Woods family papers  1704-1994
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The collection entitled Minto-Skelton family papers is divided into two series: the Walter Minto papers and the Skelton family papers. It began as the Walter Minto papers by donation from Harry B. Earhart in 1934, and this collection, which consists of 21 documents and seven letters, has been incorporated into the new, larger collection of Minto-Skelton family papers given by Jean McIntyre Conrad in 2004. The Skelton family papers contains only a few items from the Earhart donation: specifically, seven of the ten Detargny documents between 1796 and 1798 (in Series 2, sub-series 4) and one printed broadside from 1799 (in Series 2, sub-series 5); the rest come from the much larger Conrad donation. In the Contents Lists that follow each collection it has been noted which papers originally belonged in the Earhart donation.

Walter Minto Papers:

The Walter Minto papers consists of 296 letters and 31 documents, along with nine manuscript notebooks, diaries, account books, etc. and five short handwritten notes by Minto himself. Nearly all of the letters were written during Minto's lifetime, from 1774 to 1796, with four from 1797-98 added to the collection because they refer to him or to his estate. Most of the letters were written to him (253), and they are about equally divided between those written before he left Scotland for America (mid-1786) and those written after he arrived in America. Those from 1779 to 1786 are especially revealing about two events in his life that were either unknown or only hinted at previously.

The first has to do with his sojourn in Italy. He accompanied the Johnstone boys to Italy in 1776 as their tutor and remained with them there until early 1779, when they, and presumably he with them, returned to England. But letters both to and from his father, Walter Minto, Sr., along with references in other letters, make clear that, after entrusting the boys to Captain Machell in Spain, he returned to Slop's home in Pisa in March of 1779, began a formal, concentrated study of mathematics with Slop, that he continued that study there until mid-1782, and that it affected his health.

The second has to do with Minto's previously unknown relationship with a woman named Catherine Drummond. This relationship can be seen in the 49 letters (sometimes in French, occasionally in Italian) written by her to him between March of 1784 and early June of 1786, when he left Scotland for America. The correspondence continued in America, though less frequently; she wrote only three letters between February of 1787 and January of 1788. In a letter (of which there exists only a partial "translation") in response to hers of January of 1788 he tells her that he has loved her for four years and proposes marriage to her. She rejects his proposal by return mail, but continues writing to him until 1791, even after his marriage to Mary Skelton in the fall of 1789.

During his time in America, he met and exchanged letters with a number of influential people, both before going to Princeton (mid-1786 to late 1787) and afterwards (1787-96): for example, John Witherspoon, president of the College of New Jersey; the astronomer and clockmaker David Rittenhouse; Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, with whom he lodged when he first came to America; the army officers James Chrystie and Francis Gurney, who became his friends; even George Washington, to whom he sent a copy of his book on the new planet.

Another 25 letters are neither to nor from him. Most were written from one Minto family member to another and concern primarily family matters; they were probably brought by Minto to America, or were perhaps sent to his wife, Mary (Skelton) Minto, by his Scottish relatives after his death. Two of the letters were written to or from the Johnstones, in 1764 and 1772 (the latter by David Garrick), before Minto had even met the family. Three of the four letters written in 1797-98, after his death, were addressed to his wife, and the fourth to a close friend of hers.

Of the 18 letters written by Minto himself, eight are originals, having been sent to relatives and friends. The other ten are copies or drafts, in his own hand, that he kept for his personal use: these are always marked "copy" or "draft" in the Contents List.

Following the letters are nine manuscript notebooks, diaries, account books, etc. (eight written by Minto, 1776-96; plus one written in 1802, after his death) and five miscellaneous notes in his own hand. Most of the notebooks provide details about events in his life, especially the lists of expenses in the notepads from 1776 and 1779, having to do with his theological education and his dealings with the Johnstone boys, his trip to America in June and July of 1786 from the daily log he kept of it, his travels during his first few months in America from the notepads for late 1786 and early 1787, and the nature of his mathematical lectures at the College of New Jersey from the notebook dated 1802.

