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Guide to the Noyes-Balch Family Papers, 1854-1957 and undated.

Summary

The Noyes and Balch families resided primarily in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Collection comprises correspondence, including 136 letters (603 pages); 3 diaries; a photograph album and loose photographs, as well as a wooden box in which the family stored letters from Catharine Porter Noyes. The collection centers around Catharine, who detailed her experiences while teaching newly freed slaves at plantations on the Sea Islands of South Carolina, from 1863-1864 and 1869-1870. There are also family letters written to Catharine, 1860-1892, especially from her sister, Ellen (Nellie); Ellen's husband, F. V. “Frank” Balch; and her cousin, Mary, who taught with Ellen in South Carolina, among others family members. Another set of letters were written by Ellen to Frank while he served as secretary to U. S. Senator and abolitionist Charles Sumner (R-Ma) in 1864 in Washington, D.C.; and by artist Emily E. Balch to Richard Noyes Stone. The collection also contains a diary maintained by a 12-year-old girl, probably Ravella Balch, and there are two diaries maintained by Emily E. Balch in 1929. There is a photograph album containing 32 black-and-white photographs of Noyes and Balch family members, as well as family friends. There are also loose black-and-white photographs, dated 1877-1957. Acquired as part of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture, and as part of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture.

Collection Details

Collection Number
RL.10176
Title
Noyes-Balch family papers
Date
1854-1957 and undated
Creator
Noyes, Catharine P. (Catharine Porter), 1838-1924
Extent
1.6 Linear Feet, 4 boxes
Repository
David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Language
Materials in English

Collection Overview

Collection comprises correspondence, including 136 letters (603 pages); 3 diaries; a photograph album and loose photographs, as well as a wooden box in which the family stored letters from Catharine Porter Noyes. The collection centers around Catharine, who detailed her experiences while teaching newly freed slaves at plantations on the Sea Islands of South Carolina, from 1863-1864 and 1869-1870. She described the challenges of her teaching situation, social events and celebrations, local attitudes about freed blacks and her teaching them, black funeral and religious practices, and general conditions on the islands. She included her hand-drawn maps of the area, indicating its relation to the mainland. In addition to these letters from the Sea Islands, there are letters Catharine wrote while she was in Illinois and at the family home in Jamaica Plain, Mass., before she made her trip South (1854-1863). There are also family letters written to Catharine, 1860-1892, especially from her sister, Ellen (Nellie); Ellen's husband, F. V. “Frank” Balch; and her cousin, Mary, who taught with Ellen in South Carolina, among others family members. Another set of letters were written by Ellen to Frank while he served as secretary to U. S. Senator and abolitionist Charles Sumner (R-Ma) in 1864 in Washington, D.C.; and by artist Emily E. Balch to Richard Noyes Stone.

The collection also contains a diary maintained by a 12-year-old girl, probably Ravella Balch, and there are two diaries maintained by Emily E. Balch in 1929. Common topics in all the letters include family news, health matters, visiting, travel plans, reading, lectures and church services attendance, theater performances, and pastimes. The photograph album contains 32 black-and-white photographs of Noyes and Balch family members, as well as family friends. There are 31 cartes-de-visite and one tintype; two of the cartes-de-visite have been hand-painted. The majority of the photographs are labeled, several in ink in a later hand. In addition to the photograph album, there are 17 loose black-and-white photographs, dated 1877-1957, including 4 cartes-de-visite, 6 tintypes, and 2 photo postcards.

Acquired as part of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture, and as part of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture.

More Biographical / Historical Info

Arrangement

Organized into the following series: Correspondence; Diaries; and Photographs, photo postcards, and photograph album.

