Latimer family papers
Held at: University of Delaware Library Special Collections [Contact Us]181 South College Avenue, Newark, DE 19717-5267
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Delaware Library Special Collections. 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
The genealogy of the Latimer family can be traced to Bishop Latimer, burned at the stake in 16th century England by "Bloody Mary" for not renouncing his religion. In this collection, the history of the Latimer family is traced to 17th century Ireland. Arthur Latimer and his family departed from Ireland and arrived in America in 1736. The family settled in New London Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania.
The third of Arthur's children was born James Latimer in 1719. He was reared in a family of little wealth and therefore needed to create his own opportunities. He began with limited overseas trading with his homeland of Ireland, going back twice a year with merchandise from America. Eventually James Latimer did settle in a town he founded known as Newport, Delaware, where he hoped to create a port city on the same scale as Wilmington. James Latimer ended the trade business at the time of his marriage. The couple raised two sons, George and Henry. Both sons went to battle during the Revolutionary War with the "Flying Camp" regiment of Delaware. James Latimer continued operating a flour mill until his death in 1807.
James Latimer's son, Henry Latimer, born in 1752, served several years in the Continental Army as a surgeon. He had studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his degree in 1770, and at the University at Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1777, Henry gave up his private practice in Wilmington to join the army. Following the Battle of Yorktown in 1781, he was named Surgeon General of the Northern Division of the Continental Army.
After the war Dr. Latimer continued to practice medicine and explored a new interest in politics. In 1784 he became a delegate to the Continental Congress. He was elected President of Delaware's Constitutional Convention in December 1787 and served as Speaker of the General Assembly in 1790. From 1787 to 1790 he served in the Delaware State Legislature and was also elected as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1793. In 1795, Henry Latimer was elected to fill a vacant term in the United States Senate but resigned his term in 1801 citing poor health.
He was one of the original members of the Society of the Cincinnati. The organization, formed nationally in 1783, created a permanent association of men who had led the American cause during the Revolutionary War. He was also a charter member of the Medical Society of Delaware. Henry and his wife Ann Richardson were married in 1789 and had five children, Sarah, John, Mary, Henry Jr., and James.
John R. Latimer (1794-1865), the second child and first son of Henry and Ann, followed the work of his grandfather as an overseas trader. However, his passion for trade focused on China. Beginning in 1815, John made several trips abroad, the last being his most extensive. That final trip lasted from 1825 to 1834 and centered around the Chinese port city of Canton. The overseas trade proved very profitable for John R. Latimer. He was able to return to America in comfort and marry the woman who had waited for him throughout his journey, Elizabeth Kepple. The pair never had children. John R. Latimer was an active, second-generation member and, later, president of the Delaware Society of the Cincinnati. In addition, he was appointed by the Governor as Delaware's sole representative on the seven-person executive committee to create the Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg in 1864. He passed away the following year.Green, Charles E. The Story of Delaware in the Revolution. Wilmington: William N. Cann, Inc., 1975. Hill, Steven. The Delaware Cincinnati, 1783 - 1988. Bryn Mawr: Dorrance & Company, Inc., 1988. Ranshaw, Carol J. Calendar of the University of Delaware Collection of the John R. Latimer China Trade Papers (1821 to 1834). Philadelphia: The Drexel Institute of Technology School of Library Science, 1953. Much of the biographical information is derived from material contained in the collection.
The manuscript collection of the Latimer Family Papers consists of material spanning the dates 1690-1927, with bulk dates of 1770-1870. The collection as a whole includes correspondence, newspaper clippings, ledgers, checks, bills, receipts, indentures, deeds, wills, photographs, and ship logs. The collection details the personal and business affairs of the Latimer family and also documents events of historical and economic significance in the context of revolutionary America and early 19th century trade. The contents of the collection were previously arranged in chronological order, and are here presented in four series.
The first series spans the dates 1690-1820. The material from 1690-1770 contains mostly miscellaneous agreements, deeds, and indentures not specifically related to the Latimer family. Approximately one quarter of this material has been transferred for oversize storage.
The papers from the period of 1770-1815 generally relate to Henry Latimer, Sr., and include his academic diploma, receipts from his medical practice, letters regarding his time in Congress, and his correspondence with both family members and associates. Perhaps most useful of the materials are the letters related to Henry Latimer's congressional years, 1793-1801. These letters discuss the presidential election of 1800 between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams along with various speeches regarding actions of the United States Senate. Significant correspondents include George Read and Senator James Bayard.
The second series covers the dates 1821-1834. They deal with John R. Latimer's establishment of trade with China and are the most complete and revealing of the collection. In 1953, Carol Ranshaw compiled a calendar to the "China trade papers," a copy of which is supplied for use in conjunction with this finding aid. The series includes the letters of John R. Latimer to his family detailing the period of China trade with regard to his sea voyages, the living conditions, and Chinese culture. Special attention is given to the Terranova Affair, an incident which strained trade relations after an Italian sailor accidentally killed a Chinese women, was tried for murder, and eventually executed; Jacksonite politics and the American and European political situations; the establishment by Smith and Nicole, a New York importing company, of a trade firm in Canton; life in Canton and Macao; and the opium trade. Along with correspondence, the series includes ship logs from the several voyages of John R. Latimer, and a passport issued by Secretary of State James Monroe. The China trade papers provide a valuable glimpse at the origins of Pacific rim trading.
