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Gilson, Carpenter, and Coolidge family letters

 Collection
Identifier: C-67
119 letters totaling 248 pages, plus 24 receipts, 26 postal cards, related papers, both business and military, a few photos and one newspaper clipping. Content is mostly correspondence between family members.

Dates

  • 1887 - 1927

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

Open for research without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish materials, contact: Special Collections & Archives Middlebury College Phone: (802) 443-2387 Email: specialcollections@middlebury.edu

Extent

1 Box

Overview

Letters of three generations of the Coolidge family, poor folks with little education and less fluency with pen and ink. Business and legal documents and letters present a picture of marginal success as well as perennial failure. The earliest letters portray family life, cares and problems, including hazards of travel and weather in rural New England in the 19th century.

Biographical / Historical

The Coolidge (variously Cooledge) family members were rural Vermonters, engaged in farming, for the most part, in and around Plymouth Union, VT. The letters involve three generations. Abbie Gilson Coolidge (1851-1933) and her husband, Edgar (also Edwin) I. (1846-1924), had six children: Matilda, Rozina (“Rosa”, also “Rozilla A. Cooledge”), Lucy Jane, Josiah, Joel Nathan, and another daughter, probably Lavina, born in 1889. Abbie was 17 or 18 when daughter Rozina was born in 1868. Edwin was 5 years older.

Family names recur through the generations, so one finds that as Abbie Gilson has two brothers named Joel and Nathan, she named a son Joel Nathan. Joel F. Gilson named his son Leroy, and Joel Nathan, who married Emma Carpenter, named his son Leroy, as well. There are many letters signed only with initials, or not signed at all, and some of those writers remain unknown. It appears that Abbie, who was caring for her ill mother in 1889-1891, may have had a sister, Matilda, and had a daughter of the same name, or in fact the reference may be to the daughter Matilda. Abbie is central to the early part of the collection, as her family writes to her, often expressing sympathy for the heavy burden of caring for their aging mother as well as her own small children. There are no letters written by her, only a postal card (April, 1890) begging her husband to come home. Her brothers Joel and Nathan and their wives are frequent correspondents, writing to Abbie as well as to “Mother Gilson and family”.

In the following generation, Joel Nathan, son of Abbie and Ed, is the recipient of most of the correspondence, both personal and business. The business correspondence tells a tale of a man who was chronically in debt. Unable to succeed at farming, he attempted other lines of work. Several letters from friends are addressed to his wife Emma Carpenter, inquiring about their baby. The actual date of her marriage to Joel is unknown but seems to have been sometime in 1916. His story as seen through these letters ends in 1928. There are two responses to Rutland Herald advertisements, evidently for someone applying for work as a housekeeper. The applicant is unknown, but may have been Emma Carpenter Coolidge, who may have been widowed or abandoned by Joel.

The cemetery at Plymouth Notch, VT, is the final resting place of some of this family: Abbie L. Gilson Coolidge, 1851-1933; Edwin I. Coolidge, 1846-1924; Josiah S. Coolidge, 1887-1966; Rozilla Sumner, 1868-1958. Lucy Jane Coolidge married Frank Tatro, February 4, 1905, but neither of them is in the local cemetery. The other two girls probably married, changed their names and may have relocated. No record of their marriages or deaths is available. Joel Nathan’s date and place of death are unknown.

Arrangement

The letters are arranged by generation, eldest first, by recipients, and then by date. Abbie and Edwin are first, followed by the correspondence of their children and children’s spouses. In the second generation, Joel and Emma’s letters comprise the bulk of the correspondence. In the third generation, their son Leroy, and Rosa’s daughter, Mary Sumner are minimally represented. Letters to individuals are arranged by date.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

These letters were purchased from Carmen D. Valentino, 2959 Richmond Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19134 in 2008, by Andrew M. Wentink, Curator of Special Collections, Davis Family Library, Middlebury College. The materials were received in numbered file folders, by date and by recipient.

Repository Details

Part of the Middlebury College Special Collections & Archives Repository

Contact:
Middlebury College
Davis Family Library
110 Storrs Avenue
Middlebury Vermont 05753 United States