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Guide to the Southern Famine Relief Commission Records
1867-1868 (bulk 1867)
  MS 2430

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Jan Hilley

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on August 12, 2014
Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

 
Title: Southern Famine Relief Commission Records
Dates: 1867-1868 (bulk 1867)
Abstract: This collection contains records of the Southern Famine Relief Commission, a New York City organization formed to provide assistance to Southern states during the famine of 1867. The materials in this collection have been digitized and are available online to on-site researchers and to users affiliated with subscribing institutions via EBSCOhost.
Quantity: 2.75 Linear feet (3 boxes and 12 volumes)
Location note: Manuscript cage
Call Phrase: MS 2430

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Historical Note

Aside from social and political turmoil in the Civil Wars immediate aftermath, the South faced other major problems -- significantly increased numbers of widows, orphans and disabled men; destruction of homes, rural and urban; and great loss of such property as tools, farm implements and stock. To make matters worse, a severe drought in 1866 led to widespread crop failures. Much of Southern citizenry was without work and many were on the brink of starvation.

News of this worsening situation began reaching the Northern states by means of personal letters, agents sent by Southern churches and benevolent organizations, and word passed along to societies and clubs having Southern branches. As a result, a few independent groups began forming to provide assistance to specific groups and locales.

In New York City, private concern resulted in the calling of a public meeting on January 25, 1867 at the Cooper Institute for the purpose of discussing the Southern Destitution and considering potential action. Speeches were made by Peter Cooper, Reverend Henry Ward Beecher and Horace Greeley, and the Southern Famine Relief Commission was established to investigate the facts and take any warranted action.

Executives of this group included:

Archibald Russell President
Edward Bright Corresponding Secretary
Frederick Law Olmsted Recording Secretary
James M. Brown Treasurer
John Bowne General Agent

Standing Committees were appointed:

On Business with the South Edward Bright, Chairman
On Business with the North Frederick Law Olmsted, Chairman
Purchasing and Forwarding Howard Potter, Chairman
On City Collections J. Pierpont Morgan, Chairman

Over a five month period, the committees met daily, with a general meeting held once a week. The organization determined its responsibilities to be the following:

  1. To collect credible information. Initial requests for information were made to military personnel and members of the local provisional governments in the Southern states. Subsequent information was provided by a wide variety of individuals and groups.
  2. To make the information public. This they accomplished by means of circulars, handbills, newspaper stories, public events and correspondence. Providing reliable information was of particular importance as some in the North were skeptical about the seriousness of the situation and many continued to harbor ill feelings towards their old enemies.
  3. To suggest and assist in the formation of other independent cooperating societies. The group was careful not to interfere with or duplicate the tasks of other groups.
  4. To stimulate loans and other forms of aid.
  5. To solicit donations for the purchase and transport of Indian corn in small quantities to those areas of the South most in need. States receiving most of the aid were North and South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia.

During its brief existence (January 25, 1867 through its final meeting on November 8, 1867), the Southern Famine Relief Commission purchased and transported 169,316 bushels of corn. This represents enough corn to sustain 600,000 people for a four month period. The total cost was $206,287. In addition, $12,000 was sent in cash to trustworthy agents to be used in caring for the sick. The group also made possible the shipment of a variety of small donations for Southern relief. Such items as clothing, wine, potatoes, beans, pork, buckwheat and flour were sent directly to the Commission by individuals in New York and surrounding states.

There were other groups involved in relief efforts during 1867, including the Federal Government through its Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Land. The Ladies Relief Association of New York City, for example, collected $80,000; the state of Maryland, $1,000,000; and the city of Pittsburgh, $30,000. A total of three to five million dollars is estimated to have been expended overall during 1867 to save thousands from starvation in the South.

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Scope and Content Note

The Southern Famine Relief Commission Records include correspondence, business records and newspaper clippings that describe the establishment of the Commission, its internal workings and its accomplishments. Similar organizations engaged in parallel activities are also mentioned, as are entities such as the provisional government officials in the South, and the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. The material dates from January, 1867 through January, 1868, with the bulk of the items falling between late January and the end of September, 1867.

