THOREAU FAMILY CORRESPONDENCE, 1836-1878
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Vault A45, Thoreau, Unit 3
EXTENT: 11 items, plus one folder of accompanying material.
ORGANIZATION: organized in a single file, arranged chronologically.
BIOGRAPHY: Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)—Transcendental author, lecturer, naturalist, student of Native American artifacts and life, land surveyor, pencil-maker, active opponent of slavery, social critic, and almost life-long resident of Concord, Massachusetts—was born in his grandmother’s house on Virginia Road in Concord. His father, John Thoreau, storekeeper and pencil-maker, was of French Protestant descent. Jean (John) Thoreau (1754-1801), Henry’s grandfather, born on the Isle of Jersey, came to America in 1773 and became a successful merchant in Boston. He married Jane Burns in 1781. Their children included: Elizabeth (1782-1839); Jane (1784-1864); Mary (1786-1812); John (Henry Thoreau’s father; 1787-1859; m. Cynthia Dunbar 1812); Nancy (1789-1815; m. Caleb Billings 1810); Sarah (1790-1829); Maria (1794-1881); and David (1796-1817). A year after his first wife’s death, John Thoreau married Rebecca Kettell. In 1799, he bought part of what is now the Colonial Inn building in Concord and moved his large family there in 1800.
Henry Thoreau’s mother, Cynthia Dunbar Thoreau (1787-1872), was born in Keene, New Hampshire. On her mother’s side, she descended from the Loyalist Jones family of Weston, Massachusetts. Her mother, Mary Jones, married the Reverend Asa Dunbar in 1772, was widowed, and married Captain Jonas Minott—who owned the Concord farm where Thoreau was later born—in 1798.
Cynthia and John Thoreau had four children: Helen (1812-1849); John (1815-1842); Henry (1817-1862); and Sophia (1819-1876). None of the Thoreau children married.
Henry Thoreau’s aunts Louisa Dunbar and Maria, Jane, Sarah, and Elizabeth Thoreau were part of his family life while growing up. Sarah and Elizabeth ran a boarding house in the Concord home their father had bought in 1799. Maria and Jane, who lived together in Boston and later Cambridgeport, visited Concord frequently and for extended periods of time. Elizabeth, Jane, and Maria were charter members of the Trinitarian Congregational Church in Concord, which broke off from the Unitarian First Parish in 1826.
SCOPE AND CONTENT: Eleven letters, 1836-1878, to and from members of the Thoreau family, touching upon a variety of subjects, chief among them the life, work, and ancestry of Henry Thoreau. In one letter (1836), Harriet Martineau expressed regret at her inability to call upon Jane Thoreau. In a letter written soon after Thoreau died in 1862, Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley extended sympathy to Cynthia Thoreau on her son’s death and thanked her for a gift of books given her as a "token of remembrance from the Friend and the Philosopher." Two letters to Sophia Thoreau (from Thomas Wentworth Higginson in 1865 and David A. Wasson in 1866) relate to interest in publishing selections from Henry Thoreau’s journals. The collection includes thank-you letters to Sophia Thoreau from Storrow Higginson (1865) and Annie Fields (1866). Higginson thanked Sophia for the gift of a copy of Letters to Various Persons and wrote of what the volume revealed about her brother; Fields thanked her for a plant (similax) and referred to the growth of Thoreau’s reputation. Caroline H. Dall wrote Sophia in 1871 to introduce Miss Fanny Cheseborough of Connecticut, a "pilgrim to Concord" drawn by admiration of Thoreau and Emerson. Four letters written in 1876 and 1878 by Maria Thoreau from Bangor, Maine to two Concord correspondents (Harriet Lincoln Wheeler and Jennie M. LeBrun) cover a variety of subjects: Miss Thoreau’s hunger for news from Concord (in one letter she asks specifically about May Alcott’s marriage in Europe) and particularly for news relating to the Trinitarian Congregational Church; her recollections of former pastors of the church and their families; her sense of loss at the deaths of Sophia Thoreau and of Concord people she had known (Dr. Bartlett, Mrs. Alcott, Mrs. Southmayd, Elizabeth Hoar); the errors in a book on Thoreau by H.A. Page [A.H. Japp]; the removal of the 1854 Rowse portrait of her nephew from the Thoreau-Alcott house on Main Street to the Concord Free Public Library; and other subjects as well (see container list for detail).
SOURCE OF ACQUISITION: All but two items (two letters from Maria Thoreau to Harriet Lincoln Wheeler) were deposited in the CFPL by the Concord Antiquarian Society in 1971, converted to gift in 1974. (The old CAS numbers are recorded in the item descriptions in the container list).
PROVENANCE: The nine items presented by the Concord Antiquarian Society to the CFPL were given to the Society by Miss Lucy M. Brigham of Kennebunkport, Maine, 1952 Feb.
ASSOCIATED MATERIALS: The Concord Free Public Library holds several other collections containing letters by or to members of Henry Thoreau’s family. The Alcott-Nieriker-Pratt family correspondence (Vault A45, Alcott, Unit 1) includes two letters from Abigail May Alcott to Cynthia Thoreau (written in 1862 and 1870). The William Ellery Channing papers (Vault A45, W.E. Channing, Unit 1) include a letter (1868) from Channing to Sophia Thoreau. The Brooks family papers (Series VII in the Nathan Brooks papers, Vault A45, Brooks, Unit 1) include an 1871 letter from Sophia Thoreau to George M. Brooks (in Box 84, Folder 8). Contact the CFPL Special Collections for information about these and other holdings relating to the Thoreau family.
