Skip to main content

Lewis Perry Curtis family papers

 Collection
Call Number: MS 587

Scope and Contents

The Lewis Perry Curtis Family Papers, Manuscript Group Number 587, focus on the Curtis, Sullivan, and related families of Connecticut and New York. The collection is housed in forty-five boxes and is arranged in four series. The bulk of the twentieth century papers were donated to Yale University in 1981 by Jeanet (Sullivan) Curtis, while most of the nineteenth century papers were given by Lewis Perry Curtis and Alice (Curtis) Desmond in 1964. Three separate collections have been combined to form the Lewis Perry Curtis Family Papers. The Lewis Curtis Family Papers, Mss. Group No. 158, which was devoted to the nineteenth century branch of the family; the Lewis Perry Curtis Papers, Mss. Group No. 587, which contained research materials donated to Yale University by Professor Curtis; and the twentieth century papers donated by Jeanet (Sullivan) Curtis are all gathered together into this single collection of papers.

Series I, L.P. CURTIS PROFESSIONAL, thirteen boxes, contains the professional papers of Lewis Perry Curtis, the focal point of this collection. Lewis Perry Curtis, B.A. Yale 1923 and Ph.D. Yale 1926, taught in the English; History, the Arts and Letters; and History Departments at Yale University. He was an Instructor in English 1927-1931; Instructor in History, the Arts and Letters 1933-1936; Instructor in History 1936-1938; Assistant Professor of History 1938-44; Associate Professor 1944-1967; and was made Colgate Professor of History in 1967. Curtis was Paskus Fellow 1934-1938 and 1941-1945; Director of the History, the Arts and Letters program 1956-1961; editor of the Yale Historical Publications series 1947-1954; and Fellow of Jonathan Edwards College from 1933 until his death in 1976. He retired in 1969. Curtis was recognized as an expert on English history, especially conservative thought and the governing classes, and was the leading authority on Laurence Sterne. His original field was English Literature. His 1926 dissertation The Letters of Laurence Sterne formed the foundation for The Politicks of Laurence Sterne (1929). Among his other noteworthy publications were an edited work Letters of Laurence Sterne (1935), Chichester Towers (1966), and Anglican Moods in the Eighteenth Century(1966). He married Jeanet Ellinwood Sullivan in 1929.

Series I includes correspondence and other professional papers and is divided into two sections, Correspondence and Other Papers. Correspondence contains all letters written to Lewis Perry Curtis from professional colleagues, students, and friends, plus a small number of Curtis' own letters. The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by surname of correspondent and, thereafter, is arranged chronologically. Correspondence is contained in boxes 1 - 11, folders 1-356.

It is unfortunate that Series I contains so few of Curtis' own letters, for he was regarded as an excellent writer of letters. One correspondent, Davis Given, wrote on January 19, 1945 that Curtis' "letters are superb creations," and Sherman Kent in 1932 called him "the Dean of my correspondents." In several of the available letters, Lewis Perry Curtis discusses international relations and American politics. He composed an untitled poem in 1960 whose first lines are, "Let's sing a brief threnody, of Nixon and Kennedy." In other letters he writes about his distaste for "the scientific approach to history," the problems facing American education, and the tragic death of President Kennedy. Perhaps because of the death of son Michael in a mountain climbing accident in 1957, Curtis was especially moving when writing letters of sympathy. See the letters he wrote to Margaret and James Anderson in 1964 and 1968. After the death of President A. Whitney Griswold, Lewis wrote a marvelous tribute to Mary Griswold, the president's widow. Finally, in a letter to President Kingman Brewster in December 1963, he clearly outlines his views in support of Yale College, undergraduate education, and the value of teaching faculty. He opposed the graduate school mentality which he felt placed publication on a pedestal and devalued teaching. (For additional Lewis Perry Curtis letters, see the Wallace Notestein Papers, Manuscript Group Number 544. The Notestein Papers contain ten Curtis letters.)

Curtis had several different kinds of "professional" correspondents. One important group is made up of professional colleagues from Yale and other institutions of higher learning. Students and former students comprise the second major segment of correspondents, while friends and classmates make up the third. The final significant portion of letters comes from English acquaintances.

