University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department

Williams Family Papers

1861 - 1947

Manuscript Collection Number: 353
Accessioned: Purchase, August 1993
Extent: 2.5 linear ft.
Content: Ledgers, account books, tax forms, canceled checks, correspondence,
legal documents, personal notes, and miscellany.
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: November 1997 by Arthur Siegel.

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Table of Contents

Biographical Note

Colonel James Williams was born in Philadelphia on August 4, 1825, to John Williams (1775-1849), a lumber dealer in the Philadelphia area, and Esther Adams (d. 1875). James received a private education, and when he was sixteen he was taken on as a carpenter's apprentice with the hope of becoming an architect. However, when his father purchased a large estate in Delaware in 1848, James decided to pursue a career in agriculture instead. In 1850 he married Ruthanna Bailey, daughter of Mason Bailey. From this marriage they had two children who survived into adulthood: Nathaniel J. Williams (1857-1943), and Sarah Esther Williams (1855-1900), who would eventually marry William Polk Cummins, a prominent Delaware businessman and politician. In 1885 James Williams formed a partnership with John H. Parvis, formerly of Parvis & Biggs, which dealt in the manufacturing of fertilizers. After a few years, James became the president of Parvis & Williams and his son, Nathaniel J. Williams, was made treasurer of the company.

James Williams was also a Democrat, and very active in politics. He served in the Delaware State Legislature for two terms (1857-1858 and 1863-1864), and was elected to the State Senate from 1867-1871, the last two years of which he served as that body's speaker. In 1872 he was a member of the Democratic National Convention which convened in Baltimore, and which saw the party nominate Horace Greeley as its presidential candidate. Finally, Williams was elected as a Delaware representative to the 44th and 45th Congresses for the period 1875-1879. As a result of his position, James Williams cultivated a wide range of business and political contacts. Among these was John P. Cochran, Democratic governor of Delaware from 1875-1879, and John Bassett Moore, a native of Delaware who worked as an assistant secretary in the legal branch of the Department of State. Later, Moore went on to become a professor at international law at Columbia University, and to serve as a United States diplomat, including as Assitant Secretary of State during the Spanish-American War. The records do not contain much information about Williams' life after 1882, though according to the Historical and Biographical Encyclopedia of Delaware, he retired to the management of his farms after his period in Congress. There he must have led a quiet life until his death on April 12, 1899.

Banker, lawyer, and prominent landowner, Nathaniel J. Williams was born near Kenton, Delaware on September 24, 1857, to Colonel James Williams (1825-1899) and Ruthanna Bailey. He was educated at the Wilmington Confederate Academy in Dover, then continued at the University of Virginia and graduated in 1879. At the university he was a member of the Zeta Psi fraternity, and in 1883 he was admitted to the Delaware bar. On April 28, 1886 he married Frances L. Clayton, daughter of wealthy landowner Colonel John Clayton, whose distant ancestors arrived in America with William Penn. In May of the following year they had their first and only child, Mary Clayton Williams, who married Middletown physician Dorsey W. Lewis in 1904.

Like his father, Nathaniel Williams was involved in politics, though his main concern was the management of his estates. From 1887-1903 he served as Democratic mayor for the city of Middletown, Delaware, and served as the director of Citizen's National Bank as well as chair of the Board of Directors for the Delaware Trust Company from 1889-1943. From 1885 he was both treasurer and secretary, then later only treasurer, of Parvis & Williams. After his father died he dropped the business. Williams purchased, sold, and inherited an extensive number of properties in Delaware, Maryland, and Florida, and he was very active in the raising and breeding of horses. Some of the properties that were held for a long time within the family and passed along after his death included the Price Farm, the Savin Farm, the Clark farm, and the Atwell Farm, and he possessed a number of houses in Delaware and Florida as well. Williams maintained a large number of tenant farmers to work and manage his estates, including his cousin Clifford Clark (who took over after the death of his father Harry B. Clark), and he must have allowed them a free hand in hiring their own farm laborers. In July 1943, he died in Middletown of injuries sustained from a serious fall he took several weeks earlier.


Who's Who in Delaware: A Biographical Dictionary of Delaware's Leading Men and Women. ed. Seth Harmon. Philadelphia: The National Biographical Society, 1932.

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

History of Delaware Past and Present. Wilson Lloyd Bevan, ed. 4 vols. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1929.

The National Cyclopedia of American Biography, s.v. "Williams, Nathaniel" and "Moore, J.B."

