Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Crittenden Family Papers, 1837-1907

Finding aid created by
Galen R. Wilson, October 1985; Clements Staff and Philip Heslip, March 2010

Summary Information
Title: Crittenden family papers
Creator: Van Wyck, Nannie Crittenden, 1843-1916
Inclusive dates: 1837-1907
Bulk dates: 1849-1889
Extent: 4 linear feet (approx. 1300 items)
The Crittenden family papers contain the letters of a Kentucky family living in the California and Nevada frontiers. The material centers on the family of Alexander Parker Crittenden and his wife Clara Churchill Jones, and includes letters from their parents, siblings, and children. The collection also contains diaries, documents and financial records, and family photographs (daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, cabinet cards, cartes-de-visite, and other paper prints). The collection documents the murder of Alexander Parker Crittenden as well as family members who fought on the Confederate side of the Civil War and who participated in mining and prospecting in the West.
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:

1983, 1984, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1992, 2009. M-2113, M-2163, M-2256, M-2428, M-2897, M-4773.

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:

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


This collection is organized into 5 series:

  • Series I: Correspondence
  • Series II: Journals
  • Series III: Documents and Financial Records
    • Subseries I: Estate Papers
    • Subseries II: Insurance Papers
    • Subseries III: Legal and Financial Documents
    • Subseries IV: Account Books
  • Series IV: Photographs
  • Series V: Miscellaneous

All series are ordered chronologically. Reproductions of photographs and supplemental material are filed at the beginning of the collection.


Alexander Parker Crittenden (1816-1870), hereafter A.P.C., was the son of the prominent Kentucky lawyer, Thomas Turpin Crittenden. He graduated from West Point in 1836 and in 1838, married Clara Churchill Jones Crittenden (1820-1881); they had fourteen children in twenty years, only eight of whom lived to adulthood. Clara was the daughter of Reverend Alexander Jones, Jr., and Ann Northey Churchill Jones, of Bardstown, Kentucky. The young couple first lived in Kentucky but moved to Texas in 1839, where they lived for the next decade. A.P.C. practiced law in Texas until 1849, when he moved to Los Angeles, California, and was elected into the state congress, then being formed in anticipation of statehood. Meanwhile, Clara and her children lived with her parents in Richmond, Virginia. They joined A.P.C. in San Francisco in 1851, where he was involved with state government and was practicing law. However, he was not prosperous and was often in debt. In 1863 A.P.C. refused to take an oath of allegiance to the federal government, and, consequently, relocated to Virginia City, Nevada Territory. Clara remained in San Francisco with the children. While living in the Nevada Territory, A.P.C. began a relationship with his landlady, the thrice-married Laura Hunt Fair, proprietress of the Tahoe House Hotel. Initially he represented himself as single, but Fair eventually learned that he was married, prompting A.P.C. to promise her that he would divorce his wife. He never kept that promise, but for the remainder of his life, he kept two residences, one for his wife and one for his mistress. In 1870, Clara made a transcontinental railroad crossing, taking her two youngest children with her to the East Coast and back. In November 1870, when A.P.C. left to meet her train in Oakland, Laura Fair followed him. On board the ferry from Oakland to San Francisco, Laura shot him as he sat with his wife and children. Clara remained in San Francisco after the murder; she died in 1881.

Laura Crittenden Sanchez (1839-1919), the eldest child of Clara and A.P.C., married Ramon Bernardo Sanchez in 1859. The two lived in Sacramento where Ramon had a state government appointment but, like his father-in-law, he refused to take the loyalty oath. The Sanchez family moved to Aurora, Nevada Territory, in 1862. They remained childless and from time to time lived with the Crittendens, depending on their financial situation (which was frequently precarious). Between March 1864 and March 1865, Ramon served as mayor of Aurora.

Churchill Crittenden (1840-1864), eldest son of A.P.C. and Clara Crittenden, grew up in San Francisco, California. He attended Hanover College in Indiana from 1858 to 1860. However, as a result of behavioral problems, he was eventually expelled from the school. In 1862, he and his brother James were sent to Europe to escape being drafted into the Union Army. While docked in Cuba, the brothers left the voyage and joined the Confederate Army. In August 1862, Churchill enlisted the 1st Maryland Cavalry. In October 1864, while foraging for food in Virginia, he was captured by Union troops and was put to death.

