Griffin family and Lydia Sigourney papers (1807-1885)

Collection processed and finding aid created by Kate Silbert, June 2012
Manuscripts Division, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

Summary Information

Title: Griffin family and Lydia Sigourney papers
Creator: Griffin family
Inclusive dates: 1807-1885
Extent: 0.75 linear feet
The collection consists of correspondence related to the Griffin family of New York City and includes 58 letters that George Griffin and his family exchanged between 1833 and 1854 with author Lydia H. Sigourney of Hartford, Connecticut. Additional material includes correspondence among members of the Griffin family that provides commentary on family life, two extended trips to Europe, Protestant theology, and higher education. The final series in the collection is a 3-page manuscript copy of Sigourney's poem on the death of American poet John Trumbull.
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

1980-1996. M-1887, M-3105, M-3142, M-3223.8.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.


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.

Alternate Format


Preferred Citation

Griffin family and Lydia Sigourney Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection is arranged into three series:
  • Series I: Correspondence
    • Sigourney Correspondence, 1833-1854
    • Griffin Family Correspondence, 1807-1885
  • Series II: Lydia Sigourney Poem, [1831?]

Biographical/Historical Note

Lydia H. Sigourney:

Lydia Howard Huntley Sigourney (1791-1865) published a prolific amount of poetry, educational tracts, stories, travel narratives, memorial tributes, and conduct literature during her lifetime. Born in Norwich, Connecticut, the only child of Ezekial Huntley, a gardener, and Zerviah Wentworth, she benefitted from the patronage of a wealthy family in Hartford, the Lathrops, in receiving her education.

After her formal education ended, she continued to study Latin and Hebrew and began to teach others. In 1811, she and a friend, Nancy Maria Hyde, opened a girl's school in Hartford, Connecticut. This venture ended after Hyde's health declined. In her letter of September 20, 1834, Sigourney wrote to George Griffin about compiling, editing, and publishing her friend's papers after Hyde's death. A few years later in 1814, a friend of the Lathrops financed a school for Sigourney to oversee herself. As in other female academies at the time, the curriculum in Sigourney's school focused on intellectual and moral development, rather than on ornamental accomplishments. Many of the pieces that Sigourney initially composed for use in her school ended up in her first literary work, Moral Pieces in Prose and Verse, which was published in 1815.

Lydia gave up her teaching when she married Charles Sigourney, a Hartford widower with three children, in 1819. Charles Sigourney (1778-1854) worked as a merchant and eventually became the president of a bank. Lydia and Charles had five children together, only two of whom, Mary (1828-1889) and Andrew (1831-1854), reached adulthood.

Although her husband initially objected to her endeavors as a published author, Lydia H. Sigourney's literary pursuits grew during her marriage. After publishing anonymously for several years, she began to produce material under her married name in 1833. In the next two years alone, she oversaw the publication of nine texts. She actively contributed work to periodicals as well. The letters in the collection to her friend and intermediary, George Griffin, address how and what she wrote as well as how she negotiated different avenues of publication.

In tandem with her work as an author, Sigourney also participated in several female moral reform and charitable societies. As the collection reveals, she remained involved in her earlier pursuits as an educator as well, and George Griffin encouraged her in this effort through his letters. In addition to focusing many of her published works on education, she also hosted a reunion of the scholars of her academy in 1837, which she described in a letter included in the collection.

Sigourney's work enjoyed a widespread audience during her lifetime, enough for her to garner considerable income from her publications. Remembered as "the Sweet Singer of Hartford" and the "female Milton," she had produced 65 published works by the time of her death in 1865.

Griffin Family:

George Griffin (1778-1860), a lawyer, was born in East Haddam, Connecticut, and graduated from Yale in 1797, before eventually settling in New York City in 1806. Late in his life, he published three books on Christianity, Sufferings of Our Saviour (New York, 1845), Evidences of Christianity (New York, 1846) and The Gospel its Own Advocate (New York, 1850). Several letters relating to these publications, including Boston theologian Edward Beecher's response to Sufferings of Our Saviour, are in the collection.

George Griffin married Lydia Butler Griffin (1783-1860) on July 3, 1801, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where he was practicing law at the time. Together, they had 8 children: Francis (1802-1852), Edmund Dorr (1804-1830), Ellen (1807-1823), Caroline Ann (1809-1810), George (1811-1880), Charles Alexander (1814-1859), Caroline Lydia (1820-1861), and Ellen Ann (1826-1831). The collection most directly deals with Edmund Dorr Griffin (1804-1830) and George Griffin, Jr. (1811-1880), though it does include a few letters from Francis, Charles, Caroline, and Francis's wife, Mary Sands Griffin. George Griffin died on May 6, 1860, in New York City.

