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Charles Ellet, Jr. Papers, 1795-1941 (majority within 1838-1863)

20.0 Linear feet (33 manuscript boxes 11 flat oversized boxes)

The records of the Charles Ellet, Jr. papers include correspondence, court documents, technical drawings and plans, general orders, reports, meeting minutes, newspaper clippings, notebooks, diaries, photographs, and ephemera.

The papers of Charles Ellet, Jr. (1810-1862) span the years 1827-1954. The papers documents Charles Ellet, Jr.’s important contributions as a civil engineer to 19th century public works projects: building wire suspension bridges, canals, and railroads; conducting the first government funded survey of the lower Mississippi River Delta; constructing and commanding the U.S. Ram Fleet; and his contributions to economic transportation theory. The papers are arranged into seven series: Correspondence; Subject Files; Technical Drawings and Plans; Newspapers; Photographs; Notebooks; and Artifacts.

The bulk of the Charles Ellet, Jr. papers contain correspondence, dating 1838-1863. The papers also contain technical drawings and plans, newspaper clippings, legal documents, survey notebooks, scrapbooks, photographs, survey reports, publication drafts, general orders, ephemera, and building specifications for canals, locks, and railroads. The Correspondence series creates an intimate portrait of his family life and professional career; including notable correspondence with Lot Clark, Charles Davis, Edwin Stanton, Benjamin Wright, Charles B. Stuart, Joseph Cabell, and John Roebling. The Subject Files series records his professional contributions, containing organizational documents and records related to his work developing public works projects, lobbying for river improvements, the legal dispute surrounding the Niagara Falls Suspension bridge, and his command of the U.S Ram Fleet during the Civil War. The Technical Drawings and Plans series consists of survey drawings and maps for the construction of railroads and canals, with significant material from his survey of the Lower Mississippi River Delta. Missing from the Technical Drawings and Plans series are plans for the U.S. Ram Fleet. The Newspapers series contains many clippings relating to the Ellet family genealogical history, and the U.S. Ram Fleet’s service during the Civil War. The Notebooks series consists primarily of survey books from his survey of Philadelphia County, 1840-1841. The Charles Ellet, Jr. papers also contain family papers illuminating the life and military career of Charles Rivers Ellet and Alfred W. Ellet.

Through the steadfast preservation, collection, and promotion of Charles Ellet, Jr.’s life and work, Mary Virginia Ellet sold the Charles Ellet, Jr. papers to the University of Michigan’s Transportation History Collection in 1936.


Philleo-Norton family papers, 1830-1872

145 items

The Philleo-Norton papers contain the letters of Calvin W. Philleo, a a lawyer, author, and Free Soil Democrat; documents of pension claims for the widows and children of Revolutionary War veterans; legal documents entered in the suit of Sheldon et al. v. the Second School Society, Suffield; and the letters of Elizabeth Philleo as a young woman during the Civil War.

There are four main areas of interest in the Philleo-Norton papers. First are the letters of Calvin W. Philleo, written during the time that he was establishing his law practice in Suffield, launching into a successful literary career, and as he was involved with Free Soil state politics. Philleo's personal and political letters suggest that his interests ran well beyond the dull confines of his life as an attorney. His letters from 1848-1850 provide interesting commentary on Connecticut and national politics, and particularly on the Free Soil faction of the Democratic Party. The letters of C. F. Cleveland (who complains of the power of slave-interests in Connecticut), and congressmen Niles, Burnham, and Catlin provide insight into antebellum electoral politics in the state. Philleo's correspondence with editors at Graham's and Harper's reveals another side to his personality, the literary side, and provides a brief, curious look into the attitudes of an aspiring writer forced to deal with the realities of life as an attorney. Also of interest, Philleo wrote a curious, humorous letter to his brother-in-law, John, who had just gained employment on the railroad in Canada, comparing the "free" life of a railroad worker with the drudgery of law.

