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Elias Loomis family papers

Call Number: MS 331

Scope and Contents

The Elias Loomis Family Papers consist of personal and professional papers of Elias Loomis and his sons Henry Bradford and Francis Engelsby Loomis. The papers record Elias Loomis' scientific studies, particularly in the fields of astronomy and meteorology, and his genealogical research on the American descendants of Joseph Loomis. Elias Loomis' correspondence with his father, sisters, and brothers, pioneer settlers of Alton, Illinois, forms an especially rich chronicle of Loomis family life as individuals trace developments in American settlement, politics, education, travel, and social conditions from the 1830s - 1870s.

The papers are arranged in two series: I. Elias Loomis Papers and II. Henry B. Loomis Papers.

Series I consists of Elias Loomis' family correspondence, scientific papers, investment records, genealogical papers, and memorabilia. Series II consists of Henry Bradford Loomis' papers and is composed of financial records, personal and travel memorabilia, and research notes. The papers of Francis Engelsby Loomis, which were retained by Henry B. Loomis as executor of his brother's estate, are also arranged in Series II. Series I is the larger of the two series and is arranged in five sections: Family Correspondence, Personal and Family Memorabilia, Professional Papers, Investment Papers, and Genealogical Papers.

Family Correspondence consists primarily of letters addressed to Elias Loomis from 1827-1889. Family members who are frequent correspondents include Loomis' father Hubbel Loomis, sisters Jerusha Bradford, Sophia Edwards, and Caroline Newman, brothers David Burt (Burt) and John Calvin (Calvin), relations of Loomis' wife Julia Upson from Tallmadge, Ohio, and sons Francis Engelsby Loomis and Henry Bradford Loomis. The letters are arranged in chronological order. The letters detail many phases of family life. The many writers appear well-educated and politically aware. Women correspondents describe their positions as spinsters, wives, and widows.

The letters commence in 1827 with news of Loomis' family in Willington, Connecticut and of sisters Jerusha and Sophia at school in Plainfield, Connecticut. At the time Elias Loomis was attending school in New Haven. In 1828 Loomis' father, a Congregational minister, advocated the practice of full immersion baptism, but found that his religious views were unacceptable to the people of his congregation. After the death of Loomis' mother in 1829, the family began a series of moves in search of economic security and religious tolerance. Leaving Elias Loomis at Yale and Jerusha in the care of her husband's family, Hubbel Loomis announced his intention to move west in 1830. In the spring he and Sophia, Caroline, Burt, and Calvin made the arduous journey from Connecticut to Illinois. Letters from the period describe the trip by boat and coach. The family settled first in Rock Springs, then in Kaskaskia, and finally, in 1831, in Alton, Illinois, twenty miles up the Mississippi River from St. Louis. The letters describe the difficult journey, local settlers, meetings with French traders and Indians, and the occupation of Hubbel and Sophia in teaching duties. Clippings about early life in Alton are included in Elias Loomis' scrapbooks, which are available on microfilm (HM 97).

In 1832 Jerusha joined the family in Illinois, well after her husband left her to seek his fortune in the South or in South America. Jerusha supported herself by teaching and writes Elias Loomis with news of her financial progress. She also suffered from cataracts and relates her treatments by electricity and galvinism.

In 1833 Hubbel Loomis returned East to collect funds for the development of a college (to become Shurtliff College) in Alton. To the surprise and dismay of his children he returned with a new wife. The sisters write Elias, now a tutor in Yale College, of their fear that Hubbel will have more children and destroy the family's financial prospects. Caroline acknowledges the need to educate herself to become a teacher in order to be self-supporting.

In 1834 Jerusha embarked on a trip to meet her husband James now settled in Georgia. Her letters describe primitive living conditions in the South. After a year, however, she invites family members to Georgia. This invitation is accepted by Caroline and Sophia, and in 1835 there are more letters describing the conditions for cross-country travellers.

