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Carpenter family papers

Call Number: MS 911

Scope and Contents

The Carpenter Family Papers consist of letters exchanged among members of a family that originated in Huntington (later Monroe), Connecticut. The household originally had eleven members: William Carpenter, his wife Charity, and their children Philinia, Betsy, William, John M. (also called Marcus), Horatio (also called Horace), Walter O. (Y. 1828), Sidney, Milton, and Orville. Shortly after the correspondence begins, however, William, Sr., left the household, and by the time of Charity Carpenter's death in 1821, all the children had left home as well. Most of the letters were written by the children, but there are also a few by the parents and by relatives outside the immediate family.

The most striking feature of the papers is the absence of those conventional expressions of deference and piety that characterize most family correspondence surviving from this period. The children's letters are full of breezy, even impertinent, observations about their own circumstances and those of their employers and acquaintances, and there is much teasing, especially on romantic subjects. Pious statements and veiled demands for deference do, however, become prominent in Philinia's letters in the 1820s, by which time she was the family matriarch, primarily responsible, with her brother Horatio, for the upbringing of the younger brothers. There are also repeated references to several significant themes in the cultural history of the period: spinsterhood, the consciousness of being a Yankee, and the intellectual aspirations of young men as expressed through lending libraries and oratorical societies.

The letters are also exceptional for their treatment of William Carpenter's separation from his wife and children. The immediate cause of his departure is obscure, but certainly there was an estrangement from his wife that brought him into disgrace with her and at least some of their children. Letters exchanged with him and about him between 1815 and 1821 show a restoration of contact and reclamation of authority in relation to the younger sons after several years in which there was no mention of him at all. Notwithstanding the absence of background information, the papers are an important source for the study of domestic relations.

The papers are also notable for tracing the children's education and careers. Philinia's letters document her experiences as a teacher in Westfield (Ct.) Academy and in her own schools in New Haven, Ct., and Newburgh, N.Y., and Baltimore, Md., and letters of other family members outline his subsequent career as a merchant in Port Gibson, Mississippi. Walter's and Philinia's letters describe Walter's academic and financial preparation for Yale and give a few impressions of student life. The letters by and about William, Jr., are part of a long dispute about fulfillment of the terms of his apprenticeship, and other letters offer information about the difficulty of finding places in Connecticut for the other boys. The emphasis throughout is on financial considerations, but the correspondence also gives a good sense of what it was like to grow up in New England in the early national period, whether or not one's parents remained together.


  • 1810-1828


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 Hollon A. Farr.


0.25 Linear Feet

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 among members of a single family: William Carpenter, his wife, Charity, and their nine children. The letters reveal the departure of William Carpenter from his family and his estrangement from his wife ca. 1810. The major subjects of the letters are the children's education and their careers. One son, Walter, attended Yale (1824-1828) and describes student life. Other letters describe the terms of an apprenticeship and a daughter, Philinia, writes of her experiences as a teacher in Connecticut and New York.

Guide to the Carpenter Family Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Susan Grigg
July 1979
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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