Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Joshua Danforth Papers, 1832-1862

Finding aid created by
Philip Heslip, September 2009

Summary Information
Title: Joshua Danforth papers
Creator: Danforth, Joshua N. (Joshua Noble), 1798-1861
Inclusive dates: 1832-1862
Extent: 69 items (0.25 linear feet)
This collection contains the correspondence of Joshua Noble Danforth, a Presbyterian minister and agent for the American Colonization Society.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1968. M-1445.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation:

Joshua Danforth Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


This collection is organized into three series: Correspondence, Printed Material, and Miscellaneous. Each series is ordered chronologically.


Joshua Nobel Danforth was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in 1798 to Joshua Danforth, an American officer in the Revolutionary War, and Salome Noble of Williamstown, Massachusetts. Joshua was schooled at Lenox Academy, graduated with distinction from Williams College, and studied at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1820. After Princeton, he ministered at Presbyterian churches in New Castle, Delaware, starting in 1821, and at the Second Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C. starting in 1828.

Danforth married Jane Janvier Whilldin (1789-1870) on August 6, 1829; they had at least two children: Samuel A. Danforth, and a daughter who died at a young age. From 1832-1834, Danforth worked as a general agent for the American Colonization Society in Boston, which supported the movement to help blacks emigrate to Africa, and supported the founding of Liberia. He returned to the ministry as pastor at the Congregational Church in Lee, Massachusetts, and in 1838 was called to the 2nd Presbyterian Church of Alexandria, Virginia, where he remained for 15 years.

Danforth was particularly active in the temperance movement and worked to establish schools for young children. He contributed to the religious and secular presses and wrote a number of books, including the 1852 publication, Gleanings and Groupings from a Pastor's Portfolio. In 1855, he received a D.D. from Delaware College. In 1860, Danforth again received employment with the American Colonization Society, where he worked until his death in 1861.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Joshua Danforth papers (69 items) contain 63 letters, 2 issues of The African Repository, and 4 miscellaneous items, all concerning Joshua Noble Danforth, a Presbyterian minister and agent for the American Colonization Society. The bulk of the collection documents Danforth's activities as agent for the Society from 1832-1834. Agents stationed in other cities described the Society's endeavors and their reception in New England, while communications from Ralph Gurley, at the society's Washington headquarters, addressed the society's activities at a national level. The letters concern conditions of colonization and education in Liberia, freed slaves, legislative plans, contemporary attitudes toward the society and its goals, fundraising, society administration, and the appointment of officers.

Letters in this collection are from, among many others, such notable people as George Grennell, a U.S. Congressman and trustee of Amherst College; Samuel Lathrop, a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts as well as a lawyer and Massachusetts State Senator; David L. Morril, a U.S. Senator from and governor of New Hampshire; and Samuel Wells, who later became governor of Maine. One particularly noteworthy letter is from, as Danforth writes on the cover, "a Negro signing himself ‘Justice’ complaining of the [American Colonization] society.” In this letter, from Charleston on July 8, 1832, the author asks Danforth: "Did Christ die for the Black man?" and elegantly writes: "Sir, I claim not equal rank with you for talent, and my information is verry limited: but I do fear that you are honestly engaged in a most unholy cause; no more no less than at driving (or attempting to drive; for it can never be effected) almost 3,000,000 of natives of this soil to the sickly clime of Africa."

In addition to Danforth's professional letters are approximately 13 personal letters to Danforth, his wife, and his family from various correspondents, including Ralph Gurley. Personal correspondents for Danforth and his wife include their siblings and other family members. The bulk of the collection's personal correspondence comes after 1834.

Printed material consists of two issues of The African Repository, the publication of the American Colonization Society. The 1852 issue (volume 28) is signed by Danforth. The second issue is from 1862 (volume 38).

The Miscellaneous series contains undated writings including a "Sermon for the Blacks," a list of goals of the Colonization movement, and a letter to the editor of the Gazette entitled The Way to Do Certain Things.

Subject Terms

    • African Americans--Colonization--Africa.
    • American Colonization Society.
    • Antislavery movements.
    • Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. Presbytery of Delaware.
    • Slaves--Emancipation--United States.
    • Gurley, Ralph Randolph, 1797-1872.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letters (correspondence)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Correspondence [series]
    Box   1 Folder   1
     January 13-April 18, 1832
    Box   1 Folder   2
     June 6-July 4, 1832
    Box   1 Folder   3
     July 7-October 18, 1832
    Box   1 Folder   4
     October 24-November 29, 1832
    Box   1 Folder   5
     December 5-27, 1832
    Box   1 Folder   6
     January 8-February 11, 1833
    Box   1 Folder   7
     February 19-April 3, 1833
    Box   1 Folder   8
     April 13-June 29, 1833
    Box   1 Folder   9
     March 11, 1834-December 18, 1838
    Box   1 Folder   10
     May 23, 1843-July 10, 1851, and  1903
    Printed Materials [series]
    Box   1 Folder   11
    The African Repository, vol. 28, no. 7 ( July 1852).    [Note: Located in the Book Division]
    Box   1 Folder   11
    The African Repository, vol. 38, no. 10 ( October 1862).    [Note: Located in the Book Division]
    Miscellaneous [series]
    Box   1 Folder   12
    Box   1 Folder   13
    Folder Information
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Alternate Locations

    The following two printed items are housed in the Clements Library Book Division:

    The African Repository, vol. 28, no. 7 (July 1852).

    The African Repository, vol. 38, no. 10 (October 1862).

    Related Materials

    The American Colonization Society published the periodical The African Repository..., which contains some of Danforth's writings.

    The Clements Library holds the following book: Danforth, Joshua N.Discourse for the National Fast Appointed by the President of the United States to be Observed, May 14, 1841, Preached in the First Presbyterian Church, Washington, and in the Second Presbyterian Church, Alexandria, D.C. Washington: J. & G.S. Gideon, printers, 1841.

    The University of Michigan Library holds the following book: Danforth, Joshua N. Twelve Reasons why all the People of New England Should Engage Heart and Hand in Supporting the Colonization Society, with Notices of Some Popular Objections. [Boston: s.n.], 1833.