The correspondence of professional colleagues covers several subjects, including research interests, the careers of former students, academic gossip, and career problems. Several correspondents were Laurence Sterne scholars, like Arthur H. Cash, Wilbur L. Cross, Harlan W. Hamilton, Lodewick Hartley, Paul Kaufman, and Kenneth MacLean. Some of the most interesting letters concern Curtis' career problems during the early 1930s, when his friends were working to obtain a position for him at Yale. For correspondence on Lewis Perry Curtis' difficulties together with considerable gossip on Yale and the house plan, see the letters of John M. S. Allison, Robert Chapman Bates, Joseph Tony Curtiss, William H. Dunham, Robert D. French, Edgar S. Furniss, Samuel B. Hemingway, Frederick W. Hilles, Wallace Notestein, and Richard L. Purdy. Additional information on this subject can be found in Series II, Box 14, folder 426, in a letter from Curtis to his wife dated April 14, 1933, and in the correspondence of Mary Griswold and Jeanet (Sullivan) Curtis in Series III.

Scattered widely throughout other letters are further observations on Yale and academic life. Material on the struggle to promote Lewis' lifelong friend Joseph Toy Curtiss to Associate Professor of English in 1946, for example, is found in the letters of William H. Dunham, Frederick W. Hilles, Wallace Notestein, and Charles Seymour. John H. McDill, Yale 1926, onetime instructor in English, and long time friend, in letters written in 1936 and 1963, gives his opinion of Yale presidents Seymour, Griswold and Brewster. George W. Pierson in a letter of December 4, 1964 discusses the Yale teaching tradition and the inability of Yale College to insulate itself from modern publishing standards. Those who carefully examine Series I can find a great deal of information on the history of Yale from the beginning of the 1930s to the end of the 1960s and, in addition, material on the triumphs, tragedies, and frustrations of academic life.

Other correspondents were students or former students. Some of the letters are routine, like those from students asking for letters of recommendation. Many, however, are substantive in nature. Curtis felt a great obligation towards his ex-students and in his correspondence with them asked about their lives, political views and places they visited. Ramon Alcera in a letter of April 7, 1948, for example, writes about the political situation in France. Charles Dillingham, a lieutenant in the Marine Corps, on November 18, 1945, describes his feelings during the invasion of Okinawa and his desire to go into teaching in the hope of helping America's youth. Sergeant Andrew Lossby gave his impression of life in England during the war, the French character, the admirable qualities of General Omar Bradley. He also stated that "All war correspondents (except Ernie Pyle) are inveterate liars and diplomats." Frederic Eric Ossorio, Curtis' most voluminous correspondent, wrote about his Catholic view of life, Army morale, his different platoon and company officers, the Italian situation, Austria in 1945, and the Germans. When Ossorio worked at a sugar plantation in the Philippines from 1949 to 1956, he wrote about Philippine life.

Series I also contains many letters from friends and Yale classmates, some of whom later became Yale professors. Among Curtis' many close friends were Robert Chapman Bates, Joseph Toy Curtiss, William H. Dunham, Sherman Kent, John H. McDill, Morris Tyler, and Nelson C. White. All enjoyed writing letters and much of the prose was characterized by a tone of youthful flippancy and pomposity, not uncommon at the time. Jim Bordley, Lewis' roommate at Yale for four years and later a well-known physician, wrote excellent letters. He was interested in medical history and English architecture, was a book collector, and was fascinated by the Scopes Monkey trial. In a letter of August 16, 1925, he comments on the death of William Jennings Bryan. "In his passing America has lost one of her most picturesque characters, and one of her most blatant jack-asses." Nelson C. White, the Waterford, Connecticut painter, attended Pomfret School with Lewis Perry Curtis. Among other subjects, White discusses the Pomfret experience and his paintings. Morris Tyler, Yale 1924, writes about the depression and the problems faced by Yale because of it. The letters in this group, as well as in others, cover many subjects from news of friends and discussions of one's career to comments on national and international politics.

Lewis Perry Curtis also enjoyed the friendship of a great many English men and women, a friendship based directly or indirectly on his interest in Laurence Sterne and eighteenth century British life. Some of the correspondents, like Dr. George A. Auden, T.P. Cooper, Dr. William Evelyn, Kenneth Monkmen, and Alexander. Olmsted shared Curtis' interest in Sterne. Most of the rest were originally friends of friends or were people he met in research trips to Great Britain. Some of the most interesting letters dating from the World War II period show the pluck of the British. Donald R. Cameron stated on July 8, 1940 just after the disaster in France, "but we must just say that out tails are up, that we have the best navy and Air Force going, and that we now, at last, have our coats off and our sleeves rolled up, and that by God and Lockheed, we will win this bloody business once and for all, this time." Others who write about wartime life are Norman S. Hewitt, Patrick Hewitt, Ruth Hewitt, and John Humphreys.

