Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary

William Adams Papers, 1824-1909

Summary Information


Presbyterian minister, pastoral theologian, UTS professor and president, maternal grandfather of William Adams Brown. Collection contains sermons and memorial books.

At a Glance

Bib ID 4492417 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Adams, William, 1807-1880 ; Gillett, Charles Ripley, 1855-1948
Title William Adams Papers, 1824-1909
Physical Description 29 boxes (29 boxes 14.25 linear feet)
Language(s) English



Scope and Content

Presbyterian minister, pastoral theologian, UTS professor and president, maternal grandfather of William Adams Brown. Collection contains sermons and memorial books.

  • Series 1: Memorial Books

    This series contains bound "In Memoriam" books. There is a four volume set, followed by three other books for a total of seven books. The four volume set includes the quote, "The memory of the just is blessed."

    Volume one contains family notices, sermons and addresses, tributes to Dr. Adams, resignation from the pastorate, last illness, death of Dr. Adams, and obituary notices. The topics are covered by newspaper clippings, typescript, published pamphlets, and date to 1850-1906.

    Volume two contains correspondence to members of Adams' family and other individuals, congratulatory letters on the Bishop Potter controversy, pastoral letters and letters to the senior class of UTS in 1880, and an account of a visit to the Czar and the Evangelical Alliance abroad. The letters are typed copies into the book, which also contain pasted newspaper clippings, dating to 1858-1880.

    Volume three contains sermons, addresses, correspondence, minutes and further obituary and death information for William Adams from 1830-1908. The materials are typed copies into the book, and also contain pasted newspaper clippings. The rear of the book contains original material including a diploma from Andover Seminary dated 1830.

    Volume four contains typed copies of letters to his first wife, Susan, from 1830, and to his second wife, Martha, 1834-1835. The final letter is one from Martha to her husband dated 1880.

    A two volume set of books was created to memorialize Dr. Adams after his death; however the publication of the books never came to fruition. His daughter Mary E. Brown made two typed copies of these books. One of which pertained to William Adams' time as President of Union from 1873-1880. It contains a series of letters and testimonials bearing upon Dr. Adams work at the seminary, with reminiscences of the faculty as well as the students after Adams' death. Thomas Hastings, Charles Cuthbert Hall, Charles Briggs, Francis Brown and Charles Gillett are just a few of the people who reminisced about Adams in the book dated 1893-1909. There are two copies of this volume.

    Book seven contains newspaper clippings and whole newspapers, sermons, pamphlets, typescripts, and obituaries for William Adams, covering the years 1858-1880. These materials are pasted onto colored paper.

  • Series 2: Sermons

    Within this series are sermons written by Adams over four decades.

General Note

Part of Union Theological Seminary Collection

In Archives.

Using the Collection

The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary

Preferred Citation

Item description, UTS1: William Adams Papers, series #, box #, and folder #, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary

Processing Information

Sermon outlines, lecture outlines, scrapbooks, commonplace books, treasurer's book, correspondence, memorial books Cataloged Lynn A. Grove 07/06/88.

Revision Description

2010-12-13 XML instance created by Brigette C. Kamsler

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:"
Adams, William, 1807-1880 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Andover Theological Seminary Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Clergy Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
College administrators Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Missions -- Societies, etc Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Scrapbooks Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Sermons Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Society of Inquiry concerning Missions (Union Theological Seminary, New York, N.Y.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Theologians Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Theological seminaries -- Massachusetts -- Andover Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Theological seminaries -- New York (State) -- New York Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Union Theological Seminary (New York, N.Y.) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note


William Adams was born in Colchester, Connecticut on January 25, 1807 to Elizabeth Ripley and John Adams (1772-1863). His father John was an eminent teacher and philanthropist, who graduated from Yale in 1795. William Adams attended Phillips Academy (where his father was the principal), followed by Yale College (1823-1827); Andover Theological Seminary (1827-1830), and resident licentiate at Andover Theological Seminary (1830-1831). He was ordained by the Congregational Council on February 2, 1831.

William Adams was appointed pastor soon after in Brighton, Massachusetts, followed by an appointment at the Broome Street Central Presbyterian in New York City from 1834-1853. After that he became pastor at Madison Square Presbyterian Church in New York City from 1853-1873, where he enlisted support of some of the members and friends of the church for Union Theological Seminary. During this period of time, Adams earned a Doctor of Divinity from the University of the City of New York in 1842, and Doctor of Laws from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton) in 1869.

William Adams was married to Miss Susan P. Magoun of Medford, Massachusetts soon after entering the ministry. Susan lived a short time after that for two to three years; after her death, William Adams married Susan's sister Martha, with whom he had four children: Mary Elizabeth Adams, William Adams Jr., Thatcher M. Adams, and a fourth daughter who was the wife of Eugene Delano of Philadelphia.

William Adams' daughter, Mary Elizabeth Adams, married John Crosby Brown in the early 1860's. They would have six children, one of whom was William Adams Brown (born 1865).

William Adams was a founder, director, and occasional part-time teacher at Union, well-known preacher and author, and key figure in Presbyterian reunion. William Adams was professor extraordinary in Sacred Rhetoric at Union Theological Seminary from 1838-1840 and an instructor of Church Polity from 1871-1872. He was a director at UTS from 1836-1880; and was appointed the third president of the Seminary, also serving as Brown Professor of Sacred Rhetoric from 1873-1880.

Adams was very effective at raising funds for the Seminary during his presidency, procuring hundreds of thousands of dollars for the organization to renovate the seminary's buildings and build a new fireproof library. Adams was active and respected in the field, welcoming participants from the Sixth General Conference of the World Evangelical Alliance in New York in October 1873, raising Union's status in church life.

Adams was also known and appreciated for his work with the students and faculty: "He touched the lives of students most directly in their senior year, when he met the class daily for work in homiletics. His successor in the presidency was to say of his seven years at Union, 'The whole institution was toned up. Professors and Students, equally and all, felt the magnetism of his courtly and stimulating presence. On all public occasions, he was our ornament and pride.'"

William Adams died in Orange Mountain, New Jersey, on August 31, 1880 after an extended illness.