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Backus family papers

Call Number: MS 47
Scope and Contents
The Backus Family Papers are composed of correspondence, legal and financial papers, and memorabilia of several direct descendants and more distant relatives of Samuel (1693-1740) and Elizabeth Tracey Backus of Norwich, Connecticut. Papers of Samuel Backus's grandson James Backus, his partner Rufus Backus, and James's brother-in-law Dudley Woodbridge concern mercantile establishments, commerce, and shipping in Norwich following the Revolutionary War. There is also a diary of James's brother Elijah, which he kept while studying in New Haven (1778), as well as correspondence between several family members of this generation. Papers of James's son William Woodbridge Backus (1803-1892) document his investments and financial dealings, genealogical interests, and philanthropic endeavors for the last fifteen years of his life.

The papers, which the Yale Library purchased between 1942 and 1962 from several dealers, are arranged in three series: I. General Correspondence, 1769-1889; II. William W. Backus Files, 1820-1892; III. Miscellaneous Papers, 1728-1893.
All series contain correspondence and legal and financial papers of Backus family members. Series I and III contain proportionally more material relating to James and Rufus Backus, Dudley Woodbridge and the earlier generations of Backus family members, while papers in Series II relate predominantly, though not exclusively, to William Woodbridge Backus (1803-1892).

Series I, GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE, begins with three boxes of correspondence and other papers which are arranged in alphabetical order. Most of the folder headings refer to the author of the letter but in several instances the letters are grouped by recipient. Most of the earliest letters and documents concern Dudley Woodbridge's mercantile interests, and correspondents include suppliers, customers, and shippers. After 1791 the business correspondence, bills, accounts, and notes are those of James and Rufus Backus's businesses including the store in Norwich and shipping from the West Indies.

The Alphabetical section also includes correspondence of additional family members. Many letters are addressed to Frances Backus, James's daughter, who lived with her brother William Woodbridge Backus in Yantic, Connecticut. Frances's brother Henry T. Backus, who was a lawyer in Detroit and a judge in the Arizona Territory, is a frequent correspondent. Other family correspondents include Marian Griswold Chandler Lane Ely and James's daughter Sarah. Folder 8 contains letters of Charles Backus, a cousin and minister in Somers, Connecticut, to fellow clergyman John H. Church in Pelham, New Hampshire.

At the end of Series I there is one box of correspondence and financial and legal papers arranged in chronological order. The Chronological section contains proportionally more accounts and other financial papers than the Alphabetical, but it spans the same time period, and subject matter. Several business correspondents including Nathaniel and John Tracy, Giles Mumford, Joseph Woodbridge, Isaac Cock, and Adgate and Company, are represented in both sections. Folder 186 contains records of Dudley Woodbridge's shipping concerns and several documents relate to the schooner Farmer under Captain Joseph Chapman. Several letters at the end of the section concern William Woodbridge Backus.

The first three boxes in Series II, arranged as the General section, are composed of William Woodbridge Backus's incoming correspondence for approximately the last 15 to 20 years of his life. The files, which are arranged in alphabetical order by the correspondents' names, concern Backus's financial investments and the publication of A Genealogical Memoir of the Backus Family. Many of the correspondents are investment advisers, lawyers, and public officials who write concerning Backus's interests in insurance, bank, coal, and railroad stocks, and mortgage loans for property in Kansas and Nebraska. There is some correspondence concerning estates of deceased family members, and there are several files concerning the accidental death, estate, and contested settlement of the estate of nephew James H. Backus (1851-1889) in California. Several correspondents write to acknowledge receipt of Backus's book, and correspondence with W. A. Briscoe and John T. Wait concerns Backus's philanthropic contributions.

The Family section in Series II includes a box of correspondence from several more distant kinsman, concerning family history or the estate of James H. Backus. Folders 283-305 contain drafts and copies of William Woodbridge Backus's outgoing letters. Many of these letters are replies to the incoming letters arranged in the General section. The Family section also includes William Woodbridge Backus's bank books and other financial records and a copy of his will showing his extensive charitable benefactions in Norwich.

Series III, MISCELLANEOUS-PAPERS contains additional financial papers of Dudley Woodbridge, James Backus, William Woodbridge Backus, and James H. Backus, as well as printed material and family memorabilia, In addition the series includes a diary kept by James Backus's brother Elijah in 1778. During this year Elijah Backus was studying in New Haven having graduated from Yale College in 1777. His diary includes entries in Latin concerning his daily activities as well as quotations and notes. A photostatic copy of the 1777 volume of Elijah Backus's diary is available in the Manuscripts and Archives Department (*Ydf +777ba)

Additional Backus Family material is located in the William Griswold Lane Memorial Collection (MS 189). There are also papers of the Backus Family in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and at the Yale Divinity School Library. The Woodbridge and Backus Collection in the Baker Library at the Harvard Business School also relates to the Backus family store in Norwich and contains papers of William Woodbridge Backus.
Conditions Governing Access
The materials are open for research.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright status for collection materials is unknown, though much of the material in this collection is likely in the public domain. 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
Purchased from H. A. Armstrong, 1942-1946; Hurwitz, 1945; Miele, 1958; and R. Hooker, 1962.
Arranged in three series: I. General Correspondence, 1769-1889. II. William W. Backus Files, 1820-1892. III. Miscellaneous Papers, 1728-1893.
4.5 Linear Feet (11 boxes, 1 folio)
Related Names
Backus family
Language of Materials