Main content

Williams 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

Colonel James Williams was born in Philadelphia on August 4, 1825, to John Williams (1775-1849), a lumber dealer in the Philadelphia area, and Esther Adams (d. 1875). James received a private education, and when he was sixteen he was taken on as a carpenter's apprentice with the hope of becoming an architect. However, when his father purchased a large estate in Delaware in 1848, James decided to pursue a career in agriculture instead. In 1850, he married Ruthanna Bailey, daughter of Mason Bailey. From this marriage they had two children who survived into adulthood: Nathaniel J. Williams (1857-1943), and Sarah Esther Williams (1855-1900), who would eventually marry William Polk Cummins, a prominent Delaware businessman and politician. In 1885, James Williams formed a partnership with John H. Parvis, formerly of Parvis & Biggs, which dealt in the manufacturing of fertilizers. After a few years, James became the president of Parvis & Williams and his son, Nathaniel J. Williams, was made treasurer of the company.

James Williams was also a Democrat, and very active in politics. He served in the Delaware State Legislature for two terms (1857-1858 and 1863-1864), and was elected to the State Senate from 1867-1871, the last two years of which he served as that body's speaker. In 1872, he was a member of the Democratic National Convention which convened in Baltimore, and which saw the party nominate Horace Greeley as its presidential candidate. Finally, Williams was elected as a Delaware representative to the 44th and 45th Congresses for the period 1875-1879. As a result of his position, James Williams cultivated a wide range of business and political contacts. Among these was John P. Cochran, Democratic governor of Delaware from 1875-1879, and John Bassett Moore, a native of Delaware who worked as an assistant secretary in the legal branch of the Department of State. Later, Moore went on to become a professor at international law at Columbia University, and to serve as a United States diplomat, including as Assitant Secretary of State during the Spanish-American War. The records do not contain much information about Williams' life after 1882, though according to the

Historical and Biographical Encyclopedia of Delaware, he retired to the management of his farms after his period in Congress. There he must have led a quiet life until his death on April 12, 1899.

Banker, lawyer, and prominent landowner, Nathaniel J. Williams was born near Kenton, Delaware on September 24, 1857, to Colonel James Williams (1825-1899) and Ruthanna Bailey. He was educated at the Wilmington Confederate Academy in Dover, then continued at the University of Virginia and graduated in 1879. At the university he was a member of the Zeta Psi fraternity, and in 1883, he was admitted to the Delaware bar. On April 28, 1886, he married Frances L. Clayton, daughter of wealthy landowner Colonel John Clayton, whose distant ancestors arrived in America with William Penn. In May of the following year they had their first and only child, Mary Clayton Williams, who married Middletown physician Dorsey W. Lewis in 1904.

Like his father, Nathaniel Williams was involved in politics, though his main concern was the management of his estates. From 1887-1903, he served as Democratic mayor for the city of Middletown, Delaware, and served as the director of Citizen's National Bank as well as chair of the Board of Directors for the Delaware Trust Company from 1889-1943. From 1885, he was both treasurer and secretary, then later only treasurer, of Parvis & Williams. After his father died he dropped the business. Williams purchased, sold, and inherited an extensive number of properties in Delaware, Maryland, and Florida, and he was very active in the raising and breeding of horses. Some of the properties that were held for a long time within the family and passed along after his death included the Price Farm, the Savin Farm, the Clark farm, and the Atwell Farm, and he possessed a number of houses in Delaware and Florida as well. Williams maintained a large number of tenant farmers to work and manage his estates, including his cousin Clifford Clark (who took over after the death of his father Harry B. Clark), and he must have allowed them a free hand in hiring their own farm laborers. In July 1943, he died in Middletown of injuries sustained from a serious fall he took several weeks earlier.

