The Southgate family papers contain a total of 157 items: 107 letters, 30 documents and financial records, 16 writings and compositions, 2 printed items, a journal, and a journal fragment. The materials span 1755 to 1875 and represent several generations of the Southgate family of Massachusetts, Vermont, and Indiana.
The Correspondence series contains the incoming and outgoing correspondence of various members of the Southgate family. The earliest letters in the collection are primarily incoming to Steward Southgate and concern such topics as family news, local marriages, finances, and travel around Massachusetts. After Steward's death in 1765, the focus of the collection shifts to the next generation, particularly siblings John Southgate, Robert Southgate, and Sarah (Southgate) Dickinson. Letters frequently pertain to health issues, including the inoculation of Sarah's children (May 21, 1768), a wrist injury that Sarah received while knitting (March 27, 1775), and the deaths from scarlet fever of five children of Steward Southgate, Jr. (September 9, 1795). A few letters refer briefly to politics and the hardships of life in rural New England.
After the turn of the century, correspondence between the siblings becomes much scarcer, and focus shifts to the next generation of cousins and siblings, including Asenath Dickinson, Eliza Southgate, and Harriet Southgate. Letters between the young women tend to be very sentimental and affectionate, and reflect frequently on the themes of female friendship and religion. On April 5, 1816, Asenath Dickinson wrote to Eliza from Hadley, Massachusetts, "you have undoubtedly heard of the awakening in this place that God is shewing mercy to siners [sic] of all ages," and went on to describe daily meetings of believers. She noted that on Friday, "the young Converts speak and Pray." Letters postdating the 1821 birth of Eliza's son, George F. Bigelow, frequently refer to his poor health during childhood. Near the end of the series, letters describe Eliza's activities and social visits in Michigan City, Indiana, where she resided from about 1835 until her death in 1839, as well as George's college experiences in at Harvard University. A few scattered late letters are incoming to George Bigelow and shed light on his medical practice and real estate interests in Valparaiso, Indiana.
The Journals series contains a journal and a journal fragment, dated June 1826 and April 20, 1850, respectively. Though the earlier journal is unsigned, its author appears to be Eliza Southgate Bigelow; it contains a description of a party, musings on philosophical and religious subjects, and references to sermons that Eliza heard. George Bigelow wrote the journal fragment concerning an unspecified event, which he referred to as "tak[ing] a tower."
The Documents and Financial Records series includes receipts and accounts, land indentures, land descriptions, and a drawing of a 100-acre plot. Taken together, the materials span 1756-1836. The documents relate primarily to transactions involving members of the Southgate family in Massachusetts and provide details of their material and financial circumstances.
The Writings series contains many compositions by George F. Bigelow, including school essays on the topics of cheerfulness; the growth of Michigan City, Indiana; contentment; suffering; debt and credit; and the traits of good and bad scholars. Also present are a play by Bigelow entitled "The Minister at Home," several unattributed poems, and an essay on Steward Southgate, Sr., by a descendant.
The Drawings series contains 11 pen and ink and pencil drawings of decorative patterns, many of which depict leaves and flowers.
The Printed Items series contains a newspaper clipping concerning probate courts in Connecticut and a stamp related to the American Merchants Union Express company.