the Library of Congress.]

The papers of Lewis Tappan span the years 1809-1903, and consist of correspondence, letterbooks, journals, notebooks, clippings, photocopies, notes, and miscellaneous other items. The journals and notebooks, which date from 1814-1869, are replete with information concerning Tappan's activities in the antislavery movement and contribute as well to an understanding of his private life, particularly his religious views.

The bulk of the correspondence in the Lewis Tappan papers is made up of copies of his outgoing letters. Contained in eleven volumes (one letter copybook and ten letterpress copybooks), the letters range in date from 1812 to 1870. Legibility of many of these copies is poor, and there are a number of gaps in the chronology. Nine of the volumes include indexes to correspondents. Incoming correspondence, although limited in quantity, covers the period 1809-1871. Subject matter throughout Tappan's correspondence strongly reflects his interest in antislavery activities and his participation in organizations promoting abolition.

Tappan's exposure to Calvinist and Unitarian theology is reflected in his journals by comments on ministers and the themes of their sermons. Also evident in the journals, which contain numerous newspaper clippings, and in his correspondence, is Tappan's involvement in promoting his ideas through Bible, tract, peace, abolition, and missionary societies, and through Sunday schools, free churches, charitable organizations, political parties, and newspapers. Prominent among the organizations represented are the American Anti-Slavery Society, the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, the American Bible Society, the American Colonization Society, the American Missionary Association, the Union Missionary Society, and the Liberty Party. TheJournal of Commerce, the National Era, and the American Missionary are among the publications with which Tappan was involved. Slavery, colonization, education of the Negro, and the role of the Christian in the abolition movement dominate the writings dating from 1836. Some of the leading issues discussed are the annexation of Texas and the moves taken for the release from custody of the African captives who had mutinied aboard the Spanish schooner Amistad. Of special interest is Tappan's journal of the international antislavery convention of 1843 in London, England.

A small portion of the collection deals with Tappan's business ventures, particularly his Mercantile Agency (the first commercial credit-rating agency in the United States). Throughout the papers there is documentation of routine family activities of the various members of the Tappan family, as well as of their interaction on matters of mutual concern, particularly where business, religion, and abolition were involved.

Prominent correspondents include John Quincy Adams, James Gillespie Birney, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Seth M. Gates, Samuel Dexter Hastings, William Jay, Joshua Leavitt, Amos Augustus Phelps, and Joseph Sturge. Lewis Tappan's brothers, Benjamin and Arthur, are well represented in the collection as well as other members of the Tappan and Aspinwall families.

In addition to original manuscripts, photocopies of Tappan items in other repositories--notably from papers in the Oberlin College Library--are present in the collection. Most of these copies fall between 1831 and 1841, and consist of letters of Arthur and Lewis Tappan to John J. Shipherd, Charles G. Finney, and Samuel D. Hastings. They deal mainly with the Tappan brothers' involvement in, and financial support of, religious movement in New York City and at Oberlin College.

Miscellaneous items include John Quincy Adams' holograph draft of a legal brief pleading for release of the Amistad captives, autobiographical notes, genealogical material on the Tappan and Aspinwall families, and a lecture by Theodore Weld. Writings, notes, and other miscellaneous items relating to slavery include a list of articles on emancipation by Lewis Tappan, a list of antislavery hymns, a copy of a deed of manumission, an article by Ansel Bascom, and materials on the expurgation of references to slavery in published works.

Prominent among organizations represented in the collection are the American Anti-Slavery Society, and American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society.  Prominent correspondents include John Quincy Adams, James Gillespie Birney, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Seth M. Gates, Samuel Dexter Hastings, William Jay, Joshua Leavitt, Amos Augustus Phelps, Joseph Sturge, and particularly Tappan's brothers, Benjamin and Arthur.

Accruals and Additions

The microfilm in this collection was purchased from the Library of Congress in April 1981.

Accession 81-35

No date

Collection 174 Papers of Lewis Tappan
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Roman Script

Repository Details

Part of the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository

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