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Edward Meyer Kern and Richard H. Kern papers

Call Number: WA MSS S-2395

Scope and Contents

The Edward Meyer Kern and Richard H. Kern Papers consist of journals, notebooks, drawings, maps, documents, and correspondence which document the activities of Edward and Richard Kern in the West and the Pacific from 1845-1860. The collection was previously held by William E. Kern, a nephew of Edward and Richard, who owned a hotel in Dingman's Ferry, Pennsylvania, where it was found in the hotel basement by new owners, Fred and Ann Cron, in 1958. The collection was featured in Life magazine in 1959. Some of the papers were severely mildewed and damaged, including two journals, three notebooks, and a scrapbook of sketches and drawings. These were disbound and each page separately encapsulated in mylar after treatment. Some of the notebook pages are so damaged as to obscure the sketches, and one journal is missing the bottom quarter of its pages. The collection is housed in three boxes and is organized into four series: Writings, Drawings and Maps, Correspondence, and Other Papers.

Series I, Writings , is organized into two subseries: Journals and Notebooks. Journals are further organized into those by Edward Meyer Kern and those by unidentified authors, and are listed chronologically. Edward Kern's journals include an illustrated journal of the first Frémont expedition to California, kept from August 17, 1845 to February 15, 1846, and a journal of his voyage in the launch of the Vincennes while mapping the coast of Japan in 1855. The logbook for the U.S.S. Vincennes, kept from June 11 to December 26, 1853 is filed here under "Unidentified" as the identity of its author is not clear. The last journal is by an unidentified American pepper merchant in Singapore in 1832-1833. This journal and the launch journal had been damaged by mildew and were disbound for treatment. The pepper merchant's journal is missing the bottom quarter of its pages, affecting text.

The Notebooks include five that can be identified as Richard Kern's, and two identified as Edward's. These volumes contain sketches of New Mexico, Mexico, Arizona, Zuni Indians, and a map of Northern California. An 1850 notebook kept by Edward contains notes on his palette. Two of Richard's notebooks were damaged by mildew and were disbound for treatment. These notebooks consist primarily of preliminary sketches, but also contain a few finished drawings.

Series II, Drawings and Maps , is organized into three subseries: Edward Meyer Kern, Richard H. Kern, and Edward Meyer or Richard H. Kern. The drawings are listed chronologically within each section. They include twelve watercolors from Edward's voyage on the Vincennes, depicting Madeira, the Cape of Good Hope, and Sydney, and two pen-and-ink maps: the track of the Vincennes as it navigated the globe in 1853-1856, and the coast of Japan showing the track of the Vincennes launch in 1855. One loose unsigned drawing has been attributed to Richard Kern: "La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Santa Fé N.M." dated 1850. Many more sketches and drawings are unsigned. Although they have not been conclusively identified as drawn by Edward or Richard, they are presumed to be by one or the other. Consequently, they have been placed in the subseries Edward Meyer or Richard H. Kern. Many of these sketches and drawings are views of New Mexico, where both lived from 1849 to 1851, and are often preliminary sketches with notes on color.

Series III, Correspondence , is organized into three subseries: Edward Meyer Kern, Others, and Unidentified. Kern's correspondence is organized into incoming and outgoing correspondence, and is listed alphabetically within each category. Among his correspondents are Cadwalader Ringgold, John Rodgers, and John Augustus Sutter. A letter from his brother-in-law William B. Wolfe describes Richard Kern's death in the Gunnison Massacre. The five outgoing letters include one from Hong Kong, which Edward describes. The one letter from Richard, filed under Others, is to an unidentified correspondent, about his work as assistant engineer to Captain Sitgreaves.

Series IV, Other Papers contains documents and miscellaneous papers arranged in chronological order, and includes an early deed of land from Michael Dietrich to John Kuhn, dated October 1795, and the letter of appointment of Edward Kern as Captain under Frémont in September 1861, signed by John C. Frémont.

Oversize consists of materials from Series I, II, and IV, and is arranged in box order.


  • 1795 - 1895
  • Majority of material found within 1850 - 1860


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Edward Meyer Kern and Richard H. Kern Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was previously held by William E. Kern, a nephew of Richard and Edward, who owned a hotel in Dingman's Ferry, Pennsylvania. In 1958 the collection was found in the hotel basement by new owners, Fred and Ann Cron. Purchased from William Reese Company on the Frederick W. & Carrie S. Beinecke Fund for Western Americana and the Library Associates Fund, 1989.

Associated Materials

The papers were accompanied by Edward M. Kern's copy of Frémont's Geographical Memoir Upon Upper California (Washington: Wendell and Van Benthuysen, Printers, 1848), and by three additional volumes that contain John Kern's bookplate: Reports of the Secretary of War, with Reconnaissances of Routes from San Antonio to El Paso, by ... J. E. Johnston, Printed at the Union Office, 1850), Howard Stansbury, Exploration and Survey of the Valley of the Great Salt Lake of Utah (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co., 1852), L. Sitgreaves, Report of an Expedition down the Zuni and Colorado Rivers (Washington: Robert Armstrong, Public Printer: 1853). The books have been cataloged separately with the Kern provenance traced.


1.76 Linear Feet ((3 boxes) + 1 broadside folder)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers contain journals, notebooks, drawings and maps, documents and correspondence which document the activities of Edward and Richard Kern in the West and the Pacific from 1845-1860. A journal and a notebook document Edward Kern's participation in Fremont's third expedition to California; and a journal, a logbook, drawings, two maps and a letter document Edward's participation in the Northern Pacific Exploring Expedition in 1853-1856. A scrapbook of unsigned preliminary sketches and drawings by either Edward or Richard Kern document the time spent by both in New Mexico, and feature drawings of New Mexico, Mexico, and Arizona. Five notebooks attributed to Richard contain similar preliminary sketches and drawings. The correspondence includes a letter from brother-in-law William B. Wolfe who describes Richard's death in the Gunnison Massacre in 1853.


Edward Meyer Kern (1823-1863) and Richard Hovenden Kern (1821-1853) were brothers from Philadelphia who became artists, scientists, and explorers. In 1845, Edward accepted the position of artist and topographer for John Charles Frémont's third expedition, which was to explore the central route to California. The Frémont expedition merged into the California Battalion when the Mexican War began, and Edward was made commander of Sutter's Fort.

In 1848, Edward convinced his brothers Richard and Benjamin Jordan (1818-1849) to join him on Frémont's fourth expedition, which was to test the viability of a winter pass for a railroad in the central Rockies. The winter was unusually harsh and a third of the men died after becoming stranded in the snow and ice. The three Kerns made it safely to Taos, New Mexico. In the spring of 1849, Benjamin Kern returned to the mountains with a guide to retrieve a cache of papers and possessions, only to be killed by Ute Indians.

Edward and Richard lived in New Mexico for two years, working for the Corps of Topographical Engineers. In 1851 Richard joined Lieutenant Lorenzo Sitgreaves on an expedition to explore the Little Colorado River, and Edward joined Lieutenant John Pope, who was looking for a better route between Santa Fe and Fort Leavenworth. In 1853, while working on the Pacific Railroad Survey along the 38th parallel with Captain John W. Gunnison, Richard was killed by Ute Indians in the Gunnison Massacre.

From 1853 to 1856, Edward served aboard the U.S.S. Vincennes on the North Pacific exploring expedition commanded by Cadwalader Ringgold (later replaced by John Rodgers). This expedition navigated the globe and mapped the Japanese coast. Edward next joined Lieutenant John M. Brooke on a survey of the sea lanes between California and China, returning in 1860. During the Civil War, Edward served under Frémont, who had command of the Army of the West, but when Frémont was relieved of command, Edward was as well. He died November 23, 1863 of an epileptic attack.

Guide to the Edward Meyer Kern and Richard H. Kern Papers
Under Revision
by Diana Smith
December 2000
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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Access Information

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