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Wilson family papers, 1704-1884

16.25 linear feet

The Wilson papers contain letters and documents relating to the lives and careers of three generations of the family of William Wilson, residents of Clermont, N.Y. in the mid-Hudson River Valley.

The Wilson family papers contains over 4,000 letters relating to the lives and fortunes of three generations of the family of William Wilson, residents of Clermont, N.Y, in the mid-Hudson River Valley. Virtually all of the letters in the collection were received by members of the Wilson family, with only a very few out-going drafts. Together, these present an impressively detailed perspective on many aspects of family life, political culture, agriculture, commerce, and the economy of Columbia and Dutchess County, N.Y., in the fifty years following the end of the American Revolution. As well being educated, energetic members of the social elite, the Wilsons engaged in a variety of pursuits, from the legal and medical professions, to land proprietorship, farming, and politics, and they commented extensively at every turn. A genealogical chart of the Wilson family, detailing the relationships of all those mentioned in the collection can be found in box 42:11.

The core of the Wilson papers consists of the letters received by William Wilson, who shouldered a wide variety of responsibilities in Columbia and Dutchess counties and knew their residents intimately. The breadth of his interests brought him into contact with many of the state's leading citizens, but also with the tenant farmers, medical patients, merchants and clerks. William's major pursuit in life was medicine, and his surviving papers contain seven medical daybooks (40:3; 47:9-14), providing a chronological record of his visits, diagnoses and prescriptions, as well as his fees. He also kept two notebooks dealing with the causes and symptoms of various diseases (47:15, 16), and scattered throughout his papers are letters from patients discussing their illnesses. Of particular importance are the letters relative to the deaths of Chancellor Robert R. Livingston and his wife, for whom Wilson was the attending physician (18:6-10; 19:15, 21, 23). Wilson was also a founding member of the Medical Society of Dutchess and Columbia Counties in 1796, and was associated with the founding of the New York Medical Society, as well as with the effort to establish a medical college (15:69; 16:17, 24, 44, 46, 52, 66, 70, 76, 80; 17:3, 13, 17, 23, 29; 45:19).

William Wilson was also employed as an administrator of landed property, usually for members of the Livingston family, and particularly Henry Livingston (1752/53-1823). The wide-spread unrest among "General Livingston's" tenants is discussed in many of the letters, along with more general discussions of land tenure, proprietary power, and tenant satisfaction. Wilson also served as administrator for the property of Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, especially during the latter's appointment to France, for two absentee landlords from New York City, Walter Rutherford and J. Stark Robinson (41:1, 2); and he was an executor or administrator for the estates of Robert Cambridge Livingston (1742-1794) (42:1), Peter Robert Livingston (1737-1794) (42:7), and the Chancellor (42:3-6). The materials relating to Livingston rental properties consists largely of receipts for rents received, but also include lease agreements, about twenty account books relative to the Chancellor's lands, and negotiations for the sale of land, especially the Chancellor's property in New Jersey after his death. A section of the estate documents for Robert R. Livingston relate to payment of medical, boarding, and clothing bills for Isabella and her son, Stephen, who were enslaved by Livingston (42:4). Some of the documents refer to her as Isabella Bond.

In 1791, Wilson added the office of Deputy Postmaster to his collection of responsibilities, becoming the first such agent for the town of Clermont. He was reappointed in 1803, and continued at his lucrative post until surrendering it to his son in 1825. As with everything else, Wilson saved all of his papers (42:12-15), and this the collection includes Wilson's original appointment commissions, signed by Post Master General Timothy Pickering (1:46 and 12:72), as well as the postal accounts and other records, which are generally of an administrative and bureaucratic nature. There are a few scattered items from correspondents critical of the speed and unreliability of the mails.

