Hawkins Family
Papers, 1818-1937; bulk, 1830-1850

SC23314

Quantity: 5 boxes (1.50 cubic ft.)
Access: Open to research
Acquisition: Gift: Elizabeth Griffin, Winter Haven, Florida, November 2014
Processed By: Regina Berry, Student Assistant, State University of New York at Albany for Manuscripts & Special Collections, January 2015

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Biographical Note:

The Hawkins Family was a large and prominent family in western New York in the first half of the 1800s.  Rudolphus Hawkins (1758-1847) served in the American Revolutionary War from Connecticut, where he appears to have been born and where he married Tryphena Lathrop (1766-1847) in 1782.  They had five sons:  Jesse (1783-1852), Harvey (1785-1845), John (1789-1855), Henry, known as “Hawk” (1790-1845), and Van Rensselaer (1796-1847).  In the early 1790s the family moved west to Oneida, New York, and eventually helped found the town of Alexander in Genesee County in the early 1800s.  The youngest Hawkins child, Tryphena “Quiddle” Hawkins was born in New York in 1808 or 1809.

The Hawkins brothers were active members of the community.  According to an 1899 history of Alexander, New York, Harvey opened the first tavern and helped organize the Presbyterian Church there.  Henry helped establish the first library.  Jesse and Van Rensselaer eventually served as town supervisors and Van Rensselaer as postmaster.

Henry Hawkins became a member of the New York State Assembly in 1832, a year after his wife, Tryphena, died.  He was instrumental in founding the Alexander Classical School in 1834 (today the Alexander town hall).  He was a member of the Whig Party and served as a New York State senator from 1839 to 1842.  He died of smallpox in 1845, as did his brother Harvey.

Henry and Van Rensselaer together formed Hawkins & Company to handle their joint business interests, which included the purchase and sale of lands in several New York counties and in Michigan, the formation of the Exchange Bank of Genesee in 1838, the building of the Attica and Buffalo Railroad, and the building and leasing of commercial properties in several local communities. 

Van Rensselaer was married in 1827 to Hannah McOmber (1805-1896) and the couple had three daughters: Julia, Ellen, and Frances.  Van Rensselaer became the first president of the Attica and Buffalo Railroad, which later became part of New York Central Railroad. 

Less than two years after losing Harvey and Henry, both Rudolphus and Tryphena Hawkins passed away in 1847 and just a month later Van Rensselaer died at age 50.  They are all buried in the Alexander Village Cemetery.

Scope and Content Note:

This series of papers focuses primarily on the political and business interests of the brothers Henry and Van Rensselaer Hawkins, from 1830 until their deaths in 1845 and 1847, respectively.  There are over 160 letters between the brothers in the period from 1839 to 1842 alone.  These contain political views and news of state government doings in Albany, consultations about business matters (land transactions, property leasing and management, railroad building, banking, etc.), weather and transportation conditions, and family news.  Especially noteworthy are the letters exchanged during the run-up to the 1840 election of William Henry Harrison, the Whig candidate for President, and the letters following his death in early 1841, which resulted in John Tyler’s succession to the presidency.  On April 5, 1841, Henry wrote to Van, “In a day or two we shall learn undoubtedly that old Tip sleeps with his fathers and that John Tyler, a wrong-headed obstinate impracticable Virginian, reigns in his stead … Under such domination the Whig Party would dissolve into thin air … Had we not better cut stick and go to Canada?”

Van Rensselaer Hawkins also wrote to his younger sister, Tryphena, known as “Quiddle.”  These are affectionate letters about family news and encouraging her at school (Miss Willard Female Seminary in Troy, New York).  She married Henry Martin about 1831, who became a partner in the brothers’ business interests.

Other members of the Hawkins family – Jesse, Harvey, John, wives and children – crop up occasionally in letters, accounts, land sales papers, etc., but do not figure prominently.

One interesting item is a lengthy letter written by Mrs. Eliza Davis, on June 17, 1840, to her husband, John Davis, who was U.S. Senator from Massachusetts at the time. The letter details the proceedings of Whig state convention in Worcester, Massachusetts, and of her part in housing some of the attendees.  Davis had a reputation for personal integrity and he was known as “Honest John,” which was also the manner of salutation in this letter. Davis was apparently nominated as the Whig Party candidate for governor of Massachusetts that year. It is unclear how this came to be in the collection.

A significant portion of these records have to do with property transactions in western New York and in Michigan.  Hawkins & Co. was very active in land sales by the Holland Land Company, operating out of Batavia, New York, in the 1830s.  Resale and lease of these lands seems to have generated substantial income for the company.  These land sale records give names of the men, and often their wives, who are buying or selling and the location of the property.  Land sales in Michigan became popular after the Panic of 1837 and Hawkins & Co. took advantage.  The certificates of these Michigan transfers bear the signature of then-President Martin Van Buren.

