Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Boynton Family Papers, 1827-1863

Duane Norman Diedrich Collection

Finding aid created by
Susan Swasta, October 1995

Summary Information
Title: Boynton family papers
Creator: Boynton family
Inclusive dates: 1827-1863
Extent: 38 items
The bulk of the Boynton family papers consist of John Boynton's letters to his family in New England. While teaching in Mississippi from 1837 to 1839, he wrote about his impressions of southern culture and his disapproval of slavery.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

Donated by D. N. Diedrich, 1982. M-2015.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Boynton Family Papers, Duane Norman Diedrich Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Born in 1810 in Pepperell, Mass., Boynton attended Amherst and Andover academies in preparation for Middlebury College, from which he graduated in 1835. The boy suffered bouts of ill health which prolonged his academic career, and at some point suffered the loss of a hand, for one of his letters refers to learning of a man skilled in making artificial limbs who might be able to craft a hand for him. (folder 8) After teaching in Jericho, Vt., for a year and becoming discouraged by the poor wages, Boynton took the advice of friends who had gained lucrative teaching positions in the south and accepted a post in Mississippi Springs, Miss. He taught here from 1837 to 1838, then moved on to Sharon Academy in Brandon, Miss., for a year. Boynton died in Pepperell on September 18, 1839, shortly after returning home.

Collection Scope and Content Note

Most of the letters (1-25) were written by John Boynton; 23 to his father Isaac, one each to brother-in-law Herman Huntington and sister Hannah. They cover his career as a student and teacher in various locales. The letters reveal Boynton to have been a perceptive, thoughtful young man with strong religious and temperance views and a New Englander's dislike of slavery. His rather strait-laced temperament was relieved by a light-hearted sense of humor and a love of boyish pursuits --hunting, fishing, playing ball. He was warmly appreciative of home and family, and one of his letters (14) muses on the imagined family scene he is missing, speculating on the activities and thoughts of each family member.

Boynton's letters from Mississippi (19-25) are the highlight of the collection. In them he expresses his disapproval of slavery and of southern culture in general (particularly its loose religious ways), while admitting a fondness for the weather, the hunting, the landscape, and the unaffected friendliness of southerners. It is interesting to note that, for one who voices such distaste of slavery, Boynton is clearly racially prejudiced, and does not seem to object to having a servant assigned to him. On a stop-over at a Maryland tobacco plantation, having arrived at night, he records his reactions of the next morning: "Creation. Niggers as thick as toads after a shower. ... Negroes among [the tobacco fields] in every direction. It reminded me, as I looked out upon his fields, of what I have witnessed at home -- a platter of baked beans with a large quantity of black ones among them. No reflections on baked beans by the way."

In Mississippi, he describes the scene from his bedroom window: "There are ten Negroes to every one white person. The labor here is done altogether by slaves. ... about 90 Negroes in the field picking cotton. About an equal number of men & women, some children. You would also see a white man with a whip in his hand following in the rear." Noting the comfort of his situation, he writes that "A Negro boy about 15 years old is at my command any moment. He comes into my room every night about 9 o'clock with his blanket, blacks my boots & shoes, sleeps on the floor in my room, builds me a fire, if I need one in the morning before I am up; brings a pitcher of fresh water, etc. While I am at breakfast he makes my bed, sweeps my room & puts all things in order." Still, Boynton expresses a repugnance of slavery, and looks forward to the day when " I may inhale the pure air of Freedom!" He tires of the constant talk of "land and Negroes," the mania for profit, the violence and lawlessness, and the disregard for religion and the Sabbath. "The sabbath in Mississippi is hell in minerature [sic]. All sorts of games from the horserace & cock-fight down to playing of marbles is engaged in upon Sunday." While he enjoyed his sojourn and much appreciated the high salaries paid to teachers, Boynton never intended to settle in the south. Sadly, he lived only a short while after returning to home and family.

The Boynton papers document the lives of other family members in far less detail. They are mentioned or addressed in John's letters, and are writers and recipients of the twelve letters in the collection which post-date his death. John addressed most letters to father Isaac, a brick-maker, but often inquired after or included messages for his mother, Sibyl; brothers David, Henry, and Royal; and sisters Hannah, Harriet, and Sibyl. A daughter of Hannah Boynton Haynes, Elmira Spaulding, is also represented in the collection.

The rest of the letters (26-38) are to and from other members of the Boynton family and relate largely to family matters, brother Henry's school teaching career, and religion. One poignant letter (30) records the grief of a mother at the death of her baby daughter, as she consoles herself with the thought of her child in heaven. An undated letter from Elmira Spaulding to her mother Hannah Boynton Haynes (36) discusses her life as a millworker in Leominster, Mass.

Subject Terms

    • African-Americans.
    • Diseases.
    • Education.
    • Education, Higher.
    • Middlebury College.
    • Mississippi--Description and travel.
    • Mississippi--Society and culture.
    • Slavery.
    • Teachers.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Boynton family papers,  1827 June 12-1863 April 19 [series]
    Box   : Duane Norman Diedrich Collection Folders   1-25
    John Boynton correspondence
    Folders   26-38  
    Boynton family correspondence
    Additional Descriptive Data

    Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont (Middlebury, Vt., 1928).

    Partial Subject Index
    • 18, 20, 22
    Amherst Academy
    • 1
    Andover Academy
    • 2-5
    Bereavement--Psychological aspects
    • 30
    • 30
    • 25
    Cotton growing--Mississippi
    • 24
    • 17
    • 8, 11, 12, 24, 25
    • 22, 23
    • 1, 2, 3, 24
    Education, Higher
    • 3-5, 10, 13, 25
    • 14
    • 6, 20, 36
    • 38
    • 9, 14, 25
    • 23, 24
    • 23
    Middlebury College
    • 6-13
    Mississippi--Description and travel
    • 20-24
    Mississippi--Society and culture
    • 20-24
    • 22
    Panic of 1837
    • 22
    Parent and child
    • 17, 24, 30, 35
    • 8
    • 3, 12, 24
    • 34
    • 19, 23
    • 16, 18, 20, 22
    • 7, 11, 14, 15, 27, 31
    • 3, 17
    Tobacco farms
    • 18
    Massachusetts--Description and travel
    • 3
    Vicksburg (Miss.)--Description
    • 19
    Wolf hunting--Vermont
    • 10
    Women textile workers--Massachusetts
    • 36