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Spire American Revolutionary War Collection

A description of the collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 27 Oct 2010

Biographical History

The Spire collection contains material relating to William Duer, William Alexander Lord Stirling, and to the Fisher, Rapalje and Wilkins families, among others. The material was collected by Nancy Woodson Spire (Mrs. Lyman J. Spire) as one of her research interests.

William Alexander, Lord Stirling (1726-1783) was an American major-general during the American Revolutionary War. Serving first as a Colonel in the New Jersey militia, he eventually rose to the rank of brigadier general for the entire Continental Army. A respected tactician, he commanded forces at the battles of Long Island, Short Hills, Brandywine, Germantown and Monmouth.

William Duer (1743-1799) was a British-born American lawyer, developer, and speculator from New York City. He served in the Continental Congress, participated in the convention that framed the New York Constitution, and was a signer of the United States Articles of Confederation. He married Catherine Alexander, daughter of William Alexander, Lord Stirling, and at least one document in the collection suggests he was also acquainted with the Wilkins family (Conveyance, William Dewer [Duer?] to States [Staats] Wilkins and Ann Smythe 1830).

John Fisher (dates unknown) was a lawyer and served as a Justice of the Peace for Kings County, New York; he was also involved in land speculation in central New York State.

Garret Rapalje (b. 1730), also spelled Gerrit or Garrit, was descended from Joris Jansen Rapalje, one of the earliest settlers of New Amsterdam. Garret's parents were George Janse Rapalje and Diana (Middagh) Rapalje. He married Helena de Nyse (b. 1732), and made his living as an importer in New York City. During the 1760s he was an assistant alderman of the City. During the Revolutionary War, Rapalje was a Loyalist, and later left New York City for New Orleans. He and his wife had four children: Garret II, George, Anne (b. 1762; married Jacob Wilkins, below), and Jacques. [Information taken from the New-York Historical Society]

John Wilkins Sr. (1733-1809) was born in Pennsylvania. According to a manuscript in the collection, his paternal grandfather emigrated to Pennsylvania from Wales and his maternal grandfather came from Ireland. He served as Captain in Spencer's Regiment during the American Revolution; his oldest son, John Jr. (1761-1816), enlisted at sixteen as a surgeon's mate and eventually (1796) rose to the rank of Quartermaster General. After the way, Wilkins undertook several business ventures and served as a Justice of the Peace in Pennsylvania. He was married twice and (again according to his memoir in the collection) had eleven children with each of them, including two "lunatick" children.

Jacob Wilkins (born circa 1735) was a brass founder, grocer, and merchant of old New York. It is likely that he was related to John Wilkins but this cannot be established. Jacob Wilkins married Hannah Betts in 1762, and they had six children: John, Jacob, William, Ann, Hannah (b. 1779), and Augustus (later a physician in Louisiana). He was married again in 1793, to Ann Rapalje, and they had two children, Helen D. and States (or Staats) Wilkins. Ann Rapalje Wilkins later married a Charles Smith or Smyth.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Spire American Revolutionary War Collection consists of letters, journals, account books and other documents, the bulk of which date from or relate to the American Revolution (1775-1783). The material is divided into series based on the person to whom it primarily relates, though the observant researcher will note that there is considerable overlap. An alphabetical index of correspondents is provided at the end of this finding aid.

The American Revolutionary War papers (1765-1785) includes correspondence, a few fragments and envelopes; an autobiographical manuscript of and by John Wilkins, Sr.; and a group of military records. The papers represent individuals from both patriot and loyalist groups. Correspondence includes letters to Sir John Johnson and Governor George Clinton. The military records include an account book of the New York Department of the British Forces, oaths of allegiance to King George and to the new republic, a muster roll of Wentworth's Volunteers, and other items.

The William Alexander, Lord Stirling papers (1775-1783) includes five letters from Alexander to others (two to John Hancock, one to Governor George Clinton of New York, one to the "President of Congress," and one to a Captain FitzRandolph).

The William Duer papers (1784-1792) consists of a small amount of correspondence and a few legal and financial documents. One relates to the Scioto Land Company.

The John Fisher papers (1768-1826) primarily relate to Fisher's responsibilities as Justice of the Peace of Kings County. The correspondence, approximately 100 items, is with business associates, family, and public officials (including one dated 1798 to Timothy Pickering, third U.S. Secretary of State). Legal and financial records include accounts, agreements, indentures, memoranda, petitions, receipts, summonses, warrants and others. Interesting items include an "order of bastardy" filed against Samuel Mitchell and Nelly Lewis (1795-1796) for the birth of a child out of wedlock, a warrant for the arrest of Nathaniel Price for the rape of Unis Williamson (1797), and a resolution for the formation of a New York morality society "to aid magistrates in suppressing vice and immorality on the Lord's Day" (1790).

The Garret Rapalje papers (1667-1830) contains correspondence and legal documents, including a genealogy of the Rapalje family. One item (Conveyance, William Dewer [Duer?] to States [Staats] Wilkins and Ann Smythe 1830) suggests a connection with William Duer.

Miscellaneous material (1752-1878) at the end of the collection comprises correspondence and legal and financial documents. The correspondence includes a latter from Rufus King, Massachusetts lawyer, politician and diplomat. Legal and financial documents include accounts, agreements, bills of exchange, indentures, summonses, warrants and wills. A few of the documents relate to Garret Rapalje or John Fisher. Of particular interest is a Prussian passport or travel authorization from 1836, indicating that the bearer, one Caspar Beckschaefer, sailed from Bremen to New Orleans.

Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence in each section is arranged chronologically. An alphabetical index of correspondents is provided at the end of this finding aid. Other material is arranged alphabetically by type or title.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

The original donation also included several hundred printed works which have been transferred to Rare Books for cataloging. Please refer to the Classic Catalog and search on "Nancy Woodson Spire" to locate these items.

Two items that were at one time part of this collection -- "Journal of Voyage, Plymouth to New York" by Edward Gould and "New Jersey Boundary Dispute" -- have been removed and made into their own collections (SC 124, Iris Ship's log and SC 125, New Jersey Boundary Document).

Subject Headings


Alexander, William, 1726-1783.
Duer, William, 1747-1799.
Fisher, John, fl. 1768-1828.
Johnson, John, Sir, 1742-1830.
King, Rufus, 1755-1827.
Rapalje family.
Rapalje, Garret.
Wilkins family.
Wilkins, Jacob, b. 1735?
Wilkins, John, 1733-1810.

Corporate Bodies

Great Britain. -- Army -- Colonial forces -- New York (State)
Scioto Land Company.


Brooklyn (New York, NY) -- History.
Cayuga County (NY) -- History.
New York (NY) -- History -- 1775-1865.
New York (NY) -- History -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
United States -- History -- Revolution, 1775-1783.

Genres and Forms

Account books.
Loyalty oaths.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Spire American Revolutionary War Collection,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Nancy Woodson Spire, 1963-1968.

Gift of Lyman Spire, 1968-1971.

Table of Contents

American Revolution material

William Alexander, Lord Stirling papers

William Duer papers

John Fisher papers

Garret Rapalje papers

Miscellaneous material

Index to correspondence


Index to correspondence

Letters are listed in alphabetical order by sender. The series in which each letter is filed is given in square brackets following the date, as follows: AR = American Revolution, WA = William Alexander, WD = William Duer, JF = John Fisher, GR = Garret Rapalje, and M = Miscellaneous.