The Alvan Stewart Papers


The Alvan Stewart Papers contains approximately 200 handwritten pages of a diary by New York lawyer and abolitionist Alvan Stewart (1790-1849). The diary chronicles Stewart's travels from May to September 1831, including a sea voyage from New York to Liverpool, his travels through England and France, and the return voyage.

The diary offers a unique and previously undiscovered glimpse of Stewart's early life, his blossoming religious and abolitionist feelings, and his growing concerns with the fate of mankind. A keen observer of the human condition, Stewart's observations and experiences aboard ship and as a traveler throughout England and France provide an entertaining and fascinating first-hand account of life in Europe, as viewed by an educated American gentleman.

As Stewart leaves New York in May 1831, he plans a journey of a year to eighteen months. During the voyage across the Atlantic and throughout his travels, Stewart reconsiders his decision to be away from home and family. The outbreak of cholera on the European continent and an uprising in Paris on the anniversary of the 1830 Rebellion exacerbate Stewart's yearnings for home. Stewart cuts short his travels and returns home at the end of August 1831. The two crossings of the Atlantic comprise almost half of the time Stewart spends away from home and his writings while on board two packet ships detail of his personal feelings and religious beliefs. Several storms beset the travelers and Stewart writes eloquently about the power of nature and man's place in God's domain. He also provides descriptions of his fellow passengers, the weather, whales and other sea life, and various sailing techniques.

After landing in Liverpool, Stewart travels through the English countryside to London. He writes in awe of the Manchester Railroad that transports its passengers at amazing speeds of forty to fifty miles per hour. Arriving in London, Stewart describes the people and sights as he tours the city. He visits the various courts, the British Museum, Tower of London, the Stock Exchange, Westminster Abbey, and even catches a glimpse of King William as the ruler arrives to address Parliament. In preparation for touring in France, Stewart hires a man to act as personal servant and translator. Together they travel through Dover and Canterbury and cross the channel to Calais, France. There the two men board a large public stagecoach and travel to Paris. Stewart's writings contain frank opinions of France and its people, and he describes explorations of the city and outlying areas. While in Paris, Stewart meets and befriends James Fenimore Cooper and spends a great deal of time in the author's company. He also meets and converses with various American diplomats. Stewart's notations include observations on America's intervention in the Polish situation and the post-revolution climate in France.

Many thoughtful descriptions and intellectual meditations fill the pages of this unique and valuable manuscript. The diary pages are written in a clear hand, and are readily decipherable, though a stain mars both the first ten pages and the margins of the end papers.

The Alvan Stewart Papers was curated by William E. Brown, Jr. and Ruthanne D. Vogel. This Web site was placed online July 1998 and was last updated December 27, 2006.