John B. Howell Family Papers (1816-1904)

Finding Aid Completed by Eric Roth, September 20, 2001
Volume: 0.5 cu. ft.
Acquisition: The papers were probably donated to the Huguenot Historical Society by Marcelle Littell Hull in 1958 and 1960.
Access: Unrestricted.
Copyright: Request for permission to publish materials from these records should be discussed with the Archivist and Director of the Huguenot Historical Society.

Biographical Note

The papers chiefly document the lives of John Howell (1780-1867), his son John Brainard Howell (b. 1813), and his son Brainard Howell (1842-1904), and daughter Esther Howell Horton (b. 1839).

John Howell was born in1780 to Jonathan Howell and "Miss Harris" near Plattekill, Ulster County, New York. According to Sylvester's History of Ulster County (1880) [1], John Howell was dissatisfied at home, ran away, married Esther Pride (1778-1868) in 1804, and started a business in shipbuilding and selling cord-wood until 1820. By Pride, John had three children: Lydia Howell (1806-1894), "never married; living with her brother John B. Howell", Eliza Howell Longbotham (b. 1809), and John Brainard Howell (1813-1887).

John Brainard Howell, son of John Howell and Esther Pride, was born on April 15, 1813. On September 16, 1835, he married Pheobe J. Watkins (1817-1885), daughter of Eliada and Chlorine Watkins. Esther gave birth to three children by John Brainard Howell: Watkins Howell (1838-1851), Esther Howell (b. 1839), and Lindsay Howell (1844-1865).  Lindsay supposedly died from a disease during his service with the New York 156th Regiment in the Civil War. John B. Howell died in March, 1887 [2].

Brainard Howell, probably an orphan, was born in June, 1842, and appears to have been adopted into the Howell family at an undetermined date. In December, 1867, he married Mary Clinton Hasbrouck (1842-1934), daughter of Charles B. and Jane Hasbrouck, "formerly of New Paltz, N.Y." Brainard and Mary had one daughter, Mary Brainard Howell Hull (b. 1869). Brainard's obituary lists him as dying of a stomach tumor in March, 1904. The obituary notes that he served as deputy surveyor at the Port of New York under President Ulysses S. Grant, and later worked as an agent with the West Shore Railroad Company [3].

Esther Howell, born in October 1839, married Nelson Horton, "son of ex-supervisor Horton, of Esopus" in November 1868. They had no children, and temporarily relocated to Roselle, New Jersey. At least until her marriage, Esther displayed an interest in women's issues and passionately wrote about the role of women in society, often challenging traditional and religious beliefs about the subject. In 1868, Esther wrote that she was one of the directors of a group called the Ladies' Association [4].

Collection Description

This collection consists of papers kept by three generations of the Howell Family of the town of Lloyd, Ulster County, New York during the nineteenth century. Records include bonds, deeds, mortgages, wills, legal papers, receipts, letters chiefly of John Howell, John B. Howell, Brainard Howell, and Esther Howell. The greatest strength of the collection lies in the letters written by Esther Howell from "Riverside" (Highland, town of Lloyd) to her friend and future sister-in-law Mary Stewart (sister of her future husband) of Poughkeepsie, although Mary apparently later moved to Cooperstown, NY. During the 1870's Esther also apparently resided in Roselle, New Jersey, and may have later resided with her brother Brainard in New York City. These letters provide detailed insight into the life of a rural, well-to-do woman in her twenties who possessed a keen awareness of her surroundings and described in vivid detail her thoughts about womanhood, religion, local and family news, household work, and U.S. national politics. The easily legible handwriting and good physical condition of these letters also serves to make them valuable to researchers interested in the lives of women during the mid-to-late nineteenth century.

