The Sylvester Dana papers contain 148 items arranged chronologically, the vast majority of which are letters written to Sylvester Dana during the period of his ministry at Orford, N.H. However, there are three letters written by Dana, some significant church documents, and several miscellaneous letters. Seen as a whole, the collection provides insight into the religious lives of northern New Englanders during the period of the Second Great Awakening and the development of religious fervor among both ministers and laity, as well as provides information on the local history of a Congregational church.
The Dana papers contain detailed descriptions of revivals and local religious gatherings in New England and Pennsylvania, and news of particular churches, including Congregational and other denominations. In one series, a student, Daniel C. Blood, describes the religious atmosphere among the students at Dartmouth College, 1826 to 1828, always in the hope that a revival awaits them. Numerous Congregational clergymen kept Dana posted on the state of religion in their congregations. In one letter (81), Rev. Jail Mann describes a revival among children in Massachusetts cotton factories, noting, without a trace of irony, "These factories became, as it were, temples of divine worship and houses of prayer."
All three letters written by Dana (133-135) were written when he was in his late seventies, and show Dana's command of Biblical scholarship, his condemnation of all war, and his strong grasp of current affairs. Sylvester's brother, Anderson wrote 22 letters, all from Wilkesbarre, Pa. Anderson was an outspoken critic of Pennsylvania's Gov. Thomas McKean (26, 28, 55), and he also disapproved of President Jackson (122, 124). As expected, throughout his correspondence, Anderson reports on religious events, economic conditions, and efforts to settle their father's estate. Anderson also discusses a secret affair that his brother Eleazar had, which ended with the woman's miscarriage (38, 42).
The earliest items in the collection are important documents relating to the founding of the Presbyterian Church at Orford, the first church in town. These include the church covenant (1), which includes a brief outline of church doctrine followed by a signed confession of faith, records of subsequent church proceedings (2, 3), and the minutes of a 1786 meeting of the Grafton County, N.H., Presbytery (4). The Orford Church withdrew from the Presbytery in 1789 to become Congregational. Finally, letters of recommendation for people moving to other congregations are included in folder 139, and public complaints read at the Church of Orford are in folder 140.