This collection contains 37 business and personal letters that Virgil Cornish received during his time as a steward at the Hartford Retreat for the Insane in the mid-1800s. Family members and other concerned parties contacted the institution from towns in Connecticut and from cities such as Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. The majority of the letters concern payments for the treatment and housing of individuals. Many writers noted dollar amounts (for payments originally enclosed with the letters), reflecting the cost of mental health care at the Retreat between 1846 and 1857.
Correspondents often requested news of and favors for patients, and sometimes requested that Cornish forward clothing and other gifts. On one occasion, Hugh Robinson informed Cornish of the death of Gertrude Hudson, the sister of a Hartford Retreat patient (September 2, 1851). A few letters reflect the institution's daily work, including an W. W. Anderson's apology for declining a job at the retreat's dining hall (October 16, 1852). The collection also includes a small number of personal letters (or business letters with personal content), including one by Cornish's friend Henry R. Angus, who offered to deliver letters to Cornish's son in California during a journey to San Francisco (October 29, 1852).