Scope and arrangement
The Ferguson family papers, 1727-1943 consist of 18th and 19th century correspondence, business records, financial and legal documents, diaries, and family miscellany of the Fergusons and allied families. Genealogical notes, charts, and clippings dating from early- to mid-20th century are the product of Samuel Ferguson's great-granddaughter, Helen Ferguson's research on the family's history.
The materials in this collection concern domestic life and business activity in England and America in the late 18th and 19th centuries. The correspondence of the Fergusons with members of the families into which they married and/or conducted business comprises almost half of the collection. The letters discuss events such as birth, marriage, death and other announcements; information about the activities of family and friends; local news and news from abroad; and their political views. Discussion of Dorothy and William Wordsworth appears in some of the letters, especially those of Martha Ferguson and Dorothy's aunt Elizabeth Threlkeld Rawson. A great deal of business correspondence can be found in this series, especially among the Day, Morewood, Ferguson, Ogden, Fisher, and Walton men.
The business records provide insight into domestic and international business in the 18th and 19th centuries. Document types in this series include correspondence, account books, waste books, bills of sale, bonds, insurance certificates, invoices, and receipts. These materials chronicle the dealings of the various merchant houses and firms with which Samuel Ferguson, John Day, Edmund Morewood, Abraham Walton and John Ferguson were affiliated throughout their lives. Most of the documents pertain to shipping and trade between England, America, the East Indies and China. In addition, Abraham Walton's papers include court registers and other materials related to his profession as a lawyer in New York City.
Financial and legal documents series includes a rich assortment of family wills, land documents, etc. from the early 18th to the late 19th centuries.
The genealogical notes within the Family Miscellany series contain information on the allied families and their interrelationships. Family trees, notes, and other assorted materials are helpful resources for making connections among family members represented in this collection.
The Ferguson family papers are arranged in five series:
The correspondence among members of the Ferguson and allied families, in England and the United States is rich in content. Many of the early letters to Samuel Ferguson in America give insight into the everyday life of his relatives in England. In a letter to Samuel dated September 12, 1804, his sister Martha writes "we have bought share in the Hull Docks which now pay very good interest and if Bonaparte does not come and destroy all, the value of them will be increased". The letters to Samuel from home are also peppered with family gossip. One topic that comes up repeatedly in letters around 1797 from his sister Martha, Uncle Edward, and Aunt Rawson is a scandalous affair involving a cousin, Jane Ferguson, and a Mr. Holroyd. Mrs. Rawson describes the two as "having disagreeable tempers, arrogance and conceit". There is also discussion of Dorothy and William Wordsworth after Dorothy moves out of her Aunt Elizabeth's house. Elizabeth writes to Samuel on March 11, 1795 that "William and Dorothy have a scheme to live in London and plan to maintain themselves by their literary talents, writing, and translating", which Mrs. Rawson thinks is "a very bad, wild, scheme". Martha, Samuel's sister, also talks of William and Dorothy "wandering Germany" and in a long letter from Dorothy (transcript only, no original) to her aunt Elizabeth on June 13, 1798, she discusses the move to Germany saying, "we have long wished to go into that country for the purpose of learning the language, and for the common advantages to be acquired by seeing different people and different manners". In an 1804 letter to Samuel Ferguson, Dorothy gives him an update and expresses her desire to hear about his family.
In letters from Samuel's brother Edward, a linen draper, there is great detail about the current fashions of the time in England, and Edward's own personal style. In a letter dated July 19,1797, he describes his own hairstyle as the present fashion and says it will suit an American summer. He also sends along a few drawings to illustrate. In a May, 1798 letter, Edward talks about wigs and powder and says only the gray headed wear powder and those who want to be thought of as young and smart, cover their gray with wigs. He goes on extensively in these letters about the styles of the times.
In addition to news from overseas, the correspondence gives insight into life in America during the early Republic. A November 13, 1803 letter from Abraham Walton describes in detail his journey by wagon to Utica and the countryside in New York. He also writes about meeting with Indians. There are also many family letters from the late 18th and early 19th century documenting the impact of the yellow fever epidemic in America, and specifically in New York. In a letter dated November 3, 1798 to his brother Joseph, Edmund Morewood describes the deaths of their brother Thomas and his business partner David Ogden from the disease. There is also a prophetic letter dated September 15, 1798 in which Thomas Morewood mentions that his servant has contracted yellow fever. Discussion and concern about the epidemic can be found in much of the family correspondence from this period.
Although the business papers series of this collection includes the bulk of the information on mercantile affairs, there is also copious information on business dealings to be found scattered throughout the family correspondence. The letters exchanged by the Morewood brothers are particularly rich with this information. One example is in a letter from Edmund Morewood dated November 24, 27, 30th 1798. He states, "Coffee and Sugar are too high for a safe adventure, though I think the last article might pay even at its present exorbitant price." He also says, "Cotton has also been very much in demand and has rather advanced, fine Georgian especially. I do not esteem the people here great judges of cotton." In a colorful example from John Day's letters to Samuel Ferguson, he provides descriptions of life on a commercial voyage. In a September 1806 letter, he writes of passenger and business associate William English, "a melancholy instance he is of the effects of liquor". John Day also complains that he's "been occupied in the concerns of these foolish people all week" and tells of William English's wife's request for "the accommodation of two dogs, a mockingbird, and that infernal beast of a cockatoo!"
