Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Brownell Family Papers, 1842-1899

Finding aid created by
Mary Parsons, March 2005; Philip Heslip, September 2009

Summary Information
Title: Brownell family papers
Creator: Brownell family
Inclusive dates: 1842-1899
Extent: 750 items (1.5 linear feet)
This collection consists of the correspondence of members of the Brownell family living in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Louisiana, New York, Cuba, and France between 1842 and 1899.
Language: The material is in English and Spanish
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:

1998, 2002, 2003. M-3468.2, M-3492.5, M-4243.8, M-4246.2, M-4257.5.

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:

Brownell family Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


This collection is organized chronologically with 11 miscellaneous items filed at the end.


Lucia Emilia DeWolf (1795-1884) was born in Bristol, Rhode Island, the daughter of Charles DeWolf and Elizabeth Rogerson. She married Pardon Brownell (1788-1846) in 1815, and had six children by him before he died in 1846. Her first four children were born in Providence, Rhode Island, and the last two in East Hartford, Connecticut. Two of her children died before the age of 16: Francis D. Brownell, her first born (1817-1833), and Emilia D. Brownell, her only daughter (1823-1838). Her surviving children were Henry Howard Brownell (1820-1872), Charles DeWolf Brownell (1822-1909), Edward Rogerson Brownell (1825-1889), and Clarence Melville Brownell (1828-1862). After her husband's death, she moved back and forth between Bristol, Rhode Island, and East Hartford, Connecticut. The 1860 Census lists her as owing $51,500 of real estate. Her son Edward, a physician, made his home with her after his divorce, c.1864.

Henry Howard Brownell (1820-1872), the second child of Lucia and Pardon Brownell, graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, studied law, and became a practicing lawyer in Connecticut for a short time, before deciding to concentrate on writing. He published his first volume, Poems, in 1847, but it was as a Civil War poet that he was best known. At his own request, he was allowed to accompany Admiral Farragut into battle, so that he could write about it firsthand. He was made an ensign and acted as Admiral Farragut's secretary. After the Civil War he accompanied Farragut on a European tour. His book, Lyrics of a Day, or Newspaper Poetry, by a Volunteer in Service, was well reviewed by Oliver Wendell Holmes in an article entitled Our Battle Laureate in the May 1865 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. Holmes continued to encourage his writing efforts. Henry H. Brownell published War Lyrics and Other Poems in 1866, and is one of the people attributed with writing the lyrics for the song John Brown's Body. He also wrote two popular histories for subscription publishers: The People's Book of Ancient and Modern History in 1851, and The Discoverers, Pioneers, and Settlers of North and South America in 1853. He developed cancer of the face, and underwent surgery in Boston, resulting in the removal of only part of the tumor. His last few years were painful. He made a trip to Florida with his brother Ned (Edward) in 1871-72 where they felt the warmer climate might make Henry more comfortable. At his death, the poet Thomas Bailey Adlrich eulogized him in a short poem, (“Henry Howard Brownell,”Atlantic Monthly , May 1873).

Charles DeWolf Brownell (1822-1909), the third child of Lucia and Pardon Brownell, was a landscape artist. He spent seven consecutive winters in Cuba (1854-1861), traveled extensively throughout Europe (1871-1877), to Egypt in 1877, the Caribbean in 1888, and Jamaica in 1894, as well as to various parts of the U.S. Although trained as a lawyer, like his brother Henry, he soon decided against a law career. He took various jobs in Liberty, Virginia, from 1848-1849, and Alexandria, Louisiana, in 1850, and authored a book, The Indian Races of America in 1850, before deciding to concentrate on his painting. He studied with Julius Busch and Joseph Ropes in Hartford. His first works were exhibited at the Hartford Agricultural Society County fair in 1855, and he set up a studio in Hartford in 1857 -1858. In 1860, he moved to New York City and submitted work for sale at the National Academy of Design there in 1861-1862. He married Henrietta Knowlton Angell (1837-1897) after her divorce from Dr. George A. Pierce in 1865 (see biography of Henrietta Knowlton Angell below). When not traveling abroad, they lived in Bristol, R.I. with their four sons (Carl DeWolf Brownell born 1866, Ernest Henry Brownell born 1867, G. Edward Don Manuel Ibarra born 1870, and Roger Williams Brownell born 1876. His step daughter, Esther Pierce (b. 1860), sometimes lived with the family. His most well known painting is "The Connecticut Charter Oak.”

