The papers of the Whittemore, Low, Peck, Parmelee, and Bonticou, families, primarily of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. The collection concerns the families' military service, genealogy, travel, and social activities.
The Correspondence series contains approximately 1.5 linear feet of letters, spanning 1776-1939, with the bulk concentrated around 1840-1939. It documents many branches of the family.
William Whittemore (b. 1761) of Boston, Massachusetts, wrote several of the earliest letters to his brother Amos in London, England, in the late 1790s. These letters primarily pertain to their business producing wool and cotton cards, and address such topics as business difficulties and market conditions in Massachusetts. Other items mention family matters and news, such as the death of their father, Thomas Whittemore (October 10, 1799). Also present are several letters concerning the Hubbard family of New Haven, Connecticut. In a letter to his parents, Thomas Hubbard shared his impressions of Georgetown, South Carolina, which he called a "wicked part" of the world (December 9, 1798). He described his living situation in a "bachelor hall," and referenced his wish to "make a fortune" in the South.
In the late 1830s, the focus of the correspondence series shifts to William Whittemore Low (1823-1877), the grandson of William Whittemore. The series, which includes both incoming and outgoing letters, documents many aspects of Low's career with the navy. In several early letters, his relatives strongly discouraged him from enlisting: His mother requested that he remain near her (August 9, 1839), and his grandfather wrote, "You will rue the day, should you enter either the Navy or Merchant Service," recommending instead that he become a shopkeeper or lawyer (December 1, 1839). Accompanying these are several recommendations from friends of Low's character and fitness for service. For the period of the 1840s and 1850s, many of the items are orders transferring Low between ships or addressing the logistics of his service. Included is a response to Low's request for detachment from the schooner Graham, signed by Jefferson Davis in his role as U.S. Secretary of War (June 8, 1853).
Of particular interest are the letters that Low wrote during his Civil War service as commander of the gunboat Octorara from September 1863 to the end of the war. They include a large number of long letters home, some giving excellent descriptions of Low's activities in the West Gulf Blockading Squadron. In a letter dated October 30, 1863, written to his brother Henry, Low anticipated his duties at Mobile but worried, "I am very much afraid that we shall break down before operations commence." In a letter to his father several days later, he gave a good description of the features of the Octorara and noted the repairs made on it (November 11, 1863).
A few letters during the Civil War period describe engagements and dangers faced onboard the Octorara. These include an account of an engagement on Mobile Bay on the morning of August 5, 1864, in which the Octorara fired on a Confederate ship "at anchor on the West side of the Bay in 2 fathoms water" (August 29, 1864). In an additional letter, Low described an incident in which he and his men mistook a ship for the CSS Nashville but quickly realized their error (September 14, 1864). Incoming letters to Low also shed light on the naval threat of the Confederacy. They include a copy of a letter by Edward La Croix, warning that a torpedo boat "propelled by a small engine" had just been built by Confederates at Selma, Alabama (November 20, 1864), and two letters by naval officer Edward Simpson, conveying intelligence concerning the blockade runner Heroine (March 23, 1865) and discussing the aftermath of the torpedoing of the USS Osage (March 29, 1865). In the latter, Simpson wrote, "I feel deeply for those poor fellows from the Osage and had already resolved on appropriating…one of the tin clads for hospital purposes." He also expressed hope that surgeons could transport the injured without inflicting further harm on them.
Also included are several letters to Low from inhabitants of Alabama, which include:
- A letter from James M. Dabney, in which he explained, "I am the owner of the Plantation nearest your present anchorage," and inquired whether he and his neighbors could return to their "homes & families, unmolested." (April 17, 1865)
- A letter from Ben Lane Posey, captain in the 38th Alabama Regiment, in which he admitted to being a Confederate States Army officer, but claimed, "I have had no connection with the army since Oct 6 1864." He also offered to surrender and requested to be returned to Mobile (April 20, 1864).
- A letter from J.B. Mendenhall of Buford's Landing, Alabama, which notes that a neighboring woman, "Mrs. Cleland," wishes to take an oath of allegiance to the United States. The letter also describes the response of slaves to the end of the war: "Her negroes have become defiant insulting, and she thinks dangerous….It is believed by some of the neighbours that their intention is to rob and plunder us perhaps murder before they leave. I know that mine are preparing to leave & wish they were gone." Mendenhall also expressed worry that his slaves would bring their friends and return to plunder his plantation (April 20, 1865).
