Nathaniel Stacy Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan.
The roots of American Universalism draw deeply on the New England states and the Burned-Over District of New York, and pass through the dozens of itinerant and local preachers spreading the doctrine of universal salvation to nearly every corner of the region. During the Second Great Awakening, Nathaniel Michael Stacy was one of the first Universalist preachers to delve into the fertile grounds of New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and became one the most ardent promoters of the religion.
Stacy was born on December 2, 1778, in New Salem, Mass., the fifth of seven children born to Rufus Stacy (1734-1824) and his second wife Anna Day Stacy (1745-1837). Rufus, originally from the port city of Gloucester, had been employed in several capacities aboard fishing vessels from the age of seven. The Stacys were sympathetic to the doctrines of Universalism from its infant days. In fact, Nathaniel notes in his Memoirs that they were among the earliest hearers of John Murray, the so-called Father of American Universalism. However, when Rufus and Anna moved their family from Gloucester to New Salem in the mid-1770s, the doctrines preached by Murray had yet made few inroads into inland Massachusetts, and the Stacy children were therefore raised in the Congregational Church. In New Salem, at the relatively advanced age of forty, Rufus began a new career as a farmer, apparently without great success, although he did manage to eke out a living for his sizable family, which included two children from his first marriage. In the early 1790s, he deeded his farm and appurtenances to Stacy's eldest brother, Rufus, in return for a life lease to himself and Anna. It was clear that the remaining Stacy boys would need to fend for themselves.
Stacy tried his hand at a number of trades between 1792 and 1802, from blacksmithing to school-teaching. By his own admission, he was too small and sickly to succeed at blacksmithing, and teaching offered at best only a few months of employment each year. In 1799, when he first heard the preaching of Hosea Ballou, Stacy had just finished a stint of teaching and had apprenticed himself to a clockmaker, but was still restless and unsettled. The simple and optimistic doctrine of universal salvation for mankind greatly impressed Stacy, who had been prone since early youth to fits of terror and depression at the thought of the wrath of an angry God. Eventually, in 1802, he entered into study with Ballou, and was given fellowship as a Universalist minister in 1803. He spent the next few years preaching occasionally throughout western Massachusetts and Vermont, but continued to teach school seasonally to supplement the small income he derived from preaching. When he married Susan Clark of New Salem, however, and moved with her to central New York, he finally committed himself to take up ministerial duties full time. The Stacys stayed in Whitestown and Columbus before settling in Hamilton in 1808, where they would remain for the next 22 years. The couple had a large family of eight children: three sons and five daughters.
In Hamilton, Stacy founded and ministered to a Society of Universalists, and itinerated throughout central and western New York. He might well have remained there for the course of his life but for the Antimasonic excitement which swept over western New York in the late 1820s. Stacy had become a Free Mason in Massachusetts in 1804; he notes in his Memoirs that most of the clergy of the day were Masons. But in 1829, several members of his congregation demanded that he renounce his Masonic ties. Stacy refused, causing a rift in the Society which he felt could be healed only by his departure. As a result, in 1830, Stacy moved his family to Columbus, Pa., where he continued to itinerate and minister, supplementing his income by maintaining a small farm. Despite his apparent success in Columbus, in 1835, Stacy accepted an offer to minister to the Society of Universalists in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where several former members of his Hamilton congregation had settled. Leaving his reduced holdings in Pennsylvania in the hands of a son-in-law, he moved his wife and unmarried children to Michigan. It was an unfortunate time to move to the Territory. The effects of uncontrolled financial speculation and a lack of confidence in the currency were to lead nationally to the Panic of 1837, and Michigan, the newest state, admitted that very year, was hit harder than most. Stacy received little of the money subscribed for his services and was forced into debt for the support of his family. Distressed by this turn of events, the family returned to Columbus only five years after their arrival.
Shortly after his return to Pennsylvania, Stacy resumed his ministerial duties and began work on his Memoirs, which were published in 1850. As he grew older, he itinerated less and less. Eventually, the failure of his eyesight and hearing drew a close to his active career as a minister, although he continued to preach throughout the 1860s, and in fact performed two marriages in January 1868, just three months prior to his death on April 4th. Susan survived her husband by less than two years. She died on October 4, 1869.
Collection Scope and Content Note
The Nathaniel Stacy papers include eight boxes of material relating to every aspect of the personal and professional life of a Universalist preacher operating in the hot bed of the Second Great Awakening, the Burnt-Over District of New York. Boxes 1 through 4 contain correspondence arranged chronologically, 1803-1867, followed by undated correspondence arranged alphabetically by author. Box 5 contains Stacy's preaching log, listing date, place and text taken for sermons given between 1803 and 1864, sometimes with additional notes concerning funerals or other special occasions. Box 6 contains 30 numbered lectures given by Stacy in Ann Arbor in 1837 and 1838. Only the first of these is specifically dated. They are filed in numerical order with text taken noted on the folder. Boxes 7 and 8 contain material arranged topically, filed alphabetically by folder title. The Box-Folder listing provides detail. Included in these boxes are Stacy's diaries, with an unbroken run from 1835 through 1868 and scattered earlier and undated fragments, and 18 folders of sermons arranged by text. The bulk of the collection centers around Stacy and the members of his immediate family, and includes some materials generated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by his grandchildren or great-grandchildren, the Smiths of Corry, Pa. The unidentified photographs are probably of these family members.
