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At a Glance
This collection is arranged in III series Series I: Joseph Parrish Thompson and Leonard Bacon Correspondence, 1845-1879; Series II: Thompson Family Files, 1854-1928; Series III: The Independent, 1853-1908
Scope and Content
This collection consists of correspondence between Joseph Parrish Thompson and Leonard Bacon, largely dating to the years they spent as editors of The Independent. The correspondence also includes a number letters between Leonard Bacon's wife and daughter. Another part of the collection consists of material related to the history of the Thompson family, particularly Joseph P. Thompson and his children William Gilman Thompson and Lucy Bartlett Thompson Hunt. This material includes some correspondence as well as general personal and biographical files. There is also an ambrotype of Joseph Parrish Thompson. Finally, the collection includes two issues of The Independent dating to 1853 and 1908.
Using the Collection
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Restrictions on Access
This collection is located on-site.
This collection has no restrictions.
Terms Governing Use and Reproduction
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Name of Collection; Box and Folder (if known); Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
No additions expected
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Papers processed Mary Freeman, GSAS, Columbia University 08/2012.
Finding aid written Mary Freeman, GSAS, Columbia University 08/2012.
History / Biographical Note
Joseph Parrish Thompson was a Congregational clergyman and one of the first editors of The Independent, a Congregational and abolitionist newspaper founded in 1848 with close ties to the Broadway Tabernacle in New York City. Thompson was born in 1819 in Philadelphia. He graduated from Yale in 1838, and he was ordained as a pastor for the Chapel Street Congregational Church in New Haven in 1840, after studying at the Theological Seminary in Andover, Massachusetts. Thompson was called to New York to become a minister at the Broadway Tabernacle in 1845. His career there spanned a quarter of a century, and he frequently preached to a full congregation of 2,500 people. Thompson was well-known for his abolitionist sentiments. In 1863, draft rioters attempted to burn his home and the church, but their attempts were thwarted by members of the congregation. Thompson had a wide range of intellectual interests beyond his duties as a minister. He gained some distinction as an Egyptologist, and he frequently entertained musicians, artists, travelers, writers, and other prominent political and cultural figures at his home. Thompson was acquainted with President Abraham Lincoln through his work in organizing the Christian Union Commission during the Civil War. According to a brief biography written by his son William, after Lincoln's death, Mrs. Lincoln presented Thompson with his gold-headed ebony cane.
While in New Haven, Thompson assisted clergyman Leonard Bacon in the founding of The New Englander, a Congregational periodical. The two men remained close colleagues, and Thompson recruited Bacon to work on The Independent with him in 1848. Along with the other editors Richard Salter Storrs and Joshua Leavitt, Thompson and Bacon molded the paper, which became one of the most widely circulated abolitionist newspapers in the United States by the time of the Civil War. In the columns of The Independent, Thompson and Bacon attempted to deal with divisions in the Congregational church resulting from divergent opinions among various factions on how to address the issues of slavery and slaveholding. The correspondence in this collection demonstrates the commitment of Thompson and Bacon to a less radical strain of abolitionism than outright opposition to the institution of slavery. Instead, they advocated a policy of "discreet" or indirect opposition in which they maligned individual vices brought on by slaveholding--i.e. the separation of families and the deprivation of Biblical literacy. Thompson and Bacon refused to link the paper to a particular political party or to the Congregational church as a whole. They insisted that the opinions expressed in the paper belonged only to themselves as editors.
Thompson and Bacon's tenure as editors of The Independent ended somewhat abruptly in 1861. After disagreements with one of the proprietors, Henry C. Bowen, and the sale and takeover of the paper by new owners, the two men were not asked to continue as editors. Thompson and Bacon were succeeded by Henry Ward Beecher, who was a frequent contributor to the newspaper already.
Thompson was married twice and had five children. His two eldest sons, John and Joseph, served in the Civil War. John succumbed to a fever in camp, and Joseph was a captain of a regiment of African American troops. Thompson's daughter Lucy married prominent dry goods merchant and co-owner of The Independent Seth B. Hunt. Thompson resigned from his post as pastor of the Broadway Tabernacle in 1872 due to his deteriorating health, and he retired to Berlin, Germany to pursue his studies in Egyptology. There he developed an interest in international law and was nominated as a minister to the German government by some of his American contacts in Berlin. He declined this position, however, and he died shortly after suffering a stroke in September 1879.
Leonard Bacon was a prominent Congregational clergyman and reformer based in New Haven, Connecticut. He was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1802, and, like Joseph Parrish Thompson, he attended Yale and the Andover Theological Seminary. From 1866 until his death in 1881 he acted as a professor of theology and church history at Yale. Bacon's anti-slavery views were moderate. He condemned both the defenders of slavery and extreme abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison, whom he felt sacrificed the viability of the anti-slavery cause for his own self-promotion.