James Love Crittenden (1841-1915), the second son of the Crittendens, attended Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. He began his college education at the University of Virginia, but transferred to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, after espousing pro-Union views. Like his brother Churchill, he was sent to Europe in 1862, but instead joined the Signal Corps of the Confederate Army. For a time after the war, James lived in Nevada but eventually moved to New York to practice law.

Ann “Nannie” Churchill Crittenden Van Wyck (1843-1916) married Sidney McMecken Van Wyck, an evangelical Christian; they had eight children. In early 1870, Sidney lived in Nevada panning for silver while his family stayed in San Francisco. He was eventually able to move his family to Nevada in May 1870. Nannie was responsible for collecting the family papers, and her heirs preserved them.

Howard Joseph Crittenden (1844-1871) left his family in San Francisco in 1863 to work in the mining business in Nevada. Though he was supportive of the Confederate cause, he traveled to Germany in May 1864 and did not enter the war. Upon return to the United States, Howard drifted from job to job and suffered from depression. He married Lucy Fisher in 1870, but she died in childbirth in July 1871. A few months later, Howard moved to Galveston, Texas, to live with his mother. He died of apoplexy in October 1871.

The remaining Crittenden children are not well represented in the collection. Few letters from Parker Crittenden (1849-1923) remain and little is known about his life. He was married in San Francisco in 1869 to Elizabeth Clara Reed Henry, and married again in 1886. The 1880 census lists his occupation as auctioneer. Caroline Campbell Crittenden Pratt (1855-1923) was fifteen when she went with her mother to visit her east-coast relatives in 1870, and was one of the children present when her father was shot by Mrs. Fair on their return in November. She married John Francis Pratt, a sailor in the Navy, in 1880. Thomas Turpin Crittenden (1857-1933) was the youngest of the Crittenden children to live to adulthood. Little is known of him except that his hand was badly burned when he was two and he that was married three times and divorced twice.

Mary Crittenden Robinson, A.P.C.'s oldest sister, married Tod Robinson (1812-1870), a native of North Carolina. The Robinsons lived in California where Tod had a successful career as a lawyer and judge.

The Crittenden Collection also contains letters from both of Clara’s parents and six of her siblings. Clara's father, Reverend Alexander Jones, Jr. (1796-1874), taught for several years in Bardstown, Kentucky, before entering the clergy. He was a pastor at Episcopal parishes in Charlestown, West Virginia (1823-1849); Richmond, Virginia (1849-1854); and Perth Amboy, New Jersey (1857-1871). He married Ann Northey Churchill (1798-1854), the daughter of a privateer captain; they had thirteen children, the eldest of whom was Clara Crittenden.

Alexander Jones III (1822-1884), Clara's brother, was a physician. He married a Nicaraguan woman in 1851 and settled in Texas. He volunteered with the Texas army during the Civil War, and after the war lived with his parents in New Jersey while trying to set up a private practice. By 1870, he was living in California, and he retired from the medical practice shortly after the death of his only son, Alexander Jones IV.

Mary "Mollie" Farquhar Jones Joliffe (1826-1892), Clara's sister, married Amos Joliffe. In 1862, an epidemic in war-ravaged Virginia struck the Joliffe family and killed all five of their daughters within two weeks’ time. Only three of their children lived to adulthood. The family was poor and Mollie suffered from depression.

William Marlborough Jones (1832-1898), Clara's brother, joined a Confederate regiment under Albert Sidney Johnston. After the war, he settled in Richmond, Virginia, as a banker.

Rebecca Churchill Jones Craighill (1833-1899), Clara’s sister, married Colonel William Price Craighill (1833-1909), a Civil War Union officer. Craighill, a military engineer, was a member of the West Point class of 1853. He had seven children by his first wife; after her death they were raised by their Grandmother Craighill.