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

Scope and Content Note

The Williams Family Papers concern the business and personal affairs of prominent Delaware politician and landowner James Williams (1825-1899), and his son Nathaniel J. Williams (1857-1943), who was also a prominent politician and landowner. In addition, the collection contains documents relating to the business of Parvis and Williams, a Middletown-based fertilizer manufacturing company that was headed by James Williams once he joined John Parvis in 1885. The collection itself consists of 2.5 linear feet of material comprising correspondence, college exercise books and notebooks, account books, ledgers, canceled checks, tax forms, stock and real-estate transactions, legal business, bills, and ephemera. The collection is divided into three main series: I. papers regarding the personal and business affairs of James Williams, II. business of the Parvis and Williams Company, and III. papers regarding the personal affairs of Nathaniel J. Williams as well as the management of his estates.

The first series spans the years 1861-1894 and includes various account books of James Williams in the management of his estates, as well as personal letters and a journal recording the bills passed in the Delaware Senate in early 1869.

The second series deals with the business of the fertilizer manufacturing company, Parvis & Williams, and spans the period 1884-1898. Included are order books, correspondence, ledgers, check books, and business transacted with two collection agencies for delinquent accounts.

This third series spans the period 1887-1947, and includes items used during his studies at the University of Virginia; family items, including a photograph, books, and a scrapbook; personal correspondence; correspondence between his daughter and the National Cyclopedia of American Biography (1943-1947); correspondence with tenants; envelopes; ledgers; stock statements and tax forms; bills; and legal business.

The collection provides an extensive, though undoubtedly incomplete, record of the family land holdings, as well as location, business done on the farms, tenants, and the economic vitality of each. It can be difficult to keep track of the farms, however. The reason for this is that the farms are named after the tenants who hold them, and when a new tenant comes along the name of the farm changes right along with it. An example of this is the Luthringer Farm, which was held in tenancy by William Luthringer until 1925 when it was taken over by Rothwell R. Price. Thereafter it was known as the Price Farm. In any case, the collection provides a great deal of information about the financial status of the family estates throughout the late ninteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries.

The correspondence between Nathaniel Williams and his tenants shows in some detail the relationships between the two, and what responsibilities were expected from each. It is clear that he had a very large number of tenants, though the business-like nature of the letters does not indicate what they may have thought of him. It is clear from the requests for money that at least a few of them frequently relied upon Williams for financial support, the result perhaps of hard economic times, and were not particularly well off. These economic conditions are detailed more clearly in the records maintained in the ledgers. The letters are also interesting in that many describe the work that is being done on the farms, and this helps provide a picture of the duties required of a farmer and the intricate network of business contacts for the buying and selling of goods which arise from this. In addition, the collection documents the financial and business activities of the family company Parvis and Williams, which was run by both father and son from 1885.

Though the collection does not provide much information on the family's interest in stocks, it is clear that Nathaniel purchased stocks, perhaps many, after the market crash of October 1929, suggesting that he viewed the drop as a temporary setback and an opportunity to acquire cheap purchases. It is interesting to witness the fortunes of these stocks in the wake of the Depression; in some cases he lost quite a lot of money because of the steady decline of stock prices during the 1930s. In terms of actual numbers and diversity, however, the collection is unclear.

Overall, the collection contains mostly business-related material and does not offer much in terms of the family's personal life. Nevertheless, there are a few disparate items that are of some interest. Nathaniel's personal correspondence and material from the University of Virginia offer a very small glimpse into his work and personal relationships in college, and can serve as a means of gauging the level of education which he received along the way. The paucity of letters, especially from home, is interesting, and may reflect the fact that his father's term in Congress coincided exactly with Nathaniel's years at Virginia, while the letters of Willard Saulsbury betray the existence of a close circle of friends to which Williams belonged. In addition, the books which belong to Francine [Clayton] Williams and the scrapbook of Martha E. Clayton (perhaps the mother of Francine], may be useful in suggesting the type of leisure activities and interests in which well-to-do women of the late nineteenth century were engaged, and the type of libraries they may have kept.

Related collections:

MS 349 Dorsey W. Lewis Papers

Contents List

Box -- Folder -- Contents

1         Series I.  James Williams
          Series I.A.  Business Records
          This series spans the years 1861-1894 and includes bank and business account
          books of James Williams in the management of his personal estates.

     F1   1861-1866  (106 pp.)
          Contains an alphabetized index in the front.

     F2   1882-1889
          In account with The National Bank of Smyrna.