The Correspondence section of Series I contains the letters of a large number of people writing on a wide variety of subjects. Information can be found on the history of Yale, academic life, the views of American soldiers and other Yale men on conditions in Europe, the trials of Great Britain, and comments on events of importance in the United States. The series is also useful for the indirect portrait it gives of the character, teaching, and world view of Lewis Perry Curtis. The lives of academics at Yale and elsewhere are delineated together with views of the lifestyle, interests, and ideals of two generations of education, articulate, and career minded Yale men.

The second section of Series I Other Papers fills folders 357-392 of Boxes 11-13. Other Papers contains a copy of a 1942 exam and 1945 schedule, a questionnaire sent out by the Archbishop of York in 1764, fifteen folders of typed answers to those questions, a reel of microfilm, and eighteen folders of photostats of the papers of Robert Hay Drummond(1711-1776), Archbishop of York 1771-1776. These folders have research material that Curtis used in studying eighteenth century British life.

Series II L. P. CURTIS FAMILY fills Boxes 14-17, folders 393-534. It primarily contains correspondence, but also includes some other papers. Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by correspondent and then chronologically. Papers relating to several members of the Curtis family, for example, report cards for the children at Foote School in New Haven, are found after the letters of that person, while miscellaneous papers are located at the and of the series in folders 525-534.

L. P. CURTIS FAMILY houses letters addressed to Lewis Perry Curtis by relatives, including Sullivan in-laws, and also a small number of letters written to other members of the Curtis family. See the Family Charts following this introduction and a Curtis genealogical chart in Box 17, folder 532, for a delineation of family relationships. These charts list most, but not all, of the family correspondents. Those not included fall into one of three categories. First, a handful of correspondents are unlisted because they belong to a later generation than those found on the charts. Italian cousins Edmondo Ruspoli and Beatrice Miani fall into this group. Others like Henry A. Schroeder, Bertha Leake, Katherine (Perry) Shaw, and Charlotte Perry are too distantly related to be listed. Henry A. Schroeder, for example, was a second cousin, the grandson of a sister of Mary (Hughes) Wells, the grandmother of Lewis Perry Curtis. Amy (Johnson) Bates, Amy Groesbeck, and Abby E. Ellsworth can best be characterized as honorary relatives. Amy Bates was the mother of Robert C. Bates and Amy Groesbeck was his half-sister. Abby E. Ellsworth was the mother of Joseph Toy Curtiss.

One subject about which there is information in some detail is the Depression. Lewis Beers Curtis, Lewis' uncle, was extremely wealthy and the Sullivans were also affluent, but Lewis' brother Edward Livingston Wells Curtis of Southport, Connecticut was not so fortunate. Wells Curtis lost his real estate position during the Depression and like many other previously secure middle class Americans had to face unemployment and the possibility of losing everything. "Here we are," he stated on September 20, 1932, "Bess and I, fairly able bodied adults with fair educations, ready and willing to do anything to bring in some of the necessary wherewithall, and from month to month nothing happens. Our home is gone and we are objects of charity." Several letters from Wells Curtis and Lousia (Wells) Curtis discuss his difficulties and those faced by others in a similar predicament. Some Southport relatives, however, like sister Louise(Curtis)Roche and Katherine (Perry) Shaw blithely ignored the Depression and continued their normal social activities.

As one might expect, much of the correspondence in L. P. CURTIS FAMILY concerns the daily life of and news of the doings of relatives and mutual friends. Its value, therefore, is primarily for those interested in genealogy and family history. Dr. Henry A. Schroeder, as an example, in a 1964 letter mentions an hereditary disease, "progressive muscular dystrophy," passed on through the Hughes line. In letters written in 1944 and 1945, Jonathan Godfrey gives Lewis information about the French and Italian branches of the Curtis family, descended from Joseph Davis Beers Curtis. Louisa (Wells) Curtis and Louise (Curtis) Roche, Lewis' mother and sister, are the two who write most regularly and one gets the greatest family news from them. Other useful family history is scattered throughout Series II, together with information about daily life and occasional comments on the national scene.

