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The Sheldon Jackson Manuscript Collection (Concerning Alaska, 1878-1908)

Identifier: SCM 051

Scope and Content

This collection of Sheldon Jackson papers for the years 1878-1908 consists mainly of material relating to his missionary work in Alaska. It contains correspondence, reports, published and other written material by or about Sheldon Jackson.


  • 1878 - 1908

Language of Materials

English, French


There are no special restrictions to access of this collection. It may be examined by library patrons under the normal rules and conditions of Special Collections.

Preferred Citation

The following is the acceptable citation for publication: The Sheldon Jackson Manuscript Collection. Special Collections, Princeton Theological Seminary Library.


1834 May 18
Born, Minaville, New York
Graduated, Union College
Student, Princeton Theological Seminary
1858 May 5
Ordained, evangelist, Presbytery of Albany
Missionary, Choctaws
Home missionary, La Crescent, Minnesota
Pastor, Rochester
Superintendent, Western territories, Presbyterian Board of National Missions
Superintendent, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Montana, Presbyterian Board of National Missions
Awarded honorary doctor of divinity, Hanover College
Business manager, Home Mission, New York City
Superintendent, Alaska, Presbyterian Board of National Missions
United States general agent, education, Alaska
Moderator, General Assembly
1909 May 2
Died, Asheville, North Carolina

Biographical Information

Sheldon Jackson was born in Minaville, Montgomery County, New York on 18 May 1834, graduated from Union College, Schenectady, New York in 1855, and from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1858. He was licensed by the Presbytery of Albany, New York that same year; and a year later was ordained an evangelist by that same Presbytery. For a year he was a missionary to the Choctaw Indians. From 1859-64 he was a home missionary in La Crescent, Minnesota. He served as a pastor in Rochester, Minnesota in 1864-69. From 1869-82 he was Superintendent of the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions in the Western Territories (Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Montana). Jackson served as special government agent to gather and bring to the Indian School at Carlisle, Pennsylvania and elsewhere children of Pueblo, Pima, Papago and Apache tribes of New Mexico and Arizona. From 1882-1884 he was business manager of the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions, New York City. In 1884 he became superintendent for the Board of Home Missions in Alaska, and the following year took on the additional duties of United States Government General Agent for education in Alaska. He lived and worked in Alaska until 1908. He died in Asheville, North Carolina, May 2, 1909 and was buried in Minaville, New York.

Jackson received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Hanover College, Indiana in 1874 and an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Union College, New York and from Richmond College, Ohio in 1897. He owned and edited the Rocky Mountain Presbyterian (published monthly in Denver, Colorado from 1872-82) and later the North Star (published monthly in Sitka, Alaska from 1887-92). During the summer of 1863 he served as an agent of the U.S. Christian Commission in the hospitals of the Army of the Cumberland. He was principal founder of the Woman's Board of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church, 1870-1879. In 1877 he became the first ordained missionary to Alaska. During his years in Alaska he established numerous schools and missions. In 1887 he founded the Alaskan Society of National History and Ethnology. He served as special agent of the U.S. government to survey the agricultural possibilities of the Yukon Territory. In 1883 he established the first canoe mail service in Alaska. In 1891-92 he was instrumental in introducing Siberian reindeer to Alaska as a supplementary food supply for the Eskimo population, and founded a reindeer mail service in 1898/1899. He was Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in 1897. During the early years of the Alaska gold rush Jackson imported herds of Lapp reindeer to prevent starvation in the Yukon territory, and brought a colony of Laplanders to oversee the herds. He belonged to more than forty religious, philanthropical, historical and scientific societies. During his career he was instrumental in organizing 88 churches. In May, 1858 he married Mary Voorhees, who died in 1908. Jackson died the following year in 1909. They had two daughters, Lesley and Elizabeth.

For a more detailed account of Jackson's career, including an assessment of his impact on the missionary movement in general and the early history of the Alaska Territory in particular, see the Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society, Vol. 30, No. 3 (September, 1952), 139-158. This article also supplies a description of the collection of Dr. Jackson's papers in the Presbyterian Historical Society Library in Philadelphia, and a complete bibliography of his published writings. One may also consult the essay by Hermann N. Morse, "Sheldon Jackson (1834-1909): Christ's Fool and Seward's Folly" in Hugh T. Kerr (ed.), Sons of the Prophets: Leaders in Protestantism from Princeton Seminary (Princeton, 1963), 82-99. The major sources for the biographical information given above are the obituary published in the Princeton Theological Seminary Bulletin (Vol. 4, August 1910), and the entry that Dr. Jackson himself prepared for Who's Who in America, 1908-09 edition, pp. 977-78. See also the popular account by J. A. Lazell, Alaskan Apostle: The Life Story of Sheldon Jackson (New York, 1960).


10.6 Linear Feet


This collection is divided into three series. Series I, Correspondence to and from Sheldon Jackson, contains correspondence and materials related to schools in Alaska, correspondence concerning women's work and home missions, and carbon copies of typewritten letters from 1889-1908. These letters are arranged in chronological order, and an index precedes each volume of the correspondence.

Series II, Published and Miscellaneous Papers by Jackson, holds the complete files of the monthly newspaper, The North Star. This newspaper was "published in the interest of schools and missions in Alaska" by Sheldon Jackson at Sitka, Alaska from December 1887 through December 1892. These files total 230 pages, together with 90 leaves of plates and 14 pencil drawings detailing life in late 19th century Alaska. Box 28 holds four file-folders of miscellaneous material by or about Sheldon Jackson.

Series III, Correspondence Labeled "Pioneer Missions" and Published Reports, includes 22 volumes of pioneer missions correspondence. The frontispiece in each volume of correspondence reads: "Preserved and copied by Sheldon Jackson, Washington, D. C., 1904." Volumes 21 and 22 were compiled in the year 1908, as indicated by their frontispieces. The full, official title of each is, Correspondence Relating to Pioneer Presbyterian Missions West of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and in Alaska: 1856-1908. Each volume (except # 17, half-size) runs to approximately 400 pages of typescript. Some letters are to and from Sheldon Jackson or members of his family. Many are letters between and among other missionaries of the era, most if not all of who were probably known personally by Jackson. Several volumes contain copies of Jackson's prefatory note entitled "The Reason Why." This explains his motive and method for compiling these volumes. All the volumes are available in microfilm in the archives of the Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The reports on the introduction of reindeer into Alaska at the end of the collection are written by Jackson, and reprinted for subsequent sessions of the Senate. At the time, Jackson was the head of education in Alaska. One volume on the state of education in Alaska is also included in Box 36.

Related Material

An additional collection of Sheldon Jackson's correspondence has been published on microfilm by the Presbyterian Historical Society of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is entitled Correspondence of Sheldon Jackson Relating to Pioneer Presbyterian Missions West of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and in Alaska: 1856-1908 and is available from the Society. It is based on another collection of Jackson material, the original of which was deposited at the Presbyterian Historical Society with duplicate copies being deposited at the Library of Congress and Princeton Theological Seminary.

Processing Information:

This collection was donated to the Princeton Theological Seminary Libraries, by Sheldon Jackson's daughter, Miss Elizabeth Jackson, in 1950.

The Sheldon Jackson Manuscript Collection (Concerning Alaska, 1878-1908)
William O. Harris
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Repository Details

Part of the Princeton Theological Seminary. Library. Special Collections Repository

Princeton Theological Seminary
Wright Library
25 Library Place
Princeton NJ 08540 USA