Edward Rogerson Brownell [Ned] (1825-1889), the fifth child of Lucia and Pardon Brownell, was a physician like his father. He attended medical school in New Orleans, and was made a visiting physician at the Charity Hospital there while still a student. He took his diploma exam in 1850, and moved to rural Plaisance, Louisiana, where he married Pamela Laysard (b. in 1838, daughter of Malafret Laysard) in 1853. Edward tried to combine his medical practice in rural Louisiana with raising cotton, but had little success in the cotton business. He and Pamela had six children before they became embroiled in a bitter separation. The oldest child, Francis (b. 1854), came back East with his father prior to 1866, and in the 1880 Census was living with a great aunt in Hartford, Connecticut. The other four living children (Lucia b. 1857, Arthur b. 1859, Clarence b. 1860, and Charles b. 1862) stayed in Louisiana with their mother. The 1910 Census lists Pamela L. Brownell as living in Rapides County, Louisiana, at age 70, with only one of her six children still alive. Edward [Ned] spent the years after his marital separation living with his mother in Bristol, Rhode Island, and is listed in the 1880 Census as an "alopathic physician".

Clarence Melville Brownell, the youngest child of Lucia and Pardon Brownell, was born May 2, 1828, in East Harford, Connecticut, and died in May 1862, on the White Nile River in Central Africa [Lat. 8 N.] at the age of 34. He never married. Despite being trained as a physician and having built up a thriving medical practice in East Hartford (1853-1859), he had a strong desire to travel to remote areas. In November 1859, he left for Callao, Peru, and made a trip down the Amazon. In 1860, he traveled to St. Thomas and Cuba. In 1861 he visited his brother Ned in rural Cloutierville, Louisiana, and then left for Alexandria, Egypt, via Marseille, expecting to be gone two years. In late October a letter was forwarded to him in Marseille offering him a captaincy in a Connecticut Regiment, which he had been most eager to have. But, because he had already begun his trip to Egypt, he decided to go on. In Khartoum he met John Pethernick and joined his expedition to the source of the White Nile, agreeing to make botanical collections for them. Brownell kept a diary from January 1, 1862, to May 13, 1862 [typescript at the Univeristy of Durham, England], describing his travels, as well as the flora and fauna he encountered. The diary ended about a week before his death when he became too ill to write. John Pethernick's wife wrote an account of his death in Travels in Central Africa, published 1869, in London.

Henrietta Knowlton Angell (1837-1897) was the daughter of Henry Angell and Rebecca Knowlton of Rhode Island. She married Dr. George A. Pierce in February 1859. They had two children, Esther H. Pierce (b. 1860) and Henry A. Pierce (1863-1867), before divorcing. In 1865, Henretta married the artist Charles DeWolf Brownell, by whom she had four sons (Carl D. Brownell - 1866, Ernest Henry Brownell - 1867, G. Edward Don Manuel Ibarra D. Brownell - 1870, and Roger Williams Brownell - 1876). She and the children accompanied Charles to Europe in the 1870's. At some point she converted to Catholicism, and published two long stories in serial form in the journal Catholic World. One was called Donna Quizote (1882) and the other Out of the West (1883). She also wrote God's Way, Man's Way - A History of Bristol, Rhode Island, and submitted articles to the Phoenix. It was at her request and with her financial support that four Sisters of Mercy from Providence, R.I. were sent across to Newfoundland's west coast to found the first Sisters of Mercy house there in 1893.

Procer Wright was probably an Englishman. He seems to have met Charles and Henrietta Brownell in San Raphael, France, in 1876. He and Henrietta Brownell became friends and corresponded between 1876 and 1884, when Wright was traveling through Europe.

Don Manuel Ibarra was a Spaniard married to a Cuban woman. He worked at the San Martin sugar refinery ("ingenio") near Cardenas, Cuba. He was probably the refinery manager, but could have been a partial owner. He worked in Cuba from 1855-1870, returning to Barcelona, Spain, by 1871, perhaps because of the unrest caused by the Cuban "Ten-Year War" which started in October of 1868 and involved bloody clashes between Cuban independence seekers and Spanish troops. Ibarra met Charles Brownell in Cuba, They became such close friends that Brownell named his third son born in 1870, after Ibarra (G. Edward Don Manuel Ibarra D. Brownell).

Lucy Larcom (1824-1893) was a poet, author and editor. She was born in Beverly, Massachusetts, to Benjamin Larcom and Lois Barrett. After her father's death, the family moved to Lowell, where her mother kept a boarding house, and Lucy worked in the mills for ten years. Through a literary club at the mills, she met John G. Whittier who encouraged her to write. She accompanied a married sister to Illinois where she taught school for three years before attending Monticello Female Seminary in Godfrey, Illinois, for three years. She returned to Beverly, Massachusetts, and taught for six years at Wheaton Female Seminary, where she met Henrietta Angell [Brownell]. When her health began to fail, she resigned and took a position editing the children's magazine Our Young Folks. She continued to write and publish her own poetry and prose. She never married.

