Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Jacob H. Bates Papers, 1812-1867

Finding aid created by
Rob S. Cox, June 1991

Summary Information
Title: Jacob H. Bates papers
Creator: Bates, Jacob H.
Inclusive dates: 1812-1867
Bulk dates: 1834-1867
Extent: 35 items
The Bates papers chronicle the lives of a family during the Jacksonian era, of particular interest is the description of patterns of grief and mourning during the 1830s and 1840s.
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 Henry Parmalee, Jr. 1986. M-2305.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Jacob H. Bates Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Jacob H. Bates, Sr., was a painter from Cambridge, Mass., and a member of a tragic family. Beginning with the death of his daughter, Mary (Mrs. Horatio C.) Meriam in 1834, the Bates' sustained a long series of tragic deaths and misfortunes. After surviving a deep period of grief over the loss of his wife, for example, Horatio Meriam was plagued by financial problems for at least the next fifteen years, withstanding the assaults of rapacious creditors and the continual embarrassment of an inability to pay.

This alone would have chagrined most families, but things descended to further depths when Jacobs' other daughter, Elizabeth Palmer, contracted an ailment in 1840. In the hopes that a change in climate might improve her health, Elizabeth and her mother decided to venture to Florida, but unfortunately, they chose to depart in December and thus ran afoul of the full range of winter obstacles, from heavy snow to mud to rough seas. The arduous journey proved to be more than a match for the frail Elizabeth, who died shortly after reaching St. Augustine in January or February, 1841. Her children, George and Maria, seem to have inherited a tendency toward infirmity: George seems to have suffered from some respiratory complaint, and at one point Maria had a serious leg injury.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Bates papers chronicle the lives of a family afflicted by more than the usual rounds of illness and death during the Jacksonian era, and provides useful insight into the patterns of grief and mourning during the 1830s and 1840s. While the collection is too small to provide much detailed information on the family, it provides a concise record of their inordinate share of tragedy. One the earliest letters in the collection (1834 August 21) is an eloquent lament written by Horatio C. Meriam (Harvard, class of 1829) to his father-in-law, Jacob Bates, Sr., at the loss his young wife, Mary. Although Meriam fears that some will call him "unmanly" or that his letter might be seen to betray "a latent inferiority in [his] nature," he considers his loss to be "a loss this world cannot repair."

The death of Mary Bates Meriam in 1834, though, was not the only premature death sustained by the Bateses. The heart of the collection is a series of five letters written by Jacob Bates' other daughter, Elizabeth Palmer, during a trip to Florida, who may have been traveling to a warmer climate for health reasons. As the arduous journey progressed, Elizabeth's health failed -- as reflected in her increasingly unsteady handwriting -- and she died shortly after arriving in St. Augustine, Fla., in February, 1841. There are two additional letters relating to Elizabeth Palmer's death trip: one from her minister in Boston, advising her to prepare her soul as well as her body for death, the other from Elizabeth's husband, George, informing her family of her death, and noting that the body had been enclosed in an alcohol-filled tin drum for shipment back to Boston.

Several items that were included in this accession, including the four earliest items and the four postcards at the end, bear no obvious relationship to the remainder of the collection, but have been retained.

Subject Terms

    • Death.
    • Florida--Description and travel.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   1, Small Collections  
    Jacob H. Bates papers,  1812-1867 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Partial Subject Index
    Care of the sick
    • n.d. (August 5)
    Clark, Jonathan B.
    • 1832 March 23
    Death--Religious aspects
    • 1841 February 12
    • 1840 December 29
    • 1841 February 27
    Fathers and sons
    • 1835 March 5
    Florida--Description and travel
    • 1840 December 29
    Fugitive slave law of 1850
    • 1850 February 11, 17
    Leg--Wounds and injuries
    • n.d (March 23)
    Love letters
    • 1840 September 3
    • 1840 September 3
    Meriam, John
    • 1850 February 11, 17
    Meriam, Mary Bates, d. 1834--Death
    • 1834 August 21
    Meriam, Tarrant
    • 1850 February 11, 17
    New Jersey--Description and travel
    • 1840 December 8
    Palmer, Elizabeth A. Bates, d. 1841--Death
    • 1841 February 27
    Palmer, George B.
    • 1864 October 31
    • n.d. (August 5)
    Palmer, George Wall
    • 1845 May 15
    • n.d.
    Real property--Massachusetts
    • [1856 November 13]
    Saint Augustine (Fla.)--Description
    • 1840 December 29
    • 1841 February 12
    Taylor, Zachary, 1784-1850
    • 1850 February 11, 17
    Vermont--Description and travel
    • 1840 June 12
    Virginia--Description and travel
    • 1840 December 14
    Webster, Daniel, 1782-1852
    • 1850 February 11, 17
    • 1834 August 2