William Swetland Papers, 1784-1866
bulk, 1805-1825

Quantity: 1 box (0.25 cubic ft.)
Access: Open to research.
Acquisition: Purchase; Charles E. Tuttle & Co., Rutland, Vt., November 1942
Processed by: Fred Bassett, Senior Librarian, Manuscripts & Special Collections, April 2013

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Biographical Note:

William Swetland, was born in Salisbury, Connecticut, April 19, 1782, the only child of Aaron and Mary (Chipman) Swetland. His mother died when he was young and his father soon after married Lois Allen, with whom he had five children: Mary, Walton, Milton, Harmon, and Julia. About 1797 the family moved to Granville, Washington County, New York. Little documentation relative to his life exists prior to his enrollment at Middlebury College in 1804.

As a student at Middlebury, Swetland developed an interest in literature and history as evidenced by compositions and orations found in his papers. He graduated in 1808, returned to Granville, and took up the study of law in the office of Zebulon R. Shepherd. After he completed his studies in 1811, he was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in Plattsburgh, Clinton County, New York. One of his partners during the first decade of his law career was Reuben Hyde Walworth, who later became Chancellor of New York, at the time the highest judicial officer in the state.

Swetland married Henrietta Julia Kurtland, the daughter of John and Lucy Kurtland of Granville, on November 19, 1811. During the early years of their marriage, she spent much of her time with her family in Granville while he was in Plattsburgh establishing his law practice. The poor state of her health and the War of 1812 appear to have been major factors contributing to her extended stays in Granville. However, by 1817 she apparently moved to Plattsburgh where, thereafter, she spent most of her time.

The couple had two daughters: Lucy Ann, born September 11, 1817, and Henrietta (Hetty), born April 6, 1821. Complications with childbirth of Hetty caused the death of Mrs. Swetland the same day. In 1829 Swetland married Elizabeth Delord, widow of Henry Delord. No offspring resulted from this marriage, but Elizabeth had one daughter from her previous marriage.

About 1825 Swetland entered into a partnership with William F. Haile; this partnership was dissolved by the end of the decade. He began his next and longest partnership, with George M. Beckwith, in November 1832. They dissolved that partnership by mutual consent in July 1846, and, thereafter, Swetland continued to practice law with other partners until he retired in 1857.

William Swetland prospered from investments in real estate, the Saratoga Plank Road, and a local dock company. He was active in a number of civic, educational, religious, and fraternal clubs and societies in Plattsburgh. He died in his home in Plattsburgh on January 4, 1864.

Scope and Content Note

The papers consist chiefly of correspondence of William Swetland with his wife, Henrietta, and close relatives of the Swetland and Kurtland families. Most of the letters were written between 1810 and 1822 and the content generally concerns personal and family matters. He tended to be an avid writer with beautiful script until constrained by health problems later in life.

The letters of William Swetland to Henrietta Kurtland began in earnest in the early spring of 1811 about the same time he was completing his study of law in Granville and contemplating where he should establish a law practice. In March, he wrote about having gone to Albany in search of an opportunity, but to no avail. Then, on May 8, he wrote that he had received an offer of partnership in the office of a Mr. Sperry in Plattsburgh, and that he had eagerly accepted the opportunity. The letters of spring 1811 also concern personal and family matters as well as passionate pleas begging her to write more often. She was on an extended visit with relatives in Wallingford, Connecticut, at the time, and was apparently not as frequent a writer as he.

Letters written by Swetland from 1812 through 1816 indicate that Henrietta was often in poor health and spending much of her time with her family in Granville while he was busy practicing law in Plattsburgh. On May 15, 1812, he writes about being burdened by a heavy caseload and regrets not being able to visit with her more often. Five months later, on November 6, he wrote his wife a sad letter, pouring out his feelings of his longing to be with her, of his difficulties of being in debt and the news that he and Sperry had dissolved their partnership. A month later, on December 6, he again wrote to her about his melancholy state of being as a result of their prolonged separation and not having heard from her in a while. He also wrote that he had been thinking about leaving Plattsburgh for good, but, with the outbreak of war between the United States and Great Britain, he thought it would be better to remain for the time being. Further observations relative to the war are detailed in his letter to Henrietta on August 8, 1813. He also expressed concerns for her safety in traveling to Plattsburgh at the time.

