Woodrow D. Johnson papers   1914-1946
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The William Jenks collection (972 items) consists of letters, financial documents, prayer notes, and miscellaneous items, related to the prominent New England Congregational clergyman, biblical and oriental scholar, and social reformer William Jenks. The collection includes 884 letters (122 undated), 37 official and financial documents, 37 prayer notes and miscellaneous items, and 14 printed documents.

The Correspondence series (884 items) largely consists of personal letters addressed to Jenks and his wife from friends, colleagues, parishioners, and family members. Religious themes are apparent throughout. Many of the earliest items are from Jenks' brothers John, Samuel, and Francis Jenks; other pre-1805 items from colleagues and concerned parents of students concern his teaching career in Cambridge. For example, Sarah Dunlap of Salem, Massachusetts, described a treatment for her son's "bad quincey" (swelling of the throat), so that Jenks could administer it while her son was under his care (June 4, 1800). Other ministry-related items include an invitation to "dance at the house of Mr. Lyman" from the Committee of the Congregational Society in Bath, Maine, received just before Jenks' move to Maine (December 17, 1805). While in Maine, Jenks received letters from his parishioners and other members of Bath society, as well as from his old friends and business colleagues in Boston and Cambridge. Jenks wrote a few of the letters in the collection, including a warm and affectionate letter to his wife (September 7, 1811). In another letter, dated April 15, 1812, Jenks implored someone to care for an African-American friend in need of assistance. Jenks also received a letter recommending John Gloucester (the first African-American ordained Presbyterian priest) as a possible leader of missionary work in Africa (January 31, 1815).

The bulk of the letters related to Betsey Jenks are from her sister, Sally Belknap Russell (later married to a man named Pope). Sally discussed the sickness and death of their father Ezekiel Russell, life in Boston, and other personal matters. Particularly after 1808, various brothers, sisters, cousins, and the Jenks children wrote many of the family letters. Though these are warm and affectionate, they also contain news of the deaths of parents, siblings and spouses. For example, the June 24, 1810, item is from Jenks’ sister Abigail Dana describing her husband's suicide. Also of note are three letters regarding a servant who was trying to hide from her abusive husband (October 6, 1807; November 12, 1807 Nov 12; and November 1807).

Letters from the 1820s through the 1840s contain materials related to various speaking engagements in Massachusetts and invitations to the meetings of area historical societies. Also present are business letters and circulars from the many societies and churches in which Jenks held memberships; these concern diverse topics, such as staffing issues and library collections. During this time, Jenks also maintained correspondence with his children and siblings. His son wrote several letters in 1831 about travels in Spain, Marseilles, Malta, and Sicily. Also of note is a letter in which Jenks discussed a sinking ship near the North Pole (December 3, 1829), and another that contains notes on the "correct" version of the English language Bible (July 17, 1835). Jenks discussed Cotton Mather's Wonders of the Invisible World, referring to it as being "published immediately after the Witchcraft Excitement in 1693" (June 26, 1841).

Many of the items from the late 1840s through the 1860s, and almost all of the letters written after Jenks' death in 1866, are related to Jenks’ son Lemuel. In one, Lemuel described in detail a religious festival in Manzanas, Cuba (April 5, 1848). In another, Craigie Jenks described his service in the 7th Regiment of the Kansas Militia during the Civil War (October 25, 1864). Five items dated after Jenks' death are addressed to William Jenk's daughter, Sarah Judith Jenks, who married Jerome Merritt.

The Receipts, Documents, Reports, and Notes series (37 items) contains Jenks’ business documents, speeches, and financial papers.

Included are reports for social societies in which Jenks was with a member, such as:

  • Society for promoting historian knowledge (1816)
  • Boston Society for the Religions and Moral Instruction of the Poor (1821)
  • Massachusetts Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (1825)

The series contains addresses delivered to the Delta Young Mens Athenaeum by E. Maxwell Seal (1839) and the Bath Society for the Suppression of Public Vice (undated). This series also holds a copy of the law enacted by the Massachusetts state congress to bring William Jenks and others into the Society for the Religious and Moral Instruction of the Poor (1820) as well as 8 receipts, largely of payments to William Jenks for services rendered. Another item of interest is an 1852 list of Massachusetts church congregations (various denominations) noting increasing numbers of attendance from March 8 and April 12 because of added converts.

The Prayer Notes series (20 items) consists of small slips of paper with prayer requests for sick or recently departed family members of the church community. The minister usually read these during the church service. Though most of the notes are undated, one item is from 1815, when Jenks was at the Bath Congregational Church, and several others are from 1821, when he was at the chapel on Central Wharf.

The Miscellaneous Notes series (17 items) contains a variety of written and visual material. One item is a drawing of the Manana ("Mananas") Island Petroglyph (writing carved in stone by early Native Americans) with a description of the location and the inscription. Another is a two-page description of "Monhegan Island and of the inscription found there" (1851). Other notes include items in Hebrew, Arabic, Latin, and one other language that may be Phoenician or Aramaic. The genealogical item traces the line of Nathan Webb of Charlestown, starting with John Webb of Shrewsbury, England, 1531. Images include a plan of houses to be built on Atkinson St. [Boston] (1825), a sketch of a thatched roof cottage drawn by A.M. Jenks (1882), and a drawing of the Manana Island Petroglyph on a rock. A four-page account of travel to Russia, particularly St. Petersburg, is also noteworthy for its description of Russian landmarks and tourist attractions (undated).

The Printed Material series contains 14 items related to the religious, genealogical, and antiquarian societies with which Jenks was involved. Included are the rules and bylaws of the Eastern Society in Bath, Maine (1811); two religious pamphlets encouraging prostitutes to turn to Christianity (1824); a report of the "Royal Society of Northern Antiquaries to its British and American Members" (1836); a poem entitled The Worker, written by Jenks (1857); and The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Volume 5, Number 4 (October 1851), pages 375-486. Images of William Jenkins and Alpheus Hardy, both undated, are also part of the series .

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