Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Joseph Parrish Thompson and Leonard Bacon papers, 1845-1928

Summary Information


This collection is made up of the personal and professional files of Joseph Parrish Thompson, documenting his work in the Congregational church and as the editor of The Independent. Thompson's correspondence with fellow Congregational minister and co-editor of The Independent Leonard Bacon makes up a significant portion of the material. The collection also contains files pertaining to Thompson's children and grandchildren and some family correspondence of Leonard Bacon.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#1631
Bib ID 9577639 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Thompson, Joseph P (Joseph Parrish), 1819-1879; Bacon, Leonard, 1802-1881
Title Joseph Parrish Thompson and Leonard Bacon papers, 1845-1928
Physical Description 3.5 linear feet (2 document boxes 1 flat box)
Language(s) English .
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located on-site.

This collection has no restrictions.



This collection is arranged in 3 series.


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.

  • Series I: Joseph Parrish Thompson and Leonard Bacon Correspondence, 1845-1879

    This series is made up of correspondence between Joseph Parrish Thompson and Leonard Bacon between 1845 and 1879 (the year of Thompson's death). Most of the correspondence pertains to their work as Congregational ministers and as the editors of The Independent between 1848 and 1861. The majority of the letters are from Thompson to Bacon, but there are a significant number from Bacon to Thompson, as well as several addressed to Bacon from other associates including Seth B. Hunt, an owner of The Independent. Other letters worth noting are a twenty-two page letter from Bacon to Thompson in 1860 that is heavily critical of William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips and a letter from Bacon's daughter Rebecca to Thompson in 1863 notifying him of Bacon's son's death in the Civil War. One folder contains correspondence between Katherine W. Bacon Smith and her parents Leonard Bacon and Catherine Elizabeth Terry Bacon. These letters detail general family news and Katherine's pregnancy and the birth of her children with Eugene Smith, a New York City prison reformer.

  • Series II: Thompson Family Files, 1854-1928

    This series contains various personal files documenting the lives of members of Joseph Parrish Thompson's family. There are several items, including an ambrotype and two manuscripts of articles, which date to Thompson's lifetime. There is also a biography of Thompson written by his son, physician William Gilman Thompson. There are several more items that relate to William Gilman Thompson, including a history of his childhood written by his mother, Joseph P. Thompson's second wife, Elizabeth Coil Thompson. There are several folders of the personal papers and correspondence of Lucy Bartlett Thompson Hunt, who was Joseph P. Thompson's daughter, as well as her husband Seth B. Hunt and their children Lucy and Seth. The correspondence of Seth B. Hunt (Jr.) suggests that this collection was assembled in the 1920s when Theodore D. Bacon, grandson of Leonard Bacon, consulted Hunt while researching the biography of his grandfather.

  • Series III: The Independent, 1853-1908

    This series contains a few items pertaining directly to The Independent itself. These items include an issue of the paper dating to July 28, 1853, during Thompson and Bacon's tenure as editors, as well as the sixtieth anniversary issue of the periodical, dating to 1908. This issue includes reprinted material from earlier issues that were overseen by Thompson and Bacon.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

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.

Preferred Citation

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

Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

2012.2012.M028: Source of acquisition--Freeman's Auction House. Method of acquisition--Purchase; Date of acquisition--0 8/02/2012.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Papers processed Mary Freeman, GSAS, Columbia University 08/2012.

Finding aid written Mary Freeman, GSAS, Columbia University 08/2012.

Revision Description

2012-09-12 xml document instance created by Carrie Hintz

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Correspondence Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Newspapers Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Abolitionists Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Antislavery movements -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Bacon, Leonard, 1802-1881 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Broadway Tabernacle (New York, N.Y.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Congregational churches -- Clergy -- Correspondence Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Congregational churches -- Newspapers Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Congregationalists Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Garrison, William Lloyd, 1805-1879 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Slavery -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Thompson, Joseph P (Joseph Parrish), 1819-1879 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

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.