Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Jared Sparks Collection, 1825-1860

Duane Norman Diedrich Collection

Finding aid created by
Sara Ausilio and Meg Hixon, October 2012

Summary Information
Title: Jared Sparks collection
Creator: William L. Clements Library
Inclusive dates: 1825-1860
Extent: 26 items
This collection contains 25 letters and 1 book that historian Jared Sparks wrote about his work, about historical manuscripts, and about the historian's profession in the mid-19th century.

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:

Donated, 1941-2008. M-413, M-466, M-519, M-1852, M-2443k, M-4124.7, M-4124.8, M-4547.28, M-4673.2.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). This collection has been processed according to minimal processing procedures and may be revised, expanded, or updated in the future.

Preferred Citation:

Jared Sparks collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection is arranged chronologically.


Jared Sparks was born in Willington, Connecticut, on May 10, 1789, the son of Eleanor Orcutt. His mother married Joseph Sparks soon after Jared's birth, and the boy spent much of his early life in the care of aunts and uncles in Camden, New York, and Tolland, Connecticut. Sparks attended Phillips Exeter Academy from 1809 to 1811. He received two degrees from Harvard: a bachelor's degree (1815) and a master's degree in theology (1819). In 1819, he became pastor of a Unitarian congregation in Baltimore, Maryland, and in 1821 he served as the chaplain of the United States Congress. He returned to Boston in 1823, where he bought and edited the North American Review. Sparks served as Harvard's president from 1849 to 1853, and edited and published several major works on American history including The Writings of George Washington. He had one child with his first wife, Frances Anne Allen (d. 1835), and five children with his second wife, Mary Crowninshield Silsbee. Jared Sparks died on March 14, 1866.

Collection Scope and Content Note

This collection contains 25 letters and 1 book that historian Jared Sparks wrote about his work, about historical manuscripts, and about the historian's profession in the mid-19th century.

Jared Sparks corresponded with historians and other acquaintances in the United States and England about books and prominent figures in American history, among other subjects. Many letters pertain to his attempts to procure manuscripts written by George Washington and to a proposed publication of Benjamin Franklin's papers. Between 1852 and 1857, Sparks most frequently wrote to bibliographer and antiquarian Henry Stevens. In his final letter, he described Japanese tourists visiting New York City (June 16, 1860). Mary C. Sparks wrote 1 letter to Henry Stevens (on behalf of her ill husband) in March 1855, and Josiah Quincy added a brief note to Sparks's letter of December 30, 1842. The collection also contains a copy of Sparks's Reply to the Strictures of Lord Mahon and Others on the Mode of Editing the Writings of Washington (1852) and a spine from an edition of his Life of Washington (enclosed in October 28, 1858).

For more information on each item, see the Detailed Box and Folder Listing below.

