1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

    List of finding aids

    R.I.H.S. Library page

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 John Russell Bartlett Papers

 Businessman, publisher, author, of Providence and New York.


Papers, 1826-1883.

 Size: 1 linear foot

 Catalog number: MSS 286

 Processed by: Lori Salotto, June 2000

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            John Russell Bartlett (1805-1886) was born in Providence, Rhode Island to Smith (b. 1780) and Nancy (Russell) Bartlett (1782-1819). His family moved to Kingston, Ontario in 1806 where his father became very successful in business. Bartlett had very little education, but by the time he was twenty years old he was a skilled draftsman, accountant, and artist. His education consisted of attending an "infant school" at the age of six; Lowville Academy, near Watertown, New York, for two years around the age of 13; and one year of boarding school in Montreal, Quebec. In 1824, at the age of 18, he left home and came to Providence to work in his uncle's dry goods business. He stayed in Providence for four years and then returned to Canada to work for his father. However, shortly after returning he was offered a job by Cyrus Butler (considered the wealthiest man in Providence at the time) to become the bookkeeper and head teller at Butler's bank, "The Bank of North America & Providence." He worked for Butler for three years and then became cashier for the Globe Bank in 1831.

            1831 was a busy year for Bartlett. Besides starting a new job, he married Eliza Allen Rhodes (1811-1853), daughter of Christopher Rhodes of Pawtuxet on May 15th. They had seven children: Elizabeth Dorrance (1833-1840); Anna (Russell) Duvillard (b. 1835); Henry Anthony (1838-1877); George Francis (1840-1842); John Russell, Jr. (b. 1843);Leila (1846-1850); and Fanny Osgood (b. 1850). He also founded the Providence Athenaeum, a library and reading room. He was the first treasurer, librarian, and cataloger of books. Though Bartlett's career was in business, he had a deep love and appreciation for knowledge and books.

            In 1836 he moved to New York and went to work for the Dry Goods Commission House, which was the partnership of Jessup, Swift, & Company. After the commercial crisis of 1837, the company failed. However, Bartlett stayed on for a couple more years with one of the partners, barely able to make a living. Finally, he gave up his career in the commercial field and turned to his love of books. He started his own business (Bartlett & Welford) with a partner, Charles Welford. They were dealers in British and foreign books and were publishers. Their bookstore was also the meeting place for the literary men of New York. Throughout the years Bartlett became a member of many societies: the Franklin Society - for the study of the natural sciences; the Royal Society of Antiquarians; the American Geographical Society; the American Oriental Society; and various historical societies.

            While in New York he met Albert Gallatin, who had been the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury; had been given a commission to make peace with Britain in 1814; and had been minister to France and Britain. Gallatin was the "patriarch of scholars and public men in New York." Bartlett, along with Gallatin, founded the American Ethnological Society to discuss geography, archaeology, philogy, etc. Bartlett also assisted in research for Gallatin's book, "Peace with Mexico," which Bartlett & Welford published in 1847. 1847 was also the beginning of Bartlett's writing career with the publication of the first volume of his "Dictionary of Americanisms." This work was a glossary of words and phrases regarded as peculiar to the U.S. His writing career eventually included nineteen published works.

            Bartlett returned in 1849 and returned to Providence the following year. Soon after his return he was appointed by President Taylor to become the Commissioner for the Mexican Boundary Question. He served for three years before the funding ran out. In 1854, he published an account of his adventure, entitled "Personal Narrative of Incidents & Explorations in Texas, New Mexico, California, Senora, etc."

            Bartlett's wife died in 1853 and in 1863 he remarried to Ellen Eddy, daughter of Nelson Eddy of Providence. From 1855 to 1872 he served as the Secretary of the State for Rhode Island and accomplished several things locally: he started a collection of portraits of the Governors of Rhode Island, he raised funds for the Burnside monument, he preserved Roger Williams' records, and he prepared and printed state papers and records every year for ten years. He also served as the librarian for the John Carter Brown Library from 1856 until his death on May 28, 1886.

            In 1983, the John Russell Bartlett Society was founded. This organization of book collectors, crafts-people, and book readers gather to discuss books from every country and time period.


Bartlett, John Russell. "Genealogy of that Branch of the Russell Family: Descendants of John Russell of Woburn, MA, 1640-1878." Providence: privately printed, 1879.

Gammell, William. "Life and Services of the Hon. John Russell Bartlett: A Paper Read Before the Rhode Island Historical Society on November 12, 1886," Providence: Providence Press Company, 1886.

Haskell, John D. "John Russell Bartlett: Bookman," Ph.D. diss., George Washington University, 1977.