William Wilson also filled various political appointments in the county, and was active in state politics. As a Jeffersonian-Republican, befitting a friend of Chancellor Livingston, he played an important local role as judge of the county court, yet while many of his letters are addressed to "Judge" Wilson, virtually nothing pertaining to his official judicial activities survives in the collection apart from a series of receipts from various sheriffs and a few examinations of a woman for illegitimacy (43:44; 41:19). However Wilson corresponded with other judges and lawyers in the region, a fair amount of which has been preserved, especially from Peter Van Schaack and members of the prominent Van Ness family. Wilson's role as one of the first school supervisors in the area is represented by some scant records (41:22), as is his position as a commissioner for the granting of tavern licenses (41:23).

Wilson was involved in two other county-wide projects that had an important impact on Columbia County, and for which there is excellent material. One of these was the construction of the Highland Turnpike, which ran from Westchester County to near Albany, with gates in Columbia County. Wilson sat on its Board of Directors, and was a frequent and regular correspondent with its president, Joseph Howland (43:1, 2). Howland's are among the few letters that bear on broader national issues, and are in many ways the most interesting series of letters in the collection (see especially 17:87). Secondly, Wilson was instrumental in the establishment of the Agricultural Society of Dutchess and Columbia Counties, or the "Farm Club," as it was usually called. As (variously) president, vice president, secretary, or treasurer, Wilson was intimately involved in the operation of the organization. Of particular interest is the material relative to the annual county fairs held by the club, and the notifications from potential participants, the standards for awards, and the lists of winners (41:3-11). These records, together with the information to be gathered from the receipts from merchants, presents a detailed picture of agricultural life in the rural Hudson Valley.

In sum, those portions of the Wilson Papers that deal directly with William Wilson and his many activities provides a comprehensive picture of rural life in Columbia County and the state of New York in the forty years after the American Revolution.

The letters from Wilson's children offer insights into other aspects of life in early nineteenth-century New York. Alexander Wilson wrote many letters to his father while a student, and it is from his papers that one gets a good idea of the nature of legal education at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Alexander's early death means there is little material relating to his career as a practicing attorney, but what is lacking from Alexander is more than made up for by the papers of his younger brother, Robert. Robert kept extensive records of his practice, including a register of cases covering the entire period of his independent practice in New York, 1823-1830 (46:17), and his day books and account books, which list his professional duties preformed on behalf of clients, and his expenses, fees, and collections (40:1; 46:15,16). The Wilson Papers also includes file papers for many of the cases in which Robert participated (43:5-30), providing a broad, and occasionally deep insight into one man's legal practice in the early 19th century.

The letters of Wilson's other sons are less numerous than those of Alexander and Robert. William H. spent most of his life in Clermont, and so wrote less often, and Stephen B. was a secretive man, who simply did not write many letters. William H. wrote several letters during his tour of duty on the Lake Champlain frontier during the War of 1812 (18:43, 52; 19:18, 26, 36, 47, 56, 60, 68; 20:16, 18), but these are preoccupied with descriptions of camp life and military "politics" rather than strategy or the social impact of the war. William succeeded his father as Deputy Postmaster in 1825, and kept the same copious records as his father (42:12-15). He was not, however, as active in politics as his father, and except for a few letters relating to his run for a seat in the state senate in 1839, and some candidate lists and election return broadsides (41:25-27), there is little of political interest in William's papers. Stephen's letters are the more interesting for their rarity. When he does write, it is well worth the reading.

In addition to the letters written and collected by William, William H., and Robert L. Wilson, the Wilson Papers contain a vast quantity of documents. The largest category of this material contains an enormous number of accounts and receipts from merchants with whom the Wilsons did business. In terms of the number of items, fully half of the Wilson Papers is comprised of these accounts. Approximately 800 individual laborers, craftsmen, merchants, and business firms are represented as having done business with one or another member of the Wilson family, and the collection includes accounts for nearly every kind of household goods, from furniture to food to building materials, agricultural supplies, from seeds to fruit trees to sheep, and personal goods, from cheap "segars" to an "invalid chair" for Robert L., to wine.

