1775-1920; bulk: 1840-1900

Guide to the Collection

Collection Summary


This collection consists of the papers, primarily family correspondence, of three interrelated families of Massachusetts, the Curtis, Stevenson, and Appleton families. The Stevenson papers consist primarily of correspondence between Martha Curtis Stevenson and her daughters Martha, Frances, and Annie of Brookline, known collectively as the "Misses Stevenson." Although family correspondence makes up the bulk of the Curtis family materials, the papers also include papers pertaining to James F. Curtis's career in the U.S. Navy. The bulk of the Appleton family papers consist of correspondence between Harriot Appleton (later Curtis), her mother Harriot Sumner Appleton, and her father Nathan Appleton.

Biographical Sketch

Stevenson Family

William Stevenson (1767-1847) of Boston, Mass. married Hannah Greely (b. 1773) in 1794. They had eleven children: William II (1797-1823); Isannah Lee (1800-1801); John Boies (1802-1803); Jonathan Greely (1799-1835); Isabella Pelham (later wife of James Freeman Curtis, 1803-1875); George (1804-1805); Joshua Thomas (1806-1877); Hannah Elizabeth (1807-1887); Marianne Frances (1809-1840); Margaret (1810-1811); and Margarett Stevenson (later Curtis, 1811-1888).

William Stevenson II went to sea as supercargo and later as a captain, sailing to China and the Far East. He died in Havana of yellow fever in 1823.

Jonathan Greely Stevenson was born in 1799. After graduating from Harvard in 1816, he was appointed a tutor at the Boston Latin School and began studying medicine at night. His studies included a trip in 1824-1825 to several advanced medical centers in Italy and France. He received his medical degree from Harvard in 1826 and took a position in the Boston Dispensary. He married Martha Curtis in 1829, and they had three daughters: Martha Curtis (1830-1916); Frances Greely (b. 1833); and Annie Brace Stevenson (1835-1917). Dr. Stevenson was very active in medical and civic affairs, as well as educational reform. He was instrumental in forming the Relief Society Against Cholera, the Massachusetts Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, and the Natural History Society in Massachusetts. He also served as secretary of the Massachusetts Temperance Society. He died from lung disease in 1835.

His three daughters, Martha Curtis, Frances Greely, and Annie Brace Stevenson, known collectively as the "Misses Stevenson," lived together for almost all their lives in Brookline, Mass. and were very active in philanthropic affairs. From 1863-1864, Martha served in Washington, D.C. with the U.S. Sanitary Commission, which served as a channel for citizens' contributions to the army to meet soldiers' needs. Annie, an accomplished writer and artist, was a member of the Massachusetts Volunteer Aid Association and was involved with the U.S. Life-Saving Department.

Joshua Thomas Stevenson graduated from Harvard in 1827, after which he taught school in Marblehead, Mass. He was a prominent member of the Whig Party and a close friend of Daniel Webster.

Hannah Elizabeth Stevenson was an abolitionist, friend, and supporter of Theodore Parker. She was the first Massachusetts woman to volunteer in the Civil War. From 1860-1863, she was a nurse at hospitals in Washington, D.C. and Poolesville, Md. When Richmond fell in 1865, she went there under the sponsorship of the Freedmen's Bureau to establish schools. She was very involved with charitable institutions and liberal causes, including the Home for Destitute Children, the Home for Aged Colored Women, and the Free Religious Association in Boston. In addition, she also ran a school with her sister Margarett Stevenson Curtis (wife of Charles Pelham Curtis).

