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Gilbert Nettleton Letters

An inventory of the collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 29 Jun 2010

Biographical History

Little is known of Gilbert Nettleton other than the evidence given in the letters. His family was from Newport, New Hampshire, as that is where the letters to his parents and siblings are addressed. According to Edmund Wheeler's The History of Newport from 1766 to 1878 (Concord:1879), he was born 24 Mar 1808, one of six children of Joel Nettleton (p. 480). He worked for his father as a clerk in his youth but then "went to Illinois, where he spent the remainder of his life," and married Julia E. Pratt, "a French lady, belonging to a wealthy family" (evidence of the letters suggest that they were married around December of 1839).

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Gilbert Nettleton Letters consist of ten letters from a young man named Gilbert Nettleton in Illinois to members of his family in Newport, New Hampshire. Also included in the collection is a commission for Gilbert Nettleton as an Ensign in the 5th Company, 31st Regiment of the New Hampshire Militia.

Most of the letters are addressed to Gilbert's sisters Elizabeth and Persis; one of them is from his wife "Juliette." He was evidently very close to his family, as his affectionate and detailed letters testify. The letters recount Nettleton's detailed observations on the people, places and society he encounters -- for example, the first letter, sent from Belleville, Illinois, discusses the low level of literacy among the general population and the effects of a lack of education. Nettleton's high opinion of "the East" is evident, as he often contrasts what he sees in Illinois with what he was accustomed to in New Hampshire.

The letters display a good deal of humor; in one of them he writes, "The town [of Belleville] is well laid out but they have taken no pains to build in any order but disorder, which gives it quite an unfavourable appearance. The revers [sic] might have been the case with a sufficient display of Yankee taste." Near the end of 1835 Nettleton relocates to Pinckneyville, Illinois, and he soothes his family's concern by writing as follows, in a letter dated 13 Nov 1835:

You appear to express some regret that I should leave where I am, but it appears to be all on account of a fear I may become unsteady. I will use a Commanding Voise [sic] and say, Hush such visionary fears! I, become unsteady? An old man on the wrong side of 24 after cruising about as I have been and not yet shown the first premonitory symptoms?

In the letter of 18 Jun 1840, from Chester, Illinois, he includes greetings from "Juliette," to whom he has been married about seven months, and in closing he adds that "the prospects for an addition to my family about 1st Nov next are very flutering [sic]."

Arrangement of the Collection



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Subject Headings


Nettleton family.
Nettleton, Gilbert.


Frontier and pioneer life -- United States -- Personal narratives.
Pioneers -- West (U.S.) -- Personal narratives.


Belleville (Ill.) -- History -- 19th century.
Chester (Ill.) -- History -- 19th century.
Pinckneyville (Ill.) -- History -- 19th century.

Genres and Forms


Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Gilbert Nettleton Letters,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Transfer from Kohen Collection, 1967.

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