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Collins Family
Papers, 1799-1940; bulk, 1812-1860


Quantity: 3 Boxes (1.0 cubic ft.)
Access: Open to research
Acquisition: Purchase: Ohio Book Store, October 1943
Processed By: Fred Bassett, Senior Librarian, Manuscripts and Special Collections, February 1995; revised October 2013

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Biographical Note

Ela Collins, attorney and politician, was born at Meriden, Connecticut, February 14, 1786, the son of Oliver and Lois (Cowles) Collins, who settled later on a farm near New Hartford, New York. He was married July 11, 1811, to Maria Clinton, the daughter of Rev. Isaac Clinton (1759-1840) and Charity (Welles) Clinton (1761-1841). Maria Collins was born May 4, 1791, and, with her husband, had 11 children: Caroline Clinton (1812-1832), Edward Cowles (1814-1835), Maria (1816-1846), William (1818-1878), George Ela (1820-1846), Francis (1822-1882), Isaac Clinton (1824-1879), Sarah Welles (1825-1847), Emily (1829-1853), Henry (1830-1831), and Harriet Anne (1833-1902).

Ela Collins was educated at the Clinton Academy, then studied law in the office of Gold and Sill of Whitesboro, New York. He was admitted to the bar and commenced his law practice at Lowville in 1807. Ela Collins became active in local politics and government, serving as supervisor of the Town of Lowville, and representing Lewis County in the New York State Assembly during the 35th session in 1814. On March 15, 1815, he was appointed district attorney for the area comprised of Jefferson, Lewis, and Saint Lawrence counties, which office he held until June 11, 1818, when the judicial districts were reduced to single counties. He was then appointed to the same office for Lewis County, where he served successively until his resignation on March 24, 1840. He also was a member of the New York State Constitutional Convention of 1821.

In 1822 Collins was elected to the Eighteenth Congress (March 4, 1823-March 3, 1825), representing the district composed of Jefferson, Lewis, Oswego, and Saint Lawrence counties. The most significant matter considered by this Congress was the selection of president of the United States as the result of no candidate having received a majority of electoral votes in the election of 1824. Collins had favored William H. Crawford as evidenced with his service as secretary of the Congressional caucus that nominated Crawford for president.

Upon completion of his term in Congress, he returned to Lowville to resume his law practice.  He was trustee of Lowville Academy for many years and was active in other local civic organizations. He died in Lowville, November 22, 1848. His wife Maria survived him by a number years and continued to live in the family homestead in Lowville until about 1860, at which time she moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where she took up residence in the home of her daughter, Harriet (Mrs. John W.) Herron. She passed away in Cincinnati, September 5, 1871.

William Collins, born in Lowville, February 22, 1818, studied law with his father, was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in Lowville. In March 1845, he was appointed district attorney for Lewis County, which office he held until March 1847, when he resigned to take his seat in the House of Representatives as a member of Thirtieth Congress (1847-1849). He was elected as a Democrat in 1846, representing the 18th District, composed of Lewis and Saint Lawrence counties. He declined to be a candidate for re-election in 1848. During his term of office he went on record as being opposed to further expansion of slavery, particularly in Oregon Territory. He moved to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1853, and continued to practice law. He also was engaged in banking and finance and became the director of local street railway companies. His political affiliation changed to the Republican Party upon its organization in 1856. He was married in November 1847 to Jane Kelley, the daughter of Alfred and Mary (Welles) Kelley; they had seven children. He died in Cleveland, June 18, 1878.

