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Inventory of the Barney (Hiram) Collection, 1772-1924, bulk 1836-1894
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Collection Details
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Organization and Subject Matter

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Barney (Hiram) Collection,
    Date (inclusive): 1772-1924,
    Date (bulk): bulk 1836-1894
    Creator: Barney, Hiram
    Extent: ca. 8,300 pieces
    Repository: The Huntington Library
    San Marino, California 91108
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    Purchased from Walter T. Shatford, 1962.


    Collection is open to qualified researchers by prior application through the Reader Services Department. For more information please go to following URL .

    Publication Rights

    In order to quote from, publish, or reproduce any of the manuscripts or visual materials, researchers must obtain formal permission from the office of the Library Director. In most instances, permission is given by the Huntington as owner of the physical property rights only, and researchers must also obtain permission from the holder of the literary rights. In some instances, the Huntington owns the literary rights, as well as the physical property rights. Researchers may contact the appropriate curator for further information.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Barney (Hiram) Collection, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.


    Hiram Barney, lawyer and collector for the Port of New York, was born in Henderson, New York, on May 30, 1811. After graduating from Union College in 1833, he held a law clerkship and was admitted to the New York bar in 1836. Barney's legal career began with the firm of William Mulligan in 1836. In 1838, he entered into a partnership with William D. Waterman and in 1841, with William Mitchell. During the early years of his career, Barney, largely engaged as a "collections" lawyer, did much of his business in the West, especially Iowa. In 1849, Barney formed yet another partnership with Benjamin F. Butler and his son, William Allen Butler. After the retirement of the elder Butler and the arrival and departure of James Humphrey, the firm became known as Barney, Butler, and Parsons. Barney remained with his firm until 1874, when he was retained as special counsel. Barney's final legal partnership began in 1878 with Edward D. Cowman.
    In addition to carrying out his legal obligations, Barney became active in the anti-slavery movement and related political parties. Possibly he was influenced by his marriage to Susan Aspinwall Tappan, the daughter of Lewis Tappan, a prominent abolitionist. In 1840, Barney was nominated for Congress by the Anti-Slavery Party, but received only 350 votes. Barney attended the Free Soil Party Convention in 1848, and in 1852, he headed the electoral ticket on behalf of Hale and Julian. Following the organization of the Republican Party in 1856, Barney served as a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention, but voted for Sumner instead of Fremont. In 1860, he attended the convention in Chicago which nominated Abraham Lincoln for president. Barney was said to have collected $35,000 in New York to further Lincoln's candidacy. His association with Lincoln was close and constant.
    Lincoln's appointment of Barney to the post of Collector of the Port of New York in 1861 proved anything but rewarding. Barney inherited a collector-ship bogged down with political patronage and graft. As Collector, he was overwhelmed with applications, testimonials, and office seekers. The Civil War intensified his responsibilities. In addition Barney attempted to continue with his professional business, much of which demanded his absence from the state. Duped by those he trusted, Barney proved unequal to the demands of the office. Following investigations by the Treasury Department, Barney resigned. His personal integrity seems never to have been questioned and he retained the respect and affection of his friends and business associates. However, his health broke under the strain.
    Having overextended his business interests, hard times in the 1870's dogged Barney year after year. The death of his first wife, Susan (Tappan) Barney, added to his burden. On August 26, 1880, Barney married Harriet E. Kilbourne, the daughter of one of his Iowa business associates, by whom he had several children. He seems never to have fully recuperated, either in business or health. When he died on May 18, 1895, he was attempting to dispose of the family estate, Cedar Knolls, at Kingsbridge, New York.

    Organization and Subject Matter

    The Barney Collection is divided into three main sections: Business and Political Papers, New York Custom House Papers, and Family Papers. The collection also contains one box of photographs and three boxes of miscellaneous printed materials. (For a complete listing of the contents, consult the Box and Folder List.)
    The BUSINESS AND POLITICAL PAPERS (boxes 1-31), arranged in alphabetical order by author, contain the documents and letters of various groups and individuals, including Hiram Barney, whose papers are further subdivided into correspondence, legal documents, real estate documents, and miscellaneous documents.
    Included in this section is the correspondence of nationally known business men, politicians, soldiers, etc. This correspondence contains many references to the anti-slavery movement in the North, the Civil War, Republican Party politics, and Barney's friendship with Abraham Lincoln. Also scattered through this section are transportation papers which indicate Barney's interest in and connection with the opening up of waterways, the railroad, and the telegraph from the Atlantic to the Mississippi.
    Most of Barney's real estate papers pertain to the Half-Breed Tract lying between the Mississippi and Des Moines rivers. This land was ceded to the Federal Government by the Sauk and Fox Indians. The documents include individual cessions by specific Indians and papers pertaining to the first proprietors. Related to Barney's real estate documents are the Francis Scott Key papers. Key, a friend of Barney's, acted as attorney-in-law for the proprietors. He died before he could collect his fee (in lands) and his estate, and Barney inherited that responsibility.
    Barney's legal documents extend from 1825 to 1888. They include articles of partnership, court cases, powers of attorney, notes for collection, etc.
    The NEW YORK CUSTOM HOUSE PAPERS (boxes 32-34) consist of documents and correspondence concerning the general operations, patronage, and personnel of the Custom House, as well as records of the frauds investigation conducted by the U.S. Treasury Department. To gain a full idea of Barney's activities as collector, the correspondence in the Business and Political Papers between Hiram Barney and Salmon P. Chase, Charles P. Clinch, William P. Fessenden, Abraham Lincoln, Manton M. Marple, Albert M. Palmer, and Edward D. Smith must also be consulted.
    The FAMILY PAPERS (boxes 35-41) were probably collected by one of Barney's daughters, Sara Barney. Arranged alphabetically by author, these papers, with the exception of those pertaining to Hiram Barney, are of little interest to the collection as a whole.