Curtis Family

James Freeman Curtis, born in 1797, was the son of Thomas Curtis, a merchant in the house of Loring and Curtis, and Helena (Pelham) Curtis (and the brother of Charles Pelham Curtis, husband of Margarett Stevenson). He was educated at the Boston Latin School and joined the U.S. Navy in 1812. He saw action in Boston Harbor as a midshipman on the Chesapeake when it was captured by the Shannon in 1813. He was taken prisoner by the British and sent to prison in Halifax, Nova Scotia. After his release, he returned to the Navy and served on the U.S.S. Constitution in its battle with the Cyane and the Levant in 1814. After the war, he led an expedition on the Porpoise to the West Indies in 1821 in search of pirates that were harassing U.S. ships. In 1824, he married Isabella Pelham Stevenson. At that time, he left the Navy and established himself as a businessman in Saco, Maine. In 1830, he became superintendent of Dover Cotton Mills and an agent of the Cocheco Manufacturing Company in New Hampshire. He became first superintendent of the Boston and Worcester Railroad in 1835. He was killed in a railroad accident in 1839. The children of James Freeman and Isabella Curtis were: James Freeman II (1825-1914); Frances Greely (1827-1867); William Stevenson (1829-1849); Greely Stevenson (1830-1897); Henry Pelham (1834-1835); Isabella Pelham (1832-1915); Mary Greely (b. 1825); and Annie Scollay Curtis (1838-1854).

James Freeman Curtis II went to sea and in 1849 sailed around Cape Horn, settling in San Francisco. In the 1850s, he was a member of the California Pioneers and several California vigilance committees. He was San Francisco's chief of police from 1856-1858. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he was stationed at Fort Colville in Washington Territory to prevent Native American unrest. He remained in southern California for the duration of the war and then moved to Idaho. He became the secretary of state in Idaho in 1892 and was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic.

Greely Stevenson Curtis, on leaving the Boston Latin School, entered the office of a civil engineer. In 1851, forced to leave the Lawrence Scientific School because of eye problems, he sailed before the mast to Europe in a ship en route to the Mediterranean. From 1851-1852, he took a walking tour of Italy and France. Upon his return, he went to San Francisco, where he worked in his brother James's store and sailed as supercargo to Manila and the East Indies on a ship sent by James. He returned to California in 1855 and joined a party of gold-seeking engineers. From 1856-1857, he worked as an engineer on the London and Port Stanley Railroad in St. Thomas, Canada, and on a railroad in Pictou, Nova Scotia. He returned to Boston in 1858.

Greely S. Curtis was instrumental in raising Massachusetts volunteers during the Civil War. He joined the 2nd Mass. Volunteer Infantry in May 1861. This unit trained at Camp Andrew, the former site of Brook Farm. The regiment joined the Union Army in July 1861 at Hagerstown, Md. In November of 1861, he was promoted to major in the 1st Mass. Volunteer Cavalry and served in South Carolina and Virginia. He saw active duty on the Sea Islands and was present at the first attack on Charleston. He transferred to the Army of the Potomac, with which he served in the fall of 1862 at South Mountain and Antietam. After the Battle of Gettysburg, he was sent home with malaria, from which he never fully recovered. While on sick leave, he was sent to recruit in New Orleans. He was permanently discharged in September 1864 and brevetted a colonel and brigadier general in 1867.

Greely Curtis married Harriot Appleton in November 1863 and, following his discharge from the army, they traveled to Europe for a year. Upon their return, they built a house in Manchester, Mass. and had 10 children: William (1865-1899); Frances Greely (1867-1899); Elinor (1869-1947); Greely Stevenson II (1871-1947); Isabella (1873-1966); Harry Appleton (1875-1943); Frazier (1877-1940); James Freeman III (1879-1952); Harriot Sumner (1881-1974); and Margaret (1883-1965). The family split their time between Manchester and Boston. He died in 1897.

