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Cogswell family papers

Call Number: MS 141

Scope and Contents

The Cogswell Family Papers, 1740 to 1902, consist of family and business correspondence, documents, writings and other papers to, from and relating to the Cogswell family of Connecticut and the collateral and descendant families of Lloyd, Woolsey, Hillhouse, Fisher, Mott and Onderdonk. The central figures in this collection are:

James Cogswell (1720-1807)

James Cogswell (1746-1792)

Samuel Cogswell (1754-1790)

Mason Fitch Cogswell (1761-1830)

Alice Cogswell Fisher (1777-1850)

James Lloyd Cogswell (1784-1832)

John Lloyd Cogswell (1789-1831)

Harriet Broome Cogswell Mott (1790-1843)

Harriet Stella Mott Onderdonk (1820-1902?)

Arranged chronologically, the Cogswell family correspondence represented in these papers is composed of three principal exchanges: 1) correspondence of the Reverend James Cogswell and his son Dr. James Cogswell, 2) correspondence of Harriet Broome Cogswell Mott and her husband, Robert Willis Mott and 3) correspondence of Harriet Stella Mott Onderdonk and her husband, William Handy Onderdonk. Letters of five generations of Cogswells and related family members appear throughout the correspondence as well.

The correspondence for the years 1740 to 1808 consists mainly of letters to and from Reverend James Cogswell (1720-1807) and his son, Dr. James Cogswell (1746-1792). Dr. James Cogswell was an army surgeon during the American Revolution, and the letters of that period deal with his experiences during the war. Other family members whose letters appear in the correspondence for 1740 to 1808 include Abigail Lloyd Cogswell, Samuel Cogswell and Mason Fitch Cogswell.

The second segment of correspondence, covering the years 1809 to 1846, is largely that of Harriet Broome Cogswell Mott and her husband, Robert Willis Mott. Their courtship letters comprise the bulk of the correspondence for the years 1817 to 1819. The correspondence from 1809 to 1846 also contains business letters between Robert and his brother, William Mott. Among the family correspondents of this period are Abigail Lloyd Cogswell, Mason Fitch Cogswell, Sarah Lloyd Cogswell, Alice Cogswell and Charlotte Broome Cogswell. Throughout the years 1820 to 1843 there are letters exchanged by Harriet and Robert Mott. In one letter of particular interest (5 November 1823), Robert Mott wrote to his wife describing the preparations he wanted her to make at home for the coming winter months in his absence.

In the final segment of correspondence, 1839 to 1902, the chief correspondents are Harriet Stella Mott Onderdonk and her husband, Willian Handy Onderdonk. Their letters throughout their four year engagement comprise the bulk of the correspondence between the years 1839 to 1843. The Onderdonks were often separated from each other because of family or business trips, and the correspondence after 1843 reflects this. Of special interest is William Onderdonk's description of a trip he took to Cuba in 1865. The correspondence after 1846 is somewhat sketchy, but includes letters of other family members, among them. Samuel F. Cogswell, Charlotte Broome Cogswell and Robert M. Onderdonk. The last section of papers, one manuscript box, includes writings, wills, documents and other papers relating to the family members.

The Cogswell Family Papers were a gift of Mrs. Vernon Mann Simonds to the Yale University Library in 1941.

Additional biographical information may be found in Ephraim A. Jameson's The Cogswells in America and in Yale Biographies and Annals, by Franklin B. Dexter. There are a number of other collections in Yale University, Manuscripts and Archives, which contain additional material on the Cogswell family. Please consult Orbis and the reference staff. The Mason Fitch Cogswell Papers are at the Beinecke Rare Book Library.


  • 1740-1924


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Mrs. Vernon Mann Simonds, 1941.


2 Linear Feet (4 boxes, 1 folio)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers of nine members of the Cogswell family and related branches, spanning nearly 200 years, are included in this collection. The principal elements are three sets of correspondence: the letters between the Reverend James Cogswell and his son, James, which deal with the son's experiences as a surgeon during the American Revolution; the correspondence of Harriet Broome Cogswell Mott and her husband, Robert Willis Mott, largely made up of courtship letters, 1817-1819, but also including a detailed letter on preparations for the winter of 1823; and the correspondence between Stella Mott Onderdonk and her husband, William Handy Onderdonk, also largely courtship letters, 1839-1843. Their correspondence of later years includes a description by William Onderdonk of a trip to Cuba in 1865. Miscellaneous family items are comprised of a will, school certificates, diaries, clippings, and other memorabilia.

