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Loomis-Wilder Family papers

Call Number: MS 496A

Scope and Contents

The Loomis-Wilder Family Papers consist of correspondence, diaries, notebooks, drawings, legal and financial papers, published writings, unpublished manuscripts, and memorabilia for the period 1790-1912. Most of the papers are from the last half of the nineteenth century.

The bulk of the papers are those of Eben Jenks Loomis and his wife Mary Alden Wilder. The papers were the gift of Millicent Todd Bingham, their granddaughter. Almost all of the papers in this collection are those of E. J. Loomis and his immediate family, and of Mary Alden Wilder and her immediate family.


Series I, LOOMIS FAMILY GENERAL, containsCorrespondence(2 boxes) andPersonal and legal records(3 boxes) chiefly of Nathan Loomis (1794-1876), his wife Waite Barber Loomis (1797-1860), and seven of their eight sons and daughters. (For Eben Jenks Loomis, see Series II). There are also papers of Mrs. Loomis's relations, the Barbers.

The Loomis family lived in western Massachusetts, New York state, and later in Fairfax County, Virginia. In 1850 Nathan returned with his wife and children to West Springfield, Massachusetts where he practiced as a civil engineer and surveyor and represented the town in the state legislature, and was appointed a computer in the office of the American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac, which had just been established in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Three of Nathan's four sons, Mahlon, Eben, and Joseph, continued his scientific interests — Mahlon and Joseph as inventors, and Eben as an astronomer. George became a lawyer and judge in Virginia.

Most of theCorrespondencein this series (from 1822) is of an entirely personal nature, with family and friends in Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia. But there are several letters to Nathan Loomis from Alvan Clark, the telescope-maker, and from Elijah H. Burritt, the astronomer of New Britain, Connecticut.

ThePersonal and legal records(from 1803) pertain to Nathan Loomis, his wife, his mother Susannah Howes Loomis, and his seven children. There are also a few Barber family deeds and papers, 1803-1820; and genealogical material on the Loomis family and related families (Barber, Sears, Look, and Jenks). Nathan Loomis's papers include a number of poems (1821-1857), a survey of the "Old Court House Tract," Fairfax County, Virginia (1847), and a commonplace book dated 1819. His mother Susannah (Mrs. Josiah Loomis) kept a weekly record (irregular 1804-1833) of texts upon which Sunday sermons were preached at the Baptist church in Ashfield, Massachusetts. Most of the Loomis family sketched, kept journals, and wrote poetry from childhood on, and bits and pieces of this material constitute the bulk of the papers of Eliza Waite Loomis, Mary S. Loomis Bagg, and Nellie Loomis Parsons. Much more interesting and detailed are the commonplace books and journals of young George Loomis (1835-1850), describing weather conditions, natural phenomena and the life of the Nathan Loomis family in Otsego County, New York, then in Fairfax County, Virginia. The papers of Mahlon Loomis, dentist and inventor, are but thinly represented here; biographical and bibliographical information is provided. His brother Joseph was a part-time inventor and interested in spiritual philosophy; his papers include sketches and writings on his inventions (1850-1870's), a few philosophical writings, poetry, an interesting diary of the first half of 1859 when he was working in the Patent Office, Washington, and an extended account of a trip around Cape Cod in 1861.

Finally, there is an extensive collection of the writings of Collette Loomis from childhood until her premature death in 1861, at the age of 21. The majority of this is poetry, much of which was published in theSpringfield Republicanin the 1850's; there are also sketches and the diaries from 1851-1861 cover the time (1859-1860) she spent at Mount Holyoke Seminary.

Series II, EBEN JENKS LOOMIS, is the largest in the collection, comprising 17 boxes —Correspondence, Writings, andPersonal and financial records— of the astronomer, poet, and nature-writer.

