Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Reed-Blackmer Family Papers, 1848-1936

Finding aid created by
Rachel K. Onuf, June 1998

Summary Information
Title: Reed-Blackmer family papers
Creator: Reed family and Blackmer family
Inclusive dates: 1848-1936
Extent: 444 items
The Reed-Blackmer family papers consist of the correspondence from an extended family including many settlers in New York, Michigan, and Western America.
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:

1983. M-2089.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Reed-Blackmer Family Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The dozens of Reeds, Blackmers, and Pennells represented in this collection are too numerous to get specific mention. All three families had been early settlers of Richmond, in Ontario County, New York. The Reed patriarch, Wheeler, was born in Vermont in 1788, and moved with his brothers and father Phillip to Ontario County in 1795. Wheeler had four children by his first wife and fifteen by his second wife, Hannah Risdon Reed (1798-1877), whom he married about 1817. Although fellow settlers John Pennell and Levi Blackmer may not have been quite so prolific in their production of offspring, by the mid-19th century there was a boggling number of blood and marriage relations among the families.

Many of Wheeler Reed's children appear as correspondents. Lizzie Reed was a student in Canandaigua, and probably continued to live in New York after marrying a man named Chambers. Dudley Reed was married to Anna Short by 1852 and they probably remained in Ontario County. They were the exceptions, however, for many of the siblings moved westward. Several settled in Lenawee County, Michigan, in the 1850s. Anna Short Reed's brother, Orren L. Short, and his wife Sarah, Samuel P. Reed and his wife Rhoda, Byron Reed, George Reed, and Warren and Fitch (who might have been Reeds), all farmed in the county. The most prominent was Marshall Reed (1833-1891), who settled in Rome, Michigan in 1854, and moved to a farm in Cambridge, Michigan in 1866. He married Julia A. Barrus in 1855, and together they had three children. Marshall held several important local offices, including Justice of the Peace, and was elected to the State Legislature as a Republican in 1874.

Although the precise connection has not been unraveled, the Pennell family was related to the Reeds, and they followed a similar westward trajectory. George W. Pennell worked at a logging camp on the Black River in Wisconsin before settling down as a lumber man in Atchison, Kansas, with his wife Millie. By 1852, Delia Pennell Bartlett was living on the outskirts of Chicago with her husband John and child Cyrus. Wesley Pennell and his wife Celia, who might have been a Reed, were living in Grand Rapids, Michigan by the 1880s, with their children Hattie and Wettie. Wesley's sister Harriet Pennell, who remained in New York, is in some ways the focal point of this collection. She was the recipient of much of the correspondence, and through her marriage to Myron Blackmer on September 14, 1854, she linked the two families.

Harriet and Myron Blackmer had several children -- Frank P., John B., Carl, Bess S., Hattie, and twins, Tom and George. Frank drove a herd of sheep from Texas to San Diego in 1880, but ended up farming back home. Carl went to school briefly in Rochester and then returned to help on his father's farm, where he died while still a young man. John went to Kansas in 1881, where he worked as a sheep rancher, a book agent, and a walnut logger, before filing a claim in the Cherokee Strip in 1893. Their sister Bess Blackmer went to Ohio-Wesleyan University as a "senior prep" (1884-86) and married Spencer Sisson in 1889.

Collection Scope and Content Note

This collection consists of the correspondence of the Reed and Blackmer families spanning a period from the mid-19th century to shortly after World War I. The greatest strengths of this collection are the early letters pertaining to education in New York State, and the letters written from family members in the west to their New York State relations. Letters from Michigan in the 1850s, Kansas and Indian Territory in the 1880s and 90s, and the smattering from Illinois and Wisconsin, all give expression to the emigrants' specific experiences.

