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Collection Blair Family Papers

About this Collection

The papers of the Blair family, a prominent nineteenth-century political family, consist of 19,100 items (33,263 images) most of which were digitized from 49 reels of previously produced microfilm. Spanning the years 1744-1968, with the bulk dating from 1829 to 1892, the collection contains correspondence, memoranda, diaries, speeches, lectures, writings, legal files, financial records, military records, biographical and genealogical material, printed matter, photographs, and other papers of Blair family members. The collection principally documents the careers of patriarch Francis Preston Blair (1791-1876), journalist and presidential advisor, and his sons Francis Preston Blair (1821-1875), soldier and politician, generally identified as Frank P. Blair, and Montgomery Blair (1813-1883), lawyer and cabinet officer in the Lincoln administration.

The Family Correspondence series contains letters written by family members to one another. The most prolific correspondent represented is Frank P. Blair, whose many letters to his wife, father, and brother while serving as a Union army officer during the Civil War describe the military campaigns in which he was involved. Blair family correspondents also include several sisters and aunts of Francis Preston Blair and other Blair relations, most notably the Gratz family of Philadelphia.

The papers of Francis Preston Blair span the period 1829-1876. His general correspondence begins about the time he moved from Kentucky to Washington, D.C., at the request of President Andrew Jackson’s supporters to establish and edit the Globe newspaper. A special correspondence subseries contains most of the letters written to Blair by his longtime friend, President Martin Van Buren (1782-1862), although a few letters from Van Buren to Blair are also filed in the general correspondence subseries. Other letters sent and received by Francis Preston Blair and forwarded by him to his son, Montgomery Blair, are interfiled with the latter’s general correspondence.

The papers of Frank P. Blair consist of a small body of correspondence and a miscellany file. His political career is documented in several speeches, fragments of political lists, clippings, and a legal file concerning his contested congressional election in 1862. Correspondence forwarded by Frank P. Blair to his brother Montgomery Blair for comment or action has been retained as a part of Montgomery Blair’s papers.

The papers of Montgomery Blair span the years 1842-1887 and relate chiefly to his professional career after his return to Washington, D.C., from St. Louis, Missouri in 1853. The most extensive files concern his law practice before and after his cabinet appointment as postmaster general in 1861. Included among Montgomery Blair’s correspondence are letters received and rough drafts of letters written by Francis Preston Blair and Frank P. Blair. His father and brother often sought his advice and frequently forwarded letters they received.

The papers of lawyer and businessman Gist Blair (1860-1940), Montgomery Blair’s son, span the period from 1830 to 1968, and chiefly concern his law practice and land speculation prior to his return to Washington, D.C., from St. Louis, Missouri in 1897. A significant portion of Gist Blair’s papers consists of historical research files about the Blair family, reflective of his role as family historian.

The series designated as Other Family Papers pertains to individuals related to the Blair family, most of whom are represented by a small number of items.

Digital content for the Additions series is not yet available. The Additions include drafts of writings by Francis Preston Blair, correspondence received by Francis Preston Blair and Montgomery Blair, as well as a ledger (1822-1826, 1897) maintained by Maine merchant Charles Q. Clapp, and a journal (1851-1855) kept by Gustavus Vasa Fox while serving as an officer on various transatlantic steamships. Located among Montgomery Blair’s correspondence in this series is a file pertaining to Scott v. Sandford, the United States Supreme Court case in which Montgomery Blair served as counsel for Dred Scott.

Notable correspondents in the Blair Family Papers include John A. Andrew, J. G. Barnard, Thomas Hart Benton, Charles S. Bernays, Augustus W. Bradford, James Buchanan, Benjamin F. Butler, William Orlando Butler, Charles Carroll, Lewis Cass, Calvin Clifford Chaffee, Henry Clay, Edwin Cowles, John J. Crittenden, George Ticknor Curtis, Varina Davis, Henry L. Dawes, John A. Dix, Andrew Jackson Donelson, Stephen A. Douglas, Edward Everett, Roswell M. Field, Jessie Benton Frémont, John Charles Frémont, Horace Greeley, William H. Haywood, Thomas Holliday Hicks, Charles Jared Ingersoll, Andrew Jackson, Reverdy Johnson, Amos Kendall, William Berkeley Lewis, Abraham Lincoln, Edward Livingston, Abram Baldwin Olin, Theodore Parker, James Parton, Fitz-John Porter, Thomas George Pratt, William Henry Purnell, Whitelaw Reid, Thomas Ritchie, Winfield Scott, William T. Sherman, Andrew Stevenson, Roger Brooke Taney, Philip F. Thomas, John Van Buren, Martin Van Buren, Henry Dana Ward, Gideon Welles, R. W. Wells, and Silas Wright.