Ann Northey Jones Price (1835-1919), Clara's sister, moved to California at a young age and married Johnson Price (1822-1868), a physician, state senator, and California's Secretary of State. After the Civil War, they moved to Virginia. Johnson died in 1868, leaving Ann and their one son, Alexander Jones Price (1860-1916), with little money. She ran a boarding house in Virginia for several years, but ultimately moved to Galveston, Texas, to be with her son.

Marlborough Churchill (1815-1899), uncle of Clara Crittenden, was a West Point classmate of A.P.C.. He worked as a civil engineer from 1836-1841, and founded a private school in Sing Sing (later Ossining), New York, where he spent the rest of his life. George F. Jones (b. 1811) was another of Clara's uncles. He was the Jones family genealogist and wrote a history of the family in the 19th century.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Crittenden family papers contain the letters and documents of the family of Alexander Parker Crittenden and his wife Clara Churchill Jones Crittenden. The bulk of the collection consists of personal correspondence between members of the extended family, including Mr. and Mrs. Crittenden, seven of their eight (surviving) children, Clara’s parents and siblings (the Jones family), and Mary Crittenden Robinson (Alexander's sister). In addition to correspondence, the collection contains diaries, documents and financial records, and 96 family photographs (daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tintypes, cabinet cards, cartes-de-visite, and other paper prints), including one carte-de-visite of Laura Hunt Fair.

The Correspondence series (approximately 1,280 items) covers several topics of interest. The letters by Clara and Alexander Parker Crittenden (hereafter A.P.C.) illustrate the passionate courtship and strained marriage of a couple living in California in the 19th century; Laura Crittenden Sanchez’ correspondence presents a picture of a woman’s life on the 1860s western frontier in California and Nevada; and Ann Northey Churchill Jones’s letters to her daughter Clara provide frank commentary on womanhood. The following summary is a brief description of the collection’s major correspondents and the content of their letters.

The collection includes over 260 letters from his wife Clara, which span the length of their relationship, from their first meeting until his death. The courtship letters are full of expressions of youthful passion. Especially valuable are A.P.C.'s letters describing San Francisco in the early 1850s, which contain information about the Gold Rush and early statehood, and include discussions about women in California, and troubles he experienced from not having a wife present to care for him. The 1860s letters written from Nevada to Clara in California provide a good account of early Nevada, as well as insight into their deteriorating marriage. However, the twenty letters written during Clara's 1870 transcontinental trip to the East Coast, exhibit an apparently genuine change of heart in Crittenden, who had purchased and redecorated a lavish new home as a surprise for Clara on her return. Almost every letter begs her to cut the trip short and return.

A.P.C.'s eldest son, Churchill, is represented by 62 letters to him from his father, and 62 letters written by Churchill to his parents and siblings, largely from 1858 and 1861, while he was studying at Hanover College. While at Hanover, Churchill developed Union sympathies, which upset his Kentucky-born father. Of note is a letter from A.P.C., who at the time was the leader of the southern wing of the California Democratic Party, to Churchill defending southern rights for secession (December 10, 1860). Churchill wrote six letters while in the Confederate Army. The collection also contains 60 letters from James Love Crittenden. His early letters discuss school life, ante-bellum politics, and family relations. He wrote 10 letters while fighting with the Confederacy.

Clara Jones Crittenden wrote 19 letters in the collection: two to her husband, one to her eldest son, Churchill, and sixteen to her daughter Annie (“Nannie”). The letters to Annie are almost all dated November-December 1864, and reflect the deep gloom Clara felt following the murder of her son Churchill in October 1864.

Laura Crittenden Sanchez wrote 71 letters to her mother, 87 to her sister Nannie, and a few to other family members. They present a view of domestic life on the 1860s western frontier. Of note are Laura’s routine comments that reflect the values of a woman raised to believe in the Southern ideals of gentility and womanhood. However, she also held advanced ideas on women’s rights and divisions of duties in the home. Her husband, Ramon B. Sanchez, shared these beliefs and described his role in housework and his ideas of manhood, in his letter to Nannie Crittenden (July 25, 1862).

