Rare Book & Manuscript Library
 

Bonsall family papers, 1683-1916, bulk 1825-1875

Summary Information

Abstract

The papers of the Bonsall Family of Pennsylvania primarily consist of correspondence, personal and professional documents, journals, genealogical tables, photographs, and a family Bible. The majority of the letters, documents, and journals were generated by or for Edward H. Bonsall (1794-1879) and the members of his immediate family, particularly his eldest son, Spencer Bonsall (1816-1888). Also included are documents produced by or for other Bonsall family members, from Richard Bonsall who settled in Philadelphia with William Penn (ca. 1683) to Eleanor Crosby Martin Bonsall (1894-?), the daughter of William Martin Bonsall and granddaughter of Spencer Bonsall.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#0132
Bib ID 4079363 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Bonsall Family
Title Bonsall family papers, 1683-1916, bulk 1825-1875
Physical Description 2.5 linear feet (6 document boxes, 1 oversized folder)
Language(s) Material is in English.
Access

This collection is located on-site.

This collection has no restrictions.

Arrangement

Arrangement

This collection is arranged in four series: Series I: Correspondence, 1818-1901[Bulk dates 1824-1878]; Series II: Documents, 1683-1916; Series III: Journals, Account Books, and Composition Books, 1785-1865; Series IV: Family Bible, 1814 (with notes dating 1815-1876).

Description

Summary

The Bonsall Family Papers primarily consist of correspondence, personal and professional documents, journals, genealogical tables, photographs, and a family Bible. The majority of the letters, documents, and journals were generated by or for Edward H. Bonsall (1794-1879) and the members of his immediate family, particularly his eldest son, Spencer Bonsall (1816-1888).

  • Series I: Correspondence, 1818-1901 [Bulk Dates 1824-1878]

    This series, which comprises approximately half of the collection, contains correspondence by and to various members of the Bonsall and Martin families. Most of the letters were generated by or to Edward H. Bonsall (1794-1879) and are personal in nature, although a small number concern Bonsall's career as a conveyancer and railroad industrialist. Substantial correspondence exists between Edward H. Bonsall and his son, Joseph Bonsall (1833-1876); and between Edward H. Bonsall and John Ousley Bonsall, a distant relative living in Ireland. The collection also contains several letters written by or to Spencer Bonsall when he was a student at the Westtown School in Chester, Pennsylvania. The Martin family is represented by several letters between William Martin, Esq. (1797-1862); his wife, Sarah Ann Martin (née Smith); and their daughter, Ellen Crosby Martin, wife of Spencer Bonsall.

  • Series II: Documents and Photographs

    This series, which comprises most of the remainder of the collection, contains a broad range of documents relating to several generations of the Bonsall family. The largest portion consists of ancestral wills, land deeds, and other property records, dating from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. Also well represented are genealogical tables and coats of arms. Personal documents, such as poems, calling cards, tickets, and invitations, are interspersed with professional membership certificates, speeches, writings, and general memoranda. Dozens of photographs, tintypes, and silhouettes depict members of the Bonsall and Martin families, some of which have been annotated by William Martin Bonsall, the son of Spencer Bonsall and Ellen Crosby Martin. A small number of documents pertain to individuals with an uncertain relationship to the Bonsall family, while a few others are anonymous. A map of the Denver, Colorado area by Joseph H. Bonsall, dated August 22, 1871, has been moved to the Historical Map Collection.

  • Series III: Journals and Account Books

    The sixteen journals in this series cover a range of topics. Prominent are the travel journals of Edward H. Bonsall (1794-1879) and Spencer Bonsall, which describe voyages to Washington DC, the Ohio Valley, and Calcutta, India. The collection also contains a Civil War journal by Spencer Bonsall, written between March 1 and April 17, 1863 during his service as a hospital steward in the 81st Pennsylvania Regiment. Further additions include a book of genealogical tables, the legal journal of John Crosby (written between 1803 and 1816), and a handful of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century account books containing the costs for such mundane expenses as rent, hair dressing, and laundry. The collection also contains the composition books of Spencer Bonsall, his mother, Lydia McIlvain, and a Rebecca B. Thomson, whose connection to the family is unclear.

  • Series IV: Family Bible, 1814 (with notes dating 1815-1876)

    This family Bible (Collins's "Quarto" Bible, 3rd ed., NY: printed and sold by Collins and Co., 1814) was owned by Edward H. Bonsall (1794-1879) and lists the marriages, births, diseases, and deaths of his two wives, Lydia Bonsall (née McIlvain) and Mary Bonsall (née Hutchin), as well as his eleven children: Spencer, William Milhous, William, Edward H. Jr., Henry, Jeremiah, Charles, Elizabeth, Jane, Joseph, and Jesse. The Bible is signed and dated at the front: "Edward H. Bonsall 1815."

