David Bates Douglass papers, 1812-1873
Using These Materials
- The collection is open for research.
- Douglass, David Bates, 1790-1849
- The David Bates Douglass Papers contain 1,191 letters, documents, and manuscripts relating to many aspects of Douglass's family and professional life between approximately 1812 and 1873. The collection is broad, encompassing incoming letters from scientific and military associates of Douglass, with drafts and retained copies of some his responses; long love letters to his future wife, Ann Ellicott (later Douglass); letters between Ann and Douglass; letters between Ann, Douglass, and the children; correspondence to and from a larger extended family; and several letters pertaining to the scandal at Kenyon College. Douglass's interests in internal improvements, natural history, systems and theories of academic scientific exchange, the education of his daughters and sons, the complex and numerous relationships and family connections through which early nineteenth-century American communities were built, and the Military Academy at West Point are very well-documented.
- 1,191 items
- Collection processed and finding aid created by Rob S. Cox, October 1992, Philip Heslip, October 2009, and Katie LaPlant, July 2017
- Scope and Content:
The David Bates Douglass Papers contain 1,191 letters, documents, and manuscripts relating to many aspects of Douglass's family and professional life between approximately 1812 and 1873. The collection is broad, encompassing incoming letters from scientific and military associates of Douglass, with drafts and retained copies of some his responses; long love letters to his future wife, Ann Ellicott (later Douglass); letters between Ann and Douglass; letters between Ann, Douglass, and the children; correspondence to and from a larger extended family; and several letters pertaining to the scandal at Kenyon College. Douglass's interests in internal improvements, natural history, systems and theories of academic scientific exchange, the education of his daughters and sons, the complex and numerous relationships and family connections through which early nineteenth-century American communities were built, and the Military Academy at West Point are very well-documented.
The David Bates Douglass Papers include materials pertinent to the War of 1812 and British-American relations in the New Nation period (1789-1830). Many of the early letters (1812-1814) include Douglass's own accounts of the Siege of Fort Erie, the Battle of Lundy's Lane, the daily experiences of soldiers as they marched, the lack of provisions so frequently a problem in the Napoleonic Era, and the efforts to fortify various parts of Fort Erie during and after the end of the war. Several copies of Douglass's drafts of a memorial of the War of 1812, written later in his life, provide additional context to his published account, The Campaign of 1814 (Wales: Cromlech Press, 1958). A particularly notable part of the collection is the volume, Reminiscences of the War of 1812 -- a set of Douglass's lectures, copied letters, and copied war orders [written in pen and ink in what appears to be Andrew Douglass's hand]. Despite Douglass's service in the war, his letters show the still-interconnected nature of British and American people in this period, both in matters such as creating borders, but also in religious and intellectual life. Charles, Douglass's eldest son, went to Seminary at Oxford, served in the Anglican Church, and wrote and published in England. Douglass himself worked with British engineers on the U. S. Canada boundary project and corresponded with other scientists and intellectuals from England, sharing information, specimens, and equipment.
Douglass's papers showcase relationships in the development of intellectual, religious, and scientific communities in New Nation America. Douglass and his associates were instrumental in the foundation and growth of several lyceums, thus playing a role in public scientific education, and they were particularly avid in promoting the field of mineralogy. Thirty-six letters (1820-1825) in the collection detail Douglass' participation in the Lewis Cass Expedition of 1820, including its planning, findings, and importance to larger political issues of the time. Twenty-four letters (1820 -1825) from Cass include observations on Native Americans and on the natural history of the region. Valuable letters from Torrey (1820-1823), Barnes (1821-1823), Schoolcraft (1824), and Silliman (1820-1821) relate to the planning of the expedition and to the research carried out by its participants. Along with the correspondence concerning the establishment of lyceums and the exchange of specimens, the letters help to highlight certain communities engaged in early nineteenth-century networks of scientific communication in the U.S. Douglass also corresponded with other intellectuals of the time, including the geologist Mary Griffith (1821-1825) and the mineralogist Parker Cleaveland (1828). The collection also includes notes and correspondence regarding Douglass's work on the U.S.-Canadian boundary in Lake Erie (1819), his survey and assessment of New England coastal defenses (1815-1820), the construction of the Pennsylvania Canal (1824), his work on the Morris Canal (1829), discussions of linking the Ohio River and the Chesapeake, and his much-celebrated work on the Greenwood Cemetery (1839).