Francis Griffin (1802-1852) was born in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Yale in 1822 before becoming a lawyer. He married Mary Sands (1804-1888) of Sands Point, New York, in 1829. They had five children. Charles Alexander Griffin also became a lawyer, having attended Williams College, from which he graduated in 1833. He married Pastora Jacoba DeForest, of New Haven, Connecticut, with whom he had four children. He died in New York City.

Edmund Dorr Griffin (1804-1830) was born in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Columbia College in 1823. He initially studied law with his father, but soon entered the New York Theological Seminary to pursue ordination in the Protestant Episcopal Church. Beginning in 1826, he briefly served as an assistant minister at St. James and Christ churches in New York City. Edmund made an 18-month trip to Europe between October 1828 and April 1830, during which he spent considerable time in Italy, Switzerland, France, and Great Britain. Upon his return to the United States, he gave a series of lectures at Columbia on Roman, Italian, and English literature. He died unmarried on September 1, 1830. His father, George Griffin, and brother, Francis Griffin, oversaw the publications of his "Remains," which included a memoir by the Rev. John McVickar, a professor at Columbia, in 1831.

George Griffin, Jr. (1811-1880) worked for several years in a merchant's counting house in New York City before receiving, in 1830, a sudden desire to become a Presbyterian minister. Because he had not attended college previously, his father, George Griffin, advised him to undertake accelerated study at Williams College (Williamstown, Massachusetts) under the supervision of his uncle, the Reverend Edward Dorr Griffin (1770-1837). George did not end up pursuing the ministry and instead became a farmer. He married Anne Augusta Neilson (d. 1841) in 1834, and together they settled in Catskill, New York. They had three children: Augusta (b. 1835), Francis Butler, who died at the age of 12, and Edward Dorr (b. 1838). Two letters that Francis Butler wrote to his father from boarding school in 1847 are part of the collection. After Anne Augusta's death in 1841, George married Mary Augusta Cooke (d. 1848), of Catskill in 1845. She gave birth to one child, Frederick Cooke, before her death. In 1850, George traveled to Europe with his sister Caroline, whose health was ailing. Upon his return, he married Elizabeth Frances Benson, with whom he had four children: Francis Butler, George, Lydia Butler, and Sophia Day.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of correspondence related to the Griffin family of New York City and includes 58 letters that George Griffin and his family exchanged between 1833 and 1854 with author Lydia H. Sigourney of Hartford, Connecticut. The second series of the collection includes several folders of correspondence among members of the Griffin family, especially letters of fatherly advice that George Griffin wrote to his sons Edmund Dorr Griffin (1804-1830) and George Griffin, Jr. (1811-1880). In addition to narratives of family life, the bulk of these letters involve accounts of two extended trips to Europe as well as discussions of Protestant theology and higher education. The final series in the collection is a 3-page manuscript copy of Sigourney's poem on the death, in 1831, of American poet John Trumbull.

Sigourney Correspondence , 1833-1854: This subseries consists of Lydia H. Sigourney's correspondence with her close friend and intermediary, George Griffin, and his family in New York City.

Much of Sigourney's correspondence with George Griffin directly involves her work as an author and her position as a woman in that profession. She frequently sent him copies of her written pieces, some of which had already been published in periodicals, asking for advice about the content of the work and about how she might pursue publication. In the course of doing so, she remarked upon her writing and revision process. These letters also specifically address her negotiations, often through Griffin's work as intermediary, with the Key & Biddle, Harpers, Leavitt, Lord & Co., D. Appleton, and Van Nostrand publishing firms, as well as the publication of her Letters to Young Ladies (1833 and 1841), Poems (1834), Sketches (1834), Girl's Reading-book (1838), and Letters to Mothers (1838). Additionally, a couple of letters from 1840 deal with Sigourney's trip to Europe.

Griffin, in turn, kept Sigourney apprised of developments with publishing firms as well as on the sale and review of her work. He candidly offered his response to works she had sent him, as well as general advice on the direction of her literary career. As a writer himself, he too sought feedback for his work, which took the form of theological essays. A manuscript copy of one of the reviews of his book, The Gospel its Own Advocate , appears in this series. Both correspondents also reflected on the challenges facing the publishing industry during the financial crisis of the late 1830s (especially the Panic of 1837) and shared their opinions on the state of American literary culture.

This series also includes letters that Sigourney exchanged with George Griffin's wife, Lydia Butler Griffin, and daughter Caroline. These pieces tended to relate family news and household matters but also included reflections on reading and Sigourney's involvement in various charitable societies. She briefly remarked on her relationship with her African American servant, Ann Prince. In addition, Sigourney conveyed in her letters to George Griffin that she valued the responses of his wife and daughters to her work. Finally, the series contains 2 letters composed by Charles Sigourney, Lydia Sigourney's husband.