A few letters also discuss the logistics of administering oaths of allegiance to southerners.
Also addressed in Low's Civil War correspondence are fairly routine matters, such as leaves of absences (July 2, 1864), complaints about the system of promotions (July 30, 1864), and a letter relating to the court martial of John Kennedy of the USS Oneida, who was found guilty of treating a superior officer with contempt (June 16, 1864). The series also includes official navy correspondence. Circular letters and orders address such topics as the use of alcohol onboard ships (September 16, 1862), appropriate actions in neutral waters (June 20, 1863), and the retrieval of supplies from Key West, Florida (September 11, 1863). Letters concerning Low's postwar career are much scarcer, but of particular interest is an 11-page description by Fred Patter of the capture of the pirate ship Forward (June 19, 1870).
From the 1870s on, the focus of the collection shifts to William W. Low's daughter, Grace Bonticou Low, and several other family members. Incoming letters to Grace Low begin in 1873, and her uncle, Henry Whittemore Low, and mother, Evelina P. Low, wrote much of the earliest correspondence of this period. Grace’s outgoing correspondence began in 1880 with letters to her family in New Haven about her time in Washington, D.C., where she attended a co-educational school and participated in ice skating, a tour and reception at the White House (Jan. 4, 1881), a reception of the First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes (Jan. 15, 1881), and visits to the Smithsonian Institution. Among her female acquaintances was Frances ("Fanny") Hayes, the daughter of President and Mrs. Hayes. In the mid-1880s, Low attended school in Watervliet, New York, and wrote of her social life and classes there. Her outgoing correspondence ends in 1891. Approximately 100 letters to Grace Low from her brother, Theodore H. Low, date from the mid-1890s to 1939. These regard his time at various naval hospitals in South Carolina, Rhode Island, and Washington D.C. Grace also received around 20 letters from another brother, William Low (1912-1916). Also of interest are letters written to Henry Low, mostly by his nephews, William and Theodore Low. Their correspondence with him includes accounts of their service with the Marines during the Boxer rebellion, Philippine insurrection, and the invasion of several Caribbean countries in 1907-1908. Theodore's later letters provide details of his work as an inventor, including applying for and receiving a patent for a bottle opener.
Several additional sets of letters provide insights into various female members of the Whittemore, Low, and Parmelee families. Geraldine Whittemore Low wrote a handful of letters to her uncle, Henry W. Low, from New Haven about her recreational activities and social gatherings with friends during the 1880s. They concern Valentine’s Day, her whist club, weddings, balls, and other social events. A set of 30 letters from Julie Parmelee Marston and Mary Parmelee Low, the widow of William Whittemore Low, Jr., to their cousin, Mary E. Redfield in New Haven, relate to their trip to Switzerland between September 1923 and August, 1926. They traveled on the American Line, SS Mongolia, and after their arrival, explored Switzerland, France, and Italy. Both Mary and Julie described their surroundings, cultural events they attended, and the people that they met in Europe. Mary also wrote about her two children, Charlotte and Billy; the expenses of the trip; and several aspects of the children’s education while in Switzerland.
The Letter Books series contains four letter books by William Whittemore Low, Sr., between 1840 and 1875, and two kept by Elisha Peck, 1843-1863. The earliest William W. Low letter book spans July 25, 1840-March 19, 1867 and contains 415 letters in its 466 pages. It comprises copies and originals of both incoming and outgoing letters that document much of Low's naval career. Early letters shed light on Low's time onboard the Missouri and the Saratoga and his education at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Many pertain to transfers, ship inventories, orders, and the enlistment of crews. Of particular interest are letters from the period of Low's service with the Union Navy during the Civil War onboard the St. Louis, Constellation, andOctorara. Both official and personal in nature, they shed light on naval policies, personnel, and Low's wartime experiences.