Henrietta Silliman Dana (1823-1907) was the daughter of Benjamin Silliman, a professor at Yale, and Harriet Trumbell. In 1844, she married James Dwight Dana who became a renown professor of geology at Yale. He accompanied the Charles Wilkes Expedition to the Pacific in the early 1840's, and then became Silliman Professor of Natural History and Geology at Yale until several years before he died in 1895. He wrote classical works on geology and mineralogy. The Danas had six children, but lost two of them to diphtheria in 1861. Their son, Edward (b. 1849), also became a professor at Yale.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Brownell Papers consist of letters written to the Brownell family in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Louisiana, New York City, Cuba, and France between 1842 and 1899. The largest part of the collection (296 letters) are letters to Charles Brownell and his wife Henrietta [Nettie] from Charles' mother [Mummy] and his three brothers, Edward [Ned], Henry, and Clarence, often written with notes added and sent on as a "round robin" correspondence which ended with Charles.

The collection contains 105 letters written by Ned, with an additional 11 notes in other family members' letters. They cover the years 1849-1874. His earliest letters start when he is finishing medical school in New Orleans and continue with his move to rural Louisiana, near Alexandria and Plaisance. These are high-spirited letters with humorous pen and ink drawings of his adventures chasing wild horses (January 29, 1855); mishaps while duck and geese hunting at Lake Catahoula (November 12, 1855, November 10, 1856); and futile attempts to flag down a river steamer (January 29, 1855). But his letters also deal with the problems involved in setting up a medical practice at the same time he, a Northerner, is trying his hand at cotton cultivation. He has married a southern woman of French descent whose father is a slave owner (19 slaves in 1850 and 30 in 1860). Ned describes bringing up his bilingual children in a culture very different from his own. The marriage is in trouble, and by 1858, he has sold out his cotton interests and is considering his brother Clarence's offer to take over Clarence's practice in East Hartford, Connecticut. He moves to Cloutierville, Louisiana, for awhile, but by June of 1866, is involved in legal separation hearings and working with his brothers on a testimony about his wife's "violent scenes and words.” Both during his practice in Louisiana and later in Rhode Island, his letters describe his patients and treatments tried (cotton gin accident resulting in amputation of a slave's arm - October 26, 1857, treating yellow fever and typhoid - October 14, 1853 and January 12, 1855). He also suggests treatments for family members with diphtheria (n.d. November 8), excessive menstrual bleeding (December 17, 1866), prolapsed uterus after childbirth (February 8 [1867]), and a prescription for a cholera prevention pill (n.d. September 27). He made a trip to Florida with his dying brother Henry in 1871-1872, in the hopes that the warmer climate might make Henry feel more comfortable.

Only nineteen letters and seven notes are from Clarence Brownell. Seven of these are affectionate letters to his friend Henrietta Angell [Pierce] [Brownell], before and during her first unhappy marriage. The rest of his letters are to his family and include descriptions of his 1861 visit to Ned and family in Cloutierville, his excitement and satisfaction in building a boat in his workshop, and playing chess by mail with brother Charles. The most interesting is a letter describing his travels in Egypt. He went by horseback from Alexandria to Cairo, 130 miles across the Delta. A map he drew while with the Pethernick Expedition on the White Nile was sent home posthumously ([May 12] 1862). On it he notes their location by date and the location of certain flora and fauna.

Seventy-four letters and twenty-nine notes are from Lucia D. Brownell ("Mummy"), most of them dealing with local affairs, real estate arrangements, and concerns for her sons' health. Ten of these letters are notable for their mentions of mediums and the spirit world. After the death of her son Clarence in Egypt, Mummy, Ned, and Henry become interested in reports of mediums and "spiritual pictures.” One item is a copy of a letter that a medium claims was dictated to him by Clarence's ghost [n.d., misc. medium]. Ned describes watching a medium who claimed to see "words in fiery letters in the illuminated smoke of my cigar when I puffed" [13 May]. Mummy makes several visits to a medium (November- December 1862) ending when the medium is proved a fake.

One hundred letters and 30 notes are written by Henry H. Brownell. They mostly come from Hartford, Connecticut, but a few are from Bristol, Rhode Island. He describes visiting Ned and his family in Louisiana in the 1850's, and accompanying Ned on three of his annual duck and geese hunting expeditions to Lake Catahoula. He seems to have acted as agent for the sale of his brother Charles' paintings when Charles was away in Cuba or Europe - "two little Charter Oaks for $20." [n.d. December 26]. Other letters deal with business matters concerning an inheritance from his grandfather De Wolf involving real estate that he and Charles shared, but unequally. These letters contain little mention of Henry's own writing of poetry and the publication of his books.

