Scope and arrangement
Collection consists of Phelps's correspondence, writings and printed matter. Correspondence with friends and family members begins when he was a cadet at West Point and continues into his adult life. Writings include five book-length manuscripts; numerous articles on politics and anti-masonry; and commonplace books from the period of his retirement from active military service which cover his views on national politics, the Civil War, masonry, Indian troubles, legal affairs, and other topics. Of special interest are Phelps's diaries, 1838-1871, recording his experiences in the Seminole War, garrison life in the West during the time of Canadian border troubles, his service in the Mexican War, the expedition to Utah to suppress the Mormons, Civil War service, life in retirement at Brattleboro, Vermont, and his interest in meteorology.
The John Wolcott Phelps papers are arranged in six series:
- 1833-1884; undated.2 boxes
Series I. consists mainly of Phelps' correspondence with his personal friends and relations. Present are numerous letters from him to his sister, Helen Phelps. Beginning at the time when he was a cadet at West Point and continuing into his adult life, these letters describe his experiences in considerable detail and are a useful adjunct to the diaries.
Present also are numerous letters to Phelps from his brother-in-law, Fayette B. Tower who married Elizabeth Phelps (d. 1841). Two lengthy letters (1842 July 8 and Aug. 4) from Fayette who was employed for a time by New York City in developing its water supply system describe the operation and opening of the Croton Reservoir and Aqueduct. There are also numerous letters from Phelps' nephew, Lawrence Tower describing his efforts at getting started in business in New York after the Civil War. Of letters from Phelps' friends the largest group represented are from John Watts DePeyster (1821-1907), author and soldier of Tivoli, Dutchess County, New York. There are also numerous letters to Phelps from various DePeyster family members. There are a few letters, 1836-1837 from Samuel Forry, an army surgeon who served with Phelps during the Seminole War. Scattered here and there are letters to Helen Phelps from various persons, especially Fayette Tower and Henry P. Hatfield.
The letters received from prominent persons have either not survived or have been dispersed. Some of the letters relating to African Americans and the Civil War can be found in the Henry P. Slaughter Collection of the Trevor Arnett Library, Atlanta University.
- 1856-18724 volumes
The letterbooks contain copies of Phelps' outgoing letters mostly to friends and relations. However, for the later period there are numerous letters to Charles Sumner and to officials of the American Colonization Society regarding emancipated slaves and the problems of Reconstruction.
At the beginning of his diary for 1868-1871 is the continuation of an 1852 letterbook consisting of copies of Phelps' letters while at Ft. Brown, Texas.
The diaries record Phelps' experiences in the Seminole war; garrison life in the West during the time of the Canadian border troubles at Ft. Makinac and Ft. Brady; his service in the Mexican War and afterwards at Ft. Brown, Texas during the era of the filibusterers; the expedition to Utah to suppress the Mormons; his Civil War service; and his life in retirement at Brattleboro and Guilford, Vermont. His interest in meteorology is reflected in numerous observations on the weather, winds, cloud formations, and temperature and humidity readings.
- 1840; 1862 - 1881