The accounts (box 44 and 45:1-16) are arranged alphabetically by creditor. A complete list of merchants and firms represented in the collection is included under "Merchants" in the subject index. The accounts are a particularly valuable resource for social historians. For example the accounts of Samuel Haner (44:12) document aspects of blacksmithing; those of the Clermont grocers Bonesteel and Broadhead (44:4) reveal aspects of diet and nutrition; those of Thomas Beekman (44:2) document medicine and medical supplies; and those of Peter Outwater (45:6) provide information on transportation and commerce on the Hudson River. Receipts for payment that do not include goods or services are filed by surname (45:20-23). The collection also includes a number of the Wilsons' account books, especially William's and Robert's, which offer a view of the other side of the ledger (40:5; 46:18; 47:1, 2).

A second subdivision of the collection, and one closely related to the merchant accounts, deals with land administration. In addition to the correspondence of Henry Livingston with William Wilson mentioned above, the collection contains several subject files related to this important issue in Hudson River Valley history. Most important are the folders containing information on absentee landlords (41:1, 2); deeds (41:4); land grants (43:4); leases (43:31, 32); mortgages (45:17); various rental accounts (46:1-7); surveys and surveying (46:8); as well as William Wilson's rental account books (46:17-20).

Finally the collection contains a small body of material of an essentially genealogical or local history value, and a wide, if not very deep, collection of letters of the Livingston family. William Wilson was an executor for some of the Livingston family estates, most notably for Robert Cambridge Livingston (42:1, 2) and Robert R. Livingston (42:3-6), as well as for other estates (41:29; 42:7-10). The information included in the "genealogy" folder (42:11) is particularly helpful in interpreting the material relating to estate settlement and administration.

The local history of the town of Clermont and Columbia County appears throughout the collection, ranging from arrest warrants to local taxes, and including a very important group of papers relating to the establishment of Clermont Academy (41:16-23). As for the Livingstons, while the famous Chancellor does not overpower the collection, the Livingston family does play an important part. Over sixty members of the family are mentioned in some significant way in the Wilson Papers. Some -- like "General" Henry with his tenant problems, the administration of the estates of Walter T. Livingston (1772-1827) and the Chancellor (42:3-7), or the letters of Edward Philip Livingston (1779-1843) concerning his trip to France -- are meaningful parts of the collection (9:78, 86, 98; 10:8, 64). Other Livingstons are merely the signers of documents or letters, such as Janet Livingston Montgomery's (1743-1828) announcement that she plans to enter the Farm Club fair, a request from Mary Thong Livingston Wilson for financial assistance after the birth of Wilson's grandson, or the Chancellor's grandson, Clermont Livingston, who signed a quit claim deed for the benefit of Clermont Academy.

In sum, the Wilson papers are primarily a collection of family papers. While some members of the family participated in significant activities, and while the letters relating to those activities are important, there is a strongly personal aspect about them, and whatever broader historical significance that can be gotten from them must be gotten in the mass.


Wilson H. Clark collection, 1846-1848

30 items

This collection is made up of letters that Wilson H. Clark of New Haven, Connecticut, received from family members between 1846 and 1848. His brothers James and Warren and his aunt, Eunice E. Higgins, discussed their lives in Ohio, commenting on family news, finances, and other subjects.

This collection is made up of 30 letters that Wilson H. Clark of New Haven, Connecticut, received between February 1846 and December 1848. The bulk of the correspondence consists of letters from Wilson's brothers, James B. and Warren V. Clark, who wrote from Mansfield, Sandusky, and Castalia, Ohio; Wilson also received a few letters from an aunt and uncle in Castalia. James B. Clark's letters pertain to financial issues, such as crop prices and his attempts to sell a watch that belonged to Wilson. Warren V. Clark, who wrote the majority of the letters, provided news of family members and acquaintances, and discussed his work for a railroad company and other aspects of the Ohio railroad industry. In his letter of October 19, 1847, he copied the inscription he had written for James's tombstone. He later expressed his concerns about "Rodney's" intention to move to the south to become a seafarer; Warren believed that residents of the southern states were exposed to more diseases. A few of Warren's letters from October and November 1848 discuss political issues, such as the election of Zachary Taylor. Wilson H. Clark's final correspondents were an aunt (E. E. Higgins) and uncle in Castalia, Ohio, who reported on family health and other news. The collection includes 3 letters from S. Royston, who discussed finances and a legal dispute.


