Guide to the Saltar family correspondence, 1759-1880 and undated
Over 200 pieces of correspondence dating from 1759–1880, written by women of the Saltar and Gordon families of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland between themselves and other family relations. Over a third of the letters date before 1825. The principal correspondents are Elizabeth 'Betsy" Gordon Saltar, her daughters Lucy Saltar and Frances "Fanny" Saltar, and Elizabeth's cousins Mary Gordon and Polly Gordon. Dozens of other letters come from family friends and relatives, male and female, from prominent families in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, New York, and some from the Midwest and New England states. Topics include courtship; marriage; religion; pastimes; visits and travel; and the welfare of family members and friends. There are many references to illnesses, with many details on treatments and outcomes. There are also long passages and references to grief and mourning on the death of loved ones, and some discussions of finances. There are a few references to slavery and to enslaved people and servants. Letters sent during the Civil War discuss events centered around Pennsylvania, particularly in 1863; one discusses African American troops and their role in the war, and the circumstances surrounding the recruitment of the 3rd United States Colored Troops' commander, Benjamin C. Tilghman. A few earlier letters speak of the War of 1812, especially in and around Baltimore and Philadelphia. Acquired by the Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture.
- Collection Number
- Saltar family correspondence
- 1759-1880 and undated
- Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture
- 0.5 Linear Feet, 2 boxes
- David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
- Materials in English
- Letters to Polly Gordon, 1759 May 5 - 1818 June 20, and undated
- Letters to Elizabeth Gordon Saltar, 1770 June - 1810 February 8
- Letters from Elizabeth Gordon Saltar, 1806 February - 1818 September 5, and undated
- Letters to Lucy Saltar, 1806 November 4 - 1822 June 18 and undated
- Letters to Mary Gordon, 1808 March 14 - 1819 August 21
- Letters to Frances “Fanny" Saltar, 1810 February - 1880 March 28, and undated
- Letters to Unknown Saltar Women, 1852 August 20 - 1878 July 16, and undated
- Other Materials, 1809-1872 and undated
The papers consist almost entirely of 266 pieces of correspondence dating from 1759–1880, written by women of the Saltar and Gordon families of Pennsylvania and Maryland between themselves and other family relations. Over one-third of the letters date before 1825. The principal correspondents are Elizabeth 'Betsy" Gordon Saltar, the family matriarch, Lucy Saltar, Frances "Fanny" Saltar, Mary Gordon, and Polly Gordon. There are also single letters from other female members of the Saltar family and a handful of letters from men, some of whom were Saltar family members. The letters are organized by correspondent name, ending with a group of letters addressed to unidentified individuals.
The manuscript pages total approximately 765, primarily bifolios, almost all written in ink. There are also four additional manuscripts: an invitation; a sheet of paper with receipts; and a memorandum and bond concerning a land sale. A number of later letters are accompanied by addressed envelopes, some with stamps.
The correspondence is almost entirely comprised of women writing to other women: mothers to daughters; daughters to mothers; and cousins to cousins; and friends to each other. Over half of the collection comprises letters to and from a family matriarch, Elizabeth Gordon Saltar, living at her residence at Magnolia Grove (near Frankford, Pa.), and a large group of letters sent by various correspondents to her daughter Fanny Saltar, who was one of the family's historians. Also present is a large group of correspondence between cousins Elizabeth Gordon Saltar and Mary Gordon, as well as letters addressed to Elizabeth Gordon Saltar’s other daughter Lucy Saltar, and letters addressed to Elizabeth Gordon Saltar’s cousins, Mary Gordon and Polly Gordon.
Other families who correspond and/or are mentioned often in the letters: Bowne, Brooks, Bunyan, Coleman, Drexel, Hartshorne, Howell, Lardner, McMurtrie, Morgan, Morris, Stillman, Tilghman, Ulstick, Van Dykes, and Wharton. Many of these are prominent families from Pennsylvania or Maryland. One letter from a Bowne in series 7 contains a partial family tree of the Bownes and Saltar families. Most of these letters are found in the Fanny Saltar series.
Among the places from which letters were sent are areas in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York State, New Jersey, Illinois, Ohio, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Paris (France), and Rome (Italy). Cities represented are Boston, Baltimore, Charleston, New York, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and others. Many letters were sent to or from Magnolia Grove, the Saltar plantation home near Philadelphia.
Topics tend to focus on societal mores and customs of the times as experienced by married and single women of land-owning classes: courtship; marriage; religion; pastimes; visits and travel; and the welfare of family members and friends. There are many references to illnesses such as measles, bowel complaints, eye conditions, diphtheria, tumors, and mental illness, with many details on treatments and outcomes. There are also long passages and references to grief and mourning on the death of loved ones, and fairly frequent mentions of finances.
The letters written during the Civil War discuss events centered around Pennsylvania, particularly in 1863, as well as a comment on friends going off to war, and one letter discusses African American troops and the circumstances surrounding the recruitment of the 3rd United States Colored Troops' commander, Benjamin C. Tilghman, whom the Saltars knew from Philadelphia. Earlier letters speak of the War of 1812, especially of events around Baltimore.
Acquired by the Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture.
Correspondence arranged by principal author, roughly by chronological period. The collection is rounded out by letters to unknown Saltar family women and other individuals, and four other non-correspondence manuscripts.
Access to the Collection
Collection is open for research.
Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection.
All or portions of this collection may be housed off-site in Duke University's Library Service Center. The library may require up to 48-hours to retrieve these materials for research use.
Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to use this collection.
Use & Permissions
The copyright interests in this collection have not been transferred to Duke University. For more information, consult the copyright section of the Regulations and Procedures of the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
How to Cite
[Identification of item], Saltar family correspondence, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.
Correspondence group contains twelve letters to Polly Gordon, cousin of Saltar Family matriarch, Elizabeth Gordon Saltar. The first three letters of the series, all from Mary Penry, contain important notes on Christianity and women's roles and behaviors. The rest consists mostly of letters from Mrs. H. Stillman, Polly’s aunt, and includes comments on illnesses, health and medicine, George Saltar's death, and Polly’s engagement or marriage.
Presentation of the Gospel and Penry’s own testimony. Penry describes herself as lowly and insignificant in comparison with her mighty Savior (Christ), and accordingly she can focus only on his grandeur. She hints that Polly may not have yet experienced the “true Happiness” of Christ, and that Polly is thus more concerned with the “World” than she need be.
Inquiry about Polly's health after a bout with a “dangerous” illness. Penry implies that Polly is now a Christian (assuming she wasn’t at the writing of the first letter). The letter includes a psalm-like poem and more discussion of Christianity.
Passing mention that a sick daughter has been confined to her bedroom for three months.
George Morgan Gibbes, a cousin, writes for his mother, Mrs. Gibbes, who continues to love her daughter with "unalterable affection." Discusses briefly the children of the family, their governess/teacher, lessons in piano and dance, and studies at the "college" in Charleston.
A business letter in which he is returning papers that were in his possession having to do with the sale of land, possibly related to the bond in the letters to Mary Gordon which bears Beatty's name.
Entire letter gives details of George Saltar’s medical care and death: Doctor Glen (Philadelphia?) advised that George be bled and "kept still," but he was allowed to come home. Once home, other doctors provided blistering and cupping treatments. He was sick for twenty-one days, and then died.
Five letters to Elizabeth (“Betsy”) Gordon Saltar, the matriarch of the Saltar family, then living at Magnolia Grove plantation, which was about seven miles from Philadelphia, PA and in the vicinity of Frankford. The majority of contents are routine updates about family and friends. The first letter, however, is addressed to Betsy Gordon, who was as yet unmarried, and thus contains notes on reasons for marriage and the aspirations of a single woman. The third, received from Frances Edwards, contains descriptions of grief on the recent death in the Lardner family and memories of her own loss of a husband, and the similar loss experienced by Elizabeth Saltar.