Mowry, Elisha Capron. "John Russell Bartlett," (paper read before the Review Club on January 12, 1957). Providence, 1957.

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Scope and content:

            This collection, ranging from 1826 to 1883, with the bulk of the material after 1848, consists mostly of correspondence. There is also a book that Bartlett's business, Bartlett & Welford, published and two scrapbooks called the "Dictionary of Americanisms." This collection also includes the account book for Bartlett's commission to study the Mexican boundary.

            The correspondence includes letters from pioneering archivist Peter Force (Jan. 29, 1855), soldier Augustus Woodbury (April 24, 1866), historian George Bancroft (several, 1860-1864), Civil War general Silas Casey (July 1, 1865), Senator Charles Sumner (Nov. 15, 1865, ex-President Millard Fillmore (Dec. 26, 1866), John Carter Brown (several, 1866, 1873), General Ambrose Burnside (Jan. 4, 1866; May 29, 1868; July 17, 1868; and Nov. 26, 1871), William Sprague (Feb. 28, 1861; Feb. 10, 1868; and July 3, 1883), Gen. George S. Greene (June 27 1863), and Thomas Hazard (several, 1878). The undated correspondence file also has two empty envelopes marked by President Zachary Taylor. There are also correspondence from Millard Fillmore (June 22, 1859 and December 26, 1866), James Russell Lowell (May 3, 1877), and Elisha R. Potter (May 3, 1877) found in the scrapbook on Americanisms, vol. II.

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            Some or all of this collection came from a large bequest, of mostly printed material, from Henry A. Bartlett on December 15, 1902.

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Processing note:

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Box 1, folder 1. Correspondence, 1838-1843

Box 1, folder 2. Correspondence, 1848-1859

Box 1, folder 3. Correspondence, 1848, pertaining to the publication of a catalogue of books on Indian tribes

Box 1, folder 4. Correspondence, 1860-1865

Box 1, folder 5. Correspondence, 1866

Box 1, folder 6. Correspondence, 1867-1869

Box 1, folder 7. Correspondence, 1871-1877

Box 1, folder 8. Correspondence, 1878, mostly Wanton family genealogy

Box 1, folder 9. Correspondence, 1879-1883

Box 1, folder 10. Correspondence, undated

Box 1, folder 11. Financial papers, 1831-1835

Box 1, folder 12. Gallatin, Albert, "Peace With Mexico," with reviews, notes, and several original letters to or from Gallatin, 1847-1848, tipped in.

Box 1, folder 13. Bartlett & Welford Bookstore: inventory, undated

Box 1, folder 14. Mexican Boundary Commission account book, 1850-1853

Box 1, folder 15. Miscellaneous, 1850-1876

            Article of Gallatin Bank, in The Stockholder, June 13, 1876

            Commission from Pres. Zachary Taylor as commissioner, 1850

            Proclamation by the Lt. Governor, 1862

            Appointment to the International Congress on the Prevention of Crimes, etc., 1872

            Passport, 1872

Box 2, folder 1. Scrapbook, volume I: Americanisms, undated

Box 2, folder 2. Scrapbook, volume II: Americanisms, includes original letters from Millard Fillmore (June 22, 1859), James Russell Lowell (Oct. 17, 1876), Elisha R. Potter Jr. (May 3, 1877), and many other letters, 1848-1878.

Box 2, folder 3. "A Collection of Popular Tunes Arranged for the Clarinet for the Aeolian Society of Providence", 1826

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Aeolian Society


Bancroft, George (1800-1891)

Bartlett & Welford

Booksellers - New York

Brown, John Carter (1797-1874)

Bryant, William Cullen (1794-1878)

Burnside, Ambrose (1824-1881)

Casey, Silas

Channing, William F. (1820-1901)

Church, Frederick E. (1826-1900)

Fillmore, Millard (1800-1874)

Force, Peter (1790-1868)

Gallatin, Albert (1761-1849)

Greene, George S. (1801-1899)

Hazard, Thomas R. (1797-1889)

Heade, Martin J. (1819-1904)

Heintzelman, Samuel P. (1805-1880)

Henry, Joseph (1797-1878)

Lieber, Francis (1800-1872)

Lowell, James Russell

Mexican Boundary Commission

Music - Rhode Island

Nicaragua - Description and travel

Potter, Elisha R., Jr. (1811-1882)

Sprague, William (1830-1915)

Sumner, Charles (1811-1874)

Taylor, Zachary (1784-1850)

Thornton, J. Wingate (1818-1878)

Wanton family

Whitman, Sarah Helen (1803-1878)

Woodbury, Augustus

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