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John Elliot Sanford (AC 1851) Correspondence Collection, 1819-1900 (Bulk: 1845-1854)
0.25 Linear feet: 1 half archives box
Collection number: MA.00297

The John Elliot Sanford (AC 1851) Correspondence Collection contains correspondence to John E. Sanford (1830-1907) from his parents, Reverend John Sanford (1788-1866) and Sophia Loud Sanford (1790-1869). The bulk of the correspondence is from Reverend Sanford. Frequent topics include the health of the parents and their advice to John about his; money matters; Amherst news, and the personal and professional lives of both young John and his older brother, Baalis (AC 1845). The last folder in the small collection contains miscellaneous correspondence to and about John E. Sanford.

Terms of Access and Use:

Restrictions on access:

There is no restriction on access to the John Elliot Sanford (AC 1851) Correspondence Collection for research use. Particularly fragile items may be restricted for preservation purposes.

Restrictions on use:

Requests for permission to publish material from the John Elliot Sanford (AC 1851) Correspondence Collection should be directed to the Archives and Special Collections. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights.

Amherst College Archives and Special Collections

Biographical Note

John Elliot Sanford was born in Dennis, Massachusetts, on November 22, 1830. Before entering Amherst College he studied at Amherst Academy and Williston Seminary. After graduating from Amherst College in 1851, he served as tutor (a formal position in the College) in 1853-1854. He then studied law, including with Edward Dickinson (AC 1823), and was admitted to the bar in 1856. From 1856-1899 he practiced law in Taunton, Massachusetts. He served in the Massachusetts legislature for several years and also held several posts and memberships in civic groups. He was a trustee of Amherst College between 1874-1907.

John Sanford married Emily James White, daughter of George S. White of Taunton, on December 10, 1856. The couple had three daughters. Emily died in 1899, and John died in Taunton on October 11, 1907.

Reverend John Sanford, the author of most of the letters in the collection, was born in Berkley, Massachusetts, on September 12, 1788, to Joseph and Eleanor (Macomber) Sanford. He studied at Brown University, graduated in 1812, and was ordained in 1815. A necrology for Rev. Sanford indicates that he had intended to work as a home missionary to the Cherokees in Tennessee, but poor health led him to abandon that plan; instead, he made a career closer to home. In 1824 he married Sophia Loud, of Weymouth, Massachusetts, who was born on May 4, 1790, to Eliot and Sarah (Pratt) Loud. By this time Reverend Sanford was pastor of the church at South Dennis, Massachusetts, where the family remained until 1839, when all four Sanfords moved to Amherst in order that the boys might attend preparatory schools in the area (Amherst Academy and Williston) and then attend Amherst College. After both sons were established in their careers, the Sanford parents moved back to Eastern Massachusetts, where they remained for the rest of their lives.

The necrology of Reverend Sanford may be found in the January 1867 (volume 9) issue of the "Congregational Quarterly" and a lengthy sketch of the Sanford family across several generations but with emphasis on John and Baalis's may be found in in volume one of "Representative Men of Southeastern Massachusetts." The privately published "Sanford Sampler" (a copy is in the Archives and Special Collections) contains much more biographical information for the family, including much more on Sophia Loud Sanford. Information about all three publications is listed below.

Scope and Contents

The John Elliot Sanford (AC 1851) Correspondence Collection contains correspondence to John Sanford from his parents, especially from his father. Most of the letters were written to John in Yarmouth Port from his parents in Amherst, and then to John in Amherst from his parents in Bridgewater. Frequent topics include the health of the parents – especially that of Reverend Sanford -- and their advice to John about how to preserve his own health; money matters, including details of Reverend Sanford's investment in the new railroad in Amherst; Amherst news, including Amherst College news, and the personal and professional lives of both young John and his older brother Baalis (AC 1845), both of whom were at early stages in their respective careers during the period of this correspondence. Researchers should note that there are no letters from John E. Sanford in the collection – instead, we see John through his parents' eyes.

The topics Reverend Sanford refers to most frequently in his letters to John are his health and religion – often in combination. Reverend Sanford seems to have been a longtime sufferer of a condition that caused him pain and sleeplessness, with symptoms such as stomach and bowel issues, joint pain, and poor appetite. He mentions taking opium for pain relief, which may have exacerbated his problems, although he may not have seen the connection. During his water cure therapy in Northampton, Dr. Denniston made him stop taking it, and it's unclear whether he returned to its use. Because of his condition, he frequently reflects on death and the comforts of religion, on the importance of living in accordance with religious values, and on his own philosophy of suffering.

The correspondence also suggests something about a minister's life that modern readers may not expect; namely, that for an everyday preacher, there needed to be more ways to support a family than "sermonizing" alone. On the contrary, the Sanfords raised some of their own food and had a hay lot, which the minister himself – no stranger to physical labor – worked until he was no longer able to do so. Sanford also invested enthusiastically in the railroad being built in Amherst and had his sons help him manage the investment. The family took in boarders, many of them Amherst College students, but money was always tight in this period of their lives, and Reverend Sanford frequently mentions money matters, especially in his efforts to balance what he owed and what people owed him. Later – and after the period of the correspondence in the collection – both Sanford sons made enough money to support their parents comfortably, but the letters show a fear of poverty in old age that repeats itself in every generation. Reverend Sanford therefore relied on his sons and understood that he would need to do so even more in the future, often reminding them in an almost transactional way of their responsibility to their parents in return for all the parents had done for their children. However, John and Baalis were much more than just a hedge against poverty –both parents also express pride in the accomplishments of their sons, who were clearly a source of emotional comfort to their parents.

Reverend Sanford often mentions local Amherst people and events in his letters, typically only in passing although he provides some useful details for Amherst history, especially about the new railroad. The Sanfords were well-known to the family of poet Emily Dickinson, and young John is mentioned in several of the poet's letters. Rev. Sanford also mentions the Dickinsons -- mostly Austin, whose schooling paralleled John's.

The first folder in the collection contains correspondence from Sophia Loud (later Sanford) to her sister Deborah Raymond. Although there are only a handful of Sophia's letters, she reveals herself to be lively, practical, and shrewd – her letter to John of June 6, 1854, provides an down-to-earth summary of her view of her husband's health problems and what he ought to do about them, and her earlier letters to sister Deborah Raymond are very lively.

The last folder in the small collection contains miscellaneous correspondence to and about John E. Sanford from later in his life.

The collection is arranged chronologically in one series.

Information on Use
Terms of Access and Use
Restrictions on access:

There is no restriction on access to the John Elliot Sanford (AC 1851) Correspondence Collection for research use. Particularly fragile items may be restricted for preservation purposes.

Restrictions on use:

Requests for permission to publish material from the John Elliot Sanford (AC 1851) Correspondence Collection should be directed to the Archives and Special Collections. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights.

Preferred Citation

Please use the following format when citing materials from this collection:

[Identification of item], in the John Elliot Sanford (AC 1851) Correspondence Collection [Box #, Folder #], Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College Library.

Existence and Location of Copies

The entire collection is also available as a PDF by contacting the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections.

History of the Collection

Gift of Christine Stiassni Gerli in 2007.

Processing Information

Processed in 2018 by Margaret R. Dakin, Archives and Special Collections Specialist.

Additional Information
Contact Information
Amherst College Archives and Special Collections
Robert Frost Library
PO Box 5000
Amherst, MA 01002-5000

Phone: (413) 542-2299
Fax: (413) 542-2692

Email Reference Form:
Related Materials

Gift also a contained privately published family history called the "Sanford Sampler" (catalogued) and a photograph album created by Emily Hitchcock Terry.

Contents List
116913. Sophia Loud (Sanford) to sister Deborah Raymond
1819, 1821

Box 1: folder 1

Mar, 1819: Sophia Loud writing from Weymouth to her sister in Chatham re their mother's health; plans for visits to each other; shopping for "knick knacks" in Boston.

1821: Merino shawls, bonnets, and slips; the death of Uncle Hunt in Brookfield of cholera morbus; fire in the home of the widow of Captain Nathaniel Humphrey.

Undated note, possibly associated with 1821 letter: Advice to use a bonnet to "keep off a coat of tan."

116906. Rev. John and Sophia Sanford to John E. Sanford

Box 1: folder 2

Two letters to John in Easthampton from his parents in Amherst:

Dec 19: money for tuition; advice on balancing study with other things for the "body and mind," including "keep your head cool [and] your feet warm." A mention of "our district school" and then comments about Amherst Academy, including Austin D. [Dickinson], who "has gone into the [Virgil] class with Will. Washburn. Reads Greek with [G…?]. His mother enquired of me the other day, about you, said she wanted to hear how you got along; that Austin would miss you." News of the "East Street rioters," who have been brought to justice. Other local news.

Dec 28: Advice not to overdo it and exhaust himself. News about John's brother Baalis, who has recently graduated from Amherst and was preceptor at Bridgewater Academy. Money and diet advice, including "…with regard to the sausages, I believe if it were left to me alone, you would not be likely to get many. Still, I suspect the Old Lady is putting up a few."

116907. Rev. John and Sophia Sanford to John E. Sanford

Box 1: folder 3

Two letters to John in Easthampton from his father in Amherst. Subjects include:

Mar 14: Much advice on balancing study and exercise – an example of "muscular Christianity," New England style.

Apr [3]: General news, including about Baalis, who is now in Delano's law office.

116908. Rev. John and Sophia Sanford to John E. Sanford

Box 1: folder 4

One letter from his parents in [Ware], on their way to Spencer. Subjects include:

Sep 18: Letter to John, now at Amherst College. The letter is mostly a request to fasten the cellar door, which the departing parents forgot to do, lest a thief carry off the pork.

116909. Rev. John and Sophia Sanford to John E. Sanford

Box 1: folder 5

Four letters from Amherst to John, then in Yarmouth Port, Mass., where he was Principal of Yarmouth Academy. Subjects include:

Sep 11: Advice similar to what John received in school. Money matters requiring John's help. Family news, including news of Baalis and his law practice, and of the Loud side (John's mother's family).

Sep 18: Rev. Sanford has returned from Worcester, where he was a delegate to a Free Soil convention. Money matters continued from last letter. Mentions a class of 62 freshmen [at Amherst College], and some students board with the Sanfords.

Oct 16: John Spencer (AC 1848) buried on the 14th, his death from consumption (tuberculosis) ascribed by Dr. Hitchcock in remarks as "occasioned by too much exertion in the district school in this village," i.e., Spencer must have taught in one of the local schools. Rev. Sanford again cautions his son to take care of his own health. Other subjects include: Yarmouth has become a godless place; death of Rev. Joseph Haven, father of Joseph Haven (AC 1835), other local details.

Nov 4: Baalis is "speechifying" in many towns; report of the agricultural fair, including "Prof. Fowler has one of 30 written pages on compost manure; Dr. Hitchcock on subsoiling; Mount Pleasant Nash on plowing" and the Sanford cows took prizes. Four deaths in Amherst last week, including Jane Grout and Martha Kingman: "Verily man in his best state is altogether vanity." Emily Dickinson mentions these deaths in her letter of October 30, 1851, to brother Austin.

116910. Rev. John and Sophia Sanford to John E. Sanford

Box 1: folder 6

Twelve letters to John in Yarmouth Port from his father in Amherst: Subjects include:

Jan 14: Amherst College news, including the size of the student body and that Professor Jewitt is to be absent this term on account of soliciting funds for the College. The stones for the new library building (Morgan) have arrived and, "after all, it is to be placed where the old yellow parson's house is. The trustees have bought it back for 1400 dollars, 400 more than they sold it for." The Sanfords have six boarders, most or all students from Amherst College. A railroad is almost certain to come to Amherst, and Rev. Sanford appears to have invested in stock for it.

Mar 10: Money matters. Marriage of Cate Hitchcock. Death of Francis P. Colton (AC 1845) of "ship fever." Some signs ("increased seriousness among the students") of a revival at Amherst College. Dr. Hitchcock is "feeble," and his physicians attribute it to "ossification of the heart." More about Baalis and Rev. Sanford's concerns for him, including concerns about his "unprincipled and dissipated" law partner [Nathaniel] Morton. Mention of Emily Fowler ("sends her respects") and her brother Charles C. Fowler (AC 1851), who has a teaching position in Barnstable, Mass. More brief items of Amherst news.

Apr 5: Sophia Sanford's illness "of that class called pulmonary"; medical problems and remedies. Plans to move to Taunton, where Rev. Sanford has family. News of the Fowler and Cushman families. Progress of the railroad in Amherst.

May 24, from Sophia Sanford: Rev. Sanford is visiting Baalis in Taunton. Anticipation of the marriage of Baalis to Amelia S. Sproat. The Sanfords have eight boarders. Amherst news, including re preparations for moving the old parson's house to make way for the library building.

Jun 28: Haying season. Meeting at Sweetser's Hall to discuss a new liquor law – "we go strongly for it in this town [and] county." Baalis and his fiancée, Amelia, are expected to visit. The reverend's great interest in diet, exercise, and rest (discussed in nearly every letter), including advice on how to take milk and when to sleep (9 at night to 5 in the morning, like the "lower orders of creation," both quadruped and biped. Asks John if he still uses "the bitter weed, tobacco." Discussion of John's career plans. Butler [Milton Clark Butler, AC 1851] "said not to be a popular in Amherst as a teacher" (Butler was at Amherst Academy at this time). Exhibition season at Amherst College, "giving out of parts, painful expectations, throbbing of hearts, [etc.]." News about the railroad: "Cars, it is said, will be running to Amh. before winter. It seems to me too much like a dream." His investments in the railroad and the financial maneuvers required of the family.

Jul 19: John is to visit his parents in Amherst. End of the reverend's hay season. The reverend's poor health, including some of his humor on the subject. Recent visit of Baalis and his growth as a man. News of the railroad: "There is no small altercation in determining whether the railroad shall be on the west or east side of deacon Mack's. There have been many surveys. The directors adjourned from last Thursday to next Thursday when I hope the vexed question will be decided. It is said the cars will run to Belchertown in Sept." Rev. A.M. Colton "asked for a dismission two weeks ago. He will find no difficulty in obtaining it." Brief comments about some of John's friends at Amherst College and the size of the incoming freshman class. Regarding the reverend's student boarders, "we have had a very quiet set of boarders this term, tho I suspect not high in scholarship, [and] we have the reputation of sitting a better table than Howe who charges $2.25 a week."

Sep 27: Urges his son to "dispense with the use of the 'weed.' Suggestions that John has an "attachment" and urges him to "show yourself worthy of that young woman." Money matters. The new class at Amherst numbers about 60.

Oct 15: News of Baalis. Career advice regarding John's plan to study law: "You can begin at Amherst, [and] then attend law lectures at Cambridge or Connecticut. Austin Dickinson says he shall hear lectures in the ensuing winter." Health advice, including not to let his worries "follow you to your pillow which shall keep away nature's restorer, balmy sleep." Railroad news – "It is said that the iron horse that snorts fire [and] smokes [and] that never tires tho his course is rapid will make his entrance here by the last of next month." College news: "A scientific department is to be engrafted on the College. Young Lucius Boltwood is appointed Librarian…Prof. Shephard added meteorites, etc. to the value of 5,000 doll. to the Cabinet. Clearly this is an age of progress."

Nov 10: Long commentary about Julius A. [Aboyneau] and Ray Palmer [sons of Thomas and Susanna Palmer of Compton R.I.], who were pupils of Rev. Sanford 37 years earlier – their upbringing and hardships. [The same Julius A. Palmer who was Helen Hunt Jackson's guardian.] Correction for John about the difference between "tutelage" and "tutorage." Railroad news: "Some confidently affirm that the railroad will be so far finished as to take the students away at the end of the term." John seems to have a girlfriend named Anne.

Dec 20: Rev. Sanford's poor health; his insights about life and death. Concerns about John's partner in Yarmouth, Mr. Morgan, who seems likely to "go into a dishonoured grave." Has had a letter from Amelia Sanford, Baalis's wife – she approves of Anne. The railroad is about done. John's infant siblings in the Dennis graveyard (now the South Dennis Cemetery) where Rev. Sanford wishes to be buried.

116911. Rev. John and Sophia Sanford to John E. Sanford

Box 1: folder 7

Eight letters: six to John in Yarmouth Port from his father, one from his mother, and one from his father to Baalis. Subjects include:

Jan 24: The continued poor health of both parents and some of the medical treatments they received; asks John to come home and take care of his parents; Dr. Hitchcock advises they go to Saratoga for a water cure.

Feb 17: Health issues continue: because his "stomach [and] bowels are so weak [and] irritable, Rev. John takes "a pill of opium every night in order to get some rest"; heavy snow has delayed the railroad from beginning regular trips; stones and lumber are arriving for the new library [Morgan].

Apr 12: Considering going to Northampton for a water cure; freight cars traveling regularly, passenger cars expected to do so soon; considerable pressure on John to return and stay.

May 7: Writes from Dr. Denniston's water cure in Northampton: Denniston has made him abandon coffee and opium; his regimen, including "water applied to me four times in 24 hours in different forms" leading to a slight improvement – "the dreadful incubus, caused by my disease, that has lain upon my mind no heavier"; Baalis's increasing prosperity; a warning about "castles built in the air" via a long description of the "blighting of earthly hopes" in the sad case of the historian Francis Parkman (1823-1893), who was at the water cure at the same time as Rev. Sanford.

May 30, to Baalis Sanford: Rev. Sanford has returned from the water cure and is better, but now Sophia Sanford is sicker; wishes Baalis to visit and stay "for we are in trouble"; wants the advice of both sons; there are two trains a day to Amherst.

Jul 5: The Sanfords' health issues continue; young John appointed tutor at Amherst College (he was tutor 1853-1854).

Aug 1, from Sophia Sanford, writing from Bridgewater, Mass., to son John in Amherst: John's duties in Amherst drawing to a close [for the semester?]; preparations for Amherst commencement; Sophia's recollection of enjoying past commencements; the Sanfords expect to be leaving Amherst for good toward the end of the year.

Nov 4, Rev. Sanford, writing from Bridgewater, Mass., to John in Amherst: staying with acquaintances in Boston and Taunton, including with a Mr. Pitts who "is nearly deranged by continued nervous distress. He embraces every opportunity to run away; wants alcohol, [and] is up [at] nights, to the great annoyance of his family"; Baalis lives in princely style, etc.

Search Terms

Parkman, Francis, 1823-1893

116912. Rev. John and Sophia Sanford to John E. Sanford: 1854

Box 1: folder 8

Ten letters to John in Amherst from his parents in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Subjects include:

Apr [23]: Rev. Sanford advises John about selling the family goods in advance of the anticipated move out of Amherst.

Apr 25: The auction of the family goods was more successful than expected.

[Undated]: From Sophia Sanford, apparently sent with the Apr 23 or 25 one from Rev. Sanford. She reports that the latter's health is much better since he left Amherst.

May [8]: After a visit from John to his parents in Bridgewater.

May 15: Concerns about monies owed to him from the auction of household goods.

May 25: Rev. Sanford's health has declined again; he wishes John to take care of all his Amherst business.

Jun [6]: From Sophia Sanford. John is boarding with Prof. Thomas Power Field (AC 1834) and his wife. Mrs. Sanford reflects on Amherst: "Amherst is a delightful place and I don't know how long it will seem strange to me not to her the Colledge [sic] Bell day by day and more than that not to know about the affairs of Amherst people any more." Requests that John look after the Sanford "Homestead," which has not been rented or sold. Her view of her husband's health problems. Progress on Baalis's house.

Jun 27: Rev. Sanford's detailed view of John's girlfriend Anne (or Anna), a girl with no "knowledge of housewifery" who has proven herself "ignorant of what is contained in the marriage covenant" and who has been "carrying on an amour with some other person" even as she thought to become John's wife. His philosophy of marriage.

Jul 3: Rev. Sanford discusses John's obligations, including his master's oration and "the daily routine of recitations and college affairs." Advises John to "spare the pipe, at least while the weather is so warm." Advises John to read H. Mann's article in the last [Hampshire-Franklin] Express about "the glorious Fourth" and then treats upon the subject himself, with an aside about current affairs in which "this fair land was to become the hunting ground of southern slavocrats," etc.

July 18: Primarily about health issues and money worries.

Jul 20: Rev. Sanford's philosophy about suffering. Contrasts himself with his wife: "Your mother is indeed a woman in the proper sense of the word, retaining a healthful tone both of body [and] of mind, [and] thereby having a source of enjoyment within herself. But, as the psalmist says, "I am a worm [and] no man," and that in more respects than one."

Aug 23: John is back in Yarmouth. Health issues – Reverend Sanford would welcome death (although he lived to 1866).

Sep 4: John appears to be back in Amherst and continues to handle his parents' affairs there.

Sep 27: The plan to move from Bridgewater to Taunton proceeds.

Sep 29: Reply to John with details of the lease of the Amherst property (including the sale of the Sanfords' hay lot) to B. Smith and whether it would interfere with a sale. Here, as elsewhere, Rev. Sanford refers John to the advice of Captain Clark [William Smith Clark, AC 1848].

116914. Miscellaneous correspondence to and about John E. Sanford
1876, 1896, 1901

Box 1: folder 9

M. C. Butler to Leula McWatty Butler introducing John Sanford to her (1876); D. Willis James to Sanford regarding the decision of the Amherst College Board of Trustees to award Sanford an honorary LLD (1896); J. Fairbanks to Sanford asking him to serve as President of the General Association of Amherst College (1901); Commemorative memorial text for John Sanford, awarded by the Trustees of Amherst College (1907).

Search Terms
The following terms represent persons, organizations, and topics documented in this collection. Use these headings to search for additional materials on this web site, in the Five College Library Catalog, or in other library catalogs and databases.

  • Amherst (Mass.)
  • Amherst (Mass.) -- History -- Sources
  • Amherst Academy
  • Amherst College -- History -- Sources
  • Amherst College -- Religion
  • New England--Religious life and customs.
  • New England--Social life and customs.

  • Sanford, Baalis, 1825-1875 (AC 1845)
  • Sanford, John Elliot, 1830-1907 (AC 1851)

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