Griffin Family Correspondence , 1807-1885: The Griffin Family correspondence contains over 150 letters, dated between 1807 and 1885, that relate to George Griffin (1778-1860) of New York City and his family.

Most of the letters from the 1820s deal with Edmund Dorr Griffin (1804-1830), the second son of George and Lydia Butler Griffin. A handful of these items chart his religious convictions and pathway to becoming an Episcopal minister. The bulk of these letters, however, are ones that Edmund exchanged with his parents, siblings, and friends during the extended trip he took to Europe between October 1828 and April 1830. George Griffin's letters to Edmund during this trip are full of advice and directives about where to travel, what to observe, and practicalities about money. He also kept his son informed about matters that were unfolding among the Episcopal churches in New York and at Columbia College. Although George Griffin was the primary writer of these letters, many of them include notes from other family members as well, with accounts of family life, including the courtship and marriage of Edmund's older brother Francis to Mary Sands.

Edmund's letters home narrate his journey and impressions of Europe in extensive detail. George Griffin actively compiled his son's epistles to have them published in periodicals, and upon Edmund's death in September 1830, these travel accounts (not all of which are included in the collection) made up the bulk of the "Remains" compiled by Francis Griffin and published in his brother's memory in 1831. Letters pertaining to the preparation and reception of this document, as well as a 12-page account of Edmund's final days, can be found in Series I and II of the collection.

Another group of letters from 1830 chart George Griffin, Jr.'s (1811-1880) sudden religious awakening and decision to pursue ministerial training under the care of his uncle, Edward Dorr Griffin (1770-1837), a Congregational minister and the president of Williams College. Later letters in the collection reveal that George Griffin, Jr., eventually became a farmer in Catskill, New York, and deal with his efforts to sell his hay. He would also travel to Europe, in 1850, with his ailing sister Caroline (1820-1861). While they were away, their father conveyed advice regularly and procured letters of introduction, some of which remain in the collection.

Additional materials include subjects related to male and female friendship; family financial matter; the births, deaths, or marriages of family members; education; Protestant theology; health and medicine; early telegraph communication; and family genealogy. The handful of items that date to the 1870s and 1880s include a printed piece called "Dear Erskie!" which contains a series of riddles, and a fifteen-page booklet that includes two poems titled "Picnic" and "Archery."

Lydia Sigourney Poem, [1831?]

This series consists of a 3-page manuscript copy of Sigourney's poem on the death, in 1831, of American poet John Trumbull.

Subject Terms

  • Agriculture--New York (State)
  • American literature--19th century.
  • Authors and publishers.
  • Catskill (N.Y.)
  • Christian life.
  • Columbia College (Columbia University)
  • Courtship.
  • Criticism.
  • D. Appleton and Company.
  • Death--Poetry.
  • Depressions, 1836-1837.
  • Education, Higher--United States.
  • Episcopal Church.
  • Europe--Description and travel.
  • Family life.
  • Female friendship.
  • Harper Brothers.
  • Hartford (Conn.)
  • Health and medicine.
  • Indians of North America.
  • Key & Biddle.
  • Leavitt, Lord, and Co.
  • Male friendship.
  • McVickar, John, 1787-1868.
  • Moravians.
  • New York (N.Y.)--Social life and customs.
  • Poets, American.
  • Prince, Ann.
  • Publishers and publishing.
  • Sigourney, Andrew, 1830-1850.
  • Russell, Mary Huntley Sigourney, 1828-1889.
  • Temperance.
  • Theology.
  • Trumbull, John, 1750-1831.
  • Williams College.
  • Williamstown (Mass.)
  • Women--Education--United States.
  • Women poets.
  • Beecher, Edward, 1803-1895.
  • Crawford, R.
  • Day, Sophia A.
  • Fisher, G.J.
  • Ford, George H.
  • Forman, M.
  • Gould, Robert Howe.
  • Gray, Alexander.
  • Gray, Eliza.
  • Gray, Jane.
  • Griffin, Augusta, b. 1835.
  • Griffin, Charles Alexander, 1814-1859.
  • Griffin, Edmund D. (Edmund Dorr), 1804-1830.
  • Griffin, Edward Dorr, 1770-1837.
  • Griffin family.
  • Griffin, Francis, 1802-1852.
  • Griffin, Francis Butler.
  • Griffin, George, 1778-1860.
  • Griffin, George, 1811-1880.
  • Griffin, Lydia Butler, 1783-1860.
  • Griffin, Mary Sands, b. 1804.
  • Hadder, H. B.
  • Hammersley, John W.
  • Havens, C. G.
  • Hubbard, F. M.
  • Lord, H.
  • Lloyd, Delia A.
  • Lyell, Thomas, 1775-1848.
  • Miner, Charles, 1780-1865.
  • Olmstead, A. F.
  • Park, Benjamin.
  • Richmond, William, 1797-1858.
  • Shelton, George A.
  • Sigourney, Charles, 1778-1854.
  • Sigourney, L. H. (Lydia Howard), 1791-1865.
  • Tyng, Stephen H. (Stephen Higginson), 1800-1885.
  • Waddell, L.
  • Walsh, Robert, 1784-1859.
  • Woodworth, W.
Genre Terms:
  • Letters (correspondence)
  • Poems.
  • Reviews (document genre)