This series holds 16 letters from A.P.C. to his daughter Nannie, 6 to her husband Sidney Van Wyck, and many letters of condolence received by the family at the time of Parker’s murder. Van Wyck, who held evangelical beliefs, was deeply concerned about the well-being of his pregnant wife. He sent 117 letters to Nannie between January and May 1870, while she was in San Francisco and was he in Hamilton, Nevada, attempting to strike it rich prospecting for silver. He gave a rich account of life in a snowy Nevada mining town. The collection also includes approximately 40 business letters concerning Sidney's mining interests between 1879 and 1882. After 1874, the collection constitutes letters addressed largely to members of the Van Wyck family, including 8 letters from Nannie's daughter Clara Van Wyck to her brother Sydney Van Wyck, Jr.

Mary Crittenden Robinson, A.P.C.'s older sister, wrote 23 letters to Clara Crittenden, almost entirely in 1863. They are domestic in content, with occasional references to politics and society. Mary also wrote to A.P.C., and to various nieces and nephews, and her children are represented as well: Mary, Kate, and Tod, Jr.

The collection also contains letters from Clara Jones Crittenden's parents and siblings.

Clara's father Alexander Jones, Jr., wrote 5 letters to Clara, including one offering consolation on her husband's murder (November 7, 1870), and 3 to his granddaughter Nannie. Ann Northey Churchill Jones, Clara's mother, sent her seven letters from 1839-1841. She provided a frank commentary on womanhood and discussed childbirth, the proper preparation of breasts for nursing, a mother’s role in fixing children’s values, marital relations and what a wife could do to improve them, and how a woman should deal with an unworthy husband.

Clara's brother Alexander Jones III wrote 21 letters to A.P.C. and Clara (1849, and 1857-1870). These describe frontier Texas, news of the Civil War, and Confederate patriotism. In one notable letter, he described life in Brownsville, Texas, and advised using birth control (January 30, 1860). Clara's sister Mary "Mollie" Farquhar Jones Joliffe wrote 15 letters, 1858-1870, primarily made up of family news. Her wartime letters are a window onto the hardships of Confederate civilian life. William Marlborough Jones is represented by 13 Civil War and Reconstruction era letters, which reflect on the costs of the war to both the family and the nation. Of note is a 12-page account of the war near Jackson, Mississippi (November 7, 1870), and his report on the fall of Vicksburg (July 7, 1863). Sister Rebecca Churchill Jones Craighill, wrote 13 letters (1858-1899) to multiple recipients. In 1866, she composed excellent reflections on the war and criticized a Virginia friend who had eloped with a Yankee officer.

The collection also contains letters from two of Clara’s uncles: 8 from Marlborough Churchill and 2 from George Jones.

The Journals series (2 items) contains an official transcript of a journal of Elizabeth Van Wyck, and a diary kept by Sydney Van Wyck. The Elizabeth Van Wyck journal is a transcript of a reminiscence of her life from age 7 until November 12, 1808, when she was 26. The copy was made in 1925, at the request of Elizabeth's great-grandson, Sidney M. Van Wyck, Jr. The second item is a detailed journal kept by Sydney Van Wyck during his time at school in the 1840s. In it, he described his life at school and many of his family members.

The Documents and Financial Records series is made up of four subseries: Estate Papers, Insurance Papers, Legal and Financial Documents, and Account Books.

The Estate Papers subseries contains 11 items concerning the property of A.P.C. and 24 items related to Howard J. Crittenden. These include A.P.C.'s last will and testament and court records surrounding his murder and the handling of his estate (1870-1875). The Howard J. Crittenden items document Howard's financial holdings at his death and how his estate was divided.

The Insurance Papers subseries (3 items) includes a record of the Hartford Fire Insurance Company (1871) and a fire insurance policy from Pacific Insurance Company for Clara Crittenden (1872).

The Legal and Financial Documents subseries (16 items) consists of bank notes, telegraphs concerning business dealings, receipts for goods and payments, contracts, and personal tax bills. Of note are contracts signing over gold and silver claims in Nevada to Howard Crittenden. These include locations in White Pine, Nevada, such as "Lucky Boy Tunnel" and "Adele mining ground" (1869).