- A navy circular signed by Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles concerning the blockade and capture of Confederate vessels (August 18, 1862)
- A printed note containing intelligence that "the Oreto Gunboat is intended for the Southern Confederacy" (February 27, 1862)
- Low's orders to proceed to New Orleans and join the Octorara (September 22, 1863)
- A substantial amount of correspondence related to the Battle of Mobile Bay in early August 1864
- Numerous manuscript orders by Admiral Henry K. Thatcher tipped into the volume. They include one from March 31, 1865: "Open fire on the fort. Aim well to the left."
A significant part of the postwar correspondence relates to a bureaucratic error which resulted in the delay of a promotion for Low from the Board of Admirals. An index appears at the end of the volume.
The second William W. Low, Sr., letter book spans 1865-1875, and contains 212 pages of copied incoming and outgoing letters as well as copied passages from books concerning military science and ordnance, and copies of general orders. The materials pertain to the transportation of supplies, Low's knowledge of ordnance, a proposed article concerning Low for the Army & Navy Journal, Low's recommendations for various navy colleagues, and other subjects.
The third William W. Low, Sr., letter book spans 1870-1871, and consists of 335 letters within 263 pages. It comprises writer-retained copies of outgoing letters to correspondents in the U.S. Navy. Low wrote the letters while onboard the steam sloop-of-war USS Mohican. His primary correspondents were Rear Admiral John A. Winslow, S.W. Gordon, Rear Admiral Thomas Turner, Commodore William Rogers Taylor, and George M. Robeson. Topics of the correspondence include health and sanitation, supplies, the condition of the ship, the ventilation of the berth deck, and navy financial matters. Low also included in his letters summaries of courts martial for theft, intoxication, and the escape of prisoners, as well as information on casualties, training, and transfers. A series of significant letters in June 1870 record a conflict between San Salvador and Mexico, as well as the capture of the pirate ship Forward.
Also included is a volume of compiled circular letters from the U.S. Navy Department, 1870-1875. Likely kept by William W. Low, Sr., the item contains printed and manuscript letters concerning such topics as courts martial, recordkeeping, uniform regulations, and rank. The book also includes an index of topics in the front.
The first Elisha Peck letter book covers 1843-1863 and contains 30 letters by Peck, most of which he wrote to his wife Grace and children, Evelina ("Eva"), Henry, and Joanna ("Anna"). Peck wrote 11 of the letters while onboard the U.S. sloop of war Portsmouth from 1849-1851; during this time, Peck commanded the ship as part of an effort to stop the illicit slave trade from West Africa. In his letters home, he described terrain that he saw from the ship, expressed his sorrow over being separated from his family, and gave accounts of his experiences. On January 1, 1850, he wrote a letter from Cape Verde, noting that most American and British ships of war took "on board 20 or 30 African Negroes" to row in the "extreme heat of the African sun." He also gave details on the evasive movements of slave traders. In other letters, Low discussed Ghezo, the King of Dahomey and the kingdom's corps of female soldiers (April 20, 1850); the transportation of beeswax and ivory to the coast of present-day Angola (September 1, 1850); and drinking 100-year old wine on Christmas Day (January 2, 1851). Peck wrote most of the remainder of the letters while onboard the Carolina off the Brooklyn Navy Yard, discussing naval happenings and social visits and expressing affection for his children.
The second Elisha Peck letter book contains writer-retained copies of official naval correspondence written by Peck to various correspondents. The volume spans June 12, 1849-September 1, 1851, and covers the period of Peck's service with the Portsmouth. Letters concern personnel matters, the compiling of returns, disciplinary matters, and other topics. Major recipients include Francis Gregory, William B. Preston, William Craig, and William A. Graham.
Note: Two additional letter books by Thomas J. Whittemore are located in the Genealogy series because they contain correspondence related only to family research.
The Reminiscences, Essays, and Miscellaneous Writings series contains various materials written by members of the Whittemore-Low family, including poems; accounts of the military service of William W. Low, Sr., and Theodore Low; short fiction; religious writings; and fragments. Much of the writing is undated and unsigned, but several pieces concerning military duties in China and at the U.S. Naval Academy are attributed to Theodore Low.
The Diaries, Commonplace Books, and Logbook series contains 12 volumes kept by various family members between 1820 and 1886. The series consists of two volumes by Grace Bonticou Peck (1820 and 1827), two by William W. Low, Sr. (1844-1845 and [1848-1849]), one by Evelina Peck (1852-1853), one by Henry S. Parmelee (1865), one by Grace B. Low (1886), and five unattributed volumes.