Other interesting items in the collection are papers related to the founding of the Alexander Classical School in Alexander, New York, by Henry Hawkins and others; some genealogical information compiled by a Hawkins/Griffin descendent probably in the late 1800s; a few images of Van Rensselaer and Hannah Hawkins; and the Chicago Historical Society receipts for donations made by Helen Griffin (granddaughter of Van Rensselaer and Hannah) in the early 1900s.

Provenance Note:

This collection of papers appears to have been passed down by Van Rensselaer Hawkins through his daughter, Frances Merritt Hawkins (1831-1919), who in 1854 married Edward Wellington Griffin from Chicago, Illinois.  The couple lived in Chicago and Frances’s mother, Hannah McOmber Hawkins, lived with them until her death in 1896.  In 1925 and 1937, Frances’s daughter, Helen Griffin (1872-1941), donated a number of her grandmother’s personal items, including a violin made by Van Rensselaer, to the Chicago Historical Society.  As of 2015, the violin and some of the items were still held by the Chicago Historical Museum.   The papers appear to have passed on to Frances’s son, William Van Rensselaer Hawkins (1884-1944), and thence to his son, Philip Van Rensselaer Hawkins (1890-1970).  Philip’s daughter Elizabeth Griffin (born in 1929), the great-great-granddaughter of Van Rensselaer Hawkins, donated them to the New York State Library in 2014.

Box and Folder List:


Box Folder Description
    Correspondence
1 1 Letters: Van R. Hawkins to Tryphena “Quiddle” Hawkins, 1821-1840 (14 items)
1 2 Letters: Henry Hawkins to Van R. Hawkins, 1839 (2 items)
1 3 Letters: Henry Hawkins to Van R. Hawkins, 1840 (11 items)
1 4 Letters: Van R. Hawkins to Henry Hawkins, 1840 (17 items)
1 5 Letters: Henry Hawkins to Van R. Hawkins, 1841 (15 items)
1 6 Letters: Van R. Hawkins to Henry Hawkins, January 9-November 16, 1841
(14 items)
1 7 Letters: Van R. Hawkins to Henry Hawkins, November 18-December 31, 1841
(15 items)
1 8 Letters: Henry Hawkins to Van R. Hawkins, January 1842 (7 items)
1 9 Letters: Van R. Hawkins to Henry Hawkins, January 1842 (15 items)
1 10 Letters: Van R. Hawkins to Henry Hawkins, February 1842 (10 items)
1 11 Letters: Van R. Hawkins to Henry Hawkins, March 1842 (15 items)
1 12 Letters: Van R. Hawkins to Henry Hawkins, April-May 1842 (9 items)
1 13 Letters: Van R. Hawkins to Henry Hawkins, June 1842 (13 items)
1 14 Letters: Van R. Hawkins to Henry Hawkins, August 1842 (13 items)
1 15 Letters: Van R. Hawkins to Henry Hawkins, September-December 1842
(11 items)
2 16 Letters: Harvey Putnam to Henry Hawkins, 1839-1841 (3 items)
2 17 Letters: To Henry Hawkins re: Buffalo and Attica Railroad business, 1841 (5 items)
2 18 Letters: Heman Blodgett, Alexander, [New York] to Henry Hawkins, 1841 (4 items)
2 19 Letters: To Henry Hawkins from various authors, 1831, 1841-1842, (13 items)
2 20  Letters: To Van R. Hawkins from various authors, 1838-1842, (11 items)
2 21 Letter: Mrs. Eliza Davis, Worcester, [Massachusetts] to Gov. John Davis, 1840 (2 items); letter reports on the proceedings of the Whig Party’s state convention at Worcester on June 17, 1840
    Business Papers
2 22 Accounts of Mrs. Harvey (Editha) Hawkins, 1852 (3 items)
2 23 Accounts of Henry Martin, 1847-1849 (3 items); the brother-in-law of Henry and Van R. and surviving member of Hawkins & Martin Co.
2 24 Agreements, Contracts and Accounts, 1838-1845 (16 items)
2 25 Deeds, Mortgages and Bonds – Gaines, Orleans County, [New York], 1822-1829
(12 items)
2 26 Deeds, Mortgages and Bonds – Gaines, Orleans County, [New York], 1822-1829, con’t.  (12 items)
2 27 Mortgages, Bonds and Receipts, 1834-1850 (17 items)
2 28 Power of Attorney Papers, 1835, 1836, 1844 (4 items)
2 29 Property Lease Papers, 1843-1863 (19 items)
    Other Family Information
2 30 Alexander Classical School Papers, Alexander, [New York] 1836, 1844 (2 items)
2 31
  1. American Institute Invitation to Henry Hawkins, 1841 (1 item)
  2. Draft of bill in relation to collection of taxes, undated (1 item)
2 32 Chicago Historical Society Gift Receipts, 1925, 1937 (4 items)
2 33 Court Documents, 1840-1845 (3 items)
2 34 Genealogical Information: Hawkins, Tucker, Griffin families, undated (4 items)
2 35 Images: Van Rensselaer Hawkins, ca. 1856, undated (3 items)
2 36 Images: Hannah McOmber Hawkins (wife of V.R. Hawkins), undated (2 items)
    Records of Land Purchases and Sales
3 37 Land Papers: Michigan, Counties of Lapeer, Livingston, Macomb, Saginaw and Shiawassee, 1836-1843 (13 items)
3 38 Land Papers: New York, Cattaraugus County, undated (1 item)
3 39 Land Papers: New York, Erie County, Towns of Alden, Buffalo, Newstead, Wales, 1836-1846 (17 items)
3 40 Land Papers: New York, Genesee County, Town of Alexander, 1818, 1829
(3 items)
3 41 Land Papers: New York, Genesee County, Town of Alexander, 1830 (10 items)
3 42 Land Papers: New York, Genesee County, Town of Alexander, 1831-1832
(8 items)
3 43 Land Papers: New York, Genesee County, Town of Alexander, 1833-1834
(7 items)
3 44 Land Papers: New York, Genesee County, Town of Alexander, 1835-1837
(5 items)
3 45 Land Papers: New York, Genesee County, Town of Alexander, 1840-1841
(6 items)
3 46 Land Papers: New York, Genesee County, Town of Alexander, 1842 (7 items)
3 47 Land Papers: New York, Genesee County, Town of Alexander, 1843-1845
(9 items)
3 48 Land Papers: New York, Genesee County, Town of Alexander, 1846-1848
(11 items)
3 49 Land Papers: New York, Genesee County, 1834-1840 (8 items)
3 50 Land Papers: New York, Genesee County, 1841-1845 (6 items)
3 51 Land Papers: New York, Monroe County, Town of Rochester, 1841-1847
(8 items)
3 52 Land Papers: Niagara County, Town of Hartland, 1836-1837, undated (11 items)
3 53 Land Papers: Niagara County, Town of Hartland, 1840-1845 (12 items)
3 54 Land Papers: Niagara County, Towns of Lewiston and Newfane, 1836-1837, 1844-1845, undated (10 items)
3 55 Land Papers: Niagara County, Town of Lockport, 1834-1839 (13 items)
3 56 Land Papers: Niagara County, Town of Lockport, 1840-1850 (13 items)
3 57 Land Papers: Niagara County, Town of Porter, 1844-1846 (9 items)
3 58 Land Papers: Niagara County, Town of Wilson, 1836-1848, undated (13 items)
3 59 Land Papers: Niagara County, multiple towns, 1835-1836 (8 items)
3 60 Land Papers: Niagara County, multiple towns, 1841-1849 (9 items)
3 61 Land Papers: Niagara County, multiple towns. Surveys, Maps, Plans, undated
(11 items)
3 62 Land Papers: Wyoming County, Towns of Attica and China, 1841-1849 (9 items)
    Financial Papers
4 63 Bequests and receipt papers from Henry Hawkins estate, 1845-1847, undated
(15 items)
4 64 Ledger Book containing Inventory of Estate of Henry Hawkins, November 5, 1845 (8" x 12.5", approx. 28 pages) (1 item)
4 65 Financial Ledger of Hawkins & Co., 1830-1840 (8" x 12", approx. 80 pages)
(1 item)
    Official Certificates
5 66 Certificate of Postmaster Appointment, V.R. Hawkins, 1841 (1 item)
5 67 Certificates of Land Purchases by H. & V.R. Hawkins, Genesee, Michigan, September 1838 (7 items)
5 68 Certificates of Land Purchases by H. & V.R. Hawkins, Genesee, Michigan, September 1838, October 1839 (8 items)
5 69 Certificates of Land Purchases by Various Buyers, Detroit, Genesee, Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1837-1839 (5 items)
5 70 Certificates of Land Purchases by H. & V.R. Hawkins, Detroit, Michigan, August 1837 (6 items)
5 71 Certificates of Land Purchases by H. & V.R. Hawkins, Detroit, Michigan, August 1837 (6 items)
5 72 Certificates of Land Purchases by H. & V.R. Hawkins, Detroit, Michigan, August 1837 (6 items)
5 73 Farmer’s Map of Michigan (folded into 3.5" x 5.5" booklet), 1831 (1 item)
    Oversize Items
EL1 74
  1. Account Sheet for Marcy & Rollins/Hawkins & Co., 1845-1846, (1 item)
  2. Land Sale Map of Tonawanda Reservation, Alabama, New York, undated

            (1 item)

Last Updated: November 10, 2016