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John Romeyn Brodhead
Papers, 1841-1865


Quantity: 1 box (.25 cubic ft.)
Access: Open to research
Acquisition: Purchase, July 1981
Processed By: Regina Berry, Student Assistant, State University of New York at Albany for Manuscripts & Special Collections, February 2015

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Biographical Note:

John Romeyn Brodhead (January 2, 1814 -May 6, 1873) was a noted American historian and scholar.  Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he graduated from Rutgers College in 1831 and was admitted to the bar in New York City in 1835. However, history was of much more interesting to him than law, and he developed a particular interest in the early Dutch history of New York.  He became the secretary to Harmanus Bleecker, the newly appointed chargé d'affaires in The Netherlands, where he was able to indulge his passion: seeking out records in the Dutch archives on the early history of New York.  In 1839 the New York State Legislature authorized the appointment of an agent to procure from the archives of Europe historical material to fill the gaps in the state's archives. Brodhead applied for the position and was appointed by Governor William H. Seward.

He spent the next four years in The Netherlands, France and England, amassing 80 volumes of transcriptions, largely of documents which had never been seen by American historians.  He occasionally encountered some resistance to these investigations and so had to enlist the support of such American representatives as Mr. Bleecker at The Hague, General Lewis Cass in Paris, and Ambassador Edward Everett in London.  In August 1844 he returned to New York with his valuable cargo.  Historian George Bancroft said: "The ship in which he came back was more richly freighted with new materials for American history than any that ever crossed the Atlantic."

His transcriptions were subsequently edited by two other men into a 15-volume series between 1853 and 1883, and published by the state of New York as Documents Relating to the Colonial History of New York.  Brodhead intended to publish his own history of the state of New York, but his service as secretary of legation under George Bancroft in London from 1846 to 1849 and then as a naval officer of the port of New York, from 1853 to 1857, delayed that project.  He did manage to publish his first volume of History of the State of New York in 1853 and the second volume in 1871; he was at work on the third when he died in 1873.  He is buried in Trinity Cemetery in New York City.

The original 80 volumes of the so-called "Holland, London and Paris Documents," transcriptions of documents Brodhead had created during four years of work, were, except for a few unusable scraps, burned in the Capitol fire in 1911.

Scope and Content Note:

This series of letters and documents is mainly related to John R. Brodhead's historical research expedition to Europe to collect missing and forgotten documents from America's colonial period. Included are the original documents appointing Brodhead, signed by William H. Seward; a document appointing Brodhead aide-de-camp to the commander-in-chief of the New York militia; Brodhead's passport as charge de dépêcher for the American legation in London, signed by Edward Everett; and a resolution of the New-York Historical Society thanking him for his address before that society on the occasion of its fortieth birthday, signed by John Jay (1817-1894).

Several of the documents are signed by William H. Seward and Edward Everett, who were, respectively, governor of New York State and U. S. Ambassador to Great Britain at the time of his appointment.  The letter of instruction to Brodhead from Seward lays out the goals of his mission and what his compensation was to be: $2,000 a year.  Seward writes that the "successful accomplishment [of this mission] would advance the course of free government throughout the world, and that it was due to ourselves and to the memory of our predecessors, and to a just regard for the respect of posterity that every important circumstance connected with the rise and progress of our free institutions should be recorded and illustrated."

Of special significance is the series of letters to Brodhead from George Bancroft (1800-1891).  Bancroft was a well-known historian, educator and diplomat.  In his letter of August 31, 1843, he provides Brodhead with a detailed list of items to look for.  One of those is a December 1753 letter from Robert Dinwiddie, the colonial governor of Virginia, whose actions are credited with precipitating the French and Indian War.  Bancroft cites many specific historical items he hopes Brodhead can locate.

Edward Everett (1794-1865) had served as the American ambassador to Great Britain from 1841 to 1845, after which he became the president of Harvard College.  It is during this time that he wrote these letters to Brodhead in London.  They are mostly personal letters, forwarding mail and parcels to his London friends, and sharing news items.  He was apparently unhappy in his post at Harvard.

Jared Sparks (1789-1866) was an American historian, educator, and Unitarian minister. He served as president of Harvard from 1849 to 1853, following Everett.  At the time of these letters, he was a professor at Harvard, writing and lecturing.  Some of the letters refer to the struggles around the founding of the Smithsonian Institution.

