Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Giles Family Papers, 1780-1899

Finding aid created by
Susan Swasta, December 1995

Summary Information
Title: Giles family papers
Creator: Giles family
Inclusive dates: 1780-1899
Extent: 0.25 linear feet
Abstract:
The Giles family papers document an American family through various generations and locations, though the focus of the papers is on Elizabeth Shipton Giles of Maryland and New York City.

Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1992. M-2893.2

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open to research.

Copyright:

Copyright status is unknown.

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation:

Giles family papers, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan


Biography

Aquila Giles was born into minor Maryland gentry in 1758, the son of Jacob and Joanna Paca Giles, grandson of Maryland governor William Paca. The Giles family of Devonshire, England, had come to America in 1634, and are on record as having obtained a land grant from Charles II in 1684.

Nothing is known about Giles' education or early years. At the outbreak of the American Revolution he joined the Continental Army as a volunteer cadet and by May 1777 had been promoted to major and was serving on the Pennsylvania line as aide-de-camp of Gen. Arthur St. Clair. At some point Major Giles was taken prisoner and evidently wound up on parole in New York City, during which time he courted English-born Elizabeth Shipton, marrying her in October 1780, just before his release. After the war they settled in Maryland, where Giles inherited an estate on the Susquehanna River in 1784 and bought a Baltimore town house in 1796. During this period he served as a U.S. Marshall and the couple had 10 children, 8 of whom survived infancy.

Sometime after 1800 Aquila and Eliza Giles relocated to New York City, and in the early 1800's he became involved in a controversy over lands which led to protracted litigation with the United States government. Financial hardship forced the family to split up, and wife Eliza returned to her native England around 1812, taking daughter Helen and youngest son George Washington Giles, born around 1802, with her. The separation lasted over four years, during which time sons William, Charles and St. Clair Giles became seamen, Henry Giles was admitted to West Point, and eldest daughters Elizabeth and Mary Ann married.

George Washington Giles attended the Hemel Hemsted school during his stay in England and was sent to boarding school and college after the return to America. There he attended Princeton University and Union College, become a lawyer, and married Elizabeth Ogden of New York City around 1823 or 1824. Details of their lives are very sketchy, but it is known that George Giles' health was poor, and he and Elizabeth lived in Madeira for a time in hopes of its restoration. Their son William Ogden Giles, probably born around 1825, established strong connections to Europe and the West Indies as a businessman.

Aquila and Eliza's daughter Elizabeth prospered as the wife of wealthy New Yorker Daniel Thorne, while Henry Giles enjoyed a minor military career, and Helen Giles remained in England and caused a mild family scandal by marrying "beneath her." The other children did not survive their parents. Although Aquila Giles won his law suit and the family was reunited, it is clear that his fortunes were never restored. By 1817 he was employed as a U.S. Army store keeper, but seemed always to be in debt and waiting for his luck to change. Aquila and Eliza Giles both died in 1822.


Collection Scope and Content Note

The Giles family papers document an American family through various generations and locations, though the focus of the papers is on Elizabeth Shipton Giles. Her 13 letters to Aquila and to sons Henry and George are literate and engaging, depicting a strong-willed woman who did not lose her spirit and sense of humor in the face of life's trials. Writing in 1780, as a flirtatious young woman enjoying the attentions of an army officer, she accuses her "pretty Major" of flirting with other women: "Upon my word tis a high joak, I should be very glad to know what right you have to dispose of your pretty Person in this manner? ... I'll not endeavor to soften any misfortunes you bring upon yourself so I give you fair warning."

It must have been difficult to descend from youthful romance into the harsh realities of a financially-pinched existence, enduring separation from family, the early deaths of most of her children, and estrangement from the two surviving daughters. But Eliza pinned her hopes on son George, reminding him in 1817 that "your life and mine hang on the same hinge..." and that his father, "tho' he provides for all your necessities, leaves me still the Guardian of your comforts and where will such true comforts be found as in an Honest Heart, and Virtuous Mind." She urges him to imitate his namesake, "the greatest man that ever lived," and become "an ornament to the World, an able Statesman and defender of your countrys Laws, and Rights." Fearing that George's temper may "blast my hopes in you or bring me in sorrow to the Grave," his mother begs him to learn restraint, and to look to God, so that he may seek her in heaven after she is separated from him, whom she regards as "heaven's last, best Gift" on this earth.

The nature of Eliza's relationships with other family members is not readily apparent, except in the case of daughter Elizabeth Thorne, who married well and evidently took pride in showing off, which her mother resented. In one instance the haughty Mrs. Thorne agitated to be given Mrs. Giles's most prized possession, a portrait of husband Aquila. Eliza described the dispute in an 1817 letter to son Henry, declaring that the painting had been her companion, never out of her sight, for 7000 miles of travel and four years of separation, "and I have often fancied I wiped tears from its eye." Her daughter, she felt, merely wanted to display it "over her fine sideboard." But Mrs. Thorne sent a servant to remove the painting the next day, and her mother vowed never to look at it again.

Eliza Giles did not live long enough to see son George married and successfully established, and her life was difficult until the end, but she never ceased to see better days ahead. Writing to George in 1820, two years before her death, she tells him not to worry about his parents, assuring him that "God willing I trust we shall live to see better days. The prospect dawns. So keep your spirits and health to meet the cheering ray."

The other correspondence in this small collection is scattered. Two courtship notes from Aquila Giles to Eliza in 1780 exhibit youthful charm, while one letter to Eliza in 1815 and two to son George in 1819-1820 dwell on good intentions thwarted by bad debts. A series of letters to George and Elizabeth Giles in Europe from children and other family members, dating from 1838-1840, comment on the children's schooling and on family health and social matters. An interesting product of that trip is Elizabeth Giles's journal of their visit to Spain and France en route to Madeira, which features detailed description of buildings and art in Seville. Two 1823 New York City court depositions, evidently made to establish property claims of the surviving Giles children, reveal the sad fates of their siblings.

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • Boarding schools
    • Boys--Education
    • Courtship
    • Education--Costs
    • Finance, Personal
    • Inheritance and succession
    • Love-letters
    • Mothers and daughters
    • Mothers and sons
    • Parent and child
    • Schools--Great Britain
    • Women--Conduct of life
    • Young men--Conduct of life
    Contents List
       Container / Location    Title
    Box   1  
    Giles family papers,  c. 1780-1899 [series]:
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Bibliography

    Heitman, Francis B. Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army. Vol. 1 (Washington, D.C., 1903)

    United States. Bureau of Pensions. Pension application of Aquila Giles. 1818 Mar. 27

