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Wister and Butler Families Papers


Held at: Historical Society of Pennsylvania [Contact Us]1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Both the Wister and Butler families were prominent in Philadelphia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and had ties to numerous other prominent families in the Philadelphia region, Georgia, and Great Britain.

Major Pierce Butler (1744-1822) was born in Ireland, the son of Sir Richard Butler, the fifth baronet of Cloughrenan, and Lady Henrietta Percy Butler. He first came to the United States in 1758 to fight for the British during the French and Indian War. In 1772, he married Mary Middleton, the daughter of a wealthy South Carolina planter, and resigned from the British Army. In his new life as a Southern planter, Butler eventually built up his land holdings to more than 10,000 acres. His primary holding was Butler's Island plantation, a large producer of rice located near the Altamaha River off the southeastern coast of Georgia.

Butler spent the rest of his life concerned with planting and politics. He served as a representative from South Carolina in the Second Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention, the U.S. Senate, and the South Carolina Legislature. He also served a short stint in the South Carolina Militia to fight off the Redcoats during the Revolutionary War.

Butler and his wife had eight children, five of whom lived to adulthood: Sarah (circa 1772-1831), twins Anne Elizabeth (Eliza) (1774-1854) and Frances (1774-1836), Harriot Percy (circa 1775-1815), and Thomas (1778-1838). After Mary Middleton Butler's death in 1790, the family lived primarily in Philadelphia and at a summer home on Old York Road in Germantown, Pennsylvania.

Butler became estranged from daughter Sarah and son Thomas. His other daughters never married, and Butler relied on Frances to administer the family's plantations and other properties. She was treated generously in her father's will and served as executor of his large estate.

Butler included a provision in his will to allow Sarah's three sons to inherit part of his estate, but only if they changed their last names to Butler. Sarah's son Pierce (Mease) Butler (1810-1867) did so in 1827 as a teenager, and his brother John (Mease) Butler (1806-1847) belatedly followed suit five years later.

In 1834, Pierce married well-known British actress Frances Anne (Fanny) Kemble (1809-1893). Fanny was the daughter of Charles Kemble, a noted English actor and sometime manager of London's Covent Garden, and Marie Theresa de Camp Kemble. Her uncle John Philip Kemble and aunt Sarah Kemble Siddons were also well-known actors. Fanny joined the family business reluctantly, but was an immediate success. She met Pierce during an acting tour of the U.S. that she and her father undertook in 1832.

Pierce and Fanny married in 1834, but their marriage was plagued by rumors of infidelity on his part and disagreements over the Butlers' reliance on slavery. As described in her 1863 memoir, Journal of a Residence on a Georgian Plantation, Fanny was appalled at the fact that nearly everything around her was produced by the toil of enslaved people. She left Pierce in 1845 to return to her native England, and they divorced in 1849. By the late 1850s, Pierce had nearly bankrupted the plantation, and sold off nearly half of the 1000 enslaved people he owned. Despite his mishandling of the plantation business, the land remained in Butler family hands until the 1920s, when it was sold to land developers.

Before they divorced, Pierce and Fanny had two children, Sarah (1835-1908) and Frances (1838-1910). Frances shared her father's pro-slavery views, and moved with him to Georgia at the end of the Civil War to attempt to rejuvenate the family's plantations. After his death in 1867, she continued those efforts alone. She married Rev. James Wentworth Leigh in 1871, and had one daughter live to adulthood, Alice Dudley Leigh. In 1877, after years of frustrations with the plantation and continual quarrels with Sarah and her husband about the way in which the estate should be managed, Frances and her family left Georgia for parish life in England.

Her sister Sarah married Dr. Owen J. Wister of Germantown in 1859. Sarah and her husband disagreed with Pierce's and Frances' pro-slavery views, and sided with the Union during the Civil War. Sarah had one child, Owen ("Dan") Wister (1860-1938). The younger Owen Wister later went on to write the celebrated Western novel, The Virginian. In 1898, he married his cousin Mary Channing ("Molly") Wister (1869-1913). The two had six children.

This collection contains the papers of Pierce (Mease) Butler, his daughters Sarah Butler Wister and Frances Anne Butler Leigh, and many other members of the Butler, Wister, and related families.

The collection contains primarily correspondence and estate papers, but it also includes diaries; newspapers and newspaper clippings; business papers; real estate papers; ledgers and other financial documents; photographs; and a variety of miscellaneous papers.

The collection is arranged in ten series, preserving an earlier arrangement schema that grouped materials by family member. This plan may have been created by Florence Bayard Kane, a private librarian hired by Owen Wister in the 1930s to arrange the family papers. Kane left brief annotations on slips of paper throughout the collection. Note that the divisions between family members' papers are not always tidy, and researchers may find relevant materials in multiple series. Family members who did not warrant their own grouping in that older arrangement schema have been arranged alphabetically in Series 10 (Miscellaneous family papers). Volumes are arranged alphabetically by family member, and then chronologically within each series.

This collection is divided into ten series:

1. Major Pierce Butler, 1758-1854, undated, 1.4 linear feet

2. Thomas Butler, 1776-circa 1868, undated, 0.4 linear feet

3. Pierce (Mease) Butler, 1782-1905, undated, 4 linear feet

4. Frances Anne Kemble (Butler) (Fanny Kemble), 1836-1933, undated, 0.8 linear feet

5. Frances Anne Butler Leigh, 1857-1925, undated, 1 linear foot

6. Sarah Butler Wister, circa 1853-2004, undated, 6.5 linear feet

7. Dr. Owen J. Wister, 1768-1893, undated, 0.3 linear feet

8. Owen Wister, circa 1874-1930, undated, 0.8 linear feet

9. Mary Channing Wister, 1876-1913, undated, 0.2 linear feet

10. Miscellaneous Family Papers, 1700-1936, undated, 5.8 linear feet

Bell, Malcolm Jr. Major Butler’s Legacy: Five Generations of a Slaveholding Family. Athens, Ga.: The University of Georgia Press, 1987. Butler Plantation Papers: The Papers of Pierce Butler (1744-1822) and successors from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania; A Listing and Guide to the Microfilm Collection. Marlborough, U.K.: Adam Matthew Publications, 1996. David, Deirdre. Fanny Kemble: A Performed Life. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007. Jordan, John W., ed. Colonial and Revolutionary Families of Pennsylvania; Genealogical and Personal Memoirs. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1978.