Francis Collins was born March 31, 1820, and received his early education at Lowville Academy. He entered the U.S. Army Academy at West Point, N.Y. as a cadet in 1841 and upon graduation in 1845 he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 4th U.S. Army Artillery.  He was then engaged in administrative work at posts in Virginia and North Carolina before his regiment was called into active service in 1846 with the outbreak of the war against Mexico.  The 4th Artillery was involved in the battles of Contreras and Churubusco in August 1847. He was wounded at Contreras and was honored as a brevetted first lieutenant in September 1847.  After two more years of service in the Army in Florida, he resigned December 11, 1850, and took up the study of law in Cincinnati, Ohio. Later he moved to Columbus, Ohio, where he practiced law. He was married in April 1852 to Helen Kelley, the sister of Jane Kelley. He died August 31, 1882.

Isaac Clinton Collins was born in Lowville, New York, January 2, 1824. Correspondence with his family indicates he taught in schools at Carthage, New York, circa 1842-1843, and at Fort Plain, New York, 1843-1844. Later in 1844, he commenced studies at Yale College, which he completed and graduated with the class of 1846. After graduation he commenced the study of law as well as taking up a teaching position at Washington Institute in New York City. About April 1848, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, to complete his legal studies. He was admitted to the bar in Cincinnati in a1849, and eventually entered into practice in partnership with his brother in law, John W. Herron.  Isaac Clinton Collins served in Ohio State Legislature (1858-1859) and then a two-year term as a judge of the court of common pleas. He was married in February 1852 to Emily Hopkins Ruth; they had six children.  He died at his home in Cincinnati, July 29, 1879.

Harriet Anne Collins, the youngest child of Ela and Maria Collins, was born in Lowville, New York, September 15, 1833. She was married March 7, 1854, to John Williams Herron (1827-1912) of Cincinnati, Ohio. They had 11 children, among whom was Helen "Nellie" (1861-1943), who married William Howard Taft, President of the United States, 1909-1913 and Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, 1921-1930. Harriet died in Cincinnati, January 26, 1902.

Note: Biographical information was compiled from the History of Lewis County, Franklin B. Hough (Albany: Munsell & Rowland, 1860); the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 1915, Vol. LXIX (Boston, Mass.: N.E. Historic Genealogical Society, 1915) Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1789-1989, Bicentennial ed. (Washington, D.C., G.P.O., 1989); and the genealogy notebook in Box 3, Folder 1.

Scope and Contents Note

The papers consist chiefly of personal correspondence among family members including Ela Collins, his wife, Maria, and their sons and daughters, Edward C., William, George E., Francis C., Isaac C., Caroline, Maria, Sarah, Emily, and Harriet. They were disciplined correspondents, whose activities, experiences, endeavors, and thoughts are well articulated. Although the letters span the time from 1812 to 1890, the bulk of this correspondence was generated between 1820 and 1825, and between 1834 and 1854.

Most of the correspondence of Ela Collins is related to his career in politics and government, particularly his time of service in Congress. From Washington, he kept his family informed of political affairs and entertained with sidelights about the social scene during his term of service in Congress. His letters detail a reception held in honor of Marquis Lafayette, the burial of a Choctaw chief, duals and the disputed presidential election of 1824, in which he gives his explanation of the situation, but was guarded in comments about Congress's choice until his letter of February 23, 1825:

"The president elect, John Quincy Adam, has formed his cabinet: Mr. Clay as Secy[sic] of State, ... Mr. Clay as a condition of his support of Mr. Adams for President (and without which he could not have been elected) designed to be successor to that high office, and therefore the main control of affairs that he might effect his object.  To this degrading condition Mr. Adams assented. A cabinet has been formed and fitted to the design, and Mr. Clay will rule Lord of all, until people in their wrath turn these 'money changers' from the temple."

While Ela was staying in Washington, D.C., he received a number of letters from his wife and from his oldest daughter, Caroline, who kept him informed of happenings at their home in Lowville. These letters also include news about activities and events in the community. He also received a number of letters from his father-in-law, Isaac Clinton, who was living in Lowville at the time.  These letters indicate that Clinton assisted in managing family business and financial interests in Lowville while Ela was away.

