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Silliman family papers

Call Number: MS 450

Scope and Contents

Note: Throughout the Silliman Family Papers, Benjamin Silliman (1779-1864) is always referred to as Benjamin Silliman or BS and Benjamin Silliman (1816-1885) is always referred to as Benjamin Silliman, Jr. or BS, JR.

The Silliman Family Papers are divided into six series:


The material in these papers chronicles the development of the Silliman family from the late eighteenth century through the nineteenth century and illustrates the relationships between the Sillimans and various other prominent New England families, including the Danas, the Trumbulls and the Gilmans. The Silliman Family Papers also contain valuable information on the development of American science in the nineteenth century in relation to the careers of Benjamin Silliman and Benjamin Silliman, Jr.

The major portion of FAMILY CORRESPONDENCE falls within the period from 1775 to 1889, although there is correspondence dated as early as 1717 and as late as 1911. The series is divided into three sections:

  1. General
  2. Benjamin Silliman
  3. Benjamin Silliman, Jr.

"General" correspondence includes all letters to or from family members except those letters either to or from the two Benjamin Sillimans. Consult APPENDIX A for a detailed list of the Silliman-Fish correspondence. The most important groups of correspondents in "General" correspondence are:

  1. Joseph Fish, Mary (Fish) Noyes Silliman Dickinson and Gold Selleck Silliman (ca. 1775 - ca. 1790)
  2. Harriet (Trumbull) Silliman, Faith (Trumbull) Wadsworth, Maria (Trumbull) Hudson, Eunice (Backus) Trumbull and Jonathan Trumbull (ca. 1800 - ca. 1825)
  3. Harriet (Trumbull) Silliman, Faith (Trumbull) and Daniel Wadsworth and the Silliman children (ca. 1830 - ca. 1850)
  4. Susan Huldah (Forbes) Silliman and the Silliman children (ca. 1855 - 1878)
  5. Susan Forbes (Silliman) Wright and brother, sisters, friends, and relatives (ca. 1865 - 1890)

Correspondents of note in the period 1865-1890 include George Jarvis Brush, Dorothea Lynde Dix, Clarence King and Lydia Howard Huntley Sigourney. Of particular interest are the letters from Ellen Forbes written from the diamond fields of South Africa between 1872 and 1875. Approximately fifty letters written by William Whitman Bailey to Susan Wright between 1861 and 1876 have been placed in the William Whitman Bailey Papers in the Natural Science Manuscripts Group. Correspondence between Susan Wright and her husband is also in the Arthur Williams Wright Papers. For a complete list of Susan Wright's correspondents, consult APPENDIX B. (See also the 1979 Addition)

The correspondence in "Benjamin Silliman" dates from 1793 to 1864. Many of the letters written by Silliman to family members chronicle his travels and lecture tours. (See also the 1982 Addition) The correspondence in "Benjamin Silliman, Jr." dates from 1828 to 1884. Letters written by Silliman, Jr. record his travels abroad and throughout the American West.

GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE contains letters pertaining to the scientific and business affairs of Benjamin Silliman and Benjamin Silliman, Jr. and to their duties in connection with Yale College and withThe American Journal of Science and Arts. The series is divided into the following sections:

  1. Pre-1818: This section of correspondence covers the early part of Benjamin Silliman's career, first as a student and later as a teacher of chemistry, geology, mineralogy, and medicine.
  2. 1818-1841: The year 1818 marks the establishment of the Journal of Science, an important milestone in Silliman's career. It is during this period that Silliman began giving public lectures on science.
  3. 1842-1864: In 1842 Benjamin Silliman, Jr. began teaching private science classes in New Haven. These classes led to the founding of the Yale Scientific School (later Sheffield Scientific School). The period ends with the death of Benjamin Silliman.
  4. 1865-1885: During this period, Benjamin Silliman, Jr. engaged in an active career as a mining and chemical consultant.