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How to Cite

[Identification of item], Noyes-Balch Family Papers, 1854-1957 and undated, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

Contents of the Collection

1. Correspondence, 1854-1936 and undated

9 folders

The correspondence series contains 136 letters (603 pages) primarily written between 1863-1892 by Catharine Porter Noyes, her sister Ellen (Nellie) Noyes Balch, and Ellen's husband F. V. (Frances Vergines, known as "Frank") Balch, along with a few by other family members. Another writer, Catharine's cousin Mary, joined her as a teacher of freed slaves in South Carolina. Includes letters written in 1933 by artist Emily E. Balch to Richard Noyes Stone.

Arranged chronologically.

Catharine Porter Noyes, Outgoing correspondence, 1854-1870
(2 folders)

Catharine Porter Noyes served as a teacher of newly freed slaves at plantations on the Sea Islands of South Carolina, from 1863-1864 and 1869-1870. In this subseries of letters written to family members, she described the challenges of her teaching situation, social events and celebrations, local attitudes about freed blacks and her teaching them, black funeral and religious practices, and general conditions on the islands. She included her hand-drawn maps of the area, indicating its relation to the mainland. In addition to the letters from the Sea Islands, there are letters Catharine wrote while she was in Illinois and at the family home in Jamaica Plain, Mass., before she made her trip South (1854-1863).

The family stored these letters written by Catharine in a wooden box (Box 3), separate from the other correspondence in the collection.

Illinois, Jamaica Plain and first trip to St. Helena’s Island, 1854-1864
(1 folders)

Subseries includes Catharine’s letters written between 1862 and 1864. Letters from 1862 were written while she lived in Illinois. She wrote of secret societies active locally, including the Knights of the Golden Circle, and noted general poverty, the transport of Rebel prisoners, and participation by her Uncle in the battle at Fort Donelson. She also reported having stayed a week to help a family fighting 12 cases of measles among its children. In addition, she remarked on the general abuse of the English language and “the Rules” she witnessed. Later Catharine returned to Jamaica Plain, and topics in her letters included family matters, visits, travel, lectures she attended, and poetry she learned, as well as her reading habits.

In her initial letters written from St. Helena’s Island (1863-1864) where she served as a teacher to newly freed slaves, Catharine mentioned a steamboat pleasure party that was disrupted by sudden and severe cold. She and several others were forced to take shelter a home of one of her black students. She added that two children and one other black woman eventually died from exposure.

Catharine went on to describe her teaching situation at Hope Place, where the length of her contract and the amount of her pay were both indefinite. As for her students, who included both adults and children, she had difficulty teaching even the basics because their vocabulary was so meager, but she eventually attempted to teach them both poetry and some German. She pointed out that students did not have a high opinion of her handwriting, and they struggled with their own writing and creating mathematical symbols. Maintaining discipline in her school room was a constant topic in Catharine’s letters, and attendance was irregular, but the students showed pride in their learning by hosting frequent public performances for recitation. Catharine visited a school at Pine Grove convened by a mulatto, whose students were mulatto children. Catharine also attended the nearby black church, described the “praise houses” used for worship, and stated her intention to learn the songs the blacks sang. Near the end of her initial stay, one of her students caused an angry upheaval in the entire community by making up and attributing to Catharine unfavorable opinions about the living habits and scattered relationships of the former slaves (1 April 1864).

She reported that the former slaves’ opinions of their former master were favorable. By all accounts master Captain John was kind: “he did not have any [illegible] and never let anyone whip his slaves but himself he always counted the strokes and they never minded his whippings, but Mrs. Tripp seems to have been very cruel…” (10? Dec. 1863)

In Jan 1864, Catharine outlined a plan by Federal troops to sell nearby plantations in 20-acre lots to any resident, black or white, for 20 cents an acre. She added that the black men did not wish to risk being bloodied by outsiders for making such a purchase, so they were unlikely to take advantage of the offer. Other letter topics included weather (in comparison to that of Massachusetts), the prevalence of rats and snakes, a local hunting accident, and her waiting a shipment of belongings via a schooner facing heavy winds that could prove a problem for the cargo. Catharine spent her free time reading, riding, and playing games such as euchre.

Includes Catharine’s two, hand-drawn maps of the local islands that also outline their relationship to the mainland.