Ela and Maria received many letters from their siblings throughout their life.  The most prolific writer was Ela's sister, Sarah, who wrote mostly about family matters and events in Whitestown, Oneida County, New York. She was married in 1823 to James Duane Doty, who became prominent in politics and government in Wisconsin Territory and the early years of statehood.  Later letters from the Doty family detail their life on the western frontier.

There is a noticeable gap in the correspondence between the time Ela Collins left Washington, D.C., in March 1825 until May 1834 at which time the family began exchanging letters with their oldest son, Edward C. Collins. Letters from Edward detail his travels in the spring of 1834 to Massillon, Ohio, and subsequently his taking up a position teaching school there as well as studying law in the office of a local attorney. His experiences of living and working in Massillon are well articulated in the letter of January 17, 1835, to his parents. His final exchange of letters with his father in June 1835 indicates he had moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he was taken ill. Later family letters indicate Edward passed away before the end of that year.

As other members of the family grew up and left home they kept up a continual flow of correspondence with one another. In their later years, Ela and Maria, from the "Old Homestead" or the "Mansion," kept their children informed of happenings in the village in which they had been raised and where they often returned. Their children in turn would write about their academic and professional studies as they embarked on lives and careers of their own.

William Collins, whose career in law and politics mirrored that of his father, wrote a number of letters to his family throughout the 1840s detailing his career aspirations, particularly his political activities and ambitions in Lowville and beyond. He was elected as a Democrat in 1846 to the Congressional seat previously held by Silas Wright, whose efforts helped Collins while being defeated his own efforts to win re-election as governor of New York State that year. William discusses the congressional campaign and election at length in a letter to his brother, Francis, November 22, 1846, in which he explains the lineup of various elements – anti-renters, abolitionists, Hunkers, and others – with a detailed summary of the vote in the district.  Also, he advised his brother that he wished to be addressed as "Hon. W. Collins, M.C. elect. You military men are mighty tenacious about your titles, and so are WE politics men."

Anecdotes about events in Congress and the Washington social scene at the time are found in William's letter to his mother, dated March 9, 1848:

"I was near ex-President Adams when he was stricken down … The widow of Alex[ander] Hamilton was here for the purpose of inducing Congress to purchase and publish the papers of her husband. Although in full vigor, she is over 90 years of age.  When she was informed of the death of Mr. Adams, she said 'Poor man, we all thought he was too aged to be here.' We called upon her at her cottage in the city a few evenings since. I think in many respects the most extraordinary woman I have ever seen … Mrs. Madison is also still residing here, much respected and honored. She must be about 80 years of age.  I have called upon her and seen her also several times at the presidential reception."

Francis "Frank" Collins wrote about his experiences as a cadet at West Point, serving at army posts in Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida, and his involvement in the war with Mexico.  After he left the army, he wrote about his life and career in Ohio. Most of his letters were addressed to his brothers William and Isaac, who would in turn advise him to read the classics, take up a newspaper subscription, and gain some notion of politics.

Isaac Clinton Collins was the most prolific correspondent of the family as evidenced by a series of approximately 115 letters that were sent primarily to his parents and siblings between 1841 and 1853. He detailed his experiences of teaching school at Carthage and Fort Plain, New York; his academic and social life at Yale College; his personal, social, and professional endeavors during his sojourn of about two years in New York City; moving to Cincinnati, Ohio, and there, embarking on his career in law as well as getting married and starting a family. Isaac also commented frequently on political events and issues of the time.

In addition to writing letters, Isaac Clinton Collins kept a diary of his experiences for the period from March 10, 1848 to June 30, 1849. It begins with a detailed account of his journey from Lowville, New York to Cincinnati, Ohio, by way of New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He describes the different means of transportation he used to complete the journey: railways, stage coach, canal boats, and river boats. After arriving and settling down in Cincinnati, he wrote about a teaching position he held at St. John's College as well as setting up his law practice. He also mentioned being actively involved in a political campaign on behalf of candidates for the Free Soil Party.