The collection contains materials pertinent to scholars of family, gender, and/or class in nineteenth-century America. The majority of the collection is tied together through the correspondence of Douglass and his family. Roughly 40 early letters from Douglass to Ann (1813-1815) show common epistolary courtship practices, such as choosing pen names from popular romantic literature, poetry, or plays, copying poems or excerpts from books, and Douglass's own expressions of romantic love. Ann's letters (105 of them, ranging from 1826 to 1849) display the wide range of women's responsibilities to the ever-changing nineteenth-century household, showing especially women's role in connecting the family to various social communities. Glimpses into early childhood education can be seen throughout this collection, first under Ann's stewardship and Douglass's long distance instruction through letter-writing, and later in the children's letters about their experiences of girls' and boys' boarding schools in New Jersey, New York, and Ohio. In one example (February 28, 1831), Douglass wrote to Andrew, giving him advice on how to pursue an education, but also on how to behave in virtuous ways. In another example (March 4, 1831), Andrew told his father about mean boys who bullied him. Letters from Charles and Andrew chronicle as well some of their experiences of higher education at Kenyon College. The Douglass family's letters provide evidence for examinations into the gender expectations placed on girls and boys, women and men, and the ways that those expectations changed over time. Many letters also provide material for examining family economies, revealing a family striving for middle class comforts while living with indebtedness, the constantly changing financial states of early nineteenth-century American families, and the reliance upon extended kinship networks to avoid the perilous position of penury. For example, in a letter from Ann, Ellen, and Mary to Douglass (October 18, 1844) Ellen discussed her desire to have more schooling, which they cannot afford, while Ann worried over providing winter clothing for all of the smaller children.
The Douglass Papers also concern Native American life in different parts of the U. S. and Black life in northern communities. For example, John Bliss wrote several letters to Douglass (1820-1834) discussing negotiations with the Sioux and Chippewa in Missouri. In a few letters to Ann during his survey of Lake Erie, and in his bundles of notes (1819), Douglass gave descriptions of his interactions with Native American tribes in upper Michigan. In another, Douglass tried to obtain dictionaries of Native American languages so that he could better communicate with people from Native American tribes. Cass's letters (1820) also give information regarding his observations of Native American tribes in the Detroit area. Sarah Douglass described a Black traveling preacher who gave sermons to the girls at her boarding school in New York and Ann told Douglass about a Black medicine woman who used her nursing skills to heal a group of people in New York during an outbreak of severe disease, another frequent topic displayed throughout the collection. In many ways, the everyday nature of the David Bates Douglass papers, filled with clothing orders, professions of familial love, the financial troubles of a growing family, the religious experiences and affiliations of middle class men and women, and letters from children practicing their penmanship makes this collection invaluable to the study of early U. S. history.
- Biographical / Historical:
David Bates Douglass was born in Pompton, New Jersey, on March 21, 1790, the youngest son of Deacon Nathaniel Douglass, who was the son of David and Esther (Reed) Douglass, and Sarah (Bates) Douglass, who was the daughter of Captain David and Phebe (Tappan) Bates. Raised in an iron-mining district, he developed an interest in the natural sciences and technology from very early in life, encouraged primarily by his mother, who was described by contemporaries as "a woman of superior mind." Sarah Douglass provided Douglass with the early education that prepared him for advanced topics in the sciences and supplied him with a capable tutor during his teenage years, the Rev. Samuel Whelpley. Through the efforts of his mother and Rev. Whelpley, Douglass entered Yale as a sophomore with the class of 1813, where he hoped to prepare himself for a career in civil engineering. He soon became restless and frustrated, however, with Yale's hidebound curriculum and its limited course offerings in the natural sciences. Fortunately, the military afforded opportunities that the university did not. With the War of 1812 providing suitable training and employment for large numbers of engineers, Douglass secured a commission as second lieutenant of engineers, and reported for duty at West Point in October, 1813.
