1845-1950; bulk: 1870-1926
Guide to the Collection
This collection consists primarily of account books, letterbooks, cash books, and other business and financial records of the Atkins family of Boston and Belmont, Mass., sugar merchants engaged in trade with Cuba, 1845-1950. The bulk of the materials in this collection relate to the Soledad estate. Information about the day-to-day management and operation of the estate is found in correspondence between Edwin F. Atkins in Boston and J. S. Murray and L. F. Hughes, two managers of the Soledad estate.
In 1838, Elisha Atkins (EA) (1813-1888) of Boston, Mass. started a business with William Freeman to import molasses and sugar from Cuba. In 1843, the firm of Atkins and Freeman, located at 26 India Wharf, began trading with Cienfuegos, Cuba. This city's sugar business grew rapidly between 1840 and 1860 and became the most important sugar port in southern Cuba. EA continued to trade with Cuban sugar planters under the firm name E. Atkins & Co. after Freeman left the firm in 1849. This firm did business with other Caribbean islands, but its sugar business in Cuba became E. Atkins & Co.'s focus.
Elisha Atkins was married to Mary E. Freeman Atkins (1819-1897), with whom he had three surviving children: Edwin Farnsworth (1850-1926), Grace Evelyn (b. ca. 1852), and Helen (1857-1888). In January 1866 at the age of 16, Edwin F. Atkins (EFA) accompanied his father Elisha on a trip to Havana and Cienfuegos. Two years later, EFA began working with his father's company, and in 1874 he became a partner in E. Atkins & Co. Over the years, EFA was also involved in other business interests, including the Bay State Sugar Refinery, of which he was president from 1876 to 1888; Union Pacific Railroad, of which he was a director from 1888 to 1895; Aetna Mills and the Boston Wharf Co., for both of which he served as president until 1915; American Sugar Refining Co., of which he was chairman of the board until 1916; and Westinghouse Electric, of which he was a director and president (1915).
E. Atkins & Co.'s most frequent business correspondents in Cienfuegos were the Torriente Brothers. After the Ten Years' War in Cuba (1868-1878), Torriente Bros. had many sugar estates indebted to them, and the firm in turn was indebted to E. Atkins & Co. Torriente Bros. foreclosed on several estates, including the Soledad plantation in Cienfuegos owned by the Sarria family. After a series of negotiations, the Soledad estate was turned over to E. Atkins & Co. in 1883. EFA convinced EA to allow him to take on the Soledad estate and its sugar-manufacturing business. Although E. Atkins & Co., a sugar-trading company, did not seek to manufacture sugar, it entered this area of the business as an attempt to recover loaned funds. By 1887, Soledad was producing four thousand tons of sugar and was the primary focus of EFA's business. Although E. Atkins & Co. owned Soledad, the estate was EFA's personal interest, and he oversaw its operation throughout his life. He maintained private correspondence with the various managers of the estate: J. S. Murray, 1884-1893; J. N. S. Williams, 1893-1898; and L. F. Hughes beginning in 1898.
In 1892, Henry O. Havemeyer of the American Sugar Refining Co. and his cousin Charles Senff included EFA in a new sugar company, the Trinidad Sugar Co. in Trinidad, Cuba. EFA served as its president and through E. Atkins & Co. managed its affairs in Cuba. Trinidad was a private enterprise between Havemeyer, Senff, and EFA until 1912 when E. Atkins & Co. took full ownership of the estate.
Edwin F. Atkins married Katharine Wrisley (1860-1953) in 1882. They resided in Belmont, Mass. and had three children: Robert Wrisley (1889-1948), Edwin Farnsworth (1892-1923), and Helen (1894-1991). In 1910, Robert W. Atkins (RWA) joined E. Atkins & Co. Five years later he founded the Punta Alegre Sugar Co., with EFA as its president. Punta Alegre came to own many mills in Cuba. Together with E. Atkins & Co., the Atkinses came to operate many of the top sugar producing sugar mills in Cuba. They controlled the Baguanos, Tacajó Presidente, San Germán and Ermita mills in Oriente province; Caracas, Trinidad, and San Agustín mills in Santa Clara province, and Baraguá Florida, and Punta Alegre mills in Camagüey province.
RWA had other interests, including Belmont Associates and School Street Associates, both real estate firms; Merchant's National Bank of Boston; and Aetna Mills. His brother Edwin F. Atkins, Jr. was briefly involved with E. Atkins & Co. before his death in 1923 that resulted from a plane crash off of Key West, Fla. Edwin F. Atkins, Jr.'s two sons also perished in the crash.
