University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department

Caroline Pilsbury
Letters to Hannah Stickney

1820 - 1821, 1824

Manuscript Collection Number: 334
Accessioned: Purchase, June 1991
Extent: One notebook (67 pp) and disbound signature (12pp)
Content: Letters
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: October 1996 by Julie Witsken.

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Table of Contents

Biographical Note

Little is known about Caroline Pilsbury beyond what has been disclosed in this collection of letters to her friend Hannah Stickney. Caroline's accounts and a few annotations in an unknown hand reveal that she and Hannah shared a room at the Byfield Female Seminary in Massachusetts in 1819. Though the letters record only the first names and last initials of Caroline and Hannah, records of the Byfield Seminary held at Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections list a 'Caroline Pilsbury' and a 'Hannah Stickney' as members of the class of 1819. The seminary was founded by the Reverend Joseph Emerson in 1816 in Byfield, Massachusetts, a subdivision of the thriving city of Newburyport, from which, according to the Mount Holyoke records, both Caroline and Hannah hailed. Prior to about 1836, seminaries were the only source of higher education available to young ladies in America. A champion of women's education, Emerson distinguished his seminary by the "surprising range of its curriculum in a day when few subjects were thought suitable for the female mind." The Mount Holyoke Archives and this collection of letters do not indicate whether the Byfield Seminary had any official religious affiliation and if it trained its pupils specifically for missionary work, but throughout her letters Caroline writes of her "passion for the missions" and refers to herself as a "missionary."

It is clear that Caroline was a teacher, if not also a missionary. In 1820 she left Newburyport for Penobscot County, Maine, where she instructed children of both the Penobscot Indian and the white communities. She spent a year in Penobscot County, first in Passadumkeag, located on the west bank of the Penobscot River about forty miles north of Bangor, and later in other locations within the same area. Caroline was reluctant to leave her teaching position in Maine in 1821, and it is not known from this collection where she went between then and the year 1824. Her letters from 1824 reveal her still to be teaching, but back in her hometown of Newburyport.


Biographical information derived from the collection as well as from email correspondence from Peter Carini, Archivist at Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections, to Julie Witsken, 11 Dec. 1995 and 14 Dec. 1995.

Scope and Content Note

The Caroline Pilsbury letters consist of autograph copies of letters written by school teacher Caroline Pilsbury to her friend and former classmate at the Byfield Female Seminary, Hannah Stickney, between June 1820-1821 and May-June 1824.

The bulk of the letters, written between 1820 and 1821, details Caroline's life as a teacher and missionary in the wilderness of Penobscot County, Maine. The letters describe living conditions in a remote and undeveloped area, as well as Caroline's attempts to adjust to an environment very different from that of her native Massachusetts. The Penobscot Indians are discussed at length, and information about their dress, lifestyle, and relationship with the whites is disclosed. The letters also provide great insight into the joys and frustrations of teaching, and express the strength of Caroline's religious convictions and her desire to help the inhabitants of Maine, particularly the Indians, become better educated Christians.

The letters written between 1820 and 1821 (F1) are contained in a bound notebook, and a second group of letters written in 1824 (F2) are unbound, though they seem to have at one point been part of a bound notebook. All letters appear to be transcripts or extracts of the original letters, as indicated by the word "omitted" written in various places and variations in handwriting throughout the manuscript. Annotations in pen and ink appear throughout the letters. One of these autograph notes is initialed "H. S." and may have been written by Hannah. The initials "H. S." are written on the inside cover of the bound notebook, so it is likely that Hannah, the recipient of the letters, was the one who transcribed them.

Contents List


F1     Notebook, 1820-1821 (67 pp.)

F2     Disbound signatures, 1824 (12 pp.)

F3     Preservation photocopy (Notebook, 1820-1821)

F4     Preservation photocopy (Disbound signature, 1824)

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