© 2011 New-York Historical Society logo

Guide to the George Frederick Seward Papers
1883-1910 (Bulk 1890-1910)
  MS 557

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

© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Heather Mulliner

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on May 23, 2014
English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Descriptive Summary

Title: George Frederick Seward Papers
Dates [inclusive]: 1883-1910
Dates [bulk]: Bulk, 1890-1910
Abstract: This collection contains the personal and professional correspondence of George Frederick Seward from 1883 to 1910. Seward served as the U.S. Minister to China from 1875 to 1880 and later became the president of the Fidelity and Causality Company between 1893 and 1910. Seward's papers primarliy relate to his career in the insurance industry, and include correspondence related to financial interests, his criticism of US immigration policy, and his activities as member of the board of trustees at Union College (1900-1910).
Quantity: 3.5 Linear feet (7 boxes)
Call Phrase: MS 557

Return to Top »

Biographical/Historical note

George Frederick Seward (1840-1910) was born in the town of Florida in Orange County, New York in 1840. A member of the prominent Seward family, he was the son of George W. Seward and the nephew of noted Secretary of State William H. Seward.

As a boy he attended the Seward Institute, which was founded by his grandfather physician Samuel S. Seward. At the age of fifteen Seward began studying at Union College in Schenectady, NY, but left before the end of his first term to help direct the family estate.

In 1861 Seward was appointed as the U.S. Consul to Shanghai in China. For the next fifteen years Seward worked in various positions within the consular service in China until he was eventually appointed as the U.S. Minister to China in 1875. An advocate of westernization, he held the position of Minister to China until 1880 when he was replaced by James Agnell after expressing his unwillingness to undertake the negotiation of the treaty restricting Chinese immigration to the United States. After Seward left his position as U.S. Minister to China in 1880 he remained interested in United States policy in China and continued to express his opinion on the subject in scholarly books and a variety of public forums. His most notable work on American policy toward China, Chinese Immigration in Its Social and Economical Aspects, was published in 1881.

After Seward returned to the United States he moved to New York City where he began a career in the insurance industry. In 1887 he was appointed as the vice president of the Fidelity and Casualty Company in New York, NY, and became president of the company in 1892. Seward served as president of the Fidelity and Casualty Company for the next 18 years until his death in 1910. During his career as president, Seward helped raise the company from a struggling insurance firm to a commanding position within the casualty insurance industry.

Seward was also highly involved in the affairs of Union College later in his life. Although he never formally graduated from the institution, Seward became a member of board of trustees at Union College and was granted the honorary degree of LL.D. in 1904. He served on the Board of Trustees and as chairman of the building committee until 1910.

Seward died on November 28, 1910 after suffering from a longstanding illness at his home on 136 W. 73st in Manhattan.

Return to Top »

Scope and Contents note

The George Frederick Seward Papers contain the personal and professional correspondence of businessman and former Minister to China George Frederick Seward from 1883 to 1910. Correspondence in this collection consists of both incoming letters as well as copies of letters written by Seward and his personal secretary. In many instances letters written by Seward are attached to incoming correspondence to which they are responding. Other materials contained in this collection include newspaper clippings, handwritten notes, contracts, and drafts of Seward’s writings. These materials are also interspersed throughout Seward's correspondence and in several instances are related to specific topics addressed in his letters.

The materials in this collection primarily date from 1890 to 1910 and relate to Seward’s work with the Fidelity and Casualty Company in New York, where he served as president from 1892-1910. These materials cover a wide range of topics related to the insurance industry including: the company’s financial interests, concerns over policy issues affecting the insurance industry, letters of recommendation, and personal introductions. The collection also contains a small number of bills and letters (1883-1886) relating to the medical business of his relative Dr. John L. Seward, whom George F. Seward briefly assisted with financial matters.

The collection also includes a significant amount of correspondence regarding Seward's interest in the Willson Aluminum Company in Leaksville, NC, a company in which he was a major investor. There is also a substantial amount of correspondence relating to his activities as a member of the board of trustees at Union College and his role as chairman of the building committee (circa 1900-1910).

Additionally, Seward’s papers contain a small amount of his political writings related to the Chinese Exclusion Act. Although the collection post-dates Seward's term as U.S. Minsiter to China, he remained vocal about his disapproval of the policy, which he expressed in a variety of public forums. Seward’s drafts and publications expressing his opinions on U.S. policy toward China are included among his correspondence and ocurr sporadically from the 1890s to his death in 1910.

The collection also contains a small amount of family correspondence including letters from his children at school and letters from his son prior to his wedding in 1900. Other topics covered in Seward’s papers include correspondence regarding the debt of Stephen C. Baldwin in 1892, some materials regarding the gold and silver question, and the use of calcium carbide to make illuminating gas.

Arrangement note

This collection is arranged chronologically.

Return to Top »

Access Points

Subject Names

  • Seward, George Frederick, 1840-1910

Subject Organizations

  • Fidelity and Casualty Company of New York.
  • Willson Aluminium Company.