Of the remaining 31 documents: 14 date from 1757 to 1786, when Minto left Scotland for America; 14 from 1787, after he arrived in America, to his death in 1796; and three from after his death, the latest of which is dated 1801. The earliest one (a transcript of the entry for Elisabetta Dodsworth's baptism in 1739, from the Baptismal Record of Leghorn in Italy) is dated 1757, when Minto was only four years old. The last is a bill of lading, dated 1801, for what was probably family memorabilia sent from the Minto family in Scotland to Mrs. Mary Minto after her husband's death. In between are documents providing glimpses into Minto's education (24 January 1776), his being set free in Cadiz (13 March 1779), his trip home from Italy in the summer of 1782 (the passport signed by Sir Horace Mann on 11 June 1782), his honorary degree from the University of Aberdeen (3 February 1786), his becoming a United States citizen (24 July 1787), and his membership in the American Philosophical Society (17 January 1789).

Walter Minto Skelton (1804-48) and Family Papers:

The Skelton family papers, unlike the Walter Minto papers, consist of a great variety of materials: 43 letters, written between 1780 and 1940; a large body of prose writings and poetry, including 6 notebooks of prose and poetry, 20 orations, lectures, and essays, and 22 manuscripts of miscellaneous verse; one engraving, one drawing, one print, and four portrait photographs; 50 documents of various kinds; 14 printed materials and 3 newspaper clippings; and 58 items of miscellanea, including 7 notes, 18 invitations, and 24 round pieces of cloth with writing in ink.

The letters are divided into three groups based on the primary correspondent in each group: Mary Skelton Minto (from before 1780 to 1813, and possibly to 1824, the date of her death); Walter M. Skelton (from 1824 to 1843); and the Boyd family (from 1872 to 1940). All three groups of letters provide details about events in the lives of family members. In addition, the first group provides some chronology on the life of Marin Detargny, which is described in detail in the section below on documents. The second group contains some important Skelton family documents, especially the very difficult-to-read letter to Walter Skelton from his father Joseph dated 20 January 1825, and the one from his aunt Elizabeth White dated 22 March 1827. The third group of letters contains a mix of dates and correspondents, mainly regarding the extended Skelton families (especially the Boyds). Two letters in particular are revealing in their insights into the late 19th-century (and later) interest in spiritualism, or spiritism: the one from Edgar Ryder to Ann Skelton dated March 1872 announcing his belief that her brother Walter "is one of the Big Guns in the Spirit world"; and the one from Charles Robb to Elizabeth Boyd dated 12 January 1930 enclosing his transcript of a spirit message from her aunt Ann Skelton during a séance the previous day.

Following the letters are prose writings and poetry, divided into three groups. The first consists of manuscript notebooks containing one or the other or (usually) both genres, and is further divided into notebooks in Walter Skelton's own hand (3) and those in other hands (3). Except for "Elizabeth White's Collection of Poetry," all of these notebooks have Princeton connections, and a few have western Pennsylvania connections.

The second group contains orations, lectures, and essays, nearly all of which are in Skelton's hand and presumably composed by him. The dated ones are from his years at the College of New Jersey in Princeton, and most of the others must be as well. Public speaking was an integral part of the College curriculum, and some of the orations must have been delivered there during his student days (see especially the one dated July 1825).

The third group contains miscellaneous verse. A few of the poems are in Skelton's hand and may have been composed by him (3); the leaf containing the second poem has a few occurrences of the name "(Miss) C. Morford," who may have been a love interest of his. Most of the poems (19), however, are in other hands and range from well known ones like "Don't give up the Ship," Burns' "Auld Lang Syne," and Waller's "Of My Lady Isabella playing on the lute" to obscure ones, including a "Canzonetta" in Italian by Peruchini. Along with Elizabeth White's collection in the first group, these poems indicate a strong interest in poetry in Walter Skelton's extended family.

After a few miscellaneous illustrations and photographs are a large group of documents (certificates, wills, receipts, deeds of land sales, surveys, and the like), divided by the families to which they refer. Most of these families were from western Pennsylvania and related to the Skeltons (Boyd, Craig, McFarland) or were members of the Skelton family itself. The Franklin Heirs also relates to western Pennsylvania, for in January of 1840 Walter Skelton purchased two tracts of land, totaling 410 acres, on the west side of the Allegheny River in South Buffalo Township, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, which had been owned in the 1780's by Benjamin Franklin; Skelton presumably built a house on the property and lived there until his death in 1848, when it passed into the hands of his sister Ann Skelton. The Scudders were friends of the Skelton family in New Jersey, and the deed of sale described here was probably from a descendant of that family. The two White family documents refer to Elizabeth White, whose collection of poetry is described in Series II, sub-series 2 above and who lived in Scarsdale, New York; she was the sister of Walter Skelton's mother, Sarah White Skelton, wife of Joseph Skelton, Sr.

