The Crittenden family papers contain the letters and documents of the family of Alexander Parker Crittenden and his wife Clara Churchill Jones Crittenden. The bulk of the collection consists of personal correspondence between members of the extended family, including Mr. and Mrs. Crittenden, seven of their eight (surviving) children, Clara’s parents and siblings (the Jones family), and Mary Crittenden Robinson (Alexander's sister). In addition to correspondence, the collection contains diaries, documents and financial records, and 96 family photographs (daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, cabinet cards, cartes-de-visite, and other paper prints), including one carte-de-visite of Laura Hunt Fair.
The Correspondence series (approximately 1,280 items) covers several topics of interest. The letters by Clara and Alexander Parker Crittenden (hereafter A.P.C.) illustrate the passionate courtship and strained marriage of a couple living in California in the 19th century; Laura Crittenden Sanchez’ correspondence presents a picture of a woman’s life on the 1860s western frontier in California and Nevada; and Ann Northey Churchill Jones’s letters to her daughter Clara provide frank commentary on womanhood. The following summary is a brief description of the collection’s major correspondents and the content of their letters.
The collection includes over 260 letters from A.P.C.to his wife Clara, which span the length of their relationship, from their first meeting until his death. The courtship letters are full of expressions of youthful passion. Especially valuable are A.P.C.'s letters describing San Francisco in the early 1850s, which contain information about the Gold Rush and early statehood, and include discussions about women in California, and troubles he experienced from not having a wife present to care for him. The 1860s letters written from Nevada to Clara in California provide a good account of early Nevada, as well as insight into their deteriorating marriage. However, the twenty letters written during Clara's 1870 transcontinental trip to the East Coast, exhibit an apparently genuine change of heart in Crittenden, who had purchased and redecorated a lavish new home as a surprise for Clara on her return. Almost every letter begs her to cut the trip short and return.
A.P.C.'s eldest son, Churchill, is represented by 62 letters to him from his father, and 62 letters written by Churchill to his parents and siblings, largely from 1858 and 1861, while he was studying at Hanover College. While at Hanover, Churchill developed Union sympathies, which upset his Kentucky-born father. Of note is a letter from A.P.C., who at the time was the leader of the southern wing of the California Democratic Party, to Churchill defending southern rights for secession (December 10, 1860). Churchill wrote six letters while in the Confederate Army. The collection also contains 60 letters from James Love Crittenden. His early letters discuss school life, ante-bellum politics, and family relations. He wrote 10 letters while fighting with the Confederacy.
Clara Jones Crittenden wrote 19 letters in the collection: two to her husband, one to her eldest son, Churchill, and sixteen to her daughter Annie (“Nannie”). The letters to Annie are almost all dated November-December 1864, and reflect the deep gloom Clara felt following the murder of her son Churchill in October 1864.
Laura Crittenden Sanchez wrote 71 letters to her mother, 87 to her sister Nannie, and a few to other family members. They present a view of domestic life on the 1860s western frontier. Of note are Laura’s routine comments that reflect the values of a woman raised to believe in the Southern ideals of gentility and womanhood. However, she also held advanced ideas on women’s rights and divisions of duties in the home. Her husband, Ramon B. Sanchez, shared these beliefs and described his role in housework and his ideas of manhood, in his letter to Nannie Crittenden (July 25, 1862).
This series holds 16 letters from A.P.C. to his daughter Nannie, 6 to her husband Sidney Van Wyck, and many letters of condolence received by the family at the time of Parker’s murder. Van Wyck, who held evangelical beliefs, was deeply concerned about the well-being of his pregnant wife. He sent 117 letters to Nannie between January and May 1870, while she was in San Francisco and was he in Hamilton, Nevada, attempting to strike it rich prospecting for silver. He gave a rich account of life in a snowy Nevada mining town. The collection also includes approximately 40 business letters concerning Sidney's mining interests between 1879 and 1882. After 1874, the collection constitutes letters addressed largely to members of the Van Wyck family, including 8 letters from Nannie's daughter Clara Van Wyck to her brother Sydney Van Wyck, Jr.
Mary Crittenden Robinson, A.P.C.'s older sister, wrote 23 letters to Clara Crittenden, almost entirely in 1863. They are domestic in content, with occasional references to politics and society. Mary also wrote to A.P.C., and to various nieces and nephews, and her children are represented as well: Mary, Kate, and Tod, Jr.
The collection also contains letters from Clara Jones Crittenden's parents and siblings.
