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Samuel J. May Correspondence

A description of his letters at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 1 Nov 2007

Biographical History

Samuel Joseph May (1797-1871) was a Unitarian minister, pacifist, abolitionist, and social and educational reformer. He graduated from Harvard University in 1817 and then attended divinity school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. After a brief stint in Boston, he accepted the invitation of the Brooklyn, Connecticut Congregational church (the only Congregational body in Connecticut to embrace liberal theology). He later ministered for many years in Syracuse, New York, at what is now known as May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society. He advocated and organized on behalf of freedom and civil rights for blacks, emancipation and voting rights for women, and just rights for workers. His progressive and liberal beliefs meant that he was often at odds with ministerial colleagues, church members, and the public at large.

When he died, Andrew D. White, then president of Cornell University, spoke of him as "the best man, the most truly Christian man, I have ever known."

[Portions of this biographical sketch adapted from the Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography and from the Harvard Square Library's online article, "Unitarianism in America." ]

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Samuel J. May Correspondence consists of correspondence, printed material and writings.

Correspondence is both incoming and outgoing. Of the four incoming letters, one (1832) is from American theologian Noah Worcester to May, in his hand and signed, concerning the return of some articles lent to Worcester by May for his work. The other three (1861) are from an O. Johnson at the "Anti-Slavery Office" in New York. Of the outgoing letters, one (1851) is to "Dear Brother" concerning clothes for fugitive slaves in Canada, one (1858) is to a Hannah Fuller of Skaneateles, and the third (1856) is unaddressed. All are in May's hand and signed by him. The 1851 letter is accompanied by a typed transcription.

Printed material consists of a clipping of May's obituary, and a photograph of him, apparently clipped from a book.

Writings includes, among other things, a letter of recommendation from May regarding Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Cardozo, directors of a Normal School in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and a handwritten sheet headed "Circular: To the Friends of Freedom in New York"

Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence is divided into incoming and outgoing; within that they are arranged in chronological order. Miscellaneous material is placed at the end.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their 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.

Related Material

For additional letters from May, see the Ebenezer Meriam Letters on Onondaga Indian Education

Subject Headings


May, Samuel J. (Samuel Joseph), 1797-1871.


Antislavery movements.
Fugitive slaves -- New York (State)

Genres and Forms

Clippings (information artifacts)
Manuscripts for publication.



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Samuel J. May Correspondence,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information


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