Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Bacon Family Papers, 1805-1888

Finding aid created by
Cheney J. Schopieray, October 2006, and Meg Hixon, November 2011

Summary Information
Title: Bacon family papers
Creator: Bacon family
Inclusive dates: 1805-1888
Extent: 0.75 linear feet
The Bacon family papers contain correspondence, financial documents, and other material related to Delia Bacon, her siblings, her niece Katharine Bacon, and to other members of her family.
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:

1997. M-3366.

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.

Preferred Citation:

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


The collection is arranged in the following series:

  • Series I: Correspondence
  • Series II: Bills and Receipts
  • Series III: Miscellaneous

Each series is arranged chronologically, with undated items placed at the end; the undated correspondence is arranged by recipient.


Delia Bacon, the daughter of missionary David Bacon, was born in Tallmadge, Ohio, on February 2, 1811, but she did not grow up there; her family moved to Hartford, Connecticut, when she was a year old. She received a year of formal education at Catherine Beecher's academy, and started teaching at age 15. She had six siblings, the eldest of which was Leonard Bacon, Yale graduate, noted Congregational minister in New Haven, Connecticut, and leader of the colonization movement.

Delia became an esteemed lecturer, and frequently delivered educational talks to women on a variety of subjects. In 1847, her brother Leonard accused fellow preacher Alexander MacWhorter of breaking an engagement to Delia and defaming her; the resulting controversy divided religious opinion in New Haven, Connecticut, and eventually caused her to move to England, where she spent several years researching the authorship of William Shakespeare's plays. Believing his work to be incorrectly attributed, she published The Philosophy of Shakespeare's Plays Unfolded in 1857 but suffered from a nervous breakdown shortly thereafter. During her life, she made the acquaintance of several prominent American authors, and may have served as a model for Nathaniel Hawthorne's Hester Prynne. She died on September 2, 1859.

Katharine Bacon, a daughter of Delia's brother Leonard, married Eugene Smith in February 1872; they had at least four children, Leonard, Winthrop, Helen, and Alice.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Bacon family papers contain correspondence, financial documents, and other material related to Delia Bacon and to other members of her family. The Correspondence series , which comprises the bulk of the collection, contains several distinct groups of items; the first of these is a series of letters to Catharine Terry of Hartford, Connecticut, from her husband Nathaniel, composed between 1805 and 1818. A member of the United States House of Representatives, Nathaniel frequently wrote to her about his life in Washington, D. C., and though he occasionally discussed political affairs, the majority of his correspondence concentrated on news of his life and of his business affairs. The second group of letters consists of Delia Bacon's correspondence (1841-1853), much of which relates directly to the quarrel between Delia, her brother Leonard, and Alexander MacWhorter. During this period, Catharine Beecher composed 26 letters, most of which were letters of support to Delia, as the very public scandal took a toll on the latter's reputation. Many of the other correspondents offered similar sentiments, including Elizabeth P. Peabody, who wrote 10 letters. Among the undated Delia Bacon material is a letter in which she wrote a detailed self-defense. The third group of letters (1870-1888) relates primarily to Leonard's daughter Katharine, including a significant amount of material written just prior to her February 1872 wedding. Later items addressed to Katharine pertain to family news and updates from friends, and the collection also includes several letters from Katharine to her children, written in the 1880s. In addition to these three main groups of letters, the series also holds correspondence related to other members of the extended Bacon family.

The Bills and receipts series is comprised primarily of material directly related to Delia Bacon; among these are several receipts for printing circulars and for purchasing advertising in different publications. The collection's Miscellaneous material belonged to Delia Bacon, and includes several advertisements related to Bacon's historical lectures, manuscript essay drafts and notes about the MacWhorter scandal and her later interest in Shakespeare, poetry, a program from Vassar College's 1882 Class Day, and a notebook regarding her lectures.

Subject Terms

    • Connecticut--History--1775-1865.
    • New Haven (Conn.)
    • Scandals.
    • United States--Politics and government--1817-1825.
    • United States--Social life and customs--1783-1865.
    • Washington (D.C.)
    • Women--United States--History.
    • Women writers.
    • Bacon, Delia Salter, 1811-1859.
    • Bacon, Leonard, 1802-1881.
    • Beecher, Catharine Esther, 1800-1878.
    • MacWhorter, Alexander, 1822-1880.
    • Peabody, Elizabeth Palmer, 1804-1894.
    • Sigourney, L. H. (Lydia Howard), 1791-1865.
    • Smith, Katharine W. Bacon.
    • Terry, Nathaniel.
    Genre Terms:
    • Advertisements.
    • Drafts (documents)
    • Essays.
    • Lecture notes.
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Noteboks.
    • Poems.
    • Receipts (financial records)
    • Souvenir programs.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Correspondence [series]
    Box   1  
     January 27, 1805-July 22, 1888, and  undated
    Box   2  
    Bills and receipts [series]
     January 1, 1846-July 24, 1888, and  undated
    Miscellaneous [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data

    An inventory of the correspondence is available in the Manuscripts Division.

    Related Materials

    The Clements Library holds the following books:

    The Connecticut Historical Society holds a collection of Terry and Bacon family papers, 1789-1919.


    Bacon, Theodore. Delia Bacon: A Biographical Sketch. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1888.

    Baym, Nina. "Delia Bacon: Hawthorne's Last Heroine." Nathaniel Hawthorne Review 20.2 (Fall 1994): 1-10.

    Baym, Nina. "Delia Bacon, History's Odd Woman Out." NEQ 69 (1996): 223-49.