Douglass's distinguished service in the Niagara Campaign of 1814, at the Battle of Lundy's Lane, and at the siege of Fort Erie earned him a promotion to first lieutenant and a brevet captaincy in September, 1814. Douglass's personal courage while in command of an artillery battery at Fort Erie was singled out for commendation, and credited with helping to ensure victory for the American forces during the British assault in August 1814.
During the War of 1812, Douglass courted Ann Eliza Ellicott, the daughter of Pennsylvania Quakers, Sarah (Brown) and Andrew Ellicott. Major Andrew Ellicot served as a professor of mathematics at West Point during Douglass's courtship with Ann. Douglass fell desperately in love with Ann, writing to her often in long, romantic letters. He strove to find work immediately following the war, so that they could marry as soon as possible. On account of his deep desire to provide for a family, and aided by his respected service during the War of 1812, he accepted a stable professorship of natural philosophy at the Military Academy on January 1, 1815. In early nineteenth-century America, West Point was the only school to offer formal training in engineering and therefore an outstanding opportunity for an aspiring young scientist. Throughout his career, Douglass aggressively sought out every chance to improve his professional standing, pursuing his interests both in government service and as a private consultant, accepting seemingly any project that offered intellectual challenge, professional betterment, or financial reward. During his first few years at West Point, he organized the survey of defenses along the southern coast of New England (1815) and at the eastern end of Long Island Sound (1817). Subsequently, he accompanied the commission to determine the Canadian boundary from Niagara to Detroit in 1819 as an astronomical surveyor. In December 1815, he married Ann, finally financially able to bring her to West Point.
During these years, Douglass became active in every aspect of life at the Academy, working in admissions, teaching and lecturing, writing frequently-requested letters of recommendation for young hopefuls, and taking charge of college discipline. He was an important figure in generating enthusiasm among the cadets and faculty at the Academy for the study of natural history, and at the same time, he developed an extensive correspondence with scientists around the country, with museums, other universities, and private individuals, forming a broad network that facilitated the exchange of ideas and specimens. Through Douglass's efforts the natural history collections at West Point were established, and in turn, he became an important source of specimens for scientists such as Benjamin Silliman, Parker Cleaveland, and John Torrey.
Among the many projects that occupied Douglass's time at West Point, he is perhaps best remembered as an engineer assigned to the Lewis Cass Expedition of 1820, which surveyed the northwestern regions of the Michigan Territory and reported on the economic potential of its natural resources. From first hearing of the expedition, Douglass relished the thought of accompanying Cass, and when his old friend, Colonel William A. Trimble, recommended his appointment to Secretary of War Calhoun, he did not hesitate to accept. Douglass played an important role in surveying, mapping, and in collecting geological and botanical specimens. Douglass, along with Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, Daniel H. Barnes, John Torrey, and Cass all published important articles from their findings on the Cass expedition, contributing enormously to America's budding scientific community.
Douglass also enjoyed good fortune with his family. During their time at West Point, Ann gave birth to ten children. Eight of those children survived: Charles, Andrew, Sarah, Henry, Malcolm, Emily, Ellen, and Mary. The nature of Douglass's work often saw him away from home, and he frequently wrote long letters to his children with instructions for improving their education. Douglass spent considerable time worrying over the books his children read, the subjects they chose to study in school, and their religious education, while Ann implemented a daily study routine for both the boys and the girls, tended to the quotidian needs of her children, and managed the household.
The death of Andrew Ellicott in August 1820, left the chair in mathematics at West Point vacant, and Douglass stepped in to fill the void, thanks in part to a strong recommendation from Lewis Cass. Three years later, however, he was transferred again when a position even closer to his interests became available -- the professorship of civil engineering. The move was timely. With the first fruits of success from the Erie Canal being felt by politicians and the public, engineering was beginning to garner more and more attention, and increased, sizeable investments were becoming available for the development of a viable infrastructure for communications and transport. By 1823-1824, Douglass's interest in internal improvements, and in canals in particular, sharpened. Along with giving lectures at West Point, partly out of financial necessity, he began to take on consulting work, and in 1825, DeWitt Clinton offered him the job of supervising construction of the difficult western section of the Erie Canal. From this beginning, Douglass rapidly became one of the nation's leading experts in canal engineering, consulting widely on projects in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, and on the project to link the Ohio River with the Potomac. He was offered a position as chief engineer for the State of Georgia and the superintendent of internal improvements in Pennsylvania, but declined both.
