Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


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.

Biographical Sketch

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.

Collection Description

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.

Acquisition Information

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.

Box 1

Personal correspondence, 1866-June 1886

Box 2Folders 1-11

Personal correspondence, July 1886-1890

Box 2Folders 12-13

Personal correspondence, undated

Box 2Folder 14

Correspondence with Theodore Roosevelt, 1877-1886

Box 2Folders 15-16

Tributes and obituaries, 1890-1891

Box 2Folder 17


Box 3Folders 1-8

Writings, 1867-1887

Box 3Folders 9-11

Memoranda and inventories, 1872-1889

Box 3Folder 12

Receipts, 1879-1884

Box 3Folder 13

Printed material/newspaper clippings, 1879-1888

Vol. 1

Letterbook, 1884-1886

Vol. 2

Letterbook, 1887-1889

Vol. 3

Letterbook, 1889-1890

Vols. 4-6

School notebooks, 1877

Box 9Vol. 7

Journal, 1876-1877

Box 9Vol. 8

Journal, 1878-1880

Box 9Vol. 9

Journal, April-May 1879

Box 9Vol. 10

Journal, June-July 1879

Box 9Vol. 11

Journal, 1879

Box 9Vol. 12

Journal, August 1879

Box 9Vol. 13

Journal, May-July 1880

Box 9Vol. 14

Journal, 1882

Box 9Vol. 15

Personal memoranda, 1883

Box 9Vol. 16

Personal notebook, December 1886

Box 9Vol. 17

Account book, 1882-1888

Box 9Vol. 18

Account book, 1890

Box 9Vols. 19-22

Unidentified journals, undated

Box 9Vol. 23

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.

Box 4Folder 1

Ornithology correspondence, 1876-1879

Box 4Folder 2

Ornithology correspondence, 1880-1881

Box 4Folder 3

Ornithology correspondence, 1882-1890

Box 4Folders 4-9

Essays, 1871-1877

Vol. 24

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.

Box 5Folder 1

Correspondence, 1882-1886

Box 5Folder 2

Correspondence, 1887

Box 5Folder 3

Correspondence, 1888

Box 5Folder 4

Correspondence, January-August 1889

Box 5Folder 5

Correspondence, September-December 1889

Box 5Folder 6

Correspondence, 1890-1891

Box 5Folders 7-10

Reports, 1883

Box 5Folder 11

Reports, January-July 1884

Box 5Folder 12

Reports, August-December 1884

Box 5Folder 13

Reports, 1885

Box 6Folder 1

Reports, 1887-1889

Box 5Folder 2

Report, January-February 1890

Box 5Folder 3

Reports, March-August 1890

Box 5Folder 4

Reports, September-December 1890

Box 5Folders 5-8


Box 5Folder 9

Printed material, 1870-1890

Box 9Vol. 25

Railroad journal, 1883

Box 9Vol. 26

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.

Box 7Folders 1-3

Property surveys and maps

Box 7Folder 4

Map of California and Nevada

Box 7Folder 5

Map of Washington

Box 7Folder 6

Map of St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba

Box 7Folder 7

Map of Nebraska

Box 8

Rolled maps, most likely land gradient data for building railroads.

Drawer 1Folder 1

California maps

Drawer 1Folder 2

Illinois maps

Drawer 1Folder 3

Iowa maps

Drawer 1Folder 4

Massachusetts maps

Drawer 1Folder 5

Minnesota maps

Drawer 2Folder 6

Montana maps

Drawer 2Folder 7

Nebraska maps

Drawer 2Folder 8

Wisconsin maps

Drawer 2Folder 9

Miscellaneous maps

Drawer2Folder 10

Unknown maps

Drawer 2Folder 10


Preferred Citation

Henry Davis Minot papers, Massachusetts Historical Society.

Access Terms

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.


Hill, James Jerome, 1838-1916.
Minot, Alice Woodbourne, 1847-1883.
Minot, Katharine Sedgwick, 1820-1880.
Minot, Laurence, 1865-1921.
Minot, William, 1817-1894.
Minot, William, 1849-1900.
Parker, Edith.
Parker, Herbert, 1856-1939.
Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919.
Minot family.


Great Northern Railway Company (U.S.).
Harvard University--Students.


Railroad accidents.
Railroad travel--Diaries.
Railroads--Officials and employees.
Railroads--West (U.S.).
Voyages and travels--Diaries.
Colorado--Description and travel.
Dakota Territory--Description and travel.
England--Description and travel--1801-1900.
Minnesota--Description and travel
Scotland--Description and travel.