A portion of Major Pierce Butler's correspondence (Series 1, Box 20) was microfilmed in 1996 and is available at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania for researcher use. (MFilm Z 6616 .A2 B883 1996)

Gift of the Wister family, 1969.

Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Dana Dorman
Finding Aid Date
The Digital Center for Americana pilot project was funded by the Barra Foundation and several individual donors.
Use Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Collection Inventory

Scope and Contents

This series includes Major Pierce Butler's correspondence, estate papers, receipt books, and newspapers.

Butler's correspondence includes letters concerning politics, plantation business, crops, and slaves, from correspondents such as Charles Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, John Rutledge, and Anthony Wayne.

Among Butler's estate papers are correspondence and documents regarding family disputes over Butler's will (Box 20, Folder 13). The estate papers also include letters from Charles Fraser and John Vaughan regarding debt to the estate (Box 20, folders 9 and 15); papers from Vanstaphorst Co. (Box 20, Folder 14); wills (Box 20, Folder 16); bills, accounts and receipts (Box 43, Folder 1); and rent statements (Box 43, Folder 2).

Also noteworthy among the estate papers are a set of documents concerning French spoliation claims filed by Butler's daughter Frances Butler, serving as executor of his estate, in the 1830s (Box 20, folders 10-12). According to the paperwork, the ship Two Generals sailed from St. Simons, Georgia in 1811 bound for St. Petersburg, Russia, carrying cotton belonging to Major Pierce Butler. The ship was captured by French privateers and brought to Copenhagen, Denmark, and the cargo lost. Two decades later, Frances Butler filed for restitution for the lost cargo under an 1831 treaty with France.

Additional information about Butler's estate can be found in Series 3 (Pierce [Mease] Butler) and Series 10 (Miscellaneous family papers), in John Butler's and Gabriella Butler's estate papers (Box 28, folders 5-10; Box 43, Folder 15; volumes 45-47).

This series also includes seven volumes: receipt books and a day book kept by Butler.

Four flat files contain miscellaneous oversized papers and intact newspapers from 1788-1797. Butler or someone else added annotations at the top of each newspaper noting why the issue was saved. Newspapers with issues in these files include: The Pennsylvania Packet and Daily; The City Gazette or Daily Advertiser (Charleston, S.C.); Gazette of the United States; The New-York Daily Gazette; The State Gazette of South Carolina; The Daily Advertiser (New York, N.Y.); The London Chronicle; The Columbian Herald or the Independent Courier of North America; The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser (New York, N.Y.); The New-York Journal and Weekly Register; Dunlap's American Daily Advertiser; The Augusta Chronicle and Gazette of the State; General Advertiser (Philadelphia, Pa.); and The Morning Chronicle (London).

Physical Description

1.4 Linear feet ; 1.13 boxes, 7 volumes, 4 flat files

Bills, accounts, receipts, (1758-1820, undated).
Box 20 Folder 1
Correspondence, (1779-1822).
Box 20 Folder 2-8
Estate papers, (1785-1854).
Box 20 Folder 9-16
Newspaper clippings, (1794, undated).
Box 20 Folder 17
Bills, accounts, receipts, (1771-1814).
Box 43 Folder 1
Estate papers - rent statements, (1825-1827).
Box 43 Folder 2
Receipt books, (1772-1821).
Volume 1-7
Day book, (1784-1809).
Volume 3
Correspondence and miscellaneous papers, (1773-circa 1817).
Oversize Flat File 1
Newspapers, (1788-1797).
Oversize Flat File 2-4

Scope and Contents

This small series contains incoming correspondence to Thomas Butler regarding St. Simon's Island plantation, also known as Hampton Point, as well as papers concerning his estate. Major correspondents include Roswell King, Jr. and Harrison Latham. King was overseer for the Butler plantations in Georgia, and his letters describe the raising and selling of crops and the activities of the plantations' enslaved people.

Papers regarding Butler's estate can be found in Box 21, folders 11-12. Folder 12 specifically concerns his Wayne County lands. His son Louis Butler served as executor for the estate. Other Louis Butler correspondence can be found in Series 10 (Miscellaneous family papers).

Physical Description

0.4 Linear feet ; 1.06 boxes

Correspondence - incoming, (1824-1835).
Box 21 Folder 1-10
Estate papers, (1776-circa 1868, undated).
Box 21 Folder 11-12
Oversized correspondence, (1825-1835).
Box 43 Folder 3

Scope and Contents

This series contains Pierce (Mease) Butler's business papers; correspondence; estate papers; materials related to his interests in music and wine; real estate documents; account ledgers; expenses notebooks; papers related to three duels/challenges in which he was involved; and other miscellaneous papers.

Among his business papers are documents regarding a car wheel patent, Philadelphia Silver & Copper Mining Co., and Valley Furnace & Klinger coal lands (Box 22, folders 6-8).

A small diary from 1841 (Box 23, Folder 10) records Butler's observations, visits, and expenses while in Paris.

His correspondence spans the years 1824-1867, and includes several bound volumes. Among the incoming correspondence are 40 letters written by Francis Henry Gitzhardinge Berkeley from 1828-1838 concerning music and theater. Berkeley was later to become a member of Parliament. Other correspondents from the world of the arts include Anna B. Jameson (1794-1860), an Irish writer on art; Henry Greville (1801-1872), an English diarist; Ellen Kean (1805-1880), an English actress; and Charles J. Kean (1811-1868), an English actor. As his cultural inclinations declined after his divorce from Fanny in 1849, Butler's responsibilities for personal and family business increased. Four letterbooks (volumes 8-9, 11, 18) are concerned mostly with marketing crops from the Georgia plantations and other business. Approximately 100 letters to and from General James Hamilton (1786-1857), governor of South Carolina, deal with Hamilton's attempts to induce Butler to buy Retrieve Plantation in Texas in the early 1850s.