During the summer of 1815, according to letters he wrote to Henrietta’s brother, George Kurtland, who was studying law at Swetland’s law office in Plattsburgh, Henrietta was quite ill and William spent much of his time with her in Granville. William asked George for financial help since debt was mounting as a result of his prolonged absence from his law practice. In general, correspondence between William Swetland and members of the Kurtland family indicates a close and warm relationship. William Swetland and John Kurtland exchanged a number letters over the years regarding the state of Henrietta’s health and other personal and family matters.

In August 1818, William, with a number of colleagues, embarked on a journey to Saint Louis that generated numerous lengthy letters to Henrietta in Plattsburgh, detailing his experiences as he travelled through Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Brownsville, Pennsylvania; Portsmouth, Ohio; Louisville, Kentucky; and Edwardsville, Illinois. The letters end with the one dated

October 1 from Saint Louis on the Mississippi. Towards the end the journey, William comments increasingly of suffering from the heavy travel and how he was looking forward to getting back home. The journey included some travel by river boat, but was completed largely overland by stage.

Upon his return to Plattsburgh sometime in November 1818, it appears the Swetlands entered upon a period of tranquility that lasted until the death of Henrietta on April 6, 1821. The details of Henrietta’s troubled pregnancy and subsequent death resulting from childbirth are described in the letter William Swetland wrote to John and Lucy Kurtland on April 20, 1821.

During the years of William’s marriage to Henrietta, his father, Aaron Swetland, also experienced health problems. In May 1813, William received a letter from his sister, Mary Baker, informing him that their father had not been feeling well for several weeks. In March 1814, his brother, Walton, wrote from Granville that their father had sold his farm and was now discontent because he had no home nor land to work. A month later, William received a letter from his step-mother regarding William’s proposal to move his father to Plattsburgh, which the family decided not to pursue. Instead, Aaron Swetland decided to live with the family of his daughter, Mary Baker, near Cincinnatus, Cortland County, New York. In July 1814, Mary Baker wrote that their father was staying with her family and doing much better.

In June 1815, Aaron Swetland wrote to William from Cincinnatus indicating that he was content, but had little hope that they would see each other again. He asked William to write more often. There are a few more letters from father to son written during the next three years that are similar in content. Aaron Swetland was apparently doing well until he died suddenly in March 1819, according to the letter Mary Baker wrote to William from Cincinnatus on April 1, 1819.

The papers also include several compositions and public orations related to William Swetland’s academic studies at Middlebury College. His writings and speeches reflect his interest in literature and history. One of his orations concerned the issues that were causing divisions between northern and southern states.

Ancillary papers include a complaint to the Justice of the Peace and the Grand Jurors of Castleton, Rutland County, Vermont, relative to unnecessary traveling on the Sabbath by Olive Carver (1784); a lease between John Palmer and Henry Delord for land in Plattsburgh, New York (1819); and several invitations for events at Middlebury College.

Related Resources

Letters and papers of William Swetland and family are also available at the Clinton County Historical Association in Plattsburgh, New York