The collection details the actions of the Southern Famine Relief Commission. It also provides a clear image of portions of the South immediately following the Civil War. Of particular significance are first-person narratives contained in the many pleas for assistance, and numerous newspaper articles reflecting difficulties faced during the early days of Reconstruction and expressing the attitudes and opinions of a wide variety of people.

The materials in this collection have been digitized and are available online to on-site researchers and to users affiliated with subscribing institutions via EBSCOhost.

Arrangement

Most of the material is arranged chronologically. See the series descriptions for specific details.

This collection is organized into four series:

  1. Series I. Correspondence and Papers
  2. Series II. Commission Business Records
  3. Series III. Letter Books and Letter Register
  4. Series IV. Newspaper Clippings

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • Bowne, John
  • Bright, Edward
  • Olmsted, Frederick Law, 1822-1903
  • Russell, Archibald, 1811-1871

Document Type

  • Accounts
  • Bills of lading
  • Clippings
  • Correspondence
  • Letter books
  • Telegrams

Subject Organizations

  • Memphis (Store ship)
  • New York Ladies' Southern Relief Association
  • Purveyor (Store ship)
  • United States. Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands

Subject Topics

  • Charities--New York (State)--New York
  • Famines--Southern States
  • Reconstruction

Subject Places

  • Southern States--Economic conditions

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Administrative Information

Provenance

Donated by the Southern Famine Relief Commission, 1867.

Access Restrictions

Open to qualified researchers.

Portions of the collection that have been microfilmed will be brought to the researcher in that format and can be made available by Interlibrary loan.

Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to twenty exposures of stable, unbound material per day. (Researchers may not accrue unused copy amounts from previous days.) Researchers on site may print out unlimited copies from microfilm reader-printer machines at per-exposure rates. See guidelines in Reading room for details.

Use Restrictions

Permission to quote from this collection in a publication must be requested and granted in writing. Send permission requests, citing the name of the collection from which you wish to quote, to

Library Director
The New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as Southern Famine Relief Commission Records, The New-York Historical Society.

Related Material at The New-York Historical Society

The library has Final Proceedings and General Report of the Southern Famine Relief Commission, New York, November, 1867. (F216.S67 F5 1967)

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Container List

Series I: Correspondence and Papers

Scope and Contents note

The collection contains approximately 835 letters (unbound) resulting from the daily correspondence of the Commission. The letters are, for the most part, those received by Commission members; however, correspondence among members and some letters from members to other individuals are also included. Among the letters are a few telegrams and a number of other documents such as invoices, receipts, bills of lading, accounts and market price quotes. All items are arranged chronologically. The letters are in good condition with the exception of a few that are faded and difficult to read.

In every folder there are letters requesting aid. The requests, often from individuals seeking assistance for themselves and their families, tell stories of devastation and despair. Many requests are less personal in nature, asking for help in a specific geographic area or for a specific group of people. Lists of names are sometimes included, with information concerning family size, occupation and current situation. There are also quite a number of letters describing the overall living conditions. The Commission corresponded with local government officials and other reliable sources, asking that they confirm the severity of the situation; they had also advertised in newspapers, asking that individuals come forward with anecdotal information. Responses to these requests, along with the many applications for aid, paint a vivid portrait of the South in 1867.

The rest of the correspondence falls into such categories as requests for information and copies of the Commissions circulars; donations; logistics (corn prices, purchasing, shipping, distribution mechanisms, problem resolution, etc.); formation of similar groups and their activities; offers of services (free shipping, discounts on supplies, etc.); events held to raise funds; concerns and suggestions; complaints of inappropriate allocation; and reports of floods and disease exacerbating the already grim picture.