The series contains a significant number of estate papers (Box 23, folders 11-17; Box 24; Box 25, folders 1-5) that relate to the management, financing, and eventual division and sale of Butler's estate, namely the Georgia plantations and the Germantown properties. Butler's daughters Frances Anne Butler Leigh and Sarah Butler Wister, as well as Sarah's husband Dr. Owen J. Wister, wrote assorted routine business correspondence to each other regarding the estate, as well to P. C. Hollis, the family's Philadelphia lawyer and agent. The trio also quarreled regularly about how the estate should be managed. Leigh's letters are noteworthy for detailing the various financial transactions involved in running a plantation, as well as describing the economic conditions in the postbellum South, the problems involved in recovering from the war, racial attitudes, and the status of formerly enslaved people who had become employees. The estate correspondence for the 1895-1905 years concerns the sisters' division of their father's Germantown, Pennsylvania, estate lands.

Other documents concerning Butler's real estate can be found in Box 26, with materials pertaining to Butler's Island (Box 26, Folder 3); Butler Place, Old York Road (Box 26, Folders 4-5); Green Lane (Box 26, Folder 6); and Philadelphia (Box 26, folders 7-9). The real estate documents include deeds, maps, mortgages, leases, sales documents, and an accounts book from 1847-1856 for Philadelphia properties.

The remaining materials in this series cover a variety of topics of interest to Butler.

Box 22, folders 2-4 contain papers related to Amateur Musical Soirees; Volume 10 is a subscription book for the soirees. The series contains Musical Fund Society programs for 1846-1851, as well as materials from a Ladies' Bazaar held by the society in 1847. A folder of miscellaneous musical programs includes one with raised lettering from an 1863 "Amateur concert for the entertainment of the pupils of the Penn'a institution for the blind" (Box 25, Folder 18).

Several folders of materials concern a duel and two almost-duels in which Butler participated. In 1844, James Schott, Jr. accused Butler of having an affair with Schott's wife, and challenged him to a duel. Both men survived the duel, which was held near Bladensburg, Maryland. In 1864, Butler challenged Andrew Mehaffey to a duel after an argument at a stockholders' meeting of the River Oil Company, a speculative Pennsylvania venture. However, the mayor of Philadelphia had Mehaffey arrested to prevent the duel from taking place at the appointed time. Another almost-duel occurred in 1865-1866, when Butler felt insulted regarding William Henry Rawle's invitation to co-host dancing assemblies in Philadelphia. Butler was, in fact, not a host for the assemblies, though Rawle apologized for the slight and the matter dropped.

The series also contains papers concerned with wine (Box 26, folders 12-13), including receipts for Butler's wine purchases; two small notebooks listing wine purchases; and flyers for an 1838 sale of "fine old madeira wines" that had belonged to his uncle Thomas Butler.

Other related materials can be found in Series 10 (Miscellaneous family papers), regarding Butler's administration of his brother John Butler's estate (Box 28, folders 5-10). Additional materials on the Butler family's land holdings can also be found in Series 10, including deeds, land surveys, and related documents.

Physical Description

4.0 Linear feet ; 6.25 boxes, 15 volumes, 1 flat file

Account ledger pages, (1853).
Box 22 Folder 1
Amateur Musical Soirees, (circa 1849-1850).
Box 22 Folder 2-4
Autographs, (1828, undated).
Box 22 Folder 5
Business papers, (circa 1850-1869, undated).
Box 22 Folder 6-8
Church of Epiphany, (1863).
Box 22 Folder 9
Correspondence - incoming, (1824-1841).
Box 22 Folder 10-15
Correspondence - incoming, (1842-1867, undated).
Box 23 Folder 1-8
Correspondence - outgoing, (1846-1848).
Box 23 Folder 9
Diary, (1841).
Box 23 Folder 10
Estate business papers, (1867-1869).
Box 23 Folder 11-17
Estate business papers, (1869-1905, undated).
Box 24 Folder 1-26
Estate receipts and documents, (1848-1881).
Box 24 Folder 27-30
Estate receipts and documents, (1868-1870).
Box 25 Folder 1-5
Estate wills, (1833, undated).
Box 25 Folder 6
Genealogy, (1831-1835, undated).
Box 25 Folder 7
Military papers, (1830-1835).
Box 25 Folder 8
Mehaffey, Andrew duel/challenge, (1864).
Box 25 Folder 9
Miscellaneous papers, (1836-1867).
Box 25 Folder 10
Morton Schoolhouse at Branchtown, (1838-1839, undated).
Box 25 Folder 11
Musical Fund Society Ladies' Bazaar, (Oct.-Dec. 1847).
Box 25 Folder 12
Musical Fund Society programs, (1846-1851, undated).
Box 25 Folder 13-17
Musical programs for miscellaneous concerts, (1847-1863, undated).
Box 25 Folder 18
Newspaper clippings, (1836-1837, undated).
Box 25 Folder 19
Pennsylvania Reform Society anniversary, (1863).
Box 25 Folder 20
Politics, (circa 1836).
Box 26 Folder 1
Rawle, William Henry duel/challenge, (1865-1866).
Box 26 Folder 2
Real estate, (1782-1893, undated).
Box 26 Folder 3-9
Schott, James Jr. duel/challenge, (1844).
Box 26 Folder 10-11
Wine, (1838-1852, undated).
Box 26 Folder 12-13
Expenses notebooks, (1838-1839).
Box 41
Oversized estate business papers, (1871).
Box 43 Folder 4
Oversized military papers, (1830).
Box 43 Folder 5
Oversized miscellaneous papers, (1849-1863).
Box 43 Folder 6
Oversized Scott, James Jr. duel/challenge, (1844).
Box 43 Folder 7
Copies of outgoing correspondence, (March 7, 1838-August 7, 1846).
Volume 8-9
Amateur Musical Soirees subscriptions book, (1849-1850).
Volume 10
Letterpress books, (1851-1863).
Volume 11, 18
Letter log book, (1851-1863).
Volume 12
Index to ledger, (undated).
Volume 13
Cash book, (1851-1855).
Volume 14
Ledger, (1851-1855).
Volume 15
Account ledger, (1851-1855).
Volume 16
Check book no. 13, (1853-1854).
Volume 17
Daily journal, (1862).
Volume 19
Check book no. 18, (1864-1866).
Volume 20
Estate memoranda book, (Sept. 1867-March 1868).
Volume 21
Index of American autographs, vol. 1, (undated).
Volume 22
Miscellaneous real estate papers, (1773-1893, undated).
Oversize Flat File 5

Scope and Contents

This small series contains primarily correspondence, as well as a few miscellaneous papers related to Kemble.