Eben, the fourth surviving son of Nathan and Waite Barber Loomis, was born in 1828 in Oppenheim, New York. After attending Lawrence Scientific School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he joined his father on the staff of the new American Ephemeris and Nautical Almanac in 1850. In 1853, he married Mary Alden Wilder, whose family brought him into association with the Concord group of Transcendentalists whose philosophy was very congenial to him. He remained on the staff of the Nautical Almanac (later the U.S. Naval Observatory) for 50 years, save for a period in 1866-1867 when he was manager of a cotton plantation near Jacksonville, Florida. When the Almanac office was transferred to Washington, D.C., in 1867 he moved there with his family. He was a friend of Simon Newcomb, who was for a time head of the Nautical Almanac, and in 1889-1890 Loomis travelled as historian with the U.S. Scientific Expedition to West Africa, which was directed by his son-in-law David P. Todd, professor of astronomy at Amherst College. From his retirement in 1900 until his death in 1912, Loomis lived in New England, residing most of the time with his daughter Mabel Loomis Todd and her husband at Amherst.

TheCorrespondencesubseries (1850-1912) consists of 4 boxes, almost entirely letters received by Loomis from family, friends, and business associates. The family letters cast much light on daily life in New England and the east coast in the latter part of the 19th century; the more than 60 letters from his father Nathan (1850-1876) are informative on aspects of astronomical circles in Massachusetts in the 1850's, and in the later 1860's and early 1870's on petroleum development in West Virginia. The letters from Eben's brother Joseph during 1858-1861 when Joseph was at the Patent Office in Washington, and in later years on philosophical subjects are of some interest. Letters of Loomis's brother-in-law John Augustus Wilder are full of information about Wilder's career as head of a black regiment during the Civil War (see Series V).

Other letters of interest include those from F. W. Bardwell concerning the Florida plantation project in which they were both involved in 1865-1867; John Burroughs and Walt Whitman whom he knew in Washington; Asa Gray and Charles Darwin whom he consulted on the unusual behavior of a fern; Alfred W. Hosmer, a connoisseur of Thoreau; H. Nehrling, the ornithologist; and Henry Thoreau and his sister Maria. There are a number of letters from his associates at the Nautical Almanac Office: J. H. C. Coffin G. W. Hill, William Wolsey Johnson, Simon Newcomb, J. E. Oliver, J. D. Runkle, and Chauncy Wright; which, together with the historical material on the office which is in subseries 3, contributes to the history of that office in its first 50 years.

TheWritingssubseries (7 boxes) contains drafts of and publishing information about Loomis's two published books of poetry and nature writings:Wayside Sketches(1894) andSunset Idyll(1903) and his book about the scientific trip of 1889-1890,An Eclipse Party in Africa(1896). There is, in addition, a large number of articles, both published and unpublished (c. 1857-c. 1912) mainly on natural phenomena (birds, plants, etc.) and travel subjects, e.g., West and South Africa, Ascension Island, St. Helena, and Bermuda in and after 1890. The articles about Loomis's explorations on foot in the area around Washington, D.C. and in the valley of Virginia in the 1870's are of particular interest, as is his account of the flora and fauna of northeastern Florida in the late 1860's, when that area was little settled. The considerable quantity of poetry (2 boxes) is of much less interest.

ThePersonal and Financial Recordsin six boxes contain journals, diaries, and notebooks from 1845-1902; financial records c. 1850-1912 (mainly expense and account books); a small amount of material on Loomis's education and career, and various household and social miscellany. The journals contain the raw material for the nature writings, and more personal reflections. The family expense and account books for 1852-1876, 1896-1901 provide extensive and extremely detailed information about the cost of living in Cambridge, Massachusetts (to 1867) and in Washington, D.C., for a middle class family with an annual income by 1900 of $1600.

The educational records include notes on the lectures of Asa Gray and Louis Agassiz in Lawrence Scientific School, 1854-1855. The miscellany includes biographical information on, and poetry of, Dr. William Shoemaker whose was a close friend of Loomis.

Series III, MARY WILDER LOOMIS, consists of four boxes of correspondence of Mrs. Eben Jenks Loomis with family and friends for the period 1855-1910. Mary Alden Wilder was born in Concord, Massachusetts, in 1831, the daughter of the Reverend John Wilder and his wife Mary Wales Fobes Jones. Her father had long been Trinitarian minister in Concord, and was a friend of the Thoreau family (see Series IV). The correspondence is mostly personal and social in nature, and nearly one-third of the letters are from Eben J. Loomis to his wife, over the period 1855-1893. Of these latter, the most interesting are those written in 1889-1890 during the expedition to West Africa. Many of the other letters contain glimpses of society and of Washington politics after 1867.

