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Backus Historical Society Records

Call Number: RG 306

Scope and Contents

The Backus Historical Society Records, 1853-1961, are primarily records of administration of the Society and documentation of its library accessions. Records organized in the Library series include a group of material identified as Collected Papers; there is no record to verify provenance of these manuscripts. The Isaac Backus Papers (now RG 280) were owned by the Society; and these Collected Papers were filed with the Backus Papers. When the Backus Papers were cataloged by Andover Newton Theological School library staff, manuscripts postdating the life of Isaac Backus were removed and placed with the Society's records.

The Collected Papers are arranged chronologically. There are two significant groups of manuscripts filed in this chronology: correspondence of Irah Chase and correspondence of the secretary of Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Society (predecessor organization of The American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts/TABCOM). The remaining manuscripts are primarily letters, autobiographical statements and church historical sketches.

The records have been kept in the order described in the finding aid originally prepared by Andover Newton Theological School library staff, with some unorganized material added at the end.


  • 1853 - 1961


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred from Andover Newton Theological School, 2017


The collection is organized in six series:

I. Legal Records

II. Administrative Records

III. Ad Hoc Committees

IV. Papers Read to the Society

V. Library

VI. Added Material


2.5 Linear Feet (3 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The Backus Historical Society Records, 1853-1961, are primarily records of administration and documentation of library accessions. In addition, there is a group of material identified as Collected Papers, although there is no record to verify provenance of these manuscripts.

Biographical / Historical

The Backus Historical Society was organized March 10, 1853, with a mandate "to collect and to preserve by publication or otherwise materials illustrative of the history of Baptist churches." Early work of the Society revolved around annual meetings at which papers were presented for discussion and the republication of Isaac Backus' A History of New England, with Particular Reference to the Denomination called Baptists. However, later concerns of the Society revolved around the growing collection of books, pamphlets and manuscripts.

In 1865 the Library was moved to Colby Hall on the campus of Newton Theological Institution, and later moved again to the new Hills Library at Newton. Records of the early 1900s show increasing concern of the members regarding the care and preservation of the library collection. Interest in moving the Library to Boston where the collection would be in proximity to the Congregational Library resulted in negotiations with trustees of the Ford Memorial Building and a move to that site. It became evident that a full-time librarian was needed to properly maintain the Library; so in 1907 the Society and the American Baptist Missionary Union hired Arthur W. Smith as librarian, and shared the expense of his salary.

Largely because of the work of Smith, the New England Baptist Library Association was formed in 1908. The Backus Historical Society, American Baptist Missionary Union, Woman's Baptist Foreign Missionary Society and Boston Baptist Social Union were corporate members which deposited library collections in a single facility, but retained ownership of the material. The Society's Library became known as the Backus Collection of New England Baptist Library. This arrangement was satisfactory for approximately the next 20 years; and once again the Society's interest focused on discussion of papers presented at meetings. However, the affiliation of Andover Theological Seminary and Newton Theological Institution resulted in discussion of reorganization and in 1931 the Society voted to move its Library to Andover Harvard Theological Library, Harvard Divinity School, to establish a collection of Baptist material there. The Library was moved to Cambridge in 1932 and in 1934 the Society voted to separate from New England Baptist Library Association and to affiliate with Newton.

The 1934 vote above was the last record of the Society until a meeting in 1952. The Society's work was revived in the familiar form of annual meetings and the presentation of papers for discussion. The last meeting of record was May 2, 1961; there is no reference to a decision to dissolve the corporation. There is no reference in Society records to the transfer of the Library to Andover Newton Theological School.
Guide to the Backus Historical Society Records
Andover Newton Theological School and Yale Divinity Library staff
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Yale Divinity Library Repository

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