Series III SULLIVAN FAMILY contains the correspondence and other papers of Jeanet Ellinwood (Sullivan) Curtis. It includes letters that she wrote to her family, letters directed to her by Sullivan and Curtis relatives, and the correspondence of her many friends. SULLIVAN FAMILY is found in Boxes 18-25, folders 535-786. It is arranged in the same way as Series I and II.

Jeanet (Sullivan) Curtis is the daughter of Walter Seager and Jeanet (Loomis) Sullivan. Her father was a reporter and advertising manager for The New York Times and later on officer with the Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York from 1902 to 1939. The family was prosperous, having homes on 61 East Eighteenth Street in New York City and Boontown, New Jersey. Three daughters graduated from Bryn Mawr and son Walter graduated from Yale. Jeanet's older sister Elinor married James P. Hendrick, a classmate of Lewis Perry Curtis', who became a Wall Street lawyer and government official. Younger sister Constance, called Connie, married a New York doctor, George A. Carden, Jr.Brother Walter is science editor for The New York Times and a well-known author. Nancy, the fourth sister, was an epileptic and semi-invalid. Jeanet, Elinor, and James P. Hendrick were all talented amateur musicians, while Constance (Sullivan) Carden studied voice and wished to pursue a professional singing career.

Series III contains personal and family correspondence. It includes relatively little discussion of events of national significance, although in portions of several letters, particularly those written by sister Connie and Jeanet's parents, there are comments on the Depression, the election of 1932, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In addition, there is some material on conditions at Yale during the early 1930s and the difficulties Lewis Perry Curtis endured before securing a position in the History, the Arts, and Letters program in 1933. The letters of Jeanet (Sullivan) Curtis and Mary Griswold are most useful in this regard, although Cecily Thompson also contributes information on the former subject in letters written in October 1932 and March 1933. The situation at Yale she wrote, "has grown perfectly impossible. Everyone is steeped in politics and there is so much talk and malicious gossip going around that you simply don't know who is your friend any more."

In addition to news of family activities, SULLIVAN FAMILY, contains many references to their musical interests, in particular preparation for concerts and the progress of Connie's studies. The Sullivans appear to have been largely unaffected by the Depression. They continued to travel throughout the United States and Europe and to enjoy the cultural opportunities offered by New York City. The correspondence of Constance (Sullivan) Carden, Jeanet (Loomis) Sullivan, and Walter Seager Sullivan is especially useful for anyone wishing to study the lifestyle of prosperous Americans during the Depression.

Jeanet's brother Walter, called Wallie, became a reporter for The New York Times after graduating from Yale in 1940. He spent several years as a foreign correspondent in the Far East and Germany, but his letters are primarily personal in character. Before and after, however, a trip to Little American in Antarctica in 1946, Wallie wrote a couple of interesting letters. The first from Balboa, Panama in December 1946 includes an Errol Flynn anecdote and the second dated March 31, 1947 describes a trip to New Zealand and includes a devastating review of a concert given by a third rate Russian violinist.

Series I-III contain correspondence and other papers relating to Lewis Perry Curtis and Jeanet (Sullivan) Curtis and each series is arranged in the same manner. Some letters contain annotations by Lewis Perry Curtis. He calls Katherine (Perry) Shaw, for example, "the most brilliant woman I have ever known" and states that William F. Buckley, Jr. was the "provocative editor of the Yale News, 1949-1950."

Series IV EARLY CURTIS PAPERS forms the largest series in the collection, filling Boxes 26-45. It has the letters and papers of several nineteenth [illegible] century ancestors of Lewis Perry Curtis, the two most important being Joseph Dewis Beers and Lewis Curtis, his great-great-grandfather and great-grandfather. The series includes correspondence, diaries, deeds, memoranda, estate books, contracts, bills and receipts, stock certificates, cancelled checks, and account books. The series is divided into two sections, Personal Papers and Business Papers. Personal Papers is contained in Boxes 26-34. Correspondence, Boxes 26-29, is followed by alphabetically arranged personal files, Boxes 30-34.