Subject Terms

    • Franklin, Benjamin, 1706-1790.
    • Historians--United States--Correspondence.
    • Japanese--United States.
    • Publishers and publishing.
    • Stevens, Henry, 1819-1886.
    • United States--Historiography.
    • United States--History--1783-1865.
    • Washington, George, 1732-1799--Manuscripts.
    • Quincy, Josiah, 1772-1864.
    • Sparks, Mrs. (Mary Crowninshield Silsbee), 1809-1887.
    Genre Terms:
    • Books.
    • Letters (correspondence)
    Contents List
       Container / Location    Title
    Box   XI, Duane Norman Diedrich collection  
    Jared Sparks collection [series]:
      1825 December 30 . Jared Sparks ALS to Hon. Samuel Eddy; Boston, [Massachusetts]. (1 page)
    Approach to research. Seeking George Washington incoming and outgoing correspondence in governors' papers. "I imagine there are many of Washington's letters among Gen. Greene's papers, which have not been published. The substance of the whole I suppose is in Johnson's life, but I wish to procure all the original letters of Washington. If convenient, will you do me the favor to ascertain, whether there are not such letters, & also, whether there is not much correspondence relating to the Revolution among Gen. Greene's papers." Arrived with: Sparks, Jared. A Reply to the Strictures of Lord Mahon and Others, on the Mode of Editing the Writings of Washington (Cambridge, 1852). Note: Located in the Book Division.
      1832 March 31 . Jared Sparks ALS to Thomas Aspinwall; New York [City, New York]. (1 page)
    The publishers of the Life of Gouverneur Morris sent Aspinwall two copies. Expects that the first volumes May be republished in London, "They contain much curious matter about the French Revolution." Aspinwall should have already received the 12 volumes of "Diplomatic Correspondence." "I shall return shortly to Boston, & put Washington's Works immediately to press."
      1833 December 2 . Jared Sparks ALS to John Vaughan; Cambridge, [Massachusetts]. (1 page)
    Respecting a book that Sparks has kept "long from the Library" [American Philosophical Society]. Explanation of why he has kept the volume and hopes that he will be permitted to keep it longer. Working on a volume on the life and treason of Arnold.
      1839 October 2 . Jared Sparks ALS to Geo. Putnam; Cambridge, [Massachusetts]. (1 page)
    Wishes to invite the Governor to speak and draw attention to the Normal School at Lexington. "Mr Pierce and Mr Mann think the step will be important."
      1842 December 30 . Jared Sparks ALS to Charles S. Wheeler; Cambridge, [Massachusetts]. (2 pages)
    Regarding German works on Roman History. [Friedrich Christoph] Schlosser. Believes that the Corporation will be interested in translations of works for college textbooks. With Josiah Quincy ANS to C. S. Wheeler; January 1, 1843. Despite Sparks's positive remarks, the Corporation cannot commit themselves on "subjects of this nature."
      1843 February 23 . Jared Sparks ALS to W[illia]m C[abell] Rives; Cambridge, [Massachusetts]. (4 pages)
    Thanks Rives for writing to him and sending a copy of his speech. Supports Rives' "lucid and forcible argument on the [Webster-Ashburton] treaty with a lively interest, and with an entire conviction of the soundness of its principles, & the justness of its conclusions." Is happy with the land acquired by the U.S. and doubted if "we had any good reason for expecting more." Was unaware of the potential importance of the map he found. Discussion respecting the 'red line' Mitchell Map.
      1845 June 30 . Jared Sparks ALS to Thomas Aspinwall; Cambridge, [Massachusetts]. (2 pages)
    Believes that "certain" Boston auctioneers have approached Aspinwall; assures him that he had nothing to do with their contact. "I have thought this explanation necessary to prevent your supposing that their schemes have anything to do with my suggestions to you." Has given Henry Stevens a letter of introduction. "He has a remarkable faculty for finding out and collecting historical materials."
      1846 April 2 . Jared Sparks ALS to Mary J. Armstrong [or, Mrs. Montgomery?]; Cambridge, Massachusetts. (1 page)
    Sparks informs Armstrong that he cannot provide her with "autographs of men distinguished in the Revolution," as he returns the originals to their owners. Applications for autographs have been numerous and frequent and his “stock has long been exhausted.” Encloses samples of Washington’s and Lafayette’s handwriting [not present].
      1852 January 26 . [Jared Sparks] LS to Henry Stevens; Cambridge, Massachusetts. (3 pages)