The bulk of the correspondence is incoming letters from Kemble's daughter, Sarah Butler Wister. Sarah's letters cover a variety of social and family topics over a thirty year span (1862-1892). Her letters during the Civil War period are difficult to read due to fading ink and words written in two directions.

The series also includes outgoing correspondence from Kemble to Sarah, Sarah's husband Dr. Owen J. Wister, George W. Biddle, Mr. and Mrs. John Forbes, and William Rotch Wister. Most of Kemble's outgoing correspondence is social in nature, and includes commentary on public affairs, political leaders, noted literary and artistic figures, books, plays, concerts, and her travels. Her letters to Sarah offer insights into her relationships with her daughters, the friction caused by her publishing Journal of a Residence On A Georgia Plantation in 1838-1839 and her memoirs, and her frustrations with growing older. Kemble's letters to William Rotch Wister, who administered her finances and served as her lawyer, discuss various business affairs.

A single folder (Box 2, Folder 29) contains correspondence related to Kemble's divorce from Pierce (Mease) Butler, including letters from Theodore Sedgwick, William Meredith, and Rufus Choate.

Note that some folders of correspondence were unfolded by a family member or early arranger (perhaps Florence Bayard Kane, a private librarian hired by Owen Wister in the 1930s to arrange the family papers), leaving it difficult to tell where each letter begins and ends.

Photographs of Kemble can be found in Series 6 (Sarah Butler Wister), in Box 15, folders 26-27. Kemble is also mentioned or discussed in other family members' correspondence throughout the collection.

Physical Description

0.8 Linear feet ; 2 boxes, 1 flat file

Atlantic Monthly, on the death of Frances Anne Kemble, (May 1893).
Box 1 Folder 1
Calendar of Frances Anne Kemble material not included in the collection, (undated).
Box 1 Folder 2
Correspondence, (1836-1892, undated).
Box 1 Folder 3-33
Correspondence, (1847-circa 1893, undated).
Box 2 Folder 1-29
Miscellaneous papers relating to Fanny Kemble, (1893-1933, undated).
Box 2 Folder 30
Newspaper clippings re: Fanny Kemble, (1909).
Oversize Flat file 6

Scope and Contents

This series contains primarily outgoing correspondence from Frances Anne Butler Leigh to her sister, Sarah Butler Wister. There are also some papers related to Butler's Island plantation in Georgia, including loose account pages, time books, ledgers, and a cash book.

Leigh's letters are significant for their descriptions and impressions of life in the postbellum South. She and her father Pierce (Mease) Butler sympathized with the Confederacy, and moved to Georgia at the end of the Civil War to try to rejuvenate the family's plantations. After his death in 1867, Frances continued those efforts alone, though with the input of her sister Sarah and her brother-in-law Dr. Owen J. Wister. In 1871, Frances married James Wentworth Leigh, an Anglican clergyman, and they eventually moved to England in 1877.

Leigh's letters were originally arranged in the 1930s by Florence Bayard Kane, a private librarian hired by Owen Wister, and as Kane notes in brief annotations found in some folders, it is difficult to tell where each letter begins and ends. The letterpress books (Volume 23 and Volume 27) are easier to decipher, and contain copies of Leigh's letters from February 1869-March 1871 and January 1878-April 1879, respectively.

Many of these letters are business correspondence relating to the management of the Butler plantations, and provide insights into Leigh's struggle for survival against the damage wrought by war, weather, and the unstable economy. She and her sister and brother-in-law quarreled regularly about how the estate should be managed. The letters also reveal Leigh's reactions to the once-enslaved African Americans who returned to work on the plantations, what she attempted to do for them, and descriptions of the conditions in which her workers lived. For a more formal account of her time on the plantation after the war, see her published book, Ten Years on a Georgia Plantation Since the War (London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1883) (Call number Ug.46).

The series includes a small amount of other materials related to the Butler's Island plantation, including loose account pages (Box 3, Folder 1), time books (Box 3, Folder 2; Volume 25), ledgers (Volumes 24 and 26), and a cash book (Volume 28).

Leigh's letters to her sister after the move to England in 1877 offer insights into late Victorian England from a woman's point of view. She describes her experiences as the wife of an Anglican clergyman, reporting on the annual fairs, theatricals, and concerts that were organized to entertain the parishioners and/or raise money for the church. She also commented on the parishioners themselves, her husband's advocacy of temperance, and his involvement in local politics. She described the houses in which she lived, the number and quality of her servants, the nature of her daily routine, her efforts to care for her aging mother, her sorrow at the death of an infant son, and her motherly concern for her daughter, Alice.

The series also includes materials related to a stained glass window dedicated in Leigh's honor in Hereford Cathedral in 1912 (Box 3, Folder 23).

Photographs of Leigh, her husband, and her daughter Alice can be found in Series 6 (Sarah Butler Wister), in Box 15, Folder 24. Also in that series, Frances is occasionally described in her older sister's correspondence and diaries.

Other Frances Butler Leigh material can be found in Series 3 (Pierce [Mease] Butler), regarding the management of his estate. That series includes Leigh's 1868-1887 letters to P. C. Hollis, the Wister family's Philadelphia lawyer and agent. Her letters are generally of a routine nature, detailing the various financial transactions involved in running a plantation. However, that series includes additional details on the economic conditions in the postbellum South, the problems involved in recovering from the war, racial attitudes, and the status of formerly enslaved people who had become employees. The estate correspondence for the 1895-1905 years concerns Leigh's and her sister's division of their father's Germantown, Pennsylvania, estate lands. Additional materials on the family's land holdings can be found in Series 10 (Miscellaneous family papers), including deeds, land surveys, and related documents.