After years of splitting his time between military service and work on public projects, the War Department accepted Douglass's resignation from the Corps of Engineers, effective March 1, 1831, allowing Douglass to accept a position as chief engineer on the Morris Canal in New Jersey. The potential lucre of private employment had finally convinced Douglass to leave the lower pay, but greater security, of military life, and he removed to Brooklyn to begin life as a civilian. Ann and Douglass also relished the promise of better schools for their children, sending several of them to girls and boys boarding schools in New York. Within a year, he landed an appointment as professor of natural philosophy at New York University. He officially gave up the appointment in 1833, when he found that his instructional duties sometimes interfered with his engineering, and instead moved into the professorship of civil engineering and architecture, with the understanding that no duties would be required except those that he chose for himself. Still, Douglass continued to lecture frequently throughout 1836 and 1837, while also spending significant time designing the University's new collegiate building in Washington Square.
Douglass's participation in several high-profile engineering projects during the 1830s brought him considerable public acclaim. In 1833, he surveyed the railroad route from Brooklyn to Jamaica, N.Y., capitalizing on the growing national enthusiasm for rail travel, and he solved a long-standing public health problem for the residents of New York City with his design of the Croton Aqueduct (1833-36), which supplied pure drinking water to Manhattan for many years. Perhaps his greatest fame, however, was reserved for his design of Greenwood Cemetery (1838-39) in Brooklyn, one of the most fashionable and progressive cemeteries in the nation. The Greenwood ideal of the cemetery as a place of bucolic serenity, artfully laid out to mimic a natural landscape, dominated cemetery design for the remainder of the century and had an important influence on the larger culture. Douglass remained in charge of the development of Greenwood until 1841.
Despite his professional success, Douglass's personal finances declined after the Panic of 1837, when eastern American financial markets nearly collapsed. In 1840, he wrote that his financial affairs were "greatly deranged," and that he felt himself "labouring under accumulated embarrassments" (May or June ). As a result, he once again sought out the security of a position with the government, hoping for a post on the Northeastern Boundary Survey, but this time was passed over. Despite his personal financial setbacks, Douglass remained a desired thinker, attracting the attention of the prominent British linguist and artist, Lady Anne Fane of Westmorland. Moreover, after much begging from episcopal bishop Charles Petit McIlvaine, Douglass accepted the presidency of Kenyon College, beginning in March 1841, and was also named professor of intellectual and moral philosophy, logic, and rhetoric. In February of 1844, Kenyon College's Board of Trustees met in secret and decided to force Douglass's resignation. Douglass claimed that this "dismission" was the result of a coup by McIlvaine, who, despite being Douglass's long-term friend, turned on Douglass and orchestrated his ouster. The entire Douglass family was devastated, both socially and financially, by Douglass's loss of the Kenyon College presidency. Douglass spent much time, after returning to New York, writing pamphlets to recuperate his good reputation. Ann was forced to rely on friends and family for lodgings for herself and the children while Douglass sought work. By this time, Andrew, the second eldest, had established himself in the business world and helped to provide a living for his younger brothers. Sarah, also grown up and married, took in one of her sisters.
Returning to engineering and consulting work, Douglass laid out the Albany Rural Cemetery in 1845-46 and the Protestant cemetery in Quebec in 1848, both in the style of Greenwood Cemetery. In August 1848, he moved to Geneva College (now Hobart) to become professor of mathematics and natural philosophy, but not long after moving, he suffered a fall and paralytic stroke that left him incapacitated, and that ultimately resulted in his death on October 21, 1849. Ann Douglass survived her husband until July 1, 1873. Charles graduated from Kenyon College in 1837 and Andrew graduated in 1838. Henry graduated from West Point in 1852. Both Charles and Malcolm became clergymen in the Episcopal Church, with Charles spending significant time working, writing, and publishing theological tracts in England. Andrew became highly successful in America's business community. Malcolm married Ann Hale and they had Andrew Ellicott Douglass, who became a scientist, famous for his discovery of the field of dendrochronology.