The Personal Papers section contains the letters of four generations of Curtises and related families. The related families represented include Beers, Chapman, Perry, Steele, and Wells plus additional correspondence from people who are related through the female lines of Giles, Gorham, Gregory, Hughes, Marvine, Mills and Tallyrand. Personal Papersalso includes letters of acquaintances and friends. All personal correspondence, therefore, as opposed to business correspondence, and all letters to and from family members, regardless of subject matter are found in this section of Series IV.

Joseph D. Beers was born in Newtown, Connecticut, but moved as a youth to Stamford in Ulster County, later Delaware County, New York. He became a merchant in Hobart, Delaware County, New York and moved to New York City in 1815 entering into several partnerships, the best known being J.D. Beers & Co. Beers formally retired from business in 1835, but stayed active until his death twenty-eight years later, principally concerning himself with land speculation and stock investments.

Lewis Curtis was born in Stratford, Connecticut, moved to New York City in 1807 to enter the mercantile business, and later married Mary Elizabeth Beers, the only child of Joseph D. and Mary (Chapman) Beers. He enjoyed a long and successful business career, heading with his brother Benjamin L. & B. Curtis & Co., one of the largest importers of fabrics and dry goods in the country.

Both Beers and Curtis were Episcopalians and Lewis Curtis was active in several benevolent societies. He had a life membership in the New York Tract Society and served for more than forty years as a member of the Committee for Foreign Missions of the Protestant Episcopal Church, later called the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society. The section contains several letters, mostly written during the 1830s, from prominent Episcopal churchmen, including Bishop William R. Whittingham (1805-1879), Reverend Jonathan M. Wainwright (1792-1854), Henry J. Seaman, and Bishop Thomas C. Brownell (1779-1865). Both served as bank presidents. Beers headed the North American Trust and Banking Company and Curtis was president of the Farmers Loan & Trust Co. For further information on their business careers, see the Business Papers part of Series IV.

Lewis and Mary Elizabeth (Beers) Curtis had four children who lived to adulthood. Three were sons. Joseph Davis Beers Curtis became a partner in L. & B. Curtis & Co. Benjamin L. Curtis also followed a business career, but third son Lewis Agur Curtis after dabbling in the importing business devoted his life to travel and literature. Lewis Agur Curtis, the grandfather of Lewis Perry Curtis, married Emma Sophia Steele in 1859. The Steele and Perry letters in the collection mostly come from this alliance, although two of the sisters of Joseph D. Beers married Perrys. (Please examine the family charts for additional information on these family connections). Lewis Agur Curtis had two sons, Roderick Perry, the father of Lewis Perry Curtis, and Lewis Beers Curtis. Both followed business careers. In 1882 Roderick entered into partnership with William D. Forbes to form Forbes & Curtis, a manufacturer of machine tools in Bridgeport, Connecticut. After Forbes withdrew from business in 1887, Roderick was joined by his brother and the firm became known as Curtis & Curtis. Roderick died in 1909 leaving his wife and children in comfortable circumstances, but his brother Lewis Beers Curtis continued to manage Curtis & Curtis. He was also president of Beers Realty Co., which held many of the assets of Joseph D. Beers and Lewis Curtis, and the People's Savings Bank of Bridgeport. At his death in 1938 Lewis Beers Curtis left an estate of more than $6,000,000.

The correspondence, arranged chronologically, contains information on three major subjects; family activities, religion, and business. There is a great deal of news of family and friends, focusing on their daily activities, travel, education, health, etc. News of the doings of the Perrys, Steeles, and Marvines in the Auburn, Delaware County, New York area is recounted in letters written mostly by Julia (Perry) Steele, Augusta (Perry) Steele, and Roderick C. Steele. Julia Sophia (Perry) Steele, who died of consumption in February, 1832 at the age of twenty-three, gives news of family, discusses her health, and writes of her devotion to God in letters to her sister-in-law in Woodbury, Connecticut between 1829 and 1831 and in an 1831 diary (Box 34, folder 944).

When Joseph D. and Mary (Chapman) Beers made a trip to the South in 1834 and 1835, they recounted their travels in a series of letters to Lewis and Mary Elizabeth (Beers) Curtis. Joseph Davis Beers Curtis went to Paris in 1847 to head the Paris office of L. & B. Curtis & Co., succeeding his Uncle Benjamin.

Benjamin L. Curtis also spent several years abroad, attending school in Crefeld, France and touring Europe after graduation from Columbia in 1855. After the death of his wife in 1893, Lewis Agur Curtis devoted much of his last years to travel. The section contains letters he wrote from Europe in 1894, the west coast in 1898, the Near East in 1902, and the West Indies in 1903.

