William Jenks collection (1794-1884, bulk 1794-1868)

Collection processed and finding aid created by Philip Heslip, December 2009
Manuscripts Division, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

Summary Information

Title: William Jenks collection
Creator: William L. Clements Library
Inclusive dates: 1794-1884
Bulk dates: 1794-1868
Extent: 1.5 linear feet
The William Jenks collection 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.
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: www.clements.umich.edu

Access and Use

Acquisition Information

1935-2018. M-260, M-763, M-1240, M-1775, M-1898, M-2491, M-2662a, M-2701b, M-2713.2, M-2724.1, M-2747, M-2810, M-2828.2, M-2891, M-2921.1, M-3339, M-3342, M-3489, M-4089.1, M-4103.1, M-4118.1, M-4468.1, M-7092.2.

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 Jenks Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


This collection is organized into five series:
  • Series I: Correspondence
  • Series II: Receipts, Documents, Reports, and Notes
  • Series III: Prayer Notes
  • Series IV: Miscellaneous Notes
  • Series V: Printed Material

Each series is ordered chronologically with undated items in the end.


William Jenks, the noted American scholar and clergyman, was born in Newton, Massachusetts, to Samuel and Mary Haynes Jenks in 1778. He studied at the Boston Latin School and graduated from Harvard in 1797. Jenks held pastorates in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was ordained at the Congregational Church in Bath, Maine, in 1805. There he also served as an army chaplain for the Bath Light Infantry (1st Regiment, 1st Brigade, of the 11th Division) during the War of 1812 and was a professor of Oriental Language and English at Bowdoin College from 1812-1816. Jenks next returned to Boston where he taught privately and was active in a number of humanitarian reform efforts, such as founding a mission for seamen and opening the Mariner's Church on Central Wharf. Jenks was also the chaplain for the Massachusetts senate from 1827-1828.

Between 1826 and 1845, Jenks was the pastor for the Green Street Church; he augmented his ministry through his religious and political writings. His theses include the important Comprehensive Commentary on the Holy Bible, 6 vols. (1835-1838), the anti-Jeffersonian Memoir of the Northern Kingdom (1808), and Bible Atlas and Gazetteer (1847). Jenks received many honorary degrees, including a doctorate of divinity from Harvard Divinity School (1845). Although Jenks was best known for his biblical and oriental scholarship, his interests were far ranging. He was a founder of the American Antiquarian Society and the American Oriental Society, and a prominent member of the Massachusetts Historical Society and the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

Jenks married Betsey Russell (1783-1850) of Boston in 1799; they had 16 children: Elizabeth Russell, Theodore, Sarah Judith, Frederick Craigie, Joseph William, John Henry, Francis Haynes, Russell Edward, Harriet Newell, Mary Susanna, Mary Elizabeth, Lemuel Pope, Cornelia Hood, Nathaniel Frederick, Adeline Matilda, and Craigie Phillips. William Jenks died in 1866.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The William Jenks collection (973 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 885 letters (122 undated), 37 official and financial documents, 37 prayer notes and miscellaneous items, and 14 printed documents.

The Correspondence series (885 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 .

Subject Terms

  • African American missionaries--Africa.
  • African Americans--Education.
  • Antiquarians.
  • Bath (Me.)
  • Bereavement.
  • Boston (Mass.)--Social life and customs.
  • Boston Society for the Moral and Religious Instruction of the Poor.
  • Bowdoin College.
  • Congregational Churches--Clergy.
  • Congregational Churches--Maine.
  • Congregational Churches--Massachusetts--Boston.
  • Brookfield (Mass. : Town)
  • Cambridge (Mass.)
  • Christian education.
  • Church management.
  • Concord (Sloop of war)
  • Congregational Church in Green Street (Boston, Mass.)
  • Congregational churches.
  • Death.
  • Education--Massachusetts--Cambridge.
  • Education--Parent participation.
  • Family life.
  • Fasts and feasts--Cuba--Manzanas.
  • Gloucester, John, 1776 or 7-1822.
  • Hardy, Alpheus, 1815-1887.
  • Kansas, Militia. Regiment, 7th.
  • Leavenworth (Kan.)
  • Manana Island (Me.)
  • Massachusetts Peace Society.
  • Massachusetts Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
  • Mediterranean Region--Description and travel.
  • Missions--Societies, etc.
  • Moline (Ill.)
  • Monhegan Island (Me.)
  • Orientalism.
  • Preaching.
  • Private libraries.
  • Religious education.
  • Sailors--Religious life.
  • Saint Petersburg (Russia)--Description and travel.
  • Suicide.
  • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
  • Vice control.
  • Women--Abuse of.
  • Brown, Oliver, 1760-1843.
  • Ellingwood, John W. (John Wallace), 1782-1860.
  • Jenks, Betsey, 1783-1850.
  • Jenks, Craigie, b. 1827.
  • Jenks, Francis.
  • Jenks, John Henry.
  • Jenks, Joseph William, 1808-1884.
  • Jenks, Lemuel, b. 1819.
  • Jenks, Mary, 1819-1838.
  • Jenks, Samuel.
  • Jenks, William, 1778-1866.
  • Pope, Sally.
  • Pratt, Josiah, 1768-1844.
  • Russell, Judith.
  • Russell, Nathaniel.
Genre Terms:
  • Letters (correspondence)
  • Notes.
  • Prayers.
  • Receipts (financial records)
  • Reports.

Contents List (Request Materials)

Request materials for use in the Clements Library
Container / Location Title
Correspondence [series]
Box   1 Folder   1
 August 28, 1794-[Spring] 1800
Folder   2  
 June 4, 1800-August 23, 1801
Folder   3  
 October 17, 1801-May 31, 1802
Folder   4  
 June 19, 1802-June 29, 1804
Folder   5  
 July 30-December 3, 1804
Folder   6  
 December 13, 1804-January 29, 1805
Folder   7  
 May 28, 1805-March 12, 1806
Folder   8  
 March 16-August 9, 1806
Folder   9  
 August 27, 1806-January 18, 1807
Folder   10  
 February 02-June 12, 1807
Folder   11  
 July 12, 1807-January 10, 1808
Folder   12  
 January 18-September 30, 1808
Folder   13  
 October 7, 1808-July 8, 1809
Folder   14  
 July 15, 1809-April 15, 1810
Folder   15  
 June 7, 1810-May 21, 1811
Folder   16  
 July 15-December 11, 1811
Folder   17  
 February 4-October 22, 1812
Folder   18  
 October 28, 1812-June 16, 1813
Folder   19  
 July 8, 1813-July 4, [1814]
Folder   20  
 July 18, 1814-[undated, 1814]
Folder   21  
 January 2-April 30, 1815
Folder   22  
 May 4-September 6, 1815
Folder   23  
 September 20-December 17, 1815
Folder   24  
 [undated, 1815]-September 24, 1816
Folder   25  
 October 2, 1816-August 16, 1817
Folder   26  
 September 12, 1817-January 16, 1818
Folder   27  
 January 22-December 10, 1818
Folder   28  
 December 10, 1818-January 31, 1820
Folder   29  
 February 8-December 16, 1820
Folder   30  
 Undated, 1820-December 28, 1821
Folder   31  
 January 4-December 7, 1822
Folder   32  
 December 29, 1822-October 30, 1823
Folder   33  
 November 14, 1823-July 17, 1824
Folder   34  
 August 3-November 27, 1824
Folder   35  
 December 4, 1824-June 16, 1825
Box   2 Folder   1
 July 7, 1825-July 31, 1826
Folder   2  
 November 8, 1826-May 17, 1827
Folder   3  
 July 7, 1827-July 15, 1828
Folder   4  
 September 3, 1828-March 24, 1829
Folder   5  
 April 8-September 4, 1829
Folder   6  
 October 8, 1829-February 10, 1830
Folder   7  
 March 13-September 21, 1830
Folder   8  
 October 23, 1830-June 25, 1831
Folder   9  
 July 3-November 5, 1831
Folder   10  
 January 9-April 17, 1832
Folder   11  
 May 17, 1832-November 3, 1833
Folder   12  
 December 19, 1833-July 17, 1835
Folder   13  
 August 11, 1835-June 28, 1836
Folder   14  
 July 13, 1836-April 11, 1838
Folder   15  
 May 25, 1838-September 5, 1840
Folder   16  
 October 7, 1840-April 21, 1841
Folder   17  
 May 3-October 23, 1841
Folder   18  
 January 8, 1842-January 21, 1843
Folder   19  
 February 11-August 12, 1843
Folder   20  
 August 31, 1843-April 30, 1844
Folder   21  
 April 1844-April 1, 1845
Folder   22  
 May 2, 1845-February 5, 1847
Folder   23  
 August 11, 1847-April 5, 1848
Folder   24  
 May 23, 1848-June 20, 1849
Folder   25  
 June 30, 1849-February 6, 1851
Folder   26  
 July 2, 1851-June 29, 1852
Folder   27  
 August 26, 1852-August 3, 1853
Folder   28  
 September 26, 1853-May 23, 1854
Folder   29  
 June 16-November 8, 1854
Folder   30  
 December 19, 1854-May 28, 1855
Folder   31  
 June 8, 1855-June 19, 1856
Folder   32  
 July 14, 1856-July 28, 1858
Folder   33  
 October 12-November 23, 1858
Folder   34  
 November 24, 1858-May 30, 1859
Folder   35  
 June 11, 1859-November 30, 1860
Folder   36  
 December 20, 1860-January 29, 1862
Folder   37  
 February 3, 1862-November 5, 1863
Folder   38  
 November 10, 1863-November 25, 1864
Box   3 Folder   1
 January 2-December 31, 1865
Folder   2  
 January 25, 1866-January 4, 1868
Folder   3  
 February 1, 1868-July 4, 1884
Folders   4-13  
Receipts, Documents, Reports, and Notes [series]
Folder   14  
 October 19, 1816-October 17, 1821
Folder   15  
 January 14, 1823-November 12, 1828
Folder   16  
 December 31, 1830-April 12, 1852
Folder   17  
 May 1855 January 1, 1859, and  Undated
Folder   18  
Prayer Notes [series]
Folder   19  
Miscellaneous Notes [series]
Folder   20  
 December 11, 1807-January 1822 and  undated
Folder   21  
Printed Materials [series]
Folder   22  
 1811-June 2, 1854
Folder   23  
Folder   24  
 October 1851
Folder   25  

Additional Descriptive Data

Alternate Locations

The following broadside is held in the Clements Library's Book Division:

Smith, Samuel Francis. "America", the first printing of the national hymn and the very copy used by Pastor William Jenks ... July fourth, 1831: A broadside printed as program... [Merion station, Pa.]: The American autograph shop, 1936.

Related Materials

The Clements Library has 10 books authored by Jenks and published in his lifetime (search for Jenks in the University's online catalog).