The General Correspondence series includes letters exchanged with European and American scientists, educators, inventors, politicians, miners, writers and artists. Correspondents of note include: Louis Agassiz, Frederick Augustus Porter Barnard, Jöns Jakob Berzelius, Alexandre Brongniart, George Jarvis Brush, John Caldwell Calhoun, Josiah Parsons Cooke, James Fenimore Cooper, James Dwight Dana, Charles Darwin, Jeremiah Day, Dorothea Lynde Dix, Timothy Dwight, Josiah Willard Gibbs, Charles Goodyear, Robert Hare, Washington Irving, Andrew Jackson, Sir Charles Lyell, William Maclure, Gideon Algernon Mantell, Josiah Meigs, Samuel Finley Breese Morse, Baron Nils Adolf Erik Nordenskiold, Edwards Pierrepont, Gerrit Smith, Jared Sparks, Moses Stuart, Alphonso Taft, John Taylor, John Torrey, Josiah Dwight Whitney.


  1. Benjamin Silliman
  2. Benjamin Silliman, Jr.
  3. Others

Most of the material in this series was written by Benjamin Silliman and is filed in the first section. Although there are a few diaries dating from 1795, Silliman's most comprehensive diaries are the seventeen volumes that he designated "Personal Notices," begun in 1840 and continued until 1864. Silliman's journals record his two trips to Europe in 1805-1806 and in 1851. The earlier journals are accompanied by some pertinent account books and several volumes of notes taken by Silliman while he was a student in London and Edinburgh. His nine volumes of reminiscences, begun in 1857 and completed in 1862, chronicle the origin and growth of the study of science in Yale College and Silliman's scientific career from 1792 to 1862. The manuscripts include a few poems, some scientific papers and notebooks and a 1,250-page draft ofObservations and Remarks made during a Tour in Europe in the Spring and Summer of 1851. "Benjamin Silliman, Jr." contains nothing but a few poems. (Eleven scientific papers by Benjamin Silliman, Jr. were added to the papers in 1976.) The "Others" section contains poems, diaries and reminiscences written by various members of the Silliman family, notably, the reminiscences of Mary (Fish) Noyes Silliman Dickinson, as well as manuscript material and journals written by non-family members. The latter category includes an essay on the manufacture of porcelain by Alexandre Brongniart, a poem by Gideon Algernon Mantell titled, "To a Group of Organic Remains" and two journals concerning the search for "Texas meteoric iron" kept by Captain Anthony Glass in 1808-1809 and by John Maley in 1811-1813.


  1. Benjamin Silliman
  2. Benjamin Silliman, Jr.

As in the preceding series, most of the material in this series was produced by Benjamin Silliman. The texts of a number of Silliman's Yale lectures on mineralogy, geology, and chemistry dating from 1813 to 1849 are filed in this series which also includes notebooks written by students in Silliman's classes (mostly chemistry) from 1806 to 1829. There are also texts of some of Silliman's public lectures, including his lectures on chemistry at the Lowell Institute, 1841-1843 and the texts of six addresses. "Benjamin Silliman, Jr." contains three items of which his address at the centennial celebration of American chemistry in 1874, titled "American Contributions to Chemistry," is the most important. (Six addresses by Benjamin Silliman, Jr. were added to the papers in 1976.)

The most significant material in the JOHN TRUMBULL AND THE TRUMBULL GALLERY AT YALE series is the volume of reminiscences written by Benjamin Silliman in 1857 about Trumbull and the founding of the Trumbull Gallery. There is some additional material, including correspondence relating to the disposition of various works by the artist.

The SPECIAL FILES contain material relating to various members of the Silliman family in the form of biographical sketches, genealogical materials, legal and financial material, memorabilia, photographs and papers relating to scientific and Yale College business dating from 1756 to 1964; there is also a card file index to correspondence in the Papers.