Many of the early letters are from students and young teachers in New York State, where there were many pockets of culture and education. Lucinda Green, a student at the academy in East Bloomfield, was taking intellectual philosophy in 1849. One of the lectures she described was delivered by photographer John Moran, who "exhibited some pictures with the magic lanterns some of which were very comical" (1850 January 26). Another correspondent, James Bigelow, detailed his professors, particularly the female ones, and activities at Alfred University in Allegany County. James Cole, a medical student, taught school in Ontario County, and Scott Hicks was a student at the Buffalo Medical College. Lizzie, Martha, and Marshall Reed attended the seminary and academy in Canandaigua, and Lizzie described such highlights as the infant drummer's concert: "he drummed beautifully, he was only three years old," and hearing a Jew preach: "His dialect was so different from ours that I could scarcely understand a word he said" (1851 [November] 7, 1852 November 21). Harriet Pennell's cousin Paul taught in Naples, and Harriet herself probably attended the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary in Lima, Livingston County.

Of all the letters from the west, the handful from Lynus Tyler to Dudley Reed are the most entertaining. Tyler was an enthusiastic, but less-than-eloquent correspondent from rural Macomb County, where he had a 200 acre farm. He tried to entice Reed to migrate with descriptions of the abundance of women and deer: "Mary Bennet is not married yet but she wants to bea dud come and get her for you cannot doo enny better her post adress is Romeo Macomb Co. Mich" (1851 June 22). He assured Dud he would "keep the girls from a hurting you" when he came out (1851 February 9). After Dudley married "Miss Anna," Tyler, who now had an 80 acre farm in Barry County, toned down his enthusiasms for the local women, but still tried to get his friend to come farm in Michigan by praising the land as well as the game (1852 August 1).

The other Michigan correspondents also urged their relations to join them, and discussed farming, hunting, and family news in great detail. During their early years in Michigan, enthusiasm for their adopted home flowed through every line, but this waned somewhat after 1857, when a barn burned, a child died, and crops failed. Samuel even spent some time in the Jackson jail in the 1870s.

Frank Blackmer's letters written while he worked as a sheep drover in 1880 are unfortunately brief, but his brother John's fairly regular letters over a twelve-year span provide an excellent portrait of a man permanently poised between home and the great unknown. For over a decade, he worked in Kansas and the Indian Territory, never making quite enough money, and never making up his mind whether to head further west, as he dearly wanted to, or to head home to New York, which was also a powerful draw. He wrote repeatedly that he had been "a blamed fool for staying around these parts for the last two years when I might have seen a good deal of country last spring I started out & went several counties west when I might have gone to California just as well..." (1886 November 7). Even as he complained about the hardships of his peripatetic, single life, and berated himself for not moving, he continued to linger in that part of the world.

The letters written back home by New Yorkers visiting western relations are as important as those written by the transplants themselves. In the mid-1880s, Bess Blackmer spent her school holidays visiting her Michigan relatives -- Pennells, Wilmarths, and Clarks -- in Grand Rapids and the surrounding area. By writing to her mother about her trip, she reacquainted her with people whose images had undoubtedly dimmed over the years. In 1891, Harriet took her own first trip west, stopping in Kansas, Illinois, and Michigan to spend time with family she had not seen in decades. She might have thought this first trip would also be her last, but her daughter Hattie was stricken with typhoid in Grand Rapids two years later, and her mother again traveled west, to nurse her and escort her home. These visits reaffirmed the bonds between long distance kin that otherwise might have withered, as letters full of local news grew less and less relevant to those far away.

One of the many fascinating single letters in this collection was written by Orren Short, from Michigan. In the 1850s, there was a fairly commonly held view that handwriting analysis was a means of diagnosing health complaints. After receiving -- and analyzing -- a letter from his sister Anna, Orren wrote to her husband Dudley Reed, and effectively requested that they stop having sex.

I also should judge by her writing that she is very poor. that there is difficulty by irregularity of the female organs. Great care should be taken to avoid overworking, or to great an excess of any indulgence that might irritate the female private organs. But few females ever recover wholly after becoming irregular in their monthly purgations, or by to great a flow, without abstaining wholly from sexual intercourse with their husbands for a length of time. Perhaps my views are not right in regard to Anna's case, if not please pardon me. If correct, please give it a trial (1856 September 7).

Reverting to his true calling, farmer Orren went on to discuss his wheat crop.