The Account Books subseries (3 items) contains a 12-page account book for A. Hemme (1873), a 20-page account book for S. M. Van Wyck (1873-1874), and a mostly empty National Granit State Bank account book of Thomas Crittenden (1874).

The Photographs and Illustrations series contains 106 photographs of Crittenden family members. These include cartes-de-visite, tintypes, ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, cabinet cards, and several modern reproductions. They depict many of the Crittenden family members, including several Crittenden men in Confederate uniform, Clara Crittenden, Clara Van Wyck, and Laura Fair, among others. See Additional Descriptive Data for the complete list.

In addition to the photograph, this collection also contains an ink sketch of the floor plan of a San Francisco cottage (in the letter dated July 4, 1852).

The Miscellaneous series (9 items) contains school report cards, Laura Van Wyck's application to become a Daughter of the Confederacy (which includes a heroic account of Churchill Crittenden's death in the Civil War), Nannie Crittenden Van Wyck's address book (with contacts in Saint Louis, Chicago, Kentucky, New York, and Brooklyn), a newspaper clipping about mining in Nevada, and 3 unattributed writing fragments.

The folder of supplemental material relates to Robert E. Stewart's publication Aurora Ghost City of the Dawn, Las Vegas: Nevada Publications, 1996, including a copy of the book and 10 photographs taken by Stewart of Aurora and the Ruins of the Sanchez home.

Subject Terms

    • Austin (Tex.)
    • Brazoria (Tex.)
    • Charleston (W. Va.)
    • Courtship.
    • Dresden (Germany)
    • Exeter (N.H.)
    • Frankfort (Ky.)
    • Freiburg (Germany : Regierungsbezirk)
    • Galveston (Tex.)
    • Gold Hill (Nev.)
    • Hamilton (Nev.)
    • Hanover (Ind.)
    • Lancaster (Ky.)
    • Lexington (Ky.)
    • Los Angeles (Calif.)
    • Madison (Ind.)
    • Marriage.
    • New York (N.Y.)
    • Ossining Correctional Facility.
    • Perth Amboy (N.J.)
    • Red Bluff (Calif.)
    • Richmond (Va.)
    • Ridgeview (W. Va.)
    • Sacramento (Calif.)
    • San Francisco (Calif.)
    • San Jose (Calif.)
    • Sing Sing Correctional Facility.
    • Sing Sing (N.Y.)
    • Virginia City (Nev.)
    • White Sulphur Springs (W. Va.)
    • York (Pa.)
    • Churchill, Marlborough, d. 1889.
    • Craighill, Rebecca Churchill Jones, 1833-1899.
    • Crittenden, Alexander Parker, 1816-1870.
    • Crittenden, Churchill, 1840-1864.
    • Crittenden, Clara Churchill Jones, 1820-1881.
    • Crittenden, Howard Joseph, 1844-1871.
    • Crittenden, James Love, 1841-1915.
    • Crittenden, Parker, 1849-1923.
    • Crittenden, Thomas Turpin, 1857-1933.
    • Fair, Laura Hunt, 1837-1919.
    • Joliffe, Mary “Mollie” Farquhar Jones, 1826-1892.
    • Jones, Alexander, 1796-1874.
    • Jones, Alexander, 1822-1884.
    • Jones, Ann Northey Churchill, 1798-1854.
    • Pratt, Caroline Campbell Crittenden, 1855-1923.
    • Robinson, Mary Crittenden.
    • Robinson, Tod, 1812-1870.
    • Sanchez, Laura Crittenden, 1839-1919.
    • Sanchez, Ramon Bernardo, 1824-1893.
    • Van Wyck, Clara, 1865-1901.
    • Van Wyck, Sidney M., b. 1868.
    • Van Wyck, Sidney McMecken, 1830-1887.
    Genre Terms:
    • Account books.
    • Address books.
    • Ambrotypes (photographs)
    • Cabinet photographs.
    • Cartes-de-viste (card photographs)
    • Clippings (information artifacts)
    • Daguerreotypes (photographs)
    • Diaries.
    • Financial records.
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Photographs.
    • Tintypes (prints)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Correspondence [series]
    Box   1 Folders   15-64
     January 17, 1837-June 9, 1849
    Box   2 Folders   1-69
     July 6, 1849-[1852]
    Box   3 Folders   1-88
     November 7, 1853-[1858]
    Box   4 Folders   1-97
     January 1, 1859-January 1860
    Box   5 Folders   1-88
     February 2, 1860-[1860]
    Box   6 Folders   1-97
     January 5, 1861-September 26, 1862
    Box   7 Folders   1-89
     October 1, 1862-[May 1863]
    Box   8 Folders   1-107
     June 1, 1863-February 29, 1864
    Box   9 Folders   1-103
     March 3, 1864-January 31, 1865
    Box   10 Folders   1-87
     February 2, 1865-December 7, 1866
    Box   11 Folders   1-99
     January 5, 1867-November 16, 1869
    Box   12 Folders   1-88
     January 1, 1870-March 31, 1870
    Box   13 Folders   1-93
     April 2, 1870-December 16, 1871
    Box   14 Folders   1-90
     January 22, 1872-September 12, 1889
    Box   15 Folders   1-27
     July 6, 1891-October 23, 1907 and  undated
    Journals [series]
    Box   16 Folder   1
    Elizabeth Van Wyck Official Transcript
    Folder   2  
    Sydney Van Wyck
    Documents and Financial Records [series]
    Estate Papers [subseries]
    Folders   3-5  
    Alexander P. Crittenden,  November 1870-January 1875
    Folders   6-9  
    Howard Crittenden,  1871-1886 and  undated
    Folder   : Oversize Manuscripts  
    Oversize Howard Crittenden Estate Papers
    Insurance Papers [subseries]
    Box   16 Folder   10
    Folder   : Oversize Manuscripts  
    Oversize Insurance Papers
    Legal and Financial Documents [subseries]
    Box   16 Folders   11-12
    Folder   : Oversize Manuscripts  
    Oversize Legal and Financial Documents
    Account Books [subseries]
    Box   16 Folder   13
    A. Hemme
    Folder   14  
    S.M. Van Wyck
    Folder   15  
    Thomas Crittenden
    Photographs [series]
    Box   1 Folders   1-13
    Reproductions of photographs    [Note: see Graphics Division for originals]
    Folder   14  
    Photographs and other materials related to Robert E. Stewart's publication Aurora Ghost City of the Dawn
    Miscellaneous [series]
    Box   16 Folders   16-20
     1858-1879 and  undated
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Alternate Locations