Harriet Collins was the most prolific writer among the daughters of Ela and Maria, having written several letters from her home in Lowville to her brother, Isaac Clinton, and sister, Emily, both of whom were living in Ohio at the time. She not only wrote about her activities and experiences, but often, at length, regarding her thoughts and desires. Chief among her desires was to be able to live closer to her siblings and be able to spend more time with them.

Other noteworthy letters include those of their son, George, regarding his experiences of living and working in Louisiana during the early 1840s; letters of Sarah W. and Emily in regards to their extended stay in New York City in the spring and summer of 1847 with their brother Isaac. Lastly, there are a number of letters written by friends and relatives including some by the spouses and children of William, Francis, Isaac Clinton, and Harriet Collins.

Beyond family there are a few letters from individuals who were prominent in state and national politics and government during the first half of the nineteenth century. These include letters of Martin Van Buren, and his son, John Van Buren.

The papers also include a notebook on Collins family history and genealogy; a certificate of appointment of Ela Collins as district attorney of Lewis County; social invitations Ela Collins received as a member of Congress; the printed Congressional speech of William Collins on territorial government in Oregon Territory; Francis Collins's West Point diploma and military commission; and sermons, notes, and other early legal documents of Rev. Isaac Clinton,

Box and Folder List

Box Folder Contents
1 1 Correspondence, 1812-1824. Mostly letters to Ela Collins from siblings, Ira, Levi, and Mary Collins. (10 items)
1 2 Letters to Ela Collins from wife, Maria Clinton Collins, and daughter, Caroline Collins, Lowville, N.Y., 1820-1825. (11 items)
1 3 Letters: Ela Collins to Maria C. Collins, Washington, D.C., 1824 (8 items)
1 4 Letters: Ela Collins to Maria C. Collins, Washington, D.C., 1825 (14 items)
1 5 Correspondence, 1834-1839. Includes letters to Ela Collins from friends and relatives; letters to Maria Collins (daughter) from friends and relatives. (9 items)
1 6 Correspondence, 1840-1842. Includes letters of George Collins to family and letters sent to Francis Collins as a cadet at West Point from parents and siblings. (11 items)
1 7 Correspondence, 1843-1845. Includes letters sent to George Collins in Louisiana, Emily Collins in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Isaac Clinton Collins at Yale College. (12 items)
1 8 Correspondence, 1846-1847. Includes letters sent to Francis (Frank) Collins at army posts in Virginia and North Carolina, George Collins in Louisiana, and Isaac Clinton Collins at Washington Institute in New York City. (16 items)
1 9 Correspondence, 1848-1849. Includes letters of Emily Collins to family from Columbus, Ohio. (13 items)
1 10 Correspondence, 1850-1854. Letters of Maria Collins and Harriet Collins in Lowville, N.Y., to Emily Collins and Isaac Clinton Collins in Ohio. (21 items)
1 11 Correspondence, 1855-1860. Letters exchanged between family in Lowville, New York, and various places in Ohio and Michigan. (17 items)
1 12 Correspondence, 1861-1890. Includes letters of Maria and Emily (Ruth) Collins. (10 items)
1 13 Correspondence between Edward Collins in Massillon, Ohio, with parents and siblings in Lowville, N.Y., 1833-1835 (14 items)
1 14 Letters of Francis Collins to family from West Point and military posts, 1843-1855 (12 items)
2 1 Letters to Francis Collins at West Point from William Collins in Lowville, N.Y., 1840-1845 (10 items)
