Billy Graham Center

Records of the American Sunday School Union -
Collection 168

[Note: The BGC Archives does not have the original documents of this collection. What it does have is a microfilm edition of the papers, which it purchased from a publisher, as did many other archives and libraries.]

[Note: What follows is a description of the documents in this collection which are available for use at BGC Archives in Wheaton, Illinois, USA. The actual documents are not, in most cases, available online, only this description of them. Nor are they available for sale or rent.]

Since we are migrating our website to a new platform, we will no longer be updating this earlier version our site. Please visit our Archon database for online guide descriptions. In early 2018, look for our new site, currently under construction, linked in the BGC Archives section on the Library and Archives page. (12/11/2017)

Table of Contents

Brief Description of This Collection

Title Page and Restrictions

Historical Background of the American Sunday School Union

An Essay on the Contents of the Collection (Scope and Content)

List of Microfilm in This Collection (Location Records)

Brief Description.
Microfilm edition of the ASSU records, arranged in three series: (l) Correspondence and Reports, 1817-1915; (2) Administrative Records, 1817-1915; and (3) YOUTH'S PENNY GAZETTE, 1843-1860, and Catalogs, 1817-1910. Originals are housed in the Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia.

Collection 168
[May 17, 2004]

American Sunday School Union; 1817-
Papers; 1817-1915
234 Reels of Microfilm


The originals of this microfilm edition are housed in the:

Presbyterian Historical Society
425 Lombard Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19147

Information on copyright may be obtained by writing that address.

See "Note to the Researcher," p. vii of Barbara Sokolosky, American Sunday School Union Papers 1817-1915: A Guide to the Microfilm Edition. This book can be found in the Reading Room or the Microfilm Room.

Historical Background

Begun in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1817 as the Sunday and Adult School Union, the name was changed to the American Sunday School Union (ASSU) in 1824. (In 1974, the name was changed to the American Missionary Fellowship.) Non-denominational as an organization, it drew members from the Baptist, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Moravian, Dutch Reformed, Congregational, Lutheran, German Reformed, and Friends churches. The object of the ASSU was to establish Sunday schools, which were then left to "their own free choice" concerning denominational affiliation. ASSU management was composed of laymen, but its missionary effort was carried on almost entirely by clergymen.

For a detailed historical sketch, see Barbara A. Sokolosky, American Sunday School Union Papers 1817-1915: A Guide to the Microfilm Edition (Sanford, North Carolina: Microfilming Corporation of America, 1980), pp. 1-12, in the Reading Room or the Microfilm Room.

Scope and Content

The microfilm is arranged in three series:
I. Correspondence and Reports
II. Administrative Records
III. Youth's Penny Gazette and Catalogs

The Youth's Penny Gazette was one of many ASSU periodical publications; it was perhaps the most successful of these, and is the only one included in the microfilm edition of the ASSU papers.

The major bulk of the microfilm edition is devoted to Correspondence and Reports--the incoming letters, etc., from over two thousand missionaries. For some of these men only a few letters exist, while others' work is reflected by a lengthy list of letters. Some of the more substantive sets of correspondence are mentioned here. William Blair was the first trained missionary, hired in 1821. His first year witnessed two thousand five hundred miles of travel and the founding of sixty-one Sunday schools; he was so successful that the concept of the paid full-time missionary caught on. By 1824, Timothy Alden and M. A. Remley were actively employed. The first decade of this venture saw especially energetic work from Joseph Bruce Adams, working from New York to Mississippi especially among the Chicksaw and Choctaw Indians; Gottlieb Shober, who served among North Carolina Moravians; Alvah Sanford in Vermont; and Randolph Stone and E. Judson in Ohio. In 1830, the ASSU began its Mississippi Valley Enterprise, the initial success of which was largely due to James Welch's untiring efforts in the field.

The correspondence reflects social and political history as well. Cholera and other epidemics are traceable. As the mid-nineteenth century approached, slavery became a topic of discussion; see particularly letters of W.C. Dunlop, A. Hay. and Alfred Taylor. The Civil War is documented by civilian missionaries Thomas Campbell and W.S. Sedwick, and also by soldier missionaries John McCullagh and Henry Clay Trumbull; J.B. Marsh's letters describe Reconstruction policies' effects.

Post-war work saw the missionary force of the ASSU double by the turn of the century. Especially significant letters are those of William Paxton in Missiouri; Martin B. Lewis in Wisconsin and Minnesota; Charles Frady, working with Indians in the West; and Thomas Lain, ministering to Blacks and Indians in Texas and Oklahoma.

Included in the correspondence are letterbooks for the following men and dates:
John Cassell (Kansas Indian Territory) 1872-1887
J. W. Crowell (Secretary of Missions) 1891-1896
L. Milton Marsh (Wisconsin) 1884-1885
Frederick A. Packard (Editor; Secretary) 1840-1867
Edwin Wilbur Rice (Fund Raiser) 1872-1914
J. E. Stevenson (Treasurer) 1910-1911
Mosely H. Williams (Assistant Editor) 1888-1906
Maurice A. Wurts (Secretary of Missions) 1873-1874

The ASSU sponsored some missionaries to foreign countries as well. Several were in Canada; Chester Holcombe was in China in 1869 as was S. Wells Williams in 1842. Robert Baird wrote from France in 1835 and 1840, and from Germany and Russia in 1840. S. B. Munges ws in Bombay, India, in 1835; W. Ramsey wrote from that city in 1831-33. J. C. Fletcher sailed along the eastern coast of South America in 1862, stopping at Rio de Janerio and other ports.

Description of the arrangement of the collection, with reel list, and index of ASSU missionaries and geographic locations, can be found in the Sokolosky American Sunday School Union Papers 1817-1915: Guide to the Microfilm Edition, in the Archives Reading Room.



The originals of this collection are in the Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This microfilm was purchased by the Archives in January 1981.

Accession 81-3
May 8, 1981
Galen R. Wilson

Accession 81-3
Type of Material: Microfilm
The following items are located in the CENTER LIBRARY MICROFILM ROOM:

All reels are 35mm, positive copy.

Reels 1-208 - Series I: Correspondence and Reports; 1817-1915
Reels 209-232 - Series II: Administrative Records; 1817-1915
Reels 233-234 - Series III: Youth's Penny Gazette; 1843-1860 and Catalogs; 1817-1910

[For a chronological and alphabetical list of the contents of each reel, see Sokolsky's Guide in the Reading Room or Microfilm Room, pp. 19-28.]

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Last Revised: 5/17/04
Expiration: indefinite