Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Newell Family Papers, 1726-1900

Finding aid created by
Rachel K. Onuf, January 1996

Summary Information
Title: Newell family papers
Creator: Newell family
Inclusive dates: 1726-1900
Extent: 58 items
Abstract:
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.
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: www.clements.umich.edu


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1988. M-2433.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.

Copyright:

Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Newell Family Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan.


Biography

In the mid-19th century, Arthur W. and Cornelia E. (Smith) Newell lived in Medina, Orleans Co., N.Y. and owned a farm in nearby Middleport, where they grew tobacco and vegetables with the help of a tenant. Arthur's father was probably Solomon Newell, who moved from Southington, Conn., to Barkhamsted, Litchfield County, Conn., in the 1780s. Cornelia (Smith) Newell's parents apparently lived 40 miles to the west of Medina, in Lockport.

Arthur ran a mercantile establishment at the corner of Canal and Main Streets, formerly the site of the Eagle Hotel, which had burned in the winter of 1841-42. His involvement in local politics spurred him to "r[i]de the goat of the Loyal League", which initiated him into the Loyal National League of the State of New York in 1864. He also attended the New York state convention as a delegate of the Union League in September 1865.

Arthur's political involvement, however, was overshadowed by his business ventures. In the true American entrepreneurial spirit, he had struggled with various speculative enterprises. Arthur had sold some "Oswego land" previous to his stints as oil speculator and carpetbagger, indicating that he had a history of land speculation. He was caught up in the oil craze in 1865 and formed a stock company, The Medina Petroleum Company. "Oil on the brain" prompted him, as president of the company, to buy land in the center of the oil-producing district, Venango County, Pa., sight unseen. His land investments took him to Titusville, the first place where oil was discovered. During his five weeks in the oil district he also went to Pithole City, a place Arthur described as "a Pit of debauchery, drunkenness, crime, mud & Oil". The Company's land investments sadly did not yield much oil or revenue for the stockholders.

After having had little success at pumping oil, Arthur was caught up in the new "epidemic": "cotton on the brain." Within a year he had turned his capitalistic attention to the South, and traveled through the Tennessee Valley with his two business associates, Mr. Castle, also from Medina, and Mr. Wheeler. They were seeking likely land to lease and settled on a 700 acre plantation near Courtland, Ala. Arthur returned to Medina to sell the Middleport farm and together with Myron, went back to the plantation to relieve Castle. Arthur was left with most of the responsibility for setting up the plantation and getting the cotton and corn planted. He hired more "darky" hands, bringing the total to 35, endured an "indolent slut" for a housekeeper, fired the superintendent Prince, and had to cope with mules with dysentery. Cornelia was preparing to visit the plantation in July, 1866, however, there is no further information on the Newell's after this point. There is a possibility that Arthur and Cornelia did permanently relocate to Alabama, satisfying her "long cherished desire to live in a warmer climate". If they did move to the south, Arthur intended to get into the lumber trade.

Arthur and Cornelia had two sons, George Albert, born 11 January 1846, and Myron S., Albert's younger brother. George studied law at Yale, graduating in 1868, and was admitted to the bar the following year. In 1875 he was one of four attorneys in Medina, living on West Street, close to the commercial center of town. He became a prominent citizen, serving as justice of the peace, county clerk, county treasurer and president of the Union Bank of Medina. He also devoted considerable time and attention to Free Masonry and was elected to receive the 33rd and last degree at the meeting of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite held in Boston in 1894. George married Anna E. McGrath in 1886 and they had one son and two daughters. The only information available about Myron S. lists him as a chief engineer of the Medina Fire Department after 1880.


Collection Scope and Content Note

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.

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • Farms--New York (State)
    • Freemasonry--New York (State)
    • Grand Review of the Army of the Potomac.
    • Loyal National League of the State of New York.
    • Petroleum industry and trade--Pennsylvania.
    • Plantations--Alabama.
    • Presidents--United States--Election--1860.
    • United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • Yale College--Students.
    Genre Terms:
    • Ambrotypes.
    • Albumen prints.
    • Letters (correspondence)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   1
    Newell family papers,  1726-1900 [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Alternate Locations

    A full plate ruby glass ambrotype of the Newell family, ca.1858, has been transferred to the Photographs Division (call number A.2.11).

    An oval albumen portrait of Cornelia Newell is located in the Photographs Division.

    Bibliography

    Atlas of Niagara and Orleans Counties, New York. (Philadelphia: Beers, Upton & Co., 1875)

    Boyce, C. W.A Brief History of the 28th Regiment New York State Volunteers. (Buffalo, NY: Matthews-Northrup Co.)

    Mock, Stanley Upton. The Morgan Episode in American Free Masonry. (East Aurora, NY: The Roycrofters, 1930)

    Signor, Isaac S. Landmarks of Orleans County, New York. (Syracuse: D. Mason & Co., 1894)