- Acquisition Information:
- 1966, 1988, 1991, 2014, 2017. M-1390, M-2294, M-2418, M-2668, M-5038, M-6083 .
- Processing information:
Cataloging partially funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project. Additions to the papers catalogued with thanks to funding provided by the Upton Foundation.
This collection is organized chronologically with undated items at the end.
- Rules or Conventions:
- Finding aid prepared using Describing Archives: A Content Standard (DACS)
- Additional Descriptive Data:
David Bates Douglass Papers. Greenslade Special Collections and Archives. Kenyon College, Ohio.
Douglass, David Bates. Letter to Alden Partridge. Norwich University Archives, Vermont.
DuBois-Ogden-McIlvaine Family Papers, 1786-1983. William L. Clements Library. University of Michigan.
Lewis Cass Papers. William L. Clements Library. University of Michigan.
Papers of Bishop Charles McIlvaine. Greenslade Special Collections and Archives. Kenyon College, Ohio.
Samuel Latham Mitchill Papers. William L. Clements Library. University of Michigan.
William Woodbridge Papers. Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.The following maps have been catalogued separately:
- Douglass, David Bates, and Andrew Douglass. Map of the Niagara River Designed to Illustrate the Niagara Lectures of D.B. Douglass. [1850s].
- Douglass, David Bates, and Ebenezer Mix. [Plan of Old Fort Erie]. 1853.
- Douglass, David Bates, and J. (John) Vallance. Douglass, David Bates, and Ebenezer Mix. [Plan of Old Fort Erie]. , 1853. Siege & Defence of Fort Erie. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: [publisher not identified], 1816.
- Douglass, David Bates. Chart Illustrative of the Siege & Defence of Fort Erie, Campaign of 1814. [publisher not identified], 1814. [Facsimile of map held by the National Archives].
- Douglass, David Bates. Map of the Water Region of the Counties of Westchester And Putnam, Exhibiting the Various Lines of Aqueduct for Supplying the City of New York With Pure & Wholesome Water. New York: [publisher not identified], 1840.
Cullum, George W. Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, N. Y. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1891.
Dexter, Franklin Bowditch. Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College with Annals of the College History. Volume VI. New York: H. Holt and Company, 1885.
Douglass, David Bates, et. al. Boundary - Georgia and Florida: Letter From D. B. Douglass relating to the Boundary Line Between the State of Georgia and the Territory of Florida. Washington, D. C.: Gales & Seaton, Printers to the House of Representatives, 1829.
Douglass, David Bates, et. al. Exposition of the Plan and Objects of the Green-wood Cemetery: an Incorporated Trust, Chartered by the Legislature of the State of New York. New York: Printed by Narine & Co., 1839.
Douglass, David Bates, et. al. Report of the Commissioners, under an Act of the Legislature of this State: Passed February 26th, 1833, Relative to Supplying the City of New York with Pure and Wholesome Water. New York: Printed by P. Van Pelt, 1833.
Douglass, David Bates. Further Statement of Facts and Circumstances Connected with the Removal of the Author from the Presidency of Kenyon College in Answer to "The Reply of Trustees," Etc. Albany: Erastus H. Pease, 1845.
Douglass, David Bates. Report on the Coal and Iron Formation of Frostburg and the Upper Potomac, in the States of Maryland and Virginia. Goldsmith's - Kress Library of Economic Literature, 1838.
Douglass, David Bates. Statement of Facts and Circumstances Connected with the Removal of the Author from the Presidency of Kenyon College. Printed for Private Circulation, 1844.
Douglass, David Bates. The Campaign of 1814. Edited by Sidney W. Jackman. Bala, Wales: Cromlech Press, 1958.
Hale, Benjamin, D. D. A Sermon Occasioned By the Death of David Bates Douglass, LL. D. Geneva, New York: I & SH Parker, 1850.
