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Gilbert-Cheever family papers

Call Number: MS 700

Scope and Contents

The Gilbert-Cheever Family Papers contain correspondence, diaries, journals, record books, documents, photographs, memorabilia, printed matter, and sermons relating to members of the Goodridge, Gilbert and Cheever families from about 1836 to 1900, with the bulk of the material from 1840 to 1880. Much of the materials in the papers is of a personal and family nature, describing details of domestic and social life in New England and San Francisco during the period. Subjects include diet, medicine(particularly diabetes), and death; education, primarily at Yale College, Bradford Academy (Massachusetts), and other schools; and religion, both attitudes of individuals and activities of religious organizations. There is also material concerning the shipping trade and life at sea during the 1840's and early 1850's; life in San Francisco from about 1853 to the 1880's; and the Civil War.

Also included is a significant amount of material concerning William Hinman Gilbert's pastorships in several New England towns from 1844 to 1864; his work for the American Bible Society and the U.S. Christian Commission, primarily from 1864 to 1882; and his real estate investments in Virginia during 1890-1891.

The papers are arranged in four series:





CORRESPONDENCE consists chiefly of letters between family members and friends, and also includes some of Reverend William Hinman Gilbert's correspondence and reports regarding his work for religious organizations from 1864 to 1880.

A large part of the correspondence consists of letters to Mary (Goodridge) Gilbert from friends and family members, particularly her sister Fanny (Goodridge) Cheever and her husband Henry A. Cheever. During the 1840's and early 1850's, Henry A. Cheever often wrote to his wife and sister-in-law from ports such as Havana and New Orleans. After the Cheevers settled in San Francisco about 1853, they (particularly Fanny) maintained a steady correspondence with their friends and relatives back in "the States," extolling the climate and scenery of California, but decrying the violence, greed and corruption they saw in California life. As one commented in a letter to a New England relative, "One year's experience in California is equal to five in Massachusetts." Fanny's frequent letters to her sister Mary and to other relatives provide a continuing account of family illnesses, accidents, finances, visitors, livestock, gardens and other domestic activities, as well as observations on high prices, hard times, elections and other events in San Francisco.

William E. Goodridge's letters to his New England relatives are curiously vague as to the nature of his work; in one letter he commented that his family might not understand or approve of what he was doing. Apparently he did travel frequently, worked for a time for the express company, and was involved in a political campaign in Nevada. In his letters he wrote of his impressions and his feelings about the West, suggesting rather than describing in detail his experiences. In 1864 he described the rapid transformation of Nevada from a "savage wilderness" to a civilized society. From her homes in New York, eastern Pennsylvannia, and then Washington, D.C., William's fiancée, Sara A. Gonsalves, wrote to Mrs. Gilbert concerning her hopes that William could return to the East. Following his death in October 1864, Sara described her tremendous grief. Her letters, dated 1861-1865, also commented on the effects of the Civil War, including descriptions of visits to soldiers' hospitals, a threatened invasion of Pennsylvania in 1862, visits to Congress, news reports of battles, celebrations of the capture of Vicksburg, and the New York draft riots. Sara's father, M.J. Gonsalves, wrote to Mrs. Gilbert in May 1865, describing his work as army chaplain at a hospital in Louisiana and the grief of former slaves over President Lincoln's assassination.

Another valuable perspective on the Civil War is provided by Reverend Gilbert's reports and correspondence concerning his work as a delegate of the U.S. Christian Commission and an army agent of the American Bible Society in 1864 and 1865. Of particular interest are his comments on conditions in Richmond in April 1865 and his reports of an expedition in May 1865 to recover bodies hastily buried at the Cold Harbor battlefield. Many of Gilbert's reports were copied in a letterpress book, dated February - July 1865.

Correspondence concerning Reverend Gilbert's career as a Congregational minister and as a Bible Society agent is scattered throughout the series. An interesting letter to Reverend Gilbert from Alabama in July 1870 vividly describes the lynching of a black teacher, including a copy of his last letter to his wife in Canada. Newspaper clippings describe the incident from a much different perspective. Correspondence for 1890 and 1891 includes information concerning Gilbert's interest in land investment in Virginia.

