The Eaton-Shirley family papers consist of personal diaries, correspondence, military papers, legal and business documents, printed materials, and photographs. A primary figure in the collection, John Eaton, Jr., was Civil War Superintendent of the Freedmen and later Commissioner of Education under Grant. The papers also contains substantial material from other Eaton family members, including military papers and correspondence of his brother, Lucien B. Eaton, and papers of the Shirley family (the family of John Eaton, Jr.’s wife, Alice E. Shirley).
The Eaton papers consist of 1,903 items, dating from September 1790 to July 30, 1939. The bulk of the collection falls between 1850 and 1906. The papers contain 318 letters, 9 diaries/journals, 60 personal documents of John Eaton Jr., 275 legal documents and business papers, 112 military documents, 923 photographs, 84 printed items, and 122 miscellaneous items.
The majority of the correspondence is personal and relates to family matters. The 168 letters of John Eaton, Jr., contain extensive biographical information. Of particular interest are 44 Civil War-era letters including information about the freedmen, three letters pertaining to the publication of The Post, and two with content regarding the Ku Klux Klan. The collection also contains 22 letters to and from Alice (Shirley) Eaton, 31 letters to and from Lucien Eaton, and 32 miscellaneous letters from members of the Eaton family. Of the 30 letters written by Alice Eaton's parents (James and Adelaine Shirley), 10 letters regard compensation for the damage done to the Shirley House during the Civil War. Various other members of the Shirley family wrote 15 letters, and 20 letters are from other people unrelated to the Eaton and Shirley families.
John Eaton Jr.’s aunt, Ruth Dodge Eaton, wrote two diaries which consist almost entirely of Christian hymns and essays. John Eaton Jr.'s uncle, Horace Eaton, wrote one diary that contains Christian material written while he attended Dartmouth College. John Eaton, Jr., wrote two diaries, one of which he wrote as a youth, and the other as a student at Dartmouth. Other journals include two by John Eaton Jr.'s brothers, Frederick and Charles, and a household account book, kept by his sister Christina. Of particular importance is Alice Shirley’s diary, in which she described pre-civil war tensions between the north and the south, speculation on the upcoming Siege of Vicksburg, the early stages of the Siege of Vicksburg, and very personal feelings regarding her marriage to John Eaton, Jr.
The 60 personal papers of John Eaton Jr. include 17 documents regarding his appointments and titles, two documents about freedmen, and 41 miscellaneous address cards and invitations (including an invitation to the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge).
Of the 275 legal papers, 74 documents pertain to the sale of land in Mississippi; 7 concern Robert M. Jones’s claim to Choctaw Nation lands; and 25 relate to estate papers, deeds of trust and documents about the proceedings of Adelaine Shirley’s post-war relief claims; and a receipt for the sale of an African American woman. The remaining 176 legal papers are miscellaneous financial documents, such as tax documents, checks, and receipts.
Of the 112 military documents, 58 pertain to John Eaton, Jr., 7 of which are about freedmen. The military documents of Lucien B. Eaton number 54.
The 923 photographs consist of six photo albums, 31 cased daguerreotypes and ambrotypes, 144 cabinet cards, and 421 loose photographs and snapshots all depicting members of the Eaton and Shirley families, scenic locations, and the Shirley House.
Of the 84 printed items in the collection, 49 newspaper clippings pertain to the occupational and personal activities of John Eaton, Jr., and 9 miscellaneous clippings relate to the Eaton family. The remaining 26 items are published pamphlets, including addresses and reports concerning John Eaton, Jr.; a sermon written by Horace Eaton; a report of proceedings of an Ohio Brigade reunion; an Anti-Slavery Almanac from 1838; and an incomplete piece describing the history and restoration of the Shirley House.
The 122 miscellaneous papers of the John Eaton, Jr., collection consist of 53 recipes and 69 miscellaneous items including a partial autobiography of Alice Eaton.