In 1921, Frank C. Lowry and Eugene V. Thayer joined E. Atkins & Co. as junior officers. Upon EFA's death in 1926, Lowry and Thayer took over the firm and operated it under the name Lowry & Co.
The Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) library holds the following books that are related to this collection:
Allen, Benjamin. A Story of the Growth of E. Atkins & Co. and the Sugar Industry in Cuba. N.p.: 1926.
Atkins, Edwin Farnsworth. Sixty Years in Cuba: Reminiscences of Edwin F. Atkins. Cambridge, Mass.: Privately printed at the Riverside Press, 1926.
Ayala, César J. American Sugar Kingdom: The Plantation Economy of the Spanish Caribbean, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999. p. 89-94.
Claflin, Helen Atkins. A New England Family. Belmont, Mass: c. 1956?.
Reed, William Howell. Reminiscences of Elisha Atkins. Cambridge, Mass.: University Press: J. Wilson and Son, 1890.
The Atkins family papers consist of 214 volumes of correspondence, journals, ledgers, cash books, and scrapbooks; and 41 boxes of correspondence, receipts and invoices, and diaries spanning the years 1845 to 1950. The bulk of the collection dates from the mid-1870s to 1926. The collection consists almost exclusively of the business papers of Elisha Atkins, Edwin F. Atkins, and Robert W. Atkins, as well as the records of E. Atkins & Co. The series in this collection were organized in keeping with the records' creation, in clear, separate series indicated by the titles printed on the volumes in the collection; this original order was maintained.
The two largest series are the Edwin F. Atkins papers and the E. Atkins & Co. records. The papers of Edwin F. Atkins consist of his personal business correspondence, materials relating to his damage claims to the Spanish government after the Spanish-American War, his personal financial records, and scrapbooks. These materials also touch upon EFA's other business activities, such as the Union Pacific Railroad and Westinghouse Electric; and his involvement in the American sugar industry, including his public statements about the sugar tariff and his testimonies to Congress on this matter. Also included in EFA's papers is an account book of his wife Katharine's personal investments and finances.
The E. Atkins & Co. records document the primarily Cuban business dealings of the company. These materials include correspondence, financial records, and the records of the Trinidad Sugar Company.
The bulk of the materials in this collection relate to the Soledad estate. Information about the day-to-day management and operation of the estate is found in Series IV. Soledad Sugar Co. Records, which consists of correspondence between EFA in Boston and J. S. Murray and L. F. Hughes, two managers of the Soledad estate. This series includes information about the acquisition of land neighboring the estate in which EFA was very active after the Spanish-American War to expand sugar production and for the estate railroad's right-of-way, as well as political and economic conditions on the island. Series II. Edwin F. Atkins Papers, also contains information pertaining to Soledad and more generally to EFA's business relations in Cienfuegos. Materials relating to the Soledad estate can also be found in Series III. E. Atkins & Co. Records; this series documents the more general aspects of the business of the estate, including the purchase and delivery of mill and railroad machinery and materials.
While the bulk of this collection consists of business records, it also includes the personal diaries of various members of the Atkins and Wrisley families. The diaries are found in Series VI. and document both daily life in Belmont, Mass. and travels in the United States and Europe. None of the diaries relate to Cuba.
Gift of Mrs. Helen Atkins Claflin, Belmont, Mass., Nov. 1967.
Digital facsimiles of the Atkins family papers are available on History of Mass Tourism, a digital publication of Adam Matthew Digital, Inc. This digital resource is available at subscribing libraries; speak to your local librarian to determine if your library has access. The MHS makes this resource available onsite; see a reference librarian for more information.
Detailed Description of the Collection
I. Elisha Atkins Papers, 1845-1891
A. Letterbook, 1874-1885
This letterbook contains correspondence from Elisha Atkins (EA) to his agents in New York regarding his personal investments. The letters primarily concern his railroad stocks and bonds, including his interests in the Union Pacific Railroad Co. Edwin F. Atkins and J. W. Cummings wrote some of the letters in this book on behalf of EA.
B. Financial Records, 1846-1891
EA's account books record his business transactions with Cuban persons and companies, including Fowler and Prosper, J. R. Jova, and Torriente Brothers. The ledgers contain information about EA's personal expenses, while the cash books record transactions of his personal investments. The last cash book in this series contains the settlement of EA's estate upon his death.