     F3   1887-1888
          In account with J.M. Arthurs, "dealer in general merchandise."

     F4   1897-1899
          In account with William G. Lees.

     F5   1888 Dec 3 - 1889 Aug 28
          In account with J.M. Arthurs, it has "Arthurs" hand-written in ink on a strip of
          paper which is pasted to the front cover.

     F6   1888
          In account with People's National Bank of Middletown.

     F7   1889
          In account with J.H. Taylor of Kenton, Delaware.

     F8   1889-1891
          In account with J.H. Taylor

     F9   1889-1891
          In account with J.M. Arthurs, "Arthurs" is written on the cover in ink.

     F10  1890 Jul 16 - 1891 Jul 22
          In account with William W. Tschudy of Smyrna, it records the balance of
          purchases for foodstuffs.

     F11  1891-1892
          In account with William W. Tschudy.

     F12  1894
          In account with Fowler and Lees, who are the successors to W.W. Tschudy of

          Series I.B.  Personal Records
          Spans the years 1869-1890 and includes various letters written to and by James
          Williams, as well as a personal notebook that recorded some of the affairs of the
          Delaware State Senate in early 1869.

     F13  Notebook, 1869-1886
          Bound in leather, the first part of the journal is entitled "Bills Passed" and 
          deals with business of the Delaware State Senate from January 12 to April 8, 
          1869.  Also included is a list of bonds belonging to James Williams from 1874.   
          The back half of the notebook is an order ledger from his estates 
          which spans from 1869-1886 and is divided according to customer.

     F14  Letters 1876 - 1890 (4 items)
          Includes one letter to his wife (dated March 17, 1876), a letter from his brother
          Nathaniel (March 14, 1884), and two letters from John Bassett Moore (January
          1890) regarding a gift of books.  The letters from Moore were from the period
          when he was still working for the Department of State in Washington, D.C.

          Series II.  Parvis and Williams
          This series deals with the business of the fertilizer manufacturing company, 
          Parvis & Williams, and spans the period 1884-1898.  Included are order books,
          correspondence, ledgers, check books, and business transacted with two collection
          agencies for delinquent accounts.

     F15  Order Book, 1885-1896
          This is filled in upside down from the back.

     F16  Order Book, 1891 Mar 26-Nov 11, 1892 Mar 10-Apr 16  (87 pp.)
     F17  Ledger, 1885 Nov 9 - 1887 May 28  (60 pp.)

     F18  Check Book, 1888 May 31 - 1889 Mar 21 (#1-188)
          Includes check stubs and unused checks drawn off of Citizen's National Bank
          of Middletown.

     F19  Check Book, 1897 Jan 4 - 1898 Nov 5 (#1940-2007)
          Includes check stubs and unused checks drawn off of Citizen's National Bank of

     F20  Letter, Jun 23 1884 (1 p.)
          Written to Nathaniel Williams by John Parvis, then of Parvis and Biggs.  It is on 
          official letterhead and is impressed with the seal of the Parvis and Williams           

          Collection Agency Accounts
          Covering the period 1884-1892, these accounts are held with the Merchant's
          Collecting Association in Philadelphia and the Commercial Union, regarding
          those customers of Parvis & Williams whose payments were seriously overdue.

     F21  Merchants' Collecting Association, 1884-1891  (8 pp.)
          These are contracts made between Parvis and Williams and the collection agency. 
          There are a total of 46 entries for the seven year period, and include a list 
          of the offenders' names, location, amount due, and how long the accounts 
          have been delinquent.  Three of the contract sheets are blank.

     F22  Commercial Union, 1892 Feb 29 - Mar 16
          Includes a series of notification receipts to customers, kept in a black, 
          hard-cover binder, as well as a copy of the company's bylaws, eight company 
          envelopes, two hand-written lists of delinquent accounts (one dated October 29, 
          1892 and the other undated), and a sheet of blank letterhead of the Parvis & 
          Williams Co.


          Series III.  Nathaniel J. Williams
          Series III.A.  Personal Records
          This series spans the period 1887-1947, and deals with the personal effects of
          Nathaniel J. Williams as well as other members of his immediate family. 
          Included are two books belonging to his wife, a scrapbook belonging to Martha E.
          Clayton and dated to 1881, an unidentified photograph, notebooks and textbooks
          used by Nathaniel Williams at the University of Virginia (1877-1879), an 1893
          directory from his fraternity, personal correspondence with friends and relatives,
          and items pertaining to the inclusion of his biography in the National Cyclopedia    
          of American Biography.

     F23  "Gray Days and Gold" (334 pp.)
          A descriptive book of England and Scotland, written by William Winter in 1894. 
          The book is labeled the property of "Fannie [Frances] Clayton Williams."

     F24  "Choice Selections" Scrapbook, 1881
          The property of Martha E. Clayton of Middletown, Delaware (perhaps the mother
          of Frances L. Clayton?).  It contains newspaper clippings of home remedies,
          cooking and household cleaner recipes, and medical pointers, all glued to the
          pages.  There are also several hand-written entries.
     F25  English Exercise Book  (312 pp.)
          Entitled "The Scholar's Companion," it was published in 1871 by the E.H. Butler
          Co. of Philadelphia.  The book was used and autographed by Nathaniel Williams
          while he was at the University of Virginia.

     F26  Zeta Psi Directory  46-'93  (190 pp.)
          Contains a complete list of all the members of the fraternity from its inception 
          in 1846 until 1893.  The list is divided into fraternity chapters, and there is a
          comprehensive index at the back.  Nathaniel was himself a member of the Beta
          chapter at Virginia.  Also included is a letter and a correction card.

2    F27  Latin Reader  (370 pp.)
          The De Officiis of Cicero, published in 1873 by Eldredge & Brother of
          Philadelphia.  It was used by Williams for an 1877-1878 session at the university.

     F28  "Sweet Cicely"  (381 pp.)
          A novel by Allen Josiah's Wife, the inside cover reads: "To Fannie Clayton
          Williams / Christmas 1886 / From Mary."

     F29  Photograph
          This framed portrait is of an unidentified woman.

     F30  Notebook, 1879 Oct 4  (110 pp.)
          Written in pencil, it contains notes taken by Nathaniel Williams from a course on
          English law.
     F31  The National Cyclopedia of American Biography, 1943-1947  (13 items)
          This was published by the James T. White Co. of  New York, and after Nathaniel
          Williams' death they sought to create an entry for him.  Included is
          correspondence between the publishers and Mary Lewis, receipts, brochures, and
          an information sheet filled out in pencil by Mary Lewis on her father's life, and
          dated September 2, 1943.

     F32  Delaware Trust Company, Correspondence; 1943-1945  (3 items)
          Included are two letters from the bank to Mary Lewis regarding the death of her
          father, as well as a signed copy of Resolutions of Respect.
     F33  Letters between Clifford Clark and Mary Lewis, 1942-1945  (12 items)
          Clifford was a cousin of Nathaniel Williams, and lived in Kenton, Delaware, as a
          tenant on one of their farms.  The letters are primarily business related.

     F34  Personal letters, 1876-1904  (9 items)       
          Included are two letters from Nathaniel's uncle, who discusses Middletown and
          family news; four from his college friend Willard Saulsbury; one from a
          childhood friend from the Wilmington Confederate Academy named Wesley; and
          one from D.W.R. Culbreth of Baltimore, Maryland.  Also included is a letter from
          Caroline Butler Van Rest to Mrs. Williams (dated July, 1904).  She was writing
          from Maine, and must have been a friend of the family.


          Series III.B.  Business Records
          Spanning the years 1889-1947, this series deals with the personal business of
          Nathaniel Williams regarding the management of his estates and properties. 
          Included are account ledgers, legal agreements, correspondence from tenants,
          bills, tax forms, stock statements,  and envelopes.   Some ledgers list the names 
          of customers, items ordered, prices, and billing records, while others record 
          business with tenants.  In addition, there were numerous loose items 
          stuffed between the pages of these books, including adding machine calculation, 
          correspondence, bills, and other estate business.  For the sake of coherency 
          and the preservation of context, the calculations and account records pertaining 
          to individuals have been left in the ledgers, but the remaining items have been 
          removed and filed in more appropriate locations.

     F35  Ledger, 1889-1896 (545 pp.)   
          Lists accounts by customer's name, and at the beginning gives a complete
          alphabetized breakdown of all customers, renters, and employees with appropriate
          page references.

     F36  Ledger, Jan 1889 - Dec 1905 (563 pp.)
          Published by William F. Murphy's Sons, it provides a chronological account of
          business transactions, and is conveniently cross-listed with the ledger above. 
          Beside each entry is a number which corresponds to the page on which that
          individual's account record  is to be found.

     F37  Ledger, 1896-1910 (185 pp.)
          This is probably a continuation of the ledger in F35.

     F38  Ledger, 1915-1933  (371 pp.)

