Masters-Taylor-Wilbur papers  1796-1857
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The Masters-Taylor-Wilbur papers (589 items) consist of 541 letters, 9 legal documents, and 39 financial records (1796-1850). The vast majority of the letters are family correspondence written by Thomas Masters and two of his daughters, Martha [Mrs. Henry W. Taylor] and Sarah [Mrs. Jeremiah Wilbur], between 1824 and 1850. The collection also includes letters written by his wife Isabella, his daughter Anna, his sons Samuel and Francis, and his sons-in-law, Jeremiah Wilbur and Henry W. Taylor. Many of the letters are between family members living in New York City, where Thomas Masters ran his mercantile business and Canandaigua, New York; Marshall, Michigan; Philadelphia; and Mt. Morris, New York. Several are joint letters with notes from two or more family members. The letters are rich in details of family life: illnesses, disease, and cures are much discussed, as are family weddings, and travel. Though dominated by family news, the family occasionally discussed politics, religion, temperance, and other religious-inspired social reform issues.

Of note:

  • July 19, 1832: G.H. Green to Martha C. Masters claiming a link between the consumption of alcohol and the occurrence of cholera
  • October 15, 1833: Jeremiah Wilbur describing an anti-slavery speech
  • December 19, 1835: Henry Masters to Martha Taylor recounting in detail a fire that swept through parts of New York City and destroyed Taylor's firm of Masters & Markoe at 51 South St.
  • March 20-April 3, 1838: A long communal letter to Martha Taylor and Samuel Masters from family in New York City, in the form of a newspaper entitled "The Burning and Shining Light and Free Discussionest"
  • August 1840: passing reference to hearing Daniel Webster speak
  • February 15, 1842: Martha Taylor to Sarah Wilbur describing the temperance movement in Marshall, Michigan
  • June 2, 1842: Sarah Wilbur to Martha Taylor discussing a wedding feast and spousal abuse
  • December 11, 1842: Thomas Masters to Martha Taylor, providing a detailed account of the first New York Philharmonic Concert, which opened with a well-received piece by Beethoven
  • March 3, 1844: Thomas Masters to Martha Taylor giving a second hand account of the explosion on board the U.S.S. Princeton , which killed the Secretary of State and the Secretary of the Navy

The earliest letters in the collection pertain to the Wilbur family from 1811 to 1818 (32 letters). These consist of letters from Backus Wilbur in Princeton and Newark, New Jersey, to his brother Marcus Wilbur in New York City, describing Backus’ schooling, religious training, and life at school. Included in one letter is an account of a food fight that escalated to a near riot (February 6, 1812).

Of special interest are 12 letters and two enclosures documenting the attempt of Francis Markoe, Jr., and Jeremiah Wilbur to help former slave Matthew Matthews of Washington, D.C., purchase his six children (January-September 1835). Markoe and Wilbur outlined strategies regarding the best use of the available money to maximize the purchase of the highest number of children in the shortest possible time. Also included are two letters to Matthews, one from Mrs. Mary F. Spence, informing him that she may be forced to sell his children at public auction, and the other from Luke Johnson of Dumfries, Virginia, a black slave who loaned him money toward the purchase of one of the children. Enclosed with the letters are copies of bills of sale for two of the children.

In addition to the family papers are 135 business letters, 35 receipts, four invoices, and nine legal documents that relate to the mercantile affairs of Thomas Masters, Francis Markoe, and their firms of Markoe & Masters, and Masters & Markoe in New York City and Philadelphia (1796-1847). These business papers give some insight into the New York and European financial markets and the economic climate of the time.

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