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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Am 702

United States American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission records


Records compiled by Samuel Gridley Howe in his role as a commissioner of the American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission.


  • Creation: 1862-1864

Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material.


2 linear feet (5 boxes)

These records were collected by Commissioner Samuel Gridley Howe. They contain letters in response to the Commission's survey sent to military, government, and hospital administrators in the U.S. and Canada, reporting the numbers and conditions of freedmen in their jurisdictions; various drafts of the Commission's reports; other reports on the health and living conditions of freedmen, including testimony of Frederick Law Olmsted; miscellaneous papers relating to the Commission; leaflets; and clippings.

Biographical / Historical

The American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission was established during the Civil War, after the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation, to determine the condition of formerly enslaved people. The Commission was appointed in March of 1863 by U.S. Secretary of War, Edwin McMasters Stanton, to "inquire into the condition of the Colored population emancipated by acts of Congress and the proclamations of the president, and to consider and report what measures are necessary to give practical effect to those acts and proclamations, so as to place the Colored people of the United States in a condition of self-support and self-defense..." The men appointed as commissioners were Samuel Gridley Howe, James McKaye (1805-1888), and Robert Dale Owen (1801-1877).

Samuel Gridley Howe (1801-1876) was a doctor, educator, and activist. He graduated from Brown University in 1821 and from Harvard Medical School with an M.D. degree in 1824. He was an American reformer and philanthropist who is best remembered for his work with the blind. He was the organizer of the New England Asylum for the Blind (later the Perkins School for the Blind) and was its head for 44 years. Along with his wife, Julia Ward Howe, he was a committed and vocal opponnent of slavery.


Organized into the following series:

  1. I. Letters to the American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission
  2. II. Letters from directors of mental institutions
  3. III. Other Commission papers

Physical Location


Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Samuel Gridley Howe, date unknown.

Processing Information

Processed by: Bonnie B. Salt

Processing Information

Original shelflist records this collection filled 2 boxes. In 1990 a note was added to the shelflist that only 1 box was found. In 2003 the collection was fully cataloged and only 1 box was found. Also, the Widener Manuscript cards noted the following entry that was not located in the 2003 sorting: Agassiz, Louis. [Four letters to the American Freedmen's inquiry commission, dated Nahant, Aug. 6, 9, 10, 11, 1863, on the future of the African race in this country, and especially condemning amalgamation]. One 16mo and three 4to.

United States. American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission. United States American Freedmen's Inquiry Commission records: Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

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