For a fuller overview of the collection consult the Scope and Content Note in the collection finding aid to the Blair Family Papers, which is available online (PDF and HTML) with links to the digital content on this site.

Description of Series

This collection is arranged in ten series:

  • Family Correspondence, 1831-1924 (Reels 1-9)
    Consists of letters sent and received by family members, including many members of the immediate Blair family, as well as extended relations such as Gustavus Vasa Fox, Virginia L. Woodbury Fox, Minna Blair Richey, and the Gratz family of Philadelphia, Pa. Frank P. Blair is the most prolific correspondent represented in this series. The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by author, and chronologically therein. Members of the extended Blair family were often referred to in correspondence by one or more nicknames or their initials. See the “List of Informal Blair Family Names” for assistance in identifying many of these individuals.
  • Francis Preston Blair Papers, 1829-1876 (Reels 9-12)
    • General Correspondence, 1829-1873 (Reels 9-11)
      Contains letters sent and received by Francis Preston Blair, which are arranged chronologically. Other letters sent and received by Blair, and forwarded by him to his son, Montgomery Blair, are interfiled with Montgomery Blair’s general correspondence.
    • Special Correspondence, 1836-1861 (Reel 11)
      This special correspondence subseries contains most of the letters written to Francis Preston Blair by his longtime friend, President Martin Van Buren (1782-1862), from 1836 to 1861, although a few letters from Van Buren to Blair are also filed in the general correspondence subseries. The correspondence is arranged chronologically.
    • Speeches and Writings File, 1863-1870 (Reel 11)
      Francis Preston Blair’s speeches and writings file contains rough drafts of exhortations to presidents, letters to newspaper editors, and political campaign speeches, as well as printed copies, notes, and memoranda. The materials are arranged chronologically.
    • Miscellany, 1831-1876 (Reels 11-12)
      Comprised of correspondence, circular letters, deeds, notes, memoranda, bills and receipts, printed matter, and newspaper clippings. The materials are arranged alphabetically by subject and chronologically therein.
  • Frank P. Blair Papers, 1839-1884 (Reels 12-13)
    • General Correspondence, 1853-1884 (Reel 12)
      Contains letters sent and received by Frank P. Blair, which are arranged chronologically. Correspondence forwarded to Frank’s brother, Montgomery Blair, for comment or action is located in Montgomery Blair’s papers.
    • Miscellany, 1839-1884 (Reels 12-13)
      Includes financial and legal papers, speeches and writings, military papers, political files, printed matter, notes, and memoranda. The material is arranged alphabetically by subject or type of material, and chronologically therein.
  • Gist Blair Papers, 1830-1968 (Reels 13-21)
    • Journal, 1887-1888 (Reel 13)
      Consists of “Journal Book 2” containing notes on legal cases between May 6, 1887 and December 20, 1888.
    • General Correspondence, 1876-1925 (Reels 13-17)
      Contains letters sent and received by Gist Blair with miscellaneous attachments and enclosures. The material is arranged chronologically.
    • Financial Papers, 1889-1917 (Reels 17-18)
      Includes account books, checkbooks, and business records that are grouped by type of material and arranged chronologically therein.
    • Historical Research File, 1923-1968 (Reels 18-19)
      Comprised of correspondence, transcripts of letters and interviews, and indexes pertaining to William E. Smith’s history of the Francis Preston Blair family (The Francis Preston Blair Family in Politics, 1933) and the papers of President Andrew Jackson, for which Gist Blair played an instrumental role in placing at the Library of Congress. The material is arranged alphabetically by subject.
    • Miscellany, 1844-1928 (Reels 19-20)
      Features invitations, programs, legal papers, newspaper clippings, notes, memoranda, memorabilia, school papers, and writings by others, all organized by type of material.
  • Montgomery Blair Papers, 1842-1887 (Reels 21-44)
    • General Correspondence, 1847-1883 (Reels 21-29)