Letters of the later generations include those of John Ferguson and his wife Helen Morewood Ferguson and their siblings and children. There are many letters of advisement from relatives directed to John Ferguson after the death of his father and at the time when he is going into business. In a June 22, 1822 letter from John Day to John Ferguson when he is about to go to London by ship, John Day states "Remember, my dear John, our business in this world is not to eat and to drink, and to gratify our Passions, but to keep all our appetites in due subordination; to do all the Good we consistently can; faithfully uprightly and honestly in our respective Callings discharging our duties." He also urges John to attend the Church of England while in England, even though he was raised Episcopalian. He dissuades him from going to church with his Great Aunt Elizabeth Threlkeld Rawson because she is a Unitarian and Unitarian doctrines "are flattering to human vanity and very likely to allure the superficial thinking". Subjects discussed in the letters of the later generations of the family in the United States include descriptions of the Ferguson children's trips abroad, to the west coast, and to and from school.
The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by last name of the family and then by first name of the correspondent. Many of the original letters are accompanied by transcripts.
The business records (1756-1864) are primarily the financial and legal papers of Edmund Morewood, Abraham Walton, Samuel Ferguson, his son John Ferguson, John Day, and their business associates in various firms in the 18th and 19th centuries. The firms in England and America traded with each other, the East Indies, and China and the types of goods shipped were diverse. Some of these items included sugar, coffee, tea, tobacco, liquor, dry goods, earthenware, and various manufactured goods. Shipping lists and inventories are prominent throughout the business papers, and give insight into the types of goods being exchanged at that time and their pricing. Some examples from the Ferguson and Day business correspondence include a memorandum stating the Particulars of India Muslins suitable for the American market, the Cochineal Industry in Bombay, and a letter that discusses the value of flax seed in America. Some of these records show the affiliations that the families, especially the Waltons, had to other prominent New York City merchants and businessmen of the time. An example is an account book of Abraham Walton's dated 1794-1797. It records money acquired by the drawing of deeds and mortgages, from such names as John Jacob Astor, the Varicks, Bleeckers, Bayards, Ludlows, and Delanceys.
In addition to commercial papers, the series contains records from Abraham Walton, Edmund Morewood, and John Ferguson's legal practices. Included are court registers, and estate papers, in particular, Bonney family papers in the possession of Edmund Morewood as executor of the estate of George Bonney.
The financial and legal documents contain the wills, deeds, citizenship documents, etc. of various family members. Deeds and other records pertaining to the Stone House are also present here, and show the transactions that went along with the later Fergusons' family home in Stamford, Connecticut. There are also conditions on the sale of pews on the ground floor of St. George's church, 1815, a contract between Edward and John Ferguson for sale of pews at St. George's Church, 1846, and a valuation of the pews in Grace Church, 1846.
The diaries (1793-1868) include those of Samuel Ferguson, John Ferguson, an unidentified Morewood family member and one diary which is completely unidentified. The diary of Samuel Ferguson documents his trip from Philadelphia to Bombay in the late 18th century. It chronicles such details as the different landscapes and animals he comes across, a meeting with the governor, a wagon trip and dinner party at a farm where wine is made, a man falling overboard, and general accounts of life on the ship.
John Ferguson's diary of his trip south documents his journey to Washington DC by boat, train and carriage in the mid 19th century. He describes landscapes, travel, and various inns and lodgings he stays in as he eventually arrives at the "President's House", the Treasury building, and the capitol. He gives a very detailed account of the capitol building. There is only a transcript of this diary.
Henry and Samuel Ferguson's accounts of their time at sea after their ship, The Hornet, is burned, is documented in an 1866 Harper's article.
The bulk of the family papers consist of genealogical notes and accompanying items written and gathered by Helen Ferguson, the great-granddaughter of Samuel Ferguson. Included in these are family trees, information sheets, and histories on the Fergusons, Morewoods, Waltons, and other affiliated families; information sheets on the business relations of some of the men; Helen Ferguson's correspondence with Gordon Wordsworth regarding the letters of Dorothy Wordsworth; drafts of sections of a book Helen Ferguson planned to write on the family; information on the Stone House, Fishers Island, and other miscellaneous items that are related to Helen Ferguson's research on the families.
The family papers also consist of miscellaneous mementos, games, poems, etc. which were collected by various members of the Fergusons and their related families. Some of these items include John Ferguson's speech "200 years ago", pocket almanac from 1794, information on Ferguson library in Stamford, Connecticut, a plan of the city of New York, and a copy of a poem by William Wordsworth.
In the front of most of the genealogical notes folders, there is a listing of the contents. Some of these documents, if they were originals, were moved to more appropriate parts of the collection. If this was done, it is indicated on the list.