Biographical / Historical


James Cogswell, the youngest son of Samuel and Ann Denison Cogswell, was born in Saybrook, Connecticut, January 6, 1720. His family moved to Lebanon, Connecticut, in 1724, and Cogswell spent his youth in that town. He graduated from Yale with the Class of 1742. After graduation, he studied theology with the Reverend Solomon Williams and on December 28, 1774, Cogswell became the pastor of the church at Canterbury, Connecticut. He remained at Canterbury for twenty-seven years.

During those years he married and raised his family. On April 24, 1745, Cogswell married Alice Fitch (1725-1772). James and Alice Cogswell had five children: James (1746-1792), Alice (1749-1772), Samuel (1754-1790), Mason Fitch (1761-1830) and Septimus (1769-1773).

Reverend Cogswell resigned his pastorate at Canterbury on November 5, 1771. The following February he accepted the office of pastor at Scotland Parish, in Windham, Connecticut. Two months later, Alice Fitch Cogswell died. A year later, Reverend Cogswell married Martha Lothrop Devotion (1715?-1795). She was the widow of Cogswell's predecessor in Windham, the Reverend Ebenezer Devotion. After twenty-two years of marriage, Martha died on December 6, 1795. On May 5, 1797, Cogswell married Irene Ripley Hebard [Hibbard?] (d. 1804).

Upon Irene's death in 1804, Cogswell resigned his ministerial duties at Scotland and retired to his son Mason's home in Hartford, Connecticut. He died there on January 2, 1807.

* * * * *


James Cogswell, the oldest son of James and Alice Fitch Cogswell, was born in Canterbury, Connecticut, on July 31, 1746. He studied medicine and began his practice in Preston, Connecticut. The American Revolution interrupted his career. Cogswell served as army surgeon at Cambridge, Massachusetts, during the battle of Bunker Hill.

On August 8, 1776, he married Elizabeth Davenport (1756-1779). They settled in Stamford, Connecticut. James and Elizabeth Cogswell had one child, Alice (1777-1850). As the war progressed, Cogswell was again called upon to aid the patriot cause with his services. During the years 1776 and 1777, he was assigned as regimental surgeon to General Gold Selleck Silliman, who was on duty at New York with the Connecticut militia. While at New York, Cogswell's younger brother, Mason Fitch, served as his assistant.

Elizabeth Cogswell died on November 15, 1779. When the war ended, Cogswell returned to Stamford. He married Abigail Lloyd (1751-1830) on May 18, 1783. The Cogswells subsequently moved to New York. They had four children: James Lloyd (1784-1831), Sarah Lloyd (b. 1786), John Lloyd (1789-1831) and Harriet Broome (1790-1843).

Cogswell continued his medical practice at New York with Mason Fitch serving as his assistant. For a time they both maintained as apothecary business. James Cogswell contracted yellow fever while attending a stricken patient; he died on November 20, 1792.

* * * * *


Samuel Cogswell, son of James and Alice Fitch Cogswell, was born in Canterbury, Connecticut, on May 23, 1754. His father prepared him for college, and he graduated from Yale in 1777.

Cogswell joined the Continental Army and fought throughout the Revolution. He remained with his brigade until November, 1783. After the war ended, Cogswell began a mercantile business in Lansingburg, New York.

In 1784, he married Mary Backus. Samuel and Mary Cogswell had three children: Mason Backus (1787-1790), James Fitch (1789-1862) and Maria (1790-1870). Cogswell's business was unsuccessful, and he had to give it up. He then decided to study medicine. Before he could embark upon a new career, he was killed in a hunting accident on August 20, 1790.

* * * * *


Mason Fitch Cogswell, son of James and Alice Fitch Cogswell, was born in Canterbury, Connecticut, on September 28, 1761. He graduated from Yale College in 1780. His chosen profession was medicine. Mason served as assistant to his brother James, both during the Revolutionary War and afterwards at New York.