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

This collection is located on-site.

This collection has no restrictions.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Bonsall Family Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Cataloged Christina Hilton Fenn 04/06/89.

Papers Processed Meghan Constantinou, Pratt SILS, 2012 10/--/2010.

Finding aid Written Meghan Constantinou, Pratt SILS, 2012 11/--/2010.

Revision Description

2011-02-10 xml document instance created by Carrie Hintz

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.

Genre/Form

Heading "CUL Archives:"
"Portal"
"CUL Collections:"
"CLIO"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
"ArchivedGRID"
Calling cards Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Genealogies Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Indentures Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Marriage licenses Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Photographic prints Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Playbills Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Silhouettes Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Tintypes Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

Subject

Heading "CUL Archives:"
"Portal"
"CUL Collections:"
"CLIO"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
"ArchivedGRID"
Assam Company Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Bonsall, Edward H., 1794-1879 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Bonsall, Richard Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Bonsall, Spencer, 1816-1888 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Bonsall, Spencer, 1816-1888 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Deeds Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Families -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Hospitals -- United States -- Employees -- Diaries Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Penn, William, 1644-1718 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Poetry Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Quakers -- Correspondence Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Quakers -- Family relationships Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Quakers -- Pennsylvania -- Diaries Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Quakers -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia -- Social life and customs Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Railroads -- United States -- History -- 19th century Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Soldiers -- Health and hygiene -- United States -- History -- 19th century Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Tea -- India Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Travel literature -- India Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
United States. Army. Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, 81st (1861-1865) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Westtown Boarding School Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

The Bonsall family traces its North American ancestry back to Richard Bonsall (d. 1699), who left England with William Penn around the year 1683 to settle in Pennsylvania. Over the course of their history, the Bonsalls remained devoted members of the Religious Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers. Well into the nineteenth century, much of their correspondence retained the use of "thee" and "thou" that were characteristic of Quaker plain speech, while months and days usually appeared in numeric rather than named form (for example"1st month, 4th day= January 4") to disassociate them from pagan deities. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, most of the Bonsalls continued to reside in the Delaware Valley, especially in the areas surrounding Philadelphia, Germantown, and Chester, but, as the country began to expand westward, others moved out to Ohio, Illinois, and Colorado. The Bonsall heirs were chiefly occupied by real estate, transportation, surveying, and the law, from which they seem to have derived a comfortable, if not extravagant, living. A great part of the material in the collection concerns Edward H. Bonsall (1794-1879) and his oldest son, Spencer Bonsall (1816-1888). The family of Spencer's wife, Ellen Crosby Martin, is also well represented.

Edward H. Bonsall (1794-1879): Edward H. Bonsall was born in 1794 to Isaac Bonsall (1765-1831) and Mercy Milhous (1768-1805) of Philadelphia. His career as a conveyancer engaged him in the founding of the Philadelphia, Germantown and Norristown Railroad, of which he eventually became president. In addition to being an avid writer of letters, speeches, and poems, Bonsall was an active member of several learned and charitable organizations, including the Philadelphia Literary Association and the Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons. As revealed in a number of his writings, he also nurtured a lifelong interest in travel. His detailed travel notes record the history, surroundings, and landscape of various cities in Europe, Egypt, and a burgeoning industrial America. These accounts frequently incorporate records of his day-to-day travel arrangements and expenses.

Spencer Bonsall (1816-1888): Spencer Bonsall, the first son of Edward H. Bonsall and Lydia McIlvain (1795-1854), inherited his father's love for travel and history. He was educated at the Quaker Westtown Boarding School in Chester, Pennsylvania, where, as his correspondence reveals, he lived an active social life. After an apprenticeship to the druggist Samuel C. Sheppard, Spencer took a trip around the world, passing through Madeira, Portugal, and landing in Calcutta, India. In 1840, he returned to India where he secured a position with the Assam Tea Company. Upon his return to the United States eight years later, he became the principal surveyor for the city of Philadelphia, and shortly thereafter, in 1854, married Ellen Crosby Martin. Upon the outbreak of the Civil War, Spencer enlisted in the 81st Pennsylvania infantry as a hospital steward, where he served from 1861 until 1863 when he was slightly wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg. From 1869 to 1883 he served as an assistant librarian and genealogist at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.