The series also contain letters written by Charles Minor Gilbert and George Edwards Gilbert while students at Yale and later while teaching school. The twin brothers exchanged frequent letters with each other, with their two sisters, and with their parents, concerning student life at Yale, their teaching positions, their illnesses with diabetes, and family news and visits. Letters exchanged with several doctors discuss diets, medication, and treatment for diabetes. There are also two letters from Professor Thomas A. Thacher of Yale to Reverend William H. Gilbert: May 25, 1872, offering financial assistance to enable Gilbert to send his two sons to Yale, despite the high cost; and February 7, 1880, regarding repayment of a loan for his sons' education.

Most of the material in the DIARIES, JOURNALS, MEMORANDUM BOOKS AND ACCOUNT BOOKS series consists of the journals, memorandum books and other record books kept by William Hinman Gilbert from 1847 to 1899. These volumes provide an unusually full and detailed account of his activities and observations. His journals from 1864 to 1865 are particularly interesting. The series also contains a diary kept by Mary (Goodridge) Gilbert of her trip to San Francisco in 1878, and notebooks and diaries of Charles Minor Gilbert and George. Edwards Gilbert.

MEMORABILIA, PRINTED MATTER AND PHOTOGRAPHS contains biographical and genealogical information, printed matter, photographs, printed sermons, documents, essays, notes and memorabilia such as programs, invitations, pins and autograph books, relating to William Hinman Gilbert, Mary (Goodridge) Gilbert, Charles Minor Gilbert and George Edwards Gilbert. Of interest are publications, printed sermons, and documents relating to Reverend Gilbert's pastorships and to his work with religious organizations. Also included are Yale College memorabilia, photographs, and student essays and notes belonging to Reverend Gilbert and his sons Charles and George. Yale College catalogues, class record books, and a Class of 1878 photograph album have been transferred to the Yale College publications collection.

Series IV, SERMONS OF WILLIAM HINMAN GILBERT, consists of an extensive file of Reverend Gilbert's sermon manuscripts from 1844 to 1864. His early sermons (1844-1854) were numbered in chronological sequence; most of these sermons and many later sermons contain notations of dates and places where each sermon was preached. Some sermons were delivered ten or more times and a number were re-written at later dates. Numbered sermons marked as re-written have been arranged by the date of the revision rather than in Gilbert's numerical sequence. Undated sermons, sermon outlines, and notes are arranged in order of the biblical text on which the sermon was based. The series also contains sermon plans, 1844-1845 and n.d., which consist of notes on various biblical texts, topics to be covered and commentary for sermons. These were apparently compiled from courses taken at Yale Divinity School.

The papers were given to the Yale University Library in 1973 by Frederic B. Schell, Jr., and Alice (Horrax) Schell. Additional papers, including correspondence, memorabilia, and sermons, were given in 1976. Arrangement of the papers was completed in July 1977.


  • 1836-1891


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 Frederic B. Schell, Jr., and Alice Horrax Schell in 1973 and 1976.


Arranged in four series: I. Correspondence. II. Diaries, Journals, Memorandum Books, and Account Books. III. Memorabilia, Printed Matter, and Photographs. IV. Sermons of W. H. Gilbert.


7 Linear Feet (16 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers document the families formed by the marriages of two sisters, Mary and Fanny Goodridge, to William Hinman Gilbert and Henry A. Cheever, respectively. William H. Gilbert was a clergyman from Weston, Connecticut who, with his wife, taught in schools in Vermont and Massachusetts. Henry A. Cheever was a sea captain who settled in San Francisco ca. 1853 and brought his wife and children there from Massachusetts. The papers consist of correspondence, diaries, journals, record books, photographs, memorabilia, printed matter, and sermons relating to the lives of these two families and their children.The Cheever letters from San Francisco describe the political and social life of the city in addition to carrying news of the family and domestic activities. William E. Goodridge, brother of the two Goodridge sisters, wrote from the West where he described life in Nevada. After his death in 1864, his fiancee Sara A. Gonsalves continued to write to the family from Washington D.C. with descriptions of visits to soldiers' hospitals and other references to the Civil War. William H. Gilbert, who was an army agent of the American Bible Society (1864-1865), also reported on the Civil War and later, writing on his travels in Alabama in 1870, described the lynching of a black school teacher.