    Partial Subject Index
    Account books--Connecticut.
    • 1734
    African-Americans--Alabama.
    • 1866 June 3
    Agriculture--New York (State)
    • 1864 October 31
    • 1865 June 12
    Apple--Harvesting.
    • 1864 October 22-24
    Armories--Massachusetts--Springfield.
    • 1864 September 19
    Bank robberies--New York (State)
    • 1866 July 1
    Baptism.
    • 1866 July 1
    Barnum, P. T. (Phineas Taylor), 1810-1891.
    • 1865 March 12
    Business--Purchasing.
    • 1864 April 8
    Cather, Andrew.
    • 1864 December 9
    College costs.
    • 1864 October 22-24
    • 1864 December 2
    • 1865 May 6
    • 1865 December 3
    • 1864 September 13
    • 1865-1868
    Consumption.
    • 1865 June 12
    • [1866] March 4
    • 1866 April 1
    Cotton--Alabama.
    • 1866 June 3
    Davis, Jefferson, 1808-1889.
    • 1865 May 15-17
    Death.
    • 1866 April 1
    Deeds--Connecticut.
    • 1804 March 29
    Distemper.
    • 1866 March 18
    Draft.
    • 1865 March 12
    • 1865 February 28
    Elections--New York (State)--1865.
    • 1865 September 24
    Entrepreneurship.
    • 1865 March 1
    • 1865 July 18
    • 1866 January 11
    Expenditures, Public--Effect of inflation on.
    • 1864 April 8
    Farm tenancy--New York (State)
    • 1866 March 18
    Farms--New York (State)
    • [1866] March 4
    • 1866 March 18
    • 1866 April 1
    • 1866 April 4
    Fathers and sons.
    • 1864 December 2
    • 1865 September 24
    • 1866 July 20
    Freemasonry--New York (State)
    • 1889 December 17
    Freemasons--United States.
    • 1889 December 17
    Furuncle.
    • 1865 July 18
    Gardening--New York (State)
    • 1865 May 15-17
    • 1866 May 27
    Genealogy.
    • 1900 February 8
    • 1900 October 25
    • 1900 February 5
    • ca. 1900
    • 1734
    Grand Review of the Army of the Potomac.
    • 1865 June 12
    Horses--Accidents.
    • 1864 September 26
    House cleaning.
    • 1865 October 26
    • 1866 May 27
    Hydrotherapy.
    • 1866 June 3
    Initiations (into trades, societies, etc.)
    • 1864 September 26
    Invoices.
    • 1868 May 1
    Leases--Connecticut.
    • 1803 April 2
    Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865.
    • 1860 May 21
    Living rooms.
    • 1864 October 22-24
    • 1864 October 31
    Loyal National League of the State of New York.
    • 1864 October 6
    McClellan, George Brinton, 1826-1885.
    • 1864 September 26
    • 1864 December 2
    Mortgages--New York (State)
    • 1889 June 21
    Mothers and sons.
    • 1864 October 23
    • 1866 January 7
    • 1866 January 11
    Mules.
    • 1866 March 18
    • 1866 June 3
    Orchards--New York (State)
    • 1865 December 3
    Parlors.
    • 1864 October 22-24
    • 1864 October 31
    Petroleum industry and trade--Pennsylvania.
    • 1865 February 19
    • 1865 March 1
    • 1865 May 15-17
    • 1865 June 12
    • 1865 November 6
    • 1865 December 3
    Plantation life--Alabama.
    • 1866 July 20
    Plantation workers--Alabama.
    • 1866 February 14
    • 1866 June 3
    • 1866 July 19
    • 1866 July 20
    Plantations--Alabama.
    • 1866 January 31
    • 1866 February 14
    • 1866 May 14
    • 1866 May 27
    • 1866 June 3
    • 1866 July 19
    Political conventions--Illinois--Chicago.
    • 1860 May 21
    Political conventions--New York (State)
    • 1865 September 24
    Postal service--New York (State)
    • 1865 July 18
    Presidents--United States--Election--1860.
    • 1860 May 21
    Railroad travel.
    • 1860 May 21
    • 1864 September 19
    Rain and rainfall.
    • 1866 June 3
    Reconstruction.
    • 1866 January 11
    • 1866 January 14
    Reconstruction--Alabama.
    • 1866 January 31
    • 1866 February 14
    Revivals--New York (State)
    • [1866] March 4
    • 1866 April 1
    Robbery--New York (State)
    • 1866 July 11
    Secret societies.
    • 1864 October 6
    Sepulchral monuments.
    • 1865 May 15-17
    • 1865 June 12
    • 1865 June 19
    Seward, William Henry, 1801-1872.
    • 1860 May 21
    Sherman, William Tecumseh, 1820-1891.
    • 1864 December 2
    Smallpox--New York (State)
    • 1865 July 18
    Stedman, Thomas.
    • 1900 February 8
    • 1900 October 25
    • 1900 February 5
    • ca. 1900
    Stock certificates--New York (State)
    • 1868 August 10
    Stock companies.
    • 1865 July 18
    Stock companies--New York (State)
    • 1865 March 1
    • 1865 March 12
    • 1866 March 18
    Stock ownership--New York (State)
    • 1865 March 1
    Tobacco farms--New York (State)
    • 1864 April 8
    • 1864 September 19
    Tobacco--Harvesting.
    • 1864 September 26
    • 1864 October 6
    • 1866 March 18
    Tuberculosis.
    • 1865 June 12
    • [1866] March 4
    • 1866 April 1
    United States Christian Commission.
    • 1864 December 9
    United States Sanitary Commission.
    • 1864 December 9
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • 1864 December 9
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Civilian relief.
    • 1864 December 9
    • 1865 January 12
    United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Societies, etc.
    • 1865 March 12
    United States--Politics and government--Civil War, 1861-1865.
    • 1864 September 26
    United States--Politics and government--1866-1877.
    • 1866 April 4
    Voting--New York (State)
    • 1865 November 6
    Warren, George Kendall, 1824-1884.
    • 1868 May 1
    Women--Tobacco use.
    • 1864 October 6
    Yale College--Students.
    • 1864 September 13
    • 1865-1868