Guide to the Jennie Chambers Papers, 1838-1936


Amateur artist and author, from Harpers Ferry, W. Va. Collection includes correspondence, daybooks (1880-1888) and other papers relating to the affairs of the Chambers family and their cousins, the Castles of Harpers Ferry, W. Va. Includes commonplace books, letters received after the Civil War from Union soldiers whom Miss Chambers' father boarded during the war, and letters from friends and suitors of Jennie and her sisters, depicting the social life of the period in West Virginia and Maryland. Also includes drafts of Chambers' article, What a School-Girl Saw of John Brown's Raid, published in Harpers Magazine in 1902, along with other essays and poems by Chambers and unidentified authors.

Collection Details

Collection Number
Jennie Chambers papers
Chambers, Jennie
3 Linear Feet
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Materials in English

Collection Overview

The collection consists largely of family correspondence based in and around Harpers Ferry, which is arranged chronologically from 1838 through 1936. Since three of the four Chambers sisters never married, there are many letters from their friends and suitors. In particular are courtship letters from Jennie's suitor Charles Davies, a lawyer who wooed her for fifteen years. Although she appears to have loved him, her parents disapproved and the couple never wed; Davies eventually married someone else. There is also significant correspondence from the Castle sons to their mother in Harpers Ferry.

Along with correspondence, the collection includes some legal and financial papers, loosely arranged by date. Of note in the legal papers is a handwritten copy of John Brown's will, although no context is provided as to why it is present in the family's papers. Also present in the collection are drafts, poems, and essays, both by Jennie Chambers and unidentified authors. Of note are the drafts from Chambers' article, What a School-Girl Saw of John Brown's Raid, eventually published in Harpers Magazine in 1902.

There is a file with evidence of Chambers' interest in painting, including her notes about mixing paint colors and some sketches. The collection also contains several daybooks and a few photographs, largely unidentified.

More Biographical / Historical Info

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How to Cite

[Identification of item], Jennie Chambers Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Contents of the Collection

Correspondence, 1838-1882
(8 folders)
Box 1
Correspondence, 1883-1936
(7 folders)
Box 2
Correspondence, undated
(4 folders)
Box 3
Drafts of poems and essays by Jennie Chambers, undated
Box 3
Drafts of What a School-Girl Saw of John Brown's Raid, by Jennie Chambers, 1890s-1902 and undated
Box 3
Miscellaneous drafts and writings by unidentified authors, undated
Box 3
Recipes, undated
Box 3
Painting notes and sketches, 1880s and undated
Box 3
Financial papers, 1846-1884
(8 folders)
Box 3
Financial papers, 1885-1910 and undated
(2 folders)
Box 4
Copy of John Brown's will, 1859
Box 4
Legal papers, 1840s-1900s
Box 4
Miscellaneous printed materials, including clippings and advertisements, 1840s-1900s
Box 4
Photographs, undated
Box 4
Commonplace book, 1873
Box 4
Daybook, 1880-1881
Box 4
E.B. Chambers daybook, 1881-1882
Box 4
E.B. Chambers daybook, 1882-1884
Box 4
Daybook, 1883-1884
Box 4
E.B. Chambers daybook, 1884-1885
Box 4
Daybook, 1888
Box 4
Daybook, 1881
Oversize-folder 1

Historical Note

Two Harpers Ferry, West Virginia families: the Chambers and their cousins, the Castles. These two families were related on the maternal side, being descendants of the Millers, who were among the earliest settlers of Harpers Ferry and who originally came from Frederick, Maryland.

The Chambers family consisted of Edmund Hillary Chambers, from Maryland; his wife Mary (Miller) Chambers; a son, William, and four daughters: Jennie, Kate, Mattie, and Julia. Of the four women, only Julia married. Jennie Chambers, a dominant figure in the collection, was an amateur artist, published author, and ardent church worker. She is best known for her essay, What a School-Girl Saw of John Brown's Raid, published in Harpers Magazine in January 1902. Her father was an armorer, later a farmer and grocer, and was loyal to the Union. Much of their property was ruined by the war, for which he and his descendants received only partial compensation.

The Castle family consisted of Lewis, the father who migrated in 1848 from Ohio; Lydia (Miller), his wife; three sons: Dent, Thomas, and William; and two dauthers: Eugenia and Annie (who died in childhood). Lewis ran a saw mill and was often in debt. All three sons left Harpers Ferry: Dent and Will worked in a machine shop in Bridgeport, Conn., while Thomas worked for the B & O Railroad. Eugenia married a widower with several children, and moved to Pennsylvania. Following Lewis's death in 1883, all three sons sent home money to their mother, but she eventually was forced to give up her home and move in with Eugenia.

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The Jennie Chambers Papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library in 1954.

Processing Information

Processed by: Meghan Lyon, February 2015.