Appleton Family

Nathan Appleton (1779-1861), prominent manufacturer, banker, and politician, was born in 1779 to Isaac Appleton and Mary (Adams) Appleton of New Ipswich, N.H. From 1794-1809, he was in trade with his brother Samuel in Boston. Another company, founded with his brother Eben, dissolved in 1812 due to war with England. In 1813, he became an investor in Francis C. Lowell's cotton mill. The "Boston Associates," the investors in Lowell's mill, were largely responsible for the development of the American textile industry. They founded the city of Lowell, Mass. and built up the cities of Manchester, N.H. and Lawrence, Mass. In 1830, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He assisted John Quincy Adams in framing the protective tariffs of 1832. Appleton also was one of the organizers of the Boston Athenaeum and was very active in the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Appleton married Maria Theresa Gold, and they had five children: Thomas Gold (1812-1884); Mary (1813-1889); Charles Sedgwick (1815-1835); Frances Elizabeth (1817-1861); and George Williams Appleton (1826-1827). Following the death of his first wife in 1833, Appleton married Harriot Coffin Sumner (1802-1867), daughter of Jesse and Harriot Coffin, in 1839. Together they had three children: William (b. 1840); Harriot Appleton (1841-1923); and Nathan Appleton (b. 1843). Nathan Appleton died in 1861. Harriot Appleton married Greely Stevenson Curtis in 1863 (see biographical information on Greely). The family resided in Boston.

Collection Description

The Curtis-Stevenson family papers consist of 15 boxes of loose papers and bound volumes spanning the years 1775-1920. The bulk of the collection dates from the mid-1840s to 1900. The collection consists of the papers of three interrelated families and has been divided into three series: Stevenson family papers; Curtis family papers; and Appleton family papers. The majority of the papers relate to the Curtises and the Stevensons. Most of the collection consists of family correspondence. The remainder includes bound volumes, photographs, sketches, and other miscellaneous items.

Of particular interest are the Civil War papers of Hannah Elizabeth Stevenson and Greely Stevenson Curtis. Hannah Elizabeth Stevenson, an outspoken abolitionist, was a nurse during the war at several hospitals in Washington, D.C. and Maryland. Her papers include correspondence written from 1861-1863. Greely Stevenson Curtis served as a captain in the 2nd Mass. Volunteer Infantry and later as a major and lieutenant colonel in the 1st Mass. Volunteer Cavalry. His papers, 1861-1867, include letters written to his family and friends and to his fiancée Harriot Appleton, and his active duty and postwar papers, such as orders, promotions, etc.

The Stevenson papers also represent medical interests. Included is the correspondence and medical journal of Jonathan Greely Stevenson, a prominent Boston physician and active educational reformer.

Also of maritime interest is the correspondence of James Freeman Curtis and his two sons, James Freeman Curtis II and William Stevenson Curtis. James Freeman Curtis was taken prisoner by the British during the battle between the Chesapeake and Shannon and served on the U.S.S. Constitution during the War of 1812. In addition, the collection also contains the log of several voyages he made from 1817-1824.

The Appleton family papers include correspondence of Nathan Appleton, an important political and manufacturing figure in early 19th-century New England. As a U.S. representative, his letters to his wife Harriot Sumner Appleton from Washington, D.C. provide details of the political scene there, as well as early indicators of the events leading to the outbreak of the Civil War.

Acquisition Information

Gift of the Shelving Rock Trust, February 1997.

Other Formats

Digital facsimiles of the James Freeman Curtis logbook are available on Life at Sea, 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. Stevenson family papers, 1794-1920

A. Correspondence, 1794-1920

1. Stevenson family correspondence, 1794-1920

Arranged chronologically.

Early Stevenson family correspondence consists of letters between Hannah Greely Stevenson and her grandmother Hannah Glover. There are letters from William T. Stevenson II written from 1819-1821 during his voyages to Calcutta, Bermuda, and Havana, as well as courtship letters between J. Greely Stevenson and Martha Curtis. J. Greely Stevenson also wrote letters to Martha and his family from Europe, 1824-1826. The bulk of the correspondence dates from 1840 and consists of letters written between Martha Curtis Stevenson and her three daughters Martha, Frances, and Annie. The four women also wrote a great deal to other family member and friends, especially their aunt Margarett Stevenson Curtis. The letters describe daily activities and family gossip. In 1863, Martha Curtis Stevenson (daughter) was in Washington, D.C. at the U.S. Sanitary Commission, and she wrote letters home about the war. After the war, she continued a correspondence with Jonathan S. Blatchford, the general secretary of the commission.