Evidence of Emlen's idealism: the beauty of the world is a reflection of God; wishes to spend time in the country to reflect on nature; a man and a women should marry for love of each other’s virtues; pray that passions are overcome by reason.
A discussion of Edwards’ grief and mourning over the death of her husband last Spring: “he was my all,” “I . . . lay in my bed and think of him.” She seems to writing on the occasion of a more recent death in the Saltar family and mentions Hannah Lardner as well as the Saltars.
These letters written by Elizabeth Gordon Saltar consist almost entirely of correspondence sent to her cousin Mary Gordon. The letters chiefly contain updates about friends and family. Four mentions are made of the War of 1812, specifically relating to the attack on Baltimore. Many more are made of health issues, including mentions of small pox, bleeding by leeches, and other remedies of the time. Also prevalent are comments on Christianity, marriage and courtship, and other aspects of 17th century women's society such as pastimes and duties at home. Unless otherwise noted, letters from Elizabeth Gordon Saltar are sent from Magnolia Grove, the family's plantation near Philadelphia. Letters to Mary Gordon, unless otherwise noted, are sent to Mapletown, a small community near Princeton, New Jersey.
Saltar’s son Lawrence died at 22 of yellow fever; the next son, John, spent a year in Calcutta.
Cure for ague: “30 grains of salt of wormwood, 20 ditto of Virginia snake root, ½ an ounce of red bark; mix them with three glasses of Madeira wine; take a glass every four hours, the day the fit is off, shake it well every time you take it”
Fanny went into the city to paint.
Mr. Saltar still having trouble “passing his water”; mentioning tenant farmers (African-Americans)—still says “our” when referring to them (“we had the misfortune to lose our little black boy”).
Mr. Saltar is being treated with “medicine, bleeding [took 35 oz. in one day and used leeches], and dieting”
Discussing the embargo in Philadelphia and its pervasive effects
Includes a recipe for blue dye that is a “Cure for Wen” (a cyst, especially on the face).
Looking for a maid: “white or black.” Also, further mentions of African-American relations to whites.
Saltar's daughter Lucy has made no “conquests,” i.e. securing a “beau.”
Little girl dies from “violent sick stomach.”
Looking for a black horseman and maid.
Saltar has an “indolent tumor,” so she is dieting and taking medicine.
Passing mention to the British during the War of 1812.
War of 1812 British invasion of Baltimore repulsed by Americans; mothers worry over sons being called to fight.
Celebrating victory in the War of 1812, but lamenting the merchant community and its great suffering.
Great deal of small pox near Magnolia Grove. All ages are contracting the disease, but only some choose to be vaccinated or innoculated. Instead, they diet and prepare themselves "in the natural way."
Further description of small pox near Magnolia Grove, including more mentions of vaccination, innoculation, and death. Also, Saltar mentions an infected boy that was "deaf and dumb" from birth, and that it would be a "blessing" for God to take him.
Series contains four letters to Lucy Saltar, daughter of Elizabeth Gordon Saltar. The first letters contain some comments about courting behaviors. Most other content consists of routine updates about family and friends.
Discussion of Lucy’s “admired” - the young man courting her.
Coping with the death of loved ones.
"My dear cousin." Long commentary on her failure to provide a "suitable situation" for a destitute niece and other children in her niece's family due to her limited means, and thanking her cousins for taking up her cause.
Young women discussing courtship.
Group of 10 letters addressed to Mary Gordon, cousin of Elizabeth Gordon Saltar. Contains substantial material concerning finance and economics, including a bond from 1818 that involved a land sale to John Morgan, more of which is found in letters to Fanny Saltar. Also of note is a description of the after-effects of Elizabeth Saltar’s eye surgery. Unless otherwise noted, all letters to Mary Gordon are sent to Mapletown near Princeton, NJ. (Note: All letters to Mary Gordon from Elizabeth Gordon Saltar are in Series 3.)
Describes the eye surgery of and its after-effects on Elizabeth Gordon Saltar (his mother).