1. Journals, 1846-1891
2. Ledgers, 1852-1888
3. Cash Books, 1845-1891
II. Edwin F. Atkins Papers, 1875-1950 (bulk: 1875-1926)
A. Correspondence, 1875-1919
1. Incoming Correspondence, 1875-1919
Correspondence received by Edwin F. Atkins (EFA) in Boston came primarily from correspondents in Cuba regarding Soledad estate business. Letters from Soledad estate managers J. S. Murray and J. N. S. Williams and chemist William Skafie are included, as are those from various business agents such as Esteban and Joaquin de la Torriente of Torriente Brothers and Federico de Mazarredo, the Atkins' shipping agent in Cienfuegos. Letters dating from 1895 to 1899 concern the war in Cuba and were written by, among others, William Day and Alvin Adee, Assistant Secretaries of State; John Hay, Secretary of State; and Dupuy du Lome, the Spanish representative in Washington, DC.
Later incoming correspondence relates to the sugar tariff and Cuban Reciprocity Treaty (1902). EFA testified before Congress several times in relation to the sugar tariff, and box 2 contains a letter from Senator Henry Cabot Lodge on the sugar tariff (1912). For private correspondence between EFA and Soledad estate managers J.S. Murray and L.F. Hughes, see Series IV. Soledad Sugar Co. Records.
2. Letterbooks, 1878-1912
The letters in these volumes span many years and several topics. Copies of EFA's outgoing correspondence were retained, and these letters chiefly document EFA's business in Cuba, the focus of which was the Soledad estate in Cienfuegos. Letters in the first three volumes relate to the litigation that led to the acquisition of Soledad by the Atkinses. The bulk of the letters in this series relate to the general management of Soledad, including cane planting and the weather, sugar sales, the building of a railroad on the estate, labor, machinery and equipment, housing and other amenities, visitors to the estate, and livestock. EFA also wrote about various aspects of the sugar business, reporting on the state of the sugar market, sugar prices, competition from other locations and from beet sugar, and advances in sugar producing technology. Some of the letters were written by EFA from Soledad during annual visits in the winter (often January through March). These are noted in the container list as "(from Cuba)."
Many letters in these books relate to debts owed to E. Atkins & Co. or EFA by estate owners in Cuba. These letters are to the debtors themselves, such as J. R. Jova, or to the Atkins' Cuban agent, Torriente Brothers. Debts were often settled through the transfer of land mortgages or titles.
In the 1890s, EFA's letters document the war in Cuba and the measures taken to protect his properties and interests there, including the employment of armed guards at Soledad and his relations with the local Spanish militia and insurgent troops. Letters from the early 1900s document the establishment of a botanical garden at Soledad and Harvard University's assistance with it beginning in 1901. EFA was actively interested in this project until he transferred its full operation to Harvard in 1919. The garden then became known as the Harvard Botanical Station. For private correspondence between EFA and Soledad estate managers J.S. Murray and L.F. Hughes, see Series IV. Soledad Sugar Co. Records.
For EFA's diaries from 1872 and 1877, see Series VI. Diaries.
3. Spanish Claims, 1900-1907
After the Spanish-American War, EFA sued the Spanish government for damages to his properties in Cuba, the Soledad and Trinidad estates. The Spanish Claims materials consist of correspondence regarding the damages sustained and letters between Edwin F. Atkins and his lawyer, Crammond Kennedy of the law firm of Pierce and Greer in New York, regarding the claims made. These documents also include copies of the text of legislation creating the Spanish Treaty Claims Commission and testimonies made by EFA and others to support his claims. Correspondents include Richard Olney, George F. Hoar, Alvin A. Adee, and John H. Gillett.
B. Financial Records, 1890-1926
The journals, ledgers, cash books, and receipts and invoices in this subseries document the various business accounts kept by EFA. They include transactions with his stockbrokers, Chase and Baristow, regarding his Union Pacific, Westinghouse Electric, United Fruit Co., and American Sugar Co. investments, as well as taxes paid and personal expenses. The personal expenses logs record EFA's bills for doctors, club memberships, subscriptions, cars, and travel. Finally the receipts and invoices are records of the various purchases made by EFA concerning his personal needs and Soledad-related expenses.
1. Journals, 1889-1926
2. Ledgers, 1899-1926
3. Cash Books, 1889-1926
4. Personal Expenses Logs, 1917-1926
5. Receipts and Invoices, 1890-1893
C. Katharine W. Atkins Account Book, 1920-1928
This account book records the investment transactions of Katharine W. Atkins, EFA's wife. See also Series VI. Diaries for Katharine W. Atkins' diary for 1913.
