University of Chicago Library

Guide to the Reuben T. Durrett Collection of Joshua Lacy Wilson Papers 1796-1893

© 2016 University of Chicago Library

Descriptive Summary


Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Joshua Lacy Wilson Papers




5.6 linear feet (11 boxes)


Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center
University of Chicago Library
1100 East 57th Street
Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.


Reuben Thomas Durrett (1824-1913), lawyer, manuscript and book collector, and Kentucky historian. Joshua Lacy Wilson (1774-1846) was a minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati. The Joshua Lacy Wilson Papers contain professional and family correspondence, manuscripts, a personal memoir, reports, memoranda, notes, sermons, essays, and financial records. These materials document the life of an early nineteenth-century urban church leader, and include material on household and family matters, parishioners’ problems, religion, church elections, and polemic writings related to controversies between Wilson, Lyman, and George Beecher. The collection also includes correspondence and personal papers belonging to Wilson's son, Samuel Ramsey Wilson. Materials span the period 1799-1893, though the bulk of material is from the first half of the nineteenth century.

Information on Use


The collection is open for research.


When quoting material from this collection, the preferred citation is: Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Joshua Lacy Wilson Papers, [Box #, Folder #], Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Acquisition Information

The existence of the Durrett library first came to the attention of the University of Chicago through William E. Dodd, a professor of American history at the University who had consulted the library as a student. Like other faculty members of the Division of the Social Sciences early in the century, Dodd was concerned about the University's lack of extensive research materials for history and related subjects, and since he was aware of Durrett's advanced age, he persuaded A. C. McLaughlin, also of the history department, to accompany him to Louisville in June, 1910, to see the collection and to make discreet inquiries about plans for its disposition. The two found Durrett himself uncertain about his plans, but learned that the Durrett family opposed making a donation of the collection, and that they were in communication with Princeton University and the University of Illinois about selling the library.

Dodd himself was very enthusiastic about the research potential which Durrett's library represented, and won the support of many of his colleagues on the social science faculties in his efforts to persuade President Judson to consider the purchase by the University of the entire library, numbering some 30,000 volumes. Convinced that the collection would be a valuable addition to the University's holdings, but wary of the expense involved, Judson agreed cautiously to investigate the idea. Although Dodd and his colleagues were anxious to conclude the agreement quickly, fearing competition from other would-be purchasers or the dispersal of the collection upon Durrett's apparently imminent death, the task of deciding upon a fair offer was made difficult by the fact that the collection had never been adequately catalogued.

Durrett's own suggestion made in December, 1912 of $45,000 seemed high, so in February 1913, the University engaged Walter Lichtenstein, a Northwestern University librarian who had previously acted as purchasing agent for the University of Chicago libraries, to assess the value of the Durrett collection. Lichtenstein's report was submitted to President Judson on February 21, 1913, following a trip to Louisville to sample the collection.

The assessment, made on terms of commercial market value rather than scholarly significance, divided Durrett's library into four parts. Some 20,000 bound volumes (including 500 volumes of Kentuckiana) he estimated at $7,200. Two hundred fifty file folders of pamphlet material had no apparent commercial value. Numerous manuscripts and newspapers were difficult to assess but Lichtenstein thought they could be fairly purchased for $15,000. A collection of maps was estimated to have a value around $50. Lichtenstein's estimate, therefore, totaled $22,000-$22,500, considerably less than Durrett's own. When the University authorized Lichtenstein to make this offer to the Durrett family, however, they accepted it, apparently favoring Chicago as the repository of their collection. The purchase sum, which was too high to be taken from the University's ordinary budget, was raised among outside donors, and under Lichtenstein's supervision, the library was dismantled and shipped to Chicago by early May. It filled 287 large packing crates. Its arrival provoked considerable comment in the Louisville and Chicago press, and almost immediately the University began to receive research inquiries from scholars and requests from several libraries for copies of some of the Durrett material to add to their own collections.