The third series, 1835-1870, includes general correspondence; more specific materials have been separated into appropriate subtopics. There are four such subtopics: the essays on an eclectic range of issues, dated 1848, from a "Bard" of Wilmington to Mr. Park of Newark (information on the connection to the Latimer family is unknown), many reports and documents of the Society of the Cincinnati (1851-1863), copies of speeches by the Honorable James Bayard to Congress, and documents and correspondence regarding construction of the Soldiers' National Cemetery at Gettysburg. The scope of these subtopics is narrow yet they do provide insight into issues of the day. The last chronological grouping in the third series runs from 1870-1927. It is very small with many years not represented.
The final series consists of undated materials which have been separated into categories by type of document. Of particular interest in this series are several ancestral papers and charts of the Latimer family, as well as various papers dealing with both Delaware and United States legislative material.
As a whole this collection provides insight into the burgeoning period of the late 18th and early 19th century. The collection touches on medical history, the American Revolutionary War, politics and legislative issues of Delaware and the U.S. Congress, economic history and the development of trade in the Far East, and observations of Chinese culture. The experiences conveyed throughout the collection add to our perspectives on life in colonial, federal, and 19th century America, as well as early commercial relations with the Far East.
The Latimer Family Papers, purchased in 1952, were originally processed in chronological order. Description of the entire collection was never completed although portions of the collection were described in great detail. This 1992 revision of the finding aid incorporates earlier itemized descriptions and calendars of the collection by linking box content lists with the itemized descriptions.
For convenience, the collection has been divided into four series by chronological periods which roughly parallel the generations of the Latimer Family. The first series, 1690-1820, includes the earliest family documents and material related to the career of Dr. Henry Latimer. Immediately following the contents list for this series is a copy of the previously-created itemized description for material from this period. Item numbers from the contents list relate to the detailed earlier list.
The second series, 1821-1834, primarily concerns the career in trade with China of John R. Latimer. A detailed calendar related to this material was compiled by Carol Ranshaw in 1953, but only selected items from this series were included in her calendar. The series continues with the chronological arrangement as originally processed, and the contents list for this finding aid includes material not listed in the Ranshaw Calendar. The Ranshaw Calendar immediately follows the series for 1821-1834 and should be used in conjunction with the contents list. (It is also important to note that item numbering ceased with the second series.)
The third series, 1835-1927, is arranged in chronological order with subdivisions for each year by type of documents. The material was not previously itemized or described in any greater detail.
The final series includes undated material which has been arranged topically.
Boxes 1-7: Shelved in SPEC MSS manuscript boxes Boxes 8-10: Shelved in SPEC MSS record center cartons Removals: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (32 inches)
Purchased 1952 and 1956; Letters of John R. Latimer 1815-1838, gift of Mrs. Walter S. Franklin, 1958.
A PDF of the Series I. inventory is linked both here and in the series Scope and Content Note. A PDF of the Series II. inventory is also linked both here and in the series Scope and Content Note. These "calendars" provide date, sender, recepient, format, length, and a narrative description of each item.
The description of Series II. was provided by Carol J. Ranshaw, completed in 1953 as part of her Master of Science in Library Science at the Drexel Institute of Technology School of Library Science. In addition to the inventory, it provides contextual information about the 19th century China trade and biographical information about John R. Latimer.
Finding aid encoded by Lauren Connelly, August 2015. Further encoding by Tiffany Saulter, November 2015.
- University of Delaware Library Special Collections
- Finding Aid Author
- University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
- Finding Aid Date
- 2015 July 22
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research.
- Use Restrictions
Use of materials from this collection beyond the exceptions provided for in the Fair Use and Educational Use clauses of the U.S. Copyright Law may violate federal law. Permission to publish or reproduce is required from the copyright holder. Please contact Special Collections, University of Delaware Library, http://library.udel.edu/spec/askspec/
This series consists of correspondence, documents, deeds, and receipts regarding the life and activities of Henry Latimer.
The following box contents list should be used in conjunction with the previously prepared itemized description which is linked here as a PDF. The folders are numbered consecutively and each individual box begins a new folder number sequence. It should be noted that some items are missing from the collection. A list of these missing items may be found at the back of the itemized description.
The series consists of general correspondence between family members, specifically information about John R. Latimer's trade with China. In addition to correspondence, there are invoices and ships logs from the China voyages.
A calendar of items was completed in 1953 by Carol Ranshaw and is linked here as a PDF. The calendar directly addresses the papers of John R. Latimer with respect to the China trade. Entitled Calendar of the University of Delaware Collection of the John R. Latimer China Trade Papers, the book provides background on the Latimer family, on early trade with China, and a chronological tracking of John R. Latimer's correspondence detailing the contents of the letters. However, some of the items in this contents list were not included in the calendar. The following content list distinguishes between papers contained in the Calendar and those excluded. The former has been placed under the file title "China trade papers from the Ranshaw Calendar" and the latter is collected under "China trade correspondence."
Beginning at this point in the collection the items are no longer numbered.
This series tracks the Latimer family following John R. Latimer's return from China. This series is also in chronological order. Items dealing with topics of significance or topics which appear frequently have been given a folder heading and appear in the corresponding years. The bulk of the items in this series are dated prior to 1880.
Due to the lack of chronological data, this series is specifically divided into subseries. Its contents cover a large segment of the collection's time span.