The most intriguing set of documents has to do with Marin Detargny. It is uncertain how his papers came to be included in the papers of the Mintos or of the extended Skelton family. Moreover, seven of the ten Detargny documents between 1796 and 1798 were in the Earhart donation; why or how they became separated from the rest of the Detargny documents is a mystery, especially since they are not so different from the other three of the same date. From the documents (and four letters referring to him) one learns that Marin Detargny was born in France on 26 June 1776, son of Jean Francois Detargny. He is twice called "homme de lettres," once "Professeur," and is later referred to as "Reverend." He remained in France until at least 1798, not leaving until 1800 or a little later. By December 1802 he was in Virginia, residing in Alexandria and trying to open a school, but at about the same time he must have moved to Annapolis, where he taught French until at least April 1804. Between November 1805 and August 1807 he was in Charleston, South Carolina, but by 1810 he was in Philadelphia and being looked after, at least financially, by Benjamin Hopkins (husband of Mary Skelton Minto's niece, Elizabeth, the daughter of Mary's brother Josiah). By early 1813, Detargny was destitute and was in danger of being sent to the overseers of the poor; his wife was also destitute and depended on "relatives" who could not afford to help her husband.

How the Skeltons and the Hopkinses came to know him, and especially how the Hopkinses came to be responsible for him, is unknown, though intriguing; sometime after 1807 (see undated letter from M. Chrystie to Mary Minto) a "Mrs. Ditennia" (probably Mrs. Detargny), who had been ill, visited Mary Minto in Princeton.

The next category consists of printed materials (a broadside; an interesting advertisement and list of fees for Mrs. Graham's school in New York from the early 19th century; two newspapers; some pamphlets and announcements; and three newspaper clippings about family events). The most numerous group is the pamphlets and announcements, which contains primarily the Proceedings of seven Boyd family reunions held in western Pennsylvania and Ohio between 1881 and 1892 (at least ten reunions through 1900, but no other Proceedings appear in the Skelton family papers). These Proceedings contain lists of the participants and attendees at the various reunions, along with biographies of some of the Boyds (including Walter Skelton Boyd [1864-92], who was named for his uncle, Walter Skelton, in the 7th Proceedings), and an in-depth study of some of these people might help to unravel the connections both among the Boyds and of the Boyds with the Craigs, Earharts, and McIntyres.

The final group consists of miscellaneous materials, including notes by Walter Skelton; invitations to parties, dances, and college exercises; a statement from students at the College of New Jersey directed to James Carnahan, president of the College; a notebook containing "By-Laws of ‘The Princeton Blues'," a militia group in Princeton whose captain in 1830-31 was Walter Skelton; a booklet of proverbs and common sayings in English and Spanish on facing pages; a series of primarily 20th-century family notes and lists about the contents of the second Minto-Skelton collection before it was given to the Clements Library; and some obscure pieces of cloth with writing on them. Three of the five notes written by Walter Skelton are presumably from his days at the College of New Jersey; a fourth is apparently a record of the books in his library; and the fifth is a unique list of "Provincialisms noticed in the Western part of Pennsylvania," which he must have recorded when he first went out to that part of the country in 1826. Fourteen of the eighteen invitations (some on the backs of playing cards) are addressed to one or more of the Skelton sisters requesting their attendance at parties, dances, and college exercises, and they attest to the active social life for young women in Princeton and environs in the 1780's.

The last item in the group of miscellaneous materials is a set of twenty-four round pieces of cloth with writing in ink on one side of twenty-two of them. The writing has various configurations: always the name of the writer and, in addition, occasionally the name of the addressee, usually a sentiment of some kind, and frequently a date and the home of the writer. The addressee, when given, is always Mary or Mary McFarland; the year, when given, is 1845, usually in October; the home addresses are nearly always somewhere in Indiana County or Armstrong County, Pennsylvania; and the writers are often relatives (five are Skeltons).

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