Wilson I. Davenny papers, 1889-1917

3 linear feet — 1 oversize folder

Newspaperman, lobbyist for the National Rivers and Harbors Congress, and spokesman for the United Spanish War Veterans. Correspondence, scrapbooks, speeches, business papers and account books relating primarily to his work as a lobbyist.

The Davenny collection is comprised of the following series: Correspondence and other papers; United Spanish War Veterans Organization; National Rivers and Harbors Congress; and Other materials. The National Rivers and Harbors Congress series provides insight into the financing and operation of the lobby. Much of the correspondence in this series is with M.A. Thompson, secretary and treasurer of the organization.


Wilson Ornithological Society records, 1887-2003 (majority within 1960s-2002)

7 linear feet

Miscellaneous correspondence, membership material, constitution, agreement with the University of Michigan; also presidents' files, 1997-2002.

The record group consist of a scattering of early records from the 19th century, including some correspondence and a notebook from the Wilson Ornithological Club, Cambridge, Mass. The bulk of the records date from the 1960s and consist of files of various individuals holding office within the organization as president or in some other position.


Wilson S. Beckley papers, 1862-1864

20 items

The Wilson S. Beckley papers consist of 19 letters written by Beckley to his mother, Sarah Beckley, and other family members during the Civil War, along with one carte de visite. Beckley was originally from Cascade, Michigan, and fought in the 21st Michigan Volunteer Infantry. His letters mainly describe military life within the infantry.

The Wilson S. Beckley papers include dated material from April 12, 1862, through November 16, 1864. Consisting of 19 letters and one carte de visite, the collection provides a great deal of information on camp life in the 21st Michigan Volunteer Infantry as well as views towards the “rebels.” With the exception of one letter from a cousin named Julia and a discarded letter of a Confederate soldier that he found at a rebel camp describing the battle of Shiloh, all letters were written by Beckley to his mother and other family members.

In his correspondence Beckley describes the march from Camp Siegel in Ionia, Michigan, to various sites in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama. He keeps his mother apprised of not only his activities, but also of the movements of the brigade and other news pertaining to the Union army. He also includes some descriptions of weaponry and of the foods available to the soldiers.

The Confederate letter which Beckley also sent to his mother vividly describes the battle of Shiloh, and briefly mentions Generals Wood, Beauregard, Hardee, Bragg, and others. The unknown soldier wrote of the tragic battle, “…we rested until morning of the 6th it was holy Sabbath & the sun rose fair & beautiful over the field that was about to be drenched in blood…” (April 12, 1862). In his letter from November 20, 1862 Beckley includes passing references to African Americans servants, a description of a suicide, and several pen and ink illustrations of soldiers. Beckley's letter of December 19, 1862, describes frustrations about officers providing African American servants with rations for the regiment. The letter is illustrated with several vignettes relating to his irritation that African Americans were better treated than white soldiers. Fragments "of our tattered flag under which one of the bearers was mortally wounded and another lost an arm at Chickamauga" are enclosed in the letter of July 16, 1864.

Despite some of the hardships he endured, Beckley’s tone is highly optimistic. He incorporates many drawings into his letters, including a hand-drawn map of Bridgeport, Alabama. Beckley also had the role of being a “bugler” in the Infantry, and frequently wrote sheet music, which he claimed to have published and sold. His last letter dated November 16, 1864, was written from Cumberland Hospital in Tennessee, where he was hospitalized for what appears to be dysentery.

The carte de visite was produced in Louisville, Kentucky, and depicts a seated man with a beard in a Union Army uniform, possibly Wilson S. Beckley.


Winchester (Conn.) sermons, 1791-1845 (majority within 1810-1845)

21 items

This collection contains 21 individually bound sermons and religious lectures delivered primarily in Winchester, Connecticut, in the early 1800s. The sermons cover a variety of religious topics, and include several lectures from a series based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

This collection contains 21 individually bound sermons and religious lectures delivered primarily in Winchester, Connecticut, in the early 1800s. The sermons cover a variety of religious topics, and include several lectures from a series based on the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The pastor utilized shorthand abbreviations for common words.

