© 2016 University of Chicago Library
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Lewis Family Papers
0.5 linear feet (1 box)
Special Collections Research Center
Reuben Thomas Durrett (1824-1913), lawyer, manuscript and book collector, and Kentucky historian. The Lewis family were 18th century land dealers in Kentucky. The Reuben T. Durrett Collection of the Lewis Family Papers consists primarily of legal and business documents connected with the Kentucky land dealings of John Lewis and his sons, Gabriel and Warner Washington Lewis. It contains receipts, land grants, household accounts (including one that involves the sale of slaves), contracts, land surveys, land indentures, promissory notes, and a travel journal.
The collection is open for research.
When quoting material from this collection, the preferred citation is: Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Lewis Family Papers, [Box #, Folder #], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.
The existence of the Durrett library first came to the attention of the University of Chicago through William E. Dodd, a professor of American history at the University who had consulted the library as a student. Like other faculty members of the Division of the Social Sciences early in the century, Dodd was concerned about the University's lack of extensive research materials for history and related subjects, and since he was aware of Durrett's advanced age, he persuaded A. C. McLaughlin, also of the history department, to accompany him to Louisville in June, 1910, to see the collection and to make discreet inquiries about plans for its disposition. The two found Durrett himself uncertain about his plans, but learned that the Durrett family opposed making a donation of the collection, and that they were in communication with Princeton University and the University of Illinois about selling the library.
Dodd himself was very enthusiastic about the research potential which Durrett's library represented, and won the support of many of his colleagues on the social science faculties in his efforts to persuade President Judson to consider the purchase by the University of the entire library, numbering some 30,000 volumes. Convinced that the collection would be a valuable addition to the University's holdings, but wary of the expense involved, Judson agreed cautiously to investigate the idea. Although Dodd and his colleagues were anxious to conclude the agreement quickly, fearing competition from other would-be purchasers or the dispersal of the collection upon Durrett's apparently imminent death, the task of deciding upon a fair offer was made difficult by the fact that the collection had never been adequately catalogued.
Durrett's own suggestion made in December, 1912 of $45,000 seemed high, so in February 1913, the University engaged Walter Lichtenstein, a Northwestern University librarian who had previously acted as purchasing agent for the University of Chicago libraries, to assess the value of the Durrett collection. Lichtenstein's report was submitted to President Judson on February 21, 1913, following a trip to Louisville to sample the collection.
The assessment, made on terms of commercial market value rather than scholarly significance, divided Durrett's library into four parts. Some 20,000 bound volumes (including 500 volumes of Kentuckiana) he estimated at $7,200. Two hundred fifty file folders of pamphlet material had no apparent commercial value. Numerous manuscripts and newspapers were difficult to assess but Lichtenstein thought they could be fairly purchased for $15,000. A collection of maps was estimated to have a value around $50. Lichtenstein's estimate, therefore, totaled $22,000-$22,500, considerably less than Durrett's own. When the University authorized Lichtenstein to make this offer to the Durrett family, however, they accepted it, apparently favoring Chicago as the repository of their collection. The purchase sum, which was too high to be taken from the University's ordinary budget, was raised among outside donors, and under Lichtenstein's supervision, the library was dismantled and shipped to Chicago by early May. It filled 287 large packing crates. Its arrival provoked considerable comment in the Louisville and Chicago press, and almost immediately the University began to receive research inquiries from scholars and requests from several libraries for copies of some of the Durrett material to add to their own collections.
In his report Lichtenstein had warned President Judson that considerable effort and expense would be required to process the collection once it was at the University. His warning proved to be justified. Aside from the massive undertaking of unpacking, sorting, and cataloguing the collection, much of the material was found to be in poor condition, requiring cleaning, repair, and binding or rebinding. To facilitate the efficient processing of the Durrett acquisition, the entire operation was assigned to Edward A. Henry of the library staff, who, with the help of his assistants, was to devote most of his attention to the Durrett project for some seven years. It was decided that duplicates should be disposed of, that a number of Filson Club possessions in Durrett's library should be returned to the Club, and that most of the non-manuscript material in the collection would be distributed according to subject matter among the University's various departmental libraries. On several occasions between 1913 and 1937, items of an official character were returned to Kentucky upon request, including records of Jefferson County, journals of Kentucky constitutional conventions, and certain manuscripts and photographs of the Filson Club identified by the club's president, R. C. Ballard Thurston. Most of Henry's time seems to have been devoted to preparing the material for this dispersal. His assignment was expanded in 1914 when the University purchased a collection totaling 436 volumes of Kentucky newspapers and miscellaneous books from Mrs. Joel R. Lyle, sister of Robert C. Boggs of Lexington, Kentucky. It was deemed appropriate to merge the Boggs-Lyle acquisition with the Durrett, and the two were processed together.
By the end of the 1915-16 academic year, about 9,000 of the Durrett and Boggs-Lyle volumes had been processed and distributed to the departmental libraries. It was then that Henry and his staff turned some of their attention to the manuscripts--that is, to the material comprising the Durrett Collection as described in this guide. At that time the Durrett manuscripts were apparently divided into four large groups--the Joel Tanner Hart Papers, the Joshua Lacy Wilson Papers, miscellaneous manuscripts, and miscellaneous separately bound items--either mounted in scrapbooks or bound together. A card catalog was compiled for at least the first three of these groups.
The Durrett Collection remained in this state until the mid-1950s. By then it had been incorporated within the holdings of the Department of Special Collections (1951), and it became clear that reorganization of the manuscripts was necessary. Paul Angle, a member of the staff of the Chicago Historical Society, who had surveyed the University of Chicago's manuscript collection as a consultant in 1944, had pointed out that the Durrett miscellaneous bound manuscripts in particular were of little use to scholars as they were then arranged and described. Moreover, the Special Collections staff had observed that the mountings and bindings done by Henry's staff were detrimental to the lives of the manuscripts, and that the existing catalog and descriptions provided inadequate access to the documents. The manuscripts, therefore, were removed from their bindings and divided into smaller and more coherent sub-collections.
In the 1970s, an effort was undertaken to edit the 1956 guide, to enhance the descriptions of the Durrett codices for greater detail and accuracy, and to differentiate between transcripts and original manuscript material bound together in the codices. Manuscript material also received conservation treatment. In 1983, another attempt was made to write a comprehensive guide to the entire collection. This guide remained in use until 2015. The current guide was completed in 2016.
Born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1747, John Lewis was the only son born to Colonel Fielding Lewis by his first wife, Catherine Washington, the daughter of Major John Washington of Gloucester County, Virginia. After the death of Catherine Washington Lewis in 1750, Fielding Lewis married Betty Washington, the younger sister of George Washington. This union provided young John Lewis with eleven half-brothers and -sisters. As befitted the eldest son of a well-to-do eighteenth- century American, John Lewis went abroad for much of his education. He returned to Virginia in about 1769, having studied for a time at Oxford.
In that year John Lewis, who was to be widowed four times, took as his first wife – his cousin Lucy Thornton of Caroline County, Virginia. Lucy died shortly after the birth of a daughter, Mildred, and in 1771 Lewis was married for the second time, to Elizabeth Thornton of Northumberland County, Virginia. This marriage lasted only a few months before Lewis was widowed again. His third marriage, to Elizabeth Bates Jones, the daughter of Gabriel Jones, produced three sons (the younger two are represented in this sub-collection): Fielding (1773-1798), Gabriel (1775-1864), and Warner Washington (1779-1833). Widowed a third time in 1783, Lewis was married again in 1786, this time to Mary Ann Fontaine Armistead, the daughter of Peter Fontaine and widow of Bowles Armistead. Already the mother of four children, Mary Ann Lewis bore three more by John Lewis: Frances, Howell, and Mary Ann. The death of his fourth wife in 1799 left John Lewis a widower once more. His last marriage, to Mildred Ann Byrd Carter Mercer, the daughter of Landon Carter and widow of Robert Mercer, was not a happy one, and after the birth in 1810 of a son, Attaway, the couple separated.
As a young Virginian John Lewis enrolled in the state militia, attaining the rank of captain in about 1780, and assisted his father in the manufacture of gunpowder. His father's death in 1781 left the business entirely in Lewis' hands. At the same time he continued to be active in civic affairs, holding a seat on the Common Council of Fredericksburg. In 1785 he became seriously ill, and recuperated during lengthy visits to Abingdon, the home of Dr. David Stuart, and to Mount Vernon. (George Washington noted the latter visit in his diary). During the 1790's Lewis became interested in western lands, and after his separation from his fifth wife, he moved to Warren County, Kentucky, with his daughter Mary Ann.
Meanwhile Lewis' sons Gabriel and Warner Washington had also settled in Kentucky. The sons' connection with western affairs had begun in 1801 when they were employed by their father's half- brother Lawrence Lewis, the principal executor of the estate of George Washington, to survey the Kentucky lands belonging to the Washington estate. At the same time the two acted as agents for their father in locating tracts connected with military warrants he was purchasing. John Lewis gradually consolidated these properties into a single large holding in Warren County, and it was there that he and his daughter settled when they moved west in 1811. About a year later, however, Lewis' title to his Kentucky lands was challenged in the Kentucky courts, which decided in favor of the rights of the squatters on the property. Now landless, Lewis joined his sons in Logan County and remained at their home, “Elmwood,” until his death in 1825.
Gabriel Lewis outlived his father by nearly forty years, married twice, and fathered many children. Warner Washington Lewis, however, lived for only eight years after his father's death. He was drowned in an accident on the Wabash River while on a journey to New Harmony, Indiana, in the late spring or summer of 1833.
The Lewis Family Papers consist principally of legal and business documents connected with the Kentucky lands dealings of John Lewis (1747-1825) and his sons Gabriel (1775-1864) and Warner Washington Lewis (1779-1833).