Box 1Folder 1
Helen Pelham Curtis correspondence, undated
Box 1Folder 2
Isabella Pelham Curtis correspondence, undated
Box 1Folder 3
Annie Brace Stevenson correspondence, undated
Box 1Folder 4
Frances Greely Stevenson letters, undated
Box 1Folder 5
Letters to Frances Greely Stevenson, undated
Box 1Folder 6
Hannah E. Stevenson correspondence, undated
Box 1Folder 7
Letters to Marianne F. Stevenson, undated
Box 1Folder 8
Martha Curtis Stevenson (elder) correspondence, undated
Box 1Folder 9
Martha Curtis Stevenson letters, undated
Box 1Folder 10
Letters to Martha Curtis Stevenson, undated
Box 1Folder 11
Mary F. Tuckerman correspondence, undated
Box 1Folder 12
William Stevenson correspondence, undated
Box 1Folder 13
Anonymous poetry, undated
Box 1Folder 14-18
Unidentified, undated
Box 2
Box 3
Box 4
Box 5Folder 1-9

2. Hannah Elizabeth Stevenson Civil War correspondence, 1861-1887

Arranged chronologically.

The papers of Hannah E. Stevenson consist of a disbound volume of letters kept by her sister Margarett Stevenson Curtis as a memento of Hannah's Civil War service. Hannah's letters were written home to family and friends from Columbia College Hospital in Washington, D.C., where she was a nurse from July-October 1861. She then nursed at Brigade Hospital in Poolesville, Md. until December 1861 and Union Hospital in Washington, D.C. from June to October 1862. At Union Hospital, she was in charge of a ward following the Battle of Bull Run. Her letters contain descriptions of camp and hospital life. There are also letters from soldiers thanking her for her work. Included is one letter from Louisa May Alcott (26 December 1862) and one from John A. Andrew, governor of Mass. (15 April 1867).

Box 5Folder 10-15

B. Annie B. Stevenson papers, ca. 1850-1900

Arranged by format.

A disbound sketchbook belonging to Annie B. Stevenson contains roughly 80 pencil and ink sketches. There are also several rough drafts of stories written by her.

Box 6Folder 1-3
Stories, ca. 1850-1900
Box 6Folder 4-5
Sketches, ca. 1850-1900

C. Miscellaneous and printed material, 1782; 1835-1920

Arranged chronologically.

Included are newspaper clippings, calling cards, invitations, advertisements, and playbills. Financial papers include receipts and shares of stock. In addition, there is a Stevenson family history written on parchment, obituaries for William T. Stevenson II and J. Greely Stevenson, a deed of tomb for Mt. Auburn Cemetery, and a copy of a contract for alterations on a house for the "Misses Stevenson."

Box 6Folder 6-10

D. Bound volumes, 1824-1913

Arranged chronologically.

A diary kept by J. Greely Stevenson from 1824-1826 during his sojourn in Italy and France contains descriptions of places he visited and his medical training there. There is also a volume begun in 1832 which contains only a few medical entries; this volume was later used as an account book. Two commonplace-books kept by Hannah Elizabeth Stevenson and Marianne F. Stevenson, her sister, contain newspaper clippings, poems, and pressed flowers. A letterbook from 1887 entitled "Selections" contains letters written to Margarett Stevenson Curtis commemorating the death of Hannah Elizabeth Stevenson (her sister) in 1887. Other volumes include datebooks kept by Frances Greely Stevenson (1905-1913), an anonymous account book, and book of essays.

Box 7Folder 1
J. Greely Stevenson diary, 1824-1826
Box 7Folder 2
Hannah Elizabeth Stevenson commonplace-book, [1835]
Box 7Folder 3
Anonymous essay book, 1835
Box 7Folder 4
Marianne F. Stevenson commonplace-book, 1840
Box 7Folder 5
J. Greely Stevenson medical notes/account book, 1832; 1849-1858
Box 7Folder 6
Anonymous address book, 1860-1861
Box 7Folder 7
Anonymous account book, 1886
Box 7Folder 8
Margarett S. Curtis letterbook (letters to), 1887
Box 7Folder 9-12
Frances Greely Stevenson datebooks, 1905-1913

II. Curtis family papers, 1775-1906

A. Curtis family papers, 1775-1906 (with gaps)

Arranged chronologically.

