The Morris Barton Papers consist of manuscripts and letters written between 1822 and 1855 that reveal much about Barton's conceptions of religion and spirituality and of his role as a minister in the Burned-Over District at the height of the Second Great Awakening.
Perhaps the most interesting items in the collection are the draft copies of Barton's sermons and essays, most of which were written during his student days at Hamilton and Auburn. Unlike some ministers who preferred to discuss spiritual matters on a metaphysical plane, Barton worked hard to relate man's spiritual condition to contemporary social and moral issues. Following the trend of the Awakening, he attempted to deal with spiritual issues through an analysis of real-world problems. He seems to have been particularly interested in the history of Asia as a source of moral instruction and inspiration, and he wrote several essays about it. He also wrote on the history of India and portrayed British colonial rule there as a moral abomination. The colonization movement attracted Barton's interest as well. He saw slavery as the United States' greatest national sin, and called for its elimination.
Criticism of metaphysical theology also can be found in the collection in a short manuscript written by Elihu Wittlesby Baldwin. Baldwin was a fairly prominent Presbyterian minister who served as president of Wabash College in Indiana from 1835 until his death in 1840. He seemed to share Barton's support for religion that pertained to everyday life, and he attacked what he called the "metaphysical trend" in contemporary theology as represented by Jonathan Edwards, Nathanael Emmons and Samuel Hopkins. Although no direct connection between Baldwin and Barton is apparent, Baldwin's essay compliments Barton's work.
The collection also contains copies of a number of letters from Barton to his friends and acquaintances in the Finger Lakes region. Many of his correspondents were women, and his letters to them contain commentary on recent revivals in the area as well as personal spiritual exhortation. These letters offer some insight into the personal relations between the clergy and lay people, and they suggest the importance of women as allies of the clergy in the attempt to spread religious enthusiasm.
The remainder of the collection consists of items of a more quotidian nature. Barton was appointed as executor of the estate of Michael Baldridge, a leader of the Romulus Presbyterian Church; and one folder contains twenty-two receipts from the settlement of Baldridge's estate. There are also a number of documents pertaining to Barton's own financial affairs.