Other caches of correspondence include the letters Bess wrote home to her mother from Ohio-Wesleyan (1884-1886), detailing her classes, activities, and clothing needs; Lizzie Reed's sporadic letters to her brother Dudley, exhorting him to strop drinking and save his soul; and the 20th century material. This last portion of the collection consists of letters written to (the somehow related) Newton C. Rogers (A.E.F. Air Corps, France) from family members in New York and air corps friends in France. In patriotic and optimistic tones, these letters discuss news of friends and family "over here" and a bit of bravado and news of the fates of comrades from elsewhere "over there."

Subject Terms

    • Agriculture.
    • Canandaigua Academy (Canandaigua N.Y.)
    • Clothing and dress.
    • Courtship.
    • Deer.
    • Education, Secondary.
    • Frontier and pioneer life.
    • Frontier and pioneer life--Kansas.
    • Frontier and pioneer life--Oklahoma.
    • Grapes.
    • Illinois.
    • Kansas--Description and travel.
    • Kent County (Mich.)
    • Land settlement.
    • Lenawee County (Mich)
    • Macomb County (Mich.)
    • Manners and customs.
    • Michigan--Description and travel.
    • Migration, Internal--United States.
    • New York (State)--Social life and customs.
    • Ohio Wesleyan University.
    • Oklahoma--Description and travel.
    • Ontario County (N.Y.)
    • Richmond (N.Y.)
    • Rochester (N.Y.)
    • Schools.
    • Students.
    • Teachers.
    • Typhoid fever.
    • United States. Army. Air Corps.
    • Women pioneers.
    • Yates County (N.Y.)
    Genre Terms:
    • Ephemera.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Reed-Blackmer family papers [series]
    Box   1  
    Correspondence,  1848-1907
    Box   2 Folder   1-7
    Correspondence,  1915-1936 and  undated
    Box   2 Folder   8
    Miscellaneous manuscripts,  undated
    Box   2 Folder   9
    Financial and legal papers,  1831 May 19-1890 December 1
    Box   2 Folder   10
    Ephemera,  1852 October 19-1913 July 26
    Box   2 Folder   11
    Calling cards,  undated
    Additional Descriptive Data

    Primary Correspondents

    • Blackmer, Carl, d.1892
    • Blackmer, Harriet, b.1869
    • Blackmer, Harriet Newell Pennell
    • Blackmer, Frank P.
    • Blackmer, John B.
    • Chambers, Lizzie Reed
    • Goodrich, Lulie Gage
    • Green, Lucinda M.
    • [Green?] Paul
    • Pennell, George W.
    • Pennell, John Jr.
    • Pennell, Kate
    • Pennell, Millie
    • Reed, Anna Short
    • Reed, Betsey
    • Reed, Byron
    • Reed, Charles
    • Reed, Dudley
    • Reed, George
    • Reed, Marshall, 1833-1891
    • Reed, Samuel P.
    • Short, Orren L.
    • Short, Sarah [Reed?]
    • Sisson, Elizabeth Blackmer S., b.1868
    • Tyler, Lynus

    Secondary Correspondents

    • Baldwin, M.L.
    • Barnard, S. E.
    • Bartlett, Delia
    • Bartlett, John G.
    • Beadle, Libbie
    • Bigelow, James B.
    • Blackmer, Myron H., d.1898
    • Brackett, James
    • Brown, Mary
    • Brown, William
    • Bullock, A.C.
    • Bullock, Mary B.
    • Carley, L. M. G.
    • Chappell, Paul
    • Church, E. Chapin
    • Cole, James M.
    • Crosby, Harriet
    • Curtis, Grace
    • Curtis, Mildred
    • Curtiss, Emeline S.
    • Denton, Mary
    • Dougherty, James T.
    • Douglass, Maria
    • Fisk, E.
    • Friedell, Helen
    • Green, Leslie F.
    • Greene, D.
    • Hicks, W. Scott
    • Huntington, Katie
    • Jennings, Edward
    • Kinneur, Susan M.
    • Kinney, Mary
    • Lowry, J.
    • Martin, Frank
    • Mayer, Esther
    • Miller, Frank
    • Osborne, T.M.
    • Pennell, Abraham
    • Pennell, Mrs. Dennis
    • Pennell, John Jr.
    • [Pennell?], Lorinda
    • Pennell, Lucinda
    • Pennell, Sally
    • Pennell, George
    • Pitts, Emily
    • Ray, S. B.
    • Reed, Elmira
    • [Rogers], F.E.
    • [Rogers], Helen
    • [Rogers], Mabel
    • Rogers, Lt. Newton Chauncey
    • Russ, Christopher
    • Russ, O. M[artha?] Reed
    • Simmons, Edward W.
    • Stoddard, Emily
    • Sutherland, Ralph S.
    • Terry, George W.
    • Tracy, Anna E.
    • Underhill, L. F.
    • [Wallory], Elda
    • [Wallory], Spencer
    • Williams, Amy
    • Williams, L. L.
    • Williams, O. F.
    • Williams, Thomas
    • Woman's World Magazine
    • Woodworth, Mr. and Mrs. M.
    • Wright, Lucinda