Land sale, laws, and the possibility of fraud.
Writes chiefly about family, describing health and what various children are studying and doing. Mentions financial payments to Mary and a bond.
Receipts accounting for payments sent by Mary Gordon to John Morgan's account, money from John Craig or Craige for the sale of a farm, outlined in the bond document from 1818. Witnessed by George Morgan, Julia Bunyan. Contains name of Beatty along with Mary Gordon. See Beatty's letter to about papers connected with this sale.
Consists of 153 letters to Frances Saltar, daughter of Saltar family matriarch Elizabeth Gordon Saltar. This series contains mostly routine updates about family and friends, including births, deaths, marriages, visits, health, and courtship, and offers a detailed view of high society and women’s pastimes during the late nineteenth century. Frequent descriptions are given of society parties. Repeated mentions are made of photography (chiefly requests for photographs), literature, gardening, and painting. Letters from 1878 often include travel notes, notably from Rome and Paris. Four letters from the 1860s discuss the Civil War in Pennsylvania, inlcuding the whereabouts of various acquaintances in the Union Army, battles near Chambersburg, Harrisburg, and Carlysle, and African American troops. Furthermore, this series contains evidence of personal finance largely through notes to Frances Saltar from Joseph Drew, who appears to be her banker. Medicine and health issues are again prevalent, covering a variety of afflictions, including measles, cholera, and mental illness.
Mentions courting and coping with death
Mentions “The Spy” by James Fennimore Cooper
12 grains of calomel for chills (medicine); Cherry Fields catches fire (mentions the African-American help often when describing)
Sore growth in a man’s throat (health/medicine)
Opens with “I s’pose, as the negroes say”
Substantial content on meeting many officers during her visit in Maryland, courting, and condition of enslaved women and children in Maryland: "I believe I must give him up and take to a rich little planter who has been quite attentive, but I am fearful I have offended him, by speaking rather too warmly perhaps against slavery"; "it is astonishing how ladies who profess so much delicacy... can ever behold [the sights of indecently clothed slaves] without blushing." The letter begins with a description of the large mansion, Montalbina, where "Sue" is staying for a few weeks as a guest of the owner, William C. Somerville Jr., prominent plantation owner.
A quoted description of Niagara Falls
Description of her “beaux” (courting); description of a fishing party
Building a new church in Pemberton and the community effort it requires
The ideal character of a nineteenth-century woman
A genealogy of her grandmother’s family
Women and Christian duty; Saltar family genealogy
A description of the Christmas festivities in Pemberton of the week prior
Lengthy account of the family's experiences a few days earlier during an advance of Confederate troops attacking Chambersburg and threatening Harrisburg, Pa.
Descriptions of the attack on Reading, Pennsylvania.
Mention of the Civil War, including a brief reference to an acquaintance who has joined Landis' Battery and the "fight at Carlysle" Pennsylvania [July 1]. Lucy lists several men and their military positions, chiefly officers. "Every man that we know either has gone, or is going to this 'civil war'."
Description of Maria’s party, which Union General Franz Sigel attended.
Explains the circumstances in which her relative Benjamin Tilghman has taken command of the 3rd Regiment of African American troops, after having commanded the 26th of Pennsylvania. (“He [Benjamin Tilghman] . . . is convinced that [African American troops] are to play an important part in the suppression of the rebellion”). Also mentions the siege at Fort Wagner near Charleston, S.C. and the attack on Gettysburg.
Frances returns to art; attempting to “fascinate” two men at a party; General Sigel courting Lizzie Gordon.
Gardening (esp. planting flowers) as a woman's hobby.
Bump on lower left eyelid (medicine); finances of the sick
Banking, bonds, and personal finance
Speaks of incurable lung cancer and medicinal treatments.
In an mention of party politics, a man is discharged from his position at the Custom House because he did not "favor their man in politics."
Lengthy description of the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
Discusses a woman’s responsibility to cook and entertain: “It seems to have become custom any nowadays for ladies to be subjected to the dictates of their servants.”