The earliest Curtis family correspondence is between Helena Pelham Curtis and her brothers and sisters. There are also letters to and from James Freeman Curtis while he was in prison in Halifax, Nova Scotia during the War of 1812 and while sailing in the Porpoise in 1821. The bulk of the subseries consists of letters written by the children of James Freeman and Helena Pelham Curtis, mostly to one another, 1825-1863. There is also a typescript of testimony that James Freeman Curtis presented to a court-martial on 15 April 1814 about the cowardice of his companions on the Chesapeake when it was taken by the British on 1 June 1813, and a 1906 typescript copy of a "Report of Commander James Ramage to the Honorable Smith Thompson, Secretary of Navy, 20 January 1822" about James Freeman Curtis's single-handed capture of a pirate ship in that year. Papers from 1843-1845 also include school essays and poems written by William Stevenson Curtis.

See James Freeman Curtis's log in the bound volumes for more information on his voyage in search of pirates.

Box 8

B. Greely Stevenson Curtis papers, 1846-1914

1. Greely Stevenson Curtis papers, 1846-1914

Arranged chronologically.

The bulk of this subseries consists of correspondence written to family and friends from 1851-1858. During those years, Curtis traveled to Europe and Manila and lived in San Francisco, Potters Barn, Calif., and Canada. At various times, he worked as a sailor, an engineer, and a gold miner. Post-Civil War correspondence includes letters he and his wife Harriot Appleton Curtis wrote and received during a trip to Europe in 1864. The remainder of the correspondence was written to his wife from trips he made with their children. Other papers include school essays, documents relating to his appointments as a special police officer and fire commissioner in Boston, his passport, and his last will and testament.

Greely Stevenson Curtis's Civil War papers are arranged and described separately (see below).

Box 9

2. Greely Stevenson Curtis Civil War papers, 1861-1867

a. Correspondence, 1861-1864

Curtis's early Civil War correspondence consists of letters written during training at Camp Andrew to his fiancée Harriot Appleton. His letters chronicle his march from Hagerstown, Md. to Harpers Ferry, Va. and include many descriptions of camp life while with the 2nd Mass. Volunteer Infantry and the 1st Mass. Volunteer Cavalry. Included with the correspondence are two bound volumes containing typescripts of many of the letters. This series also contains letters from Charles F. Morse, Curtis's former colleague in the 2nd Mass. Volunteer Infantry, describing marches and battles of that regiment after Curtis transferred to the 1st Mass. Cavalry, specifically the first campaign against Richmond, the Battle of Gettysburg, and Sherman's march on Atlanta. Also included are transcripts of letters from E. A. Flint and Charles F. Adams, Jr. and letters from Henry Higginson (formally of the 2nd Mass. Volunteer Infantry and the 1st Mass. Volunteer Cavalry), 1863-1864.

Box 10
May 1861-1862
Box 11Folder 1-6
Box 11Folder 7
Greely Curtis to Harriot Appleton [typescripts], 1861
Box 11Folder 8
Greely Curtis to his mother and others [typescripts], 1861-1863
Box 11Folder 9-10
b. Official papers, 1861-1867

C. Bound volumes, 1817-1896 (with gaps)

Arranged chronologically.

A logbook kept by James Freeman Curtis describes several voyages he made from 1817-1824. In 1817-1818, he commanded a trading voyage to Sweden aboard the Helen. From 1821-1822, Curtis sailed in the U.S.S. Porpoise along the coast of the southern U.S. and Cuba in search of pirates. After the schooner William Bayard was captured by the Spanish at Boca Chica, Colombia, in 1822, Curtis sailed the ship back to New York for the owners; he subsequently commanded the ship for the owners on several trading voyages. There is also a family scrapbook compiled by Isabella Pelham Curtis and a school diary of Greely S. Curtis, 1846-1847.

