The Newell family papers show what life was like in a small New York town in the mid-1860s and detail Albert Newell's entrepreneurial ventures into the oil and cotton trades. The heart of the Newell family papers consists of 41 letters written by Arthur W. and Cornelia E. Newell to their son George Newell during his first two years at Yale. Most were written from the family home in Medina, New York. Both Arthur and Cornelia included news of local people's movements and sicknesses, of events, and the effects of the weather on the crops. They frequently mentioned trips to nearby Lockport, Middleport and Ridgeway, often for cultural or religious activities. The Newells' letters also recounted longer trips to Chicago for the nomination of Lincoln on the Republican ticket in 1860, to the Armory in Springfield, Mass., and to the Grand Review of the Army of the Potomac in Washington in May 1865.
There are no letters from George to his parents, but some information about his university years can be inferred from the letters they wrote to him. They both lectured him about being an upstanding young gentleman, exhorting him to "choose virtue as your Goddess..." and to "beware of all evil". As a freshman he joined a fraternity without having to undergo too many trials. During the winter of 1865-66 he hurt his ankle severely enough to necessitate the use of a crutch for several months. He first lived in a private home at 30 High Street but moved to college rooms his sophomore year. Arthur's investments meant that the Newells were often cash poor, however, they were still able to send George over $970.00 during his first two years of college. Yale tuition at the time was less than $25.00 per term. Almost all of George's tuition bills are included in this collection, along with a "promise to pay" signed by his father.
There are five letters written to George Newell in the 1880s and 1900. As an older man, he evidently developed an interest in his family history, and there are two letters from a second cousin concerning their great grandfather Thomas Steadman. Colonel Edwin Franklin Brown of the 28th New York Infantry wrote George a marvelous letter recounting the involvement of his father, Jeremiah Brown, in the "Morgan Affair". In 1826 the Masons of the Batavia Lodge were accused of murdering Capt. William A. Morgan for divulging secrets of the society. Jeremiah Brown was charged with complicity in the abduction of Morgan, went into hiding, was tried at Lockport and acquitted by Judge William S. Marcy (who went on to serve as governor 1833-1838). This event catalyzed the Anti-Masonic movement, led by Thurlow Weed, and Brown related some of the repercussions felt by his family.
The collection also includes three earlier Newell family documents. The oldest is a small copybook, inscribed, "Samuel Newell his book 1734". It evidently passed from generation to generation of Newells and contains genealogical information and some accounts; dates span from 1726 to 1823. According to the copybook, Solomon Newell married Sally Steadman in 1807. The two letters from George's second cousin G. W. Pierce suggest that her father was Thomas Steadman, a Revolutionary War soldier from Connecticut. Pierce refers to Thomas Steadman as "your [George's] Grandmother's Father", offering further evidence that Arthur was the son of Solomon and Sally (Steadman) Newell. The other two documents are early nineteenth century deeds. One, from Damaris Newell, gave his son Solomon Newell land on Center Hill in Barkhamsted, Litchfield County, Conn. The second, signed by Grandison Newell, gave Solomon a portion of a house and barn, also on Center Hill. The rest of the collection is comprised of a variety of miscellaneous documents relating to the life of George Newell, including Yale tuition bills, a bill from the photographer, George K. Warren, a stock certificate issued by the Medina & Alabama Plank Road Company, a mortgage, two checks drawn from a Union Bank of Medina account and a clipping from the Medina Tribune.