2 2 Letters from William Collins to his brothers, Francis and Isaac Clinton Collins, Lowville, N.Y., 1846-1847 (19 items)
2 3 Letters from William Collins to family, Washington, D.C., 1848 (6 items)
2 4 Letters from William Collins to family, Lowville, N.Y., 1850-1878 (11 items)
2 5 Letters from Isaac Clinton Collins to family, 1841-1844 (22 items)
2 6 Letters from Isaac Clinton Collins to family, 1845 (20 items)
2 7 Letters from Isaac Clinton Collins to family, 1846 (18 items)
2 8 Letters from Isaac Clinton Collins to family, 1847 (14 items)
2 9 Letters from Isaac Clinton Collins to family, 1848-1849 (21 items)
2 10 Letters from Isaac Clinton Collins to family, 1850-1853 (21 items)
2 11 Letters of Rev. Isaac Clinton to Ela Collins, 1817-1837  (12 items)
2 12 Letters to Isaac and Charity Clinton from friends and relatives, 1818-1826 (6 items)
2 13 Letters of Duane and Sarah Collins Doty to Ela and Maria Collins, 1817-1852 (22 items)
2 14 Letters from individuals who were prominent in politics and government, 1820-1850 (8 items)
  1. Martin Van Buren to Ela Collins, [Albany, N.Y.], March 24, 1820
  2. Martin Van Buren to Ela Collins, [Washington, D.C.], April 16, 1830
  3. David Campbell to Ela Collins, Abington, Va., January 17, 1825
  4. Alfred Kelley to Ela Collins, Cincinnati, Ohio, June 6, 1846
  5. Alfred Kelley to Ela Collins, Cincinnati, Ohio, June 8, 1846
  6. John Van Buren to William Collins, April 16, 1848
  7. John Van Buren to William Collins, May 15, 1848
  8. [Nathan Kelsey] Hall to William Collins, [Washington, D.C.]. July 19, 1850
3 1 Notebook on Collins family genealogy.  Content indicates that it was created ca. 1910 to 1940 by one of the daughters of Isaac Clinton Collins. (1 v., 120 p., 22 cm.)
3 2 Licenses, certificates of appointment, and legal papers of Ela Collins, 1810-1822.
  1. License to practice law, D.S. James Kent, August 15, 1810.
  2. License to practice law, D.S. Smith Thompson, January 11, 1815
  3. Certificate of appointment as district attorney for Jefferson, Lewis, and St. Lawrence counties, D.S., Daniel D. Tompkins, March 25, 1815.
  4. Certificate of appointment as district attorney for Lewis County, D.S. DeWitt Clinton, June 11, 1818
  5. Miscellaneous legal papers (4 items)
3 3 Invitations and calling cards, 1815-1825 (21 items)
3 4 Diary of Isaac Clinton Collins, 1848-1849. (1 v. ca. 80 p. 20 cm.)
3 5
  1. Diploma, 1845, Francis Collins, graduate of United States Military Academy of West Point
  2. Carte de visite portrait, [Francis Collins?] (Vincent, No. 152 West Fourth Street, Cincinnati, [Ohio])
3 6 Speech of Hon. W. Collins, of New York on the Bill to Establish the Territorial Government of Oregon in the House of Representatives, July 28, 1848. (Washington, D.C.: Printed at the Congressional Globe Office, 1848). Cover title. (13p.)
3 7 Papers of Isaac and Charity Clinton, 1799-1842
  1. Sermon notes of Rev. Isaac Clinton, ca. 1801. (2 booklets)
  2. Deed to property in Fairfield County, Connecticut, 1799.
  3. Insurance certificate, Saratoga Mutual Fire Insurance Co., 1837.
  4. Insurance policy, Saratoga Mutual Insurance Co., 1842.
3 8 News clippings relative to politics and government, 1824-1880. (4 items)
3 9 Miscellaneous
  1. Isaac Clinton Collins, teaching certificate, Martinsburgh, N.Y., 1841
  2. Valentine's Day verse, Isaac Clinton Collins, New Haven, Ct., ca. 1844
  3. Program for Harvard :Class Day exercise, 1886
  4. Draft of affidavit to William Taft, collector of revenue for 1st District of Ohio
  5. Notes relative to Mexican War
  6. Fragments of letters
Last Updated: January 10, 2022