The Stacy collection is a rich resource for historians of the Universalist Church. Stacy was part of what might be called a second generation of American Universalist preachers, taught by Hosea Ballou and influenced by other members of the General Convention of Universalists of the New England States and Others. He was among the first to preach the doctrine of universal salvation in New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and in each state he founded a number of local societies and regional associations. Stacy's papers vividly document the hardships involved in the life of an itinerant preacher of an unpopular doctrine. The financial difficulties inherent in such a career are reflected in his appeals to various Societies for whom he preached to honor their subscriptions or allow him to leave, and in letters from other struggling preachers bemoaning their meager earnings or looking for a better place; they are implicit in all his financial juggling and in schemes for supplementing his income, ranging from the disastrous reprinting of Marie Hubers's The State of Souls Separated From Their Bodies (1:46) to an ill-fated speculation in cheese (3:91). The individual societies for whom Stacy preached are variously documented in 8:35-39. For example, materials concerning the Society in Hamilton are unfortunately sparse, consisting of one letter of appeal from Stacy and a draft report to the Western Association of Universalists. The Society in Columbus is better documented, with a constitution and list of members dated 1834 and a record of church proceedings from 1834 to 1847 as well as a number of Stacy's accounts and subscription lists. The run of undated sermons (8:18-35) is useful for study of Universalist doctrine, as are the dated occasional sermons which may be found in the card catalog under Stacy's name. Running throughout the correspondence is a considerable debate on the subject of universal salvation versus endless misery, and these debates are echoed and extended in Stacy's diaries and Memoirs.
Stacy's ministry in New York occurred during one of the most volatile periods in the state's history. The collection documents the intense interest in religion in general and the willingness to question established doctrine which characterized the Burnt-Over District during this period. Letters such as one dated January 1, 1819 (1:37) offer moving descriptions of the spiritual hunger and emotional turmoil which stirred many, although a counterbalance is offered in such letters as the one dated January 20, 1828 (2:9) which offers a rationalistic discussion of the illogical nature of such biblical imagery as that of armies of angels in heaven. A number of Stacy's correspondents describe protracted religious meetings and local revivals (indexed under Revivals; and Enthusiasm). Universalist ministers generally disapproved of the techniques of the evangelical churches, and Stacy avidly collected stories of people driven to madness, infanticide, and suicide by Calvinism (1:59; 3:78,92). Yet it is also clear, as one fellow minister pointed out to Stacy, that the Universalist Church benefited both by the interest in religion stirred up by the revivals and by the renewed commitment of the enlightened who found such meeting objectionable (3:11) A letter from a niece turned Mormon requests Stacy to "give me the Names of your Anchestors as far back as you can gain eny knowledge and also give me the Names of your Children that are dead that I may have them to be handed down from generation to generation after me" (4:38). In another interesting series of letters, Stacy acts as advocate for an elderly neighbor, a former Shaker who had been expelled from their community, and who was seeking their support (see subject index under Shakers).
In Michigan and Ann Arbor, Stacy experienced the region's transition from territory to state and the hard times following the Panic of 1837. His correspondence from this period, and in particular his diaries, which he began to keep regularly upon his removal to Michigan, offer a window onto life in a frontier town. Although his daily entries are seldom lengthy, the cumulative effect of the diaries is to provide a rich picture of Stacy's social and economic setting and, as a side benefit, of his very appealing personality.
Those interested in Freemasonry and the Antimasonic excitement which played such an important role in determining Stacy's actions will find materials of interest in the collection. Two examples of Antimasonic rhetoric are found in letters dating from 1829, written by a kinswoman who exhorted Stacy to divest himself of the "vile robes" of the "base ferternity," while listing the ghastly crimes committed by Masons (2:15,17). Clippings concerning his Masonic affiliation and two speeches delivered in lodges are included in 8:14. Also of interest are two series of legal materials: one concerning the estate of David Curtis, founder of Columbus, Pa., for which Stacy acted as executor (7:1), and one concerning the legal separation of Stacy's niece, Rhoda Porter Thompson from her second husband (8:41). Each set of documents includes an inventory of the principal's household goods. Stacy's register of marriages (8:13) and his log of sermons, which often gives some detail about those at whose funerals he preached (5), include useful material for genealogists. The subject index includes topics covered in less detail in the papers, such as Stacy's chaplaincy during the second campaign at Sackett's Harbor in the War of 1812, and his involvement in various Temperance groups.
Booksellers and bookselling.
Clergy--Conduct of life.
Columbus (Pa.)--Religious life and customs.
Family--New York (State)
Gospel Herald and Religious Observer.
Michigan--Religious life and customs.
New York (State)--History--1775-1865.
New York (State)--Religious life and customs.
Parent and child.
Pennsylvania--Religious life and customs.
Publishers and publishing.
Second Great Awakening.
Support (Domestic relations)
Western Association of Universalists.