Series IV, WILDER FAMILY GENERAL, consists of four boxes divided intoCorrespondence(2 boxes) andPersonal and legal records(2 boxes), mostly of the Reverend John Wilder II (1796-1844) and his wife Mary Wales Fobes Jones Wilder (1803-1893). This John Wilder was the son of a Congregationalist minister of the same name who had settled in Attleboro, Massachusetts. Young Wilder was born in Attleboro, attended Brown University in 1822, and was a travelling evangelist in Massachusetts (1825-1826). After his marriage in 1826, he was minister of the Charlton, Massachusetts, and then of the Concord Congregational churches (1827-1839). Wilder served as a minister in Marshall, Michigan (1839-1842), then returned to Charlton where he died in 1844. (Series III contains material on his daughter Mary Alden Wilder (Loomis); Series V to his son John Augustus Wilder.)

heCorrespondence(1839-1893) is largely that of Mrs. John Wilder II (Mary Jones Wilder); some correspondence of Mrs. Wilder's Jones relatives and of the Reverend John Wilder's brothers and nephews is also included. Most of the correspondence is between family members, and most is of an entirely personal nature; but among the letters to Mary Jones Wilder are 8 letters from Henry Thoreau's sister Maria (1867-1881) and 3 from his niece Sophia.

ThePersonal and legal records(mainly 1790-1893) pertain to the Reverend John Wilder, the Reverend John Wilder II, and Mary Jones Wilder. There is also some general material on Wilder family genealogy and biography, and on the Mason family who were related to Mary Jones Wilder. Sermons and papers from his Attleboro ministry, a will, and a separation agreement with his second wife (1833) constitute the papers of the elder Reverend John Wilder. The papers of the Reverend John Wilder II include a particularly interesting commonplace book with entries from 1821 to 1842, copies of several of his sermons and lectures (1822-1840), and papers concerning his Concord ministry. The papers of Mary Jones Wilder (1835-1893) include miscellaneous financial and legal papers, writings, and printed matter.

Series V, JOHN AUGUSTUS WILDER, contains the letters and papers for the period 1843-1870. John Augustus was the son of the Reverend and Mrs. John Wilder II, and brother of Mary Alden Wilder Loomis; he was born in 1834 in Concord, Massachusetts, and attended Cambridge (Massachusetts) High School. After working for a short time as a clerk in the Nautical Almanac Office, he attended Union College, Schenectady, New York, graduating in 1856. He studied at Dane (later Harvard) Law School, and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1857, after which he practiced law in Boston and vicinity until 1862.

In April of 1862, Wilder became assistant in the War Department Office of Superintendant of Contrabands (displaced and escaped Negroes), at that time under the direction of his uncle Charles B. Wilder at Fortress Monroe, Portsmouth, Virginia. In February 1863 he was made 2nd Lieutenant of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers (black troops) and recruited men at Fortress Monroe; in June of that year his troops were incorporated into the U.S. 2nd Regiment Colored Troops, and he was commissioned captain of Company A of that regiment. Wilder and his troops spent six months at New Bern and at Folly Island, North Carolina; then in February 1864 he was detailed to Fort Taylor, Key West, Florida. There in May of 1864 he was commissioned major of the regiment, in July he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and by September 1864 he was in effective command of Fort Taylor, all the superior officers having died of yellow fever.

