Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Edward Jones and Helen B. Williams Letters, 1908-1912

Finding aid created by
Naomi Herman-Aplet and Meg Hixon, April 2012

Summary Information
Title: Edward Jones and Helen B. Williams letters
Creator: Burton family
Inclusive dates: 1908-1912
Extent: 10 items
This collection consists of 10 letters Edward Jones Williams and his wife, Helen Burton Williams, wrote to her mother and sisters in Wisconsin between 1908 and 1912, while the couple lived in the Panama Canal Zone, where Edward worked for the Isthmian Canal Commission. The correspondence provides insight into their daily lives in Central America.
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:

1999. M-4031.4.

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:

Edward Jones and Helen B. Williams Letters, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The collection is arranged chronologically, with undated items placed at the end.


Edward Jones Williams, a native of West Salem, Wisconsin, graduated from Northwestern University in 1895, where he was a football star. He graduated from the Kent College of Law in 1897 and worked as a paymaster and traveling auditor for the Chicago & Northwestern Railway until 1905. That year, he moved to Panama to work as disbursing officer and auditor for the Isthmian Canal Commission. He remained in Panama until around 1916, when he returned to the United States as vice-president of McCord & Company, a railroad supply company. He later served as assistant treasurer for the Commission for Relief in Belgium. On December 7, 1907, he married Helen Mary Burton of La Crosse, Wisconsin; they had one daughter, Charlotte Mary Williams (b. November 7, 1908). Edward Jones Williams died on April 14, 1921.

Collection Scope and Content Note

This collection consists of 10 letters Edward Jones Williams and his wife, Helen Burton Williams, wrote to their relatives in Wisconsin between 1908 and 1912. Helen wrote 4 letters and Edward wrote 6.

Helen Burton Williams first wrote her sister, Margaret Breese, on January 1, 1908, describing her surroundings and life in the Panama Canal Zone. She expressed some of her frustrations with housekeeping and the local cuisine, and provided detailed descriptions of the environment and the people, especially the women. In her other 3 letters - one dated December 9, 1909, and two undated letters - she discussed Christmas celebrations, travel plans, and news about the Williams' daughter, Charlotte Mary.

Edward Jones Williams wrote the remaining 6 letters in the collection to his mother-in-law, Abbie M. Burton, and to other family members, including three addressed to "Mother," and one to his sister, Mary Hooker of Wausau, Wisconsin. He described daily life in the Panama Canal Zone, including Fourth of July preparations (June 7, 1909), Christmas celebrations at the local YMCA (December 21, 1909), local military tensions (December 21, 1909), increasing tourism (December 21, 1912), and family news. In his letter of December 21, 1912, he mentioned preparations for a visit by President William Howard Taft.

Edward composed a 3.5-page letter to his mother-in-law Abbie M. Burton (July 23, 1909), in which he mentioned the finances of the Isthmian Canal Commission. This letter also contains thoughts on Theodore Roosevelt's upcoming visit to Panama.

Subject Terms

    • Americans--Panama.
    • Canal Zone--Description and travel.
    • Christmas.
    • Fourth of July celebrations.
    • Isthmian Canal Commission (U.S.)
    • Panama Canal (Panama)
    • Panama--Social life and customs.
    • Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919.
    • Taft, William H. (William Howard), 1857-1930.
    • Williams, Edward Jones, d. 1921.
    • Williams, Helen Burton.
    Genre Terms:
    • Letters (correspondence)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Box   50, Small Collections  
    Edward Jones and Helen B. Williams letters [series]
    Folders   13-14  
    January 1, 1908-December 21-1912
    Additional Descriptive Data

    "Edward Williams Dies." The New York Times 15 April 1921.

    The Makers of the Panama Canal. New York: F. E. Jackson & Son, 1911.