Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
William H. Channing Collection, 1829-1863

Finding aid created by
Philip Heslip, September 2009

Summary Information
Title: William H. Channing collection
Creator: Channing, William H., 1810-1884
Inclusive dates: 1829-1863
Extent: 34 items
This collection contains letters from Susan Channing to her son William H. Channing, a prominent Unitarian Religious leader in America during the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s. Also included are letters from relatives and friends of deceased Civil War soldiers, sent to Channing while he was stationed as chaplain at the Stanton Hospital in Washington D.C.
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:

1994. M-3099.2.

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:

William H. Channing Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


This collection is organized chronologically with undated items at the end.


William Henry Channing (1810-1884) was the son of Francis Dana Channing and Susan Higginson Channing, and the nephew of the renowned Unitarian clergyman, William Ellery Channing. William Henry's father died shortly after his birth; he was raised by his mother and maternal grandfather, Stephen Higginson. After attending Boston Latin School and Harvard College (class of 1829), Channing entered Harvard Divinity School, where he began his successful career as a reform-minded minister. He married Julia Allen of Rondout, New York, in 1836; they had three children. In 1837, he founded a free church in New York City that served the poor. The church failed to thrive in the community and closed. He then moved his family west and served as a minister in the First Congregational Church of Cincinnati from 1838-1841. During this time, he was also an editor for the Western Messenger, a publication "devoted to religion, life, and literature." A skeptic of some Unitarian tenets, Channing left the Cincinnati church and lived with his mother in Brattleboro, Vermont, from 1841-1842. Over the next decade he focused his energies on writing about and preaching for social reform, and believed that religious institutions should guide these changes. He edited two journals: The Present (1843-1844) and The Spirit of the Age (1849-1850), while contributing to The Phalanx (1843-1845) and The Harbinger (1845-1849).

From 1852 to 1854, Channing worked as a minister of Unitarian society of Rochester, New York, before moving to England with his family. He served as a minister to the Unitarian churches at Renshaw Street (1854-1857) and Hope Street Chapels (1857-1861) in Liverpool; the New Oakfield Road Church in Clifton (1865-1866?); and the Free Christian Church and Notting Hill in Kensington (1867-1869?). While in England he continued to write, edit, and publish essays and monographs. He moved to Washington D.C. during the early years of the Civil War, but could not find permanent work and returned to England. Though he lectured in America after the Civil War, his permanent home remained in England. Channing died in London in 1884.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The William H. Channing collection is comprised of 34 letters. Many of these were written by William Henry Channing's mother, Susan Channing, who lived in Brattleboro, Vermont. She reported family events and illnesses, expressed her dismay at her son's letter writing habits, and wrote of her concerns for her son and his family. In a letter dated November 8, 1845, she encouraged William to leave a copy of his papers in a safe place and to consider purchasing a life insurance policy, for which she offered to pay. In an 1847 letter, Susan mentioned the publication of the first volume of Channing's memoirs. In later letters, she described her growing interest in politics and in reading newspapers.

An 1843 letter from J.D. Channing to Susan Channing describes the meetings of a new "church of united brethren and Christian friends," organized in New York by William Russell, at which William H. Channing preached. The letter also mentions Ralph Waldo Emerson's attendance at the meeting and his visit afterwards.

During the Civil War, Channing served as the chaplain of Stanton Hospital. There he received five letters from relatives and friends of deceased soldiers thanking Channing for his kind letters.

Subject Terms

    • Bereavement.
    • Brattleboro (Vt.)
    • Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882.
    • Military chaplains.
    • Newspaper reading.
    • Transcendentalism (New England)
    • Unitarians.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Chaplains.
    • Channing, J.D.
    • Channing, Susan Higginson, 1783-1865.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letters (correspondence)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   25, Small Collections  
    William H. Channing collection [series]
    Folder   22  
     November 20, 1829-August 22, 1839
    Folder   23  
     February 27, 1843-February 4, 1849
    Folder   24  
     November 11, 1850-February 24, 1863
    Folder   25  
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    The Henry Gilbert papers at the Clements contain a letter to William H. Channing dated January 19, 1854.

    More Channing manuscripts are located in the Channing Family papers, Houghton Library, Harvard University.


    Rose, Anne C. "Channing, William Henry". American National Biography Online. 2000