At Key West, Colonel Wilder served on several courts martial in 1864, and was from November 1864-May 1865 presiding judge of the provost court there. Toward the end of the war (August-December 1865) he was judge advocate general of the Department of Florida (Tallahassee). After being mustered out of the army in January 1866, he was assigned by the war Department to defend the Confederate Major John H. Gee, Keeper of Salisbury Prison Camp in North Carolina. The Gee trial, held at Raleigh, North Carolina, attracted a good deal of publicity at a time when wartime emotions still ran high, and Wilder played an important part in the defense, which resulted in Gee's acquittal in the spring of 1866. The following winter Wilder settled in Kansas City, Missouri, where in February 1867 he bought into a printing firm and became co-editor and publisher of the weeklyKansas City Journal of Commerce. Wilder was murdered in March 1870 in Kansas City by James A. Hutchinson, a man who had a personal grudge against him. But the murder was also believed to be part of a plot to obtain control of the newspaper for political purposes.

TheCorrespondencesubseries (1 box) includes letters from family, friends, business associates and army associates during the period 1843-1870. Wilder's brother-in-law Eben Jenks Loomis wrote describing the eclipse of 26 May 1854; and there are occasional references to the Nautical Almanac staff and activities in subsequent letters. Mary Wilder Loomis, in a letter of January 1869, gives an account of the career and character of Benjamin S. Hedrick, former abolitionist and aspiring, politician, then employed at the Patent Office. Correspondence with Gov. John Andrew of Massachusetts, N. P. Hallowell and others from 1861 deals with Wilder's recruiting organization; a series of letters 1863-1866 from Alonzo Rembaugh describes the latter's activities recruiting for the 37th U.S. Colored Troops (formerly 3rd North Carolina) in Virginia and North Carolina; and several letters from John Newton and from Joseph Holt (Bureau of Military Justice) deal with Wilder's legal activities for the army 1864-1865. The letters of Edward L. Pierce also deal with the education and organization of contrabands. A good-sized letterbook belonging to Charles B. Wilder, superintendant of contrabands at Fortress Monroe, contains correspondence of Wilder with the War Department and a series of general and special orders relating to contrabands, March 1862-February 1865. After the war, Wilder consulted Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes about his own writings on Florida, and a courteous reply is in the collection. There are also personal letters from Will Winter, poet and dramatic critic, from the period 1854-1869.

The subseriesCivil War Recordsconsists of two boxes of mainly official material relating to Wilder's career as recruiter and commander of black troops in Virginia, North Carolina, and Key West, Florida. About one-half of this section consists of official records of the troops of the U.S. 2nd Regiment under his command: muster rolls, descriptive lists, sick notices, clothing and equipment and ordnance papers, accounts of the company funds covering irregular periods from June 1863 to December 1865. The rest of the records consists of Wilder's personal passes, commissions, orders, and miscellaneous notes for the period January 1862 to early 1866. Also included are photographs of many of Wilder's officers and of Key West and Havana during the time he was there; and papers connected with the various stages of Wilder's judicial work for the army 1864-1865, culminating in the defense of Major Gee in 1866.

The third and last subseries,Special Files(2 boxes), comprises Wilder's papers (exclusive of correspondence) for the periods before and after the Civil War (1852-1862; 1866-1870). It includes purchase papers and financial papers for the Kansas City Journal of Commerce (1867-1870), a mass of Union College lecture notes and essays 1853-1856; notes from Dane (later Harvard) Law School (1856-1857); and Wilder's writings and lectures on political subjects in the 1850's and 1860's, on southern Florida during the Civil War (published in theAtlantic Monthly)and life in the Boston area and New York state during the 1850's.

Photographs relating to the Loomis-Wilder family are arranged in the Todd-Bingham Picture collection (Ms. Group Number 496E).


The Loomis-Wilder Family Papers is one of the groups of papers donated by Millicent Todd Bingham (Manuscript Group Number 496). Related material will be found in other papers derived from that donation. References to these other papers will occasionally be found in this register and in cross-references within the folders of the Loomis-Wilder Papers.

Correspondence: Researchers are advised to note three peculiarities in the arrangement of correspondence within these papers:

1) The entire correspondence (letters to and from) of the following persons will not be found in this collection, as it has been assigned to the collections bearing their names: Mabel Loomis Todd, David Peck Todd, and Millicent Todd Bingham.

Correspondence between the above persons and members of the Loomis and Wilder families has been indicated, wherever possible, by a cross-reference.