Box 1
Second Trip to St. Helena’s Island, 1869-1870
(1 folders)

Catharine’s letter topics included local opinions about freed blacks and the fact that some white visitors looked down on her for her teaching the freedmen. Also, she noted that one local black male who was apprehended for wrongdoing was widely believed to be innocent. There was often illness and death on the plantation, and she described her sense of discomfort while attending funerals for blacks, because she was unfamiliar with their funeral customs.

Holiday celebrations were a main focus of these letters. She listed who was invited to Thanksgiving dinner, then provided detailed plans for an extensive Christmas Festival that featured extensive amounts of food plus more than 800 hand-made individual items for distribution. Catharine noted that one woman assisting her wanted to give gifts only to the most deserving rather than to the most needy and Catharine was forced to intervene, if only to watch that sizing was appropriate for clothing items. Other topics involved clothes and dressmaking orders, gardening, family news, and invitations and visiting. One visiting flutist forced her to play a flute, despite her dislike of music and unwillingness to take up any instrument.

Catharine provided brief descriptions of what transpired in her classroom, where she taught reading and proper manners. She also described her class favorite and mentioned a female student who was planning a wedding and being very coy with hints about the identity of the groom.

She recorded the excitement in the local community because a railroad terminus was being planned nearby, and discussed the shipments of items she desired, and mail in general. In final letters she outlined a quarrel between black porters over transporting her baggage and pointed out how glad everyone is to see people returning from the North.

Box 1
Wooden box the family used to store Catharine Porter Noyes’ letters, 1860s
Box 3
Catharine Porter Noyes, Incoming correspondence, 1860-1892
(3 folders)

Subseries contains primarily family letters to Catharine written by F. V. [Frances Vergnies] “Frank” Balch; Catharine’s sister and Frank’s wife, Ellen (Nellie); and their cousin, Mary, who joined Catharine on St. Helena’s Island as a teacher. The letters contained family news, along with travel and visiting plans, and notes on health and sickness. They also often mentioned special events and pastimes, particularly reading, theater attendance, and churchgoing. A few letters from Catharine’s aunts questioned whether she was prepared to teach in South Carolina. Includes two letters written by two of Catharine’s students at St. Helena’s (1865 and undated). There is also a receipt for the church pew at Trinity Church, West Newton, Mass.

In 1861, Frank wrote from Camp Dubois where he was stationed, to point out that he could not carry into battle both a musket and Catharine’s crossbow she offered to lend him. Topics in his later letters included a neighborhood woman who was taken to the Taunton Lunatic Asylum, his hatred of author Alexandre Dumas’ writing, his thoughts after reading Sense and Sensibility, and and the illness and death of his first child, Catharine. Frank also described his family’s trip to England, including a visit to Winchester Cathedral, followed by a voyage on the Baltic.

Ellen wrote of slippers she was making for Frank as a gift, and reported that their father’s personal letters were going astray and his rheumatism was worse. She also occasionally and abruptly mentioned war news and events in the Western theater, e.g., “McClellan is beginning to hold up his end at last, isn’t he?” She quizzed Catharine about her trip South and the conditions there, then recorded her own trip to Washington, D.C., to visit their father in Feb. 1864. She went on to outline her activities in the capital, including her attendance at several White House receptions, with a description of Mrs. Lincoln’s dress and Mr. Lincoln’s “handshake in passing,” along with their plans to attend as many Shakespearean performances by Edwin Both as possible. She noted with bemusement that their father created a fire escape from a rope and pulley for their use in their building, and that they tested it. Like her husband, Nellie’s letters also traced the illness of her first child, Catharine, who was eventually cared for by a respected black nurse from Fredericksburg, but later died.

Cousin Mary wrote to Catharine regarding her classes and their mutual acquaintances, along with her upcoming marriage and a wedding gift of books.