    Confirms that he received volume "concerning the great 'Dinner'." "If this splendid specimen of the typography is intended to be emblematical of the brilliancy of the entertainment, it was truly an event worthy to be commemorated." Encloses a letter to Crossley, and requests Stevens to forward it. If Crossley will allow a copy of the pamphlet to be made, "let it be handsomely written on thick letter paper of the common size." Enclosed: Jared Sparks ALS to James Crossley (1880-1883); Cambridge, Massachusetts, 3pp. [1852 ?] January 26. Asks for a manuscript copy of Benjamin Franklin's Liberty and Necessity pamphlet. "Such a copy I suppose would not diminish the value of the impression which you possess." (Note: The William L. Clements Library owns an 1854 facsimile reprint of the Franklin pamphlet, by Charles Whittingham ... from the original edition in the possession of Henry Stevens [1 of 25 copies])
      1852 July 5 . Jared Sparks ALS to Henry Stevens; Cambridge, Massachusetts. (2 pages)
    Wonders if he was successful in obtaining a copy of the Franklin pamphlet. Will pay $5 for the copy of "Ingersoll's Letters" and the six manuscript letters. "I hope you have made good progress with your great work-the Bibliotheca Americana, ante 1700 & that we shall see it before long from the press."
      1852 November 23 . Jared Sparks ALS to Henry Stevens; Cambridge, Massachusetts. (1 page)
    Mrs. Sparks' watch. Stevens did not visit in the summer and has not written for some time.
      1853 March 19 . Jared Sparks ALS to Benson J. Lossing; Cambridge, Massachusetts. (2 pages)
    Apologizes for not replying promptly as he had been ill and busy closing his affairs with the college. "I cannot flatter myself that any opinion of mine would have been of much service to you." Offers congratulations for the completion of his Field Book and asks for the volumes that he is missing in order to have them bound and included in his library.
      1853 June 1 . Jared Sparks ALS to Henry Stevens; Cambridge, Massachusetts. (4 pages)
    Wants to know the status of obtaining the Franklin pamphlet. Mrs. Sparks's watch. Wonders if Stevens will want to publish his Franklin letters. "My edition of Franklin's Works contains everything known to have come from his pen, which could be found when that edition was printed." Discussion of contractual agreements.
      1853 August 9 . Jared Sparks ALS to Henry Stevens; Cambridge, Massachusetts. (3 pages)
    Does not think that publishing a selection of Franklin's papers will decrease the significance of the originals. Will look over the papers if Stevens would send them to him. Responses to Stevens's questions about William Temple Franklin's wife, estate, papers, and legal issues. Obtaining a copy of Franklin's pamphlet Liberty and Necessity from Crossley. Enclosed: [Stevens, Henry, 1819-1886] Manuscript; s.l., 1p., undated. 11 questions about William Temple Franklin, his wife, his estate, his papers, and legal issues.
      1854 January 12 . Jared Sparks ALS to Henry Stevens; Cambridge, Massachusetts. (2 pages)
    Has received a copy of Stevens's circular, but not the books. Buying the original copy of Franklin's Liberty and Necessity pamphlet or otherwise obtaining a copy.
      1854 April 10 . Jared Sparks ALS to Henry Stevens; Cambridge, Massachusetts. (4 pages)
    Elected honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries. Arrangements for publishing an addition to the Franklin Papers. Subscription to the Shakespeare Society. Mr. Lewis's article in the Edinburgh Review. Congratulates Stevens on his recent marriage.
      1854 April 10 . Jared Sparks ALS to Henry Stevens; Cambridge, Massachusetts. (1 page)
    Letter of introduction for Edward Silsbee, a cousin of Mrs. Sparks, who will be touring Europe. "He May probably wish to be introduced to the Reading-Rooms of the British Museum, & I doubt you will be well pleased to procure him admission."
      1854 August 7 . Jared Sparks ALS to Henry Stevens; Cambridge, Massachusetts. (2 pages)
    Has been two months since his last letter because of a trip to the South with his family. Payment for Mrs. Sparks' watch. Received the Diploma from the Society of Antiquaries. Franklin's pamphlet. Publications from the Shakespeare Society.
      1855 March 7 . Mary C. Sparks ALS to [Henry] Stevens; Cambridge, Massachusetts. (3 pages)
    Writes on Sparks' behalf because he is ill and, "shall acknowledge for him your kind message about the valuable Franklin papers." Received Mr. Dent's watch; inquires about its make and price.