Item List

Box Folder Description
1 1 Early correspondence of William Swetland, 1805-1810
  1. Mary Chipman (cousin) to William Swetland, Middlebury, [Vermont], May 1, 1805
  2. William Swetland, to Henrietta Kurtland, Granville, [N.Y.]. August 1810
  3. [?] to William Swetland, Wallingford, [Conn], December 10, 1810
1 2 Letters: William Swetland to Henrietta Kurtland, 1811
  1. North Granville, [N.Y.], March 7, 1811
  2. North Granville, [N.Y.], March 11, 1811
  3. North Granville, [N.Y.], March 21, 1811
  4. North Granville, [N.Y.], April 4, 1811
  5. North Granville, [N.Y.], April 25, 1811
  6. North Granville, [N.Y.], May 8, 1811
1 3 Letters: William Swetland to Henrietta Swetland, 1812
  1. Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], April 1, 1812
  2. Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], May 15, 1812
  3. Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], May 20, 1812
  4. Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], October 27, 1812
  5. Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], November 6, 1812
  6. Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], December  6, 1812
  7. Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], December 14, 1812
1 4 Letters: William Swetland to Henrietta Swetland, 1813-1816
  1. Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], July 21, 1813
  2. Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], August 8, 1813
  3. Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], February 2, 1816
1 5 Letters: William Swetland to Henrietta Swetland, 1818
  1. Philadelphia, August 12, 1818
  2. Washington, D.C., August 16, 1818
  3. Brownsville, Pennsylvania, August 24, 1818
  4. Portsmouth, Ohio, September 2, 1818
  5. Louisville, Kentucky, September 12, 1818
  6. Edwardsville, Illinois, September 24, 1818
  7. St. Louis, [Missouri], October 1, 1818
1 6 Letters: William Swetland to John Kurtland and family, 1815-1821
  1. Granville, July 2, 1815, to George Kurtland
  2. Granville, [N.Y.], September 11, 1815; to George Kurtland
  3. Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], February 19, 1816, to John Kurtland
  4. Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], April 5, 1816, to John Kurtland; also includes a letter to Henrietta
  5. Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], June 29, 1816, to John Kurtland
  6. William Swetland to parents [John and Lucy Kurtland], Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], April 20, 1821
1 7 Letters: Henrietta Swetland to William Swetland, 1812-1814
  1. Granville, [N.Y.], March 31, 1812, with a note from John Kurtland, April 8, 1812
  2. Granville, [N.Y.], April 22, 1812
  3. Granville, [N.Y.], July 26, 1813
  4. Granville, [N.Y.], September 27, [1814]
  5. Granville, [N.Y.], October 3, [1814]
1 8 Letters to Henrietta Kurtland (Swetland), 1806-1817
  1. Sarah B. Barton, Wallingford, Connecticut, December 8, 1806
  2. [Sarah] B. Barton, Pond Hill Castle, December 12, 1808
  3. John Kurtland, North Granville, [N.Y.], February 8, 1811
  4. John Kurtland, Granville, [N.Y.], March 31, 1811
  5. John Kurtland, Granville, [N.Y.], May 26, 1811
  6. Ann B. Kurtland, Granville, [N.Y.], November 12, 1817
1 9 Letters: Aaron Swetland to Williams Swetland, 1813-1818
  1. Granville, [N.Y.], August 17, 1813
  2. Granville, [N.Y.], April 27, 1814 (Lois Swetland)
  3. Cincinnatus, [N.Y.], June 9, 1815
  4. Cincinnatus, [N.Y.], September 30, 1815
  5. Cincinnatus, [N.Y.], January 8, 1816
  6. Cincinnatus, [N.Y.], February 12, 1816
  7. Cincinnatus, [N.Y.], December 27, 1818
1 10 Letters: Mary Swetland Baker, to William Swetland, 1811-1852
  1. Granville, [N.Y.], May 16, 1811
  2. Granville, [N.Y.], August 13, 1812
  3. Granville, [N.Y.], May 1, 1813
  4. Granville, [N.Y.], June 15, 1813
  5. Cincinnatus, [N.Y.], July 13, 1814
  6. Cincinnatus, [N.Y.], April 1, 1819
  7. Freetown, [Cortland County, N.Y.], January 6, 1824
  8. Freetown, [Cortland County, N.Y.], September 27, 1849
  9. Freetown, [Cortland County, N.Y.], April 11, 1852
1 11 Letters: Walton Swetland to William Swetland, 1812-1857
  1. Chazy [N.Y.], September 11, 1812
  2. Granville, [N.Y.], March 2, 1814
  3. Freetown, [Cortland County, N.Y.], May 9, 1848
  4. Freetown, [Cortland County, N.Y.], December 4, 1852
  5. Freetown, [Cortland County, N.Y.], February 4, 1857
  6. Freetown, [Cortland County, N.Y.], April 16, 1857
  7. Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], July 10, 1857
1 12 Letters: John Kurtland to William Swetland, 1812-1813
  1. Troy, [N.Y.], June 11, 1812
  2. Granville, [N.Y.], June 25, 1812
  3. Granville, [N.Y.], September 2, 1812
  4. Granville, [N.Y.], September 6, 1812
  5. Granville, [N.Y.], July 15, 1813
  6. Granville, [N.Y.], August 12, 1813
  7. Granville, [N.Y.], October 3, 1813
  8. Whitehall, [N.Y.], October 28, 1813
1 13 Letters: John Kurtland to William Swetland, 1815-1816
  1. Granville, [N.Y.], March 8, 1815
  2. Granville, [N.Y.], March 17, 1815
  3. Granville, [N.Y.], October 1, 1815
  4. Granville, [N.Y.], [December 30, 1815] [incomplete]
  5. Granville, [N.Y.], February 13, 1816; also includes a letter from Anna Kurtland
  6. Granville, [N.Y.], February 18, 1816
  7. Granville, [N.Y.], March 15, 1816
  8. Granville, [N.Y.], April 2, 1816
  9. Granville, [N.Y.], April 28, 1816
  10. Granville, [N.Y.], June 18, 1816
  11. Granville, [N.Y.], July 21, 1816
1 14 Letters: John Kurtland to William Swetland, 1820-1821
  1. Waterford, [N.Y.], January 23, 1820
  2. Albany, [N.Y.], April 4, 1820
  3. Albany, [N.Y.], April 11, 1820
  4. Granville, [N.Y.], March 5, 1821
  5. Granville, [N.Y.], October 12, 1821
  6. Granville, [N.Y.], November 23, 1821
1 15 Letters: George W. Kurtland to William Swetland, 1815-1821
  1. Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], August 8, 1815, with letter to John Kurtland
  2. Granville, [N.Y.], January 13, 1816
  3. Waterford, [N.Y.], March 1821
1 16 Letters to William Swetland from various persons, 1815-1829
  1. I.H. Myers, Waterford, [N.Y.], November 28, 1815
  2. [William] F. Haile, Fowler, St. Lawrence County, [N.Y.], March 5, 1822
  3. [William] F. Haile, steamboat Phoenix. [1822]
  4. Rev. M. Townsend, [Caldwell’s Manor],  October 1822
  5. Henry Ross, Essex, [N.Y.?], November 29, 1824
  6. [John] Palmer and [William] F. Haile, Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], March 8, 1826
  7. [William] F. Haile, Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], March 17, 1826
  8. G.H. Martindale, Washington, D.C., April 5, 1826
  9. [Zebulon] R. Shepherd, [Mariah, N.Y.?], October 8, 1829
1 17 Retained copies and drafts of letters by William Swetland, 1815-1825
  1. To Reuben H. Walworth, Granville, [N.Y.], December 24, 1815
  2. To William F. Haile, Philadelphia, [Pa.], February 24, 1822
  3. To Alex Macomb, Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], March 14, 1825
1 18 Correspondence of Col. Henry Ross, 1823-1824
  1. From A.C. Flagg, Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], September 9, 1823
  2. From A.C. Flagg, Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], September 12, 1823
  3. From John Worford, September 11, 1823
  4. To Gen. A. Mann, Essex, [N.Y.?], November 29, 1824
1 19 Miscellaneous letters and documents, 1784-1818
  1. Complaint to the Justice of the Peace and the Grand Jurors of Castleton, Vermont, that Olive Carver of Castleton is guilty of “unne[ce]ssary traveling from her usual place of abode to one Ameses [?] in Poulteny on the Sab[b]ath,” Castleton, Rutland County, Vermont, September 23, 1784
  2. Lease : John Palmer to Henry Delord, Plattsburgh, N.Y., November 2, 1818
  3. Letter of John Kurtland to captain of steamboat, Granville, [N.Y.], October 10, 1815
  4. Letter: [?] to William Swetland, Whitehall, [N.Y.], October 1812
1 20 Letters and papers of Henrietta Swetland (daughter), 1832-1866
  1. Letter to sister, Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], September 4, 1832
  2. Letter from William Swetland,(father), Plattsburgh, [N.Y.], November 2, 1857
  3. Letter from Albert Moore, Salisbury, Connecticut, June 2, 1866
  4. Note from Sally, n.d.
1 21

