Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Denckla-Maison Family Papers, [1815-1891]

Finding aid created by
Diana Runge, September 2009, and Meg Hixon, April 2011

Summary Information
Title: Denckla-Maison family papers
Creator: Denckla family
Inclusive dates: [1815-1891]
Extent: Approximately 4 linear feet
The Denckla-Maison family papers contain business and family correspondence and financial documents primarily concerning various land holdings and other financial matters of the Denckla and Maison families, who owned substantial property in Pennsylvania throughout the mid-19th century.
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:

1990-1992. M-2571, M-2779, M-2854.2.

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:

Denckla-Maison Family Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The Denckla-Maison family papers are currently arranged in a series of bundles that often carry thematic ties. Bound volumes are placed at the end of the collection. This is a temporary arrangement.


The roots of the Denckla family can be traced to Philadelphia, where the family was based in the early 19th century. Christian Henry Denckla (later known as Augustus) and his wife, Anna Maria Webber, had at least two children: Mary M. Denckla and C. Paul Denckla (b. 1831). After her first husband's death, Anna married Henry Geisse, who would later be involved in a lawsuit against Paul. Paul went on to marry Mary Williamson (b. ca. 1845), and the couple had at least two children: Mary Denckla (b. 1868) and Hermann Denckla (b. 1872), who would later attend the University of Pennsylvania. Paul lived in Philadelphia for most of his life, working as a hardware salesman.

The ancestry of William Paul Denckla (b. 1822) is less clear, but he seems to have been the son of Christian Christopher Denckla and Carolina Frederika Philippa Geisse (Frederika), both of Philadelphia though William was born in Germany. It is possible that Christian and C. Paul Denckla were brothers, and that Mary Williamson Denckla is the "Aunt Mary" William so often corresponds with throughout this collection. William married Julia E. Thompson in Arkansas in 1855, where he was working as a mine engineer. Though the couple often moved, living in Butte County, California, in the early 1860s, and in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1877, they spent much of the mid-19th century in Little Rock, Arkansas. William and Julia Denckla had two sons: Harry and William, Jr. The latter married Mary Lepper and lived in Spring City, Nevada, for much of his adult life.

Augusta Denckla (b. 1817) was the daughter of Christian Christopher and Frederika Denckla. She married Peter Maison, son of a prominent Philadelphia family, and the two had a son, William Norman Maison (1834-1907). Throughout the 1850s, William lived in Como, Whiteside County, Illinois, with his uncle, William Pollock, and aunt, Sarah Maison Pollock. William was himself a local notable, an early settler who established himself in Como in 1841 and who owned a significant amount of land in the region. He served as a surveyor for the town from 1853-1857 and was the drainage commissioner from 1855-1858, during which time he sold a large tract of swamp lands.

The family was involved in much land speculation throughout the 19th century, and much of their surviving correspondence deals with the transfer of land and related fees. Different members of the family were caught up in various legal actions regarding property disputes, including a case between William Pollock and Peter Maison (1866) that was frequently cited in future decisions.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Denckla-Maison family papers consist primarily of intra-family correspondence, usually regarding monetary affairs and real estate. Several themes are common throughout the collection, with a number of letters comprising lengthy correspondence series between different members of the family. Throughout the late 1800s, William P. Denckla and his wife, Julia wrote to his sister, Mary, asking her for financial support. The collection also includes a significant amount of correspondence from William Maison to his parents, Peter and Augusta Maison, describing his life with the Pollock family in Como, Illinois, in the 1850s and, later, his intent to permanently settle there. Other main topics of correspondence are land transactions, insurance policies, and Mary Denckla's inheritance of C. Paul Denckla's estate. Several items relate to the property dispute between William Pollock and Peter Maison, and other legal cases and lawsuits are also well represented. Though the bulk of the collection consists of correspondence, the collection also holds documents and ephemera. Among these are several notarized powers of attorney, hand-drawn maps, financial calculations, and business cards. Particular examples include a series of invoices for seats at a local church, a poem entitled "Hard Times," a deed for a grave plot and use of a sepulcher, and a certified copy of Augustus Denckla's will.

Bound items in the collection include the following:

  • Executrix of estate of Paul Denckla, by Mary Denckla, 6 January 1861-2 November 1885
  • Executrix of estate of Paul Denckla, by Mary Denckla, 19 November 1861-19 May 1888
  • Paul Denckla receipt book, 30 December 1823-26 October 1843
  • Kate M. Maison travel journal, 12 May 1869-30 July 1870
  • Peter and Augusta Maison letter book, 17 November 1858-8 March 1862
  • Augusta Maison letter book, 20 March 1862-14 July 1874
  • Paul Denckla receipt book, 18 November 1843-3 December 1853
  • Peter and Augusta Maison receipt book, 8 August 1825-24 August 1885
  • Henry J. Denckla receipt book, 1 March 1845-19 August 1851
  • [Augusta Maison] account book, 15 November 1866-26 January 1876
  • Isaac Wampole receipt book, 7 August 1815-26 November 1826
  • Paul Denckla account book, 12 October 1842-14 December 1842
  • Mary Denckla account book, 12 September 1869-21 June 1872
  • [Augusta Maison] account book, 3 January 1874-4 January 1884
  • [Augusta Maison] account book, 6 January 1873-12 December 1884
  • [Paul Denckla] rent book, 7 May 1844-January 1853
  • [Paul Denckla] rent book, 11 October 1854-6 April 1872
  • [Mary Denckla] rent book, 1877-1889
  • Inventory of the estate of Paul Denckla, by Mary Denckla, 8 November 1861-9 May 1867
Subject Terms

    • Europe--Description and travel.
    • Finance, Personal.
    • Inheritance and succession--United States.
    • Law--Cases.
    • New York (N.Y.)--History--1865-1898.
    • Philadelphia (Pa.)--History.
    • Real property.
    • Whiteside County (Ill.)
    • Denckla, C. Paul.
    • Denckla, Harry J.
    • Denckla, Julia E.
    • Denckla, Mary.
    • Denckla, William P.
    • Denckla, William P., Jr.
    • Maison, Augusta Denckla.
    • Maison, Peter.
    • Maison, William.
    • Pollock, William.
    Genre Terms:
    • Account books.
    • Letter books.
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Manuscript maps.
    • Powers of attorney.
    • Tax records.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Correspondence and documents [series]
    Box   1  
    Bundles 1-26
    Box   2  
    Bundles 27-45
    Account books and letter books [series]
    Box   3  
    19 volumes
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Alternate Locations

    A copy of the Whiteside Investigator, Fulton City, Whiteside county, Illinois, from February 21, 1856, in housed in the Book Division.