Physical Description

1.0 Linear feet ; 1 box, 6 volumes

Butler's Island papers (removed from Vol. 24), (1877-1878).
Box 3 Folder 1
Butler's Island time books, (Feb.-March 1881).
Box 3 Folder 2
Correspondence, (1857-1905, undated).
Box 3 Folder 3-22
Stained glass window memorial, (1912-1925).
Box 3 Folder 23
Frances Butler Leigh letterpress books, (Feb. 14, 1869-March 23, 1871; Jan. 18, 1878-April 25, 1879).
Volume 23, 27
Butler's Island ledgers, (1871-1879).
Volume 24, 26
Butler's Island time book, (1874-1875).
Volume 25
Butler's Island cash book, (1879-1885).
Volume 28

Scope and Contents

The bulk of this series is correspondence, along with Sarah Butler Wister's diaries, photographs of friends and family, copies of her manuscript about the early life of her son Owen Wister, and other miscellaneous papers.

Wister's correspondence is arranged by correspondent and by subject. Several major correspondents are filed first, followed by a group of miscellaneous correspondents, and then a group arranged by subject, preserving the existing arrangement of either Wister herself or Florence Bayard Kane, a private librarian hired by Owen Wister in the 1930s to arrange the family papers.

Wister's papers provide excellent commentary on her opinions and activities during the Civil War. In her letters and a diary (Volume 29), she discusses Lincoln's election, the approach of the war, the firing on Fort Sumter, the North's victories and defeats, the competence and ineptitude of various generals, the draft riots in New York (with comparisons of Irish and African American civic virtues, social standings, and abilities), the end of the war, and Lincoln's assassination. Wister also commented on politicians such as Edwin M. Stanton, William H. Seward, and Jefferson Davis; noted the virtues or failings of the Republicans and Democrats; expressed her loathing for rabid abolitionists and her disgust for Southern sympathizers (including her sister Frances Butler Leigh); and jotted down the political sentiments held by many prominent Philadelphians. There are also some scattered remarks about the arrest and short imprisonment of her father Pierce (Mease) Butler in August-September 1861.

Correspondence from Wister's friend Jeannie L. Field Musgrave, daughter of David Dudley Field (1805-1894) and wife of Sir Anthony Musgrave (1828-1888), provides additional commentary on the war. Jeannie regularly relayed to her friend pieces of the military and political information that her father, a prominent New York Republican, had received through his political connections. She also commented on family and social affairs and marital attitudes.

Letters to Wister from County Scull, a Union commissary officer stationed on Hilton Head Island, provide information about the various military units that passed through Hilton Head post, and general views about Union military activities in the South.

The latter part of Wister's correspondence deals with a variety of topics, including racial attitudes and relationships in both the North and the South during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, her extensive travel in Europe, her writings, women's views of themselves and their predecessors, and more.

From 1873-1898, there are many letters from English feminist Frances Power Cobbe. The series also includes correspondence from Henry James. Fifty years of Sarah's correspondence with friends Charles and Helen Fairchild was returned to Wister's family by Helen. A letter from Theodore Roosevelt is filed in miscellaneous correspondence.

The series also includes materials related to an 1877 volume of biographical sketches of American Women, Worthy Women of Our First Century, edited by Wister and Agnes Irwin (Box 15, folders 4-7). There are fifty letters from individuals such as Anne Fiske, Faith Hubbard, Mary Eliot Parkinson, Catherine Pennington, Sarah Randolph, and Helen Stryker, which are filled with discussions about the qualities that a woman ought to possess to merit inclusion in the book.

The bulk of the correspondence in the series is to or from Sarah's husband, Dr. Owen J. Wister. Sarah's letter to her son "Dan" (Owen Wister) (Box 7, Folder 1) explains more about the group of letters, which provides ample background on her courtship with Dr. Wister (1856-1859) and sketches out the early years of their marriage. A diary of Dr. Wister's (Volume 40) originally found in this grouping of private letters was moved to Series 7 (Dr. Owen J. Wister).

This series also includes Sarah's writings about her son Owen's early life. A brief account in Box 15, Folder 18 was written sometime in May 1861, and focuses on the first nine months of her son's life. A later manuscript, "The Early Years of a Child of Promise" (Box 44; volumes 54-55), is also included in this series. Note that the original manuscript may still be in the possession of her granddaughter Fanny Stokes (or her descendants).

Other miscellaneous papers include newspaper clippings, poetry, literary works (including a reminiscence of Sarah written by Virginia Newbold), a sketchbook, speeches, and Caroline Lewis' illustrated account of her 1881 visit to Butler Place and encounter with Henry James there (Box 43, Folder 8).

The series includes a number of photographs of family and friends (Box 15; Box 43, folders 10-11), including images of Sarah, her mother Fanny Kemble, sister Frances Butler Leigh, and Butler Place in Germantown.

Sarah's letters to her mother Fanny can be found in Series 4 (Frances Anne Kemble [Butler]).

Physical Description

6.5 Linear feet ; 16.25 boxes, 13 volumes

Correspondence - Cobbe, Francis Power, (circa 1873-1898, undated).
Box 4
Correspondence - Field, Jeannie L. (incoming, outgoing), (1855-1905, undated).
Box 5
Correspondence - Mitchell, S. Weir (incoming), (1874-1907, undated).
Box 6 Folder 1-7
Correspondence - Scull, County (incoming, outgoing), (1856-1866, undated).
Box 6 Folder 8-15
Correspondence - Ward, Samuel G. (incoming, outgoing), (1892-1907, undated).
Box 6 Folder 16-35
Correspondence - Wister, Dr. Owen J., (1856-1898, undated).
Box 8-11
Correspondence - Wister, Dr. Owen J., (1894-1896, undated).
Box 12 Folder 1-7
Correspondence - miscellaneous correspondents, A-De Musset, (1874-1908, undated).
Box 12 Folder 8-25
Correspondence - miscellaneous correspondents, Deut-Mason, (circa 1853-1906, undated).
Box 13
Correspondence - miscellaneous correspondents, Mitchell-unidentified fragments, (1861-1905, undated).
Box 14 Folder 1-20
Miscellaneous correspondence by subject; Darien, Ga. riot-former slaves, (1896-1903, undated).
Box 14 Folder 21-33
Miscellaneous correspondence by subject; Keats Shelley Memorial-publication of Worthy Women, (1874-1905).
Box 15 Folder 1-7
Other papers, (circa 1861-1911, undated).
Box 15 Folder 8-21
Photographs, (1856-1874, undated).
Box 15 Folder 15-28
Diaries, (1871-1876).
Box 38-40
Caroline Lewis' illustrated account of visit to Butler Place and encounter with Henry James, (1881, 1930, 1971).
Box 43 Folder 8
Marriage certificate, (1860).
Box 43 Folder 9
Photographs - Howard family, England, (circa 1873).
Box 43 Folder 10
Photographs - miscellaneous family and friends, (undated).
Box 43 Folder 11
Copy of "The Early Years of a Child of Promise", (1905, 2004, undated).
Box 44
Diaries, (1861-1889).
Volume 29 Volume 31-38
Copies of travel letters, (1870).
Volume 30
Calendrier du Centenaire, (circa 1889).
Volume 39