Compositions written at Miss Nash’s School, ca. 1805

  1. “History of Persia”
  2. “Martyrdom of St. Stephen, A.D. 39”
  3. “Charles the 2 of England”
1 22 Compositions, orations, essays, etc., Middlebury College, 1807-1808
  1. “Party Spirit”
  2. ‘Infidelity”
  3. “Charity”
  4. “Dialogue – Ego and [William] Swetland”
  5. Qui leotitis flores fugite anguis in herba – Virgil”
  6. Untitled compositions (3 items)
  7. Other writings and notes (4 Items)
1 23 “An oration on the impolicy of dividing the union delivered at the public commencement of Middlebury College, August 19, 1807, by William Swetland (36 p.)
1 24 “An oration delivered at the court house in Middlebury, [Vermont], December 29, 1807, being the Festival of St. John the Evangelist, before the worshipful grand master of the State of Vermont and the worshipful state warden and brethren of Union Lodge by William Swetland”  (26 p.)
1 25 “An address delivered to the Philomathesian Society of Middlebury College, on the celebration of the anniversary of the establishment of the said society, August 14, 1811, being the day preceding the public commencement at said college by William Swetand, honorary member of the society.” (30 p.)
1 26 Honorary certificate: William Swetland as member of Philomathesian Society of Middlebury College, September 20, 1808
1 27
  1. Invitations and tickets to commencement ball and other events, ca. 1804-1809 (19 items)
  2. Portrait (carte de visite) – Lucy Ann Swetland, ca. 1860s
Last Updated: May 24, 2021