William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan
Finding aid for
Finding aid created by
Sylvester Dana Papers, 1770-1847
C.H., April 1990
Sylvester Dana papers
Dana, Sylvester, 1769-1849
The Sylvester Dana papers contain letters written to Sylvester Dana during the period of his ministry at Orford, N.H. The collection provides insight into the religious lives of northern New Englanders during the period of the Second Great Awakening and provides information on the local history of a Congregational church.
The material is in English
William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu
Access and Use
The collection is open for research.
Copyright status is unknown.
Sylvester Dana Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan
Sylvester Dana was born in Ashford, Conn., on October 14, 1769, the seventh child of Anderson and Susanna Huntington Dana. When Dana was still very young, the family moved to the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania, where they intended to farm. However, when Anderson Dana was killed in the Wyoming massacre of 1778, the family returned to Connecticut, and Sylvester and his brothers were forced to seek work wherever they could find it to help support the family. In April, 1786, he and his next older brother moved back to their property near Wilkesbarre, which the family had never sold, and made enough of a success at farming that Sylvester was able to return to Connecticut and begin preparations to enter college.
After studying with Rev. Nehemiah Prudden of Enfield, Dana was accepted at Yale into the class of 1797. During his sophomore year, he was moved to become a full member of the Congregational church, and immediately after graduation, he entered into theological studies under Rev. Charles Backus, and was licensed to preach by the Tolland County (Conn.) Ministerial Association in June, 1798.
After preaching in various towns in Pennsylvania, New York, and Vermont, Dana was called to settle in Orford, N.H., in 1800. He was installed on May 10, 1801, and was called upon to preach alternately in the town's East and West Congregational meeting houses. His years at Orford saw a great increase in religious observance among the inhabitants, an early manifestation of the Second Great Awakening. During his twenty-one years as minister, 190 people were reported to have joined the church, mainly in the revivals of 1810 and 1819. Dana also played a part in spreading religion more broadly through the region. In 1805, for instance, he and two other ministers organized the Congregational Church at Dartmouth College.
Dana married Hannah Kimball (d. 1846) in 1802, with whom he had nine children, only four of whom survived infancy: Charles Backus (1806-1873), Sylvester (b. 1816), Anne Kimball, and one other daughter. Charles and Sylvester both attended Dartmouth. Charles followed his father into the ministry, though in the Episcopal church, and Sylvester became an attorney and judge.
After Dana's dismissal from the church at Orford in 1822, 28 former members of Dana's congregation separated to form the West Congregational Church, comprised of the west meeting house and some residents of nearby Fairlee, Vt. Dana was unanimously called there in 1823 and remained for ten years, bringing in over one hundred additional members to the new congregation. He resigned in 1833, moving to Thornton, N.H., where he preached for four more years, and then entered into semi-retirement in Concord, N.H., in August, 1837. He died at Concord at the age of 80, on June 9, 1849.
Collection Scope and Content Note
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.
- Dartmouth College.
- Second Great Awakening.
- Religious gatherings.
