The book contains copies of fifteen letters sent by William Seward, twenty-seven written to him and seven letters or extracts exchanged between various members of Seward’s circle. Most of the letters date between December 1738 and May 1739, although the extracts tend to be taken from originals that were written in the summer of 1738. All of the letters relate to the evangelical revival at the time that it was emerging as a popular movement.
The letters provide a vivid insight into the activities of a man who was Whitefield’s right-hand man and principal financial support. Among items of particular interest is the eye-witness description of Whitefield’s earliest venture into an open-air preaching in February 1739 (DDSe 14) and Griffith Jones’ account of his Welsh charity schools (DDSe 4-6), the foundation of which led to him being termed 'one of the makers of modern Wales'. It is interesting to note that the Wesley brothers are rarely mentioned in the early letters but that by the spring of 1739 John Wesley’s ministry in Bristol was making a significant impact and that tension was starting to appear between the evangelicals. This reflects what we know from other sources of the stirrings of revival in the years 1738 and 1739.
The style of handwriting is compatible with a date at the end of 1730s and the book itself is a type commonly associated with journals or letter books of the period. The absence of an example of Seward’s handwriting in the archives precludes confirming if the letters in the book were copied down by him personally, but internal evidence indicates that they are either in Seward’s hand or were transcribed on his instructions. The same person copied all the letters regardless of date, although slight variations in the penmanship may indicate that they were written down at different times.
In short, the William Seward letter book represents a significant addition to the Methodist collections held at the Rylands. As a snapshot of events and personalities that contributed to the birth of the Wesleyan and the Calvinistic Methodist Churches it has tremendous research value, especially as it is written from a non-Wesleyan perspective.