For additional material concerning the Silliman family, consult the following catalogs and registers in Yale University Library, Manuscripts and Archives:

Manuscripts Catalog

Yale publications catalog

Register of the Kingsley Memorial Collection

Register of the John Trumbull Papers

Register of the Wadsworth Family Collection

Register of the Amos Beebe Eaton Papers in the Natural Science Manuscripts Group

The University of Arizona Library, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Boston Public Library also possess Silliman family papers. There is Benjamin Silliman, Sr. - Gideon A. Mantell correspondence in the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Please consult the index for an inventory for the Microfilm of series II and III


  • 1717-1977
  • Majority of material found within 1717 - 1911


Conditions Governing Access

Series II, General Correspondence, boxes 18-23 (NOTE the exclusion of box 24), and Series III, Diaries, Journals, Reminiscences, and Manuscripts, Boxes 25-31 are available on microfilm. Patrons must use FILM HM 140 instead of originals.

The materials are open for research.

Existence and Location of Copies

Series II. General Correspondence, Boxes 18-23 (NOTE box 24 is not on the microfilm), and Series III. Diaries, Journals, Reminiscences, and Manuscripts, Boxes 25-31, also available on microfilm (12,171 frames on 14 reels, 35mm.) from Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, at cost. Order no. HM140.

Journals of Anthony Glass and John Maley also available on microfilm (220 frames on 1 reel, 35mm.) from Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, at cost. Order no. HM66.

Diary of Joseph Fish also available on microfilm (30 frames on 1 reel, 35mm.) from Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, at cost. Order no. HM78.

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

Gift of the Silliman family; Thomas P. Blagden, 1982; Leonard G. Wilson, 1984; Mrs. Donald L. Rasmussen, 1984-1988; John Stadler and Naomi Mahlub, 1988; Northwestern University Library, 1991; Walter D. Wagoner, 1995; Wayne Smith, 1995; Cornelia Gaines Olsen, 2000, and by purchase and transfer. Gift of Barbara Narendra, 2005; Mrs. Harold Duessel, 2008. Gift of Louis I. Kuslan, 2013-2014. Gift of Richard Van Wagenen, 2016. Gift of Daniel Carroll Joynes, 2019.


Arranged in six series and various additions: I. Family Correspondence. II. General Correspondence. III. Diaries, Journals, Reminiscences and Manuscripts. IV. Yale Lectures, Students' Notebooks, Public Lectures and Addresses. V. John Trumbull and the Trumbull Gallery. VI. Special Files.


36.25 Linear Feet (90 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 correspondence, lectures, notebooks, diaries, journals, and other material documenting the personal lives and professional careers of the Silliman family, including Benjamin Silliman (1779-1864) and Benjamin Silliman, Jr. (1816-1885). Personal material details family life, relationships, social activities, and cultural pursuits. Professional material details the academic and literary interests of the Sillimans, particularly in chemistry, physics, and geology. The evolution and development of science, the beginnings of scientific instruction at Yale, and many related topics are documented. Material relating to John Trumbull and the Trumbull Art Gallery at Yale is also included. Family letters and journals offer observations on local and national events, as exemplified by Maggie Lindsley's journal and letters with Benjamin Silliman relating to the Civil War.

Biographical / Historical

Four generations of Sillimans, surrounding the central figure of Benjamin Silliman (1779-1864), are represented in the Silliman Family Papers. According to a number of sources, Silliman's ancestors were Italian Protestants named Sillimandi, who moved to Geneva some time during the Reformation and later to Holland. Elizabeth Schenck in History of Fairfield, Fairfield County, Connecticut notes that the first member of the family in America, Daniel Sillivant, settled in Fairfield around 1658. By 1690 the family name was established as Silliman.

The relationships of various members of the Silliman family are sketched in outline form below. For additional information, consult the genealogical charts immediately following the outline (in the repository) and the family Bible in the Yale Archives.