      1855 April 14 . Jared Sparks ALS to Henry Stevens; Cambridge, Massachusetts. (4 pages)
    Mrs. Sparks' watch. The Franklin pamphlet, "I am glad you have found another copy of Franklin's Tract, & that you are willing to send me a transcript." Publication of Franklin papers. "If they are to be published at all, I think the sooner it is done the better; because the longer it is delayed, the less connexion it will seem to have with the edition of his 'Works,' and on this connexion the sale will very much depend." Unsure whether or not he will be willing to take on editorship because of his health.
      1855 April 23 . Jared Sparks ALS to Henry Stevens; Cambridge, Massachusetts. (2 pages)
    The publisher that owns Sparks's copyright and plates of his work on Franklin is breaking up and they are selling their stock. "If you intend to send your manuscripts over here for publication, it is important for your interest that you should take advantage of this opportunity, & send them without delay." "I May be enabled to make an arrangement with a publisher to buy the plates, & publish the continuation on better terms than could otherwise be obtained."
      1856 March 25 . Jared Sparks ALS to Henry Stevens; Cambridge, Massachusetts. (2 pages)
    Letter of introduction for John G. Palfrey (1796-1881). Palfrey is writing a history of New England, "& he goes to London for the purpose of examining the old colonial papers in the public offices."
      1857 April 17 . Jared Sparks LS to G. P. Putnam; Cambridge, [Massachusetts]. (3 pages)
    Has not seen the manuscript described by Putnam. Explanation of the reproduction and distribution of Washington's daily orders. The orderly books are in the Department of State. Explanation of published orders. Washington's handwriting remained uniform and characteristic throughout his life. With a postscript in Jared Sparks's hand: Value of manuscripts depends on autograph value. "As a historical document it could have but little value, since a copy of it May easily be obtained from the original Orderly Books in the Department of State."
      1857 May 25 . Jared Sparks ALS to Henry Stevens; Cambridge, Massachusetts. (2 pages)
    Plans to make a trip to England with his family. Wishes to be able to examine the Franklin papers. Stevens May be sailing to the U.S. "I write, therefore, to say, that, in case you should come away before I arrive in London, I hope you will leave the papers in such condition … that I can have access to them."
      1858 September 27 . Jared Sparks ALS to [Charles] Benj[amin] Richardson; Cambridge, Massachusetts. (3 pages)
    Is not able to edit Washington's diaries and suggests alternative editors. Divisions of the diaries for the published editions. Engravings of Mrs. Franklin and Mrs. Bache. Compares the portrait of Franklin in the Portrait Gallery to the painting by Duplessis.
      1858 October 28 . Jared Sparks ALS to Alonzo D. Faulkner; Cambridge, [Massachusetts]. (1 page)
    Is unable to give Faulkner an autographed letter of Washington, but encloses samples of his handwriting [samples not present].
      1860 June 16 . J[ared] Sparks ALS to Lizzie [Sparks]; New York [City, New York]. (4 pages)
    Approximately 50 Japanese visitors to New York City. "They were followed by a great many other carriages, and then came the troops. Tell Willie that they made a brilliant display;-several thousands of them, cavalry on horses, artillery, and infantry, interspersed with bands of music." Description of the Japanese visitors.
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Alternate Locations

    The following item is housed in the Book Division: Sparks, Jared. A Reply to the Strictures of Lord Mahon and Others on the Mode of Editing the Writings of Washington. Cambridge [Mass.]: J. Bartlett, 1852.

    Related Materials

    The Clements Library holds additional copies of A Reply to the Strictures of Lord Mahon and Others on the Mode of Editing the Writings of Washington , and other books by Jared Sparks.

    The following collections contain additional Jared Sparks manuscripts:

    • Lewis Cass papers : Jared Sparks ALS to Lewis Cass, July 23, 1839
    • Joseph Story papers : 5 letters from Jared Sparks to Joseph Story, 1833-1842
    • Washingtoniana collection : Jared Sparks ALS to George Henry Moore, May 8, 1860

    One item in the collection is a letter that Jared Sparks wrote to Benson J. Lossing. The Clements Library also holds a Benson J. Lossing collection .


    Cox, Richard J. "Sparks, Jared" American National Biography Online . Oxford University Press, 2000. DOI: 14-00580