Secondly, Philleo's legal work preparing and representing pension claims for the widows and children of Revolutionary War veterans is well represented in the collection. The successful pension applications of the children of Nathaniel Pomroy and Jehiel Spencer are present and are apparently nearly complete (in copy). Further, there are printed items and miscellaneous correspondence, mostly with Commissioner of Pensions, L. P. Waldo, relating to pension applications, and including instruction sheets for completing applications, a pamphlet containing rules for applying for bounty land, and a sheet indicating materials required for submission to limit fraudulent applications. Photocopies of the Pomroy and Spencer applications as submitted to the Pension Office are included.

Thirdly, the legal documents entered in the suit of Sheldon et al. v. the Second School Society, Suffield, are an intriguing record of a local tax revolt in 1852. Hezekiah Sheldon and his co-petitioners to the court objected strenuously to the School Society's plans to build a new school building using tax money collected locally.

Finally, the letters of Elizabeth Philleo and her sisters contain occasional comments of general interest regarding the lives of young women during the Civil War. Lucy Norton's reactions to the defeat at Bull Run in 1861, and the news that Elizabeth relays of a family friend serving as an officer in the 55th Massachusetts (Colored) Regiment are particularly noteworthy, but it is also interesting to reconstruct the series of lectures, panoramas, and social gatherings Elizabeth attended in Connecticut and Boston during the war. There are two letters of Calvin Philleo, Sr., and Prudence Crandall Philleo, one of which, written in 1870, contains some brief reflections on the power of religious conviction in Calvin's life, from the time he was involved in revivals in New York State through his move to Illinois.


William P. Fessenden papers, 1855-1868, 1908

0.5 linear feet

William P. Fessenden was a founding member of the Republican Party and one of its most energetic antislavery voices. His papers consist almost entirely of incoming correspondence, written while he was serving as a U.S. Senator from Maine, 1855-1868. This correspondence reflects Fessenden's moderately progressive political views, and his interests in the abolition of slavery, economics and finance, the turmoil in Kansas in the late 1850s, and the Civil War.

The William P. Fessenden papers consist almost entirely of incoming correspondence addressed to Fessenden, written while he was serving as a U.S. Senator from Maine, 1855-1868. This correspondence reflects Fessenden's moderately progressive political views, and his interests in the abolition of slavery, economics and finance, the turmoil in Kansas in the late 1850s, and the Civil War. Not surprisingly, the bulk of the correspondence consists of requests for favors from acquaintances and constituents, usually in seeking recommendations for jobs, political appointments, or assistance in pressing legislation.

The major topics of interest covered in the collection include the national debate over slavery. Several letters relate to the political turmoil in Kansas between 1856 and 1860, and there are letters requesting that Fessenden address particular abolition societies, and one interesting item relating to slavery in Missouri that includes a small printed map depicting slave-holding patterns in the state (2:49).

The Civil War forms the context for approximately half of the letters in the collection. There is a small series of letters relating to increases in pay for naval chaplains and army surgeons, and several routine letters requesting commissions or transfers in the army. The most important items present include a letter written from New Orleans, 1864, complaining of Gen. Stephen A. Hurlbut's apparent unwillingness to execute the government's orders to stop trafficking in cotton (Hurlbut's corruption appears to have been no secret); a letter describing the situation in Missouri in the midst of Sterling Price's Wilson's Creek Campaign, complaining about John C. Frémont's ineffectiveness; and a fine letter from a commander of a Maine independent artillery battery in the defenses of Washington, complaining of their inactivity. Finally, there is a brief obituary of Jesse Lee Reno, killed at South Mountain in 1862.

There are very few items that relate in any way to Fessenden's private life, but three letters include some discussion of the problems of his son, Samuel. The only letter written by Fessenden in this collection is addressed to Sam, advising him to behave himself and not to consort with bad company. Apparently, the Senator had good cause to worry for his son, since Sam apparently fell in with gamblers and fled for Canada after running up a sizable debt.