    Knapp, John I. and R. I. Bonner. Illustrated History and Biographical Record of Lenawee County, Michigan. (Adrian, Mich., 1903).

    Partial Subject Index
    Aged women
    • 1899 January 11
    Alfred University (Alfred Centre, N.Y.)
    • 1850 April 26
    • passim, 1880-1893
    Agriculture--Michigan--Barry County
    • 1852 August 1
    Agriculture--Michigan--Lenawee County
    • passim, 1851-1871
    Agriculture--Michigan--Macomb County
    • passim, 1850-1851
    Agriculture--New York (State)--Ontario County
    • passim
    • 1857 December 20
    Arson--New York (State)
    • 1877 October 17
    Atlanta (Ga.)--Social conditions
    • 1888 April 21
    • 1885 June 8
    Baptism--Methodist Church
    • 1854 July 13
    Barry County (Mich.)
    • 1852 August 1
    • 1885 June 8
    Blackface entertainers
    • 1884 January 31
    Blackmer family
    • passim
    Body, Human--Religious aspects
    • 1881 September 20
    Breast cancer
    • 1896 June 4
    Buffalo Medical College (Buffalo, N.Y.)
    • 1851 January 29
    Canandaigua Academy (Canandaigua N.Y.)
    • passim, 1851-1853
    Canandaigua Seminary (Canandaigua N.Y.)
    • passim, 1851-1853
    • 1891 August 24
    • 1853 January 16
    Cholera--New York
    • 1854 July 9
    Clothing and dress
    • passim, 1884-1886
    • 1897 July 25
    • 1897 October 12
    • 1886 January 31
    • 1886 February 7
    • 1886 February 28
    Clay, Henry, 1777-1852
    • 1888 December 17
    • passim
    • 1886 March 1
    Creek Indians
    • 1889 October 12
    • 1853 December 25
    Dansville Seminary (Dansville, N.Y.)
    • 1854 January 8
    Dansville Model Water Cure (Dansville, N.Y.)
    • 1854 January 8
    • 1854 November 1
    Dating (Social customs)
    • 1886 February 21
    • 1886 March 7
    • 1888 February 6
    • 1888 March 4
    • passim, 1851-1852
    Depression in women
    • 1893 January 11
    • 1894 March 20
    • 1894 August 3
    • 1851 April 5
    • 1853 January 16
    Domestic relations
    • 1878 October 21
    Douglass, Frederick, 1817-1895
    • 1884 January 27
    • 1884 July 27
    • 1864 January 10
    Electricity--19th century
    • 1851 January 29
    • 1884 February 6
    • passim
    Family--New York (State)
    • passim
    Female friendship
    • 1885 December 3
    • 1886 March 7
    Fire engines
    • 1884 March 1
    Fires--New York (State)--Canandaigua
    • 1853 February 22
    Frontier and pioneer life--Illinois
    • passim, 1852-1854
    Frontier and pioneer life--Kansas
    • passim, 1880-1893
    Frontier and pioneer life--Michigan--Barry County
    • 1852 August 1
    Frontier and pioneer life--Michigan--Lenawee County
    • passim, 1851-1871
    Frontier and pioneer life--Michigan--Macomb County
    • passim, 1851
    Frontier and pioneer life--Oklahoma
    • passim, 1886-1893
    Generative organs, Female
    • 1856 September 7
    Grapes--New York (State)--Yates County
    • passim, 1886-1890
    Graphology--Diagnostic use
    • 1856 September 7
    Hop pickers
    • 1891 September 13
    • 1884 February 3
    • 1888 December 17
    Hydrotherapy--New York (State)
    • 1854 January 8
    • 1854 November 1
    • 1852 May 23
    • 1865 April 23
    Iowa County (Wisc.)
    • 1852 May 23
    Jewish sermons, American
    • 1852 November 21
    Kansas--Description and travel
    • passim, 1880-1893
