Edmund Pendleton Gaines was born on March 20, 1777, in Culpepper County, Virginia, to James Gaines (1743-1829) and Elizabeth Strother (1744-1830). Edmund P. Gaines enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1799 and in 1807 became commandant of Fort Stoddert in the Mississippi Territory. While in command of Fort Stoddert, Gaines was responsible for ordering the arrest of former vice president Aaron Burr in Wakefield, Alabama, for treason. Gaines briefly pursued a legal career but returned to the military following the outbreak of the War of 1812 and served in the 24th and 25th U.S. Infantry Regiments, earning successive promotions to lieutenant colonel (July 1812), colonel (March 1813) and brigadier general (March 1814). Gaines was awarded an Act of Congress Gold Medal as well as a brevet promotion to major general for his actions at the Siege of Fort Erie on August 15, 1814.
Following the death of Major General Jacob Jennings Brown in 1828, Gaines and Winfield Scott (1786-1866) were the only two generals technically of sufficient rank to be considered for the vacancy. Gaines and Scott became engaged in a hostile and well-publicized feud over which was the more senior officer, yet President John Quincy Adams ultimately selected Alexander Macomb to succeed Brown instead. Gaines went on to serve as commissioner to the Creek Indians, as commander of multiple military districts, and in command of the Western Military Department during the Black Hawk War and Second Seminole War. Winfield Scott became Major General of the U.S. Army in 1841 following Macomb's death.
Edmund P. Gaines married three times. His first wife, Frances Toumlin (1788-1811), died in child birth. He married Barbara Blount (1792-1836) in 1815 and Myra Clark (1806-1885) in 1839. Gaines died at the age of 72 in New Orleans on June 6, 1849, while still in command of the Western Division.
Myra Gaines (née Clark) was born on June 30, 1804, to wealthy New Orleans-based Irish-American businessman Daniel Clark (1766-1813) and French aristocrat Zulime Carrière (1781-1853). Clark and Carrière may have been secretly wed in 1802 before she was able to legally dissolve her first marriage to Jerome DesGrange, a former business partner of Daniel Clark. By 1806 the Clarks' relationship soured, and rumors persisted that the marriage failed either on account of Carrière's infidelity or Clark's fears that the controversial nature of their engagement would undermine his political aspirations.
Myra Clark was an infant at the time of her parents' separation and was predominantly raised by her father's friend Colonel Samuel B. Davis (1765-1854) and his wife Marion. Although her father occasionally visited and provided some financial assistance, he never publicly claimed paternity before his death in 1813. According to Col. Davis, Myra only learned that Daniel Clark was her real father in 1830 when she came across correspondence between Clark and Davis in which Clark had admitted paternity.
Upon learning that Daniel Clark was her biological father, Myra also found that he had drafted a will in 1811 naming his mother Mary Clark sole heir to his estate and lawyers Richard Relf and Beverley Chew as chief executors of the will. After engaging in discussions with relatives and friends of her father, Myra discovered that Daniel Clark had drafted a second will in 1813 shortly before his death. Daniel Clark's 1813 will purportedly acknowledged Myra as his legitimate child and designated her as the rightful heir to the vast majority of his estate. In 1834, Myra's first husband William Wallace Whitney (1810-1837) initiated a lawsuit on her behalf that contested the 1811 will, which had excluded her. The suit targeted the main executors of the 1811 will, Relf and Chew, alleging that they had deliberately destroyed the 1813 will and had committed fraudulent actions in the management of Daniel Clark's estate. The case was decided in favor of the defendants, who countered swiftly and won a libel suit against Whitney. However, William and Myra did not relent and on June 18, 1834, Whitney brought forth the next in a long series of lawsuits that sought legal recognition of Myra as Daniel Clark's legitimate heir and the requisition of property deeds belonging to the Clark estate.
William Whitney died unexpectedly in New Orleans during an outbreak of yellow fever in 1837, but Myra persevered and continued filing subsequent lawsuits under her own name despite severe financial difficulties and persistent attacks against her reputation. Myra Clark married Edmund P. Gaines in 1839. Clark and Gaines did not have any children together (her two children, Rhoda Jane Whitney and William Wallace Whitney, were both from her first marriage). Following Edmund's death in 1849 she did not remarry. The Louisiana Supreme Court declared Myra the sole heir and legitimate daughter of Daniel Clark in 1867, yet for the remainder of her life she faced significant difficulties securing properties to which she was legally entitled. The City of New Orleans, for example, stood to lose millions of dollars' worth of real estate as a result of the ruling and continued to challenge Myra's claims for nearly two and a half decades. The final ruling in this case was not handed down until six years after Myra Clark Gaines's death in 1891 and resulted in the City of New Orleans being ordered to pay her estate $923,788.
Colonel John H. "Jesse" McMahon (d. 1869), was a cousin of Myra C. Gaines and is the recipient of 11 letters found in this collection. McMahon was a State Department printer, editor of the Memphis Enquirer, and he apparently married the Gaines' cousin Caroline in the early 1840s. McMahon may have been the author of one of the collection's manuscript fragments and may have been the recipient of additional letters and documents.