In his report Lichtenstein had warned President Judson that considerable effort and expense would be required to process the collection once it was at the University. His warning proved to be justified. Aside from the massive undertaking of unpacking, sorting, and cataloguing the collection, much of the material was found to be in poor condition, requiring cleaning, repair, and binding or rebinding. To facilitate the efficient processing of the Durrett acquisition, the entire operation was assigned to Edward A. Henry of the library staff, who, with the help of his assistants, was to devote most of his attention to the Durrett project for some seven years. It was decided that duplicates should be disposed of, that a number of Filson Club possessions in Durrett's library should be returned to the Club, and that most of the non-manuscript material in the collection would be distributed according to subject matter among the University's various departmental libraries. On several occasions between 1913 and 1937, items of an official character were returned to Kentucky upon request, including records of Jefferson County, journals of Kentucky constitutional conventions, and certain manuscripts and photographs of the Filson Club identified by the club's president, R. C. Ballard Thurston. Most of Henry's time seems to have been devoted to preparing the material for this dispersal. His assignment was expanded in 1914 when the University purchased a collection totaling 436 volumes of Kentucky newspapers and miscellaneous books from Mrs. Joel R. Lyle, sister of Robert C. Boggs of Lexington, Kentucky. It was deemed appropriate to merge the Boggs-Lyle acquisition with the Durrett, and the two were processed together.

By the end of the 1915-16 academic year, about 9,000 of the Durrett and Boggs-Lyle volumes had been processed and distributed to the departmental libraries. It was then that Henry and his staff turned some of their attention to the manuscripts--that is, to the material comprising the Durrett Collection as described in this guide. At that time the Durrett manuscripts were apparently divided into four large groups--the Joel Tanner Hart Papers, the Joshua Lacy Wilson Papers, miscellaneous manuscripts, and miscellaneous separately bound items--either mounted in scrapbooks or bound together. A card catalog was compiled for at least the first three of these groups.

The Durrett Collection remained in this state until the mid-1950s. By then it had been incorporated within the holdings of the Department of Special Collections (1951), and it became clear that reorganization of the manuscripts was necessary. Paul Angle, a member of the staff of the Chicago Historical Society, who had surveyed the University of Chicago's manuscript collection as a consultant in 1944, had pointed out that the Durrett miscellaneous bound manuscripts in particular were of little use to scholars as they were then arranged and described. Moreover, the Special Collections staff had observed that the mountings and bindings done by Henry's staff were detrimental to the lives of the manuscripts, and that the existing catalog and descriptions provided inadequate access to the documents. The manuscripts, therefore, were removed from their bindings and divided into smaller and more coherent sub-collections.

In the 1970s, an effort was undertaken to edit the 1956 guide, to enhance the descriptions of the Durrett codices for greater detail and accuracy, and to differentiate between transcripts and original manuscript material bound together in the codices. Manuscript material also received conservation treatment. In 1983, another attempt was made to write a comprehensive guide to the entire collection. This guide remained in use until 2015. The current guide was completed in 2016.

Biographical Note

Born in 1774 in Bedford County, Virginia, Joshua Lacy Wilson grew up in a family already connected with the Presbyterian ministry: the Reverend Drury Lacy of Virginia was a maternal uncle, and the Reverend Terah Templin, a pioneer preacher in Kentucky, was Wilson's stepbrother. Wilson's mother married John Templin in the late 1770s after the death of Wilson's father, Henry Wright Wilson. The Templin-Wilson household moved to Kentucky when Joshua was seven years old, and there, after the death of his stepfather, Joshua bought a farm. He kept the land for only a short time, selling it in his late twenties, in order to enroll at an academy in Pisgah. There he remained for several months before transferring his studies to the Reverend William Mahon in Mercer County. Three years later he became a teacher in Frankfort, but he soon moved again, this time to Louisville to study divinity under the Reverend James Vance. On October 22, 1801, he married Sarah B. Mackay, with whom he had eight children. In 1802 Wilson was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Transylvania and, following his ordination on June 8, 1804, he took charge of the churches of Bardstown and Big Spring.

The bulk of Wilson's career was spent as minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati, to which he was called in May 28, 1808. As minister of one of the West's wealthiest churches, Wilson quickly achieved considerable local prominence. He was not only very active in organizing and guiding the religious, educational, and philanthropic activities of his own congregation, but found time to play a significant role in community affairs. He was the first chairman of the Board of Trustees of Lane Seminary (1828-1830) and helped found Cincinnati College, where on occasion he taught moral philosophy and logic.

Theologically, Wilson was an orthodox Calvinist of the “Old School.” He was an active member of the Old School Convention in 1837 and acted as moderator of the Old School General Assembly in 1839. As a conservative, he became a leading opponent of Lyman Beecher, who arrived in Cincinnati in 1832 as first president of Lane Theological Seminary and as pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church. It was Wilson, too, who in 1834 pressed heresy charges against Beecher before the Presbytery and Synod. At the same time, his opinions and his penchant for argument inevitably involved him in further controversies with the Reverends James Kemper, Amos Blanchard, William Arthur and Asa Mahon.

Something of a polemicist, Wilson also published a number of pamphlets and articles dealing with socially or theologically controversial subjects. Like many sincere Calvinists, he attacked the theater, dancing, and similar amusements, as well as the Masonic order deists, New Lights, and Roman Catholics. In 1828 he founded a newspaper, The Pandect, but later abandoned it to the New School and in 1831 established The Standard as an organ for his own party. Wilson's conscientious attitude toward his own ministerial duties, his writings, and religious and civic projects kept him extremely busy despite the handicap of continual ill health. He remained active in Cincinnati public life until a few weeks before his death on August 14, 1846.

Scope Note

Wilson's papers, the largest sub-collection of personal papers in the Reuben T. Durrett Collection, shed light on the general social history of a growing urban center in the early nineteenth century, as well as on the early history of the Presbyterian Church. The collection has been divided into five series, each arranged chronologically:

Series I, Personal, is split into two subseries:

Subseries I, General, contains personal financial documents and commissions, a commonplace book, a small selection of personal papers, and copies of Wilson’s obituary, eulogy, and communion certificate.

Subseries II, Memoranda, contains Wilson's personal jottings. Composed over thirty-six years, they vividly reveal the life of an early nineteenth-century urban church leader. The memoranda deal largely with the personal challenges and concerns of Wilson and his parishioners, but are supplemented at intervals by his monetary accounts and literary works.

Series II, Correspondence, contains letters written to the minister, copies of his own letters, and letters exchanged among his children. Correspondence spans the period 1799-1846.

Series III, Wilson and Templin Family Papers, primarily contains the correspondence and personal papers of Wilson's son, Samuel Ramsay Wilson, who followed his father into the Presbyterian ministry. These papers contain a small selection of personal ephemera, including his license as a minister, personal receipts, guardian’s letters from Jefferson County Court, and ministerial papers for the legation of the United States in France. There are also some administrative and financial records relating to the First Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati between 1849 and 1871. In addition, there is a lecture by Terah Templin, Wilson’s stepbrother, who was the first ordained Presbyterian minister in Kentucky.

Series IV, Writings, is split into four subseries:

Subseries I, Sermons, contains drafts and transcripts of sermons, lists of sermon titles and topics, as well as sermon notes and fragments.

Subseries II, Essays and Lectures, contains Wilson's essays and articles on biblical questions and moral philosophy, as well as drafts and transcripts of addresses on religious and philosophical matters.

Subseries III, Poems and Hymns, contains a small selection of compositions in Wilson’s hand.

Subseries IV, Memoirs, contains a bound memoir volume. The materials in this subseries date from 1809-1846.

Series V, First Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati, contains formal papers directly related to Wilson's pastoral office, spanning the period 1812-1844, and is split into two subseries:

Subseries I, Church Records, contains reports, petitions, notes of church elections, and financial records.

Subseries II, Controversies, includes polemic writings related to the controversies between Wilson and others, including Lyman and George Beecher, William Arthur, and Asa Mahon.

Related Resources

Browse finding aids by topic.

Subject Headings


Series I: Personal

Subseries 1: General

Box 1   Folder 1

Eulogy, Obituary and Communion Certificate – 1796-1846

Box 1   Folder 2

Commissions and Licenses – June 2, 1807-January 11, 1819

Box 1   Folder 3

Commonplace Book – circa 1822

Box 1   Folder 4

Ephemera – 1806-1844

  • Record of an Ohio Circuit Court case; Wilson vs. William Downs - July 16, 1806
  • Account of the death of Mary Venable – August, 1806
  • An inventory of books in the Cincinnati Library – May 12, 1813
  • Publishing Proposal for three books of poems by Thomas Skillman – December 1, 1814
  • Invitation to view Dunlap’s painting “Death on a Pale Horse” – circa 1844
Box 1   Folder 5

Personal receipts and bonds – April 10, 1814- May, 1834

Subseries 2: Memoranda

Box 1   Folder 6

General – 1808-1810

Box 1   Folder 7

Personal Journal – 1811

Box 1   Folder 8

General – 1816-1819

Box 1   Folder 9

General – 1821

Box 1   Folder 10

Personal Journal – 1821

Box 1   Folder 11

General – 1824

Box 1   Folder 12

Personal Journal - 1824

Box 1   Folder 13

Funerals and Pastoral Visits – 1824

Box 1   Folder 14

Sabbath Meetings – 1825-1826

Box 1   Folder 15

Funerals and Pastoral Visits – 1825-1826

Box 1   Folder 16

General – 1828-1831

Box 1   Folder 17

General – 1832

Box 1   Folder 18

General – 1833-1834

Box 1   Folder 19

General – 1835

Box 2   Folder 1

Funerals and Visits – 1834-37

Box 2   Folder 2

“Answers and Subjects” - 1836-1839

Box 2   Folder 3

Sabbath Meetings 1836-1839

Box 2   Folder 4

Funerals and Pastoral Visits – 1837-1839

Box 2   Folder 5

General – “Official Memoranda” - 1837

Box 2   Folder 6

Funerals and Pastoral Visits - 1839

Box 2   Folder 7

General – “Official Memoranda” - 1840-42

Box 2   Folder 8

Income and Expenditures – 1841

Box 2   Folder 9

Funerals and Pastoral Visits – 1843-1845

Box 2   Folder 10

General – “Official Memoranda” – 1843-1845

Box 2   Folder 11

General – “Official Memoranda” – 1845

Series II: Correspondence, 1799-1846

Box 2   Folder 12


Box 2   Folder 13


Box 2   Folder 14


Box 2   Folder 15


Box 2   Folder 16


Box 2   Folder 17


Box 3   Folder 1


Box 3   Folder 2


Box 3   Folder 3


Box 3   Folder 4


Box 3   Folder 5


Box 3   Folder 6


Box 3   Folder 7


Box 3   Folder 8


Box 3   Folder 9

1825 – January to June

Box 3   Folder 10

1825 – July to December

Box 3   Folder 11


Box 4   Folder 1


Box 4   Folder 2

1829 – January to June

Box 4   Folder 3

1829 – July to December

Box 4   Folder 4


Box 4   Folder 5

1831 – January to July

Box 4   Folder 6

1831 – August to December

Box 4   Folder 7

1832 – January to July

Box 4   Folder 8

1832 – August to December

Box 4   Folder 9


Box 4   Folder 10


Box 4   Folder 11

1835 – January to July

Box 4   Folder 12

1835 – August to December

Box 5   Folder 1


Box 5   Folder 2


Box 5   Folder 3

1838 – January to June

Box 5   Folder 4

1838 – July to December

Box 5   Folder 5

1839 – January to June

Box 5   Folder 6

1839 – July to December

Box 5   Folder 7


Box 5   Folder 8

1841 – 1842

Box 5   Folder 9

1843 - 1846

Series III: Wilson and Templin Family Papers

Box 5   Folder 10

Wilson, Samuel Ramsey – Ephemera – 1835-1893

  • of Articles and Papers sent to S.R. Wilson – 1835
  • Ordination Certificate – 1840
  • Hotel Bill – Barnett’s Hotel, London, England – July 12-July 15, 1873
  • Preaching License for the Legation of the United States to France – July 30, 1873
  • Transcript of guardianship papers of Edward, Joseph, Ernest and Samuel Wilson, State of Indiana – August, 1881
Box 5   Folder 11

Wilson, Samuel Ramsey – Correspondence – 1847-1849

Box 5   Folder 12

Wilson, Samuel Ramsey – Correspondence – 1850-1859

Box 5   Folder 13

Wilson, Samuel Ramsey – Correspondence – 1860-1869

Box 5   Folder 14

Wilson, Samuel Ramsey – Correspondence – 1870-1885

Box 5   Folder 15

Wilson, Samuel Ramsey – Church Petitions – 1849

Box 5   Folder 16

Wilson, Samuel Ramsey – Church Financial Records – 1869 & 1871

Box 5   Folder 17

Wilson, Samuel Ramsey – Church Decisions and Reports – 1847-1858

Box 5   Folder 18

Templin, Terah – Lecture – undated

Series IV: First Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati

Box 6   Folder 1

Church Financial Documents – 1812-1834

Box 6   Folder 2

Record Book of the First Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati – 1814-1815

Box 6   Folder 3

Church Business – Records, reports, and petitions – 1814

Box 6   Folder 4

Notes on Church Members during Controversies – 1814-1815

Box 6   Folder 5

Church Business – Records, and reports – 1815-1818

Box 6   Folder 6

Church Election Records – 1817-1842

Box 6   Folder 7

Church Business – Records, reports, and petitions – 1821

Box 6   Folder 8

Controversies – Petitions, Meeting Minutes, and Correspondence – 1821-1824

Box 6   Folder 9

Church Business – Records, reports, and petitions – 1823-1830

Box 6   Folder 10

Controversies – Petitions, Meeting Minutes, and Correspondence – 1830- 1831

Box 6   Folder 11

Controversies – Petitions, Meeting Minutes, and Correspondence – October, 1832 –1833

