Five Points Mission Records at Drew University

2009 March 13

A great find I encountered in my Archives and Methods course was a collection of family records from the Five Points Mission (1845-1995).  According to the General Commission on Archives and History, who manage the collection at Drew University, the Five Points Mission was organized in 1844 and was one of the first New York City-based missions established by American Methodists.  The collection contains records on office administration, adoptions, baptisms, marriages, burials, and wills.  

Our class was treated with the presentation of a small journal detailing the adoption of a young child as recorded by the biological mother. The mother expressed her concern for the child’s welfare — being able to feed, cloth, educate — in the face of spousal abandonment and poverty.  

Much of this material (to the extent to which it is digitized) will help fill-out the information found in the Five Points Census Database that has already been introduced to teachers in our monthly seminars.  

I’ll keep you posted on updates.


Stringer & Townsend, 1854)

From the book, "The Old Brewery, and the New Mission House at the Five Points" by Ladies of the Mission (New York: Stringer & Townsend,1854)

Last 5 posts by Donna Thompson Ray

2009 March 14
Josh Brown permalink

Thanks, Donna, for drawing our attention to the Five Points Mission records, which are a useful resource for capturing the nature of antebellum urban poverty and reform. But, of course, its records should be assessed in light of the conversion goals of its founders and contemporary practitioners—and how those goals shaped the characterization of the local immigrant residents in the organization’s documents. Interestingly, Rev. Lewis M. Pease, who was hired to direct the Mission, ran afoul of its goals once he took up residence in the largely Irish Catholic Sixth Ward of lower Manhattan. While still intent on converting Catholics to Protestantism, he soon became convinced that the organization’s strategy failed to address the material needs of the neighborhood’s residents and began to offer limited employment (mainly sewing work) to local women. This led to a break between Pease and his sponsors and to the former’s eventual departure from the Five Points Mission; with the support of the Episcopal Church (if I remember correctly), Pease opened the Five Points House of Industry. The Mission and House of Industry became rivals, with the latter offering a somewhat more nuanced attitude to the “moral debasement” that characterized the Mission’s view of its “flock.” Both institutions, however, soon gave up on the adult population and turned to the children as the focus of their conversion goals, which included the “adoption” of children. Despite these institutions’ attitude to the immigrant poor, we certainly should avoid romanticizing the poverty and concomitant pain and social turmoil of the Five Points, but we also need to balance any institutional assessments with other social and cultural documentation. By the way, the Five Points House of Industry’s monthly published reports, including Pease’s observations of local life, offer a useful supplementary view of the neighborhood–both regarding conditions and as evidence of the social and cultural gulf that existed between residents and reformers in the era.

2012 June 14
Karen Stewart permalink

I was wondering if any of these records have ever been digitized – My grandfather and his older brother were turned over to the Five Points Mission circa 1912 & I’d like to see if I can find any information on them. I have some info on my grandfather, but after the 1920 census, I can’t seem to find anything on his brother.

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