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 (Boston), Massachusetts, to William Minot (1817-1894) and Katherine Maria (Sedgwick) Minot. Interested in ornithology from an early age, his book, The Land-Birds 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 Duluth Steamship, and electric streetcars. He was killed in a train collision in Pennsylvania on 14 November 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 divided 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, 1866-1881
Box 2
Personal correspondence, 1882-1886
Box 3
Personal correspondence, 1887-1889
Box 4Folders 1-14
Personal correspondence, 1890-1891
Box 4Folder 15
Correspondence with Theodore Roosevelt, 1877-1886
Box 4Folders 16-18
Personal correspondence, undated
Box 4Folder 19
Box 5Folders 1-8
Writings, 1867-1887
Box 5Folders 9-11
Memoranda and inventories, 1872-1889
Box 5Folder 12
Receipts, 1879-1884
Box 5Folder 13
Printed material/newspaper clippings, 1879-1888

Letterbook, 1884-1886

Items in this letterbook (Vol. 1) have been moved to personal correspondence.

Letterbook, 1887-1889

Items in this letterbook (Vol. 2) have been moved to personal correspondence.

Letterbook, 1889-1890

Items in this letterbook (Vol. 3) have been moved to personal correspondence.

Vols. 4-6
School notebooks, 1877
Box 11Vol. 7
Journal, 1876-1877
Box 11Vol. 8
Journal, 1878-1880
Box 11Vol. 9
Journal, April-May 1879
Box 11Vol. 10
Journal, June-July 1879
Box 11Vol. 11
Journal, 1879
Box 11Vol. 12
Journal, August 1879
Box 11Vol. 13
Journal, May-July 1880
Box 11Vol. 14
Journal, 1882
Box 11Vol. 15
Personal memoranda, 1883
Box 11Vol. 16
Personal notebook, December 1886
Box 11Vol. 17
Account book, 1882-1888
Box 11Vol. 18
Account book, 1890
Box 11Vols. 19-22
Unidentified journals, undated
Vol. 23
Scrapbook of obituaries

II. Ornithology papers, 1871-1890

Ornithology papers contain correspondence exchanged between Henry D. Minot and other ornithologists largely regarding Minot's book, The Land-Birds 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 6Folder 1
Ornithology correspondence, 1876-1879
Box 6Folder 2
Ornithology correspondence, 1880-1881
Box 6Folder 3
Ornithology correspondence, 1882-1890
Box 6Folders 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 in 1884, which also notes descriptions of the landscape.

Box 7Folder 1
Correspondence, 1882-1886
Box 7Folder 2
Correspondence, 1887
Box 7Folder 3
Correspondence, 1888
Box 7Folder 4
Correspondence, January-August 1889
Box 7Folder 5
Correspondence, September-December 1889
Box 7Folder 6
Correspondence, 1890-1891
Box 7Folders 7-10
Reports, 1883
Box 7Folder 11
Reports, January-July 1884
Box 7Folder 12
Reports, August-December 1884
Box 7Folder 13
Reports, 1885
Box 8Folder 1
Reports, 1887-1889
Box 8Folder 2
Report, January-February 1890
Box 8Folder 3
Reports, March-August 1890
Box 8Folder 4
Reports, September-December 1890
Box 8Folders 5-8
Box 8Folder 9
Printed material, 1870-1890
Box 11Vol. 25
Railroad journal, 1883
Box 11Vol. 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 and 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 prior to incorporation and surveys of properties and estates in Massachusetts, particularly in the Boston area.

Box 9Folders 1-3
Property surveys and maps
Box 9Folder 4
Map of California and Nevada
Box 9Folder 5
Map of Washington
Box 9Folder 6
Map of St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba
Box 9Folder 7
Map of Nebraska
Box 10
Rolled maps, most likely land gradient data for building railroads
Map Drawer 1Folder 1
California maps
Map Drawer 1Folder 2
Illinois maps
Map Drawer 1Folder 3
Iowa maps
Map Drawer 1Folder 4
Massachusetts maps
Map Drawer 1Folder 5
Minnesota maps
Map Drawer 2Folder 6
Montana maps
Map Drawer 2Folder 7
Nebraska maps
Map Drawer 2Folder 8
Wisconsin maps
Map Drawer 2Folder 9
Miscellaneous maps
Map Drawer 2Folder 10
Unknown maps
Map Drawer 2Folder 10

V. Oversize papers

Folder OS

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.
Minot family.
Parker, Edith.
Parker, Herbert, 1856-1939.
Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919.


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


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