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Chamberlain family papers

Identifier: UA-1.1.12

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of family correspondence, documents, and business records, particularly relating to Henry Chamberlain. Included are genealogies of the Chamberlain, Langdon, Woodward and Wheelock families.

The letters in the early years of the collection relate to the migration of the family westward to Ohio, and then to Michigan. There is an 1830 agreement in which certain New Hampshire citizens sponsor William Chamberlain to go and scout the area above the Ohio River for them. There are a number of letters in the next few years from friends and relatives who joined the movement and established themselves at various points across the Ohio. A letter of December 26, 1833 describes pioneer life in Indiana. Letters of December 18, 1832, December 24, 1835, June 6, 1837, and May 15, 1837 describe life in Ohio. The latter also includes comments on New Buffalo, Michigan. Much of the material from 1836 relates to a general store which the family operated in Scipio, Ohio. There is also an 1839 ledger relating to the store.

The family migrated from Ohio to New Buffalo, Michigan in 1843. Letters within this year describe pioneer life and the routes taken from the east. Additionally, there is a paper (box 6187, undated folder) in which Alice Chamberlain Heatfield describes this migration by her grandparents. This paper was prepared years later, largely from the letters presently in this collection.

Early letters from New Buffalo deal with a variety of subjects. A letter of September 25, 1847 describes cranberry and grape gathering. Other letters describe general agriculture and prices. Railroad development was of prime interest to the family. A letter dated November 1, 1846 discusses the route of the Michigan Central Railroad. One of March 3, 1848 describes the arrival of rail connections at New Buffalo. A letter of June 23, 1851 describes work on the Lake Shore Railroad through Northern Ohio.

Moses Chamberlain (first name changed to Mellon in 1843) was sent back east for his schooling, and ultimately remained here. There are letters from him relating life at Dartmouth College in 1840. A letter of 1847 describe Harvard, where he received his law degree. A letter of March 17, 1849 describes the beginnings of his law practice in Boston.

The remainder of the Chamberlains stayed in Berrien County and established themselves as a leading family of the area. Henry Chamberlain served as a state representative in Lansing, and his letter of January 3, 1849 contains a account of the early beginnings of the new capital city. A number of letters in the period 1848-1855 bear reference to Michigan politics and elections.

Letters in the decade prior to the Civil War describe and express personal feelings at the unfolding political events. A letter of October 18, 1850 contains an eyewitness account of the passage of the California, Texas Boundary, and Utah Bills in the U.S. Senate. A letter from South Carolina dated August 30, 1850 describes secessionist feeling there.

There are a large number of letters relating to the Civil War. One of January 2, 1862 describes recruiting activities in the West and Michigan war attitudes. There is a descriptive letter of August 7, 1864 from a Confederate soldier in Rock Island Prison to his Michigan relatives. There are a number of letters from soldiers in the Michigan 12th Regiment. One dated November 19, 1864 relays the election results within this regiment, the Wisconsin 29th, the Iowa 21st, and the Indiana 47th.

The most valuable of the materials from the period after the Civil War are those relating to Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University). Henry Chamberlain served on the State Board of Agriculture, which governed M.A.C. from 1888 to 1897. Letters from M.A.C. President Clute, other Board members, Governor Winans, and state legislators in the period of his service provide information on administrative problems.

The remainder of the materials in the years after the war are of a miscellaneous nature. A letter of June 30, 1875 from London describes that city. Letters of July 29, 1868, October 20, 1868, and September 20, 1880 bear accounts of Michigan politics. There are a number of letters from 1882 through 1888 from Henry Chamberlain to his son Paul, who first attended Ashbunham School in Massachusetts, and then Olivet College in Michigan. A letter of March 25, 1906 describes travels in Colorado. There is a note dated April 28th in the same year from Robert La Follette, in which he thanks Henry Chamberlain for his interest. And a letter of October 6, 1936 describes lumbering in the Silotz Country off Oregon.


  • Creation: 1795 - 1931


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to publish material from this collection must be obtained from University Archives & Historical Collections, Michigan State University.

Biographical Note

The Chamberlain family migrated from New Hampshire west to Scipio, Ohio, in the early 19th century. From there, they moved to Three Oaks, Berrien County, Michigan in 1843. Henry Chamberlain served as a state representative in Lansing, Michigan, between 1848 and 1855. He served on the Michigan State Board of Agriculture, which governed Michigan Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) from 1888 to 1897. His son, Paul, attended Ashbunham School in Massachusetts, then Olivet College in Michigan. Mellon (Moses) Chamberlain was sent back east to be educated at Dartmouth College and Harvard University (1840-1849). He set up a legal practice in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1849.


11.75 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials


Custodial History

Gift of Mrs. Wheelock H. Chamberlain to the MSU Museum. Transferred to University Archives. Transferred from the Chamberlain Museum to the MSU Museum. Transferred to the University Archives.

Legal Status

Donor(s) have transferred any applicable copyright to Michigan State University but the collection may contain third-party materials for which copyright was not transferred. Copyright restrictions may apply. Property Rights: Michigan State University.

Processing Information

Changed record group from 00002 to UA 1.1.12 to reflect Chamberlain's connection to Michigan State University. M. Badgley Malone, November 2019.

Chamberlain Family Papers
4 Published And Cataloged
October 1964
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the University Archives and Historical Collections Repository

Conrad Hall
943 Conrad Road, Room 101
East Lansing MI 48824 US