Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Goodman-Vent Papers, 1830s-1890s

Finding aid created by
Philip Heslip, November 2009

Summary Information
Title: Goodman-Vent papers
Creator: Goodman family and Vent family
Inclusive dates: 1830s-1890s
Extent: 1,333 items
The Goodman-Vent papers contain letters and writings from the families of Thomas Goodwin and Charles Frederick Vent, two prominent 19th century Chicago and Cincinnati businessmen. Of note are detailed eyewitness accounts the great Chicago Fire of 1871.
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, 1998. M-3415, M-3431.

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:

Goodman-Vent Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


This collection is organized into six series:

  • Series I: Correspondence
  • Series II: Diary and Account Book
  • Series III: Poetry
  • Series IV: Genealogy
  • Series V: Printed Items, Maps, and Ephemera
  • Series VI: Realia

The Correspondence series is ordered chronologically with undated items at the end.


Thomas Goodman was born in England in 1816 and emigrated to Canton, Ohio, in 1832. Six years later, he married Hannah Jane Saxton (1820-1895), daughter of the prominent banker James Saxton. They had eight children including daughter Emily Goodwin (born 1840), who married Charles Vent. Thomas Goodman studied law in Canton and was admitted to the bar in 1845. Instead of becoming a lawyer, Goodman was hired as a secretary for the Stark County Mutual Insurance Company. In 1849, he joined the Hartford Insurance Company as an agent. He and his family moved to Chicago in 1861. Along with his insurance interests, he was also a partner in a publishing company. He left that company in 1863 to found the Lumbermen’s Insurance Company, which specialized in fire insurance. Though the company prospered, it was bankrupted by the Great Chicago Fire (1871). He continued in the Chicago insurance business with a new company, Goodman's Insurance Agency.

Charles Frederick Vent was born in Concord, New Hampshire, in 1830. He was sent to Dartmouth College by his maternal grandfather, Jonas Chickering, and was a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. After college, Vent taught at the Maplewood Young Ladies' Institute in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, but left this position to travel west as a salesman. He eventually settled in Cincinnati, where he entered the printing business, in partnership with Thomas Goodman to form the subscription-based publishing company C. F. Vent, J. S. Goodman & Co. With offices in Cincinnati, Chicago, and later New York, the company published abolitionist pamphlets and history books, including volumes on Lincoln and Grant, and the Great Chicago Fire. In 1862, he married Emily Goodman (b. 1840), daughter of his partner Thomas Goodman. They had four children: Evelyn Vent, Lillian Vent, Fred Vent, and Thomas Goodman Vent. Charles Vent remained in the printing business until his death in 1905.

The Goodman and Vent families were both wealthy and well connected. Goodman's Chicago acquaintances included Mayor John Wentworth, Cyrus McCormick, and Marshall Field, among others. Hannah Goodman's sister, Ida Saxton, became the wife of William McKinley, 25th president of the United States. Vent corresponded with such notable people as Vice President Hannibal Hamlin, General Lew Wallace, and Harper’s Weekly editor G.W. Curtis. The families both held progressive views on abolition and women's suffrage and were Republican supporters.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Goodman-Vent papers (1,333 items) contain letters and writings from the families of Thomas Goodwin and Charles Frederick Vent, two prominent 19th-century Chicago businessmen. The collection consists of 1,285 letters, a diary, an account book, 4 poems, 5 genealogical items, 33 printed items, 4 maps, and a lock of hair. Of note are detailed eyewitness accounts the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

The Correspondence series (1,285 items), 1837 to 1896, centers on business, family, and social lives of Charles Frederick Vent, Thomas Goodwin, and their families. Other families represented are the Chickerings and the Saxons.

The earliest letters were addressed to Vent from his family and friends during the time when he was a teacher in Massachusetts (1837), as well as his ventures in Jacksonville, Illinois (1838), Boston, Massachusetts (1842), Dartmouth, New Hampshire (1848), and Pittsfield, New Hampshire (1849). Of interest are several letters from his maternal grandfather, Jonas Chickering, the noted piano-maker, who paid for his education. In the 1850s, while Vent was working as an Ohio salesman, most of his letters were from salesmen working under him; these offer a view into everyday life in small towns in the Midwest.

From the 1860s through the end of the collection, the letters are largely to and from the Goodwin and Vent families and their many well-known and influential friends. Charles Vent and Thomas Goodwin discussed a wide range of subjects, including personal and family affairs; business dealings; city, state, and national politics; the Civil War; and social and religious topics. In one instance, Goodman wrote to Vent: "A collection of your letters and mine would form a pretty fair history of the family" (December 3, 1871). While not necessarily comprehensive, these items also document many aspects of Chicago and Cincinnati society during the last half of the 19th century.

The Civil War era letters contain items from both the front lines and the home front. Highlights include a gloomy eyewitness account of First Bull Run, in which friend John Hirshorne reprimanded Union soldiers for being too confident (July 24, 1861). Vent was involved in raising a brigade called the Teachers Home Guard, made up largely of teachers in Cincinnati, that was formed to fend off any potential attacks on Cincinnati. In one letter he described purchasing arms for the regiment from Colt and Justice and Ketteridge (June 1861).

Of particular note are letters that describe the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Hannah Goodman started to write one letter shortly after the fire began to spread, and provided a minute by minute account of the inferno as it blazed from the west bank of the river toward the downtown area. The family wrote updates throughout the night and for several days after the fire; these provide a detailed record of the destruction. Later letters document the families' personal struggles (tensions within the family, the death of Vent's 14-year-old daughter in 1877) and economic hardships.