Estate administration records.
Container / Location
Correspondence, 1840-1867, and undated
Other papers [series]
Preaching Log, 1803-1864
Curtis, David, ca. 1786-1832 Estate settlement; 1830-1850, undated
Erie County (Pa.): Election returns, poll lists; 1892-1895
Erie County (Pa.): Sewer and pavement assessments; 1895-1896
Miscellaneous; 1805-1924 and undated
Perry, William B.: Miscellaneous; 1840-1895
Smith, A. Louis: Miscellaneous; 1893-1912 and undated
Smith, Don F.: Correspondence; 1891-1898
Smith, Don F.: Legal papers; 1896-1902 and undated
Smith, Nathaniel Stacy: Accounts, receipts; 1882-1899 and undated
Stacy, Nathaniel M.: Universalist Society of Ann Arbor; 1834-1840
Stacy, Nathaniel M.: Universalist Society of Columbus; 1834-1855
Stacy, Nathaniel M.: Universalist Society of Concord & Sparta; undated
Stacy, Nathaniel M.: Universalist Society of Hamilton; ca. 1818-1821
Stacy, Nathaniel M.: Universalist Society of Utica: Periodicals; 1831-1839
Thompson, Rhoda Porter: Legal separation; 1842
Watchword; 1916 and 1921
Additional Descriptive Data
Stacy Family genealogy
This genealogy represents only those grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Nathaniel and Susan Stacy either mentioned by name in letters, or noted in skimming through Stacy's diary. There were others. On 30 January 1856, Stacy noted that he and Susan had 27 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren.
Rufus Stacy married Martha
Susana (b. 30 December 1731)
Rufus (b. 1 Mar 1734; d. 11 February 1824) See below
Martha (b. 14 August 1737)
Ebenezer (b. 11 August 1739)
Lucy (bap. 12 September 1742)
Rufus Stacy (1 March 1734-11 February 1824) married Elisabeth Allen, by whom he had a daughter, Elisabeth Stacy Paige (9 October 1758-25 March 1846) and a son, Ebenezer (bap. 7 December 1760). Married second Anna Day (ca.1745-26 February 1837).
Rufus Stacy (bap. 23 November 1766; d. ca.1845) See below
Anna Stacy (b. 10 September 1769) married ------ Shaw
Ezekiel Stacy (bap. 3 May 1772; d. 1844) married Lois
Martha (Patty) Stacy (bap. 15 August 1774) married Roland Felton (d. 1825).
Nathaniel Michael Stacy (2 December 1778-4 April 1868; bap. 12 September 1779) See below
Mary (Polly) Stacy (bap. 5 August 1781) married Abel Thompson
Michael Stacy (bap. June 1784; d. ca.1790)
Rufus Stacy (bap. 23 November 1766; d. ca.1845) married ca.1790 to the mother of at least the first three children named below. Married second Anna Lyndsey on 14 October 1805.
Consider H. Stacy (d. 1840) married between 1815 and 1816 Polly Bass. Practiced as a doctor in Hamilton, N.Y.
Consider Alphonzo Stacy (1817-1888) married Mary M. Walker. Practiced law in Tecumseh, Mich., and served as probate judge and postmaster.
William (d. 1833)
Lucy Stacy married on 5 November 1812 to Robert Ransom
Erastus (d. 1838)
Content Stacy married on 19 November 1821 Gratia Church
James Elliott Stacy
Mary Patience Stacy
Nathaniel Michael Stacy (2 December 1778-4 April 1868; bap. 12 September 1779) married on 30 January 1806 Susan Clark (22 April 1783-4 October 1869).
Nathaniel Haskel Stacy (b. ca.1806) married Polly Dunham on 3 March 1833. Worked as a blacksmith in Oil Creek, Pa.
Maria Theresa Stacy (September 1809-April 1861) married Edwin T. Baker on 6 April 1834.
Mary A.S. married Hiram M. Lawrence on 21 September 1852
Susan Elvira Stacy married on 1 January 1832 Charles Anderson. Married second John Ackley on 1 January 1856.
Edwin Clark Stacy (b. ca.1814) married Elizabeth Heath on 24 February 1842. Practiced law in Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Walter Stacy (ca.1816-14 May 1831) drowned in a mill pond in Columbus, Pa.
Mary Adeline Stacy (ca.1818-23 March 1834) died after a short illness in Columbus
Charlotte L. Stacy married Ozro A. Smith on 6 February 1842
Ida Dorliska (10 December 1842-April 1861)
Alice (d. 1846 as an infant)
Nathaniel Stacy (ca.1849-26 April 1900) married Dona A. Fuller in 1871
A. Louis (d. 11 September 1932)
Clarinda Rosina Matilda Stacy married on 10 August 1846 John D. Anderson.
The marriage register kept by Stacy in Ann Arbor has been published in full in Family History Capers 9 (1986), pp. 2-4, along with excerpted information concerning funerals performed in Michigan. A copy of this publication in enclosed with the register.
The personal papers of Consider A. Stacy, Nathaniel Stacy's nephew's son, are deposited at the Clarke Historical Library of Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant.