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Lawrence Family Papers

An inventory of the collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 3 Sep 2010

Biographical History

The earliest item in the Lawrence Family Papers is dated 1738, which makes the first Lawrence generation represented in this collection that of brothers Thomas, John, and Nathaniel Lawrence, whose parents were John Lawrence and his wife Deborah Woodhull. The family papers in this collection begin with the middle son, John (1695-1765), born September 9 in the Newtown Colony, which at the time was part of the British province of New York. John established himself in Newtown as a wealthy farmer and worked in the magistracy. John married Patience Sackett (1701-1772), on December 8, 1720; the couple had seven sons and one daughter.

John and Patience Lawrence's youngest child, Jonathan (1737-1812), was born October 4 at the Newtown Colony. Jonathan got into the mercantile business early and traveled to Europe and the West Indies working for his eldest brother, John. John was a successful merchant in New York, and through him Jonathan became business partners with the house of Watson, Murray, & Lawrence. During the American Revolution, Jonathan established himself as a key political and military figure. He passed laws during the war and in its immediate aftermath pertaining to New York State's constitution and helped divert supplies from Long Island during the war effort. He represented the Southern District of New York at the Convention that developed the United States Constitution in 1788.

Jonathan returned home from the war to find all of his property, including his home, destroyed in the British occupation of Newton. As a result of losing his properties, belongings, and savings, while also accruing a considerable amount of debt during the war, Jonathan's plans to retire with his large family were dashed and he returned to his mercantile business, which proved not as successful. However, Jonathan was able to gradually improve his family's financial situation and was able to distribute his estate to his children before his death in 1812.

Jonathan Lawrence married twice. His first wife was Judith, daughter of Nathaniel Fish; they had one child, also named Jonathan (1767-1850). His second wife was Ruth, daughter of Andrew Riker (of Riker's Island fame); the two of them had nine children, five of whom feature in the Lawrence Family Papers as writers or recipients. These five are Samuel, Richard M., Abraham R., John L., and William Thomas.

Samuel Lawrence (1773-1837) studied law and became a court judge. He served one year in the New York State Assembly (1811) and two years in the United States House of Representatives (1823-1825). He was one of the electors of President James Madison in 1816. He and his wife Elizabeth had at least one son, Jonathan S. Lawrence (1808-1884), who apparently went into business with his father and uncles.

Little is known of Richard M. Lawrence (1778-1856) and Abraham R. Lawrence (1780-1863) other than what can be gleaned from the collection. They were both apparently members of the Saint Nicholas Society of New York, as were several other Lawrence men.

John L. Lawrence (1785-1849) studied law and worked as a lawyer before getting into politics. He served as a state senator from 1847 to 1849. John L. married Sarah Augusta Smith in 1816, with whom he had eleven children. The papers of Sarah Augusta's father General John Smith and some of his relations are also present in the collection. General John Smith (175?-1816) was born on February 12 but sources disagree as to the year, variously giving it as 1752, 1755 or 1756. His father was William Smith, a judge and New York State senator. John L. Smith was a member of the New York State Assembly, serving three terms between 1784 and 1800, and was elected as a U.S. Representative (1800-1804) and Senator (1804-1813). He was elected the marshal of New York in 1814 and held that position until his death in 1816. Smith had five children, one from his first marriage to Lydia Fanning and four (including Sarah Augusta) from his second marriage to Elizabeth Woodhull, whose father was General Nathaniel Woodhull.

William Thomas Lawrence (1788-1859) worked in the mercantile business like his father, and served one term in the United States House of Representatives (1847-1849).

[Some information drawn from the The Saint Nicholas Society of the City of New York: History, Customs, Record of Events, Constitution, Certain Genealogies, and Other Matters of Interest, Volume 1.]

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Lawrence Family Papers is made up of correspondence, financial records, legal papers, and printed materials. Represented in the collection are family members, friends, coworkers, business partners, supervisors, and clients. Because the family was so intertwined, not just personally but professionally, no effort has been made to separate out the papers of individual members. A file card index may be found in Box 2.

Correspondence primarily relates to various family members' legal and political careers, politics in general, real estate holdings, and investments. The bulk of the material is between William Thomas Lawrence and Abraham R. Lawrence (1840-1850); between John L. Lawrence and his wife Sarah Augusta Lawrence (1816-1822); and between John L. Lawrence and William Maxwell (1844-1848). The correspondence of Jonathan Lawrence, John L. Lawrence, Jonathan S. Lawrence, William Maxwell, and Franklin Thompson is mostly about business and their careers in law and politics. Letters between Abraham R. Lawrence and his brother William Thomas Lawrence are mostly about politics in general. The correspondence between Jonathan L. Lawrence and his wife Sarah Augusta (Smith) Lawrence centers on family matters, as does the correspondence involving John Smith.

Financial records, a relatively small amount, consist mostly of papers of Jonathan Lawrence and Jonathan L. Lawrence. Jonathan Lawrence's financial records involve the period of financial stress he faced following the American Revolution and Jonathan L. Lawrence's financial records relate to his career in real-estate law.

Legal papers make up the second greatest majority of this collection. All the male members of the Lawrence family represented in the collection had careers in law and politics. The papers here relate to legal work they engaged in as lawyers, judges, and politicians.

Printed materials consist of clippings, primarily from the Weekly Intelligence, about various members of the Lawrence family and their careers in law and politics.

Smith family papers contains miscellaneous material relating to the family of Sarah Augustus (Smith) Lawrence's father, General John Smith.

Arrangement of the Collection

Material has been subdivided by general type (legal, financial, etc.) and within each series arranged chronologically.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of archival and manuscript collections are house offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact the SCRC in advance concerning the collection material for access in research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Subject Headings


Lawrence family.
Lawrence, Abraham R., 1780-1863.
Lawrence, John L., 1785-1849.
Lawrence, Jonathan S., 1808-1884.
Lawrence, Samuel, 1773-1837.
Lawrence, Sarah Augusta, 1794-1877.
Lawrence, William T. (William Thomas), 1788-1859.
Maxwell, William.
Smith family.
Thompson, Benjamin Franklin.

Corporate Bodies

New York (State). -- Legislature. -- Assembly.
United States. -- Congress. -- Senate.
Watson, Murray & Lawrence.


Commercial law.
Courts -- United States.
Judge advocates.
Law -- Political aspects.
Politics and government.
Politics and war.
Real estate business.
Real estate investments.


New York (State) -- Commerce.
New York (State) -- History.
United States -- History -- Revolution, 1775-1783.
Washington (D.C.)

Genres and Forms

Clippings (information artifacts)
Financial records.
Legal documents.


Real estate lawyers.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Lawrence Family Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Purchase, 1965; transfer from Rare Books 1969, 1971

Table of Contents


Financial records

Legal papers

Printed materials

Smith family papers