Mentions a man on "death's door" with typhoid fever.
Discusses women's hobbies of copying books and taking or collecting photographs.
Reading "The Historic Mansions of Philadelphia" by Thompson Westcott.
The author writes from Rome and mentions taking pictures, especially of the Vatican.
Expectation to visit the Paris Expedition
Description of nineteenth-century Paris
Eye problems (medicine)
Long letter with many details of the illness and death (of a child?) and Dr. Carson's diagnosis of possible meningitis, after consultation with other doctors. Other discussion of family members and coping with death, the death of Lawrence Lardner, and mention of Emily who was traveling in Italy and had to be told the bad news.
Contains 15 letters addressed to unknown Saltar women. It is likely that letters from E.S. Morris and Maria Tilghman are addressed to Frances (Fanny) Saltar. Most content gives updates about family and friends.
On the death of Henry Lardner in Michigan, 1852, of possible bowel complaint brought on, it was rumored, by error in physician's treatment.
Attached: newsprint clipping of Pa. Railroad schedule
Contains a partial family tree for the Bowne and Saltar families.
Four items: a bond document; a sheet with receipts; a memorandum; and
The Saltar (sometimes Salter) family of Pennsylvania and New Jersey traces its lineage back to Norfolk County, England. Their branch of the family in America begins with Richard Salter who settled in Monmouth County, New Jersey sometime between 1664 and 1687. The Saltars were economically and socially connected citizens and were closely involved, often through marriage, with many prominent families of the Philadelphia and New Jersey region: Drexels, Drinkers, Bownes, Bartons, Hartshornes, Logans, Morris, Tilghman, Usticks, Whartons, and others in Maryland, and Virginia. As Margaret Saltar married into the Lardner family in 1789 and had many children, there are correspondents from that family in the collection. The Gordon family was of Scottish descent, and its members were early settlers near what is now Princeton and Perth Amboy, New Jersey. The two families seem to have become firmly connected when Elizabeth Gordon married John Saltar in 1774. Their children were Maria (married Kearney Wharton), Lucy (died unmarried), John (married Margaret Howell), Lawrence (died at 22, unmarried), George (died at 22 unmarried), Frances (born c. 1790, died unmarried, 1880), and Gordon (died in childhood).
The Saltar family resided in the city of Philadelphia but also owned farms in the area, using enslaved people to work the land and serve in their houses. The plantation where they lived was known as "Magnolia Grove," near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, already part of the family lands during the Revolutionary War. Other members of the family also lived in Pemberton and Tacony, New Jersey. In her rich reminiscences of colonial life published in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (1916), Frances Saltar speaks of an African slave, African American slaves, and mulatto as well as English servants who were affiliated with her family. She also indicates that there were family members living in the West Indies.
Henry Benbridge Papers, Winterthur Library (almost half the letters are to his step-sister Elizabeth Gordon Saltar)
Click to find related materials at Duke University Libraries.
- Gordon family
- Gordon, Polly
- Gordon, Mary
- Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture
- Saltar, Elizabeth Gordon
- Saltar, Lucy
- Saltar, Frances
- Saltar family
- Families -- Pennsylvania -- Correspondence.
- Medical care -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
- Medical care -- United States -- History -- 18th century.
- Mothers and daughters
- Slavery -- Pennsylvania.
- Slavery -- Maryland
- Women -- United States -- Correspondence.
- Women and death.
- Maryland -- History -- War of 1812.
- Maryland -- History -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
- Maryland -- History -- 1775-1865
- New Jersey -- History -- 1775-1865.
- Pennsylvania -- History -- 1775-1865.
- Pennsylvania -- History -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
- Philadelphia (Pa.) -- History
- Pennsylvania -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Participation, African American.
- Pennsylvania -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865
The Saltar family correspondence was received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a purchase in May 2013.
Processed by: Levi Crews, December 2013
Encoded by Paula Jeannet Mangiafico and Levi Crews, January 2013.
Accessions described in this finding aid: 2013-0088