    Kent County (Mich.)
    • passim, 1885-1893
    Lace and lace making
    • 1899 January 21
    Land grants--Oklahoma
    • 1893 December 11
    Land settlement--United States
    • passim
    Lenawee County (Mich)
    • passim
    • 1890 September 18
    • 1892 December 8
    • 1867 May 6
    Macomb County (Mich.)
    • passim, 1850-1851
    Marriage--Psychological aspects
    • 1854 July 9
    • 1886 March 1
    • 1884 August 18
    • 1856 September 7
    • 1885 December 3
    Mental illness
    • 1854 July 9
    • 1865 April 15
    • 1885 December 25
    Michigan--Description and travel
    • passim
    • 1884 August 16
    Michigan--Social life and customs
    • passim
    Migration, Internal--United States
    • passim
    Moran, John, 1831-1903
    • 1850 January 26
    New York (State)--Social life and customs
    • passim
    Ohio Wesleyan University
    • passim, 1884-1886
    Oklahoma--Description and travel
    • passim, 1886-1893
    Ontario County (N.Y.)
    • passim
    Parent and child
    • 1854 February 12
    Pennell family
    • passim
    Personal property
    • 1864 September 6
    Pitts, Helen
    • 1884 January 27
    • 1884 July 27
    Poor aged
    • 1883 December 9
    • 1884 March 18
    Presidents--United States--Election--1856
    • 1856 September 7
    • 1871 February 26
    • 1871 March 20
    • 1853 January 16
    Railroad accidents
    • 1883 October 14
    Railroad bridges
    • 1886 December 13
    Reed family
    • passim
    Religious newspapers and periodicals
    • 1887 January 22
    Republican party (Mich.)
    • 1856 September 7
    Richmond (N.Y.)
    • passim
    Rochester (N.Y.)--Description and travel
    • passim, 1883-1884
    • 1883 October 24
    • 1890 January 5
    • 1883 December 28
    Samples (Commerce)
    • 1889 August 29
    San Diego (Calif.)--Description and travel
    • 1880 September 2
    Schools--New York (State)
    • passim
    • 1884 July 30
    • 1880 September 2
    • 1882 January 8
    Sheep ranchers--Kansas
    • 1882 May 28
    • 1883 April 24
    • 1883 October 2
    • 1884 February 20
    Sheep ranchers--Texas
    • 1880 July 1
    • 1880 July 18
    Smallpox--New York (N.Y.)
    • 1851 January 25
    Social calls
    • 1891 September 10
    Students--New York (State)
    • passim
    Teachers--New York (State)
    • passim
    • 1887 July 26
    Temperance and religion
    • 1875 June 25
    Textile fabrics
    • 1889 August 29
    • 1894 May 28
    • 1884 March 4
    • 1890 January 5
    • 1873 July 8
    Typhoid fever
    • passim, 1893
    United States. Army. Air Corps
    • passim, 1917-1918
    • 1882 July 7
    Wild dogs
    • 1882 May 28
    • 1879 June 22
    Woman's World Publishing Company
    • 1897 July 26
    • 1897 October 12
    Women--Education--New York (State)
    • passim
    • passim, 1884-1886
    Women--Education (Secondary)
    • passim
    Women and religion
    • 1875 June 25
    • 1881 September 20
    • 1883 December 28
    Women hunters
    • 1851 [November] 7
    Women pioneers--Michigan
    • passim, 1851-1871
    Women pioneers--Wisconsin
    • 1852 May 23
    Women teachers--New York (State)
    • passim
    World War, 1914-1918
    • passim, 1917-1918
    World's Columbian Exposition (1893 : Chicago, Ill.)
    • 1891 October 18
    • 1893 May 25
    Yates County (N.Y.)
    • passim, 1886-1890