Scope and Contents

This small series includes primarily incoming correspondence, along with a diary, journal excerpt, and other miscellaneous papers.

Much of the material dates to Dr. Wister's time with the U.S. Navy. Early in 1848, he was appointed to serve as an assistant surgeon in the U.S. Navy, and from 1848-1850 served on the sloop Plymouth. During that period, Dr. Wister traveled to Rio de Janeiro, the Straits of Sumatra, Hong Kong, Canton, the Phillippines, Honolulu, San Francisco, and more.

Dr. Wister's journal excerpt (Box 16, Folder 16) dates from August 2, 1848 to March 10, 1850 and describes wardroom quarrels, general ship life, dirty ports, Malayan natives, the American diplomatic mission to China, Chinese customs and traits, and retired white missionaries living in Hawaii. A diary (Volume 18) is labeled "Absence, 1858," and seems to have been written to his future wife Sarah Butler Wister, or at least with her in mind.

Most of the incoming correspondence in this series is written by family members, and concerns news of Germantown, friends, and family. Major correspondents include his father Charles J. Wister Sr., mother Sarah Whitesides Wister, brother Charles J. Wister, Jr., and sisters Sarah E. Wister and Mary B. Ruschenberger. His correspondence with his future wife Sarah Butler Wister can be found in Series 6 (boxes 7-12).

Box 42 contains a glass pane etched with several inscriptions. The bulk of the inscription contains lines about Dr. Wister written by his father, Charles J. Wister, on April 16 (his father's birthday), 1848. Later etchings note Dr. Wister's family's sailing to England in 1870 and his death in 1896. The box includes a written transcription of the glass etchings.

Other miscellaneous papers include notes on changes to the Civic Club constitution (Box 16, Folder 1); family memorabilia (Box 16, Folder 15); Dr. Wister's Naval appointment papers (Box 16, Folder 18); an anti-vivisection speech (Box 16, Folder 19), and his 1852 diploma from the Philadelphia Medical College (Box 43, Folder 12).

Additional materials concerning Dr. Wister can be found in Series 3 (Pierce [Mease] Butler), regarding the management of Butler's estate.

Physical Description

0.3 Linear feet ; 2.06 boxes, 1 volume

Civic Club constitution changes, (undated).
Box 16 Folder 1
Correspondence, (1843-1893, undated).
Box 16 Folder 2-14
Family memorabilia - Daniel Wister receipts, statement of Samuel R. Fisher, (1768-1889).
Box 16 Folder 15
Journal excerpt, (1848-1850).
Box 16 Folder 16
Miscellaneous papers, (1891, undated).
Box 16 Folder 17
Naval appointment papers, (1848-1850).
Box 16 Folder 18
Speech on anti-vivisection, (circa Feb. 1885).
Box 16 Folder 19
Glass pane etching about Dr. Owen J. Wister, (1848-1896).
Box 42
Diploma and Naval appointment paper, (1848-1852).
Box 43 Folder 12
Diary, (1858).
Volume 40

Scope and Contents

This series contains primarily incoming correspondence, along with a small amount of newspaper clippings and other miscellaneous papers of Owen (known to the family as Dan) Wister, the son of Dr. Owen J. Wister and Sarah Butler Wister. The series provides little information about Owen's literary career, but offers insights into various family topics.

The series includes a few letters written by Owen to his parents in the 1870s, detailing some difficulties he was having at St. Paul's School in Concord, N.H. The incoming correspondence contains primarily social letters from friends and family, including letters offering condolences on the death of his father in 1896; congratulating him on the birth of his daughter in 1899; and discussing assorted family and social news. Major correspondents include his mother Sarah Butler Wister and wife Mary Channing Wister. The letters from his daughter Mary Channing (Marina) Wister II provide some insight into her preliminary literary efforts, as well as her sometimes strained relationship with him.

About twenty letters relate to Owen Wister's muckraking article on political corruption in Harrisburg, which appeared in the October 1907 issue of Everybody's Magazine. This correspondence includes congratulation notes, requests for additional similar articles, and tales of political corruption in other cities.

This series also contains newspaper clippings from 1907, primarily from the Author's Clipping Bureau regarding Wister's book, How Doth the Simple Spelling Bee.

His mother's accounts of his early life can be found in Series 6 (Sarah Butler Wister) in boxes 15 and 44, and in volumes 34-35. Photographs of Owen Wister can be found in Series 10 (Miscellaneous family papers) in Box 33 and in volumes 50 and 51.

Physical Description

0.8 Linear feet ; 2 boxes

Correspondence and miscellaneous papers, (circa 1874-1930, undated).
Box 17 Folder 1-23
Correspondence and miscellaneous papers concerning Wister family papers donations, (1930-1933).
Box 17 Folder 24
Correspondence from Sousa, John Philip, (undated).
Box 17 Folder 25
Correspondence from Wister, Mary Channing, (April 1907, undated).
Box 17 Folder 26-27
Correspondence from Wister, Sarah Butler, (1892-1907, undated).
Box 18 Folder 1-12
Miscellaneous papers, (1906, undated).
Box 18 Folder 13
Newspaper clippings, (1907, undated).
Box 18 Folder 14-18

Scope and Contents

This small series includes correspondence, speeches and notes, and newspaper clippings of Mary Channing Wister, who was the daughter of William Rotch Wister and Mary Rodman Wister and eventual wife of her cousin Owen Wister.

