Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Brinley Family Papers
Scope and contents of the collection
The Brinley collection documents the changing fortunes of a wealthy, educated, and prosperous Anglo-American family from the early eighteenth through the late nineteenth century, and their genealogical interests since. Though varied in scope, the collection offers a valuable reflection on social status in America, from the enjoyment of ties to the highest elite during the colonial period to the sufferings of upper-class Loyalist, and the lifestyle and career choices of wealthy Americans during the nineteenth century. The collection is divided into four series:
The papers of the colonial-era Brinleys speak of finances and conveyances, and are a great source of insight into entrepreneurship and land transactions in early America, with some information on the Brinleys in the British colonial establishment. Among the highlights are a remarkable folio list of the extensive personal library of Francis Brinley of Newport, 1713, which included dozens of standard works on law and imperial ambitions along with dozens more from the most radical religious sects of the day -- Familists, Ranters, Seekers, and Diggers among them. Religious records and poetry offers glimpses into the minds, hearts, and day to day lives of the privileged stratum in New England, and particularly the life of Colonel Francis Brinley.
The colonial records come to an end with the shot heard round the world, when the American Revolution wreaked havoc on the fortunes and fate of the Brinley family. Although the collection does not document their emotional duress, it does chronicle the extensive damage to their purses, and can be useful in understanding the impact of the Revolution on landed Loyalists. A number of letters in the collection were written by expatriate Brinleys seeking help from their relatives in the new United States in reclaiming their abandoned (or confiscated) American property.
The other side of the Loyalist story is covered by collateral relatives, the Putnams, whose most prominent representative was Major-General Israel Putnam, a hero of the Battle of Bunker Hill. The collection includes a copy of the sermon given at Putnam's funeral, as well as publications by Putnam's son Daniel in 1818 defending Putnam's role at Bunker Hill, and responding to Major-General Henry Dearborn's self-serving history of the battle.
The papers of the next generation of Brinleys describe their lives in the early Republic, as well as the lives of those family members who returned to England or resettled in what is now Canada. These items speak of the strength of family bonds even as political realities rent the family apart. Like their predecessors, the papers of this generation demonstrate moneyed interests, but they also betray a shift into more political thinking. Francis Brinley, Sr., was especially excited about politics, writing newspaper editors on everything from body snatchers to slavery, canals, and the price of milk. His documents are a fine source on the politics of early republican America in general and of the city of Boston in particular. Also notable are several detailed letters concerning the education of Francis, Jr., both before and during his attendance at Harvard, which have much to say about university education in the early nineteenth century; Robert Brinley's passport to France under the Directory; a copy of The Newport Herald, ripe with details of the world in the year in 1788; and the arithmetic book of George Brinley, useful in understanding the history of education in America during the early Federalist period.
The generation that came of age in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, is represented by letters of Francis "Frank" Brinley, Jr., and of George Brinley the book collector, two upper-class men who led very different lives. Frank, like his father, was a public figure who served in several political and military offices. His papers represent, in many ways, the highest ideals of New England society at this time, building a life around erudition and service. Frank's cousin George was more of a private man, and one of the great book collectors of his time. While both cousins took an interest in history, they pursued their interests in different ways: while Frank led and contributed to several historical societies, George gathered an immense personal library, but reportedly allowed only one other person access to it. Almost all of the materials in the collection pertaining to George deal with the auction of that library after his death, and may be useful to the researcher interested in book-collecting and in American library history. An autobiography of George Brinley, Sr., is of particular value.
In addition to the Brinleys, four other branches of the family are substantially represented in the collection: the Auchmuty, Cradock, Tyng, and Putnam families. A few letters from a member of the Malbone family are also included. Married to Brinleys, all of these families seem to have had common business and political interests.
The Brinley collection also includes some miscellaneous materials, in which the connection to the Brinleys is unclear. There are letters, business, papers, songs and poems, and newspaper clippings. Some of the names appearing here are Blake, Bowers, Moore, Murphy, and White. Notable items include a certificate of service for Isaac Bowers in the War of 1812 and a certificate from the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Finally, the collection also contains a wealth of Brinley family genealogical research notes assembled primarily by Nancy Brinley. These materials include copies of Brinley family documents held at other repositories, publications, notes and correspondence. Photographs and art work representing family members literally bring the Brinleys to life as do treasured family objects such as a silver salver and fish knife, which were passed down the generations.