2) With the above exceptions, correspondence betweenfamily members(including correspondence between the Loomis and Wilder families) has been filed under the name of therecipient. Therefore, letters writtenbyany one person to another family member should be sought in the various correspondence sections of this collection (e.g., letters by E. J. Loomis appear in series I-IV).

3) Correspondence of all women is filed under their married names, even if the bulk of it dates from a period before their marriage.

Books: A small collection of books has been included in this collection of papers. It contains: 1) genealogical works on the families represented in the collection, 2) published books of E. J. Loomis, 3) published books of correspondents of the Loomis and Wilder families. This category is far from complete.

References to these volumes will be found in the appropriate sections of the collection; they may be consulted in the same manner as other parts of the collection.

Photographs: A single collection of photographs for the entire Todd-Bingham donation is available for consultation. It includes a number of pictures of the Loomis and Wilder families, and their friends and associates.


PERSONS: MWFW, or MWFJW: Mary Wales Fobes Jones Wilder (Mrs. John, II) MAWL, MWL, or MAL: Mary Alden Wilder Loomis (Mrs. Eben J.) EJL: Eben Jenks Loomis JAW: John Augustus Wilder DPT: David Peck Todd MLT: Mabel Loomis Todd MTB: Millicent Todd Bingham

PLACES: Naut Alm: Nautical Almanac Office Camb: Cambridge, Mass. Wash: Washington, D.C. AM: Amherst Ob. H.: Observatory House Ham: Hamilton, Bermuda

PUBLICATIONS: SI: Sunset Idyll WS: Wayside Sketches

  1. Persons:
  2. MWFW, or MWFJW: Mary Wales Fobes Jones Wilder (Mrs. John, II)
  3. MAWL, MWL, or MAL: Mary Alden Wilder Loomis (Mrs. Eben J.)
  4. EJL: Eben Jenks Loomis
  5. JAW: John Augustus Wilder
  6. DPT: David Peck Todd
  7. MLT: Mabel Loomis Todd
  8. MTB: Millicent Todd Bingham
  1. Places:
  2. Naut Alm: Nautical Almanac Office
  3. Camb: Cambridge, Mass.
  4. Wash: Washington, D.C.
  5. AM: Amherst
  6. Ob. H.: Observatory House
  7. Ham: Hamilton, Bermuda
  1. Publications:
  2. SI: Sunset Idyll
  3. WS: Wayside Sketches


  • 1790-1912


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Existence and Location of Copies

Commonplace book of clippings and juvenile writings kept by John Augustus Wilder and regimental order book of Charles Baker Wilder are available on microfilm (67 frames on 1 reel, 35mm.) from Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, at cost. Order no. HM172.

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 Millicent Todd Bingham, 1970.


Arranged in five series: I. Loomis Family: General. II. Eben J. Loomis. III. Mary Wilder Loomis. IV. Wilder Family: General. V. John Augustus Wilder.

Related Material

Related material: David Peck Todd Papers (MS 496B)

Related material: Mabel Loomis Todd Papers (MS 496C)

Related material: Millicent Todd Bingham Papers (MS 496D)

Related material: Todd-Bingham Picture Collection (MS 496E)

Related material: Todd-Bingham Memorabilia Collection (MS 496F)


14 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


Correspondence, diaries, notebooks, drawings, legal and financial papers, published writings, unpublished manuscripts, and memorabilia of the Loomis and Wilder families of Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia. The papers relate principally to Eben Jenks Loomis, astronomer, poet, and nature writer, and to his immediate family, and to his wife, Mary Alden Wilder Loomis and her immediate family, including papers of John Augustus Wilder, Civil War officer and lawyer for the U.S. Army. The Eben Janks Loomis papers contain much of interest relating to scientific topics current in the latter half of the ninteenth century as well as material relating to members of his family and their activities and interests. Of interest in the John Augustus Wilder papers is the material relating to the use of Negro troops in the Civil War and to his legal activities at the end of the war.

Other Finding Aids

Additional information not yet available in the online version of the finding aid exists in the repository. Contact Manuscripts and Archives for assistance.

Guide to the Loomis-Wilder Family Papers
by Caroline M. Hubbard
June 1972
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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