The Masten family papers are comprised of 120 letters and two miscellaneous items, dating from 1799 to 1899. The daughters of Jonas and Nancy Hastings were the primary writers of the earliest letters, which concern mainly family and farming news, specifically births, marriages, and deaths of relations and neighbors. Caroline (Hastings) Pennell’s letters to her siblings in New York shed light on the family’s struggle in Northville, Michigan, where they settled sometime in the 1830s. In a letter dated October 14, 1840, Caroline mourned the death of her infant Ebenezer, “his little body was laid in the silent grave by the side of little Andrew and it appears at times as though a part of my heart was buried with them. I find in the midst of life we are in Death and the most promising flowers are nipt in the bud…”
Several letters from the 1850s refer to problems between Samuel Hastings and his wife Mary. On September 25, 1851, Caroline wrote to her sister Nancy, stating, “Mary tells me she and the children talk of coming back this fall they cannot live there with Sam in any peace the children are afraid of him….” Caroline blames the strife on “cursed Drag Alcahol.”
Also noteworthy is the long series of letters between Henry Masten (son of Nancy and Ephraim Masten) and his sisters during the 1860s and 1870s. Henry’s Civil War letters cover camp life in Virginia, such as marching, food, weather, and equipment. In a letter of October 24, 1864, he describes being surprised by the Confederate Army at the Battle of Cedar Creek. The letters from the 1870s, when Henry lived in Grandville, Michigan, portray the work, recreation, family relations, and social setting of a farming family of that era. They contain details of farm work, birth and death of children, health and sickness, church activities, and religious beliefs. Later letters detail his activities with his grocery business, Masten & Hammond.