Box 6   Folder 12

Church Business – Records, reports, and petitions – 1832-1838

Box 6   Folder 13

Controversies – Petitions, Meeting Minutes, and Correspondence – 1833

Box 6   Folder 14

Controversies – Petitions, Meeting Minutes, and Correspondence – 1834

Box 6   Folder 15

Controversies – Petitions, Meeting Minutes, and Correspondence – 1834

Box 7   Folder 1

Controversies – Petitions, Meeting Minutes, and Correspondence – 1836-1839

Box 7   Folder 2

Church Business – Records, reports, and petitions – 1839-1844

Box 7   Folder 3

Church Business – Records, reports, and petitions – undated

Box 7   Folder 4

Controversies – Petitions, Meeting Minutes, and Correspondence – undated [1/2]

Box 7   Folder 5

Church Controversies – Petitions, Meeting Minutes, and Correspondence – undated [2/2]

Series V: Writings

Subseries 1: Sermons

Box 7   Folder 6

Sermons – 1809-1816

Box 7   Folder 7

Sermon Titles (incomplete) – 1817-1841

Box 7   Folder 8

Sermons – 1817

Box 7   Folder 9

Sermons – 1818

Box 7   Folder 10

Sermons – 1819

Box 7   Folder 11

Sermons – 1820-1821

Box 7   Folder 12

Sermons – 1822

Box 7   Folder 13

Sermons – 1823

Box 7   Folder 14

Sermons – 1824

Box 8   Folder 1

Sermons – 1825-1831

Box 8   Folder 2

Sermon Topics – 1828-1830

Box 8   Folder 3

Sermons – 1832-1833

Box 8   Folder 4

Sermons – January-September, 1834

Box 8   Folder 5

Sermons – October-December, 1834

Box 8   Folder 6

Sermons - 1835

Box 8   Folder 7

Sermon Topics – 1835-1840

Box 8   Folder 8

Sermons – 1836

Box 8   Folder 9

Sermons – 1837-1838

Box 8   Folder 10

Sermons – 1839

Box 8   Folder 11

Sermons – 1840

Box 8   Folder 12

Sermons – 1841

Box 9   Folder 1

Sermons – 1842

Box 9   Folder 2

Sermons – January-April, 1843

Box 9   Folder 3

Sermons – May-December, 1843

Box 9   Folder 4

Sermons – 1844

Box 9   Folder 5

Sermons – 1845

Box 9   Folder 6

Sermons – 1846

Box 9   Folder 7

Sermons – undated [1/6]

Box 9   Folder 8

Sermons – undated [2/6]

Box 9   Folder 9

Sermons – undated [3/6]

Box 9   Folder 10

Sermons – undated [4/6]

Box 9   Folder 11

Sermons – undated [5/6]

Box 9   Folder 12

Sermons – undated [6/6]

Box 10   Folder 1

Incomplete Sermons - undated [1/5]

Box 10   Folder 2

Incomplete Sermons - undated [2/5]

Box 10   Folder 3

Incomplete Sermons - undated [3/5]

Box 10   Folder 4

Incomplete Sermons - undated [4/5]

Box 10   Folder 5

Incomplete Sermons - undated [5/5]

Box 10   Folder 6

Sermon Fragments – undated [1/2]

Box 10   Folder 7

Sermon Fragments – undated [2/2]

Subseries 2: Essays and Lectures

Box 11   Folder 1

Essays – Biblical Questions – undated

Box 11   Folder 2

Essays – Moral Philosophy – undated [1/2]

Box 11   Folder 3

Essays – Moral Philosophy – undated [2/2]

Box 11   Folder 4

Essays and Lectures – Secular – undated [1/2]

Box 11   Folder 5

Essays and Lectures – Secular – undated [2/2]

Box 11   Folder 6

Essays – Religious – undated [1/3]

Box 11   Folder 7

Essays – Religious – undated [2/3]

Box 11   Folder 8

Essays – Religious – undated [3/3]

Subseries 3: Poetry and Hymns

Box 11   Folder 9

Wilson, Joshua Lacy – Poetry – circa 1835- 1845

Box 11   Folder 10

J.L. Wilson Centennial Hymn – [1838]

Subseries 4: Memoirs

Box 11   Folder 11

Memoirs of Joshua Lacy Wilson – [circa 1840]