At the top of some sermons, the author recorded dates on which the sermons were delivered and the location at which they were delivered when not at Winchester (often in towns across northwestern Connecticut). The earliest sermon was delivered at "Preston" on August 1, 1791, and is numbered 236. Sermon topics, based on verses copied from the King James Version of the Bible, included the doctrines of salvation and repentance, Christian life, and the author's 35th anniversary with his congregation ("Sickbed Reflections," January 31, 1843).

Four additional sermons form part of a series of "Catechetical Lectures," delivered between November 23, 1811 (lecture I) and April 16, 1819 (lecture XV). The first considers the history of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and the others touch upon individual questions taken from the document. Additionally, the collection includes part of a notebook containing notes on sermons given by various speakers between April 20, 1832, and April 21, 1833.


Winchester Cookie Cutter Collection, 1800-1900

13 Linear Feet (13 oversize drop-front boxes)

This collection is comprised of 72 nineteenth century cookie cutters--as well as a few presses and molds--made from a variety of materials such as tin, wood, plaster, and clay. These are of historical significance and rarity and were collected by Ohio resident Bruce Winchester. This collection is part of the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive in the Special Collections Research Center at the University of Michigan Library.

The collection is comprised of 72 nineteenth century cookie cutters--as well as a few molds and presses--made from a variety of materials such as tin, wood, plaster, and clay.


Winchester family papers, 1799-1847 (majority within 1810-1818)

18 items

The Winchester family papers contain correspondence and one document related to the family of John and Nancy Winchester of Groton, Connecticut. Their son William, a sailor during and after the War of 1812, wrote most of the letters.

The Winchester family papers contain correspondence and one document related to the family of John and Nancy Winchester of Groton, Connecticut. Their son William, a sailor during and after the War of 1812, wrote most of the letters. In his brief letters to his mother Nancy, William reported on his health and recent assignments and voyages, and requested news of his brothers and of life at home. He composed several of the letters while serving in the Navy during the War of 1812. In one letter, he reported having heard the news of the death of one of his brothers, and implored his mother to tell him which brother had died (May 11, 1814); most likely Elias. Other letters in the collection include correspondence from William's brothers, John and Alden, who, like William, gave their mother brief updates on their own travels at sea and of their employment, In her letter of February 18, 1814, Nancy sent news about the ill health of Elias. Also of interest within the collection is the official discharge form relieving the senior John Winchester from duty as a drummer in the Second Regiment of Artillery and Engineers, signed by Secretary of War James McHenry (November 30, 1799).


Windsor (Vt.) barter records, 1846-1848

1 volume

This volume is made up of barter records kept by "G.W." for a store in the Windsor, Vermont, area. The writer recorded the names of people, the goods they received from the store, and the goods they used to trade for them. The store sold dishes, looking glasses, foodstuffs (molasses, salt, sugar, tea, ginger, crackers, fish, rum, rice, candy, saleratus, raisins, etc.), opium, cloth, clothing, tobacco, snuff, oil, combs, ink, writing utensils, paper, and other goods. In return, customers traded butter, eggs, rags, wood, corn, apples, chickens, cheese, maple sugar, oats, and other items.

This volume is made up of barter records kept by "G.W." for a store in the Windsor, Vermont, area. The writer recorded the names of people, the goods they received from the store, and the goods they used to trade for them. The store sold dishes, looking glasses, foodstuffs (molasses, salt, sugar, tea, ginger, crackers, fish, rum, rice, candy, saleratus, raisins, etc.), opium, cloth, clothing, tobacco, snuff, oil, combs, ink, writing utensils, paper, and other goods. In return, customers traded butter, eggs, rags, wood, corn, apples, chickens, cheese, maple sugar, oats, and other items.


Winfield Scott collection, 1809-1862

99 items

A miscellaneous collection of letters and documents by or relating to Winfield Scott, 1818-1862.

