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American Missionary Association archives

Identifier: 001

Scope and Contents

This collection is a valuable resource for the study of the abolitionist movement. It includes approximately 350,000 manuscript pieces. The mass of these was written during the period from 1839 to 1882, but several thousand are dated before and after that time. The manuscripts include some of the treasurers’ papers and minutes of Executive Committee meetings, as well as other items such as sermons, statistical reports, drawings, photographs, and essays; however, letters make up the large majority of the items. More than 100,000 letters are reports from foreign and home missionaries and teachers.

The papers provide the detailed history of the AMA from its origin to 1882. The materials dated prior to 1846 relate to several subjects, of which the most important are the Amistad case and the efforts of evangelical abolitionists to promote abolitionism among northern churches and religious societies such as the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the American Home Missionary Society, and the American Bible Society.

The history of the AMA before 1861 includes its missions in Sierra Leone, Jamaica, Egypt, Siam, and Hawaii, and among Native Americans and fugitive slaves in Canada, as well as extensive home missionary activities. Approximately 150 home missionaries were scattered throughout the North and in the border slave states, but most of them were located in the states and territories west of the Appalachians. In their monthly and annual reports the ministers frequently commented extensively on social, economic, and political conditions of the communities in which they worked.

Most of the papers from the Civil War and Reconstruction Period are statistical and written reports from the missionaries and teachers in the South. By 1865 the AMA had laborers among blacks in every Confederate state and in Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, and the District of Columbia. Following the collapse of the Confederacy, with the cooperation of the Freedmen’s Bureau during its existence, the work among blacks was expanded and made more systematic. The AMA was not only the first of the northern benevolent societies to undertake educational and relief work among the Freedmen, but it also supported more workers in the southern field during Reconstruction than any other organization.

In addition to describing the number, size, curricula, and progress of the schools for Freedmen, the reports from the missionaries discuss the political, economic, moral, and spiritual conditions of the South; the opposition of southern whites to the missionaries and Reconstruction policies; relations with the U.S. Army and the Freedmen’s Bureau; denominational rivalry and conflicts among the various philanthropic societies; and their own criticisms of the war and Reconstruction policies of the federal government. This collection is an excellent source on the history of Reconstruction and on the history of the individual states during this period.

In relating the history of the AMA’s work among the Freedmen, the Archives contain the basic primary source materials that explain in detail the early histories of Fisk University, Hampton Institute, Atlanta University, Howard School (at Chattanooga), Emerson Institute, and hundreds of other schools.

The papers are divided into two main classifications: home (United States) and foreign. Home papers are filed according to the state of origin, and foreign letters are arranged by country of origin. The materials found in the addenda series include items added to the original donation after it had been processed. This series comprises the majority of the 20th century material in the collection and focuses mainly on AMA-founded schools. It also contains ledger books and minutes of the Association.


  • Created: 1828-1969
  • Other: Majority of material found in 1839-1882
  • Other: Date acquired: 08/22/1968


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Any copy rights such as the donor may possess in this property are hereby dedicated to the public. It is the responsibility of an author to secure permission for publication from the holder of the copyright to any material contained in this collection.


87.80 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Arrangement Note

The records have been divided into two main classifications: home (United States) and foreign. The home records have been filed according to place of origin, i.e., by states, beginning with Alabama and ending with Wyoming. Within the state files, the records are arranged in chronological order. The foreign records have been filed according to county of origin, with some exceptions. These records are also arranged in chronological order within each country section. A more detailed explanation of the arrangement, including exceptions, can be found at the beginning of volume 1 of the Author and Added Entry Catalog of the American Missionary Association Archives, which is linked to this finding aid under Other URL.

Source of Acquisition

American Missionary Association

Method of Acquisition


Appraisal Information

Correspondence of missionaries and teachers, teachers' reports, and publications produced by the American Missionary Association, which document the early abolitionist and education work condcuted by the Association.

Accruals and Additions

A portion of the records were added to the collection after the original donation had been processed. These records are filed under Addenda at the end of the collection. In addition, the American Missionary Association 1969 addendum documents the 20th century work of the AMA.

Existence and Location of Originals

Microfilm copies are available for research use.

Related Materials

The Amistad Research Center houses organizational records of the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, which absorbed the AMA. The Center also holds the personal papers of various teachers, administrators, and missionaries who served the AMA. A subject guide of AMA-related holdings is maintained by the Center.

Other Descriptive Information

During the original processing of this collection, each document was assigned a document number. Entries listed in the Author and Added Entry Catalog of the American Missionary Association Archives are also maintained in a card catalog at the Amistad Research Center. The card catalog includes the corresponding document number for each entry. The three volume catalog is maintained as pdf files on Amistad's website. See Other URL below to access the pdf version of the Catalog.

Processing Information


American Missionary Association archives
Clifton H. Johnson and Christopher Harter
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Amistad Research Center Repository

6823 Saint Charles Avenue
Tilton Hall, Tulane University
New Orleans LA 70118 US
(504) 862-3222
(504) 862-8961 (Fax)