Grace B. Peck's two volumes contain poems and quotations selected for or dedicated to her by various friends. The entries address subjects such as religion, hope, death, friendship, love, solitude, and the qualities of women. Most of the entries are signed, although few are dated or indicate location. The books kept by William W. Low, Sr., include an early commonplace book and a logbook for the USS Mohican. The latter volume comprises daily entries recording weather, barometer readings, sails set, the use of steam power, and the ship's longitude and latitude. The entries also contain records of minor transgressions, desertions, courts martial, and punishments. Detailed descriptions of the geography of Mazatlan, Altata, Pichilingue Bay, and San Blas, Mexico, are present on pages 35-41. The logbook also records the arrivals and departures of foreign ships and shore parties, the receipt of food and supplies, and the transfer of sailors between ships and to hospitals. Of particular interest is the description of the Mohican's engagement with the pirate ship Forward on June 16-19, 1870 (pages 58-61). The Evelina Peck volume is an album of messages from various friends and acquaintances, including quotations and several original poems. Most of the entries are reminiscences about friendship or expressions of sorrow over an imminent departure. The majority of entries are signed and dated; many mark "New Haven" as their location. The last entry is an ink drawing of a harp and pipe with no date or signature. The entries are in no particular order. Henry S. Parmelee's diary records very brief entries for eight days of Civil War service with the 1st Connecticut Cavalry Regiment in March and April 1865. Grace Bonticou Low’s diary dates from January to June 1886, and describes her life as a 21-year old woman staying with her aunt Anna and uncle James in Washington, D.C. Her entries reflect almost entirely on social events, dances, masquerades, visits, theater performances, and church attendance. She often wrote of particular female friends and of the military men she encountered in Washington.
The Documents and Receipts series contains several subseries based on the original bundles in which the family papers arrived. The subseries are as follows: Elisha Peck Bundle, which spans 1831-1875; Bonticou Bundle (1778-1837); Low Bundle (1895; undated); Washington, D.C. Property Bundle (1880-1883); Property and Pension Bundle (1880-1909); Theodore Low Naval Bundle (1906-1907); Other Documents and Receipts (1729-19[02?]). The bundles contain a wide variety of document types, including military and legal documents, wills, land indentures, pension papers, receipts, and petitions. These shed light on the careers, finances, and transactions of many members of the Whittemore-Low family.
The Graphics series contains 10 photograph albums, 2 scrapbooks, and approximately 100 cased and paper photographs, totaling approximately 1000 photographs of various kinds. The albums and scrapbooks date from the late-19th and early-20th centuries.
Short descriptions of them follow:
- Asian Travel photograph album, 1875-1877: The album contains albumen print views and portraits from Aden; Nagasaki, Kyoto and Hakodate, Japan; and Singapore. In addition to images of ports and group portraits of Japanese women, the album has several early photographs of the Ainu that offer an impression of their mode of dress and style of living. The series of photographs taken in Singapore show native theatre and homes, as well as a Hindu temple and a European style church under construction (in the background of one image). The album also includes a portrait of the King of Siam (Chulalongkorn or Rama V).
- Friendship album, 1879-1883: The album contains signatures, quotations, and eight chromolithographs of floral images. The creator of the album is unknown.
- Parmelee family album, ca. 1890: The album contains 137 silver gelatin photoprints showing the Parmelee family yachting, relaxing on the beach, and socializing at home.
- Henry S. Parmelee family Newport and Yale photograph album, 1901: The album contains gelatin silver prints of the Parmelee family and friends in a series of outdoor activities throughout southern New England. A series of photographs taken in the harbor of Newport, Rhode Island, features the yacht Speranza with women, children, and a dog among its passengers, as well as a number of candid portraits of a swimming party in Newport. Photographs taken in New Haven show an outing to the New Haven Country Club, as well as an image of decorations for the Yale Bicentennial. Also present are some faint but interesting images of tobogganing.