NOTES/COMMENTS: All items were transferred from the CFPL Letter Files. (The former Letter File numbers are noted in the item descriptions in the container list.) One item (ALS, S.A. Ripley to Mrs. Thoreau,  May 20) was cleaned and encapsulated at NEDCC.
PROCESSED BY: LPW; finding aid completed 11/22/03.
ALS, Harriet Martineau to Jane Thoreau, 1836 Jan. 13. H.M. regrets her inability to call on Miss Thoreau. She expresses pleasure in having "sympathizing friends," interest in Miss Thoreau based on what she has heard of her, and affinity with her as "one who suffers a similar privation." Letter File 3a, M11; CAS D-2030b.
ALS, Sarah Alden Bradford Ripley to Mrs. [Cynthia] Thoreau,  May 20. S.A.R. thanks Mrs. Thoreau for books given her as a "token of remembrance from the Friend and the Philosopher"(Henry Thoreau), and extends sympathy on his death. Letter File 6,R6; CAS D-2030p.
ALS, Thomas Wentworth Higginson to Miss [Sophia] Thoreau, Newport, Rhode Island, 1865 Sept. 21, with envelope. T.W.H. writes that he examined (in Worcester) a volume of Henry Thoreau’s journals, expresses the desire (his own and James T. Fields’s) that an edited selection from the journals be published, and asks Sophia how she and her mother would feel about his editing such a selection. Letter File 3a, H35; CAS D-2030i.
ALS, Storrow Higginson to Sophia Thoreau, Brownsville, Texas, 1865 Oct. 9, with envelope. S.H. expresses thanks for the gift of a copy of Henry Thoreau’s letters (Letters to Various Persons, published in 1865), and writes of what the letters reveal about Thoreau. Letter File 3a, H36; CAS D-2030e.
ALS, David A. Wasson to Sophia Thoreau, South Boston, 1866 May 22, with envelope. D.A.W. asks if Thoreau’s journals might be borrowed by "Rev. Mr. Morse, editor of The Radical," who wants permission to publish extracts in his periodical. Letter File 3a,W1; CAS D-2030r.
ALS, Annie Fields to Miss [Sophia] Thoreau, Boston, 1866 Oct. 30. A.F. thanks Miss Thoreau for a gift of similax, which she (Fields) has planted. She writes of Henry Thoreau as "an indissoluble bond bringing us together" and refers to the growth of his reputation. Letter File 3a, F5; CAS D-2030o.
ALS, Caroline H. Dall to Miss [Sophia] Thoreau, Boston, 1871 May, with envelope (marked in C.H.D.’s hand "Introducing / Miss Chesboro’ "). C.H.D. expresses appreciation of Henry Thoreau and goes on to introduce Miss Fanny Cheseborough of Connecticut, "who in admiration of him & Emerson, comes as a pilgrim to Concord for the first time." Letter File 3a, D1; CAS D-2030m.
ALS, Maria Thoreau to Mrs. [Harriet Lincoln] Wheeler, Bangor, 1876 Dec. 5. M.T. thanks an old Concord friend for writing and particularly for providing news of the Trinitarian Congregational Church and its pastor, and fondly recalls former pastors and their families. She expresses sadness at Sophia Thoreau’s death, refers to Sanborn’s obituary of Sophia, relates some family history, asks to be remembered to friends, and gives Mrs. Wheeler Mary W.F. Wilder’s address. Letter File 3a,T2a.
ALS, Maria Thoreau to Mrs. [Jennie M.] LeBrun [Mrs. William LeBrun], Bangor, 1878 Jan. 17. M.T. asks for news of Concord people, notes the death of Dr. Bartlett and Mrs. Alcott, inquires whether Henry’s picture [the Rowse portrait] has been removed to the CFPL, comments on errors in the book on Thoreau by H.A. Page [A.H. Japp], and tells of a recent wedding. Letter File 3a, T5; CAS D-2030d.
ALS, Maria Thoreau to Mrs. [Harriet Lincoln] Wheeler, Bangor, 1878 Mar. 4. M.T. explains that her tardiness in answering Mrs. Wheeler’s letter is due to bronchial difficulty and tells of a dream "for which I am still looking the fulfillment." She asks if Mrs. Wheeler has read the book on Thoreau by H.A. Page, says she likes the book but notes the many mistakes in it. She observes that she is "the last of the name in this country," refers to the deaths of Mrs. Alcott and Mrs. Southmayd, asks for Mrs. Southmayd’s obituary and for information on Dr. Bartlett’s final years. Letter File 3a, T2b.
ALS, Maria Thoreau to Mrs. [Jennie M.] LeBrun [Mrs. William LeBrun], Bangor, 1878 May 14. M.T. writes that she has found an example of Henry’s autograph and will send it. She mentions Sanborn’s recent request for information on her "foreign ancestry," in response to which she sent him family papers "nearly a hundred years old," receipt of which Sanborn has not acknowledged. She asks her friend to inquire about the papers, notes the death of Elizabeth Hoar, and inquires about Miss Munroe, Mrs. Aspinwall, and May Alcott’s marriage in Europe. Letter File 3a, T6; CAS D-2030f.
Three facsimile letters removed from a copy of Daniel Ricketson and His Friends (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1902): Henry D. Thoreau to Daniel Ricketson, Concord, 1861 Oct. 14 (formerly Letter File 3a, T3a); Sophia Thoreau to Daniel Ricketson, Concord, 1862 May 20 (formerly Letter File 3a, T4); and Daniel Ricketson to Sophia Thoreau, Brooklawn, 1862 May 22 (formerly Letter File 3a, R9)
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