      Consists of letters sent and received with miscellaneous attachments and enclosures. Included among Montgomery Blair’s correspondence are letters received and rough drafts of letters written by Francis Preston Blair and Frank P. Blair. The correspondence is arranged chronologically.
    • Legal Files, 1842-1882 (Reels 29-39)
      Contains correspondence, notes, memoranda, briefs, opinions, deeds, indentures, depositions, powers of attorney, court dockets, and research material. Most of Montgomery Blair’s legal cases pertained to land patents and grants in the western United States. The material is arranged alphabetically by name of client.
    • Financial Papers, 1842-1887 (Reel 39) (Other material not filmed. Some digital content not yet available.)
      Composed of account books, bank books, bills and receipts, checkbooks, and cancelled checks comprising the financial papers of Montgomery Blair and his wife Mary Elizabeth Woodbury Blair. The materials are arranged by person and therein by type of material.
    • Printed Matter, 1842-1882 (Reels 40-42)
      Comprised of circular letters, a journal, and newspaper clippings, which are arranged alphabetically by type of material and chronologically therein.
    • Miscellany, 1849-1882 (Reels 42-44)
      Includes address and memoranda notebooks, speeches and writings, business cards, certificates, memorials, United States postmaster lists, notes, and memoranda. The contents are arranged alphabetically by type of material.
  • Woodbury Blair Papers, 1866-1892 (Not filmed. Digital content not yet available.)
    Consists of financial papers, chiefly concerning the estates of Montgomery and Mary Elizabeth Woodbury Blair, a legal file, and a school catalog.
  • Other Family Papers, circa 1755-1921 (Reels 44-46)
    Comprised of the papers of other individuals related to the Blair family, most of whom are represented by a small number of manuscripts. This series includes correspondence, notebooks, scrapbooks, and financial and legal papers. Among the correspondence is a substantial amount received by Elizabeth Blair Lee, the daughter of Francis Preston Blair. A diary (1840-1843) written by Levi Woodbury, some of the letters he received, law lecture notes, and miscellaneous notes and memoranda are also located in this series. The material is grouped by name of family member, and organized by type of material and arranged chronologically therein.
  • Miscellany, 1793-1906 (Reels 46-47)
    Includes correspondence, genealogical material, wills and testaments, obituaries, printed matter, and a notebook. The series includes material related to Blair family estates, namely the Silver Spring and Falkland estates in Montgomery County, Maryland, and the Blair House across from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.
  • Additions, 1811-1936 (Not filmed. Digital content not yet available.)
    • Addition I, 1822-1936
      Consists of correspondence, journals, drafts of writings, an account ledger, and scrapbooks, which are arranged alphabetically by the name of the author or creator.
    • Addition II, 1811-1876
      Comprised chiefly of correspondence received by Francis Preston Blair and Montgomery Blair, as well as writings, financial records, testimony, reports, a certificate, and maps. Also among the correspondence is a file pertaining to Scott v. Sandford, the United States Supreme Court case in which Montgomery Blair served as counsel for Dred Scott. The material is arranged alphabetically by name of person or organization, type of material, or topic, and chronologically therein.
    • Addition III, 1796-1910
      Includes Francis Preston Blair’s student notebook (1811), and appraisals of Blair family properties in Maryland and Washington, D.C. The material is arranged alphabetically by type of material or topic, and chronologically therein.
  • Oversize, 1854-1882 (Some digital content not yet available)
    Contains plats, surveys, newspapers, maps, and a certificate. The materials are arranged and described according to the series, containers, and folders from which the items were removed.

Items have been transferred from the Manuscript Division to other custodial divisions of the Library. Some prints and photographs have been transferred to the Prints and Photographs Division. Most maps and atlases have been transferred to the Geography and Map Division. Some newspapers have been transferred to the Serial and Government Publications Division. All transfers are identified in these divisions as part of the Blair Family Papers.