Box 1
Ellen M. [Noyes] Balch letters, 1864 June-July
(1 folders)

In these letters, Ellen (Nellie) M. [Noyes] Balch wrote to her attorney husband, F. V. [Frances Vergnies] “Frank” Balch, while he served as secretary to U. S. Senator and abolitionist Charles Sumner (R-Ma.). She recorded serious health concerns for those around her. For instance, Catharine Noyes was recovering from wounds she received when the hoop of her skirts became entangled and she was dragged during a wagon accident, and an unidentified “Henry” was wounded during a Civil War battle and then suffered a raid on his ambulance. Also, Frank’s mother had three teeth pulled. Ellen herself was preparing for, then convalescing following, childbirth. She also noted events in the neighborhood, including her abolition fight with a neighbor and a woman who was deserted by her “intemperate” husband who took even the couples’ bed. Remarkably, Ellen recorded several dreams she had of her husband during sleep. She had constant fears of a raid on Washington, D.C., and urged her husband to practice good self-care so that he would not become ill. In a final letter, Ellen reproved herself for losing a button that fell off a gift from her husband, and for not admitting it to him sooner. The letters included the doctor’s telegram following the birth of their first child on June 14, as well as an excerpted manuscript short story about a family. At one point Nellie mentioned in the letters that family friend Henry Wadsworth Longfellow stopped by the house, but she did not go on to describe the visit.

Box 1
Noyes-Balch family letters, 1855-1884 and undated
(1 folders)

The subseries contains primarily family letters. Topics included illness in the family, including description of the use of brandy as an enema, as well as travel plans for trips to Charleston, S.C., and Washington, D.C., before the Civil War. Included two letters (1863) from William Little requesting permission to marry Catharine Porter Noyes; he was not encouraged by Catharine’s father. There was also a professional letter (1864) to F. V. Balch that requested him to investigate possible military appropriations to Dr. Morton for his discovery of ether as an anesthetic agent, along with a congratulatory letter to Ellen M. Noyes regarding her engagement.

Box 2
Richard Noyes Stone letters, 1933, 1936

This subseries contains two love letters to Richard Noyes Stone from Emily E. Balch, along with the official announcement of Stone’s wedding to Louise Magill.

Box 2
Miscellaneous letter fragments and envelopes, 1861, 1875 and undated
(1 folders)
Scope and content

There are 27 letter fragments and envelopes, including letters to Ellen (Nellie) M. [Noyes] Balch describing the death of her (grand?) mother, as well as a letter from “Maria” regarding illnesses and deaths of babies in the family.

Box 2

2. Diaries, 1855, 1929

2 folders

The diary dated 1855 was maintained by a young girl about age 12. She mentioned her sister, Ellie, and (Aunt or Cousin?) Catharine Porter Noyes, so it is possible the diary belonged to Ravella Balch. Catharine later practiced her handwriting in the volume. Topics included a wagon accident, travel to visit friends and family, play time, reading habits, school, as well as the forgery of her father’s name by an unidentified man who later escaped to California. She also noted a visit by a biologist, whose experiments she served as an assistant.

Emily E. Balch was an artist, and maintained two diaries in October and December 1929, where she documented her creation of an art studio in her home; the status of and reception for her art works, visiting friends in various hospitals; attending a funeral, along with teas, luncheons, wedding receptions, museum exhibitions and other entertainments. She also noted her visits to family members and brief vacations, as well as her preparations for the Christmas season. Notably absent from her writing is any mention of the stock market crash that year or its impact on her family.

Ravella Balch? diary, 1855
Box 2
Emily E. Balch diaries, 1929
Box 2

3. Photographs, photo postcards, and photograph album, 1860s-1957 and undated

49 photographs, 1 folder plus one photograph album

This series contains a photograph album, loose photographs, cartes-de-visite, tintypes, and photo postcards. The photograph album contains 32 black-and-white photographs of Noyes and Balch family members, as well as family friends. There are 31 cartes-de-visite and one tintype; two of the cartes-de-visite have been hand-painted. The majority of the photographs are labeled, several in ink, in a later hand. Separate from the album, there are 17 loose black-and-white photographs, dated 1877-1957, including 4 cartes-de-visite, 6 tintypes, and 2 photo postcards.