Who's Who in Delaware: A Biographical Dictionary of Delaware's Leading Men and Women. ed. Seth Harmon. Philadelphia: The National Biographical Society, 1932.Historical and Biographical Encyclopedia of Delaware. J.M. McCarter and B.F. Jackson, eds. Wilmington, Delaware: Aldine Publishing and Engraving Co., 1882.History of Delaware Past and Present. Wilson Lloyd Bevan, ed. 4 vols. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1929.The National Cyclopedia of American Biography, s.v. "Williams, Nathaniel" and "Moore, J.B."

The Williams family papers concern the business and personal affairs of prominent Delaware politician and landowner James Williams (1825-1899), and his son Nathaniel J. Williams (1857-1943), who was also a prominent politician and landowner. In addition, the collection contains documents relating to the business of Parvis & Williams, a Middletown-based fertilizer manufacturing company that was headed by James Williams once he joined John Parvis in 1885. The collection consists of correspondence, college exercise books and notebooks, account books, ledgers, canceled checks, tax forms, stock and real-estate transactions, legal business, bills, and ephemera.

The collection is divided into three main series: I. Papers regarding the personal and business affairs of James Williams; II. Business of the Parvis & Williams Company; and III. Papers regarding the personal affairs of Nathaniel J. Williams as well as the management of his estates.

The first series spans the years 1861-1894 and includes various account books of James Williams in the management of his estates, as well as personal letters and a journal recording the bills passed in the Delaware Senate in early 1869.The second series deals with the business of the fertilizer manufacturing company, Parvis & Williams, and spans the period 1884-1898. Included are order books, correspondence, ledgers, check books, and business transacted with two collection agencies for delinquent accounts. The third series spans the period 1887-1947, and includes items used during his studies at the University of Virginia; family items, including a photograph, books, and a scrapbook; personal correspondence; correspondence between his daughter and the

National Cyclopedia of American Biography (1943-1947); correspondence with tenants; envelopes; ledgers; stock statements and tax forms; bills; and legal business.

The collection provides an extensive, though undoubtedly incomplete, record of the family land holdings, as well as location, business done on the farms, tenants, and the economic vitality of each. It can be difficult to keep track of the farms, however. The farms are named after the tenants who hold them, and when a new tenant comes along the name of the farm changes as well. An example of this is the Luthringer Farm, which was held in tenancy by William Luthringer until 1925, when it was taken over by Rothwell R. Price. Thereafter it was known as the Price Farm. In any case, the collection provides a great deal of information about the financial status of the family estates throughout the late ninteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries.

The correspondence between Nathaniel Williams and his tenants shows in some detail the relationships between the two, and what responsibilities were expected from each. It is clear that he had a very large number of tenants, though the business-like nature of the letters does not indicate what they may have thought of him. It is clear from the requests for money that at least a few of them frequently relied upon Williams for financial support, the result perhaps of hard economic times, and were not particularly well off. These economic conditions are detailed more clearly in the records maintained in the ledgers. The letters are also interesting in that many describe the work that is being done on the farms, and this helps provide a picture of the duties required of a farmer and the intricate network of business contacts for the buying and selling of goods which arise from this. In addition, the collection documents the financial and business activities of the family company Parvis & Williams, which was run by both father and son from 1885.

Though the collection does not provide much information on the family's interest in stocks, it is clear that Nathaniel purchased stocks, perhaps many, after the market crash of October 1929, suggesting that he viewed the drop as a temporary setback and an opportunity to acquire cheap purchases. It is interesting to witness the fortunes of these stocks in the wake of the Depression; in some cases he lost quite a lot of money because of the steady decline of stock prices during the 1930s. In terms of actual numbers and diversity, however, the collection is unclear.

Overall, the collection contains mostly business-related material and does not offer much in terms of the family's personal life. Nevertheless, there are a few disparate items that are of some interest. Nathaniel's personal correspondence and material from the University of Virginia offer a very small glimpse into his work and personal relationships in college, and can serve as a means of gauging the level of education which he received along the way. The paucity of letters, especially from home, is interesting, and may reflect the fact that his father's term in Congress coincided exactly with Nathaniel's years at Virginia, while the letters of Willard Saulsbury betray the existence of a close circle of friends to which Williams belonged. In addition, the books which belong to Francine [Clayton] Williams and the scrapbook of Martha E. Clayton (perhaps the mother of Francine], may be useful in suggesting the type of leisure activities and interests in which well-to-do women of the late nineteenth century were engaged, and the type of libraries they may have kept.