Another part of the Brownell Papers consists of three batches of letters from abroad - the Procter Wright letters from Europe, the Charles and Nettie Brownell letters from Europe, and the Don Martin Ibarra letters from Cuba and Spain. Procter Wright wrote 25 letters (1876-1884) to Mrs. Charles Brownell (Nettie) from Italy, France, Austria, Switzerland, and Germany. He gives good descriptions of his walking and climbing tours (the height of the peaks, the flora, local people, and history), as well as his visits to various cities with architecture and local customs described. A few letters discuss religion, including matters of purgatory [April 28, 1880] and creation/Darwinisn [August 18, 1883]. Wright also mentions the death of the artist Jean Louis Hamon, and the auction of his things [July 26, 1876, December 28, 1876]. He reminds Henrietta how much he treasures Charles' painting of "Witches' Cork Tree" that the Brownell's had given him some years earlier [April 9, 1883].

The twenty letters written by Charles and Nettie in Europe (1872-1874) to family at home talk of their travels, their children, and anything unusual that catches their eye - "Creche" day care system in France [August 20, 1873] or a trip to the "Crystal Palace" in London [August 29, 1873]. Charles has made small pen and ink drawings on three of the letters - a bird on a branch [July 28 1872], an Egyptian "cartouche" [May 6, 1873], and a dental molar [March 27, 1874]. Three other letterheads have hand tinted designs - an animal head [August 9, 1872], a ship [May 8, 1874], and boys on a ship's mast [May 13, 1874]. Two letterheads have landscape lithographs by Henry Besley - "St. Michael's Mount from Lower Tremenheere" [August 20, 1873] , "Penzance from Guvul" and "St. Michael's Mount, Cornwall" [August 22, 1873].

The Don Martin Ibarra letters (1855-1872) consist of 86 letters written in Spanish to Charles Brownell. They are mainly from Cuba, but the last several are from Barcelona, Spain. They are warm letters to a good friend and "compadre,” but also contain figures on the production of sugar from at least two "ingenios" or sugar mills near the Cardenas area of Cuba.

A small group of 17 letters from the poet Lucy Larcom (1862-1870, n.d.) were written to Henrietta Angell Pierce Brownell [Mrs. Charles Brownell], and cover the years of Larcom's decision to stop teaching school and to concentrate her energy on her own writing. Her September 19, 1868 letter mentions proofreading a volume for publication, "my cricket-chirpings of verse.”

Eight letters from Henrietta S. Dana (1861-1863) in New Haven, Connecticut, to Henrietta A. Pierce [Brownell] mention Mrs. Dana helping her famous Yale professor husband by taking dictation from him for his most recent book, "Manuel of Geology" [April 7, 1862]. Her letters also describe the death of two of their children from diphtheria, and her safely nursing one other child through it [December 21, 1861].

Twenty-five letters from Esther Pierce to her divorced and remarried mother, Henrietta Brownell, were written from 1875-1877, when Esther was 14-16 years old and living with her father, Dr. George Pierce, in Providence. Several years earlier, she had been living with her mother and her step-father, Charles Brownell, and had accompanied them on their trip to Europe. Her nickname was "Kit,” and she is frequently mentioned in her mother's letters. The letters from Esther [Kit] tell of a trip to Canada, local people and visits, and her new clothes, sometimes with accompanying pen and ink drawings. Two letters include swatches of fabric [February 6, 1876 and April 23, 1876].

Subject Terms

    • Children and death.
    • Cuba--Description and travel.
    • Diphtheria.
    • Divorce.
    • Florida--Description and travel.
    • Ghosts--United States.
    • Louisiana--Description and travel.
    • Medicine.
    • Mediums.
    • Physicians.
    • Religion.
    • Brownell, Charles DeWolf, 1822-1909.
    • Brownell, Charles DeWolf, 1822-1909.
    • Brownell, Clarence Melville, 1828-1862.
    • Brownell, Edward Rogerson, 1825-1889.
    • Brownell, Esther Pierce, b. 1861.
    • Brownell, Henrietta Knowlton Angell, 1837-1897.
    • Brownell, Henry Howard, 1820-1872.
    • Brownell, Lucia Emilia DeWolf, 1795-1884.
    • Dana, Henrietta Silliman, 1823-1907.
    • Larcom, Lucy, 1824-1893.
    • Pierce, Esther, b. 1860.
    Genre Terms:
    • Clippings (information artifacts)
    • Drawing (image-making)
    • Leaflets.
    • Letters (correspondence)
    • Lithographs.
    • Poems.
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Correspondence [series]
    Box   1 Folders   1-29
     1842 December-1864 January
    Box   2 Folders   1-30
     1864 January-1876 April
    Box   3 Folders   1-8
     1876 April-1889 July
    Box   3 Folders   9-22
    Box   3 Folder   23
    Miscellaneous [series]
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Related Materials

    [Plan of a house in Plaisance, Louisiana].

    See the Brownell family papers control file for a family tree, a detailed subject index, and an itemized list of correspondence and miscellaneous documents.