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David Fox Nelson scrapbooks

Identifier: MSS 0093-Item 0109

Scope and Contents

The David Fox Nelson scrapbooks consist of five scrapbooks assembled by Nelson between 1869 and 1890, containing materials that span from 1863 to 1895. The scrapbooks mainly contain newspaper clippings covering a variety of subjects, often related to topics that were of significance to African Americans following the Civil War, such as congressional debates regarding protecting African Americans from discrimination and violence, reflections on newly freed African Americans’ place in society, emigrations to Liberia, and living conditions of African Americans in various states. Clippings also consist of articles about acquaintances of Nelson, such as New York Times editor Henry J. Raymond and politician Roscoe Conkling, and the activities of the New York Post Office, where Nelson worked. Other clippings include poetry and drawings published in newspapers. Nelson labeled many of the clippings contained in the scrapbooks with the name of the newspaper and the date.

The two numbered volumes, Volume 1 and Volume 5, were labeled as such by Nelson himself. The location of the volumes Nelson presumably titled 2-4 is unknown, although there is one unbound volume in the collection that lacks a title page and therefore a title.

One of the scrapbooks in the collection, the Cassie E. Day album, was assembled by Nelson for his future wife eighteen years before their 1896 marriage.

Both Volume 1 and the Cassie E. Day album contain copies of a profile of David Fox Nelson that was published following his promotion to clerkship at the New York Post Office, detailing his escape from slavery and subsequent life in New York. This article also mentions a scrapbook of Nelson’s containing literature clippings and statistics on African Americans in the United States.

The Personal and Private Letters album consists of several letters received by Nelson in addition to some newspaper clippings. The letters are primarily from Nelson’s influential friends and acquaintances, such as Thomas L. James and the Weed family. There is one letter from Blanche K. Bruce, the first African American to serve a full term in the United States Senate. There are also two letters from James M. Baxter, a prominent African American educator in Newark, New Jersey.

Despite many of the volumes being labeled with a date or range of dates on the first page, some of the clippings fall outside of the provided dates in a given album.


  • Creation: 1863-1879, 1883, 1890-1895


Language of Materials

Materials entirely in English.

Access Information

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections Department, University of Delaware Library,

Biographical Note

David Fox Nelson was born into slavery in the 1850s. In the summer of 1862, at no more than twelve years of age, he escaped alone from slavery in North Carolina by making his way to a group of approaching Union troops. He was taken aboard the gunboat Chasseur, where he started work as a mess boy and eventually achieved the position of powder boy. In 1864, he left the military and became an office boy for Henry J. Raymond, one of the founders of the New York Times. He later became the office messenger and/or doorkeeper for Thomas L. James, postmaster of New York City, a position secured for him by journalist and politician Thurlow Weed in 1870. In March 1874, he was promoted to a clerkship position in the New York Post Office, and he continued to serve as a messenger at the post office in the following decades. Nelson married Cassie E. Day on May 28, 1896. Throughout his life, he maintained relationships with influential New York individuals and families.

“David F. Nelson Married.” New York Times. May 29, 1896.“Henry Jarvis Raymond.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Last modified June 14, 2019. Accessed August 19, 2019.“Postal Matters.” New York Times. Mar. 26, 1874.“Thurlow Weed.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Last modified November 18, 2018. Accessed August 19, 2019. biographical information derived from the collection.


5 volume

1 oversize folder


The collection consists of five scrapbooks assembled between 1869 and 1890 by David Fox Nelson, an African American man who escaped from slavery in North Carolina as a child and eventually arrived in New York, where he worked for the post office for several decades. The scrapbooks contain newspaper clippings covering a wide range of topics, especially subjects of particular significance to African Americans in the Reconstruction era. One scrapbook contains correspondence from Nelson’s acquaintances of high political or social standing. Another scrapbook was assembled by Nelson for his future wife, Cassie E. Day.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, 2018

Processing Information

Processed and encoded by Shelby Daniels-Young, August 2019. From 2020-2021, conservation work was performed on two of the scrapbooks: "Personal and Private Letters" and "Volume 5". Folded clippings that were laid in the Cassie E. Day scrapbook were separated and rehoused in an oversize folder.

Finding aid for David Fox Nelson scrapbooks
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
2019 August 21
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2023 November 14: This finding aid was updated with notes about conservation work and to reflect the creation of a new oversize folder, containing clippings separated from the Cassie E. Day scrapbook.

Repository Details

Part of the University of Delaware Library Special Collections Repository

181 South College Avenue
Newark DE 19717-5267 USA