The most interesting letters from abroad were those written by Joseph D. B. Curtis from Paris between 1847 and 1867. His last letter was written in January 1867 shortly before he suffered a mental break-down, brought on, perhaps, by his own poor business judgement. Joseph was committed to an insane asylum in April 1867 suffering from "progressive paralysis" and "derangement of Mind," He died there three years later leaving behind the ruins of L. & B. Curtis & Co. Joseph's Paris letters are filled with the details of American society in Paris and are useful for information they give on his efforts to establish an American church in Paris, his heavy personal expenses, and his business failures. As he stated desparingly in a letter to his father in December 1860, "I confess that the more I think, the darker the future seems to me…. I am 36 years old, have labored faithfully to support myself and family for 15 years, came to Paris with nearly $30,000, and today all is gone, and I am $20,000 worse than nothing.

Religion is the second major subject discussed in the correspondence. Many of the correspondents were the products of the Great Revival of the 1820s and 1830s. Lewis Curtis, as mentioned above, was active in benevolent causes and his wife was extremely devout. Young Julia Steele found strength in her religious convictions when she was fighting a fatal disease. Joseph D. B. Curtis was also extremely religious, although it is conceivable that his piety was partly caused by the spectre of financial ruin. In a letter to his father in June 1858, after the death of grandmother Curtis, he expounded at length on death and the truths of the Bible. Edward Livingston Wells, grandfather of Lewis Perry Curtis, was an Episcopal priest, but the collection contains little to document his career.

Family business activities are also discussed in considerable detail in Personal Papers. Letters to and from several Beers and Curtises discussing business matters have been placed in this section of Series IV because they often contain personal news as well. The greatest volume of correspondence relating to business affairs concerns the problems of Joseph D. B. Curtis and L. & B. Curtis & Co. See Business Papers for more information on this subject.

The great majority of letters are written by relatives listed in the genealogical charts, but the section also contains letters beginning in 1855 from Louis Delafield, Oscar Smedberg, and Herbert B. Turner, Columbia classmates of Benjamin L. Curtis. Mary (Chapman) Beers corresponded during the 1830s with Mrs. Amelia Wainwright of Boston and Mary E. Edmonston of Charlestown, South Carolina. Also included are letters from Helen W. Turell, niece of the third wife of Joseph D. Beers, to Benjamin L. Curtis between 1885 and 1896, letters from Addy Pingree to Augusta (Perry) Steele in the early 1890s, and a series of more than fifty letters from architect George Martin Huss (1853-1941) to Roderick P. Curtis from 1891 to 1893. Huss designed the Curtis home in Southport, Connecticut.

Boxes 30-34 contain a wide variety of family papers, including deeds, memoranda, wills, estate papers, receipts, letter books, contracts, and speeches. These personal files are arranged alphabetically by name of family member and then chronologically within folders. The files are especially useful for biographical information. A day book kept by Benjamin L. Curtis in 1893, for example, contains notes in European history plus clippings and snippets of biographical information. A Lewis Curtis letter book covering the 1860-1867 period contains additional material on the difficulties of Joseph D. B. Curtis in Paris.

The Business Papers section of Series IV fills boxes 35-45. It contains correspondence, subject files, one box of oversized materials, and four boxes of bound business records. Business Papers primarily chronicles the careers of two nineteenth century New York City entrepreneurs, Joseph D. Beers and Lewis Curtis, although there is also a great deal of information on the business dealings of Benjamin, Joseph D. B., and Benjamin L. Curtis. Business correspondence, folders 966-985, covers the years 1801-1902 and is arranged in chronological order. The greatest volume of correspondence concerns the settlement of the estate of Andrew Beers, the collapse of L. & B. Curtis & Co., and speculation in oil lands. Alanson. Hamlin (1778-1839) of Danbury, Connecticut, administrator of the estate of Andrew Beers, wrote a series of letters to Joseph D. Beers between 1824 and 1828 on the division of property among Beers heirs. Material on L. & B. Curtis & Co. is found in this part of Business Papers, but also in Personal Papers, and the subject file L. & B. Curtis & Co., Boxes 38-39, folders 1042-1050, and folder 1100 of Box 41. William H. Ashton wrote several letters to Benjamin L. Curtis between 1895 and 1898 urging him to invest in land in Missouri and elsewhere that might contain oil. Business correspondence also contains a variety of letters on other matters. August Belmont (1816-1890) in an 1839 letter to Joseph D. Beers, for example, gives a statement of Beers' account with N. M. Rothschild & Sons of London. In a letter dated Paris October 17, 1859, American inventor W. H. Ward of Auburn, New York, asks Joseph D. B. Curtis for financial assistance in patenting and promoting four railroad inventions in France. Also included is an 1861 letter from Cyrus W. Field (1819-1892) concerning the Atlantic cable.

The bulk. of the material in Business Papers, however, is in alphabetically arranged subject files, Boxes 35-40. In addition to financial statements, announcements, agreements, memoranda, deeds, bills, and receipts, some subject files contain correspondence. Letters directly concerning a specific subject can be found in the following files: Apalachicola Land Co.; Booaem & Co. (Texas lands); Chetwood, F.B.; Farmers Loan & Trust Co.; 50th and 51st Street lands; Moffat & co.; New York and Mississippi Land Co.; and Sherwood, Samuel and Michigan lands.

For the entrepreneurial activities of Joseph D. Beers see the subject files for American Land Co, Apalachicola Land Co., Arkansas lands, Chetwood, F.B., 50th and 51st Street lands, Moffat & Co, New York and Mississippi Land Co, Pennsylvania lands, Sherwood, Samuel and Michigan lands and Thomas Wilson & Co. Business activites for Lewis Curtis are found in Booraem & Co. (Texas lands), Chichester lands, Curtis & Lamb, Eldert lands, Farmers Loan & Trust Co., Flatbush lands, Florida Peninsula Land Co., Indian Reservation Trust lands, Indiana and Illinois lands, Jones & Curtis, L. & B. Curtis & Co, Louisville and Portland Land Co, Mississippi Union Bank, and New York and Mississippi Land Co.

The files for Booraem & Co. (Texas lands) are contained in folders 984-1007 and 1085. The partnership of Booraem and Co. was established in 1834, and, although the company was reorganized at least twice, it collapsed in 1840. One of the partners, Henry Augustus Booaem (-1889) later became a partner in L. & B. Curtis & Co. Booraem & Co. was primarily engaged in the "business of jobbing Dry goods," but one of the partners purchased 2200 acres in the Republic of Texas. Lewis and Benjamin Curtis were among the creditors of Booraem & Co. and Lewis Curtis became its trustee. The problem of the title to the Texas lands, however, was not settled until the successful prosecution of a legal case in 1893. The files contain a substantial group of letters from Galveston, Texas land agent H.M. Truehart and the Galveston law firm of Davidson & Minor in regard to title to the land.

The Chetwood, F.B. materials, Box 37, folders 1008-1014, are also interesting. Francis B. Chetwood married a sister of the second wife of Joseph D. Beers and the correspondence concerns railroad construction and railroad politics in New Jersey between 1859 and 1862.

The history of L. & B. Curtis & Co. is also documented in considerable detail, folders 1042-1050 and 1100. The company was established in 1843. The original partners were Lewis Curtis, Benjamin Curtis, Henry A. Booraem, and John L. Hubbard. Joseph D. B. Curtis and Bernard Probst joined the firm at a later time. The direct antecedent of L. & B. Curtis & Co. was the partnership of Lewis & Benjamin Curtis, a French dry good importing business established in 1827. L. & B. Curtis & Co. was one of the largest importing houses in the nation and it remained prosperous until the 1860s. A series of disastrous investments by junior partner Joseph D. B. Curtis, however, eventually led to the collapse and dissolution of the firm. An 1869 balance sheet for the Paris house of L. & B. Curtis & Co. reveals that the firm had debts in excess of four million francs, of which 2,290,000 were uncollectable bad debts.

The documents on Moffat & Co. are particularly important. Moffat & Co., an "assaying and smelting associations," was a partnership formed in New York City in February 1849. The partners were John L. Moffat, president; Philo H. Perry, nephew of Joseph D. Beers, cashier; Joseph R. Curtiss (1813-); Samuel H. Ward (1814-1884); and Henry B. Conklin, all of New York City. Moffat & Co., in business from 1849 to 1851, was the largest and most reputable of all the private assaying, smelting, and coining firms established in California in the wake of the great gold rush. Folders 1055-1057 contain a copy of the articles of partnership, the agreement between Joseph D. Beers and Moffat & Co. by which Beers advanced $7,000 to the company, financial statements, and over thirty letters from Philo H. Perry to Beers telling of the activities of the firm and gold politics in California.