The correspondence begins in 1865, but the bulk of the material dates from 1866-1868, when Esther was writing to Mary several times each week. The correspondence from 1869-1897 is very scattered, and many individual years lack any correspondence at all. Esther, as a correspondent is very articulate, descriptive, opinionated, and observant. Her letters discuss a wide range of subjects, including topics that are rarely discussed in letters written by other local women from this period, such as politics and economic issues. Core subjects discussed in the letters, particularly in those from 1866 to 1868 include the role of women in society, particularly in relation to the institutions of religion and marriage; family news and local gossip; U.S. national politics, and household work such as cooking and arranging furniture.

Esther often writes of her church, the Methodist Episcopal Church in Highland, mentioning sermons that she heard (and often challenges their conclusions), visits to her home by church officials, and other discussions about internal church politics. She also devotes many lines in her letters to theological subjects, particularly those that concern women, such as "free will," Temperance, the authenticity of the Book of Solomon (Sept. 28, 1867), and St. Paul's order that women are not to speak in church (Jan. 15, 1868). Quite skeptical of churches and religion at this time, she also raises questions about the integrity and effectiveness of church, sentiments that were also apparently echoed by her brother Brainard: "Is this all that eighteen hundred years of Christianity has accomplished?" (Mar. 5, 1868), and "Of what use is religion to people that don't seem even to make civil to each other?" (June 16, 1867). In addition to her church, Esther also mentions numerous births, marriages, deaths, funerals, and scandals occurring within her local community. One such anecdote provides an interesting, although negative glimpse into school life: "It is comical to hear the children go on when they come home from school They don't like her at all and to judge from their description of things she has queer wa(y)s of managing her only resort for all delinquencies is a huge whip Will came in the other night with 'I wish I could schorch that old teacher's head off' All they go for I guess is to be got rid of at home" (May 17, 1868). Also of interest is a discussion over the course of several letters in Summer and Fall, 1867 concerning the family going bankrupt and losing $77,000.

A sense of melancholy prevails over much of Esther's letters written in 1867 and early 1868, before she began her courtship with her future husband, Nelson Horton, in the Summer of 1868. Abounding throughout the letters are many statements about her loneliness and despondency. For example, in an undated letter, probably from 1867, she writes that (it) "seems to me spiritually everything becomes darker and darker I shudder at the dangerous ground upon which I am treading I have neither the peace of the Christian nor the indifference of the worldly." In June, she writes that "I wish that I did not have such a repugnance to general society - I feel like that I am getting worse and worse somehow - the human face divine has no attraction for me which must be an unnatural condition of mind or am I like the crazy man who declared that all the world was crazy and only he was sane" (June 2, 1867). In the same letter, Esther continues, "You may well be thankful for your children they are part of yourself they belong to you sometimes the longing I feel is almost unendurable for somebody to love that belongs exclusively to me you can understand it perhaps I don't let myself think of it very often because there is no possibility of any such thing it may be a selfish thought but I cant help but think at times of what might be." Later, in October, she echoes these thoughts with "My friends are not very numerous but if it was not for them I should give up entirely I would give considerable if I had a better opinion of humanity" - "Sometimes I am tempted to give up all faith in an overruling providence and believe that evil controls all things I cant endure the thought though that the Bible is a lie and that we have no saviour" (Oct. 10, 1867).

From 1866 to 1868, women as a topic for discussion abounds throughout the letters, and occasionally appears in the later correspondence as well. Specific subjects that receive significant attention from Esther include the role of women in marriage and courtship, the ill treatment of women by men, and women and work. She specifically directs her anger at people who frown upon women remaining single, a situation to which Esther believes she destined, and the pervasive notion in society that marriage is the end goal of every woman. She often pauses to point out marriages that she witnesses are unhappy or otherwise unsatisfactory, or to voice her support for other women who choose to remain or become single. For example, Esther, writing in 1867, points out that "In novels no matter how ambitious the heroine is it all ends in a wedding It seems to be impossible in everybody's way of thinking for a common woman to be sufficient for herself - But in matrimony - I guess it is better to be a perfect half than a very imperfect whole" (Nov. 17, 1867).