Box 12Vol. 1
Anonymous account book, undated
Box 12Vol. 2
James Freeman Curtis logbook, 1817-1824

Digital facsimiles of the James Freeman Curtis logbook are available on Life at Sea, 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.

Box 12Vol. 3
Greely Stevenson Curtis diary, 1846-1847
Box 12Vol. 4
Isabella Pelham Curtis family scrapbook, 1896

III. Appleton family papers, 1802-1907

A. Correspondence, 1802-1907 (with gaps)

Arranged chronologically.

The bulk of this series consists of correspondence written by Harriot Sumner Appleton to her family and friends, especially her mother Harriot Coffin Sumner, and her fiancé (and later husband) Nathan Appleton. The subseries includes a letter to Harriot from Charles Sumner (26 January 1839). Correspondence from 1840-1850 is from Nathan to his wife while he was serving in the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. Additional correspondents include Amos Lawrence and Robert C. Winthrop. This series also contains the childhood papers of Harriot Appleton Curtis prior to her marriage to Greely Stevenson Curtis in 1863, including letters and school essays, primarily from 1853-1858.

For Harriot's correspondence with Greely S. Curtis, see the Greely S. Curtis correspondence.

Box 13
Box 14

B. Miscellaneous, 1852-1883

Arranged chronologically.

This subseries consists of newspaper clippings, calling cards, school exhibition and theater programs, receipts, pencil sketches, copies of poems, and other miscellaneous Appleton papers.

Box 15Folder 1-2

C. Bound volumes, undated, 1811-1860

Arranged chronologically.

Included is the school diary of Harriot Sumner Appleton, 1811-1817, which describes school events and daily activities. There is also a collection of stories written by Harriot Appleton Curtis in 1852, as well as other anonymous volumes.

Box 15Folder 3
Anonymous essay book, undated
Box 15Folder 4
Harriot Coffin Sumner (Appleton) diary, 1811-1817
Box 15Folder 5
Anonymous notebook, 1817
Box 15Folder 6
Harriot Appleton (Curtis) storybook, 1852
Box 15Folder 7
Anonymous address book, 1859-1860

Preferred Citation

Curtis-Stevenson family 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.


Adams, Charles Francis, 1835-1915.
Appleton family.
Appleton, Harriot Coffin Sumner, 1802-1867.
Appleton, Nathan, 1779-1861.
Curtis family.
Curtis, Greely Stevenson, 1830-1897.
Curtis, Harriot Appleton, 1841-1923.
Curtis, James Freeman, 1797-1839.
Morse, Charles F. (Charles Fessenden), 1839-1926.
Stevenson, Annie Brace, 1835-1917.
Stevenson family.
Stevenson, Frances Greely, b. 1833.
Stevenson, Hannah Elizabeth, 1807-1887.
Stevenson, Martha Curtis, 1830-1916.
Winthrop, Robert C. (Robert Charles), 1809-1894.


United States. Congress. House.
United States. Army. Massachusetts Cavalry Regiment, 1st (1861-1865).
United States. Army. Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, 2nd (1861-1864).
United States. Navy.


Europe--Description and travel--1800-1918.
Family history--1800-1849.
Family history--1850-1899.
Legislators--United States.
Medicine--Study and teaching.
Military nursing.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Medical care.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Personal narratives.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Regimental histories--Massachusetts Cavalry, 1st Volunteers.
United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Regimental histories--Massachusetts Infantry, 2nd Volunteers.
United States--History--War of 1812--Personal narratives.
United States--History--War of 1812--Prisoners and prisons.
United States--Politics and government--1845-1849.
Voyages and travels.

Materials Removed from the Collection

Photographs from this collection have been removed to the Curtis-Stevenson family photographs, ca. 1861-1907. Photo. Coll. 189.