Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Howe Family Papers
Scope and Contents of the Collection
The Howe Family papers, collected by family members over two centuries, are important not only for biographical or genealogical purposes, but also are useful for reconstructing the social history of Enfield and the Swift River Valley in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Especially when used in conjunction with other collections in the Special Collections and Archives Department and with public records, they reveal much about the society and culture of the area from 1800 to the 1930s when the Quabbin Reservoir flooded the valley.
The collection is organized into the following series, including Correspondence, 1840-1940, Legal Documents, 1809-1892, Howe Genealogy, 195?, Account Books, 1730-1920, and Printed Memorabilia and Clippings, 1884-1955.
The most interesting correspondence in the collection is that of Henry Clay Milton Howe and his wife Theodocia Johnson Howe, letters from 1840-1877. These letters reflect the lives of some of the more well off residents of rural Enfield. Theodocia's letter from her sister Charlotte tells of the 1840 revivals in New Salem, for example. Other letters are from her Johnson relatives who are rising entrepreneurs and state representatives in nearby Dana (folder 2). H.C.M. Howe stayed in Enfield having inherited the family store and farm, but his brothers wrote home to him from the gold fields of California (folder 3) and from Philadelphia. The Philadelphia brother wrote to his small-town capitalist brother about radical criticism of the Civil War, and about the death of Abraham Lincoln (folder 4).
The taking of Enfield and Howe family land is documented in letters and clippings about the creation of the Quabbin Reservoir of interest to researchers of that era (folders 11 and 31).
The deeds and other legal documents are from 1809 when the Howes first bought land in Enfield and began their farming and storekeeping there. These documents help to show the status of the Howes in the community.
The set of bound account books that the Howes kept from 1730-1920, (with large gaps) shows the growth of rural society from a barter economy to a very commercial one, with the accompanying change in the Howe family males' occupations from storekeeper, to minister-printer, to printer-storekeeper, to storekeeper-postmaster, to storekeeper-postmaster-telephone exchange owner to storekeeper-postmaster-gas station owner. Incidentally the account books show the professionalization of bookkeeping methods in the nineteenth century. The early books were used to record sales, but also deaths, even poems. Later books are more specific in use. The 1796 book is not an account-book, but relatedly, the childhood arithmetic exercise book of John Milton Howe who kept the 1821 book for his store in Enfield. The first page of the exercise book admonishes, "Arithmetic . . . the knowledge of which is so necessary that scarcely any thing in life, and nothing in trade can be done without it."
The account books record credits and debits with many of the other people in the small community and outside of it. Careful reading of the accounts can unfold a rich lode of information. For example, Samuel Fowler Dickinson of Amherst was buying hundreds of board feet of lumber in 1821, at exactly the time he was helping to get Amherst College built (folder 24). John Howe was taking braid in trade early in the 1820's from women in the community who were the beginning of the palm leaf hat and mat industry (folder 24). Mrs. Hannum's bill was paid for by the town of Greenwich, and was being picked up by an S. Peebles--rum, flour, tea, and mackeral . . . a woman on welfare? (folder 24).
The accounts of the estate of John Milton Howe, who died in 1845 but whose estate was not settled until the 1850s, show that Howe had accumulated quite a large amount of money which was being lent out to various individuals and businesses and even to the town (folders 25 and 26). Later accounts show the growing complexity of life in Enfield. In use with other documents from Enfield and the Quabbin region, MS 19 should prove to be an invaluable source for a wide variety of researchers.
This collection is organized into five series: