Nathaniel Stacy papers  1803-1867
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The Nathaniel Stacy papers include eight boxes of material relating to every aspect of the personal and professional life of a Universalist preacher operating in the hot bed of the Second Great Awakening, the Burnt-Over District of New York. Boxes 1 through 4 contain correspondence arranged chronologically, 1803-1867, followed by undated correspondence arranged alphabetically by author. Box 5 contains Stacy's preaching log, listing date, place and text taken for sermons given between 1803 and 1864, sometimes with additional notes concerning funerals or other special occasions. Box 6 contains 30 numbered lectures given by Stacy in Ann Arbor in 1837 and 1838. Only the first of these is specifically dated. They are filed in numerical order with text taken noted on the folder. Boxes 7 and 8 contain material arranged topically, filed alphabetically by folder title. The Box-Folder listing provides detail. Included in these boxes are Stacy's diaries, with an unbroken run from 1835 through 1868 and scattered earlier and undated fragments, and 18 folders of sermons arranged by text. The bulk of the collection centers around Stacy and the members of his immediate family, and includes some materials generated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by his grandchildren or great-grandchildren, the Smiths of Corry, Pa. The unidentified photographs are probably of these family members.

The Stacy collection is a rich resource for historians of the Universalist Church. Stacy was part of what might be called a second generation of American Universalist preachers, taught by Hosea Ballou and influenced by other members of the General Convention of Universalists of the New England States and Others. He was among the first to preach the doctrine of universal salvation in New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and in each state he founded a number of local societies and regional associations. Stacy's papers vividly document the hardships involved in the life of an itinerant preacher of an unpopular doctrine. The financial difficulties inherent in such a career are reflected in his appeals to various Societies for whom he preached to honor their subscriptions or allow him to leave, and in letters from other struggling preachers bemoaning their meager earnings or looking for a better place; they are implicit in all his financial juggling and in schemes for supplementing his income, ranging from the disastrous reprinting of Marie Hubers's The State of Souls Separated From Their Bodies (1:46) to an ill-fated speculation in cheese (3:91). The individual societies for whom Stacy preached are variously documented in 8:35-39. For example, materials concerning the Society in Hamilton are unfortunately sparse, consisting of one letter of appeal from Stacy and a draft report to the Western Association of Universalists. The Society in Columbus is better documented, with a constitution and list of members dated 1834 and a record of church proceedings from 1834 to 1847 as well as a number of Stacy's accounts and subscription lists. The run of undated sermons (8:18-35) is useful for study of Universalist doctrine, as are the dated occasional sermons which may be found in the card catalog under Stacy's name. Running throughout the correspondence is a considerable debate on the subject of universal salvation versus endless misery, and these debates are echoed and extended in Stacy's diaries and Memoirs.

Stacy's ministry in New York occurred during one of the most volatile periods in the state's history. The collection documents the intense interest in religion in general and the willingness to question established doctrine which characterized the Burnt-Over District during this period. Letters such as one dated January 1, 1819 (1:37) offer moving descriptions of the spiritual hunger and emotional turmoil which stirred many, although a counterbalance is offered in such letters as the one dated January 20, 1828 (2:9) which offers a rationalistic discussion of the illogical nature of such biblical imagery as that of armies of angels in heaven. A number of Stacy's correspondents describe protracted religious meetings and local revivals (indexed under Revivals; and Enthusiasm). Universalist ministers generally disapproved of the techniques of the evangelical churches, and Stacy avidly collected stories of people driven to madness, infanticide, and suicide by Calvinism (1:59; 3:78,92). Yet it is also clear, as one fellow minister pointed out to Stacy, that the Universalist Church benefited both by the interest in religion stirred up by the revivals and by the renewed commitment of the enlightened who found such meeting objectionable (3:11) A letter from a niece turned Mormon requests Stacy to "give me the Names of your Anchestors as far back as you can gain eny knowledge and also give me the Names of your Children that are dead that I may have them to be handed down from generation to generation after me" (4:38). In another interesting series of letters, Stacy acts as advocate for an elderly neighbor, a former Shaker who had been expelled from their community, and who was seeking their support (see subject index under Shakers).

In Michigan and Ann Arbor, Stacy experienced the region's transition from territory to state and the hard times following the Panic of 1837. His correspondence from this period, and in particular his diaries, which he began to keep regularly upon his removal to Michigan, offer a window onto life in a frontier town. Although his daily entries are seldom lengthy, the cumulative effect of the diaries is to provide a rich picture of Stacy's social and economic setting and, as a side benefit, of his very appealing personality.

Those interested in Freemasonry and the Antimasonic excitement which played such an important role in determining Stacy's actions will find materials of interest in the collection. Two examples of Antimasonic rhetoric are found in letters dating from 1829, written by a kinswoman who exhorted Stacy to divest himself of the "vile robes" of the "base ferternity," while listing the ghastly crimes committed by Masons (2:15,17). Clippings concerning his Masonic affiliation and two speeches delivered in lodges are included in 8:14. Also of interest are two series of legal materials: one concerning the estate of David Curtis, founder of Columbus, Pa., for which Stacy acted as executor (7:1), and one concerning the legal separation of Stacy's niece, Rhoda Porter Thompson from her second husband (8:41). Each set of documents includes an inventory of the principal's household goods. Stacy's register of marriages (8:13) and his log of sermons, which often gives some detail about those at whose funerals he preached (5), include useful material for genealogists. The subject index includes topics covered in less detail in the papers, such as Stacy's chaplaincy during the second campaign at Sackett's Harbor in the War of 1812, and his involvement in various Temperance groups.

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