Langstroth family papers  1778-1955 (bulk 1831-1911)
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The correspondence series comprises 600 items covering 1831-1955, and sheds light on the personal lives, careers, and activities of several generations of the Langstroth family. The bulk of the earliest letters, dating from the 1830s, are from Catharine Langstroth to her father and siblings. These letters concern the death of her sister Sarah, financial issues, and the health of several family members, including Margaretta, and refer to temperance (July 20, 1835 “It affords me much pleasure to know that you gathered in your hay on temperance principles”) and religious study. One letter of particular interest is dated January 3, 1839, and was written by Margaretta during a stay at the Friends Asylum in Philadelphia. It describes a harrowing series of treatments for unspecified mental problems: “My head has been cut open to the bone for 3 inches; and large [peas?] inserted; a lead placed over the slit and on the top of this a bread & milk poultice has been applied for two months… My hair has been shaved at least 6 times; and three times since the head was opened.” Margaretta also described the Asylum’s lectures, food, and other patients (“only deranged at intervals”).

Letters from the 1840s and 1850s were written by a variety of family members and document the founding of Mount Holly Institute for Young Ladies; the courtship of Thomas Langstroth, III, and Mary Hauss; and a range of religious attitudes, from Margaretta’s intense piety to Thomas’ doubt (December 12, 1853: “most all the young men in our church just before they got married have made a profession of religion, and how have they turned out! Look at them one half are as bad as they were before: but I have no right to judge.”). In early 1855, Margaretta wrote a series of letters from near Pine Bluff, Arkansas, describing her efforts at religious and educational outreach to slaves, for whom she felt sympathy (February 7, 1855: “Slaves! poor slaves! how my heart bleeds for them, they toil from night to morn, from morn to night--live and die here without knowledge enough to save the soul.”).

Little documentation of the family exists from the Civil War period, despite Edward and Thomas’ service on opposite sides, but Edward’s letter to Margaretta of July 14, 1865, indicates a rift between himself and his sisters, perhaps arising from his joining the Confederacy. Letters of the 1860s and 1870s are mainly incoming to Margaretta and concern teaching, finances, and advice. A number of letters to Thomas from the 1880s contain information about his brother Edward’s health. Approximately 25 folders of letters date from the 20th-century and were written between Hugh Tener Langstroth, his sister, Sara Paxson, and other relatives. These concern travel, social visits, health, and business matters.

The financial and legal documents series consists of 124 items relating to the Langstroth family, covering 1778-1913. It includes wills, records relating to milling, land indentures, an account book of 1814-1817 kept by Thomas Langstroth, Jr., paperwork related to loans, and other materials. Some materials relate to the bank failure which forced Langstroth to sell his mill in 1836. Only 15 items date from 1851-1913.

The diaries and journals series represents six volumes and a few fragments, covering the 1830s to the 1860s, all written by Margaretta Langstroth. The volumes dating from the 1830s contain biographies of historical figures and may have been used in school. Subsequent diaries recorded daily entries of varying length, covering parts of 1864-1868. The 1864 volume includes Margaretta’s memorials of deceased family members and is thus a good source of genealogical information. More commonly, her entries describe daily activities, religious meditations, and frequently seem to reflect a fragile mental state, as in this exceprt of April 15, 1865: “Abraham Lincoln shot in the Washington Theatre Secretary Sewar [sic] had this throat cut I hope Edwar [sic] has no hand in this what makes me fear that he had” or an entry of June 19, 1866, describing the death of a robin: “I felt very badly cannot describe my suffering poor bird…read hymns as it was dying wondering if it would live elsewhere[.] In bed all day so distressed so wretched…” In a number of passages, Margaretta noted the Sunday School classes that she taught, and commented on the number of students and the subjects of her lessons.

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