     F39  Ledger, 1917-1924  (170 pp.)

3    F40  Ledger, 1935-1947 (471 pp.-- partial)
          Listed according to tenant.

4    F41  Income Tax Book, 1917-1924  (170 pp.)   
          Includes a record of receipts and expenditures, with tax calculations laid in
          between the various pages.

     F42  Income Tax Book, 1923-1933  (184 pp.)
          Includes accounts and finances that are broken down according to properties and
          businesses he owned from Delaware, Maryland, and Florida.

     F43  "Banner Note Book"  (19 pp.)
          Includes a record of mortgages held by Nathaniel Williams.  It is contained in a
          spiral-bound notebook, but the pages are loose.   
5    F44  Legal Agreements, 1927-1940  (7 items)
          Includes lease and payment agreements made between Nathaniel Williams and
          various tenants.

     F45  Tenant Correspondence, 1894-1940  (74 items)
          These include requests by tenants for money and payments for farm labor that was     
          hired out to other individuals.  The tenants often served as "middlemen" between
          Williams and the laborers, whose wages Williams was frequently asked to pay.  
          These letters also provide information on the state of individual farms and the
          work that needs to be done on them.  Six of the letters are undated.  

     F46  Bills, 1901-1943  (38 items)
          Included are bills from the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co. and the
          Diamond State Telephone Co., gas bills, bills for various goods and farm
          products, and from St. Annes Church.  Also included are bills from his purchase
          of horses in 1915, as well as a newspaper clipping announcing an auction for
          horses to be held in Cecil Co., Maryland on February 5, 1918.

     F47  Taxes, 1923-1939  (15 items)
          Concerns tax information for Delaware and Florida, and includes receipts,
          calculations and the profit record from the sale of real estate in Miami and Ft.
          Lauderdale in April, 1925.

     F48  Stocks, 1918-1943  (15 items)
          Includes a letter to stockholders from the Electric Bond and Share Company as
          well as a purchase agreement signed by Williams and dated August 1,1930.  Also
          included are various hand-written accounts of prices and number of shares for
          stocks which he held, notices from Citizens Passenger Railway Company 
          (1918-1921), and a 1941 receipt of sale for his stock in the American 
          Sugar Company - processed by the Wilmington, Delaware brokerage firm Laird, 
          Bissell, & Meeds.
     F49  Notices of Delinquency and Eviction, 1923-1933  (22 items)
          Includes formal, hand-written notices by Nathaniel Williams (dated and signed) to
          tenants who either owe him money or who he wishes to evict.  He stipulates the
          date which he expects them to vacate the property and leaves room for the tenants
          to sign upon being served the notice.  In several cases, formal tenant responses 
          are also included.

5    F50  James Savin Estate, 1938-1942  (7 items)
          These papers concern an apparently costly legal dispute between Nathaniel
          Williams and James Savin, whose estate was in Warwick, Maryland, and include
          a notice of eviction, correspondence, and various legal documents.

     F51  Miscellaneous Business, 1889-1948  (27 items)
          Includes correspondence, weight receipts for goods bought and sold, the results of     
          a tuberculosis test on cattle, an undated list of furniture purchased from
          Wanamaker and Grymby & Hunt, a record sheet by fire inspector, a 1926
          newspaper advertisement announcing the closure of the Ft. Lauderdale Bank and
          Trust Company and the First National Bank of Ft. Lauderdale, and an 1899 notice
          of money to be paid to Caroline Tumlin from the trust fund of Mrs. Anna West.        
          Also included are eleven promissory notes and canceled checks from 1920-1942,
          though the bulk of them are from 1920-1926.  All of these involve Williams'
          tenants, and are drawn on the Delaware Trust Company. 

     F52  Dorsey W. Lewis  (10 items)
          These include correspondence concerning Nathaniel Williams but which, for
          various reasons, were addressed to his brother-in-law, Dorsey Lewis.

     F53  Business letters, 1908-1909  (5 items)
          Included is a letter by P.S. Downs, M.D., regarding an interest in the purchase of
          land from Williams; and three letters regarding cement mixes: one from the
          Charles Warner Company (March 18, 1909), and two from H.J. Livingston
          (February and July 1909).  Also included is an advertisement for "Livingston's
          Cement Bond".
     F54  Envelopes  (56 items)
          These envelopes are culled from various parts of the collection, and the presence
          of individual and business return addresses should help as a source for the
          cataloguing of Nathaniel Williams' personal and business contacts.   These are
          ordered according to state.      
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