A major collection of over 250 historical documents from the American Colonial and Revolutionary War periods, as well as some papers of early governors of New York State and mayors of New York City, has been acquired by New York University’s Fales Library, which is located in NYU’s Elmer Holmes Bobst Library.

The collection, valued at over $600,000, was given to NYU by Richard Maass, a 1949 alumnus of the University and an investment banker who has spent 50 years collecting historical documents, rare books, letters and broadsides. Maass’s particular field of interest is in Westchester County history, and many of the documents in the collection detail the Colonial and Revolutionary War period in New York and Westchester County.

“New York University is delighted to be the recipient of such a wonderful gift,” said President L. Jay Oliva. “This collection will be a superb addition to the Fales Library, and will no doubt be used extensively by future generations of students and faculty in their research. NYU, with its strong connections to both the city and the state, is a most appropriate place for these extraordinary documents to be housed.”

According to Carlton Rochell, dean of the NYU Libraries, the Richard Maass Collection of Westchester and New York State, as it will be known, contains some remarkable and valuable materials, including 10 letters written by George Washington, one of wh ich outlines Washington’s plans for the battle for New York City; a land treaty from 1680 for the first purchase of Connecticut land from the Indians; letters from American military leaders detailing the Westchester and New York battles of the Revolutiona ry War on a near daily basis; and a letter by John Quincy Adams from 1839 articulating his position on the freedom of the slaves (he was against it).

“This is the most significant historical collection acquired by the Bobst Library in the past 20 years,” Rochell said. “It represents a new direction for our Fales Library and follows on our interest in collecting documents important to the history of New York. We are becoming a major archive of state and city history, and this gift goes a long way to achieving our goals.”

Maass, who resides in Purchase, New York, with his wife Dolly, a potter, is a trustee of the Westchester County Historical Society and of Purchase College. He is also a trustee and former president of both the American Jewish Committee and the Manuscr ipt Society. He is a former mayor of White Plains and also has served as Westchester County Historian.

“I am delighted that my collection of Westchester and New York State manuscripts has been placed in the Fales Library at New York University, where it will receive not only tender care but frequent use as a resource for American history,” Maass said. “I expect that faculty, students, and outside researchers as well will find the collection useful for a better understanding of the Colonial and Revolutionary history of our state and region.”

Additional features of the collection include:

  • A letter from John Jay (July, 1776) to his wife Sally in Elizabeth Town, New Jersey, expressing the hope that he can pass through Elizabeth Town to spend a day or two with her but alluding to the uncertainty of the times and admonishing her to take precautions for her own safety;
  • A letter from Robert Livingston (October, 1776) to Washington appraising the military situation in Westchester County; Washington followed many of the suggestions and saved his army;
  • Information on what the army ate and drank: 46 receipts for supplies for “foodstuffs, liquor, and other goods delivered to regiments of the Continental Army;”
  • The “first Federal Express?”: Letter from Nathanael Greene (July, 1778) suggesting an express mail service that required instant notification of one rider to the next that the former had arrived, and that the mail must go through to the next station . It took less than two days from White Plains to Hartford, a record.

The NYU Fales Library holds a collection of over 160,000 volumes of British and American literature from 1700 to the present. For further information concerning the Fales Library contact Marvin Taylor, Fales Librarian, at (212) 998-2596.

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