The collection is split into two series:
Series I, Legal and Business Documents, contains personal notes, memoranda, and bills and receipts pertaining to land dealings and travel. Materials are arranged chronologically.
Series II, Correspondence, contains incoming and outgoing correspondence with the Lewis family. The series is split into three subseries, one for each member of the family represented in the material – John, Gabriel, and Warner Washington. Correspondence between the brothers can be found in Subseries 3 (Gabriel Lewis) and materials are organized chronologically within the subseries.
The following related resources are located in the Department of Special Collections:
Fielding Lewis. Papers. 1783-1900
Researchers interested in topics represented in the Durrett Collection should check the author, title, or subject headings relevant to their interests in the Library catalog for potentially useful books and pamphlets from the Durrett Library, which were dispersed among the existing departmental libraries at the time of acquisition. Some of these items have since been transferred to the Rare Books collection and to the Reuben T. Durrett Collection of Broadsides, Pamphlets, and Leaflets, in the Special Collections Research Center.
The Durrett rare book collections include works of literature, travel and description, early histories of Kentucky such as Mann Butler's, biographies, legislative acts, and other legal documents.
Examples include Henry McMurtrie's Sketches of Louisville and Its Environs (1819); a collection of humorous verses, The Kentucky Miscellany, by Thomas Johnson, Jr. (1821), one of two known copies of the fourth edition, the first known to survive; and The Confession of Jereboam O. Beauchamp ... (1826).
Among the newspapers are 135 titles published in Kentucky, beginning in 1788 with the Kentucky Gazette, the first newspaper established in the state. Other important titles include the Mirror, the Palladium, the Guardian of Freedom, the Farmer's Library or Ohio Intelligencer, and numerous campaign newspapers such as The Patriot and The Spirit of '76 from 1826.
Included in the American Paper Currency Collection in the Special Collections Research Center is Durrett's collection of confederate currency, among which are many examples of notes issued by the Bank of Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Correspondence, reports, and clippings concerning the acquisition of the Reuben T. Durrett Collection for the University of Chicago are found in the University of Chicago Library Records Addenda.
In addition, the following collections contain material related in subject matter to various portions of the Durrett Collection:
Codex MS 798 Lettres de Mr. Cahusac, Américain, juge de paix à Fleurance, 1806-1836
Church History Documents Collection
Codex MS 790, Letters to Virgil David, 1828-1838
Douglas, Stephan A. Papers
English, William H. Papers
Lane, Ebenezer, Family. Papers
Lewis, Fielding. Papers
Robertson, Wyndham. Papers
All Durrett sub-collections are as follows:
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Boggs Family. Papers
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Boone Family. Papers
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Broadsides, Broadsheets, Pamphlets, and Leaflets
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Christopher Columbus Graham. Papers
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. George and William Croghan. Papers
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. George Nicholas. Papers
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. George Rogers Clark. Papers
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Government Records
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Edmund Lyne Estate. Records
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. James Wilkinson. Papers
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Joel Tanner Hart. Papers
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Joshua Lacey Wilson. Papers
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Lewis Family. Papers
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Louisville, Kentucky Board of Trustees. Records
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Mann Butler. Papers
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Michael Walsh Cluskey. Papers
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Miscellaneous Manuscripts and Codices
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Portraits, Illustrations, and Cartographic Material
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Reuben T. Durrett. Papers
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Richard H. Collins. Papers
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Richard Jouett Menefee Collection on Matthew Harris Jouett
Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Shelby Family. Papers
Series I: Legal and Business Documents
|Box 1 Folder 1|
|Box 1 Folder 2|
|Box 1 Folder 3|
|Box 1 Folder 4|
|Box 1 Folder 5|
|Box 1 Folder 6|
Series II: Correspondence
Subseries 1: John Lewis
|Box 1 Folder 7|
Incoming and Outgoing Correspondence – 1784-1801
Subseries 2: Warner Washington Lewis
|Box 1 Folder 8|
Incoming and Outgoing Correspondence – 1805-1828
Subseries 3: Gabriel Lewis
|Box 1 Folder 9|
Correspondence with John Lewis – 1799-1801
|Box 1 Folder 10|
Correspondence with John Lewis – 1802-1808
|Box 1 Folder 11|
Correspondence with Warner Washington Lewis – 1803 - 1831
|Box 1 Folder 12|
Incoming Correspondence – 1796-1801
|Box 1 Folder 13|
Correspondence – 1802
|Box 1 Folder 14|
Correspondence – 1803
|Box 1 Folder 15|
Correspondence – 1804
|Box 1 Folder 16|
Correspondence – 1805
|Box 1 Folder 17|
Correspondence – 1806
|Box 1 Folder 18|
Correspondence – 1807-1809
|Box 1 Folder 19|
Correspondence – 1813-1835
|Box 1 Folder 20|
Correspondence - undated