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Backus family newspapers collection

Call Number: MS R24


This collection contains newspaper issues and tear sheets, primarily from the Northeast region of the United States, with dates ranging from 1795 to 1870. It reflects the interests of Backus family members who were predominantly lawyers. The family settled in Connecticut in the late 1700s and migrated to upstate New York in the mid-1800s.


  • 1795-1870, 1889

Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

History of the Backus Family

For this collection, three generations of Backus family members and relations accumulated these newspapers and passed them on to succeeding generations. The individual biographies of the collectors, Joseph Backus, Oswald Backus, and Oswald Backus Sr., are detailed below:

Joseph Backus was born 25 December 1764 in Granbury, Massachusetts. His parents were the Reverend Simon Backus, Jr. and Rachel Moseley. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1788 and read law, practicing in Stratford, Connecticut but residing in Bridgeport, CT. He married Huldah, daughter of Stephen Burroughs of Stratford, on 15 October 1797. He died 17 January 1838 in Bridgeport, CT. The book, Digest of Laws Relating to the Offices and duties of Sheriff, Coroner and Constable (1812), is one of several books and newspaper articles about local government and civic matters written by Joseph Backus.

Oswald Backus was born 12 August 1800 in Bridgeport, CT. His parents were Joseph Backus and Huldah Burroughs. He was a member of the Yale University class ex-1819. He was married to Mary P. Prentiss, the daughter of Solomon Prentiss and Lucy White, who was born 2 April 1819 in Trenton, New York and died 16 October 1913 in Rome, NY. He died 7 March 1870 in Bridgeport, CT.

Oswald Prentiss Backus, Sr., the son of Oswald and Mary Parker (Prentiss) Backus, was born 10 October 1855 in Bridgeport, CT. He practiced law and lived in Rome, NY. He was married to Frances Dudley Kinney, who was born 16 Oct 1857 in Rome, NY. and died 11 June 1929 in Rochester, NY. He died 22 September 1935, in Rochester, NY.

Subsequently, the legal tradition and the name Oswald Prentiss Backus have continued in the family, albeit spread over a wider geographical area. Oswald Prentiss Backus, III established a link with Kansas, both as a member of the Kansas bar and as a professor of history at the University of Kansas from 1950 until his death in 1972. The gift to Kenneth Spencer Research Library of the Backus Family Collection has been made by his children and their families.


3.5 Linear Feet (2 oversize boxes + 31 oversize folders, 1 folder)

Scope and Contents

The upstate New York newspapers in the collection contain both local and national news. During 1861-1865, the Civil War looms large on their pages and even more so in nearly 100 maps taken from the New York Herald and the New-York Daily Tribune, both New York City newspapers. The latest map in the collection, which shows the seat of war between Germany and France (Franco-Prussian War of 1870), appears on a broadsheet advertising the Germania Fire Insurance Company of New York City. Also included in this collection is a manuscript letter written by Joseph Backus (1764-1838) offering to exchange his book for law books from other lawyers.

There is only a single issue of a newspaper title for several cities in the collection; for cities where the family lived, including Bridgeport, Connecticut, New York City, and Rome, New York, there are several issues, sometimes from several newspaper titles. Issues have been physically separated into boxes and folders of appropriate size, so newspapers from a single city may be present at multiple call numbers, and this has been noted throughout the finding aid.

Of the key Backus family members noted in the biographical note, Joseph Backus is named frequently in handwritten inscriptions on the earliest Connecticut newspapers dating from 1814-1820. These inscriptions usually refer to articles about legal and civic topics contributed by him, often under a pseudonym (a common writing practice during the 19th century). While Joseph Backus may have written the inscriptions identifying him as the author, they could also have been written by a relative or friend.

The surname Huntington and Wright recurs in inscriptions on various of the later New York State (Albany, New York City, Rome and Utica) newspapers dating from 1828-1878. The Huntingtons were Backus relatives, perhaps stemming from the 14 October 1779 marriage of Abigail Backus to Thomas Huntington in Windham, Connecticut. Henrietta H. Wright, who wrote "Save this paper" on the 20 December 1859 New-York Times, was the daughter of Henrietta Huntington and Benjamin H. Wright, who also inscribed some of the newspapers.

The next two generations of the Backus family, represented by Oswald Backus and Oswald Prentiss Backus, Sr., carried on the tradition of legal careers but did not inscribe the newspapers of their day. However, the presence in this collection of several Civil War-era newspaper issues and especially of nearly 100 Civil-War maps, consisting of newspaper supplements and tear-sheets, indicates the family's strong interest in the progress of the War between the States.


Collection is organized alphabetically by city name, then by newspaper name if there are multiple newspapers from a single city. Issues are organized chronologically within each newspaper title.

Physical Location

MS Q85

Physical Location

MS Qa30

Physical Location

MS R24

Physical Location

MS S12

Physical Location

MS P748

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift, Rob Backus, 2019. Purchase of Joseph Backus manuscript letter, Backus family, 2019.

Related Materials

Backus, Joseph. A Digest of Laws Relating to the Offices and Duties of Sheriff, Coronoer and Constable. New York: Printed for the author, 1812. 2 vols. Located at Spencer Research Library at C25040.

Guide to the Backus Family Newspaper Collection
Backus family newspapers collection
Finding aid prepared by ksc and nw. Finding aid encoded by nw.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Support for the processing of this collection was provided by the G. Baley Price Graduate Fellowship.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Backus family newspaper collection, MS R24, Special Collections, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States