Phoenix family papers (1776-1884, bulk 1808-1814)

Collection processed and finding aid created by Shannon Wait, April 2010
Manuscripts Division, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

Summary Information

Title: Phoenix family papers
Creator: Phoenix family
Inclusive dates: 1776-1884
Bulk dates: 1808-1814
Extent: 0.25 linear feet
The Phoenix family papers contain correspondence and documents relating to the firm Phoenix, Ingraham & Nixon and its failure in 1811, resulting in Alexander Phoenix's imprisonment for debt. They also include 11 letters from Harriet Beecher to Elizabeth Phoenix, dating to the late 1820s and 1830s.
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:

Access and Use

Acquisition Information

1965. M-1369.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information

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

Alternate Format

Preferred Citation

Phoenix Family Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The Phoenix family papers are arranged into two series: "Correspondence and Documents" and "Miscellany."


Alexander Phoenix was born in Morristown, N.J., on February 28, 1778, the son of Daniel Phoenix, a wealthy New York City merchant, and Elizabeth Platt, who died when Alexander was seven years old. He studied law at Columbia University, graduating in 1794, but only practiced law for four years before joining his father's mercantile firm, Phoenix, Ingraham, & Nixon. In 1807, he married Martha ("Patty") Ingraham, daughter of his partner, Nathaniel G. Ingraham. They had two children, Alexander and Elizabeth (c. 1810-1874), before Patty's death in 1810.

When the firm declared bankruptcy in 1811, after several of its ships were captured by the French, Phoenix, Nathaniel Ingraham, and William Nixon, Jr., were sent to debtor's prison for two years. After his release, Phoenix began to study theology. He married Elizabeth Tappan of Massachusetts in 1817, but she died soon after the birth of their only child, Rebecca. Phoenix remarried, this time to Sarah Strong, daughter of Massachusetts Governor Caleb Strong, in 1822; they had three children. In 1824, Phoenix was ordained a Congregational minister and installed in the church at Chicopee, Massachusetts. As pastor, he led a revival of the church, bringing many new members into the church. He remained there 11 years, then moved to a pastorate in New Haven, Connecticut, and eventually retired in Harlem, New York. He died on August 31, 1863.

Phoenix's daughter Elizabeth attended Catharine Beecher's school, the Hartford Female Seminary, in the 1820s, where she befriended Harriet Beecher, with whom she would correspond for the next decade. In 1838, she married lawyer Edgar Ketchum, and they had at least five children.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Phoenix family papers consist of 67 letters, 32 legal documents, 10 financial records and receipts, 2 drawings of land lots, and a printed bill. The materials span 1776-1884, though the bulk centers on the periods between 1808 and 1814, and 1826 and 1833. Early letters and documents relate primarily to the firm Phoenix, Ingraham, & Nixon. They include a letter from Alexander Hamilton to Nathaniel G. Ingraham, denying him financial assistance because of other obligations (March 5, 1801); the firm's articles of agreement (February 15, 1803); and 27 letters written by Nathaniel Ingraham to Alexander Phoenix concerning business acquaintances and hardships faced by the company, and its eventual bankruptcy (1810-1811). A document of October 11, 1811, gives a full account of the firm's losses.

Between November 1811 and March 1813, nearly all of the 20 letters and documents relate to attempts to free Phoenix from debtors' prison; his attorney, Silvanus Miller, wrote many of them. Also of interest is a manuscript, dated November 1811, containing copied extracts from letters by Phoenix during his imprisonment. In several of the letters, he criticized Albert Gallatin, the Secretary of the Treasury, and discussed other political matters. A copy of a congressional act of March 3, 1813, documents the release of Phoenix and several associates.

Of note is a series of 11 letters written to Phoenix's daughter, Elizabeth, by a young Harriet Beecher in the late 1820s and early 1830s. Many of the letters are undated, but can be traced to this period based on their postmarks. Beecher and Phoenix had been schoolmates at Hartford Female Seminary around 1823, and in her letters, Beecher frequently reminisced about their time at the school, including how strange she must have seemed to the other girls, and discussed mutual friends. Much of Beecher's correspondence is very introspective in nature, and consists of her religious and philosophical thoughts, including a recommendation that Phoenix read the works of Joseph Butler in order to develop her argumentation. Several of the later letters include postscripts written by Catharine Beecher, Elizabeth's teacher in Hartford. A letter of June 11, 1833, mentions their plans to open a "small school" in Cincinnati, where they had moved with their father, Lyman Beecher. Overall, the letters shed light on Harriet Beecher's intellectual and religious development during her young adulthood.

Several items postdate 1836; two of these relate to the estates of Alexander Phoenix and Shearjushub Bourne, a relative of Edgar Ketchum. Two other documents, located in the "Miscellany" series, illustrate land lots.

Subject Terms

  • Bankruptcy.
  • Bourne, Shearjashub, 1746-1806.
  • Chicopee (Mass.)
  • Debt, imprisonment for.
  • Decedents’ estates.
  • Female friendship.
  • Hartford Female Seminary (Hartford, Conn.)
  • Land titles--Registration and transfer.
  • Merchants--New York (State)--New York.
  • New York (N.Y.)
  • Shipping.
  • Stowe, Harriet Beecher, 1811-1896.
  • Women and religion.
  • Women--Education.
  • Beecher, Catharine Esther, 1800-1878.
  • Hamilton, Alexander, 1757-1804.
  • Miller, Sylvanus, 1770 or 71-1861.
  • Phoenix, Alexander, 1778-1863.
  • Stowe, Harriet Beecher, 1811-1896.
Genre Terms:
  • Correspondence.
  • Legal documents.

Contents List (Request Materials)

Request materials for use in the Clements Library
Container / Location Title
Box   1  
Correspondence and Documents [series]
 August 11, 1776-December 9, 1879, and  undated (30 folders)
Box   1  
Miscellany [series]
 1860-1884 and  undated (1 folder)

Additional Descriptive Data

Related Materials

Miscellaneous collection: Letter from N. G. Ingraham, ca. 1795.

Wilson family papers: Letter from Nathan G. Ingraham to William Wilson, April 19, 1814.

The University of Michigan Library holds the following microform:

German, Obadiah. A Bill for the Relief of Nathaniel C. Ingraham, Alexander Phoenix, and William Nixsen, Junior. [Washington, s.n.], 1813.


Bourne, S., and Alexander Phoenix. A Sermon Occasioned by the Death of Rev. Alexander Phoenix Preached to the Congregational Church of Harlem, N.Y., September 13th, 1863. New York: Baldwin and Jones, steam printers, 1864.