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Series One: The Papers of Jay Cooke (1821-1905) from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Part 1: General Correspondence, 1843-April 1865

“Scenes of suffering beyond description are around about this place. The wounded by hundreds and by thousands are lying in the woods and in their little shelter tents, & very many in the mud along the river bank. The Churches, Farmhouses Barns and Sheds etc. are full. The government are sending them away daily …”
R. Parrin to Jay Cooke, 9 July 1863, describing the aftermath of Gettysburg.

The strength of the Cooke collection lies in the 106 boxes of correspondence it contains. These are a vital source describing politics, finance and metropolitan culture in Civil War and Gilded Age America.  

Part 1 covers the first 16 boxes, spanning the period from 1843 to 1865. They are full of gossip from Washington DC, New York and Philadelphia - with news of the progess of the war, of markets, of city life, and of lobbying. There are also reports from Ohio, Illinois, Iowa, Virginia and Kentucky.

  • Jay Cooke was the leading banker of his day and his 'seven-thirty' bonds were an indispensable source of funds for the Union war effort. 
  • He established a close friendship with Salmon P Chase, who was appointed to the Treasury in 1861. This relationship is fully explored in the archive and there is much on the political processes of the time.
  • Jay Cooke & Co was established in Philadelphia in 1861 and the success of the Civil War bonds led to the creation of branches in Washington DC in 1862, run by brother Henry Cooke, and in New York in 1866, run by brother Pitt Cooke.

At their peak, the brothers corresponded with each other daily.  The letters were full and frank.  Jay Cooke retained copies of his own correspondence as well as those sent to him, and these now provide a unique historical record of a period in which they wielded considerable power.  In addition to their own letters, there are also reports from contacts all over America - from congressmen to newspaper reporters, and from foreign emissaries to land agents.   

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