Contents List (Request Materials)

Request materials for use in the Clements Library
Container / Location Title
Correspondence [series]
Lydia H. Sigourney correspondence [subseries]
Box   1 Folder   1
 26 October 1833-18 February 1834 (8 items)
Box   1 Folder   2
 11 March 1834-17 June 1834 (10 items)
Box   1 Folder   3
 27 June 1834-18 January 1835 (9 items)
Box   1 Folder   4
 26 January 1835-10 June 1835 (6 items)
Box   1 Folder   5
 10 September 1835-7 January 1837 (6 items)
Box   1 Folder   6
 15 January 1837-9 March 1837 (7 items)
Box   1 Folder   7
 12 March 1837-12 September 1837 (7 items)
Box   1 Folder   8
 16 November 1837-10 November 1840 (7 items)
Box   1 Folder   9
 25 June 1841-27 April 1843 (8 items)
Box   1 Folder   10
 31 October 1843-5 February 1848 (8 items)
Box   1 Folder   11
 8 July 1850-6 March 1854 (6 items)
Griffin family correspondence [subseries]
Box   1 Folder   12
 29 June 1807-15 December 1828 (10 items)
Box   1 Folder   13
 21 January 1829-7 July 1829 (11 items)
Box   1 Folder   14
 13 August 1829-31 October 1829 (11 items)
Box   1 Folder   15
 15 November 1829-20 January 1830 (11 items)
Box   1 Folder   16
 23 January 1830-14 April 1830 (12 items)
Box   1 Folder   17
 21 April 1830-11 July 1831 (10 items)
Box   1 Folder   18
 1 August 1831-26 May 1840 (11 items)
Box   1 Folder   19
 26 June 1840-19 December 1847 (11 items)
Box   2 Folder   1
 21 August 1848-7 May 1849 (10 items)
Box   2 Folder   2
 11 May 1849-20 May 1850 (10 items)
Box   2 Folder   3
 23 May 1850-20 July 1850 (11 items)
Box   2 Folder   4
 5 August 1850-28 October 1850 (10 items)
Box   2 Folder   5
 16 July 1851-8 September 1885 (13 items)
Box   2 Folder   6
 Undated (12 items)
Box   2 Folder   7
 Undated ( 12 items)
Lydia H. Sigourney poem [series]
Box   2 Folder   8
 Undated (1 item)

Additional Descriptive Data

Related Materials

The Lewis Cass papers contain a letter Lydia H. Sigourney wrote to Lewis Cass, dated 17 December 1860.

The George Brinley papers contain 2 letters Lydia H. Sigourney wrote to George Brinley (d. 1857), dated 24 April 1843 and 25 December 1860.

The Huntington family scrapbook contains two letters that Lydia H. Sigourney wrote to the Hannah (Phelps) Huntington, a letter to Maria (Perit) Huntington, and a letter in dedication of the 1857 Huntington family reunion. These letters included poems that had not been published at the time.

Lydia H. Sigourney's autograph may be found in the Martha Leach Packard commonplace book and the Russell-McCabe autograph album.

The William L. Clements Library also holds a significant selection of Lydia H. Sigourney's publications.


Dexter, Franklin Bowditch. "George Griffin." In Biological Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College with Annals of the College History. Volume 5. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1911: 286-287.

Remains of the Rev. Edmund D. Griffin, Compiled by Francis Griffin: A Biographical Memoir of the Deceased, by the Rev. John McVickar, D.D. 2 vols. New-York, 1831.

Walworth, Reuben Hyde. Hyde Genealogy: Or, the Descendants, in the Female as well as in the Male Lines, from William Hyde, of Norwich, with Their Places of Residence, and Dates of Birth, Marriages, &c., and Other Particulars of Them and Their Families and Ancestry. 2 vols. Albany, NY: J. Munsell, 1864.

Zagarell, Sandra. "Lydia Howard Huntley Sigourney." In The Heath Anthology of American Literature. 5th ed. Paul Lautner, ed. Online.