Jerusha quickly accepted slavery as the custom of her new home. The issue of slavery does not lead to any break in correspondence, although Northern family members held divergent views on the subject. As early as 1833 Hubbel Loomis writes of the condition of blacks in Illinois, and Jerusha, in inviting Elias Loomis to visit, warns that those who voice abolitionist sentiments are subject to the Lynch Law. The Illinois family, situated so close to St. Louis, reports on the 1836 attacks on Elijah Lovejoy's printing press. Letters written in 1837 recount the Illinois Anti-Slavery Society meeting in Alton and the subsequent mob violence. Burt-writes only a few details on his part in defending Lovejoy's Alton press on the night the mob murdered Lovejoy.

Elias Loomis developed a commanding knowledge of astronomy while a tutor at Yale. Following his rediscovery of Halley's comet in 1835, his sisters write of their own attempts to make astronomical observations. In 1836 Loomis was named a professor at Western Reserve College in Hudson, Ohio, and and he left for Europe to purchase astronomical equipment for the college. He writes family members describing his European travels. He also wrote a column for the Ohio Observer; copies of the column are in the second scrapbook, also available on microfilm (HM 97).

The papers trace the maturing of Hubbel Loomis' family. On Elias Loomis' return from Europe in 1837, Calvin, the youngest brother, is sent to attend Western Reserve. Sophia marries Cyrus Edwards, a member of a politically prominent Illinois family. Jerusha and James move to Alabama in 1838. Letters from the 1840s record the marriages of Elias to Julia Upson and Caroline to Zenas Newman and the births of numerous grandchildren for Hubbel Loomis.

There are financial hard times, the family advocates Whig political policies, phrenology and animal magnetism are popular fads, and the Mormons and Millerites pass through Illinois. These topics are all observed in the letters. Family members move in pursuit of livelihood: Elias to New York in 1844, Burt to the falls of the St. Croix (now Stillwater, Minnesota) in the same year; and Calvin to the South in order to teach. Caroline, shortly after the death of her husband in 1844, follows Jerusha's suggestion and moves to Alabama to sustain herself through teaching. Jerusha and James are constantly shifting from town to town in search of a well-paying school. Letters also note "gold fever" striking and Ohio wagon shops and carriage factories making California wagons. Burt's somewhat infrequent letters tell of his employ in the logging industry and his career in Minnesota territorial politics.

In 1851 a family reunion is planned. Jerusha dies in 1852. Elias' wife Julia, in failing health, returns to Ohio to have a second baby. Ohio family members write to tell of her health. She died in 1854 leaving the children in the care of the Ohio family. The letters of the 1850s also illustrate the change in travel brought about with the coming of the railroads. Caroline and Burt contemplate visiting the World's Fair in New York. Family members go off to California, and remaining Illinois family members see no reason for Elias not to visit them more frequently than every ten years.

Calvin, by 1856, is acclimated to Southern ways and admits that in case the union dissolves he will go with the South. He writes of his marriage into a Southern family and his activities in the Alabama Educational Association. Caroline, who has returned to Illinois, fears that her brothers will have to meet on the field of battle. With the coming of the Civil War Burt, Caroline's son James, and Sophia's son Wurt join the Union Army. Burt's letters tell of the battles he has seen in Kentucky and Tennessee, and Caroline sends details of army life gleaned from other letters. Sophia and Caroline discuss the tenor of public opinion as the war progresses. Caroline hears that Calvin continues to teach school in the South.

After the war Calvin writes of the financial distress in the South. Calvin assumes a position at the University of Alabama in 1869, but writes of his troubles with the board of regents, whom he describes as carpetbaggers and scalawags. Other family members move to Minnesota, and they supply descriptive letters. Caroline and Hubbel still write frequently of the college and town. Shurtliff College has admitted black students, and Caroline fears few white students will remain. By 1871 the college has also admitted women.

Beginning in 1866 the papers contain letters from Francis E. Loomis, Elias' oldest son. Francis received Ph.D.s from Yale and the University of Göttingen. Following his return from Europe, he taught for a year at Cornell University, but fell victim to chronic respiratory illness. In 1872 he retired to Europe to relax and regain his health. His letters depict the life of an invalid traveling from hotel to hotel in search of temperate climate and a congenial atmosphere. He maintained this regime until his death in 1918.