The Winfield Scott collection is a miscellaneous collection of letters and documents written by or related to Scott, spanning 1818-1862. The items cover much of Scott's long military career, including his involvement in the War of 1812, the Second Seminole War, the Anglo-American dispute over the Canadian border, the Mexican-American War, and to a lesser extent, the Civil War. Also present are letters documenting Scott's ideas concerning politics, temperance, army discipline, and his presidential ambitions.

The earliest material in the collection primarily pertains to the War of 1812 and includes a warrant issued by Scott to pay the Seneca Turnpike for toll charges incurred by troops (October 25, 1813) and a note with a brief discussion of supply abuses in the Army (May 27, 1814). In the note Scott wrote, "The expenditures of the war have already been four times greater than they should have been." Somewhat later items include a prolonged discussion of army rank (January 19, 1826), and Scott's observations on the conduct of Col. George Croghan: "I heard of his having drawn a prize; of his being drunk in the street--scattering money to the crowd &c &c. On Saturday he was seen dead drunk in a hackney coach driving up Broadway" (October 4, 1830). Also present is a recommendation of Brevet Major Mann Page Lomax to Secretary of War Lewis Cass (January 21, 1832).

Several items of interest in the collection relate to military actions against Native Americans. On June 22, 1832, Scott wrote to William J. Worth explaining that he was en route to Chicago, where he was to assume command of the army in the Black Hawk War. The letter also includes a discussion of securing supplies from Watervliet, New York (June 22, 1832). In another item, Scott wrote from the headquarters of the Army of the South at Columbus, Georgia, calling for two regiments to be placed under his command for three months "to act against the Seminole Indians in Florida." He also noted that he would be at Picolata, Florida, by February 10, and would confer with William Schley about the Creeks at the borders of Georgia, whom he considered "unquiet, if not in a state of hostility" (January 31, 1836). A letter of June 17, 1836, also concerns the Second Seminole War, particularly regarding general strategy and the logistics of equipping the Georgia Volunteers with rifles (June 17, 1836).

A handful of letters concerns Scott's presidential ambitions and his thoughts on political matters. In a letter of November 16, 1839, he wrote of his desire to be the Whig nominee for president, debated whether to claim Virginia or New Jersey as his home, and noted that he had support in Ohio and Michigan. In other letters, he discussed several prominent Whigs and their politics, his "agitated" reaction to election results (October 12, 1844), and his tactics for gaining the presidential nomination of his party. On the last subject, he noted his attempts to silently bide his time and "become as perfect a non-entity as my best advisors can wish" (June 28, 1845). Other letters reveal Scott's efforts to gather intelligence concerning "Canadian patriots," (July 8, 1841) and his views that a "humble Tract" that he wrote about the abuses of alcohol "led to the formation of the early temperance societies, under pledges to abstain from the use of all intoxicating drinks" (February 17, 1842). However, Scott did not shun all alcoholic beverages, and several items document his wine orders (November 15, 1844; October 29, 1847).

The collection closes with a few items related to the Mexican-American War and the Civil War. Items concerning the former conflict include Scott's orders to Brigadier General John Anthony Quitman (May 6, 1847) and a discussion by Brigadier General David Emanuel Twiggs of the scarcity of water and shelter for troops under him (September 23, 1847). Also of interest is Scott's statement that he had "no expectation of a change of feeling on the part of Mexico in favour of peace until we shall have taken Vera Cruz harbour & have the Capitol in extreme peril of capture" (November 30, 1846). Several items relate to the Civil War, including a memorandum entitled "Views," which Scott wrote in 1860 concerning the threat of southern secession and future divisions within the United States (October 29, 1860). He also noted, "From a knowledge of our southern population, it is my solemn conviction that there is some danger of an early act of rashness, preliminary to secession." In a letter dated May 17, 1862, Scott revealed his deeply optimistic view that the war would end soon: "Thank God this unnatural Rebellion is likely to be crushed & terminated in a few weeks, perhaps days."

The Printed Items series (1 item) includes Memoir of General Scott, From Records Cotemporaneous with the Events. (Washington: C. Alexander, 1852).