Biographical / Historical

Gilbert-Cheever Family Papers relate to members of the Goodridge, Gilbert and Cheever families of New England and California from about 1836 to 1900. The papers primarily concern the Reverend William Hinman Gilbert (1817-1905); his second wife Mary (Goodridge) Gilbert (1823-1895) their four children George Edwards Gilbert (1855-1879), Charles Minor Gilbert (1855-1881), Annie Ward Gilbert (1857-?); and Mary Alice Gilbert(1860-?); and Mary (Goodridge) Gilbert Is sister Fanny (Goodridge) Cheever (1825-?) and her husband Henry. A. Cheever (?-1873).

William Hinman Gilbert was born in 1817 in Weston, Connecticut, the son of Ezra and Rebecca (Minor) Gilbert. He graduated from Yale College in 1841, continued his studies at the Andover Theological Seminary from 1842 to 1843, and graduated from the Yale Divinity School in 1845. From 1845 to 1846 he was the minister at Haddam, Connecticut, where he married Elizabeth Mosely of Westfield, Massachusetts, on December 29, 1845. In March 1846 they moved to Westminster, Vermont, where he was pastor of the Congregational Church until 1851. Elizabeth (Mosely) Gilbert died in December 1846 in Westminster, leaving a son, William ("Willie") P.M. Gilbert, who married Jessie A. Little in 1870; they settled in Oberlin, Ohio where Willie worked as an assistant postmaster. They had five children: May Elizabeth (born March 1871, died September 1871); Edward Ellis (born June 1873); Winnie Emeline (born October 1875); William Henry (born October 1877); and a third son (born January 1880).

On April 10, 1849, Reverend Gilbert married Mary Goodridge, daughter of Joseph and Roxanna (Edwards) Goodridge of Westminster, Vermont, who was a graduate of and teacher at Bradford Academy in Massachusetts. She is an important figure in the papers, connecting the Goodridge, Gilbert and Cheever families; much of the correspondence in the papers is addressed to her.

Mary's sister, Fanny Goodridge, married Henry A. Cheever, a sea captain in the shipping trade during the 1840's and early 1850's. During a voyage to California he decided to stay in San Francisco and persuaded his wife Fanny and their children to move there from Massachusetts. He was employed in shipping, mining and real estate in California, and became active in San Francisco politics. Two of Mary's brothers, William E. Goodridge and Joseph Goodridge, also moved to California. William stayed with the Cheevers for a time, then moved on to other places in the West, eventually working his way to the Nevada territory where he died in October 1864.

Reverend Gilbert and his wife Mary remained in New England in spite of Henry A. Cheever's attempts to lure them to California. Reverend Gilbert was pastor of the Congregational Church in Ashfield, Massachusetts, from 1851 to 1855, where his twin sons Charles Minor and George Edwards were born on April 22, 1855. From 1855 to 1864, he was pastor of the Congregational Church in Granby, Connecticut, where his daughters Annie Ward and Mary Alice were born June 30,1857, and April 23, 1860, respectively. In 1864, Reverend Gilbert was appointed Superintendent of Scripture Distribution in the U.S. Army by the American Bible Society and the U.S. Christian Commission, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. During 1864 and 1865 he travelled to army encampments and towns, primarily in Virginia and Maryland, overseeing the distribution of Bibles among the soldiers and visiting hospitals and prisons.

From the fall of 1865 until 1869, Reverend Gilbert was an agent for the Vermont Bible Society, and in 1868 both he and his wife served as principals of the Classical and English Boarding School in Norwich, Vermont. From 1870 to 1871 he was Superintendent of the American Bible Society for Connecticut and Western Massachusetts; from 1871 to 1878 he was Superintendent of the American Bible Society in New England; and from 1878 to 1900 he was Secretary of the Connecticut Bible Society. In the fall of 1900 he moved to California, where he died in 1905.

Charles Miner Gilbert and George Edwards Gilbert both entered Yale College in 1874 and graduated in 1878. After graduating from Yale, George Edwards taught school in Englewood, New Jersey, until his death from diabetes in September 1879. Charles Minor also taught school, in Peekskill, N.Y., and in New York City; he died in April 1881, also from diabetes. Annie Gilbert later became Mrs. Hobson, and Mary Alice married Edwin Horrax in 1886. Mary Alice and Edwin Horrax had three children, Gilbert, William and Alice. Gilbert Horrax, who married Geraldine Martin, became a doctor and was associated with the surgeon Harvey Williams Cushing. Alice Horrax married Frederic B. Schell, Jr., in 1922.

Guide to the Gilbert-Cheever Family Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Peggy Bruns and Randall Jimerson
July 1977
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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