However, after her courtship with Nelson Horton begins, her tone about marriage, religion, and even society in general begins to soften, as she herself acknowledges. "I find I feel more civil to people than I did (one month ago)" (Aug. 4, 1868). She also writes about her intentions of going to live with Mary to be closer to her and Nelson. In writing about a discussion that she had had with her mother, Esther reveals much about the time period and the changing views held by society about love and marriage. "I finally talked her into saying that I must choose for myself I have heard her say that she married father because she thought he was a good man and that he would make a good husband and not that she had any particular love for him Such marriage as that I cannot understand and I don't think she can understand that I marry because of love."

The letters also contain many anecdotes and discussions of doctors, medicine, illnesses and remedies. The letters discuss outbreaks and cases of cases of cholera, and smallpox and dysentery. For example, a letter from 1872 mentions an Irish woman laborer from Esopus contracted small pox. In another letter, Esther discusses her fears about contracting breast cancer, although her fears appear to have been ungrounded. In addition to describing her feelings, Esther also writes in detail the symptoms and general knowledge that she has in regard to breast cancer (Feb. 26, 1868). There are numerous references to family members who are sick or have recently died. These include the death of her father John B. Howell (March 1887), the description of the medical condition of her aunt Eliza Howell Longbotham, and the illness and death of her grandfather, John Howell from December, 1867 to February, 1868. Regarding her grandfather's illness, Esther writes that he is ill and in pain, "but he says he don't want a doctor for he is afraid they will give him something that will kill him so he will do nothing and let that kill him - philosophical isn't he? Perhaps you remember his being to Newburgh last winter when Mr. Carver died It seems that either the Dr. or Mrs. Carver gave him the wrong medicine I don't know which but at any rate they think this is what caused his death" (Dec. 10, 1867). There are also occasional remedies or other mixtures used for medical purposes described in the letters, such as "Soothing syrup," apparently a type of baby formula (June 14, 1868), and a dose of mustard used as a remedy for a headache (Oct. 1, 1867).

Esther occasionally writes of U.S. national politics in her letters, and at a level of detail that is uncharacteristic of letters written by other local women during this period. In her writings about politics, Esther often mentions and quotes her brother Brainard, who worked for the Federal Government in New York and apparently talked of the subject a great deal with Esther. In 1865 Esther relates to Mary her disgust with Andrew Johnson's leadership and his appeasing of the South. She also acknowledges and even sardonically jokes about the fact that it is generally frowned upon for women such as her to openly air their sentiments on political subjects. And, she writes on May 21, 1868 about her brother, who "has got track of some political underhand working and goes to Washington to give information of what he has traced up I think its about the vote for the acquittal of Andrew Johnson." Upon Brainard's return from Washington, Esther quotes him as saying "the lowest orders of creation as the oyster and the highest order Congressmen are both alike in that they have no backbone" (Jan. 29, 1868).

Other subjects that are often mentioned in the letters include the weather, nature, flowers, views, gardening, cooking (picking strawberries, currants, and cherries, and attempts at making candies, bread, jelly; and even a recipe for matches dating from Jan. 31, 1887); road conditions and travel; and reading and books and other leisure activities. Also of particular interest to curators and decorative art researchers are her comments regarding sewing, making clothes, and rearranging furniture. Some examples include mentions of a "slat and cord bedsteads," and descriptions of furniture locations within the house (Last Day of Summer, 1867); a discussion of making a waterproof"(Nov. 23, 1867 and successive letters); and the making "a good skirt of her old black silk dress" (May, 21, 1868).

Occasional letters by authors other than Esther are also present in the correspondence. One is a letter written to Esther by her brother Lindsay Howell while serving in Civil War in Camp Mansfield, Louisiana. Lindsay writes that he is "now in rebledom" standing guard at the campsite. In the letter he describes the scenery and land, crops, troop numbers and movements, and implores the family to send him money. Other letters include one written to John Howell concerning the sale of a piano and the family's bankruptcy, and troubles on Wall Street (Dec. 21, 1867); a letter written by John B. Howard to John Howell written on "Office of Assistant Quartermaster General" letterhead, discusses a man from Boston who is interested in purchasing a farm in Ulster County (Jan. 8, 1868); a letter from Esther's husband Nelson Horton while at the Sacramento River near San Francisco (1876); and a letter from Brainard to his father from describing the death and funeral of John Howard (1876). This letter also mentions a Congressional investigation of the New York Custom House. Finally, there are several letters written by Brainard in 1893 from Blackpool, England discussing a political scandal and the country's economic woes, and letters discussing the death of Amy Howell (June 10-11, 1897).

In addition to the correspondence, the collection also contains estate and legal Papers such as bonds, mortgages, deeds, chancery court statements, bills, accounts, and other legal papers chiefly involving John Howell, John B. Howell, and Elaida Watkins. Other individuals mentioned include Peter J. Johnson, Daniel H. Abram, John Childry, John W. Church, Whitcomb Phelps of Camden, Tioga County, NY, Joseph Winslow, Freeborn Garritson, Nathaniel Bruce, Henry Palmer of Catskill, Greene County, NY, Humphrey P. Jones of New Paltz, Ulster County, NY, Alexander Forbus, Charles Jenkins of Brooklyn, Mary P. Van Wagenen of Rosendale, Ulster County, NY, Roswell C. Brainard Edwin J. Rice, Edward C. Chapin, James H. Longbotham, and Seymour and Isaac Humphrey. These papers typically relate to family financial and real estate interests in the town of Lloyd, Ulster County, NY, although other locations are also mentioned as well, including the towns of New Paltz, Rosendale, and Esopus, all of which are in Ulster County.

Legal papers of specific note include a pension letter of Esther Pride (1838), court papers relating to a chancery suit involving "Michael M. Sheak and other infants" (1849), wills of Elaida Watkins (1854) and John Howell (1862), a bill of work of John Howell concerning the sharpening and tempering various sorts of knives (1856), and papers relating to a lawsuit between The Farmers & Manufacturers' National Bank of Poughkeepsie and Lydia Howell and Eliza H. Longbotham (1887).

Photographs in the collection include tintype, albumen, and paper photographic prints of members of the Howell, Hasbrouck, Horton, and Carpenter families. Of interest are photographs of the stone house and garden in New Paltz owned by Theora C. Hasbrouck, the Howell homestead in New Paltz, and an unidentified schoolhouse. There is also a marriage certificate with photographs of Nelson Horton and Esther Howell (1868), and a photograph of Lindsey Howell, Civil War soldier with Company B of the 15th Regiment of New York State Volunteers. Almost all photographs are identified.

Also housed in the collection is an undated informational pamphlet that belonged to Philip Elting entitled "The Great Geyser Springs of California," and records dating from 1866 of an unidentified religious Sunday School in the town of Lloyd (probably the Methodist Episcopal Church), of which John B. Howell was secretary. These records include minutes of quarterly conferences, which discuss appointments of officers, finances, and names of subscribers for periodicals, numbers of schools, officers, teachers, students, and books, as well as attendance records. There are also pastor's reports relating to the financial status of the Sunday School.

Box and Folder List

(1862-1866 scattered, and undated)
(1869-1897 scattered)

Estate and Legal Papers:
(1814, 1835-1846)
(1814-1865) - oversize

Miscellaneous (1853, 1866, and undated)

Photographs (mid-19th century)


[1] Sylvester, Nathaniel Bartlett. History of Ulster County, New York, with Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers, Part Second. Philadelphia, Evans & Peck (1880): p. 136. Unless otherwise noted, all biographical information is taken from this source despite the fact that there appear to be some minor differences in birth and death dates listed in other genealogical sources.

[2] Three telegrams housed in the correspondence discuss the death of John B. Howell.

[3] Obituary, Brainard Howell. New Paltz, NY, April 1, 1904. Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection, Elting Memorial Library, New Paltz. A copy of this obituary is available in the library's Obituary File.

[4] Letter, Esther Howell to Mary Stewart (August 9, 1868).