  1. Boxes 1-2: Shelved in SPEC MSS record center cartons
  2. Boxes 3-5: Shelved in SPEC MSS manuscript boxes (1 inch)
  3. Oversize: Shelved in SPEC MSS oversize boxes (17 inches)

Purchased, August 1993.

Processed by Arthur Siegel, November 1997. Encoded by Rivi Feinsilber, February 2018.

University of Delaware Library Special Collections
Finding Aid Author
University of Delaware Library, Special Collections
Finding Aid Date
2018 February 13
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 Department, University of Delaware Library,

Collection Inventory

Scope and Contents

This subseries spans the years 1861-1894 and includes bank and business account books of James Williams in the management of his personal estates.

Account Book: 1861-1866 .
Box 1 Folder 1
Scope and Contents

106pp. Contains an alphabetized index in the front.

Account Book: 1882-1889.
Box 1 Folder 2
Scope and Contents

In account with The National Bank of Smyrna.

Account Book: 1887-1888.
Box 1 Folder 3
Scope and Contents

In account with J.M Arthurs, "dealer in general merchandise."

Account Book: 1897-1899.
Box 1 Folder 4
Scope and Contents

In account with William G. Lees.

Account Book: 1888-1889, 1888-12-03-1889-08-28.
Box 1 Folder 5
Scope and Contents

In account with J.M Arthurs, it has "Arthurs" hand-written in ink on a strip of paper which is pasted to the front cover.

Account Book: 1888.
Box 1 Folder 6
Scope and Contents

In account with People's National Bank of Middletown.

Account Book: 1889.
Box 1 Folder 7
Scope and Contents

In account with J.H Taylor of Kenton, Delaware.

Account Book: 1889-1891.
Box 1 Folder 8
Scope and Contents

In account with J.H Taylor.

Account Book: 1889-1891.
Box 1 Folder 9
Scope and Contents

In account with J.M Arthurs, "Arthurs" is written on the cover in ink.

Account Book: 1890-1891, 1890-07-16-1891-07-15.
Box 1 Folder 10
Scope and Contents

In account with William W. Tschudy of Smyrna, it records the balance of purchases for foodstuffs.

Account Book: 1891-1892.
Box 1 Folder 11
Scope and Contents

In account with William W. Tschudy.

Account Book: 1894.
Box 1 Folder 12
Scope and Contents

In account with Fowler and Lees, who are the successors to W.W. Tschudy of Smyrna.

Scope and Contents

This subseries spans the years 1869-1890 and includes various letters written to and by James Williams, as well as a personal notebook that recorded some of the affairs of the Delaware State Senate in early 1869.

Notebook, 1869-1886.
Box 1 Folder 13
Scope and Contents

Bound in leather, the first part of the journal is entitled "Bills Passed" and deals with business of the Delaware State Senate from January 12 to April 8, 1869. Also included is a list of bonds belonging to James Williams from 1874. The back half of the notebook is an order ledger from his estates which spans from 1869-1886 and is divided according to customer.

Letters, 1876-1890.
Box 1 Folder 14
Scope and Contents

Includes one letter to his wife (dated March 17, 1876), a letter from his brother Nathaniel (March 14, 1884), and two letter from John Bassett Moore (January 1890) regarding the gift of books. The letters from Moore were from the period when he was still working for the Department of State in Washington, D.C.

Scope and Contents

This series deals with the business of the fertilizer manufacturing company, Parvis & Williams, and spans the period 1884-1898. Included are order books, correspondence, ledgers, check books, and business transacted with two collection agencies for delinquent accounts.

Order Book: 1885-1886.
Box 1 Folder 15
Scope and Contents

This is filled in upside down from the back.

Order Book: 1891-1892, 1891-03-26-1891-11-11.
Box 1 Folder 16
Scope and Contents

87 pp.

Ledger: 1885-1887, 1885-11-09-1887-05-28.
Box 1 Folder 17
Scope and Contents

60 pp.

Check Book, 1888-05-31-1889-03-21.
Box 1 Folder 18
Scope and Contents

(#1-188) Includes check stubs and unused checks drawn off of Citizen's National Bank of Middletown.

Check Book: 1897-1898, 1897-01-04-1898-11-05.
Box 1 Folder 19
Scope and Contents

(#1940-2007) Includes check stubs and unused checks drawn off of Citizen's National Bank of Middletown.

Letter, 1884-06-23.
Box 1 Folder 20
Scope and Contents

1p. Written to Nathaniel Williams by John Parvis, then of Parvis & Biggs. It is on offical letterhead and is impressed with the seal of the Parvis & Williams Company.

Collection Agency, 1884-1891.
Box 1 Folder 21
Scope and Contents

Delinquent accounts held with the Merchant's Collecting Association in Philadelphia (8pp.) These are contracts made between Parvis & Williams and the collection agency. There are a total of 46 entries for the seven year period, and include a list of the offenders' names, location, amount due, and how long the accounts were delinquent. Three of the contract sheets are blank.

Collection Agency, 1892-02-29-1892-03-16.
Box 1 Folder 22
Scope and Contents

Delinquent accounts held with the Commercial Union. Includes a series of notification receipts to customers, kept in a black, hard-cover binder, as well as a copy of the company's by-laws, eight company envelops, two hand-written lists of delinquent accounts (one dated October 29, 1892 and the other undated), and a sheet of blank letterhead of the Parvis & Williams Co.

Scope and Contents

This subseries deals with the personal effects of Nathaniel J. Williams as well as other members of his immediate family. Included are two books belonging to his wife, a scrapebook belonging to Matha E. Clayton and dated to 1881, an unidentified photograph, notebooks and textbooks used by Nathaniel Williams at the University of Virginia (1877-1879), an 1893 directory from his fraternity, personal corresspondence with friends and relatives, and items pertaining to the inclusion of his biography in the

National Cyclopedia of American Biography.
"Gray Days and Gold", 1884.
Box 1 Folder 23
Scope and Contents

334 pp. A descriptive book of England and Scotland, written by William Winter in 1894. The book is labeled the property of "Fannie [Francis] Clayton Williams."

Scrapbook, 1881.
Box 1 Folder 24
Scope and Contents

"Choice Selections" The property of Martha E. Clayton of Middletown, Delaware (perhaps the mother of Francis L. Clayton?). It contains newspaper clippings of home remedies, cooking and household cleaner recipes, and medical pointers, all glued to the pages. There are also several hand-written entries.

Exercise Book, 1871.
Box 1 Folder 25
Scope and Contents

English Exercise Book. 312 pp. Entitled "The Scholar's Companion," it was published in 1871 by the E.H. Butler Co. of Philadelphia. The book was used and autographed by Nathaniel Williams while he was at the University of Virginia.

Zeta Psi Directory, 1846-1893.
Box 1 Folder 26
Scope and Contents

190 pp. Contains a complete list of all the members of the fraternity from its inception in 1846 until 1893. The list is divided into fraternity chapters, and there is a comprehensive index at the back. Nathaniel was himself a member of the Beta chapter at Virginia. Also included is a letter and a correction card.

Reader .
Box 2 Folder 27
Scope and Contents

Latin Reader 370 pp. The De Officiis of Cicero, published in 1873 by Eldredge & Brother of Philadelphia. It was used by Williams for an 1877-181878 session at the university.

"Sweet Cicely", 1886.
Box 2 Folder 28
Scope and Contents

A novel by Allen Josiah's Wife, the inside cover reads: "To Fannie Clayton Williams/Christmas 1886/From Mary."

Box 2 Folder 29
Scope and Contents

This framed portrait is of an unidentified woman.

Notebook, 1879-10-04.
Box 2 Folder 30
Scope and Contents

Written in pencil, it contains notes taken by Nathaniel Williams from a course on English law.

National Cyclopedia, 1943-1947.
Box 2 Folder 31
Scope and Contents

The National Cyclopedia of American Biography (13 items) This was published by the James T. White Co. of New York, and after Nathaniel Williams' death they sought to create an entry for him. Included is correspondence between the publishers and Mary Lewis, receipts, brochures, and an information sheet filled out in pencil by Mary Lewis on her father's life, and dated September 2, 1943.
Correspondence, 1943-1945.
Box 2 Folder 32
Scope and Contents

(3 items) Delaware Trust Company. Included are two letters from the bank to Mary Lewis regarding the death of her father, as well as a signed copy of Resolutions of Respect.

Correspondence, 1942-1945.
Box 2 Folder 33
Scope and Contents

Letters between Clifford Clark and Mary Lewis (12 items). Clifford was a cousin of Nathaniel Williams, and lived in Kenton, Delaware, as a tenant on one of their farms. The letters are primarily business related.

Letters, 1876-1904.
Box 2 Folder 34
Scope and Contents

Personal letters (9 items). Included are two letters from Nathaniel's uncle, who discusses Middletown and family news; four from his college friend Willard Saulsbury; one from a childhood friend from the Wilmington Confederate Academy named Wesley; and one from D.W.R. Culbreth of Baltimore, Maryland. Also included is a letter from Caroline Butler Van Rest to Mrs. Williams (dated July, 1904). She was writing from Maine, and must have been a friend of the family.

Scope and Contents

This subseries deals with the personal business of Nathaniel Williams regarding the management of his estates and properties. Included are account ledgers, legal agreements, correspondence from tenants, bills, tax forms, stock statements, and envelopes. Some ledgers list the names of customers, items ordered, prices, and billing records, while others record business with tenants. In addition, there were numerous loose items stuffed between the pages of these books, including adding machine calculation, correspondence, bills, and other estate business. For the sake of coherency and the preservation of context, the calculations and account records pertaining to individuals have been left in the ledgers, but the remaining items have been removed and filed in more appropiate locations.

Ledger: 1896-1910, 1889-1896.
Box 2 Folder 35
Scope and Contents

545 pp. Lists accounts by customer's name, and at the begining gives a complete alphabetized breakdown of all customers, renters, and employees with appropiate page references.

Ledger: 1889-1905, 1889-01-1905-12.
Box 2 Folder 36
Scope and Contents

563 pp. Published by William F. Murphy's Sons, it provides a chronological account of business transactions, and is conveniently cross-listed with the ledger above. Beside each entry is a number which correspondes to the page on which that individual's account record is to be found.

Ledger: 1896-1910.
Box 2 Folder 37
Scope and Contents

185 pp. This is probably a continuation of the ledger in F35.

Ledger: 1915-1933.
Box 2 Folder 38
Scope and Contents

371 pp.

Ledger: 1917-1924.
Box 2 Folder 39
Scope and Contents

170 pp.

Ledger: 1935-1947.
Box 3 Folder 40
Scope and Contents

471 pp.--partial. Listed according to tenant.

Tax Book, 1917-1947.
Box 4 Folder 41
Scope and Contents

Income Tax Book 170 pp. Includes a record of receipts and expenditures, with tax calculations laid in between the various pages.

Tax Book, 1923-1933.
Box 4 Folder 42
Scope and Contents

Income Tax Book 184 pp. Includes accounts and finances that are broken down according to properties and businesses he owned from Delaware, Maryland, and Flordia.

Note Book.
Box 4 Folder 43
Scope and Contents

"Banner Note Book" 19 pp. Includes a record of mortgages held by Nathaniel Williams. It is contained in a spiral-bound notebook, but the pages are loose.

Legal Agreements, 1927-1940.
Box 5 Folder 44
Scope and Contents

7 items. Includes lease and payment agreements made between Nathaniel Williams and various tenants.

Tenant Correspondence, 1894-1940.
Box 5 Folder 45
Scope and Contents

74 items. These include requests by tenants for money and payments for farm labor that was hired out to individuals. The tenants often served as "middlemen" between Williams and the laborers, whose wages Williams was frequently asked to pay. These letters also provde information on the state of individual farms and the work that needs to be done on them. Six of the letters are undated.

Bills, 1901-1943.
Box 5 Folder 46
Scope and Contents

38 items. Included are bills from the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. and the Diamond State Telephone Co., gas bills, bills for various goods and farm products, and from St. Annes Church. Also included are bills from his purchase of hoses in 1915, as well as newspaper clippings announcing an auction for horses to be held in Cecil County, Maryland on February 5, 1918.

Taxes, 1923-1939.
Box 5 Folder 47
Scope and Contents

15 items. Concerns tax information for Delaware and Florida, and includes receipts, calculations and the profit record from the sale of real estate in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale in April 1925.

Stock, 1918-1943.
Box 5 Folder 48
Scope and Contents

15 items. Includes a letter to stockholders from the Electric Bond and Share Company as well as a purchase agreement signed by Williams and dated August 1, 1930. Also included are various hand-written accounts of prices and number of shares for stocks which he held, notices from Citizens Passenger Railway Company (1918-1921), and a 1941 receipt of sale for his stock in the American Sugar Company--processed by the Wilmington, Delaware brokerage firm Laird, Bissell, & Meeds.

Notices, 1923-1933.
Box 5 Folder 49
Scope and Contents

Notices of Delinquency and Eviction, 22 items. Includes formal, hand-written notices by Nathaniel Williams (dated and signed) to tenants who either owed him money or who he wished to evict. He stipulated the date which he expected them to vacate the property and left room for the tenants to sign upon being served the notice. In several cases, formal tenant responses are also included.

Savin Estate, 1938-1942.
Box 5 Folder 50
Scope and Contents

7 items. These papers concern an apparently costly legal dispute between Nathaniel Williams and James Savin, whose estate was in Warwick, Maryland, and include a notice of eviction, correspondence, and various legal documents.

Miscellaneous Business, 1889-1948.
Box 5 Folder 51
Scope and Contents

27 items. Includes correspondence, weight receipts for goods bought and sold, the results of a tuberculosis test on cattle, an undated list of furniture purchased from Wanamaker and Grymby & Hunt, a record sheet by fire inspector, a 1926 newspaper advertisement announcing the closure of the Ft. Lauderdale Bank and Trust Company and the First National Bank of Ft. Lauderdale, and an 1899 notice of money to be paid to Caroline Tumlin from the trust fund of Mrs. Anna West. Also included are eleven promissory notes and canceled checks from 1920-1942, though the bulk of them are 1920-1926. All of these involve Williams' tenants, and are drawn on the Delaware Trust Company.

Dorsey W. Lewis.
Box 5 Folder 52
Scope and Contents

10 items. These include correspondence concerning Nathaniel Williams but which, for various reasons, were addressed to his brother-in-law, Dorsey Lewis.

Letters, 1908-1909.
Box 5 Folder 53
Scope and Contents

Business lettersw, 5 items. Included is a letter by P.S Downs, M.D., regarding an interest in the purchase of land from Williams; and three letters regarding cement mixes: one from the Charles Warner Company (March 18, 1909), and two from H.J.Livingston (February and July 1909). Also included is an advertisement for "Livingston's Cement Bond."

Box 5 Folder 54
Scope and Contents

56 items. These envelopes are culled from various parts of the collection, and the presence of individual and business return addresses should help as a source for the cataloging of Nathaniel Williams' personal and business contacts. These are ordered according to state.

Print, Suggest