Beginning in March, 1867, letters acknowledging shipments and reports of corn distribution indicate the progress of the Commissions work. There are many letters of thanks; however, most of them suggest that more help is still needed. Towards the end of the letter collection, one begins to see hopeful reports of the coming harvest and a sense that the crisis is lessening.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Jan.
Box: 1 Folder : 2 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Feb. 1-5
Box: 1 Folder : 3 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Feb. 6-10
Box: 1 Folder : 4 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Feb. 11-13
Box: 1 Folder : 5 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Feb. 14-15
Box: 1 Folder : 6 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Feb. 16-20
Box: 1 Folder : 7 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Feb. 21-25
Box: 1 Folder : 8 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Feb. 26-28
Box: 1 Folder : 9 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Mar. 1-4
Box: 1 Folder : 10 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Mar. 5-10
Box: 1 Folder : 11 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Mar. 11-12
Box: 1 Folder : 12 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Mar. 13-15
Box: 2 Folder : 1 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Mar. 16-19
Box: 2 Folder : 2 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Mar. 20-23
Box: 2 Folder : 3 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Mar. 24-27
Box: 2 Folder : 4 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Mar. 28-31
Box: 2 Folder : 5 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Apr. 1-4
Box: 2 Folder : 6 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Apr. 5-8
Box: 2 Folder : 7 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Apr. 9-11
Box: 2 Folder : 8 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Apr. 12-13
Box: 2 Folder : 9 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Apr. 14-15
Box: 2 Folder : 10 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Apr. 16-20
Box: 2 Folder : 11 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Apr. 21-27
Box: 2 Folder : 12 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Apr. 28-30
Box: 3 Folder : 1 Correspondence and Papers
1867 May 1-5
Box: 3 Folder : 2 Correspondence and Papers
1867 May 6-8
Box: 3 Folder : 3 Correspondence and Papers
1867 May 9-15
Box: 3 Folder : 4 Correspondence and Papers
1867 May 16-25
Box: 3 Folder : 5 Correspondence and Papers
1867 May 26-31
Box: 3 Folder : 6 Correspondence and Papers
1867 June 1-8
Box: 3 Folder : 7 Correspondence and Papers
1867 June 9-15
Box: 3 Folder : 8 Correspondence and Papers
1867 June 16-30
Box: 3 Folder : 9 Correspondence and Papers
1867 July
Box: 3 Folder : 10 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Aug.
Box: 3 Folder : 11 Correspondence and Papers
1867 Sept.
Box: 3 Folder : 12 Correspondence and Papers
1868 Jan.
Box: 3 Folder : 13 Correspondence and Papers
Undated

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Series II: Commission Business Records

Scope and Contents note

Among the business records are both bound and unbound items including committee minutes, reports of the treasurer, an accounting of large donations, cash flow documentation and records of supplies received and purchased. Together, they describe of the inner workings of the Commission and its specific activities.

Box 3, Folder 14, Executive Committee Minutes, contains drafts of meeting minutes and other items for potential publication. There are a few letters that relate to meeting times and attendance. Much of the material is informal, some written on scraps of paper. Newspaper clippings are attached to a few of the draft minutes. A more formal representation of committee minutes may be found in the bound volume, Minutes of the Executive and Standing Committees of the Famine Relief Commission 1867.

A series of reports from the Commissions treasurer, James M. Brown, outline income and expenses between March 18 and May 15, 1867. Other items include a report of contributions from other entities, a list of corn purchases, several distribution reports, and two reports from the Department of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned Lands, dated September 1866 and enumerating the numbers of refugees and freedmen in South Carolina (Box 3, Folder 15). Financial information is also contained in most of the bound volumes.

Among the miscellaneous items (Box 3, Folder 16) are several appeals one to the citizens of Providence (May 22, 1897) and one, in draft form, asking the clergy of the United States to assist the cause with a general collection to be made on April 14th, the anniversary of Lincolns assassination.