Ebenezer Silliman (1707-1775)

Graduated from Yale College in 1727. Judge of the superior court of New Haven Colony and member of the Governor's Council. Married Abigail Selleck.

Gold Selleck Silliman (1732-1790)

Son of Ebenezer and Abigail (Selleck) Silliman. Graduated from Yale College in 1752. Married Martha Davenport. They had one surviving son, William Silliman. In 1775 Gold Selleck married Mary (Fish) Noyes. During the Revolution, Silliman held the rank of general and was charged with the defense of southwestern Connecticut.

Mary (Fish) Noyes Silliman Dickinson (1736-1818)

Daughter of Joseph Fish, Harvard graduate and for fifty years pastor of a church in North Stonington, Connecticut and of Rebecca (Peabody) Fish who was a descendant of Priscilla and John Alden. Mary had one sister, Rebecca, wife of Benjamin Douglas, who died in 1766. In 1758 Mary married John Noyes, pastor of the First Church in New Haven. They had five children:

Rebecca (1759-1760)

Joseph (b. 1761)

John (b. 1762)

James (b. 1764)

Mary (1766-1770)

John Noyes died in 1767 and in 1775 Mary married Gold Selleck Silliman. They had two children:

Gold Selleck Silliman

Married Hepsa Ely, daughter of David Ely of Newport, Rhode Island. Moved to Brooklyn in 1815. Their thirteen children include Benjamin Douglas Silliman and Augustus Ely Silliman.

Benjamin Silliman

Mary was married a third time in 1804 to John Dickinson of Middletown.

In 1809 Benjamin Silliman married Harriet Trumbull, daughter of Governor Jonathan Trumbull.

Jonathan Trumbull (1710-1785)

Governor of Connecticut 1769 to 1784. Married Faith Robinson, daughter of John Robinson of Duxbury, Massachusetts in 1735. They had six children, including:

Jonathan Trumbull (1740-1809)

John Trumbull (1756-1843), artist

Jonathan Trumbull (1740-1809)

Governor of Connecticut 1797 to 1809. Married Eunice Backus in 1767. They had five children, including:

Faith (Trumbull) Wadsworth

Maria (Trumbull) Hudson

Harriet (Trumbull) Silliman

Benjamin and Harriet (Trumbull) Silliman had nine children, five of whom reached adulthood, including Benjamin Silliman, Jr. After the death of his first wife, Silliman was married in 1851 to Sarah Isabella (McClellan) Webb, a descendant of the first Governor Trumbull. In 1840 Benjamin Silliman, Jr. married Susan Huldah Forbes, daughter of William J. Forbes and Charlotte Antoinette (Root) Forbes L'Aignoux.


The notes below outline some significant dates in the lives of Benjamin Silliman and Benjamin Silliman, Jr. For additional biographical information on both Sillimans, consult the Dictionary of American Biography and the biographical sketches and memoirs in the Silliman Family Papers. George P. Fisher's Life of Benjamin Silliman is a good source of biographical data on the elder Silliman and Scientists in Conflict: The Beginnings of the Oil Industry in California by Gerald White contains valuable information on the younger Silliman's career as a mining consultant. For a comprehensive bibliography of the works of Benjamin Silliman, Jr., Consult Arthur Williams Wright's "Biographical Memoir of Benjamin Silliman 1816-1885," published in 1911 by the National Academy of Sciences. A copy of this pamphlet is filed with the biographical sketches and memoirs.