Subject Topics

  • Bimetallism
  • Calcium carbide
  • China--Politics and government--1644-1912
  • Correspondence

Subject Places

  • Union College (Schenectady, N.Y.)

Return to Top »

Administrative Information

Access Restrictions

Open to qualified researchers.

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.)

Items that include presidential signatures will be presented to researchers in duplicate form.

Use Restrictions

This collection is owned by the New-York Historical Society. Permission to publish materials must be obtained in writing from: Manuscripts Department, New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, New York, NY 10024; or via email at mssdept@nyhistory.org.

The copyright law of the United States governs the making of photocopies and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials. Unpublished materials created before January 1, 1978 cannot be quoted in publication without permission of the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation note

This collection should be cited as the George Frederick Seward Papers, MS 557, The New-York Historical Society.


The collection was donated to the New-York Historical Society in 1931.


George F. Seward: Born November 8, 1840, Died November 28, 1910. (1911). in Monthly Bulletin. New York: Fidelity and Casualty Company.

Schlup, Leonard C. & Ryan, James G. (2003). Historical Dictionary of the Gilded Age. Armonk, NY: M.E. Scharpe.

Return to Top »

Container List

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 1 Folder : 1 Correspondence: Relating to the accounts of Dr. John L. Seward
1883 - 1886
Box: 1 Folder : 2 Correspondence
1890 - 1892
Box: 1 Folder : 3 Correspondence
Jan - Jun 1893
Box: 1 Folder : 4 Correspondence
Jul - Oct 1893
Box: 1 Folder : 5 Correspondence
Nov - Dec 1893
Box: 1 Folder : 6 Correspondence
Jan - Apr 1894
Box: 1 Folder : 7 Correspondence
May - Sep 1894
Box: 2 Folder : 1 Correspondence

Scope and Contents note

Contains an undated draft of a speech written by Seward expressing his disapproval of U.S. immigration policy (particularly addressing the Geary Act of 1892).

Oct - Dec 1894
Box: 2 Folder : 2 Correspondence
Jan - Apr 1895
Box: 2 Folder : 3 Correspondence
May - Aug 1895
Box: 2 Folder : 4 Correspondence
Sep - Dec 1895
Box: 2 Folder : 5 Correspondence
Jan - Jun 1896
Box: 2 Folder : 6 Correspondence
Jul - Oct 1896
Box: 2 Folder : 7 Correspondence
Nov 1896 - Mar 1897
Box: 3 Folder : 1 Correspondence
Apr - Sep 1897
Box: 3 Folder : 2 Correspondence
Oct - Dec 1897
Box: 3 Folder : 3 Correspondence
Jan - Apr 1897
Box: 3 Folder : 4 Correspondence
May - Dec 1898
Box: 3 Folder : 5 Correspondence
Jan - Sep 1899
Box: 3 Folder : 6 Correspondence
Oct - Nov 1899
Box: 4 Folder : 1 Correspondence
1899, n.d.
Box: 4 Folder : 2 Correspondence
Jan - Feb 1900
Box: 4 Folder : 3 Correspondence
Mar - Jun 1900
Box: 4 Folder : 4 Correspondence
Jul - Oct 1900
Box: 4 Folder : 5 Correspondence
Nov - Dec 1900
Box: 4 Folder : 6 Correspondence
1900, n.d.
Box: 4 Folder : 7 Correspondence
Box: 4 Folder : 8 Correspondence

Scope and Contents note

Includes a pamphlet criticizing the Chinese Exclusion Act titled "The United States and China: An Address before the Congressional Club of Brooklyn," published in 1902.

1902 - 1903
Box: 4 Folder : 9 Correspondence
Box: 5 Folder : 1 Correspondence
Jan - Jun 1905
Box: 5 Folder : 2 Correspondence
Jul - Dec 1905
Box: 5 Folder : 3 Correspondence
1905, n.d.
Box: 5 Folder : 4 Correspondence
Box: 5 Folder : 5 Correspondence
Box: 5 Folder : 6 Correspondence: General Electric
1907 - 1908
Box: 6 Folder : 1 Correspondence: Relating to A. Wells
Box: 6 Folder : 2 Correspondence
Jan - Mar 1908
Box: 6 Folder : 3 Correspondence
Apr - Sep 1908
Box: 6 Folder : 4 Correspondence
Oct - Dec 1908
Box: 6 Folder : 5 Correspondence
1908, n.d.
Box: 6 Folder : 6 Correspondence
Jan - Mar 1909
Box: 6 Folder : 7 Correspondence
Apr - Jun 1909
Box: 6 Folder : 8 Correspondence
Box: 7 Folder : 1 Correspondence
Jul - Sep 1909
Box: 7 Folder : 2 Correspondence
Oct - Dec 1909
Box: 7 Folder : 3 Correspondence
Jan - Mar 1910
Box: 7 Folder : 4 Correspondence
Apr - Jun 1910
Box: 7 Folder : 5 Correspondence
Jul - Sep 1910
Box: 7 Folder : 6 Correspondence
Oct - Dec 1910
Box: 7 Folder : 7 Correspondence
Box: 7 Folder : 8 Notes and Drafts

Return to Top »