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William H. Ryder Collection of Confederate History

Call Number: MS011

Scope and Contents

This collection largely consists of material collected by William H. Ryder, who traveled to Richmond as an agent of the Sanitary Commission in 1865 to collect material for the upcoming Sanitary Commission Fair. The material was donated to Tufts upon his death. Included are records of the Confederate government, letters, reports, receipts, loans, prison reports, Register of Treasury notes, a War registry, artifacts, and other materials pertaining to the Civil War. The bulk of the materials date from 1860 to 1875. Also included is a collection of cartes de visite of military leaders from the Confederacy and the Union during the Civil War, as well as images of European rulers, academics, artists, workers and a few unidentified women from the mid to late 19th century. This collection was surveyed as part of the Historical Records Survey project of the Work Project Administration in 1940.


  • Majority of material found within 1860 -- 1875
  • 1770 -- 1940


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Some material in this collection may be protected by copyright and other rights. Please see “Reproductions and Use” on the Digital Collections and Archives website for more information about reproductions and permission to publish. No documentation is available regarding the intellectual property rights in this collection.

Biographical / Historical

William Henry Ryder was born in Provincetown, Massachusetts July 18, 1822 of Universalist parents. His father was Captain Godfrey Ryder, a prominent Universalist on Cape Cod. William was trained at Pembroke, NH and his theological preparation for the ministry was at Clinton, NY. He was ordained at Concord, NH on October 11, 1843 where he continued as pastor. In 1846 he took charge of the parish at Nashua and on resigning his charge there made an extensive tour abroad visiting Palestine and spending seven months in Germany to study. On his return, he took charge of the church at Roxbury, Mass. where he remained ten years. In 1860 he became pastor of St. Paul's Church Chicago holding the position until 1882 when he resigned. Harvard College conferred on him the degree of AM in 1860 and Lombard University that of DD in 1863.

Reverend Ryder was a strong supporter of the Union cause during the Civil War. He agreed to travel to Richmond as an agent of the Sanitary Commission at the end of the war to collect material for the upcoming Sanitary Commission Fair, and while there discovered a famous letter used by the government in the Lincoln assassination trial.

Dr. Ryder was an eminently successful preacher and pastor, renown for his involvement in interests at home and in foreign missions. He was extremely shrewd in his financial investments, so that upon his death he was able to make generous bequests to the General Convention, Lombard University, St. Paul's Church Chicago, First Universalist Society Provincetown Mass., Illinois Universalist Convention, the Divinity Schools at St. Lawrence, Tufts, Lombard Buchtel College, and the Universalist Publishing House. He died in Chicago on March 7, 1888 in his 66th year.


4.7 Linear Feet (5 boxes)

181 Digital Object(s)

Language of Materials



This collection is organized into three series: Cartes de Visite - Photographs; Documents inventoried in 'A Calendar of the Ryder Collection of Confederate Archives at Tufts College'; and Other identified Ryder material.

Other Finding Aids

A printed catalog of the collection resulting from the survey of the Historical Records Survey project of the WPA called 'A Calendar of the Ryder Collection of Confederate Archives at Tufts College' (1940) serves as the online catalog to the documents and is available as online pdf in the DL; a physical copy is available in the DCA reading room.

Custodial History

The Ryder Collection of Confederate Archives derives its name from its original collector, Reverend William H. Ryder, the Pastor of St. Paul's Church in Chicago. Ryder held this pastorate during the time that included the civil war. It was because of his work with the American Sanitary Commission, an agency not unlike the present-day Red Cross, that the Ryder Collection came to be.

In April of 1865, Ryder obtained permission to travel behind Confederate lines to engage in relief work on behalf of the Sanitary Commission. While engaged in this activity he also began to collect artifacts and other material for the upcoming North West Sanitary Fair to be held in Chicago. Since the Confederacy had collapsed only a few days before his arrival, Ryder found the capital at Richmond, Virginia in a state of considerable confusion. In the Capital building, documents were scattered over several of the office floors indicating the haste with which the place had been abandoned. Ryder gathered as many of these documents as he could handle and sent them back to the north. Upon Ryder's death, this collection was given to Tufts College, founded as a Universalist institution, as he was a clergyman of that faith.

As of 2012 there is no precise inventory documenting all items of the gift for was precise information contained in his will. At the time the library mentioned the Ryder donation in its Annual Report 1889 as containing "1441 volumes of books, 112 pamphlets, 101 numbers and a great quality of Confederate newspapers and documents, cases and a fine portrait." (UA137.003.005.00048). Therefore, we still do not know what the collection actually contained originally and where the remaining material is (clearly more than cataloged in this collection).

On February 26 2014, Susanne Belovari found six library cataloging cards listing particular issues of three Confederate newspapers (1864-1865) once part of the Ryder collection and kept in the library vault in the 1960s.

Processing Information

This collection was reprocessed in fall 2011 and spring 2012 by Susanne Belovari.

Processing status

This collection is processed.
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Digital Collections and Archives, Tufts University Repository

35 Professors Row
Tisch Library Building
Tufts University
Medford Massachusetts 02155 United States