Most of the Jewett-Lee collection centers around Azubah Miller Jewett and her daughter Mary (Mollie) Jewett Lee. Three letters from Azubah to her daughter were written in the 1850s; they contain family news and information about friends. Azubah wrote her reminiscences in 1888, about a year before she died, describing her early days in Michigan. The other letters are primarily to and from Mollie Jewett, and include a courtship correspondence with her future husband, Newton Lee. Most of these letters were written while she was away from Saginaw City visiting her father's family in New York in the summer and fall of 1853. The collection also includes three speeches, two for delivery on holidays to the people of Saginaw (1858 and 1861) and one addressed to a literary society. There are a couple newspapers and newspaper clippings as well.
The most important document in the Jewett-Lee collection is the reminiscences of Azubah Jewett. She wrote this manuscript upon the request of her brother Judge Albert Miller of Bay City, who asked her to record some of her memories of pioneer life. The document begins:
"Very many things have occorred in the fifty-seven years that I have been in Michigan that would be worthy of note but I hardly feel competant for the task; Suffice it to say that the present inhabitants would think it quite impossible to endure the privations and sacrifices that a few of the first have pass'd through; and in almost every instance without a word of complaint."
Azubah Jewett went on to outline her experiences as one of the first pioneers of the Saginaw Valley. She saw the first settlers arrive and establish industries, including lumbering. She witnessed the first steam boats in the area, the first roads and street cars, and the population explosion that occurred as the next wave of settlers arrived in the Saginaw Valley. The eighty-three year old closed her account with these words, "My bodily health is good, and unless this article indicates contrary, my mental faculties are unimpared, and I enjoy life as much at present as at any period on my existence." She died one year later.
There is a short series of courtship letters between Dr. Newton D. Lee and Molly Jewett while she was in New York. Lee fantasized a future life together: "when I would get tired of the office, I could go to you & be always greeted with a lovely smile & a sweet kiss, then you would sit down beside me and put both your hands in mine & lean your head upon my bosom as your support in this life, then look up in my face & talk to me. . ." (1853 August 7). These winning words won Molly's heart, and the two were married in November.
One letter stands apart from the main collection because it was written by a woman named Delia, who had no connection to the Jewett family except that she knew and possibly courted Dr. Lee before his marriage to Mollie. Delia's words provide insight into the social risks and responsibilities that women had to face when contemplating engaging in a courtship. Lee had apparently visited and written her, and expressed an interest in pursuing his suit. Delia's letter diplomatically expressed a certain amount of skepticism about the sincerity of Dr. Lee's gestures. While she would accept a sincere offer, she would not risk the injury and humiliation that might come from accepting an insincere offer: "It is still more gratifying to meet a worthy friend, prove him such and then feel that I share his thoughts and friendship, but as frankly confess, that a mere avowal of such a friendship is no convincing evidence to me that it exists" (1850 February 7).
The most chilling letter in the collection is from Mollie's friend Louisa. The tear-stained letter reported that a mutual friend of theirs had died of consumption. Susan Harris had been part of their group of six girls all the same age. Lousia, keeping vigil at Susan's bed side when she passed, wrote "I scarcely left that lifeless form until it was returned to mother earth helped to robe her for burial and dressed her hair for the last time which for so many weeks had been my care fearing to trust anyone else" (1853 October 16).
The three public address manuscripts are of unclear authorship. One is a Fourth of July speech that makes indirect but sustained references to the conflict between the North and the South, and the second is an address to citizens who have answered the call to defend the Union flag. The last is an address to the ladies and gentlemen of a literary society on the occasion of the last of the society's meetings.