D. Scrapbooks, 1884-1950
EFA kept several scrapbooks of newspaper clippings on topics related to Cuba, such as the sugar market, the Spanish Treaty, the insurgency in the 1890s, beet sugar, the annexation/independence question, the political situation on the island, and the Cuban economy. Volume 52 contains an article about the Harvard Botanical Station that appeared in the Revista de Agricultura, Comercio, y Trabajo (The Magazine of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor). This article includes photographs of various estates owned by EFA: the Caracas Central, Trinidad, Mantá and Punta Alegre. Clippings about the death of EFA's son, Edwin F. Atkins, Jr., and two grandsons are in volume 69. This volume also contains clippings regarding EFA's death.
III. E. Atkins & Co. Records, 1859-1926
A. Correspondence, 1870-1917
Letters in this subseries consist of the correspondence between E. Atkins & Co. and the various companies and individuals with which they did business. The correspondence is variably signed Elisha Atkins, Edwin F. Atkins, E. Atkins & Co., Robert W. Atkins (RWA), J. M. Brooks, or J. H. Shapleigh. The latter two were clerks for E. Atkins & Co. Most frequent correspondents include Cacicedo & Co., Fowler & Co., Bowerman Bros., García & Co., Hugh Kelly, Federico de Mazarredo, Oscar B. Stillman, the Munson Steamship Line, Balbin y Valle, and Johnson & Higgins.
The letters document the routine business of E. Atkins & Co. Topics include shipping, sugar sales and purchases, sugar prices, market conditions, sales and purchases of land in Cuba, machinery and equipment for the Cuban estates, Soledad railroad construction, transportation on the Manatí river, and labor and wages. Letters from the 1890s discuss aspects of the war on the island. Incoming correspondence is organized into two categories: "General" contains letters relating to the general sugar trading business of E. Atkins & Co., and "Cuba" contains letters from correspondents in Cuba relating to E. Atkins & Co.'s interests on the island.
The Cable Books contain telegrams sent by the E. Atkins & Co. office to various business associates. Cables were often written in code and include their translations.
1. Letterbooks, 1870-1917
2. Incoming Correspondence, 1893-1897
3. Cable Books, 1909-1917
B. Financial Records, 1859-1926
The journals, ledgers, account books, cash books, and receipts and invoices in this subseries document the various business financial transactions of E. Atkins & Co., including sales, shipments, investments, and accounts receivable and payable. There are two series of Cash Books that overlap in date and content, the first spans 1859 to 1884 and the second from 1869 to 1921.
1. Journals, 1866-1917
2. Ledgers, 1866-1920
3. Account Current Books, 1876-1889
4. Cash Books, 1859-1921
5. Receipts and Invoices, 1893-1897
6. Business Papers, 1920-1926 1920-1926
C. Florida Sugar Co. Letterbook, 16 June 1915-26 July 1916
E. Atkins & Co. took control of the Florida Sugar Co. when EFA bought 160 of the company's shares in 1915. The Florida Sugar Co. had a mill in Camagüey Cuba. This letterbook contains letters written by E. Atkins & Co. to various principles of the Florida Sugar Co., including Charles Thrall, Vice President and Treasurer. EFA or RWA wrote the letters, which concern record keeping, reporting, and contract compliance.
D. Trinidad Sugar Co. Records, 1892-1916
1. Correspondence, 1892-1916
The Trinidad Sugar Co. began as a private venture of EFA with H. Oscar Havemeyer and Charles Senff. E. Atkins & Co. gained full control of the Trinidad estate around 1912. Letters in this subseries regard the general business of the Trinidad Sugar Co., including the construction of a railroad on the estate, reports the board of directors, and the acquisition of neighboring estates. Correspondents include estate managers Harry Garnet and W. G. Pullum, H. Oscar and Horace Havemeyer, Charles Senff, and E. J. Franke.
Incoming correspondence is arranged into two categories: "General" contains letters relating to the general business of the Trinidad estate, including letters from members of the Trinidad Sugar Co.'s board of directors; and "Cuba" contains letters from correspondents in Cuba regarding the management and operation of the estate.
Incoming Correspondence, 1892-1897
2. Receipts and Invoices, 1893-1896
These boxes contain receipts and invoices for purchases made for the Trinidad estate. The purchases were primarily of machinery and equipment.