Other items of note include:

  • 7 letters from Vent’s schoolmate James Emerson, a noted abolitionist, who described the conditions of blacks in the South (March 18, 1855, January 13, 1856, December 21, 1856, January 27, 1858, March 16, 1860, March 1, 1866, and undated).
  • Mentions of the first African Americans to be baptized in the family’s church (February 11 and October 28, 1866).

The following letters contain visual materials:

  • May 30, 1861: an engraving of the Colt factory
  • June 28, 1861: a letterhead engraving of the Charles Cammell and Co. Cyclops Steel Works, in Sheffield, England
  • March 20, 1862: a lithograph letterhead of a riverscape in Peoria, Illinois
  • 1871: a map of the "burnt district" in Chicago, Hannah Goodman to Emily Goodman Vent and Charles Vent
  • Undated: a picture of a Young Ladies' Collegiate Institute and Seminary in Monroe City, Michigan

The Diary and Account Book series contains a tiny diary from March 1-19, 1877, documenting the child Kitty Vent's sickness and death. The 35-page account book documents daily cash expenses for supplies and serives but is undated and unattributed.

The Poetry series (4 items) consists of a poem from Thomas Goodman to his wife on her birthday (1890); a 20-page poetry book written by Elizabeth "Eliza" Fisher Vent of Dedham, Massachusetts, who was the grandmother of Charles Vent; a poem entitled "Going Forward"; and a poem by Annie Goodman entitled "Secrets."

The Genealogy series (5 items) contains a bound journal (51 pages, 20 blank pages) copied by Thomas Goodwin Vent in 1920 from a manuscript created by Josiah Boutelle Chickering, Sarah Maria Brown Chickering, and her son Clifford Cummings Chickering. This documents the Chickering, Boutelle, Brown, Lovering, Wheeler, Vent, and Goodman families as early as 1576, with more thorough family records starting in the 19th century.

Other items include:

  • A printed Memoranda of Anniversaries, labeled "PRIVATE," containing birth and death information of the Goodman and Vent families (1884)
  • A one-page memorandum of birth and death dates for the Goodman family
  • A copy of a grave marker for Mary Wright
  • A 21-page genealogy of the Fisher family created by Elizabeth Fisher Vent and her daughter-in-law Melinda Chickering Vent

The Printed Items, Maps, and Ephemera series (33 items) consists of:

  • Speeches Delivered at the Eighteenth Ward Republican Festival In Commemoration of the Birth of Washington (February 22, 1860)
  • Items celebrating the 50th anniversary of Thomas and Hannah Goodman including a 23page printed booklet (1888)
  • A 16-page printed booklet celebrating Thomas Goodman's 75th birthday
  • A two-page printed "Tribute to the Memory of Rev. William Goodman" (1918)
  • Education material including teaching certificates and report cards
  • Fifteen newspaper clippings, including items related to Ida Saxton McKinley, wife of President McKinley
  • Maps of Spring Grove and Graceland cemeteries

The Realia series contains a lock of hair (unidentified).

Subject Terms

    • Chicago (Ill.)--History--1875-.
    • Chicago (Ill.)--History--To 1875.
    • Education--United States--History--19th century.
    • Great Fire, Chicago, Ill., 1871.
    • Insurance companies.
    • United States--Politics and government--19th century.
    • Women's clothing.
    • Women--Education.
    • Chickering, Jonas, 1797-1853.
    • Emerson, James.
    • Goodman, Hannah.
    • Goodman, Thomas.
    • Hirshorne, John.
    • Vent, Charles F.
    Genre Terms:
    • Diaries.
    • Hair.
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Printed ephemera.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Correspondence [series]
    Box   1 Folders   1-27
    17 November 1837-[ca. 1850s]
    Box   2 Folders   1-25
    27 January 1860-[ca. 1863]
    Box   3 Folders   1-29
    3 January 1864-[1867]
    Box   4 Folders   1-32
    5 January 1868-[ca. 1872]
    Box   5 Folders   1-30
    5 January 1873-undated
    Diary and Account Book [series]
    Box   6 Folder   1
     1877 and  undated
    Poetry [series]
    Folder   2  
     13 May 1890 and  undated
    Genealogy [series]
    Folders   3-4  
     25 January 1920-undated
    Printed Items and Ephemera [series]
    Folders   5-7  
    Folder   1: Oversize Manuscripts  
    Oversize Printed Items (16 items)
    Folder   2: Oversize Manuscripts  
    Oversize Maps and Documents (8 items)
    Box   6 Folders   8-9
    Newspaper Clippings,  1871-undated
    Miscellaneous [series]
    Folder   10  
    Lock of Hair,  undated
    Additional Descriptive Data

    The collection’s authority file in the Manuscripts Division contains an extensive partial index, organized into the following categories: Pre-Civil War Letters; Civil War Letters; Famous People and Events; Pre-Civil War Abolitionist Views; Trains, Steamships, Science, and Culture; School and Land Purchases, Bounties, Persona Certificates, etc.; Doctors' Letters, Death, Diseases, and Crime; Famous Friends and Family Letters; Chicago Fire Letters; and Evanston, Illinois, Letters (1864).

    Alternate Locations

    The 139 photographs from this collection are located in the Clements Library’s Graphics Division.

    The following book is located in the Clements Library Book Division: Everett, Marshall. Complete Life of William McKinley and Story of his Assassination: an Authentic and Official Memorial Edition Containing Every Incident in the Career of the Immortal Statesman, Soldier, Orator, and Patriot. Array: The Author, 1901.