Clara's father Alexander Jones, Jr., wrote 5 letters to Clara, including one offering consolation on her husband's murder (November 7, 1870), and 3 to his granddaughter Nannie. Ann Northey Churchill Jones, Clara's mother, sent her seven letters from 1839-1841. She provided a frank commentary on womanhood and discussed childbirth, the proper preparation of breasts for nursing, a mother’s role in fixing children’s values, marital relations and what a wife could do to improve them, and how a woman should deal with an unworthy husband.
Clara's brother Alexander Jones III wrote 21 letters to A.P.C. and Clara (1849, and 1857-1870). These describe frontier Texas, news of the Civil War, and Confederate patriotism. In one notable letter, he described life in Brownsville, Texas, and advised using birth control (January 30, 1860). Clara's sister Mary "Mollie" Farquhar Jones Joliffe wrote 15 letters, 1858-1870, primarily made up of family news. Her wartime letters are a window onto the hardships of Confederate civilian life. William Marlborough Jones is represented by 13 Civil War and Reconstruction era letters, which reflect on the costs of the war to both the family and the nation. Of note is a 12-page account of the war near Jackson, Mississippi (November 7, 1870), and his report on the fall of Vicksburg (July 7, 1863). Sister Rebecca Churchill Jones Craighill, wrote 13 letters (1858-1899) to multiple recipients. In 1866, she composed excellent reflections on the war and criticized a Virginia friend who had eloped with a Yankee officer.
The collection also contains letters from two of Clara’s uncles: 8 from Marlborough Churchill and 2 from George Jones.
The Journals series (2 items) contains an official transcript of a journal of Elizabeth Van Wyck, and a diary kept by Sydney Van Wyck. The Elizabeth Van Wyck journal is a transcript of a reminiscence of her life from age 7 until November 12, 1808, when she was 26. The copy was made in 1925, at the request of Elizabeth's great-grandson, Sidney M. Van Wyck, Jr. The second item is a detailed journal kept by Sydney Van Wyck during his time at school in the 1840s. In it, he described his life at school and many of his family members.
The Documents and Financial Records series is made up of four subseries: Estate Papers, Insurance Papers, Legal and Financial Documents, and Account Books.
The Estate Papers subseries contains 11 items concerning the property of A.P.C. and 24 items related to Howard J. Crittenden. These include A.P.C.'s last will and testament and court records surrounding his murder and the handling of his estate (1870-1875). The Howard J. Crittenden items document Howard's financial holdings at his death and how his estate was divided.
The Insurance Papers subseries (3 items) includes a record of the Hartford Fire Insurance Company (1871) and a fire insurance policy from Pacific Insurance Company for Clara Crittenden (1872).
The Legal and Financial Documents subseries (16 items) consists of bank notes, telegraphs concerning business dealings, receipts for goods and payments, contracts, and personal tax bills. Of note are contracts signing over gold and silver claims in Nevada to Howard Crittenden. These include locations in White Pine, Nevada, such as "Lucky Boy Tunnel" and "Adele mining ground" (1869).
The Account Books subseries (3 items) contains a 12-page account book for A. Hemme (1873), a 20-page account book for S. M. Van Wyck (1873-1874), and a mostly empty National Granit State Bank account book of Thomas Crittenden (1874).
The Photographs and Illustrations series contains 106 photographs of Crittenden family members. These include cartes-de-visite, tintypes, ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, cabinet cards, and several modern reproductions. They depict many of the Crittenden family members, including several Crittenden men in Confederate uniform, Clara Crittenden, Clara Van Wyck, and Laura Fair, among others. See Additional Descriptive Data for the complete list.
In addition to the photograph, this collection also contains an ink sketch of the floor plan of a San Francisco cottage (in the letter dated July 4, 1852).
The Miscellaneous series (9 items) contains school report cards, Laura Van Wyck's application to become a Daughter of the Confederacy (which includes a heroic account of Churchill Crittenden's death in the Civil War), Nannie Crittenden Van Wyck's address book (with contacts in Saint Louis, Chicago, Kentucky, New York, and Brooklyn), a newspaper clipping about mining in Nevada, and 3 unattributed writing fragments.
The folder of supplemental material relates to Robert E. Stewart's publication Aurora Ghost City of the Dawn, Las Vegas: Nevada Publications, 1996, including a copy of the book and 10 photographs taken by Stewart of Aurora and the Ruins of the Sanchez home.