    The following photographs are housed in the Clements Library Graphics Division:

    Related Materials

    The Clements Library's James V. Medler crime collection contains a letter from a San Francisco resident, who discussed the Crittenden murder trial in some detail (June 4, 1871).

    The following institutions contain material related to the Crittenden family:

    • The National Archives: Letters of recommendation for Alexander Parker Crittenden and the service record of William Henry Powell, the Union officer who ordered the execution of Churchill Crittenden
    • The Rosenberg Library: letters from and about Alexander Parker Crittenden
    • Texas State Archives, Austin, Texas: Samuel A Roberts to M.B. Lane recommending Alexander Parker Crittenden for an appointment
    • Tulane University Library: from Alexander Parker Crittenden to Albert Sidney Johnson
    • The University of Washington Digital Libraries Collection holds Digitized Letters from the Crittenden Family
    • West Point Library: letters from Marlborough Churchill

    Fair, Laura D. Wolves in the Fold: A Lecture. San Francisco, Cal.: Laura D. Fair, 1873.

    Official Report of the Trial of Laura D. Fair, for the Murder of Alex P. Crittenden: Including the Testimony, the Arguments of Counsel, and the Charge of the Court ... : With Portraits of the Defendant and the Deceased. San Francisco: San Francisco Co-operative Print. Co., 1871.

    Lamott, Kenneth. Who killed Mr. Crittenden?: Being a True Account of the Notorious Murder that Stunned San Francisco--the Laura D. Fair Case. New York: David McKay company, Inc., 1963.