Manuscript Collections

An overview of the Library's manuscript collections

The manuscript collections contain over 20,000 linear feet of archival materials including family papers and organizational and business records that document the lives of important New Yorkers and Americans as well as average citizens. Manuscript collections of the 18th and 19th centuries figure prominently, but are complemented by important materials from the 17th century and a growing number of 20th and 21st century collections.

Collection level records are available for the majority of manuscript collections through the library's online catalog. Electronic guides or finding aids are available for many of the manuscript collections.

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Personal and Family Papers

The manuscript collections include the papers of the powerful elite; most of the civil, religious and military figures from the colonial era and the nation's early decades up to the start of the 20th century; the papers of New York's wealthy landowners and merchants; and the diaries, correspondence, and ephemera of everyday people. Among the many prominent collections are papers of the Livingston, Beekman, Rutherfurd and Alexander families, and individuals such as Cadwallader Colden, John Jay, Horatio Gates, Rufus King, Albert Gallatin, and Aaron Burr. Also included are papers of more recent New York personalities such as William Sulzer, Harmon Goldstone, activist Shirley Hayes and preservationist and journalist Margot Gayle.

Business and Industry Collections

From small dry goods stores, commission merchants and tradesmen to large banks and shipping firms, business records make up an enormous segment of the collections and document New York’s growth as an economic center from the 17th into the 20th century. Noteworthy collections include correspondence of New Amsterdam merchant Govert Loockermans; mercantile records of the Beekman, Hendricks and Leverich families; theQuaker merchant Isaac Hicks; Ogden, Ferguson and its related partnerships; Brown Brothers Harriman; John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company; and the organizational records of the American Institute of the City of New York for the Encouragement of Science and Invention.

Religious and Charitable Organization Collections

One of the great, and growing, strengths of the department’s collections is records of churches, benevolent societies, educational groups, and art unions that have reached out to New York’s neediest populations and fostered the cultural life of the city over many generations. Within the scope of these organizations are the New York Mariner’s Church, Broadway Tabernacle Church and Society, the Ladies’ Christian Union, the New York Manumission Society, the Colored Orphan Asylum, the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows, the Children’s Aid Society, the New York Foundling Hospital, the Leake & Watts Children’s Home, the Traveler’s Aid Society of New York, the Emergency Shelter, the New-York African Free School, the Public School Society, the Southern Famine Relief Commission, the Artists’ Fund Society, and the American Art Union.

Military Collections

Documenting the greatest triumphs of the nation and some of its darkest days, the manuscript collections contain rich sources on military history stretching from the French and Indian War through World War II. Collections are wide ranging and include the letters and pocket diaries of common soldiers, the official and private papers of commanding officers, and official documentation such as orderly books, muster rolls and regimental records. Within this vast subject are the papers of men such as Horatio Gates, Alexander McDougall, Richard Varick, Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, Franz Sigel, David E. Cronin, G. Creighton Webb and James Harbord. Among the groups and organizations represented are the 7th Regiment, the United States Military Philosophical Society, the Union Defense Committee of the City of New York and the Naval and Military Order of the Spanish-American War. Of particular note is also the Naval History Society Collection which captures the history of the American Navy from the American Revolution through the Civil War and contains a collection of John Barry manuscripts as well as the papers of Gustavus V. Fox, John Ericsson, Henry A. Wise and many other significant naval figures.

New-York Historical Institutional Archive

The institutional archive records the history of the New-York Historical Society from its beginnings in 1804 up until the present day. Among the first institutions of its kind, the archive reflects its seminal role in the intellectual and cultural history of the nation, and includes minutes, correspondence, architectural plans, photographs, and much more. The finding aids for the archive can be found here.