Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Whitney Family Letters, 1839-1843

Finding aid created by
Cheney J. Schopieray, October 2006, and Meg Hixon, August 2012

Summary Information
Title: Whitney family letters
Creator: Redfield, Mary Jane Whitney, b. 1821 and Whitney, William Wallace, 1817-1847
Inclusive dates: 1839-1843
Extent: 30 items
Abstract:
This collection is comprised of 30 incoming letters to Mary Jane Whitney and her brother, William Wallace Whitney, of Albany, New York. Eliza Whitney wrote 13 letters to Mary about her experiences at the Albany Female Academy, and William and George Whitney each wrote letters to Mary about their lives in Albany. Asa Whitney, a machinist and railroad entrepreneur, sent Mary and William news from home and updates on his business affairs.

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: www.clements.umich.edu


Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

2005. M-4449.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.

Copyright:

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:

Whitney family letters, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


Arrangement

The collection is arranged chronologically.


Biography

Asa Whitney was born in Townsend, Massachusetts, on December 1, 1791, the son of Asa Whitney and Mary Wallis. As a boy, he worked in his father's blacksmith shop, and he spent much of his adult life working with machinery. His work installing machines and building railroad cars for the Mohawk & Hudson Railroad led to a position as superintendent, and in 1839 he was appointed Erie Canal commissioner. He later formed a locomotive-building business with Matthias Baldwin of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and afterward founded Asa Whitney & Sons, a cast-iron car wheel manufacturing company. In 1860, he became president of the Philadelphia & Reading Railroad, though illness forced him to resign the following year.

On August 22, 1815, Asa Whitney married Clarinda Williams of Groton, Connecticut. They lived in Brownville, New York; Albany, New York; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Their seven children were: William Wallace (1817-1847), George (b. 1819), Mary Jane (b. 1821), Daniel Lyman (b. 1824), Eliza (b. 1826), John Randall (b. 1828), and James Shields (b. 1830). Asa Whitney died on June 4, 1874. Mary Jane Whitney taught school in Washington, D.C., between 1839 and 1841, and married John H. Redfield in August 1843. Eliza Whitney attended the Albany Female Academy while Mary Jane was employed in Washington.


Collection Scope and Content Note

This collection is comprised of 30 incoming letters to Mary Jane Whitney and her brother, William Wallace Whitney, of Albany, New York. Eliza Whitney wrote 13 letters to Mary about her experiences at the Albany Female Academy, and William and George Whitney each wrote letters to Mary about their lives in Albany. Asa Whitney, a machinist and railroad entrepreneur, sent Mary and William news from home and updates on his business affairs.

Mary Jane Whitney received 21 letters while teaching at a school in Washington, D.C., between December 19, 1839, and July 26, 1841. Eliza, her sister, wrote about her social life and activities in Albany and her education at the Albany Female Academy. She discussed her subjects of study, classes, examinations, teachers, and classmates, and special occasions, such as visits to a local medical college and a lecture delivered by Harvey Peet. Eliza also attended parties and other social engagements, and often reported local marriages.

Asa, William, and George wrote to Mary about life in Albany, the health of her grandmother, and the potential publication of her father's political tract. Mary received two questions about possible encounters with William Henry Harrison: Eliza asked whether Mary had attended a ball given in President-elect William Henry Harrison's honor, and her father wondered if the capital had been crowded during Harrison's inauguration.

Asa Whitney sent 9 letters to his son William between August 26, 1842, and July 24, 1843, while William lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His letters primarily relate to his business interests and to his partnership with Matthias Baldwin. He also wrote one letter from Cleveland, Ohio, about a recent business trip (March 14, 1843). Whitney's letters from September 1842 concern John Whitney's affliction with scarlet fever, as well as the death of a neighbor from the same disease.

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • Albany Female Academy.
    • Albany (N.Y.)--Social life and customs.
    • Education--United States--History--19th century.
    • Harrison, William Henry, 1773-1841.
    • Peet, Harvey Prindle, 1794-1873.
    • Philadelphia (Pa.)
    • Scarlatina.
    • Washington (D.C.)
    • Women--Education--United States.
    Contributors:
    • Whitney, Asa, 1791-1874.
    • Whitney, Eliza, b. 1826.
    • Whitney, George, b. 1819.
    • Whitney, William Wallace, 1817-1847.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letters (correspondence)
    Contents List
       Container / Location    Title
    Box   27, Small Collections  
    Whitney family letters [series]:
    Folders   29-34  
      December 19, 1839-July 24, 1843
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    Lucius Lyon papers: Asa Whitney letter to Lucius Lyon, May 15, 1845.

    James S. Schoff Civil War Collection: Asa Whitney letter to the London Times, March 25, 1861.

    Bibliography

    Sawtelle, Ithamar B. History of the Town of Townsend, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, from the Grant of Hathorn's Farm, 1676-1878. Fitchburg, [Mass.]: Blanchard & Brown, 1878.

    "Whitney, Asa." Dictionary of American Biography. Ed. Dumas Malone. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936.