The Alexander T. Stewart collection contains around 300 letters that Stewart received from strangers requesting financial assistance, employment, and other means of support. Many commented on the Civil War's negative economic impact on their lives, particularly in the South.
The majority of the letters are dated 1865-1876, including a large group (around 215 items) dated 1869-1870. Stewart's correspondents requested loans, donations, or employment; some wrote more than once. Writers include war widows, former soldiers, and others who had been affected by the war, particularly in the South. Many provided details of recent financial hardships, such as spouses' or parents' deaths, unemployment, and the effects of the Civil War, and some provided character witnesses or references. A soldier requested money for a camp stove (January 6, 1865); another man requested help after having difficulty collecting loans from southern borrowers (February 27, 1862); and a third writer mentioned displaced persons in South Carolina (March 9, 1867). Correspondents occasionally enclosed carte-de-visite portraits or newspaper clippings, and some pasted return postage onto their letters. The letters reveal the authors' views on wealth, social status, employment, and philanthropy in the Reconstruction-era United States.
Stewart received letters from correspondents in states including Alabama, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The few items that are not begging letters include a letter that Alexander T. Stewart wrote about his business affairs with P. Whitin & Sons (September 30, 1861) and a letter offering Stewart medical advice (April 7, 1873).
The collection contains 4 printed items: a ticket to a charity festival at the Astor House (February 22, 1855), 2 newspaper articles relating to Alexander T. Stewart, and a printed advertisement for A.T. Stewart & Co.'s store (September 23, 1871).