In 1872 Hubbel Loomis died at the age of ninety-seven. A lengthy memoir of his life, in the form of a letter to his son, is arranged in folder sixty-four. It offers a personal history of Shurtliff College and details Hubbel's religious views. Correspondence from the 1870s until Elias' death in 1889 is much less frequent Burt writing but seldom; Calvin writing infrequently concerning his journalistic endeavors in Georgia; Sophia relating only details of her children and grandchildren; Caroline writing with a sharp, but sometimes bitter wit of her life in old age; and younger son Henry writing of his legal career in San Francisco, California and Seattle, Washington.

The family correspondence is followed by two boxes of Personal and Family Memorabilia. The boxes include travel journals from Elias' trips to Europe, papers of early family members dating from 1727, portraits and photographs of Elias and other family members, and obituaries and memorial tributes.

Professional Papers consists mainly of Elias Loomis' notebooks of scientific observations, meteorological maps and charts, and drafts for his Contributions to Meteorology. There are also gradebooks from twenty-five years of teaching at Yale and a small quantity of professional correspondence. Among the numerous astronomical observations is a notebook containing the calculations on the return of Halley's comet (folder 89). Additional professional notes and writings including Elias' columns on meteorology are found in the scrapbooks on FILM HM 97. Most of Elias' professional correspondence is contained in twelve bound volumes housed in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

Elias Loomis derived a comfortable living from the sale of textbooks in mathematics, astronomy, and meteorology. Correspondence and other papers filed under Investment Papers relate to the accumulation and disposal of his wealth. Correspondence with Harper & Brothers mainly concerns royalities, but other correspondents in the section are investment companies dealing in western land speculation, railroad stocks, and mortgage loans in cities such as St. Louis, Chicago, and Minneapolis.

The last section in Series I, Genealogical Papers, consists of Loomis' research material and writings on the genealogy of the Loomis family. Loomis corresponded widely in his efforts to trace the over 20,000 names for his published genealogical works. The section includes four boxes of genealogical correspondence arranged in rough chronological order. The section also includes Loomis' notes, requests for subscribers, and a printed copy of his final published genealogical work.

Series II is composed of eight boxes of Henry Bradford Loomis' personal and investment papers. These papers, along with the papers in Series I, were donated to the Yale University Library by his widow, Isabel Grace Loomis, and her estate from 1940-1949. The largest quantity of papers in Series II documents Henry's investment activities in Seattle real estate (boxes 26-28). The series also includes personal correspondence with his brother Francis in Europe. Some of this correspondence concerns Elias Loomis' estate and a large donation left to Yale University by the terms of his will. A few items document Henry Loomis' interest in conservation including a journal and memorabilia from a trip to Alaska with John Muir. There is other travel memorabilia from visits to Europe and Egypt; correspondence and memorabilia concerning Hopkins Grammar School, Western Reserve College, Yale University, and Harvard Law School; and an extensive record of his role as executor of Francis E. Loomis' estate.


  • 1727-1947


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Existence and Location of Copies

Astronomical and meteorological scrapbooksare available on microfilm (340 frames on 1 reel, 35mm.)from Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, at cost. Order no. HM97.

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. Henry B. Loomis and her estate between 1940-1949. Purchase from Halvor Americana, 1994.


Arranged in two series: I. Elias Loomis Papers. II. Henry B. Loomis Papers.

Associated Materials

Related material: Elias Loomis Papers, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.)


14 Linear Feet ( (30 boxes))

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers consist of personal and professional correspondence, genealogical and professional research material and writings, and financial records of Elias Loomis and his sons Henry Bradford and Francis Engelsby Loomis. The papers record Elias Loomis' scientific studies, particularly in astronomy and meteorology. Genealogical notes and writings document the family history through the descendants of Joseph Loomis. Correspondence concerning Elias Loomis' father, sisters, and brothers, who were pioneer settlers of Alton, Illinois, details the family's interest in developments in American politics, education, travel, and social conditions from the 1830s through the 1870s.

Biographical / Historical

Elias Loomis was an astronomer, meteorologist, teacher, and author of scientific and mathematical texts. He taught at Western Reserve College, New York University, and Yale University. Loomis was also a genealogist and produced a massive compendium of information on the Joseph Loomis family.

Guide to the Elias Loomis Family Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Diane E. Kaplan
September 1985
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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