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Nancy Tatnall Fuller Research Collection on Joseph Swift

Call Number: WA MSS S-2437

Scope and Contents

The Nancy Tatnall Fuller Research Collection on Joseph Swift consists of correspondence between Joseph Swift and family members along with correspondence, transcripts, research notes, and other papers which Nancy Tatnall Fuller produced or consulted while researching Joseph Swift in the Wild West (1997). The papers have been organized into two series, Family Correspondence of Joseph Swift and Research Files of Nancy Tatnall Fuller, which span the dates 1858-1997. The collection is housed in three boxes. Box 3 contains Oversize material.

Series I, Joseph Swift Family Correspondence , is organized into three subseries: Outgoing, Incoming, and Third Party. Each subseries is arranged chronologically. Transcripts and annotated photocopies of some letters, created by Nancy Tatnall Fuller during her research, are housed in folders at the end of the first two subseries (folders 10, 20, and 21).

Topics covered in letters sent by Joseph Swift include steamboat travel, his health, mail delivery on the Montana frontier, his employment with Francis M. Thompson, settler relations with Piegan Indians, cattle herding, and the Montana gold rush. Incoming correspondence consists of letters from Swift's father and siblings which describe local news, Civil War battles, the draft, and unrest among "the Sioux in Minnesota" (folders 13, 14). Swift appears to have written a letter (not included in the collection) to his mother shortly after Henry Plummer's execution in January 1864. Samuel Swift's reply on March 16, 1864 indicates that his son's account of the execution in Bannack did not explain the connection he harbored to the dead man (folder 16). In the two existing 1864 letters Swift wrote to his family, he made no further mention of vigilante activities.

Third Party correspondence includes letters between Swift's wife, Gertrude Dorr Swift, and family members, a brief letter from Horatio Dorr to Joseph's brother William and an 1876 letter from Adeline Dorr, Gertrude's sister, to Joseph Swift's son and daughter-in-law (folder 26). The letters are primarily about family matters. Transcripts and annotated photocopies created by Nancy Tatnall Fuller are housed in folders at the end of the first two subseries (folders 10, 20 and 21).

Series II, Nancy Tatnall Fuller Research Files , is organized into four subseries: Correspondence, Printed Material, Subject Files, and Other Papers. Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by name of correspondent and consists predominantly of letters between Fuller and individuals or organizations she believed could supply her with material for her book.

Printed Material is arranged alphabetically by name of author. The subseries includes Fuller's book, Joseph Swift in the Wild West (1997), Bannack: Cradle of Montana (1991) by F. Lee Graves, and photocopies of articles and other works which Fuller consulted during her research. Some of the photocopies are annotated.

Subject Files contains obituaries for Francis M. Thompson and Joseph Swift along with photocopied articles and a series of Montana highway maps.

Other Papers is arranged alphabetically by type of material and includes Fuller's labelled binder dividers; manuscript and typescript notes for Joseph Swift in the Wild West; drafts of a timeline for Joseph Swift's life; and photocopies of title pages for works included in Fuller's bibliography.

Series III, Additions Since 2003, includes correspondence relating to Joseph Swift's investments as well as to the settlement of the estates of Samuel and Elizabeth Swift. A group of letters relates to Joseph Swift's investment in the Tally-on-Top Salesbook Company. The Joseph Swift Personal Papers subseries is arranged in chronological order and consists of insurance forms, a stock certificate from the Uncle Sam Gold Mining Company (Joseph Swift was secretary of the company), accounting sheets, receipts, property tax receipts, and Elizabeth Swift's account with the Pennsylvania Company for Insurance. Includes a manuscript tally of Joseph Swift's interest in the estate of Elizabeth Swift. Geometric Drill Company material includes a prospectus for the company, a contract, and company financial information.

Nancy Tatnall Research Files is organized into Printed Material and Other Papers. Printed Material includes maps, periodicals, and photocopies which Tatnall consulted while writing her book. Other Papers consists of a tracing of an overland journey by rail, steamship and foot from Philadelphia to Bannack; a photocopy of the tracing; and several photocopied images of the Swift family, with identification in ink by Tatnall.


  • 1858-1997


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Nancy Tatnall Fuller Research Collection on Joseph Swift is 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

Gift of John Gambell, 2002 and 2004.


2.76 Linear Feet (4 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


Nancy Tatnall Fuller's collection on Joseph Swift was acquired during research for her book Joseph Swift in the Wild West. Over 40 letters between Joseph Swift and family members from 1858 to 1887 describe frontier life in Montana, the gold rush, cattle herding, the Civil War, settler relations with Piegan Indians, and local news. Swift omitted mention of his friendship with the Plummers and Joseph Slade in letters home though his father commented on vigilante executions in Montana. Also included are Fuller's research notes and correspondence, typescript transcripts of Swift's letters, photocopied articles and books about vigilante activity in Bannack, obituaries for Joseph Swift and Francis M. Thompson, background material for Fuller's book and a copy of Joseph Swift in the Wild West. Addition to the collection in 2004 includes financial records, receipts, correspondence and other material related to Swift's investment and participation in various companies, including the Tally-On-Top Salesbook Company, the Geometric Drill Company, and the Uncle Sam Gold Mining Company.


In 1997 Nancy Tatnall Fuller published Joseph Swift in the Wild West, a biography of her great grandfather. The book, which described Swift's life in Montana from 1862 through 1864, was based on letters between Swift and family members that had been collected by Caroline Tatnall Welles.

Joseph Swift was born to Samuel Swift and Mary Ann Royer Swift in Norriton Township, Pennsylvania on December 16, 1843. After nine years the Swift family moved to Norristown, PA, where Joseph enrolled in a private school. Swift began working in Philadelphia as an office boy for David S. Brown & Co in 1859. Two years later Swift suffered a case of pneumonia that threatened to develop into tuberculosis. In 1862, at the age of 18, Swift set out on a journey up the Missouri River to Montana in hopes of restoring his health.

During his first year in Montana, Swift worked at the Blackfeet Indian Government Experimental Farm in Sun River. In July of 1863, he moved to the gold rush town of Bannack where he worked as a clerk for Francis M. Thompson. In Bannack, Swift and Thompson boarded with James and Martha Vail. Other boarders included Martha Vail's sister, Electa Bryan Plummer, and Electa's husband Henry Plummer, the sheriff of Bannack.

In January of 1864, Henry Plummer was captured and hanged by vigilantes who accused him of being complicit in a series of Montana robberies and murders. Vigilantes hung another of Swift's friends, Joseph Slade, in March. Following these events, the Vails left Bannack and Joseph Swift began rooming with another family, the Edgertons, until his own departure later that year.

By December 1864, Swift had returned to Pennsylvania where he was employed by the Sugar Creek Oil Company in Venango County. After a brief period he accepted a position with his brother William at Swift and Courtney (later the Diamond Match Company) and began a career in safety match manufacturing. During the years that followed, Swift married Gertrude Dorr and had six children. He retired from his position as vice-president of the Diamond Match Company in the 1880s, and moved with his family to Wilmington, Delaware. He died on July 13, 1917, at the age of 71.

Guide to the Nancy Tatnall Fuller Research Collection on Joseph Swift
Under Revision
by Kathleen T. Burns
March 2003
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.