In 1789, Mason opened his own practice in Hartford, Connecticut, where he soon distinguished himself as a surgeon. He pioneered the technique of removing a cataract from the eye by extracting it whole, rather than breaking it, as had been done until that time.

On April 13, 1800, he married Mary Austin Ledyard (1775-1849). Mason and Mary Cogswell had five children: Mary Austin (1801-1868), Elizabeth (1803-1856), Alice (1805-1830), Mason Fitch (1809-1865) and Catharine Ledyard (1811-1882).

It was through an affliction which rendered his daughter Alice deaf and dumb, when she was six years old, that Dr. Cogswell made another significant contribution to medicine. Largely because of Cogswell's influence, Thomas Gallaudet visited Paris, where he learned as much as he could about the work taking place in France to educate children handicapped by deafness. Gallaudet returned to America in 1816, with an assistant, Laurent Clerc. Shortly afterwards, Gallaudet, Clerc and Cogswell established the Hartford Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb as the first institution of its kind in the United States.

Cogswell remained active in the medical profession throughout his life. He served as president of the Connecticut Medical Society from 1812 to 1822. Cogswell died in Hartford on December 10, 1830.

Please note that the bulk of the Mason Fitch Cogswell Papers are in the Beinecke Rare Book Library. The Laurent Clerc Papers are in Manuscripts and Archives. Consult Orbis and the reference staff for further information.

* * * * *


Alice Cogswell Fisher, daughter of James and Elizabeth Davenport Cogswell, was born in Stamford, Connecticut, June 15, 1777. She married Samuel Fisher (1777-1856) on August 22, 1805. For the first five years of their marriage they resided in Wilton, Connecticut. In 1812, they moved to Morristown, New Jersey. Finally, in 1816, they settled in Paterson, New Jersey.

Samuel and Alice Fisher had six children: Elizabeth D. (1806-1871), James Cogswell (1808-1880), Catherine Avery (b. 1810), Harriet Cogswell (1812-1831), Samuel Ware (1814-1874) and Mary D. (1817-1865). Alice Cogswell died in Orange, New Jersey, on May 9, 1850.

* * * * *


James Lloyd Cogswell, son of James and Abigail Lloyd Cogswell, was born in Stamford, Connecticut, on April 26, 1784. He married Sarah Burr Sherwood (1788-1830) on May 2, 1819. They resided at Lloyd's Neck, Long Island. James and Sarah Cogswell had three children: Sarah B. (1820-1875), James A. (1822-1837) and Mary Ledyard (1824-1841). James Lloyd Cogswell died on January 5, 1832.

* * * * *


John Lloyd Cogswell, son of James and Abigail Lloyd Cogswell, was born in New York City, in 1789. He served in the United States Army during the War of 1812. On October 31, 1821, he married Love B. Coffin (1792-1857). They resided at Lloyd's Neck, Long Island. John and Love Cogswell had five children: John T. (1823-1866), Charlotte Broome (b. 1825), Samuel F. (1827-1858), Alice Fisher (b. 1829) and Mason Fitch (1830-1832). John Lloyd Cogswell died on April 13, 1831.

* * * * *


Harriet Broome Cogswell Mott, daughter of James and Abigail Lloyd Cogswell, was born in New York City on March 6, 1790. She married Robert Willis Mott (d. 1846) on September 17, 1819. They resided at Great Neck, Long Island, and had one child; Harriet Stella (1820-1902?). Harriet Cogswell Mott died on September 6, 1843.

* * * * *


Harriet Stella Mott Onderdonk, daughter of Robert and Harriet Cogswell Mott, was born September 13, 1820. On June 7, 1843, she married William Handy Onderdonk (1820-1882), son of Bishop Benjamin T. Onderdonk of New York. The Onderdonks resided at Great Neck, Long Island.

William H. Onderdonk, a prominent lawyer, was a member of the bar of Queens County, New York. William and Harriet Onderdonk had two children: Harriet Cogswell (1844-1881) and Robert Mott (1846-1857). William H. Onderdonk died December 11, 1882.

Guide to the Cogswell Family Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Mary C. LaFogg
January 1978
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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