The Woolsey Family Papers span three generations (1760's to the first quarter of the 20th century), centered mainly around William Walton Woolsey (1766-1839), a prosperous land owner and merchant in New York City; his son, Theodore Dwight Woolsey (1801-1889), Greek scholar, political theorist, and president of Yale College; and Theodore Salisbury Woolsey (1852-1929), son of Theodore Dwight, who gained renown as professor of International Law at Yale Law School.
The Papers are important to the historian interested in the early development of political theory and international law in the United States, the history of higher education, and especially the history of Yale College during a most eventful period in its history (1846-1871). There are also materials pertinent to the ethical and religious attitudes of the day and their relation to higher education. There are important documents and correspondence pertaining to the Chamber of Commerce of New York City, the Manumission Society, and extensive business correspondence during the period 1787 to 1839. In addition to the materials relating specifically to the Woolsey family, there are a number of letters pertaining to some of the most prominent New England families Chauncey, Salisbury, Johnson, Winthrop, Hillhouse with whom the Woolsey's were related by marriage.
The Papers are arranged into nine series: CORRESPONDENCE, WRITINGS OF THEODORE DWIGHT WOOLSEY, WRITINGS OF THEODORE SALISBURY WOOLSEY, PRINTED MATERIALS & PHOTOGRAPHS, GENEALOGICAL RECORDS, FAMILY BUSINESS DOCUMENTS, WILLIAM WALTON WOOLSEY ESTATE and BUSINESS PAPERS, and THEODORE DWIGHT WOOLSEY-OTHER PAPERS.
The CORRESPONDENCE series consists of 32 boxes of approximately 15,000 letters, the greatest part of which, is that of Theodore Dwight Woolsey. For the most part, the correspondence is intra- and inter- familial, although there are a number of letters from prominent political, educational, and religious leaders of the nineteenth century. (See the Selected List of Correspondents in the appendix). The series is especially helpful in depicting Theodore Dwight Woolsey's tenure as president of Yale College from 1846 to 1871. In addition, there are interesting letters by faculty members, such as Benjamin Silliman and Noah Porter, as well as Theodore Dwight Woolsey's own observations about religion and comparative education written while he studied and travelled in Europe.
The 27 boxes which comprise the WILLIAM WALTON WOOLSEY BUSINESS PAPERS are of particular interest. In addition to the papers relating to the Chamber of Commerce of New York City and the Manumission Society, there is an extensive correspondence pertaining to the day-to-day activities of a merchant engaged in the importation of sugar, cotton, and hardware. Much of this correspondence is between Woolsey and his agents in New Orleans, various ports in the West Indies, Montreal, Liverpool, London, and on the continent. Some of this correspondence is political in nature and reveals the concern of businessmen with various aspects of local, state, and
national legislation. Specifically, there are letters containing discussions of the Jay Treaty, the problem of piracy, American neutrality in the 1790's and again during the Jefferson and Madison administrations, various acts of incorporation, i.e., Merchants Bank of New York City and the Eagle Bank of New Haven, and the policies of the British and French governments as well as those of the
United States which finally culminated in the War of 1812. There is also material in this series and in the series entitled, WILLIAM WALTON WOOLSEY ESTATE, pertaining to Woolsey's land holdings in New York and the Ohio Territory. Among the notable correspondents in this series are: Chauncy Goodrich, Archibald Gracie, Eli Whitney, Noah Webster, Elihu and Nathaniel Chauncey, Theodore and Timothy Dwight, Oliver Wolcott, Benjamin Tallmadge, Jeddiah Morse, James Roosevelt, John A. Schuyler, Comfort Sands, John Broome, and Nicholas Bayard.