Jackman, Sydney W., John Freeman, Donald Rickard, and James L. Carter. American Voyager: The Journal of David Bates Douglass. Marquette, Michigan: Northern Michigan University Press, 1969.
Smallwood, WM. A., J. L. Reynolds, and T. W. Rogers. Reply of the Trustees of Kenyon College, Ohio to the Statement of D. B. Douglass, L. L. D. Philadelphia: Stavely and McCalla, 1844.
Stuart, Charles B. Lives and Works of Civil and Military Engineers of America. New York: D. Van Nostrand, Publisher, 1871.
- Other Finding Aids:
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"Reminiscences…" has been microfilmed
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Canals--Design and construction.
Gender--United States--History--19th century.
Home Schooling--United States--History--19th century.
Middle class families.
Navy Island Campaign, 1837-1838.
Public works--United States.
Second Great Awakening--United States--History.
Drawings (visual works)
Lewis Cass Expedition, 1820.
Pennsylvania Canal (Pa.)
United States. Army. Corps of Engineers.
United States Military Academy.
Allanson, John Sylvanus.
Anton, Hetty Marie.
Armistead, Walker Keith, 1783-1845.
Baldwin, Henry, 1780-1844.
Barnes, Daniel H. (Daniel Henry), 1785-1828.
Bates, David S. (David Stanhope), 1777-1839.
Beck, Lewis C. (Lewis Caleb), 1798-1853.
Bird, W. A.
Blaney, George, 1775 or 1776-1835.
Bliss, John, 1787-1854.
Brown, R. S.
Buckingham, James Silk, 1786-1855.
Calhoun, John C. (John Caldwell), 1782-1850.
Cass, Lewis, 1782-1866.
Chamberlain, Anna B.
Chester, S. M., (Stephen Mitchell), 1793-1862.
Cornell, Samuel G.
Cox, S. H.
de Mornay, A.
Delafield, Henry, 1792-1875.
Delafield, Joseph, 1790-1875.
Delafield, William .
Clinton, DeWitt, 1769-1828.
Doty, James Duane, 1799-1865.
Douglass, Andrew E.
Douglass, Charles Edward.
Douglass, Malcolm, 1825-1887.
Eakin, Samuel H.
Eames, Theodore, 1785-1847.
Ellicott, Ann Eliza.
Ellicott, Joseph, 1760-1826.
Ellicott, Sarah, 1756-1827.
Farmer, John, 1798-1859.
Gamble, H. L. (Hannah L.)
Griffith, Mary E. (Of New Brunswick, N.J.)
Hagner, Peter, 1772-1850.
Jones, Roger, 1789-1852.
Kearny, James, -1862.
Macomb, Alexander, 1782-1841.
McDowell, Andrew, 1757-1843.
Meigs, Josiah, 1757-1822.
Mitchill, Samuel Latham, 1764-1831.
Parker, Daniel, 1782-1846.
Parker, Peter Buell.
Roberdeau, Isaac, 1763-1829.
Sullivan, George, 1771-1838.
Swift, J. G. (Joseph Gardner), 1783-1865.
Thayer, Sylvanus, 1785-1872.
Torrey, John, 1796-1873.
Totten, Joseph Gilbert, 1788-1864.
Totter, Y. L.
Trimble, William Allen, 1786-1821.
Twining, Alexander C. (Alexander Catlin), 1801-1884.
Van Rensselaer, Jeremiah, 1793-1871.
Watson, John Lee, 1797-1884.
Webster, Horace, 1794-1871.
Westmorland, Priscilla Anne Wellesley Pole Fane, countess of, 1793-1879.
Wright, John C. (John Crafts), 1783-1861.
Fort Erie (Ont.)--History--Siege, 1814.
New York (State)--History--War of 1812.
United States--History--War of 1812.
Fort Erie (Ont.)--Maps.
Grand Island (N.Y. : Island)--Maps.
Niagara River (N.Y. and Ont.)--Maps.
Using These Materials
The collection is open for research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Copyright status is unknown
- PREFERRED CITATION:
David Bates Douglass Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan