The James Silver papers consist of 12 letters, each of which is several pages long, composed by Silver during his 1872 visit to New Orleans, Louisiana, recounting his journey from New York, where his family resided, to Louisiana, as well as his time spent in and around New Orleans. Silver included 39 ink sketches of people and scenery throughout his letters. The rough voyage took him past Havana, Cuba, before he entered the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River Delta. In New Orleans, Silver wrote about the sights and sounds in detail, paying particular attention to the peculiarity of hearing French in the French Quarter, of taking a train ride to Lake Pontchartrain, and of seeing the Mardi Gras celebrations.
The young traveler frequently mentioned African Americans, and included some ink sketches of them in his letters. Also of interest is Silver's discussion of the city's unique burial practices and the social implications of them (February 7). The 39 sketches, interspersed throughout his letters, show buildings, farms, the streets of New Orleans during Mari Gras, and beaches along the Gulf Coast, as well as portraits. Along with the natural and man-made scenery, Silver drew scenes involving local people of all races, including trips to the market, families, fellow passengers on his railroad journeys, and couples dining in restaurants. Additionally, he sketched different events he witnessed during his travels, such as a man with a gun approaching him, a production of Hamlet that included a severed head, a drunkard being arrested by an African American police officer, a bowler hitting him with a ball, and a cluster of "hackmen" arguing about the price of a ride.