- Parmelee family Schooner Alert and Nassau photograph album, 1902: This album, which contains 92 gelatin silver prints, documents the Parmelee family vacationing and yachting in the Bahamas. The images are a combination of professional souvenir and amateur candid photographs. Many photographs show Nassau's Colonial Hotel: its exterior, interiors, tennis courts, and swimming pool. Other images from Nassau show natives near their homes, at market, and diving. Several photographs feature varied foliage, such as palms, banana plants, ciba trees, and cacti. Nearly half of the album focuses on Henry S. Parmelee's Schooner Alert, including numerous group photographs of the men and women on board, as well as several images of people reading and resting on deck.
- Julie F. Parmelee obituary scrapbook, 1902: The scrapbook contains newspaper clippings and articles on the death of Henry S. Parmelee and his wife, Mary F. Parmelee. Also included is a clipping on the death of William Whittemore, Jr., and an article on the reception hosted by the Parmelee family. The compiler of the scrapbook is Julie F. Parmelee, daughter of Henry and Mary Parmelee.
- William W. Low, Jr., Puerto Rico and Hawaii photograph album, ca. 1901-1902: The album contains photographs of Hawaii and of Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American War. Images depict navy officers as well as navy vessels, including the Arethusa. Several photographs document bridge-building and the Puerto Rican countryside. Also included are a fine early view of Honolulu, an image of a polo game, and portraits of an Asian child and an Asian woman.
- William W. Low, Jr., Puerto Rico photograph album, ca. 1902: The album contains 28 silver developing-out prints of Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American War. Several images show men in military uniform (mostly American army and navy, but also some Spanish or local militia). Additional images feature groups of American men and women and local women and children, along with several views of architecture.
- [William W. Low, Jr.] Travel photograph album, 1897-1909: The album contains 121 silver gelatin photoprints of Connecticut, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. It includes a series of images of navy officers and vessels such as the New York and Columbia, as well as numerous images of family and friends aboard a sailboat. Also present are a handful of photographs of East Rock Park in New Haven, Connecticut, in the winter.
- [William W. Low, Jr.] Puerto Rico, U.S., and Hawaii photograph album, 1911: The album contains 268 silver gelatin photoprints of locations in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Connecticut, and South Carolina. Images of Puerto Rico include various buildings, dwellings, harbors, a naval station, and views of the countryside. In addition are images of street scenes with Puerto Ricans, many of them children. Several photographs of the Lows on vacation in Charleston, South Carolina, are also present, as are several images of the Low home in Connecticut.
- Charlotte Low Baby photograph album, 1910-1922: The album contains 94 albumen prints and silver gelatin photoprints of Charlotte Low as an infant and young child. It includes numerous portraits of Charlotte posed with toys, other children, and family members.
- Charlotte Low photograph album, 1921-1922: The album contains 110 silver gelatin photoprints of Charlotte Low and friends at home in New Haven, Connecticut, and at Camp Broadview for girls. It includes amateur portraits as well as photographs depicting girls engaged in swimming, canoeing, and hiking. Also present are several photographs of family pets and of Charlotte Low riding a bicycle.
The individual photographs date from the 1840s to the 1890s and depict members of the Low, Whittemore, and Parmelee families, in groups and individually. Subjects of portraits include Theodore Low, Geraldine Low, Henry Wentworth Low, Evelina (Peck) Low, William W. Low, Sr., Mary Frances Parmelee, Eliza Parmelee, Lewis C. Parmelee, Henry Parmelee, Elizabeth Parmelee, Fanny Whittemore, Anna Whittemore, and James M. Whittemore. A wide array of formats, such as daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, crystoleums, and cabinet cards, are present.
The Ephemera and Realia series contains a variety of items, including invitations, calling cards, fliers, locks of hair from various family members, cloth, and the artificial orange blossoms used to decorate Evelina Peck Low's wedding dress. The items mainly date to the mid- to-late-19th century.
The Genealogical Materials series contains approximately two linear feet of materials related to the history of the Whittemore-Low family. Items pertain to various lines of the family, including the Whittemores, Lows, Pecks, Bonticous, and Parmelees. Included are newspaper clippings, pamphlets, manuscript records of birth and death dates for various family members, and miscellaneous material giving biographical information. Also present are two letterbooks kept by Thomas J. Whittemore on genealogical matters and inquiries.
The Miscellaneous series contains a few scattered notes and envelopes from the late-19th and early 20th-centuries.