University of Chicago Library

Guide to the Reuben T. Durrett Collection, Richard Jouett Menefee Collection on Matthew Harris Jouett 1823-circa 1890

© 2016 University of Chicago Library

Descriptive Summary


Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Richard Jouett Meneffee Collection on Matthew Harris Jouett


1823-circa 1890


0.5 linear feet (1 box)


Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center
University of Chicago Library
1100 East 57th Street
Chicago, Illinois 60637 U.S.A.


Reuben Thomas Durrett (1824-1913), lawyer, manuscript and book collector, and Kentucky historian. This collection contains the materials of Kentucky born businessman, Richard Jouett Menefee (1837-1893), as he sought information about the work of his grandfather, the portrait painter Matthew Harris Jouett (1788-1827). The bulk of the collection contains the correspondence of Richard Jouett Menefee in connection with his efforts to write his grandfather’s biography and produce a catalog of his paintings. The collection also contains a codex manuscript transcript of correspondence by M. H. Jouett as well as two transcripts of a catalog of his paintings.

Information on Use


The collection is open for research.


When quoting material from this collection, the preferred citation is: Durrett, Reuben T. Collection. Richard Jouett Menefee Collection on Matthew Harris Jouett, [Box #, Folder #], Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Acquisition Information

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.

Biographical Note

Richard Jouett Menefee (1837-1893) was born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1837. At 15 he left school to pursue business in Chicago and later Cincinnati, where he became wealthy. In addition to his interest in business, Menefee is described as a great lover of art. His amassed wealth afforded him the opportunity to tour Europe with his mother and together they visited the great European art galleries and met influential artists. He then returned to Kentucky, moving to Louisville, and once again successfully pursued business. In the closing years of his life, Menefee’s sustained passion for art manifested an interest in the work of his grandfather, the portrait painter Matthew Harris Jouett. He undertook the task of writing his grandfather’s biography and compiling a catalog of his paintings. However, Richard Jouett Menefee died prior to the completion of this work on June 12, 1893 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Menefee’s grandfather, Matthew Harris Jouett (1788-1827) was born near Harrodsburg, Kentucky on the 22 of April 1788. Trained in law, Jouett turned to pursing his passion for painting as a profession following his involvement in the War of 1812. Though already recognized as a skilled portrait painter, Jouett briefly travelled to Boston to study under Gilbert Stuart in 1816. The four months with Stuart profoundly influenced Jouett and his natural talents were greatly enhanced by Stuart’s tutelage. For his part, Stuart is said to have also held his pupil in high regard. Stuart is reported to have remarked that Jouett was the only student that he ever had who was worthy of his instruction. Jouett returned to Kentucky and continued working as a portrait painter, producing over three-hundred paintings in the course of his career. Jouett died in 1827 in Lexington, Kentucky.

Scope Note

The collection primarily consists of the correspondence of Richard Jouett Menefee concerning the paintings of his grandfather, Matthew Harris Jouett. Three codices contain a transcript of the correspondence of Matthew Harris Jouett as well as transcripts of a catalog of his paintings.

Related Resources

Browse finding aids by topic.

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

Ethno-History Collection

Lafayette Manuscripts

Lafayette-Bonaventure. Collection

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

Subject Headings


Box 1   Folder 1

Correspondence – Richard Jouett Menefee, January 20, 1886 – March 11, 1886

Box 1   Folder 2

Correspondence – Richard Jouett Menefee, March 12, 1886 – March 21, 20, 1886

Box 1   Folder 3

Correspondence – Richard Jouett Menefee, March 22, 1886 – March 31, 1886

Box 1   Folder 4

Correspondence – Richard Jouett Menefee, April 1, 1886 – April 14, 1886

Box 1   Folder 5

Correspondence – Richard Jouett Menefee, April 15, 1886 – April 30, 1886

Box 1   Folder 6

Correspondence – Richard Jouett Menefee, May, 1886

Box 1   Folder 7

Correspondence – Richard Jouett Menefee, June, 1886 – July, 1886

Box 1   Folder 8

Correspondence – Richard Jouett Menefee, August, 1886

Box 1   Folder 9

Correspondence – Richard Jouett Menefee, September, 1886 – February, 1887

Box 1   Folder 10

Jouett, Matthew Harris, Correspondence with Leavy, Lawrence and William – Correspondence – 1823 – Codex Manuscript transcript. 45 p.

  • Cdx 108; Copied by Reuben T. Durrett with some additional notes.
Box 1   Folder 11

“Catalogue of Jouett’s pictures” – Catalog – [18--] – Codex Manuscript transcript. 89 p.

  • Cdx 109; Catalog of Matthew Harris Jouett's paintings and their owners. Copied by Reuben T. Durrett with additional notes in several hands; compare Cdx135
Box 1   Folder 12

Menefee, Richard J., “Jouett's portraits” – Catalog – [circa 1890] – Codex Typescript transcript. 17 p.

  • Cdx 135; Catalogue of Matthew Harris Jouett's paintings, their owners with places of residence, compiled by Richard J. Menefee. Compare Cdx109 and Filson Club Publication no. 17.