The correspondence is sparse, and consists primarily of congratulatory notes after the birth of her first daughter in September 1899, letters regarding her various civic activities, and correspondence from her mother-in-law Sarah Butler Wister and other family members.

Her speeches and notes are largely untitled, though a private librarian (Florence Bayand Kane) working on the papers for Owen Wister in the 1930s added annotations to some notes regarding the speeches' purpose. A newspaper clipping (Box 19, Folder 13) announcing her engagement to Owen Wister highlights her civic and philanthropic activities as of 1898.

Physical Description

0.2 Linear feet ; 1.06 boxes

Correspondence and miscellaneous papers, (1876-1911, undated).
Box 19 Folder 1-12
Newspaper clippings, (1898-1913).
Box 19 Folder 13
Speeches and miscellaneous notes, (undated).
Box 19 Folder 14
Certificate from South Carolina, Interstate and West Indian Exposition Company, (1901).
Box 43 Folder 13

Scope and Contents

This large series includes papers from a variety of Butler, Wister, and other related families. The papers are arranged alphabetically by person, with miscellaneous sections for general Butler and Wister family papers.

Among the highlights in this series are the papers of Samuel Bradford, including papers relating to the disagreement with his father, Thomas Bradford, over the family printing business. There are also papers from Samuel's son, Dr. James H. Bradford, including letters sent from his brother-in-law, Dr. Edward Florens Rivinus, between 1829-1858. Dr. Bradford's father-in-law David Caldwell is represented by a group of correspondence and miscellaneous items, including papers concerning his business relationship with Francis Markoe (Box 29, Folder 10).

John Butler's estate papers contain a variety of noteworthy items, including a list of enslaved people (Box 28, Folder 7) whom he and his brother Pierce (Mease) Butler had inherited from their grandfather Major Pierce Butler. The enslaved people and other aspects of John's and Pierce's inheritance were carefully inventoried when Pierce faced financial difficulties and sold off some of his property in the 1850s. John's wife Gabriella's papers are also included in the series, in the form of two estate ledger books (volumes 45-46).

Elizabeth R. Fisher's papers contain Civil War letters from Frank Wister, Langhorne Wister, Harry Fisher, and others concerning their service in the Union army (Box 29, folders 14-17).

A few items pertain to Fanny Kemble's father, Charles Kemble. Among those who wrote to him were English poet Felicia D. Hemans (1793-1835), English painter Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), German musician Karl M. F. E. von Weber (1786-1826) and English actress Sarah Siddons (1755-1831). The series also contains a few items from Fanny's sister Adelaide Kemble (Box 29, folders 1-5).

Pierce (Mease) Butler's parents are also represented in the series. Dr. James Mease's papers include horticulture bills from John Bartram Jr., letters from Andrew Jackson (1825-1827), and autobiographical notes (Box 29, folders 7-10). Sarah Butler Mease's papers consist of a copy of an 1801 letter to Thomas Jefferson regarding a Mr. Hall, and Jefferson's reply (Box 29, folder 12).

Frances A. Wister's papers offer little insight into her own life, but document her extensive research on Wister family genealogy, including notes, correspondence with relatives, and printed materials on family history (Box 30, folders 17-29; Box 31). The series also includes an article she wrote for The Independent Gazette discussing her ancestor John Wister (Flat File 10).

Other Wister genealogical materials can be found in Box 33, folders 1-4, and in the papers of William Rotch Wister (Box 35, folders 2-5; Flat File 16). William's papers also contain correspondence, a manuscript apparently written by his brother regarding McClellan's retreat (Box 35, Folder 6), a household expenses book (Volume 53), and a ribbon made for him in 1861 by family friend Jeannie Field Musgrave to wear on his Union uniform in remembrance of Ft. Sumter (Box 36).

A large number of Wister-related deeds and documents are found in Box 32, folders 8-14. Wister photographs, many likely the friends and family of Sarah Butler Wister and pasted on scrapbook pages with handwritten labels, are found in Box 33, folders 11-14, and in volumes 48-52.

Other notable items in the series include a 1724 deed to James Logan from Hannah Penn, Thomas Penn, and John Penn for 5,000 acres in Nottingham Township in Chester County (Flat File 8). The series also includes a single letter from George Washington to Benjamin Franklin dated November 3, 1786 (Box 35, Folder 13). It is unclear why that letter is included in the families' papers, but it may have been an autograph item collected by one of the family members.

Finally, the series also includes miscellaneous manuscripts of Sara Yorke Stevenson (Mrs. Cornelius Stevenson), archaeologist, columnist, and civic leader. Most of these documents are notes and drafts for lectures and articles related to her work as curator at the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art. It is unclear why her papers are included in the collection. Stevenson's husband Cornelius may have been related to the Wisters, but according to LaSalle University's Connelly Library Special Collections, Frances A. Wister collected a large number of Stevenson papers in order to write a biography of her.

