Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Dreer Family Letters, 1851-1853

Finding aid created by
Philip Heslip, October 2009

Summary Information
Title: Dreer family letters
Creator: Dreer family and Oberthier family
Inclusive dates: 1851-1853
Extent: 5 items
The Dreer family letters document a poor Virginia family's migration to Texas and the hardships they suffered living there. One letter of particular interest describes a gruesome murder committed by a slave, and the slave's speedy trial and execution.
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. M-1898.

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.

Preferred Citation:

Dreer Family Letters, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


This collection is organized chronologically.

Biographical/Historical Note

Frederick and Fredricka Dreer were married in Hanover, Pennsylvania, in 1796. Their first son Frederick Oberthier (1797-1856) was born in Pittsylvania, Virginia, and married Sarah Hubbard (1808-1882) in 1825.

Their children, all born in Pittsylvania, Virginia, were:

  • Augusta Elizabeth (1825-1888), who married John B. Matherly
  • Mary Caroline (1827-1876), who married Charles S. Haydn in 1852
  • Henry L. Dreer (1829-1904), who married Eliza Virginia Jones
  • Sarah Ann (1830-1858), who married Rufus R. Collier
  • Tabitha Hubbard (1833-1857), who married William A. Johnson
  • Ferdinand (1835-1858)
  • Frederick Harrison (1838-1913)
  • Moses Allen (1840-1864)
  • Benjamin Constant (1843-1911), who married Mattie Jane Wright
  • Edward Chester (1846-1829), who married Margaret Gray
  • Abigail Selena (1848-1878)

Most of the Dreer family, including Mary and Charles Haydn, moved to Canton, Texas, in 1852 in order to escape debt and to find better land on which to farm. Henry, the eldest son, traveled through the south looking for employment and ended up in Philadelphia in the 1850s. Several of the children died in Texas in the decade after the move, while others settled and raised families in Rusk County, Texas.

Another son of Frederick and Fredricka Dreer was Henry A. Dreer, born in 1819. He established a seed house in Philadelphia in 1838, and married Mary Leavenworth in 1847. Henry died in 1873.

In their letters, Frederick, Fredericka, and Henry use the last name Dreer, while the family of the eldest son Frederick went by Oberthier. Genealogical and census records largely support this, though Frederick and Fredericka Dreer are also referred to as Oberthier.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Dreer family letters contains 5 items that document this large Virginia family's migration to Texas. Three letters are addressed to Frederick and Fredericka Dreer, Frederick's elderly parents living in Philadelphia. They report on the children and explain that they need to leave Virginia, because they are burdened with debt and their current plot of land cannot support such a large family. Land in Texas, in 1851, was cheap and labor was valuable. Later letters describe life in Texas, local agriculture, such as seed quality and terrain, and illnesses in the family. Two letters are addressed to Frederick's brother Henry. One describes a gruesome rape and murder committed by a slave, and the slave's speedy trial and execution.

Subject Terms

    • Agriculture--Texas.
    • Canton (Tex.)--History.
    • Criminal justice, Administration of--Texas.
    • Executions and executioners--Texas.
    • Farm life--Texas.
    • Frontier and pioneer life--Texas.
    • Internal migrants--Texas.
    • Personal debt.
    • Pioneers--Texas--History.
    • Pittsylvania County (Va.)--Economic conditions.
    • Slaves--Texas--History.
    • Violent crimes--Texas.
    • Oberthier, Frederick, 1797-1856.
    • Oberthier, Frederick Harrison Dreer, 1838-1913.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letters (correspondence)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   43, Small Collections  
    Dreer family letters [series]
    Folder   12  
      January 20, 1851 , Frederick Oberthier to Mr. Frederick Dreer Oberthier and Mrs. Fredericka Dreer Oberthier
      June 19, 1851 , Frederick Oberthier to Mr. Henry A. Dreer
      January 4, 1852 , Frederick Oberthier to Mr. Frederick and Fredericka Dreer
      September 25, 1852 , Frederick Dreer to Mr. Frederick and Fredericka Dreer
      July 26, 1853 , Frederick Dreer, Jr. to H.A. Dreer
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    The following collections in the Clements Library Manuscript Division include material related to Frederick's brother Ferdinand J. Dreer and to Texas during this time period:

    • The Duane Norman Diedrich collection contains two related items:
      • Trotter to Ferdinand J. Dreer, January 28-January 30, Philadelphia.
      • Hamilton to Corcoran, September 2, 1857, discussing land speculation in Texas.
    • The Farley family papers contain the William Tell Claude Editorials, 1846-1849, which discuss Texas.
    • The Book Collectors collection holds five related items:
      • Childs to Ferdinand J. Dreer; December 27, 1853, February 12 and December 24, 1859, and one undated.
      • Kittoe to Ferdinand J. Dreer, March 2, 1869.

    The Book Division holds one related item:

    Dreer, F. Julius. A catalogue of the collection of autographs formed by Ferdinand Julius Dreer... Philadelphia: Printed for private distribution, 1890-1893.