Other notable persons referenced in this collection are: General John Dix, Senator Lewis Cass of Michigan, jurist John Duer, and one letter that appears to be from John Van Buren, son of Martin Van Buren, who had been attorney general of New York.

Box and Folder List:

Box Folder Description
1 1 Certificate appointing John Romeyn Brodhead "Agent under the act entitled 'An Act to appoint an Agent to procure and transcribe Documents in Europe relative to the Colonial History of [New York] State, passed May 2, 1839,'" January 15, 1841; signed by William H. Seward (1 item)
1 2 Certificate of appointment of John Romeyn Broadhead as aide-de-camp to the commander in chief of the  New York militia (William H. Seward), February 19, 1841 (1 item)
1 3 Certified copy of the enabling legislation "to appoint an Agent to procure and transcribe Documents in Europe relative to the Colonial History of [New York] State," May 2, 1839; certified March 13, 1841 (1 item)
1 4 William H. Seward's instructions to Agent J.R. Brodhead, March 27, 1841 
(1 item, 6(12) pages)
1 5 Letter of William H. Seward to John Duer introducing John Romeyn Brodhead:, April 1, 1841.  1(4)p.
1 6 Diplomatic Passport No. 155 for John Romeyn Brodhead (in French), June 17, 1842; signed by Edward Everett and Brodhead.  2(4)p.
1 7 Resolution of thanks to J. Romeyn Brodhead from the New-York Historical Society, December 3, 1844  2(4)p.
1 8 Letters: George Bancroft to J.R. Brodhead, 1843-1865, undated (16 items)
  1. Hotel Windsor, Monday, 8½ A.M.
  2. Tuesday Morning
  3. Paris [France], Tuesday
  4. Undated
  5. Boston [Mass.], August 31, 1843
  6. Boston [Mass.], January 1, 1844
  7. Washington [D. C.], May 4, 1846
  8. Boston [Mass.], October 3, 1846
  9. (Paris, France), Friday, September 29, 1847
  10. (London, Eng.), Tuesday morning, October 3, 1848
  11. Wednesday, January 7, 1949
  12. New York [N.Y.], July 18, 1850
  13. October 30, 1851
  14. March 16, 1855
  15. New York [N.Y.], April 4, 1857
  16. New York [N.Y.], January 23, 1865
1 9 Letters: Edward Everett, to J.R. Brodhead in London, 1846-1848, 1865, undated  (11 items)
  1. (London, Eng.) July 26, 1845(?)
  2. Cambridge [Mass.], August 13, 1846
  3. Cambridge [Mass.], September 14, 1846
  4. Cambridge [Mass.], September 29, 1846
  5. Cambridge [Mass.], November 15, 1846
  6. Cambridge [Mass.], March 31, 1847
  7. Cambridge [Mass.], April 30, 1847
  8. Cambridge [Mass.], July 31, 1847
  9. Cambridge [Mass.], August 7, 1848
  10. Cambridge [Mass.], September 18, 1848
  11. Boston [Mass.], January 5, 1865
1 10 Letters: Erv[ing?]. P. Putnam, London, to J.R. Brodhead, 1842, 1846  (2 items)
  1. London [Eng.], September 10, 1842
  2. (London, Eng.), December 7, 1846
1 11 Letters: Jared Sparks, to J.R. Brodhead, London and New York, 1842-1845 
(4 items)
  1. Cambridge [Mass.], June 14, 1842
  2. Cambridge [Mass.], August 31, 1842
  3. Cambridge [Mass.], March 30, 1843
  4. Cambridge [Mass.], July 7, 1845
1 12 Letters: Various authors and addressees, 1843-1865 (6 items)
  1. Edward Everett, London, to John MacGregor, March 14, 1843
  2. J.R. Brodhead, New York, to Edward Everett, August 17, 1846 (draft)
  3. George Bancroft to Lewis Cass, October 20, 1848 (draft, missing pages)
  4. J. Van Buren(?), New York, to George Bancroft, April 26, 1849
  5. Wm. B.A[rent?], New York to J R. Brodhead, New York, January 21, 1865
  6. John A. Dix, New York, to J.R. Brodhead, December 22, 1865
1 13 Miscellaneous, 1841, undated (4 items)
Last Updated: March 31, 2022