Guide to the Collection
The papers of noted ornithologist and railroad executive Henry Davis Minot from 1825-1891 consist of correspondence, letterbooks, school notebooks, diaries, business papers, maps, printed materials, watercolors, sketches, and photographs.
Henry Davis Minot was born in 1859 near Forest Hills, Massachusetts to William Minot (1817-1894) and Katherine Maria Sedgwick. Interested in ornithology from an early age, his book, Land and Game Birds of New England, (1877), was published when he was seventeen. Reflecting on his youth in a letter written to a friend, he stated, “I suffered from dislike to rougher sports, from a certain timidity and from want of manliness…”, preferring instead to sketch, hike, read, and write in his leisure time.
In 1876 he entered Harvard College where he developed a friendship with Theodore Roosevelt. They shared an interest in ornithology and took expeditions together to collect birds and eggs. He left Harvard in his sophomore year. He confided later to Roosevelt that his decision to leave was, in part, due to a lack of morality within the student body. Morality and mental strength were of great concern to him and he was troubled by his father’s attacks of “nervous dysporia” and his brother, Robert’s mental instability.
After leaving Harvard he worked at the office of Jackson and Curtis, where he began studying the potential of railroad investments. In 1884 he went to Mexico to report on the Mexican Central system. In 1885 he examined and reported on the Manitoba system in Minnesota. The city of Minot, North Dakota was named after Henry in 1886 when the Great Northern railway reached that point. He worked in St. Paul until 1887 when he became president of the Eastern Railroad in Minnesota, a new line that connected the Manitoba system to Lake Superior. During this time, he also developed commercial endeavors in Superior, Wisconsin, including a chamber of commerce building, Superior and Deluth Steamship, and electric streetcars. He was killed in a train collision in Pennsylvania on November 14, 1890.
The Henry D. Minot papers from 1866-1891, consist of correspondence, letterbooks, school notebooks, diaries, business papers, maps, printed materials, watercolors, sketches, and photographs. The collection is broken into four series: personal papers, ornithology, business papers, and maps.
Personal papers contain correspondence with family members including his parents William and Katharine Sedgwick Minot, as well as siblings Laurence and William (1849-1900), and Harvard classmate Theodore Roosevelt. Also included in this series are tributes and obituaries upon Henry’s death; diaries of travels to England and Scotland, writings; memoranda and extensive household inventories kept by Henry regarding Woodbourne, the family vacation house in West Roxbury, Mass.; receipts; and printed material and newspaper clippings. Ornithology papers contain correspondence, essays, and printed material and newspaper clippings. Henry D. Minot’s railroad business papers contain correspondence, financial and investment reports, and printed material. Maps consist of real estate maps, property surveys, and both printed and manuscript maps of many mid-western states and western states. Minot’s company was involved in expanding the railroad through these states and he used the maps as land guides.
Gift of the Minot family, 1953
Detailed Description of the Collection
I. Personal papers, 1866-1891
Personal papers contain personal correspondence, correspondence with Theodore Roosevelt, tributes and obituaries, writings, memoranda and inventories, receipts, and printed material. Personal correspondence between Henry Davis Minot and acquaintances from 1866-1890 discusses daily activities and personal matters. Most of the correspondence is written to Henry D. Minot primarily from his parents William and Katharine Sedgwick Minot, his brothers Laurence and William (1849-1900), sister Alice, and Herbert and Edith Parker. Some of the Parker correspondence includes typescript copies and originals.
Correspondence between Minot and Theodore Roosevelt from 1877-1886 discusses Harvard University, ornithology, Roosevelt’s engagement, and the death of Alice Roosevelt. Most letters are copies provided by the Trustees of the Roosevelt Memorial Association.
Obituaries and tributes to Henry D. Minot include correspondence written to the Minot family upon his death, calling cards and accounts of the train collision.
Minot’s writings from 1867-1887 include pieces from early childhood, papers from Harvard, essays, a draft of the history of North America, religious thoughts, poetry, criticism, and two drafts of aborted novels.
Bound personal papers of Henry D. Minot include letterbooks, diaries, journals, personal account books, school notebooks, and a scrapbook of obituaries of him. Three letterbooks from 1884-1889 contain letters written by Henry D. Minot to his father, William Minot, Jr. Henry D. Minot journals from 1876-1882 describe daily activities, the landscape, birds seen and/or heard, trips to England and Scotland in 1879, Colorado in 1880, and Dakota and Minnesota in 1882, via railroad.
Personal correspondence, 1866-June 1886
Personal correspondence, July 1886-1890
Personal correspondence, undated
Correspondence with Theodore Roosevelt, 1877-1886
Tributes and obituaries, 1890-1891
Memoranda and inventories, 1872-1889
Printed material/newspaper clippings, 1879-1888
School notebooks, 1877
Journal, April-May 1879
Journal, June-July 1879
Journal, August 1879
Journal, May-July 1880
Personal memoranda, 1883
Personal notebook, December 1886
Account book, 1882-1888
Account book, 1890
Unidentified journals, undated
Scrapbook of obituaries
II. Ornithology papers, 1871-1890
Ornithology contains correspondence exchanged between Henry D. Minot and other ornithologists largely regarding Minot’s book, Land and Game Birds of New England, drafts of ornithological writings by Henry D. Minot including nomenclature of birds, draft of book dedications, and notes on Colorado birds and a record of bird watching kept at West Roxbury from 1873-1875. Newspaper clippings and printed material contain articles from the Worcester newspaper about talks delivered by Minot at the Worcester National History Society, reviews of his books, and debates about English sparrows in the United States.
Ornithology correspondence, 1876-1879
Ornithology correspondence, 1880-1881
Ornithology correspondence, 1882-1890
Bird watching record, 1873-1875
III. Railroad papers, 1870-1891
Railroad papers contain letters and telegrams between Henry D. Minot and railroad officers, including James Jerome Hill, regarding railroad development, maps, investments, land surveys, and internal business affairs as well as letters between Minot and railroad investors, primarily from the New England region. Railroad reports contain information regarding financial matters including expenses, earnings, and stocks. Most reports have several drafts and a final version. Bound volumes include a railroad journal containing railroad time schedules, estimated cost of building materials, and an expense book for a trip to Mexico in1884, which also notes descriptions the landscape.
Correspondence, January-August 1889
Correspondence, September-December 1889
Reports, January-July 1884
Reports, August-December 1884
Report, January-February 1890
Reports, March-August 1890
Reports, September-December 1890
Printed material, 1870-1890
Railroad journal, 1883
Expense book for Mexico trip, 1884
IV. Maps, 1825-1889
Maps from 1825-1889, contain printed and manuscript maps and survey plans collected by Henry D. Minot used for his work in the railroad industry, including real estate and property surveys of mid-western and western states, some with proposed railroad lines drawn by Minot. Also included are maps of specific towns and prior to incorporation and surveys of properties and estates in Massachusetts, particularly in the Boston area.
Property surveys and maps
Map of California and Nevada
Map of Washington
Map of St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba
Map of Nebraska
Rolled maps, most likely land gradient data for building railroads.
Henry Davis Minot 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.