IV. Soledad Sugar Co. Records, 1884-1916
A. Letterbooks, 1884-1916
1. Edwin F. Atkins, 1884-1916
While Soledad's business was operated through E. Atkins & Co., the estate was EFA's personal interest. EFA kept separate letterbooks of private correspondence with Soledad managers, some of which make up this series. The letters in these letterbooks are copies of outgoing correspondence written by EFA to J. S. Murray and L. F. Hughes, managers of the Soledad estate. They relate to the general business of Soledad, including machinery, the estate railroad, supplies, shipments, sugar crops, the weather, and labor. The letters also document the business dealings in which EFA was involved in order to purchase or lease the properties neighboring Soledad for sugar production or for right-of-way for the railroad. Some letters discuss political and economic conditions in Cuba and the garden at Soledad. Letters to L. F. Hughes were authored not only by EFA but also by RWA.
2. J. S. Murray, 1884-1893
These unbound letterbooks contain letters written by J. S. Murray from Soledad to EFA in Boston in relation to the general operations of Soledad. Some letters were written by P.M. Beal in Murray's absence to report conditions at the estate.
3. L. F. Hughes, 1915-1916
L. F. Hughes wrote the letters in these unbound letterbooks to EFA and RWA regarding the general operations of Soledad. In his absence, Walter H. Armsby authored several of the letters.
B. Financial Records, 1893-1897
1. Receipts and Invoices, 1893-1895
These boxes contain receipts and invoices for purchases made for the Soledad estate. The purchases were primarily of machinery and equipment.
2. Account Book, 1896-1897
This account book was kept at the Soledad and records business transactions at the estate.
V. Robert W. Atkins Papers, 1909-1926
A. Letterbooks, 1909-1914
The letterbooks in this series contain copies of RWA's outgoing correspondence that document his personal business as well as his responsibilities to E. Atkins & Co. The letters relate to routine business matters of the Soledad estate, Belmont Associates (a real estate firm in which RWA was involved), and Aetna Mills. The first volume contains letters to several of RWA's friends asking them to stand in his 1912 wedding. Letters in the third volume discuss his wife Ruth's efforts to have a Christmas tree and presents at Soledad for the children of the estate.
B. Account Book, 1926
RWA's account book contains the inscription, "William H. Claflin, Jr. and Eugene V. R. Thayer, Agents. Beginnig January 26, 1926: Journal." It tracks RWA's investments and assets, including real estate in Miami Beach, and the disposition of EFA's estate upon his death in 1926.
VI. Diaries, 1872-1913One box containing 16 volumes.
This box contains diaries kept by various members of the Atkins family.
Journal kept by EFA during travels to Norway, Sweden, and Russia, 17 July-2 September 1872. Visited Bergen, Stockholm, Copenhagen, and Hamburg.
Short account in November 1888 of visits to a clairvoyant in hopes of recovering silver and jewelry stolen from his Belmont home.
Journal kept by Helen Atkins of Belmont, Mass., 24-25 February, 29-30 March, and 16 April-29 December 1872. Describes her daily activities, including academics and music lessons. Helen took a trip with her family to Washington, DC and Philadelphia in April.
Journal kept by Katharine W. Atkins during a cruise to Europe 5 August-13 September 1913. Describes the ocean voyage in detail and visits to Queenstown, London, Liverpool, Zermatt, and Paris. Entries sparsely spread out, mostly on the ship and Swiss countryside.
Journal of Katharine W. Atkins' sister as a child in Belmont, Mass., 1 October 1878-22 December 1880. Describes her home life and social activities.
Journal kept by Mary E. F. Atkins of Belmont, Mass. in 1872. Describes household duties, her daily activities, and those of her children.
Family trip from 20 August-1 September 1877 to upstate New York and Quebec. Describes boat ride to Albany and stays in Glens Fall, Lake George, and Lake Champlain.
Describes household duties and her other daily activities and those of her children. Includes descriptions of short visits to the family summer homes in Duxbury and Brewster. Later journals describe her failing health and loneliness.
Journal kept by Helen Atkins during a trip throughout the South, 16 April-14 May 1877. Describes visits to Little Rock, Hot Springs, San Antonio, Houston, New Orleans, Mobile, and Atlanta. Records traveling conditions, tourist attractions, gardens of various cities, and social calls.
Journal kept by an unidentified Atkins woman on two similar trips across the country and back, 14 August - 23 September 1890 and 18 August - 19 September 1892. Begins with a train trip from Boston to Chicago and continues with visits to Nebraska, Wisconsin, Denver, Colorado Springs, the Grand Canyon, Salt Lake City, Portland, Tacoma, and Seattle.
Photographs Removed from the Collection
Photographs from this collection have been removed to the Atkins family photographs, ca. 1884-1958. Photo. Coll.37.
Atkins family papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.
This collection is indexed under the following headings in ABIGAIL, the online catalog of the Massachusetts Historical Society. Researchers desiring materials about related persons, organizations, or subjects should search the catalog using these headings.