Civil War and Slavery

The Caleb Fiske Harris Collection on the Civil War and Slavery

The Caleb Fiske Harris Collection on the Civil War and Slavery was the first collection acquired by Providence Public Library. It was purchased for $2,000 in 1884, not long after the Library was founded, from the estate of Mr. Harris, a Providence book collector. A large portion of the money used to purchase the collection was received through a fund originally set up to purchase books for soldiers at the Portsmouth Grove Hospital, which was closed before the money could be used. Sidney S. Rider, a Providence publisher and bookseller, handled the sale of the collection.

Several important gifts of books on the Civil War were later added to the collection, and today it is the Library’s largest special collection. It contains more than 10,000 books, pamphlets, manuscripts, ephemera and newspapers. There are hundreds of 18th century pamphlets relating to slavery worldwide; there is a large collection of editions and translations of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, together with other books by and about her. The collection also contains a number of letters written home by Rhode Island soldiers who served in the Civil War.

Online Exhibition -- Civil War Ballads

Online Exhibition -- Uncle Tom in Foreign Lands

Online Exhibition -- RI Civil War Ephemera

Online Collection -- The George Turner Letters

Collection Guide for the Civil War manuscripts (pdf)

Collection Guide for the Civil War ephemera (pdf)

Collection Guide for the RI Soldiers & Sailors Collection (pdf)