There are two almost identical volumes listing donors of $250 or more. One has an incorrect title (Subscriptions to the Southern Famine Famine Commission) and is missing two entries. The other (Subscriptions to the Southern Famine Relief Commission) appears to be the more accurate. The volume titled Supplies Purchased for Distribution by the Southern Famine Relief Commission includes a copy of the Final Report of the Treasurer, September 4, 1867 a complete description of the Commissions financial status as its activities came to a close.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 3 Folder : 14 Executive Committee Minutes
1867 Jan.-Aug.
Box: 3 Folder : 15 Treasurer's Reports
1867
Box: 3 Folder : 16 Miscellaneous
Undated
Volume: [1] Minutes of the Executive and Standing Committees of the Famine Relief Commission
1867
Volume: [2] Subscriptions to the Southern Famine Relief Commission
1867
Volume: [3] Subscriptions to the Southern Famine Famine Commission
1867
Volume: [4] Telegrams Received
1867 Feb.-June
Volume: [5] Record Book Receipts, Distributions, Memoranda
1867 Feb.-Aug.
Volume: [6] Daily Cash Famine Relief Commission
1867
Volume: [7] Supplies Received for Distribution by the Southern Famine Relief Commission
1867
Volume: [8] Supplies Purchased for Distribution by the Southern Famine Relief Commission
1867

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Series III: Letter Books and Letter Register

Scope and Contents note

Two bound volumes provide copies of letters one, of those sent by the Commissions General Agent, John Bowne, and the other, Corresponding Secretary, Edward Bright. Each volume is arranged chronologically but has an alphabetical index of addressees. Many of the letters in the volume of Bowne letters are difficult to read due to fading of the ink.

A third volume lists letters received from January 22 through July 30, 1867. For each letter, the senders name and address, date sent, summary of contents and disposition are outlined. This volume identifies a large number of the unbound letters contained in Series I although there are items in the list that are not among the letters and many letters that are not reflected on the list.

Container 1     Title Date
Volume: [9] Letter Book (Bowne)
1867 Feb. 18-Dec. 31
Volume: [10] Letter Book (Bright)
1867 Feb. 2-Sept. 6
Volume: [11] Letters Received 1867 Famine Relief Commission
1867 Feb. 13-July 26

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Series IV: Newspaper Clippings

Scope and Contents note

A large scrapbook of newspaper clippings provides an account of the activities of the Commission as well as a picture of Southern conditions and Northern sentiments. Most of the clippings are dated and are annotated with an abbreviated publication name. Examples include World, Times, Sun, Observer, Tribune, Evening Post, Express, Mercury, Evangelist, Brooklyn Daily Union, Rahway Republican, Commercial Advertiser, Norfolk Virginian, San Francisco Bulletin and a few that are identified in a general way, such as New Orleans Paper or Richmond Paper. The clippings are generally in chronological order although there are exceptions. Although the volume itself is in good condition, a few of the articles have been affected by the underlying adhesive and are somewhat difficult to read.

Beginning in January, 1867, the clippings describe in detail the establishment of the Commission and continue, through September, 1867, with reports of its activities, its subscribers and special events sponsored by the organization.

Vivid descriptions of the distress in the Southern states are included as are letters and editorial statements that reveal a wide range of opinions and attitudes concerning an appropriate Northern response. In a series of articles from April, 1867, The Herald gives state-by-state accounts of the Progress of Reconstruction and there are many clippings that describe floods in the South and an epidemic of yellow fever.

By May, articles begin analyzing the positive Crop Prospects for 1867. Southern papers acknowledge the benevolence of New Yorkers; the Mobile Times in its May 3rd article describes cheerful evidence of fraternal fellowship which shines out like a star of hope on a long night . One of the final articles describes the donation of surplus Commission funds to assist those suffering from yellow fever in Galveston, Texas (September, 1867).

At the end of the scrapbook are publications of the Commission (flyers, circulars, advertisements) and several of other groups such as the New York Ladies Southern Relief Association.

Container 1     Title Date
Volume: [12] Newspaper Extracts
1867 Jan. 26-Sept. 26

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