Photographs and photo postcards, 1860s-1957
(1 folders)

there are 17 loose black-and-white photographs, dated 1877-1957, including 4 cartes-de-visite, 6 tintypes, and 2 photo postcards. Photographs were labeled by family members, as follows: Group photograph of F.V.B., Susan Clark, Alice George [illegible], M.C.B., on piazza at [Cohasset?]; Pamela Balch, age 13 years, May 1957; Mary Simkhovitch with [Sle]pha and Helen; [Elizabeth?] Pye; Ebbie Noyes; Alice Stone Blackwell, daughter of Lucy Stone, wife of Henry Brown Blackwell; Katharine Allen, Andrews Allen; C.P. Noyes, Grandpa F.V. Noyes, E. M. Noyes, Elizabeth Balch (Mrs. F. V. Noyes) [Emily E. Balch]; Mrs. F. V. Balch, A. L. Balch, F. N. Balch; [Illegible]; Balch House (postcard)

Photographs and photo postcards labeled
  1. Group photograph: F.V.B., Susan Clark, Alice George [illegible], M.C.B., on piazza at [Cohasset?]
  2. Pamela Balch, age 13 years, May 1957
  3. Mary Simkhovitch with [Sle]pha and Helen
  4. [Elizabeth?] Pye
  5. Ebbie Noyes
  6. Alice Stone Blackwell, daughter of Lucy Stone. Wife of Henry Brown Blackwell
  7. Katharine Allen, Andrews Allen
  8. C.P. Noyes, Grandpa F.V. Noyes, E. M. Noyes, Elizabeth Balch (Mrs. F. V. Noyes) [Emily E. Balch]
  9. Mrs. F. V. Balch, A. L. Balch, F. N. Balch
  10. [Illegible]
  11. Balch House (photo postcard)
Box 2
Photograph album, 1860s-1890s

The photograph album contains 32 black-and-white photographs of Noyes and Balch family members, as well as family friends. There are 31 cartes-de-visite and one tintype; two of the cartes-de-visite have been hand-painted. The majority of the photographs are labeled, several in ink, in a later hand.

Handwritten captions for individuals photographed
  1. F.V. Noyes 1864
  2. Agnes Y. Balch “Cousin Agnes”
  3. Ellen M. Noyes
  4. A.L.B.
  5. [photograph slot empty] Grandpa & Grandson, Ellen M. Noyes, C. P. Noyes
  6. Grandma Noyes Balch
  7. Aunt Agnes
  8. Mr. Sweat [Swett]
  9. Uncle Leonard [Nottingla]
  10. Aunt Katie Lambert
  11. Mr. W. F. Allen, American educator
  12. Annie Wing
  13. Aunt Katie Lambert
  14. A.L.B. & E.G.B hand tinted
  15. A.L.B. hand tinted
  16. A. L. Balch
  17. Ann L. Balch
  18. Elizabeth Balch
  19. Ellie, Ellen Maria Noyes
  20. F.N.B.
  21. F.N.B.
  22. Alice
  23. Bobbie, Alice’s dog
  24. [Alice?]
  25. M.C.B.
  26. Mabel Morse Lee
  27. Mabel Morse, daughter of inventor of Morse code
  28. Helen Cheever
  29. Helen Cheever, daughter or wife of minister George Barrell Cheever
  30. Kate Wendell, daughter of Barret Wendell?
  31. Cora Bowditch
  32. Vladimir S[im]khouvld
  33. Mary S[im]khouvld
Box 4
 

Historical Note

The Noyes and Balch families resided primarily in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.


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Provenance

The Noyes-Balch Family Papers, 1854-1957 and undated, were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a purchase in May 2013 and gift in December 2013.

Processing Information

Processed by: Alice Poffinberger, October, 2014

Accessions described in this finding aid: 2013-0099, 2013-0214