1830: Roger Minot Sherman to William Buell Sprague

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Roger Minot Sherman

This letter was written by Roger Minot Sherman (1773-1844), the son of Rev. Josiah and Martha (Minott) Sherman. His uncle, Roger Sherman, was a Signer of the Declaration of Independence. Roger graduated from Yale in 1792, attended the Litchfield Law School and after his admittance to the bar, set up a practice in Norwalk, Connecticut. By 1807 he had relocated to Fairfield where he continued his practice. While there, he entered politics, serving as both a Senator and a Representative in the Connecticut Legislature.

He addressed the letter to Rev. William Buell Sprague (1795-1876), a Congregational and Presbyterian clergyman best known for compiling a comprehensive biographical dictionary of the leading American Protestant Christian ministers who died before 1850. Sprague and Sherman were contemporaries, each attended Yale, but Sprague pursued a theological course at Princeton and entered the Congregational ministry in 1819. Afterwards, and for forty years, he was affiliated with the Second Presbyterian Church in Albany, New York. Sprague was keenly interested in historical documents and he set out to collect the autographs of all the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He completed this task by February 1833. In his lifetime, he collected the autographs of nearly 100,000 historical figures. A correspondent of Sprague’s once wrote to him, “You are certainly a first rate fellow, worthy of all the autographs which you can beg, buy, or borrow.” [To read more of Sprague and his obsession with autograph collecting, see: “William Buell Sprague and the Trouble with Antiquarianism in the Early U. S.”]

The content of this letter, as you might have guessed, pertains to the collection of autographs.

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Roger Minot Sherman most likely penned his letter from this Federal style house he had built in Fairfield in 1816 for a cost of $15,000. 

Addressed to Rev’d William B. Sprague, Albany

Fairfield, Connecticut
September 24, 1830

Dear Sir,

Agreeably to your request, I send you the signature of the Hon. Roger Sherman. The Hon. Samuel W. Johnson of Stratford has favoured me with four original letters—one is from his grandfather, the Rev’d Samuel Johnson of Stratford, the first President of Kings (now Columbia) College at New York. He was highly distinguished for his talents & literary achievements. The letter addressed to him by Doctor Franklin is very characteristic. The rank held by his son, Doctor William Samuel Johnson, is well known to you. In 1765 he was a member from Connecticut of a Congress of the Colonies which convened in the city of New York. The address by that body to the King remonstrating against the tax sought to be raised upon the colonies to defray the expenses of the war which terminated in 1763 was principally from his pen. In 1766 he received the degree of Doctor of Laws from the University of Oxford. In 1772 he was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of Connecticut, in 1784 a member of Congress under the Old Confederation, in 1787 a delegate to the convention which formed the Constitution of the U. States, & in the same year, president of Columbia College, & in 1788, a Senator in the First Congress of the U. States under the present constitution. The judiciary system of the United States was framed by him & the late Chief Justice Ellsworth.

Should you not appropriate either of the letter furnished by Mr. Johnson to the intended object, it will oblige his family if they can be conveniently returned. You may have already received similar autographs.

I also send the fragment of a letter from the venerable John Jay, first Chief Justice of the United States.

With great respect, I am, Dear Sir, most truly yours, — Roger Minot Sherman

Rev’d Doctor Sprague


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