The New York and Mississippi Land Co., a joint stock company, was organized in 1835 for the purpose of buying and selling Chickasaw Indian lands in Mississippi. The company was capitalized at $150,000, 150 shares at $100 per share. J. D. Beers & Co. purchased 30 shares and Lewis & Benjamin Curtis 15 shares. Beers also invested in coal lands in the Scranton, Pennsylvania area. The files on Pennsylvania lands are found in folders 1062-1066. They contain a number of letters to and from Pennsylvania land agents Edward Dolph, C. W. Thompson, and Isaac J. Post. Joseph D. Beers also speculated in Michigan lands and came to own property in ten counties. Samuel Sherwood served as Beers' agent for these and other purchases.

Box 41 contains oversized material arranged in alphabetical order by person and subject. Most of the material is on business subjects, but there are also some personal files. See the folder listing for a listing of people and subjects. Boxes 42-45 contain twenty ledgers, memoranda books, notebooks, and checkbooks. Two memoranda books kept by Lewis Curtis, Box 42, have information about family and professional colleagues plus additional information on the collapse of L. & B. Curtis & Co. The rest of the material relates to the business activities of Joseph D. Beers, Lewis Curtis, Joseph D. B. Curtis and L. & B. Curtis & Co.

Series IV documents the personal lives and business careers of three generations of Beers, Curtises, and other relations through female lines. The most complete portraits are those for the families of Joseph D. Beers and Lewis Curtis. The series is particularly noteworthy for the material it includes on the entrepreneurial activities of Joseph D. Beers, Lewis Curtis, Joseph D. B. Curtis, and L. & B. Curtis & Co. Although the series contains material on family activities, the religious life of nineteenth century Americans, and the life of an American in Paris, it is primarily useful for its business papers. Researchers interested in such topics as the importing of dry goods; land speculation in Florida, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan; Indian Reservation lands in New York; property in New York City, Brooklyn, and Jamaica, Long Island; speculation in Chickasaw lands; banking and state bonds; New Jersey railroads; or the smelting and minting of gold in California will all find this series rewarding.

Dates

  • 1739-1980

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for 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 Jeanet Sullivan Curtis in 1981 and Lewis Perry Curtis and Alice Curtis Desmond in 1964; and transfer from Beinecke Library, 1996.

Arrangement

Arranged in four series and one addition: I. L. P. Curtis Professional. II. L. P. Curtis Family. III. Sullivan Family. IV. Early Curtis Papers.

Extent

18.5 Linear Feet (44 boxes, 2 folios)

Language of Materials

English

Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL

https://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/mssa.ms.0587

Overview

The papers consist of four series of professional and family material. Series I (1912-1976) contains professional correspondence and research materials of Lewis Perry Curtis. Series II contains Curtis family correspondence (1912-1976). Series III holds the correspondence of the Sullivan family (1916-1980). Material in Series IV consists of correspondence (1797-1914) and personal papers of several generations of family members, and business papers (1793-1914). The addition, Accession 1997-M-063, consists of photostatic copies of autograph letters and miscellaneous family letters (ca. 1739-1765) of Laurence Sterne and the "Continuation of the Bramine's Journal."

Biographical / Historical

Lewis Perry Curtis was born in Southport, Connecticut on November 30, 1900. He graduated from Yale University (B.A., 1923; Ph.D. 1926) and joined the Yale faculty in 1927. Curtis was a prominent member of the faculty until 1969, teaching in the English and History Departments. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Division of History-Arts and Letters, and served as its director from 1956-1961. Curtis specialized in the study of eighteenth century British history and literature. He wrote many works on these topics. Curtis died in New Haven, Connecticut on April 8, 1976.
Title
Guide to the Lewis Perry Curtis Family Papers
Status
Under Revision
Author
by Bruce P. Stark
Date
August 1982
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

Contact:
Yale University Library
P.O. Box 208240
New Haven CT 06520-8240 US
(203) 432-1735
(203) 432-7441 (Fax)

Location

Sterling Memorial Library
Room 147
120 High Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Opening Hours