Additional Descriptive Data
Dexter, Franklin B.Biographical sketches of the graduates of Yale College , vol. 5 (N.Y., 1911), 271-273
African-Americans--Religious gatherings Agriculture--New York (State)Alcot, MillsAllen, Jacob, 1781-1856 American Education Society Andover Theological Seminary Avery, Silas Backus, Charles, 1749-1803 Baldwin, Thomas, 1753-1826 Beecher, Lyman, 1775-1863Bennett, Joseph, 1798-1847 Benton, Calvin Bible-- Criticism, interpretation, etc. Bingham, Amos Biseley, Alfred Blodgett, Constantine, b. 1802 Blood, Amos Blood, Daniel Cole, b. 1803
Boroughs, Eden Brainend, Israel Bruge, C. Buck, Amasa Burt, Gidion Burt, Moses Burton, Asa, 1752-1836 Cavanaugh, Maskel Church covenants Church finance Church management Church meetings Church societies Church, John H., 1772-1840Confessions of faith Congregational Church (Bath, N.H.) Congregational Church (Orford, N.H.) Coull, Matthew Dana, Alvan Dana, Amasa (cousin)Dana, Amasa (nephew) Dana, Amelia Dana, Anderson
- 105, 107, 111, 112, 116, 117, 120
Dana, Aziel, d. 1804Dana, Charles Backus, 1806-1873Dana, Daniel Dana, Eleazar Dana, Hannah, d. 1846
- 11, 16, 17, 28, 29, 38, 42, 44, 45, 55, 60, 63, 67, 70, 87, 93, 99, 100, 110, 114, 122, 124
Dana, Persis K. Dana, Polly Dana, Susanna Dana, Sylvester nephew Dana, Sylvester, 1769-1849
- 40, 78, 92, 102, 108, 113, 130, 131, 136
Dana, Sylvester, b. 1816Dartmouth College
- as writer 62, 133, 134, 135
Davis, James Dewey, Benom Droughts-- Connecticut Dwight, Sereno E., 1786-1850Eastman, Tilton, 1773-1842Education-- Pennsylvania Election (Theology) Elections-- Pennsylvania-- Wilkesbarre Electoral CollegeEpidemics--ConnecticutEpidemics--PennsylvaniaEpidemics--VermontFarnham, Deborah Farnsworth, James Fine, G. H. Fish, Susanna Foord, John Fuller, Caleb Gildersleve, Cyrus Grafton County (N.H.) Presbytery Great Awakening, 2ndGurley, John Hale, Jonathan Hale, Mindwell Hanover (N.H.) Moral Society Harris, Elizabeth Hart, Abel Hartsough, Christopher Hills, Peleg Hills, William C. Holley, John M. Holley, Sarah Hough, George Howard, William Hudson & Goodwin Huntington, Lynde Huntington, Nathan Huntington, Sally Hyde, LewisHyde, Moses Jackson, Andrew, 1767-1845Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826Jowin, Josiah Kimball Union Academy Kimball, John Kimball, Sally Kimball, Sarah Kimball, Stephen Lambart, Legislators-- New York (State)Local church councils Loomis, William Lyman, Asa Lyman, Elijah, 1764-1828Mann, Cyrus Mann, Jail Mann, John Mann, Mindwell Mansfield, John Marston, Stephen W. McClure, Sam McCoy, Nathan Jr. McKean, Thomas, 1744-1800Meeting houses Methodist Church--Massachusetts Methodist Church--Pennsylvania Miller, Samuel Mine railroads-- Pennsylvania Morey, Israel Morey, Margaret Morgan, William Morril, Dr. Sam Napoleonic Wars, 1800-1814 New Hampshire Bible Society New Hampshire Missionary Society New Hampshire-- Economic Conditions New York (State)--Description and travelNew York (State)--Economic conditionsNiles, John Orange Association Oregon question Palmer, Moses Pennsylvania--Economic conditionsPortsmouth (N.H.)-- Fire, 1802Potter, Isaiah Powers, Grant, 1784-1841Powers, Peter, 1728-1800Predestination Prentiss, Presbyterian Church (Orford, N.H.)Presbyterian Church--Pennsylvania Presidents--United States--Election--1828Presidents--United States--Election--1840Princeton Theological Seminary Protestant Episcopal Church--Pennsylvania Quint, Joseph Rankin, Andrew Religious gatherings
- 58, 59, 95, 105, 111, 117, 120
Revivals-- New Hampshire
- 26, 53, 60, 63, 81, 97, 106, 126, 130
Revivals-- New York (State)Revivals-- Rhode IslandRevivals--ConnecticutRevivals--MassachusettsRevivals--VermontRipley, David B. Rogers, John Ropes, Hannah Sawyer, Ichabod Shepard, Mase, 1759-1821Shurtleff, Roswell, 1773-1861Smith, John, 1752-1809Snider, Jacob Southerland, David Sperry, Ebanezer P. Steam engineering Theology, Doctrinal True, Anne True, John True, Osgood Union Education Society United States--History--War of 1812United States--History--War with Mexico, 1845-1848Van Buren, Martin, 1782-1862Wayson, Moses Weld, Elias Wheeler, John, 1798-1862Wheelock, Eleazar, 1711-1779Wheelock, Jas. Whiskey production Whitslesey, C. H. Wilcox, Jonathan Willens, Harvey Williams, R.P. & C. Wisner, Benjamin B., 1794-1835Woods, Abigail Woods, Judith Yale College
- 85, 105, 108, 109, 111, 112, 120, 131