    Partial Subject Index
    Actions and defenses
    • 1815 Oct. 20
    Architecture, Islamic--Spain--Seville
    • 1839 Apr. 11-May 13
    Archives--Spain--Seville
    • 1839 Apr. 11-May 13
    Art, Spanish--Spain--Seville
    • 1839 Apr. 11-May 13
    Betrothal
    • ca.1780-2
    • ca.1780-3
    • ca.1780-4
    Boarding schools--Curricula
    • 1813 June
    • 1813 Dec.
    • 1814 June
    • 1814 Dec.
    • 1816 June
    Boys--Conduct of life
    • 1813
    Boys--Education
    • 1812 April
    • 1813 June
    • 1813 Dec.
    • 1814 June
    • 1814 Dec.
    • 1816 June
    • 1817 Mar. 5
    • 1817
    • 1838 Nov. 23
    • 1838 Dec. 20
    • 1839 Feb. 9
    • 1840 Mar. 2
    Boys--Recreation
    • 1840 Mar. 2
    Brothers
    • 1781 Mar. 22
    Campagna, Girolomo, ca.1550-1626
    • 1839 Apr. 11-May 13
    Cathedrals--Spain--Seville
    • 1839 Apr. 11-May 13
    Charity
    • 1839 Feb. 9
    Child rearing
    • ca.1838
    Christmas
    • 1839 Jan 8
    • 1840 Jan. 19
    Country life--Maryland
    • 1781 Mar. 22
    Courtship
    • ca.1780-1
    • ca.1780-2
    • ca.1780-3
    • ca.1780-4
    • ca.1780-5
    • 1818 Feb. 4
    • 1900's
    Cousins
    • 1812 Nov. 24
    Daughters--Death
    • 1823 Jan. 24
    Death
    • 1817 Nov. 25
    • 1819 May 15
    Debt
    • 1784 Oct. 20
    • 1818 Apr. 2
    • 1820 Feb. 11
    Depositions--New York (City)
    • 1823
    • 1823
    Education
    • 1839 Feb. 9
    Education--Costs
    • 1813 June
    • 1813 Dec.
    • 1814 June
    • 1814 Dec.
    • 1816 June
    Faith
    • 1823 Jan. 24
    Family--Maryland
    • 1815 Oct. 20
    • 1817 Nov. 25
    • 1819 May 15
    • 1820 Feb. 17
    • 1829 Mar.
    • 1838 Nov. 23
    • 1838 Dec.
    • 1838 Dec. 20
    • ca.1838
    • 1839 Jan. 9
    • 1839 Jan. 19
    • 1839 Feb. 9
    • 1843 Apr. 7-19
    Fathers and sons
    • 1819 Nov. 17
    • 1820 Feb. 11
    Finance, Personal
    • 1815 Oct. 20
    • 1817 Mar. 5
    • 1817 Nov. 25
    • 1818 Apr. 2
    • 1819 Nov. 17
    • 1820 Feb. 11
    France--Antiquities, Roman
    • 1839 Apr. 11-May 13
    France--Description and travel
    • 1839 Apr. 11-May 13
    Friendship
    • 1813
    • 1823 Jan. 24
    Gifts
    • 1839 Jan 8
    • 1840 Jan. 19
    Giles, Alexander Hamilton, 1791-1791
    • 1823
    Giles, Aquila, 1758-1822
    • 1799 May 7
    • ca.Jan. 1801
    • 1900's
    Giles, Aquila, 1758-1822--Portraits
    • 1817 Jan. 31
    Giles, Aquila Platt, 1790-1793
    • 1823
    Giles, Charles Augustus, 1792-1823
    • 1823
    Giles, Elizabeth Shipton, 1758-1822
    • 1799 May 7
    • 1900's
    Giles, George Washington, b. ca.1796
    • 1823
    Giles family--Genealogy
    • 1823
    • 1900's
    Giles, Helen Thorold, b. ca.1793
    • 1823
    Giles, Henry, b. 1795
    • 1823
    Giles, Jacob Edward, ca.1784-1813
    • 1823
    Giles, Mary Ann Baker, ca.1789-1815
    • 1823
    Giles, St. Clair, ca.1787-1822
    • 1823
    Giles, William Axtell, ca.1782-1813
    • 1823
    Great Britain--Princes and princesses
    • 1817 Nov. 25
    Health
    • 1820 Feb. 17
    Hemel Hemsted School
    • 1813 June
    • 1813 Dec.
    • 1814 June
    • 1814 Dec.
    • 1816 June
    Husband and wife
    • ca.1826 Aug. 19
    • 1829 Mar.
    Inheritance and succession
    • 1818 Jan. 24
    • 1820 Apr. 4
    • 1830 Feb.
    • 1832 Mar. 1
    Kites
    • 1840 Mar. 2
    Knox family--Genealogy
    • 1899 Sept.
    • 1899 Sept. 13
    Lodging-houses--New York (City)
    • 1823
    Love letters
    • ca.1780-1
    • ca.1780-2
    • ca.1780-3
    • ca.1780-4
    • ca.1780-5
    Marriage
    • 1781 Mar. 22
    Montagna, Bartolomeo, ca.1450-1523
    • 1839 Apr. 11-May 13
    Montpelier (France)--Description and travel
    • 1839 Apr. 11-May 13
    Mothers and daughters
    • 1817 Jan. 31
    • 1819 May 15
    • 1820 Feb. 11
    • ca.1838
    • 1839 Feb. 9
    • 1840 Mar. 2
    Mothers and sons
    • 1812 April
    • 1817 Mar. 5
    • 1817 Apr. 8
    • 1817 Dec. 14
    • 1817
    • 1818 Apr. 2
    • 1819 Nov. 17
    • 1820 Feb. 11
    • 1820 Feb. 17
    Mourning customs
    • 1817 Apr. 8
    Murillo, Bartolome Esteban, 1617-1682
    • 1839 Apr. 11-May 13
    Niagara Falls (N.Y.)
    • 1891 June 19
    Parent and child
    • 1838 Nov. 23
    • 1838 Dec. 18
    • 1838 Dec. 19
    • 1839 Feb. 9
    Pensions, Military--United States--Revolution, 1775-1783
    • 1818 Mar. 27
    Practical jokes
    • 1840 Jan. 19
    Pratt, Noah
    • 1784 Oct. 20
    Promissory notes
    • 1833 Mar. 2
    Quarreling
    • 1817 Jan. 31
    Real property--England
    • 1820 Apr. 4
    Real property--Maryland
    • 1818 Jan. 24
    Real property--New York (State)
    • 1784 Oct. 20
    Religion
    • 1817 Dec. 14
    • 1840 Mar. 2
    • 1843 Apr. 7-19
    Rochester Seminary--Songs and music
    • n.d.
    Schools--Great Britain
    • 1813 June
    • 1813 Dec.
    • 1814 June
    • 1814 Dec.
    • 1816 June
    Seamen
    • 1823
    Seville. Alcazar
    • 1839 Apr. 11-May 13
    Seville (Spain)--Description and travel
    • 1839 Apr. 11-May 13
    Sexual ethics
    • ca.1780
    Sick
    • ca.1780
    • 1820 Feb. 17
    • ca.1838
    • 1839 Feb. 9
    Sisters
    • 1819 May 15
    Sons--Death
    • 1815 Oct. 20
    Spain--Antiquities, Roman
    • 1839 Apr. 11-May 13
    Spain--Description and travel
    • 1839 Apr. 11-May 13
    Temper
    • 1817 Dec. 14
    United States. Army--Promotions
    • 1818 Feb. 4
    United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783--Claims
    • 1799 Mar. 27
    War
    • 1781 Mar. 22
    Washington, George, 1732-1799
    • 1817 Dec. 14
    Women in charitable work
    • 1839 Feb. 9
    Women--Conduct of life
    • ca.1780
    • 1812 Nov. 24
    • 1823 Jan. 24
    • 1839 Feb. 9
    Young men--Conduct of life
    • 1812 April
    • 1817
    • 1817 Mar. 5
    • 1817 Dec. 14
    • 1818 Feb. 4
    • 1818 Apr. 2
    Young men--Education
    • 1817 Apr. 8
    • 1817 Dec. 14
    Young men--Health and hygiene
    • 1817 Apr. 8
    • 1819 Nov. 17
    Young women--Health and hygiene
    • 1843 Apr. 7-19