University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department

William Polk Cummins Papers

1858 -1864

Manuscript Collection Number: 352
Accessioned: Purchased, August 1993.
Extent: .5 linear ft.
Content: Ledgers, journals, receipt books, yearbooks.
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: October 1997, by Arthur Siegel.

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Table of Contents

Biographical Note

William Polk Cummins, born on April 19, 1853, was the son of David J. Cummins (1824-1898), a prominent Delaware businessman and landowner, and Juliet Polk Cummins, daughter of William Polk of Odessa. A native of Smyrna, Delaware, William Cummins had a brother, Albert W. Cummins, who would later work for The Wilmington Morning News, and four sisters: Mrs. Henry Lee, Mrs. Edith Davis, Agnes Cummins, and Susan Cummins. He attended Princeton College, graduating from that institution in 1875, and immediately set out to work in the agricultural industry. Working independently as the manager of Glenfern Farm and involved in the manufacturing of drain tiles and fertilizers, he decided to take on John Cosgriff as a partner in 1884. This partnership lasted some ten years until the death of William Cummins, after which Cosgriff went on to create his own company, Cosgriff, Beck & Hazel, which dealt in the manufacturing of fertilizers as well.

Cummins was quite well-connected, and was an active member of his community. Indeed, in the words of the Wilmington Evening Journal, he was a "prominent Northern Kent Citizen." He married Sarah Esther Williams (1855-1900), daughter of the Delaware state senator James Williams, who was also president of Parvis & Williams. Cummins himself held a place on the Delaware State Central Committee, and for six years served as Director of the National Bank at Smyrna. He traveled frequently on business -- to Wilmington, Philadelphia, or Maryland -- and maintained a wide range of personal contacts. In addition, he was treasurer and choirmaster of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Smyrna.

In 1893 his health began to fail, and in that year he and his wife moved from Glenfern to Smyrna as a result. He had been suffering from kidney problems and heart disease, which prevented him from engaging in the level of activity he had once been used to, and on March 17, 1895 he died in his home.


The Wilmington Evening Journal, March 18, 1895 (p.1)

The Middletown Transcript, March 23, 1895 (p.3)

Historical and Biographical Encyclopedia of Delaware, J.M. McCarter and B.F. Jackson, eds. Wilmington, Delaware: Aldine Publishing and Engraving Co., 1882.

Note: Historical and biographical material also found in the collection.

Scope and Contents Note

The William Polk Cummins Papers concern the personal and business affairs of prominent Delaware businessman, William Polk Cummins (1853-1895). The collection itself does not provide much information on his fertilizer business, but rather documents the management of Glenfern farm from the period after graduating college to the months before his death. In addition, the collection provides detailed information on his activities for the year 1884, when he kept a personal journal.

The collection consists of .5 linear feet of material and spans the years 1877-1900. It is divided into two series: the first contains account ledgers, diaries, and receipt books that record the business of Glenfern farm from 1877-1900; and the second contains two Princeton yearbooks (one from 1885, the other from 1895) and a personal journal from 1884. The business records extend essentially to 1894, the year before Cummins' death, and the few items after this date concern his wife's financial affairs. The yearbooks are of interest because they provide substantial biographical information on the Princeton alumni of 1875: where they live, what their occupations are, and what they have done in the subsequent years. For interested researchers, this can provide a wealth of personal and statistical data -- from aiding in genealogical searches to determining the primary professions of college graduates in the late nineteenth century. Also of interest is his personal journal for 1884, which provides potentially valuable climatological data for Smyrna, and tracks the level and nature of his activities around Delaware and the region.

Contents List

Folder -- Contents

     Business Records, 1877-1900
     Includes ledgers and cash books from the management of Glenfern farm.  Also included
     are two account books of Esther Cummins in her running of the estate after her husband's

F1   1877 Ledger (180pp.)

F2   1878 Ledger (224pp.)

F3   1880-1882 Ledger (297pp.)
     Includes a list of hired hands, wages, their terms of employment and records of lost work
     time, as well as lists of renters.

F4   1882-1886 Ledger (321pp.)
     Includes a list of hired hands, wages, their terms of employment and records of lost work

F5   1882-1891 "Fruit Book" (224pp.)
     Provides a record of orders for fruit shipped from Glenfern farm.  The customers reside as
     far afield as Boston.

F6   1885-1891 Ledger (224pp.)

F7   1891 Diary
     The "Excelsior Diary," published by William F. Murphy's Sons in Philadelphia, is bound
     in leather.  The published diary contains a calendar, monthly astronomical calculations,
     interest tables, and other important basic information.  Inside are hand-written notes of
     business activities, as well as the names and addresses of various individuals.  These
     insertions are written in pencil and mostly scratched out, and it is uncertain in what
     context these individuals are to be placed.

F8   1893 Cash Book (56pp.)

F9   1893 Diary
     "Standard Diary No. 255" is printed on the front of the leather binding, and it is a yearly
     publication for the manufacturing trade.  It contains a calendar, astronomical data, as well
     as other useful information. 

F10  1894 Diary
     "Standard Diary No. 91," also leather-bound, provides a record of monthly bills to be
     paid and the amounts.  There are also personal notes towards the end of the journal, such
     as a three-page account of the state of his health from May to September 1894, and notes
     regarding his personal garden.

F11  Receipt Books, 1899-1900 (4 items)
     Concern the finances of Esther Cummins:  one in account with George Lees for food
     supplies and the other in account with William B. Megear.  Found interleaved within
     these books are two seemingly unrelated bills: one is to Mrs Rebecca Bailey from G.W.
     Turner, the proprietor of a general store in Smyrna, for goods purchased in March and
     April, 1900; and the other also to Mrs. Bailey in April 1900, but from ice cream     
     manufacturer George M. Stevenson.

F12  Advertisement, August 1877 (1 item)
     A notice of reminder from William F. Murphy's Sons for renewal of account.  It is a
     small, printed clipping.

     Personal Records
     Included are three items: two yearbooks from Princeton College (one from 1885, marking
     the decennial of Cummin's graduating class, and the other from 1895, marking its
     vigintennial), and a personal journal from 1884.

F13  1884 Diary
     An "Excelsior Diary," this is bound in green hard-cover and is published with basic
     information such as a calendar, astronomical tables, and weights and measures.  Written
     in ink, Cummins provides brief narrative accounts of the weather and his activities for
     each day of the year.  At the back is reckoning of some of his accounts.

F14  Princeton Decennial (78 pp.)
     From 1885, it was published by Dr. Thomas W. Harvey who was apparently class
     representative.  Included are biographical updates for all members of the 1875 graduating
     class, sent in by the graduates themselves, and Cummins provides about three-quarters of
     a page of information about what he had been doing since graduation.

F15  Princeton Vigintennial (112 pp.)
     From 1895, this provides another 10-year update on 1875 graduates, again published by
     Dr. Thomas W. Harvey.  In this edition there is a necrology in the back, and William
     Cummins is listed here because of his death earlier in the year.  In addition, pictures have
     been provided by those who took the interest in sending one with their biography. 
     Cummins' picture is provided, as well as a page-long eulogy.


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