Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Collins Family Papers, 1825-1863

Finding aid created by
Naomi Herman-Aplet and Meg Hixon, January 2012

Summary Information
Title: Collins family papers
Creator: Collins family
Inclusive dates: 1825-1863
Extent: 0.5 linear feet
The Collins family papers consist of personal correspondence between several members of the Collins family of New Haven, Connecticut, and Westfield, Massachusetts, in the early to mid-1800s. Correspondence between Cynthia Painter Collins and her husband Simeon reflects his career as a bookseller in Boston and Philadelphia, and letters between a range of friends and family members document life in New England during the antebellum era. Reverend Sylvester Graham wrote one letter offering medical advice to Cynthia Painter Collins.
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:

1992. M-2791 .

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). This collection has been processed according to minimal processing procedures and may be revised, expanded, or updated in the future.

Preferred Citation:

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


The collection is arranged chronologically, with undated items placed at the end.


Cynthia Painter Collins was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on August 20, 1791, the daughter of Thomas and Hannah Candee Painter. Between 1806 and 1807, she attended the Litchfield Female Academy in Litchfield, Connecticut. On May 15, 1815, she married Simeon Collins. She died on April 28, 1880.

Simeon Collins (1786-1866), a bookseller, conducted business in Philadelphia and Boston, leading him to frequently spend time away from his family. Cynthia and her children often lived with her brother, Alexis Painter, while Simeon was away on business. Cynthia and Simeon had five children: Thomas Painter, David C., Cynthia (m. Henry Sherman), Francis, and Anna Maria. Thomas Painter Collins (1823-1873) and David C. Collins (1825-1909) became daguerreotypists and photographers of moderate fame and shared a Philadelphia for many years. Thomas married Elizabeth Weatherby Chapin in 1847 and relocated to Westfield, Massachusetts, while David remained in the existing studio, marrying Theresa Oggelsby in 1856. Thomas and Elizabeth Collins had four children, and David and Theresa Collins had two: William R. and Annie Teresa.

Alexis Painter, Cynthia's younger brother, was born on November 24, 1794, in West Haven, Connecticut, and attended Yale College (1815) and Litchfield Law School (1817) before moving to Annapolis, Maryland. He briefly practiced law there before a temporary move to Liverpool, England, where he was a sailor. He later moved to Westfield, Massachusetts, and became a businessman. He returned to West Haven in 1837 and worked as a teacher until 1852. He died on October 19, 1867.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Collins family papers (197 items) consist of personal correspondence between several members of the Collins family of New Haven, Connecticut, and Westfield, Massachusetts, in the early to mid-1800s. Much of the collection is comprised of the correspondence of Cynthia Painter Collins, primarily written between herself, her husband Simeon, and several of her children between 1829 and 1855; other early correspondence includes several letters to her brother, Alexis Painter. Many of the letters concentrate on family and social news. For example, Cynthia Collins wrote one letter to her mother proudly declaring her religious beliefs (December 12, 1829), and Simeon Collins frequently reported on his experiences selling books in Boston and Philadelphia. While in Boston, he became acquainted with Reverend Sylvester Graham (1794-1851). Collins occasionally attended Graham's lectures, sold Graham's books, and solicited medical advice for Cynthia, which Graham provided in a letter dated March 24, 1837. Simeon mentioned other aspects of the Grahamite movement and his bookselling career. In one letter, he described a visit to 2 Philadelphia schools for African Americans (December 23, 1840).

Other correspondence from this period includes several letters from Cynthia Collins to Alexis Painter, as well as a series of letters she exchanged with her son David. In her letters to David, she voiced her concerns about her son Thomas, who contemplated moving west to seek gold in California and wished for his brother to join him (December 12, 1848). David's letters contain occasional reports on his business affairs.

Much of the later correspondence (1856-1863) is comprised of incoming letters to Anna Maria Collins, Cynthia and Simeon's daughter, from acquaintances updating her on their families and social lives in New England. Though most of these letters pre-date the Civil War, Anna's friend Libbie wrote in June 1863 to report the arrest of a boarder for desertion.

Subject Terms

    • African Americans--Education--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia.
    • Booksellers and bookselling--United States.
    • Boston (Mass.)--Commerce.
    • Connecticut--Social life and customs.
    • Grahamites.
    • New England--Social life and customs.
    • New Haven (Conn.)
    • Philadelphia (Pa.)--Commerce.
    • Westfield (Mass.)
    • Collins, Anna Maria, b. 1835.
    • Collins, Cynthia Painter, 1791-1880.
    • Collins, David Chittenden, 1825-1863.
    • Collins, Simeon 1786-1866.
    • Graham, Sylvester, 1794-1851.
    • Painter, Alexis, 1794-1867.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letters (correspondence)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Correspondence [series]
    Box   1 Folders   1-31
     1825-1863 and  undated
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    Several additional collections contain material related to Sylvester Graham, including a collection of Graham family papers .

    The New Haven Museum holds a collection of Painter/Collins family papers.


    "Alexis Painter." The Ledger. Litchfield Historical Society, 2010.

    "Cynthia Painter Collins." The Ledger. Litchfield Historical Society, 2010.