Physical Description

5.8 Linear feet ; 11.19 boxes, 13 volumes, 11 flat files

Blake, Mrs. Elizabeth estate papers, (1789-1798).
Box 27 Folder 1
Bradford, Dr. James papers, (1829-1858, undated).
Box 27 Folder 2-17
Bradford, Samuel papers, (1798-1836).
Box 27 Folder 18-22
Butler, Frances (d. 1820) of Dublin estate papers, (1820-1855).
Box 28 Folder 1
Butler, Frances (1774-1836) papers, (1822-1835).
Box 28 Folder 2-4
Butler, John estate papers, (1797-1931).
Box 28 Folder 5-10
Butler, Louis incoming correspondence, (1826-1848).
Box 28 Folder 11-12
Butler miscellaneous correspondence, (1706-1847, undated).
Box 28 Folder 13
Butler, Thomas (d. 1792) estate papers, (1791-1793).
Box 28 Folder 14
Caldwell, David papers, (1797-1838, undated).
Box 29 Folder 1-13
Fisher, Elizabeth R. incoming correspondence re: Civil War, (1861-1865).
Box 29 Folder 14-17
Fisher, Mary Rodman papers, (circa 1802-1893, undated).
Box 29 Folder 18-19
Fisher, William Logan papers, (1828-1835).
Box 29 Folder 20-21
Folger family genealogy, (circa 1878).
Box 29 Folder 22
Jameson, Anna incoming correspondence, (1826, undated).
Box 29 Folder 23
Kemble, Adelaide correspondence, (1841, undated).
Box 30 Folder 1
Kemble, Charles correspondence, (1797-1842, undated).
Box 30 Folder 2-3
Kemble miscellaneous papers, (1788-1930, undated).
Box 30 Folder 4-5
Logan, William letter to Amy Richardson, (1756).
Box 30 Folder 6
Mease, Dr. James papers, (1804-1831, undated).
Box 30 Folder 7-10
Mease, Dr. James and Sarah Butler Mease deed to Major Pierce Butler, (1800).
Box 30 Folder 11
Mease, Sarah Butler correspondence with Thomas Jefferson, (March 20-26, 1801).
Box 30 Folder 12
Wister, Annis Lee Furness (Mrs. Caspar Wister) incoming correspondence from Richard von Appiano, (1906).
Box 30 Folder 13
Wister, Charles J. Jr. papers, (1870-1903).
Box 30 Folder 14-15
Wister, Charles J. Sr. and Sarah Whitesides Wister papers, (1821-1839, undated).
Box 30 Folder 16-17
Wister, Frances A. papers, (1930-1936).
Box 30 Folder 17-18
Wister, Frances A. Wister family genealogy papers, (circa 1933-1940).
Box 30 Folder 19-29
Wister, Frances A. Wister family genealogy papers, (circa 1933-1940).
Box 31
Wister, Francis estate papers, (1906).
Box 32 Folder 1
Wister, John (1708-1789) short account by his granddaughter S. Wister, (1789).
Box 32 Folder 2
Wister, John (1776-1882) papers, (1752-1883).
Box 32 Folder 3-4
Wister, Jones (1813-1837) papers, (1837-1838).
Box 32 Folder 5
Wister, Langhorne papers, (1861-1873).
Box 32 Folder 6
Wister, Mary Channing II (Marina) newspaper clippings, (1932-1933).
Box 32 Folder 7
Wister deeds and related documents, (1700-1915, undated).
Box 32 Folder 8-14
Wister genealogical materials (including Kemble, Butler, Middleton, Mease families and items collected by William Rotch Wister), (1752-1931, undated).
Box 33 Folder 1-4
Wister legal briefs re: iron and railroad companies, (1893-1909).
Box 33 Folder 5
Wister Lincoln memorabilia, (1865, undated).
Box 33 Folder 6
Wister miscellaneous correspondence, (1851-1931, undated).
Box 33 Folder 7
Wister miscellaneous papers, (1773-1910).
Box 33 Folder 8
Wister miscellaneous newspaper clippings, (1889-1905, undated).
Box 33 Folder 9
Wister party lists, (1901, undated).
Box 33 Folder 10
Wister photographs and prints, (undated).
Box 33 Folder 11-14
Wister, Sally papers (correspondence, diary), (1777-1797).
Box 34 Folder 1-2
Wister, Sarah E. papers, (1861, undated).
Box 34 Folder 3
Wister, Sarah Logan papers, (1826-1879, undated).
Box 34 Folder 4-15
Wister, Sarah Whitesides papers, (1810-1837, undated).
Box 34 Folder 16
Wister, William obituaries, (1881).
Box 34 Folder 17
Wister, William Rotch papers, (1830-1903, undated).
Box 34 Folder 18-29
Wister, William Rotch papers, (1771-circa 1912, undated).
Box 35 Folder 1-12
Washington, George letter to Benjamin Franklin, (Nov. 3, 1786).
Box 35 Folder 13
Wister, William Rotch - Ft. Sumter ribbon and letter from Jeannie Field, (June 30, 1861).
Box 36
Twickenham Farm Journal, York Farm Journal, (1822-1828).
Box 37
Bradford, Samuel legal papers, (1798-1801).
Box 43 Folder 14
Butler, John estate papers, (1865).
Box 43 Folder 15
Caldwell, David papers, (1802).
Box 43 Folder 16
Stevenson, Sara Yorke papers, (1857-1920, undated).
Box 45-46
Anonymous day book, (1851-1857).
Volume 41
Anonymous Butler family account book, (1813-1842).
Volume 42-43
Butler, Frances Georgia estate expenses book (copy), (Feb. 15, 1822-Feb. 15, 1836).
Volume 44
Butler, Gabriella M. papers, (1862-1891).
Volume 45-46
Butler, John estate ledger, (April 26, 1848-June 9, 1862).
Volume 47
Wister family photo albums, (circa 1860s-1946).
Volume 48-52
Wister, William Rotch household expense book, (1877-1883).
Volume 53
Blake, Mrs. Elizabeth estate papers, (1795-1798).
Oversize Flat file 7
Logan, James deed from Hannah, Thomas and John Penn, (May 23, 1724).
Oversize Flat File 8
"No. 6 - The Wistar and Wister Families," The Philadelphia Press, (Nov. 6, 1896).
Oversize Flat File 9
Wister, Frances A. - "John Wister, 1708-1789," The Independent Gazette, (June 9, 1927).
Oversize Flat File 10
Wister, John and Elizabeth Harvey marriage certificate, (1799).
Oversize Flat File 11
Wister, Langhorne papers, (1861-1865).
Oversize Flat file 12
Wister deeds and related documents, (1906).
Oversize Flat file 13
Wister genealogical materials (including Mease monument, Freeborn family tree, and Ellery family tree), (1881-1904, undated).
Oversize Flat file 14
Wister, William and Sarah Logan Fisher marriage certificate and golden wedding endorsement, (1826, 1876).
Oversize Flat File 15
Wister, William Rotch papers, (1871-1880, undated).
Oversize Flat files 16-17
"The Early Years of a Child of Promise", (undated).
Volume 55 Volume 54

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