Benjamin Silliman

born in North Stratford (now Trumbull), Connecticut on August 8
entered Yale College
graduated from Yale; taught in a private school in Wethersfield
returned to New Haven to study law with Simeon Baldwin and Charles Chauncey
appointed a tutor in Yale College
admitted to the bar. Appointed professor of chemistry and natural history in Yale College. Spent the next two winters (1802-1804) studying chemistry with James Woodhouse and Robert Hare in Philadelphia and with John Maclean in Princeton. Elected to membership in the American Philosophical Society.
gave first chemistry lectures at Yale
traveled to Europe to study chemistry, mineralogy and geology in London and Edinburgh and to buy books and scientific equipment for Yale
helped formulate plans for a medical school at Yale
observed and wrote an account of the famous "Weston (Connecticut) Meteor." Became acquainted with Col. George Gibbs who first loaned and later sold his mineral cabinet to Yale
gave first series of lectures on chemistry to the public in the Yale College Laboratory
married Harriet Trumbull
published Journal of Travels in England, Holland and Scotland. Edited William Henry's The Elements of Experimental Chemistry
introduced full course of illustrated lectures on mineralogy and geology at Yale
published first issue of The American Journal of Science and Artsin July
traveled to Quebec with brother-in-law Daniel Wadsworth
published A Short Tour between Hartford and Quebec in the Autumn of 1819
traveled to Washington, D. C. with Daniel Wadsworth
published Elements of Chemistry
appointed a director of the General Hospital Society of Connecticut, the first state-chartered hospital in Connecticut
gave first public lectures in chemistry outside Yale at the Franklin Institute, New Haven
instrumental in the founding of the Trumbull Gallery at Yale
conducted an investigation of the culture and manufacture of sugar sponsored by the Federal government
edited Robert Bakewell's An Introduction to Geology
gave a series of public lectures on geology in Hartford, the first public lectures outside New Haven
gave a series of geology lectures in Boston
made a professional tour of gold mines in Virginia, accompanied by Benjamin Silliman, Jr.
delivered the inaugural lectures of the Lowell Institute, Boston, on geology
elected president of the newly-formed Association of American Geologists, parent organization for the American Association for the Advancement of Science
continued the Lowell Institute series with lectures on chemistry
gave public lectures in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Charleston, New Orleans and throughout the South
retired as an active editor of Journal of Science
traveled to Europe accompanied by Benjamin Silliman, Jr. Married Sarah Isabella (McClellan) Webb
gave a course in geology at the Smithsonian Institution
gave final lecture in Yale College
one of fifty original members elected to the National Academy of Sciences
retired after fifteen years as president of the American Mutual Life Insurance Company
died in New Haven, November 24

Benjamin Silliman, Jr.

born in New Haven, December 4
entered Yale College
accompanied his father on a professional tour of gold mines in Virginia
graduated from Yale; became an assistant to his father
became associate editor of The American Journal of Science and Arts
married Susan Huldah Forbes
began teaching general and analytical chemistry and mineralogy to private students
gave a series of lectures on agricultural chemistry in New Orleans
member, Common Council of New Haven
became co-editor, with James Dwight Dana, of Journal of Science. Appointed professor of practical chemistry in the newly-created Department of Philosophy and the Arts in Yale College. John Pitkin Norton appointed professor of agricultural chemistry- beginnings of the Yale Scientific School
published First Principles of Chemistry
professor of medical chemistry and toxicology at University of Louisville
traveled to Europe with his father; studied geology and met many European scientists
appointed professor of general and applied chemistry at Yale. Supervised chemical, mineralogical and geological exhibits at the Crystal Palace in New York. Edited World of Science, Art and Industry with Charles R. Goodrich
assumed teaching duties in Yale Scientific School and in Yale Medical School. Edited The Progress of Science and Mechanism with Charles R. Goodrich
published "Report on the Rock Oil, or Petroleum, from Venango County, Pennsylvania"
second trip to Europe
published First Principles of Physics or Natural Philosophy
one of fifty original members elected to the National Academy of Sciences
consulting chemist and geologist for mining interests
appointed state chemist of Connecticut
resigned duties in Sheffield Scientific School
delivered address at the centennial celebration of American chemistry
died in New Haven, January 14
Guide to the Silliman Family Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Linda Wrigley and staff of Manuscripts and Archives
May 1973
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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