William L. Clements Library
The University of Michigan
Appleton-Aiken Family Papers

Appleton-Aiken Family

Papers, 1812 July 8-1900 March 15
1.5 lin. feet; 2 photographs

Background note:
An important theologian and President of Bowdoin College, Rev. Jesse Appleton often came into close contact with the nation's educational, financial, and political elites. The most remarkable feature of his life, however, may have been the knack that his family displayed for marrying well. His eldest daughter, Jane, became the wife of Franklin Pierce, and another daughter, Frances, married the theologian and Bowdoin professor, Alpheus Spring Packard. Three of Appleton's sisters-in-law were similarly well connected: Ellis Means married an important minister, Rev. Teppan; Mary Means became the wife of Senator Jeremiah Mason, a supporter of Daniel Webster; and Nancy Means married the exceedingly wealthy merchant and philanthropist, Amos Lawrence.

In 1832, Rev. Appleton's youngest daugher, Mary (d. 1883), followed in the family tradition by marrying John Aiken, an attorney from Lowell, Mass., an agent for the Tremont Mills, and a significant figure in the textile industry. The couple had five children -- Jane, John F., Sarah, Alfred, and Mary -- adding to the two children, William and Charles Augustus, that John had through a previous marriage to Harriet (Adams). This marriage brought about the merger of two of the most powerful families in the region, further extending an already far flung network of family, educational, and political relationships. The family worked through this kinship network to further their interests. All of the Aiken children received good educations, with Charles and William attending Dartmouth, rather than Bowdoin.

Following the death of John Aiken, Mary moved from Lowell to live with her daughter Jennie, who had married Professor Francis H. Snow of the University of Kansas.

Scope and contents:

The Appleton-Aiken Papers contain over 500 letters and miscellaneous documents relating to the family of John Aiken and his wife Mary Appleton of Lowell, Mass. The collection contains correspondence documenting family life among the upper classes in Massachusetts in the early industrial age, and contains useful information on the textile mills at Lowell, collegiate education, and the development of the towns of Lowell and Andover, Mass., and Brunswick, Me.

The correspondence centers on the interests of a large and powerful family. Mary and John Aiken's children were all well-educated and wrote erudite letters. Many of the Appletons and Aikens were professionally involved in education, and several series of letters include valuable information on college life and curricula at mid-century. Charles and William Aiken attended Dartmouth in the 1840s and 1850s, and their letters are filled with an undergraduate's opinions on coursework, professors, and education. There are also several examples of secondary school writing assignments from John and Mary Aiken's children and grandchildren.

In a different vein, the letters of Alpheus Spring Packard written while he was professor of natural history at Bowdoin College, offer a unique perspective on the development of that institution, and particularly of its science curriculum. There are many other letters relating to Bowdoin College, since the entire Appleton family seems to have retained a strong interest in the college for years after the death of Jesse Appleton, its former President. For example, Mary Aiken's mother, Elizabeth, writes particularly interesting letters about the progress of the college after the death of her husband, in 1819. Also worthy of note are several letters written by Jennie Snow, whose husband was on faculty at the University of Kansas during the 1870s.

The Aikens were heavily involved in capitalizing textile mills throughout northern New England. A few items provide particularly information on the mills at Lowell, including an October, 1836, letter in which Mary describes a walk-out and strike at the mill, and a letter from her brother, Robert Appleton, describing a shipment of cotton arriving at the mill in 1835 from London. Robert also inspected Governor Bagdry's new cotton factory at Gilmanton, N.H. In 1871, Mary and John's daughter Mary describes a book, Lillie Phelps' The Silent Partner, designed to improve the condition of the mill "operatives." Two other items are of some interest for the study of mill life, one a letter from J. Whitney regarding the acts of sabotage against the mill performed by Edward Webb, an employee (1834 May 1) and the other a letter in which a woman suggests women learn sewing, a skill badly deteriorating under industrialization.

The collection includes a letterbook with 25 excellent letters written by John Aiken to his family from Europe. These letters were written during one of Aiken's business trips to examine textile operations, and thus in addition to the standard travel descriptions, there is important information on cloth production and marketing.

On a more general level, the Appleton-Aiken Papers are an excellent resource for studying family dynamics among the upper class. The letters are filled with discussions of family members, relations between husband and wife or parent and child, and include some interesting commentary on local religious life, revivals, church meetings, and family piety.

Two photographs have been transferred to the Photographs Division for storage. Photocopies of these are included in Box 6 in the folder containing Miscellaneous items.

Recat. 10/95 rsc

Subject index to the Appleton-Aiken Family Papers

Genealogy to the Appleton-Aiken Family Papers

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